The past few days have been bright and pulsing and spent in the soothing Palo Alto sun:
I’m back home, now, though, and I spent the plane ride (and resultant light rail ride) in the sort of pleasant fog that comes after every trip that you don’t quite want to be over. I tried to send some emails — I tried to send this email — and mostly failed, admitting defeat by blasting In A Silent Way and chiseling my way through my Pocket backlog.
The first few hours back from a trip are sacred, too, because there is so much to do (emails! unpacking! packages! plants!) and most of them require little effort, letting you glide around your apartment with a sense of warmth and contentment. I did the thing I always do when I want to cross items off of a checklist without actually expending effort, which is going through my emails.
I came across a Franz Wright poem and, while it was a good poem, it served a more important purpose: it reminded me of my absolute favorite poem, also by Franz Wright.
It is called The Window:
I know, it’s all terribly mystical. So what. So is work; and work means something. It means that what you do, you do for someone else. You do it for someone who loves you, that’s all, someone who misses and needs you, if you are so blessed. I had my work—mine caused a little trouble, but I did it. I did what I promised. End of sermon. Can I ask you a question? Those moths in November, where are they now, do you think? You remember. We’d see them each evening around three in the afternoon; first a few, a mere bucketful, and all at once millions, everywhere. The cold arrived, the cold that really means it, and they were gone. They simply vanished, the way we all do in the end, but what does that mean? What does it mean, to say “Where are they?” Where are we? We change, all right; but where else, strange fellow moths, is there to go but the world? I saw the first trillions of snowflakes today as the light was beginning to change, to darken, blowing and swirling across the bare fields and back roads. Like you and I, they did as they were told. To things already here, we were called forth and asked to join them, asked to live. Not forever, not even very long. But we are called forth, we are brought here, and we are not brought here to die. I’ve been looking at Edvard Munch’s The Sick Child, for the first time since I was nineteen. The girl is sitting up in bed, a green blanket pulled up to her waist, the mother seated facelessly beside her to the left; her left hand and the child’s are clasped, knitted together, like the spot where a broken bone has healed. Then there is the child’s thinning hair, the poor skull showing through the sparse wisps of it: it makes you think of an infant’s, the little continents of bone still closing. Hair the color of the red wine in the half-full glass that’s glowing on a table in the foreground, in the half-light. Her head is turned sharply to the left, her line of sight passing right over the woman’s bowed head in the direction of some unseen source of light—I always thought it was a window, but who’s to say it’s not a mirror? I see that now. Face beaming or reflecting from the depths of resignation, with a small exhausted smile of utmost sweetness, an unmistakable expression of gladness toward the outer world, the sight of things exactly as they are, and expressing the sum of all knowledge regarding that world: it is still there. I gaze at her as in a mirror. This world was here before me, is now here, and will be when I am not. There is no sadness in my face, not my true face. My blanket is green, with here and there patches of brown showing through. So the grave has come into the bedroom. I am sitting up in my grave, I knew it. It comes right up to my waist; but it is not covering my face. It is still very far from covering my face.
There are still things I need to do before bed: plants to water, questions to answer, shoes to put in shoe racks, bugs to file. But all of these things are (relatively) mindless; they’re going through the motions, the way you get off an exercise bike and your body wants to keep pedaling without you. The machinery of a moment — of an evening — slowly coming to rest is a quiet hum, static and cocoa.
It does not feel like a Sunday evening so much as it feels like a long, long night coming to an end. (That is the problem with weekend trips: you want to wake up from them and experience them all over again.)
I hope you buy yourself a present. (Maybe plane tickets. Even just for a weekend.)