Thankful for our little dog, who took me for a walk.
Click to enlarge.
If I have hurt you, but I know
I have hurt you and left your love
wasting like a dove stunned
on a wire, through countless days
of incredible sun, forgive the sun.
I have wandered off again,
looking for the perfect way
to make amends. I can’t imagine
finding it, before you fly away
and leave the wire trembling.
J. Kyle Kimberlin
I see a lot of content online that I find useful to me as a writer, inspirational, and worth sharing with other creative people. I usually don’t mention it here in this blog because I’ve come to think of Metaphor as a place only for my own creative output. So I share those things on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Tumblr. (Using Friends+Me to syndicate a single post.)
The thing is, those links don’t get much engagement in those other places. My audience for creative topics is actually here at WordPress. And I used to share a lot of links and thoughts here, about writing tools, computer issues, and a wide variety of topics.
Things changed, so they can change again. So I’ll try a return to sharing things I enjoy – but which were created by others – here in this space. If this material gets some positive feedback, cool; if not, that’s cool too.
Let’s start with a post today by Evernote — part of their NaNoWriMo series — called
I use Evernote a lot to keep track of ideas for writing, to save interesting ephemera, household flotsam, and for business.
“My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can’t see why a chap should need 30 pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.”
So said a French literary editor to Marcel Proust, on rejecting volume 1 of In Search of Lost Time. It was a century ago and the subject was consciousness, not events or people. One can imagine such a book to be a challenge for the Marketing Department, especially when the writer’s style has all the pop and sizzle of a damp wool carpet.
I’ve not read much Proust. I used to have a 1921 edition of Remembrance of Things Past and I found it oh so dull. As advertised, it was good reading when trying to fall asleep. But my little dog thought the leather cover was tasty, so there went that.
It begs the question, though: if the subject is consciousness, as I think it can be, where can you go with that? Consciousness is the matter with which we are all most intimately familiar, yet we no almost nothing about it. So by means, we writers should explore the inner life.
Two years ago, I posted a flash fiction piece called Shining Leaves. Here it is, complete with audio reading. The second section imagines the consciousness of a dog, its life still touched by subtle joy yet aware of aging and loneliness.
One wants to tell a story, like Scheherezade, in order not to die. It’s one of the oldest urges in mankind. It’s a way of stalling death.
So said Carlos Fuentes, who failed as do we all, and died in 2012. He was born on November 11, 1928, which is why it’s been brought up now. And you can still read his books, so there’s one way to cheat death if it won’t be deferred.
I confess that when I see the word Scheherezade, I don’t think of the mythical Persian queen. She told stories to the king so he wouldn’t kill her. As much as I’d like a few of my words to live beyond me, I tend to think of Rimsky-Korsakov. He’s dead too, but his music still lives. Well played, Nokolai.
Here’s a bit of flash fiction, a scene of departure. Someone I love said the first sentence to me once, years ago, in a much different context. I wrote it in my notebook and in time it morphed into this small piece. An earlier version was previously posted in this space. I think it has improved.
“You have no idea how much you’ll miss me. Just so you know, you really have no idea.” That’s what she said.
He knew she was right. She stood on the front porch, in the shadowed doorway. He was on the grass in bright sunlight, shielding his face with his hand. He was trying to see her eyes for the last time. Unbelievably blue.
He remembered everything, from the first time he saw her in the park with her dog, wearing a pale yellow sun dress, no shoes. When he spoke to her, she took off her dark glasses so he could see those eyes.
As long as he could remember, his life had gone in the just one direction. He’d heard it was possible to turn a life around, but his kept going the same way – mostly north, into colder country. But then that day in the park, they stopped to talk about dogs. It was like he clapped his hands and everything was new. No, it was like she spoke and he believed.
Now everything had changed again, though he knew she was right, and he had no one to blame but himself.
His pickup was parked at the curb, a battered old thing with faded green paint. It looked like a friend who saw that he’d screwed up again and didn’t care, who loved him anyway, who knew the roads where he might find hope, hot food, and a cheap place to sleep. As he passed in front of it, he felt the heat from the grill. Then finally she slammed the door.
