Let the Sun Shine In

I must have spring fever.

Or summer fever, since today is the last day of May and it’s finally summer in Laramie. Characteristically having skipped spring altogether.

We turned the heat off yesterday and took off the storm windows to replace them with screens, in preparation for our open house. A steady stream of people came through, our agent reported, while we were off hiking. It feels like the switch has turned on and we’ll get an offer soon. Apparently we very nearly had an offer before, but the woman decided against our house because she was afraid her grandchildren would drown themselves in the back yard fish pond. What? Oh, two feet deep. Yeah.

But my mind is quiet today.

I know, not like me. But it’s better than I was last week, when I posted on Facebook that I was “of two minds. Or three. Or four or more. Like a tree in which there is a flock of grackles.” Now the chirping and fluttering has diminished. Robins are singing in the happy warmth. A juvenile hawk whistles nearby. I feel good about my plans to revise Obsidian.

Apparently a storm hit Vedauwoo right after we were hiking up there: three to five inches of hail. But for us, the sun shone.

At Julianne’s birthday party last night, her photographer husband told me he’d hear our radio debate about the voice in my book. I asked what his vote was. He says he creates for the joy of it. If people like it fine, if not fine. He doesn’t worry about it. I’m not worried either.

But I do know what I want.

Alpha and Omega

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Today is for the beginning and the end.

I wasn’t able to post earlier today and maybe that was meant. My sojourn with Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird coincided with the search for our friend and wonderful poet, Craig Arnold.

The news has come in that he’s gone. I’ll let the letter from his partner, Rebecca, stand for any words I might add.

Our dear friends and family,

Though Craig himself has not been recovered, the amazing expert trackers of 1SRG have been able to make themselves and us certain of what has become of Craig. His trail indicates that after sustaining a leg injury, Craig fell from a very high and very dangerous cliff and there is virtually no possibility that Craig could have survived that fall. Chris will pursue what he can about getting specialists to go down into the place we know Craig is so we can bring him home, but it is very, very dangerous and we are not yet completely certain what that will require. The only relief in this news is that we do know exactly what befell Craig, and we can be fairly certain that it was very quick, and that he did not wait or wonder or suffer.

I cannot express again the profound gratitude I feel to everyone who has loved and honored Craig with their goodwill, their immense efforts and energy, and their overwhelming generosity. I believe that where he is, Craig knows.

There will be further occasion to celebrate Craig, and when I know more I will post it.

For my part, I love Craig beyond the telling of it and will always love him as immeasurably, as enduringly, as steadfastly and as unconditionally as I do now and have done these past six years. In leaving our family, Craig, in a manner absolutely characteristic of his own vast generosity and capacity to inspire, brought us all closer together than we perhaps have ever been. I feel his presence, loving and understanding and funny and deeply feeling, at all times. I hope you do, too.

With love,R.

A River of Garbage

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I recall this one particularly annoyed one of my classmates, long ago back in AP English at Overland High, lo these many years ago.

I wanted to ask him how many wedding ceremonies he hadn’t sat through, not to hear this kind of claptrap before. Leave the parents and cleave unto each other. Like the joint candle and blow out your own. I’ve always imagined Wallace Stevens sticking his tongue in his cheek for this one. If a man and a woman can be one, no reason you can’t throw a blackbird into the mix as well. Not unlike Steve Martin’s classic scene in The Jerk, leaving and taking the only thing he needs, gradually adding more and more useless items. After the initial assumption, it doesn’t really matter what else you add in.

Don’t change what all you’re piling on top; change the initial assumption.

There’s an idea out there that things don’t and can’t change. When people talk about efforts to address environmental issues and global climate change, there’s a thread running through the arguments that this is how things have always been. That change is impossible. What we don’t always have a good perspective on is how much things have already changed.

David sent me the letters below. The Game & Fish crew found these letters from 1932 when they cleaned out some old files. Hopefully you can read them — I made them as big as I could. You might have to use your screen zoom.

It’s shocking, isn’t it, that they’re arguing about dumping garbage in the Columbia? After all, they’re very careful to dump it from the bridge in the best spot, with the swiftest current. You laugh to read it.

