Today, Mom is with Ronan all day. He sleeps so well through the night; each morning I wake up and feel like I must learn all over again that I will lose him. Yesterday I spent the afternoon working in N’s light-filled, view-saturated house, reading a book about one writer’s exquisite observation of the progress of her very rare neurological illness. How I wish I’d known that Ronan was sick before I filled my syllabus with memoirs about disease, death, and depression! (Or, in another class, a book detailing the drama of nuclear waste in the desert and how it relates to the suicide rate in the United States. More light reading on the elliptical trainer.) This morning it’s Roethke (weirdly but mercifully) to the rescue.
Theodore Roethke was a strange, pensive dude (alas, a poet), and the fragments from his notebooks (following, apparently, his own breaks from reality) read like a list of aphorisms and random phrases and sayings that however seemingly unconnected manage to hang together as a whole in idiosyncratic ways difficult to unpack. He’s a bit of a psalmist in nature, probing the mysteries of life in astute one-liners and chunky paragraphs of wisdom. And he’s a bit like some of the first essayists, like Montaigne and Seneca and Sei Shonagon, writers who collected impressions, listing feelings, emotions, tiny instances of wonder or grief or fear, pondering always “what is meaning? what is life?” Roethke snaps off a lot of subjects in his poetic jaws as he wrangles, line by line, with meaning. Thinking out loud and on the page.
In “In the Lap of a Dream” there’s a line: “I practice walking the void.” This is how mornings often feel to me; an exercise in delicate emotional acrobatics. The magnetic pull of grief and the self’s instinct of preservation that resists it. I used to find Roethke annoying, like a doddering old uncle you tolerate but make no effort to understand. Now I feel like he’s sitting across from me, speaking these poems directly to me, even for me. I can see flecks of color in his eyes (greenish-yellow, I imagine); I smell his breath; I reach out for his veiny, greenhouse-trained hands and blink at him mutely.
Today, remembering yesterday’s session at the long table in the N’s dining room looking west, watching the sky change as the day moved from late morning to afternoon to early evening, lights going on, a bony dog out for a walk with his owner, out again an hour later to trace the same path, his tail a white whip in the air:
From “All My Lights Go Dark”
The feeling that one is on the edge of many things: that there are many
worlds from which we are separated by only a film; that a flick of the wrist,
a turn of the body another way will bring us to a new world. It is more than
a perpetual expectation: yet sometimes the sense of richness is haunting: it
is richness and yet denial, this living a half a step, as it were, from what one
should be. The valleys are always green, but only the eyes, never the feet,
are there…The feeling is always with us, but most in the middle morning.
How are you this morning? – the eternal question.