Birds singing. Dogs barking. Maybe her dog, clawing its way up the back of her sofa to curse him through the picture window. A Cessna droned overhead, so he stood for a moment beside the truck to watch it go. As a boy, he liked to lie on his back on the grass and watch the planes. The sound of them could push him to the brink of sleep.
Merging onto the freeway, windows down, the engine growled and worked up through its gears. It drowned out every sound except the rush of air.
Sometimes, the right thing to do is right in front of you, but it’s impossible. The mind stands back and begs for time, and the heart defends its solitude. He hated what he did and said, and he understood that he would pay for it. Of course she was right, and this would be a long hard road to drive all night.
When he reached the coast and saw the sun going down in front of him, he had to bear right at the junction, heading north.
J. Kyle Kimberlin
Create Commons License
We are arriving in that time of the year’s cycle when the trees turn towards their sleep and the animals slow and altogether too much is a metaphor of death. And the poet Galway Kinnell has died today, and that is not a metaphor at all.
Back in about 1982, I was a student of English at Chico State, presumably working on a paper on death in the poetry of Galway Kinnell. I had been reading his poems over and over, for days, I’m sure. I remember, vaguely, being pulled along by the words, surprised and baffled by the strange places they were taking me. This was very special art.
Deep in the stacks of obscure books in the university library, I found a little 20 page book containing the text of a lecture that Kinnell gave at Colorado State in 1969. And it seems I found a couple of helpful passages, which I sat down and transcribed by hand on yellow paper.
Tonight I was going to write to you about how much Kinnell’s poetry meant to me, and quote from a couple of poems. But taking one of his books from the shelf, I found that transcription I made back in college, folded between the pages. You can see a scan of it here:
“It is perhaps true that a poem entails a struggle with one’s own nature, that it comes partially out of our hunger to be changed – and so may be an act of longing for what we are unable to be…. We can also perhaps feel the suicidal presence, feel it as an essential element in the (his) hymn to earthly life. I doubt that, in serious poems, death and life can be separated at all. It is obvious that poems craving heaven involve a certain death-wish. But in the great poems affirming life we may be even more clearly in the presence of some kind of will to die.” (Page 18.)
“It is part of whatever may be glowing in our lives that we have been able to dream of paradise, that we have glimpsed eternity. It is as much a part of this glory that we are unable to enter paradise or live in eternity. That we endure only for a time, that everyone and everything around us endures only for a time, that we know this, is the thrilling element in every creature, every relationship, every moment.” (Page 20.)
I decided to share this because, while many are undoubtedly quoting his poems, you won’t find this material mentioned. You can’t really find this anywhere, without great difficulty. A bookseller in Wadsworth IL has a copy for sale for $50. I’m sure there are copies in college collections, but it’s obscure and out of print.
Fast forward a dozen years to the release of Imperfect Thirst in 1994. Galway Kinnell came to Santa Barbara to read. I was asked to pick up the cake for the reception at a bakery and take it to the reading. It was a massive sheet cake, the perfect likeness of the cover of his new book.
The reading was at the Victoria Street Theatre in Santa Barbara. It was raining. A few blocks away at the Arlington, Toad the Wet Sprocket was playing. There was nowhere to park. At the front of the Arlington, I couldn’t find anyone to help get the big cake inside. So I had to park far away and carry Galway’s cake in the rain. I know what you’re thinking… no, the cake and I both made it there intact.
The poet had a cold that night but he soldiered on. He read wonderful poems for us, and signed my book that was the perfect likeness of his cake. I remember he was kind and patient, stayed a while to chat before returning to his hotel to battle his cold.
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s the best we can expect from our poets: that they explore what’s common to us all, give us a chance to contribute a verse (or carry the cake), and leave us something to remember them by.
I have to say that in reading Galway Kinnell’s poems, I’ve always felt the presence of death but not as a terminal imperative; more as a continuum of Being. He hasn’t convinced me that we die, even today.
“I say ‘God'; I believe,
rather, in a music of grace
that we hear, sometimes, playing to us
from the other side of happiness.
When we hear it, when it flows
through our bodies, it lets us live
these days lighted by their vanity
worshipping — as the other animals do,
who live and die in the spirit
of the end — that backward-spreading
- Galway Kinnell
from There Are Things I Tell No One