And that’s a mark of change.

It’s something to think about, amidst the shouting, wailing and gnashing of teeth that things can’t change. Someday, someone like yourself might look back on the debates of today and be amused that there was ever a question.

Corporate Dodgeball

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

Never mind that one almost never gets to use “equipage” in a sentence anymore. What gets me is that people would loook at you funny for using the word equipage and then turn around and talk about leveraging something.

Can you tell I was on a conference call yesterday for my day job?

We were discussing a new area of work and several of the company graybeards were on the call. Not that any of these guys (or gals) actually has a gray beard, but you get my meaning. One of them made a wise observation on the state of the field and paused significantly after, to allow his meaning to sink in. And I thought: I knew that. Everyone on this call knows that. But he has the gray beard. I’m just someone who wonders why we never hear the word “equipage” anymore.

It’s a funny thing, being both a writer and a worker-bee. Not just a worker-bee, I suppose, but upwardly mobile, career-track, middle-management. I like my job. I love the people I work with. I appreciate that they show their appreciation of me by paying me well and giving me good benefits. But I can’t talk about leveraging something with a straight face.

Fortunately I don’t have to, since I’m on the phone and can roll my eyes as often as I want to.

In the end though, I feel like I’m still playing dodgeball. The gym is filled with kids, some loving it, some hating it, some pretending to love it, so the loving-it-kids will like them. The aggressive boys do best — hurling balls with vicious speed at any target. Exulting in taking someone out. Only when the timid kid, who spends all her time ducking, is left all alone to represent her team, do they notice her. The aggressive boys turn their attention to her. They are sidelined, but if she catches one ball, just one, they’ll sweep in and take over the field, returning the team to glory. They shout, encourage, exhort. They want the win. She wants the game to be over, so she can read more of her book before the next class.

I’m an asset to my company. I’m not the timid girl who’d rather be hiding in the bathroom, chosen for the team from the default pool of last picks. But sometimes I think the game will always go to the ones who thrive on the hard and fast throw, who love the flash of pain in an opponent’s eye, who relish the shuffling walk of the target to the sideline.

A friend of mine says life is a team sport. And I believe the sports players see it that way. I wonder if they ever see how the quiet members of their teams are dreaming of other worlds, seeing glass coaches and watching to see if the blackbirds are shadowing us.

Hope Is a Thing With Feathers

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

It’s been officially a week now that Craig has been missing.

I only know this because I’ve been keeping track. Really nothing substantial in my life has changed. In many ways we feel odd, his friends, continuing with our lives. Finishing out the semester for his colleagues. Planning and publicizing our own book celebrations. The robins and crows continue their spring dance. The river swells with snowmelt. Craig wasn’t expected to be here anyway, so nothing has changed.

There’s really nothing TO do at this point, once we’ve let everyone know, applied the political pressure, donated to the search fund. I check the updates on the search, but it’s not like that changes anything. It doesn’t help find Craig.

Today’s update:

5/5 9:18am EST: Thanks to the money raised through The Fund to Find Craig Arnold, we have been able to engage the help of an independent search and rescue team (1SRG) who arrived at Kuchino-erabu yesterday afternoon. The local authorities brought the team up to speed, and they immediately began searching; they believe they have picked up Craig’s trail. They will be on the island until the 9th, looking, though obviously we all hope Craig will be found before then. However, the official search for Craig has been called off by the Japanese authorities. We need everyone’s help contacting their local congressional delegation and asking their assistance in encouraging the Fukuoka consulate to engage local US military/DOD assets on the ground in Japan. They have been thinking about it and we need them to move forward with that as quickly as possible.

I picture them there, like a scene from some Pacific theater WWII movie. The jungle vegetation, the Japanese villagers. Teams of searchers stand under canopies, studying maps laid across folding tables. But I am only an audience for this drama, despite my stake in the hero’s survival. I am not part of it.

