A few days ago, I was driving to work, passing the beautiful flats near where I live. The stretch of sand and water always presents a view worth seeing, so I add an extra five minutes on my commute to drive past. Two herons were in flight. And later in the day, two swans. Of course, I wondered at the meaning. Had it to do with my parents, my mother and my father? My father had passed away so unexpectedly last year. Immediately, I worried for my mother, and later that day, managed to call her instead of doing other things, and had a long conversation.
Maybe it was just a day I was lucky enough to observe two extraordinary events, the flight in pairs of rarely sighted birds. These are the moments that bring us out of ourselves, to see exactly what is in front of us, mouths open, mind stopped. Of course, the mind hasn’t stopped. It is processing the wonder* of the moment, for at long as it lasts, and then in retrospect. I had meant to write about the two flights that evening, but I put it off. Now, I can conjure only the bellies, I think, of the swans as they passed, but even that seems a dream, something I imagined.
Jorie Graham once told a class I was taking that when we are stopped in our tracks by nature, I think she used the word nature, though now, i am not so sure, as it was some thirty years ago, that when we are stopped like that, poetry occurs. Poetry is then the moment when the heart nearly stops, gasping with surprising at the splendour in front of one’s eyes. When I lived in Sag Harbor, I had a practice of sitting out on my deck and writing a short something in the form of verse every morning. Recently, I went back to Long Island to hear two extraordinarily talented women speak about translation and copy editing. One was Ann Goldstein who translated the works of, among many others, Elena Ferrante, and the other was her cooleague (yeah) at The New Yorker, copy editor Mary Norris who wrote Between You And I: Adventures of a Comma Queen.
Intimations of winter arrive in the early dawn almost like couplets, small short somethings, even as fall is yet to reveal her full beauty.
*( Speaking of wonder, anthropologist Tulsi Srinivas, at the Radcliffe Institute, has a forthcoming book I am looking forward to called Worlds of Wonder: Ritual Creativity and Ethical Life in Bangalore.)
Sometimes driving in to work can be heartbreakingly breathtaking this time of year. A tree has shed its red leaves onto the highway, another is just starting to turn. Autumn, and its accompanying adjective, autumnal, carry weight, invoking age, splendor, a finality before the hush of winter snowfall. I have said this already, in another post.
This was one of the songs I listened to, “Morning Celebration” by Karunesh:
As always, here is Keats “To Autumn” read by Ben Wishaw.
And the text:
For me, Autumn means I let go of my manuscript, write words, not paragraphs, let email overtake my mornings. The practice of the summer has fled. My students start workshop in one class, and in another, we discuss Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
There is an abundance of readings and performances as the season gears up, and these days, the bus is packed.
I subsist some days on granola bars and coffee, before coming home an hour, now two, before bedtime. The cats are hungry, as am I, for dinner.
My dinner is leftovers, if I planned ahead, or grilled cheese. Soon
will come my ambition to roast squash, make soup. Autumn dreams of a kind.
The leaves are changing. More and more
I see red patches over-taking the green, even as the Google Doodle
has let us know, for two days now,
that autumn is here.
How fresh the green was
back in the spring, how voluptuous
the reds and purples of summer.
Autumn delivers fire to burn away growth.
Winter will cleanse out the palate,
give us a blank slate
to rest our eyes.