One of the most disconcerting aspects of death and loss is how little changes, outside of our hearts. It seems that all the world should stop. Nothing does. You must eat, feed your cats, show up for your job, even enjoy the birds and the joy of writing. You forget for stretches of time that your friend is missing and that people on the other side of the world are finding his trail, exhausting themselves to find him.

So, I check the updates several times a day. As if this makes a difference.

I hope, thinking maybe it will.

Spread Your Tiny Wings and Fly Away

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

My friend is missing.

As in there are search parties looking for him, with dogs and helicopters.

You may have heard about it already, since his friends and family have been working hard to spread the news. The object of the publicity is to keep the Japanese government searching, something they planned to suspend after three days. Yes, he’s on a volcanic island, Kuchino-erabu-shima, in Japan. He’s been visiting volcanoes and writing poetry about them — what can I say? That’s part of what makes him an interesting guy.

His last Facebook post was on Sunday, when he said “Craig Arnold is at long last leaving Princess-Mononoke-Land.” That status remains. I’m really hoping it won’t become an ironic elegy.

There’s a Facebook page for him: Find Craig Arnold.

On that group are people’s letter templates for writing to representatives. They call Craig a national treasure. Someone sure to become US Poet Laureate someday. All steps must be taken to find him because of his exceptional talents. They mention his Yale education, his poetry fellowship to Rome, his many awards.

All of this is true. And it’s great to use that kind of pressure, for political reasons.

But it should be enough that we want him found because he’s a wonderful friend to so many. One of those guys who manage to be vital, funny and sensitive. When he coordinated the visiting writers program at UW, he made sure to invite me, a local writer not affiliated with the MFA program. He invited me to lunches with authors he knew I’d like to meet. When I’d show up for readings, he’d flash me a smile. Craig had a knack for making people feel special, that he was genuinely delighted to see you. Every time.

In one of his last Facebook exchanges, one of Craig’s friends asked if they really had 111 friends in common. He responded, “the question is, can I really have 111 friends, period?”

Yes, Craig, you can. You have thousands wanting you to come home.

One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

This morning, on the way back from the rec center, I saw a gull and a crow meet in the middle of the road. In the parking lot to my right, a murder of crows milled about. To the left, a flock of gulls circled the greening field. The two seemed to be ambassadors meeting in neutral territory, stark black touching beaks to snow white. They scattered when I drove through. Another delicate negotiation disrupted by encroaching technology.

David is staying home sick today. Unfortunately a woman in his lab was in Texas last week, in the Austin/Houston area, and is now sick with a severe respiratory flu. She came to work anyway at the beginning of the week, though the manager has now asked her to stay home for the rest of the week.

We don’t know that it’s swine flu, but we don’t know that it’s not. She says she doesn’t think it is.

Scientifically, it’s interesting to watch a pandemic begin. And they’ve caught this one pretty early, so we get to watch the spread. I’ve been taken aback the last few days at the extreme measures being taken: New York closing schools, Texas cancelling the end of year athletic events. They’re concerned, David says, because of the way the virus is mutating. Maybe so fast and in such a way that many people’s immune systems will be unable to handle it.

We’re so blase about flu now. It comes and goes. Maybe someone really old dies from it. It’s easy to look on the statistic that the flu pandemic of 1918-1919 killed about 50 million people worldwide and think of that as the bad old days. They were ignorant then, and had nothing compared to the kind of health technology we have now. Maybe there’s something to that. If medical help is gotten.

I remember when I was in grad school, a college student died in her trailer of the flu. Just an ordinary flu. But she lived alone and didn’t tell anyone she was sick and the fever killed her.

This situation is not an ordinary flu either. What a virus “wants” is to take over your cells and use them to manufacture a whole lot more of itself. Thus killing the host is not in the virus’ best interests. But a new virus is like a rampaging toddler — a newly mutated virus tends to kill its hosts through sheer clumsiness, if you will. Over time, the virus adapts to merely using and abusing the host until it’s run its course.

That’s where we are right now with this new pandemic: the terrible two’s. But it looks and feels just like pretty much any other flu on the surface.

Maybe what she has isn’t swine flu and she hasn’t infected everyone in her workplace with a highly virulent and contagious new flu. The thing is, we’re always scanning the sky for the glamorous terror, the obvious threat. Sometimes it’s just quietly puttering around your feet.

Bob-bob-bobbing along

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The Robins are really going crazy right now. They sing late into the dusk. Their shrill whistles pierce the pre-dawn sky. Robins hop around in the muddy gutters and in the birdbath filled with snowmelt. Everything is ready to pop. All we need is a few straight days of warm weather and the buds will explode into leaves and petals. This is how we go from winter to summer, in one fell swoop. The robins know it.

Really, it’s early yet to expect much. We can get snow all through May and into the first week of June. Yes, we’ve gotten snow after that, but it’s a remarkable occurrence. But everyone is getting restless here, wanting the warm weather. Like the robins, students crowd the university open spaces, determinedly wearing shorts.

People look around and want more. Fancies are turning not just to thoughts of love, but to dreams and desires. This is the season for graduation, for spending tax returns, for making plans to fill the long summer months ahead, thinking that this year they won’t vanish in a blip.

This is the time of infinite possibility.

A Murder or an Exaltation?

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

I caught this pic from the Laramie webcam yesterday morning. And right away thought of this stanza from Wallace Stevens’s poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” I referred to this poem before on Easter, though it was stanza V that time. (I don’t have to tell you there are thirteen stanzas, right?)

Why do stanzas from this poem flow into my head? I don’t know.

In this case, I love the phrase “the bawds of euphony.” I’ve never had much patience with that type. I once gave a friend of mine a copy of Anne Rice’s “The Witching Hour” to read and he came back with “don’t you think it’s kind of, well, dark?” Yes. Yes, it’s dark. And dark things are beautiful, too. Euphony is overrated, in my book.

These are vultures.

Turkey vultures, actually. Many people think they’re eagles when they see them circling overhead, broad golden-brown wings angled to catch the rising thermals. Nothing so noble. We don’t have blackbirds here, like Wallace Stevens had in the low coastal farm country of Connecticut and Pennsylvania. We have crows and grackles. And the black silhouettes of vultures circling overhead.

Sometimes the light is decidedly green.

“More than any other modern poet, Stevens was concerned with the transformative power of the imagination,” Poets.org says. Maybe that’s why I like his poems. The imagination transforms the mundane, even the pleasant into something more. Some people think that means making something up, seeing something that isn’t really there. I think it’s being able to see beyond the ordinary that seeks to distract you with its daily dose of dullness.

Go prostitute your euphony elsewhere. I’ll take the vultures.

Happy Bunny Trails to You

David never knows when Easter Sunday is coming, he says, until three or four people ask him on Friday what he’s doing for Easter. Of course we’re doing nothing in particular for Easter, since we never do. He likes to report the grumpy answers he thinks up, usually Easter-inappropriate activities. I’m the only one who ever hears them.

It’s not that we don’t like Easter. It just doesn’t mean anything to us. The kids are grown up, so we don’t do Easter baskets. We try to keep candy and refined sugar-somethings out of the house, so we don’t gnosh that way. It’s not springtime here, so there’s no celebration of that aspect. We no longer consider ourselves Catholics; arguably, we never did. And, for whatever reason, this is usually a busy time of year for us, so we almost always have Easter Sunday as a breather day — to catch up on at-home stuff.

Now, if we lived somewhere with a decent Easter brunch, I’d probably do that. I love a champagne brunch. But what I love best is the afterwards, the lazy buzz on a Sunday afternoon of bubbly in my veins and enough food in my body to last the day. Like this bit from Wallace Stevens:

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

There’s something to be said for the “just after.” Many of the people who ask what we’re doing for Easter are hitting the road to visit family. And they look pressured. It’s a difficult holiday, being confined to Sunday and working folks needing to be back at it Monday morning.

My friend, Julianne, just posted that it’s “an oddly gray sky in Laramie this morning. The grackles are puffing their chests and making that funny sqwak sound in the cottonwoods.”

What am I doing for Easter? I’m listening to our black birds. And to the moment just after.