Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In search of lost time

I'm in Houston this evening, here for my final round of thesis and dissertation defenses by grad students -- my last working day at the University of Houston. A very odd feeling, after a decade. I won't be walking into that familiar building any more,a 30's hall of offices and classrooms, the first air-conditioned college building in Ameria, I'm told, built of limestone blocks all marbled and speckled with fossils, the caught lives of ancient seas.

My ten years in Texas feel like an intricate, layered expanse of time, during which the program where I've taught has had several different sorts of atmospheres. And during which my relationship with Houston has shifted several times, too. I wrote an essay about the city for Smithsonian Magazine that tries to think about the odd ways it got under my skin, and made me start to feel at home in a place that isn't, on the surface of things, a place I thought I'd like.

And now I'm done, and wondering a little what I will miss. A certain chatty good-naturedness, exemplified by the people at Baby Barnaby's, my favorite breakfast place. Huge Gulf Coast clouds. My gym. Splendid conversations with graduate poetry students so intent on seeing into the workings of poems. The vegetarian tamales at Berryhill's. Knowing there's a small-but-immense brooding temple of Rothkos down the street. Sitting out by a swimming pool on a warm night in April.

I'm not sure why I have the urge to juxtapose this with the news story I read today about the discovery of a very well-preserved baby mammoth. A month old, more-or-less pickled by the muddy clay in which she drowned, and her mother's milk still in her stomach, after forty thousand years. Her photo's lovely and moving, I think.

Surely one of the pleasures of blogging is curatorial, placing things side by side.


Paul Lisicky said...


The Orange Show, Brazos Bend, the condiments at Cafe Express, the dog park at Allen Parkway, Diedrichs, Galveston, Taco Milagro, the downtown Y, the River Oaks Theater, the Rothko Chapel...

(What am I missing?)

Kyle Erickson said...

I just read your "Theory of the Sublime" and had a similar sensation as I have had when reading WCW's Paterson. The rhythms and thoughts of the language became more than the poem and intertwined with me to become a transcendental entity, in which there was no separation between poem and reader.

And all this happened on a Midtown smoke break.

Thank you.

Marusa said...

Houston and UH already miss you. Please, please come back often.

Unknown said...

lovely juxtaposition. even when we are ready to leave places, and have something pleasant to look forward to, there is always a mourning or ceremony for the past, that I'm beginning to find more necessary than strange every time it arises.

yo! the poem you did @ bowery poetry a while back... that you simply recited had me awestruck. why did you find that poem necessary to recite, and not others?

Ryan said...

I am stunned, and thankful to you for the mammoth.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

Just had the pleasure of meeting you at St. Mary's, after your incredible reading. What you said about accessibility and literature's enduring contributions to social justice are things I will truly take to heart. Thanks so much for speaking with all of us individually, for the poems you write, and for the warmth you express (so genuinely and so readily). These are all tremendous sources of inspiration.

I hope we have the chance to meet again someday!

Jen (the last one in line)

Mim said...

Wishing you new breakfast places and wonderful scenes back east.

Mari said...

That's quite an image - very moving. Perhaps a symbol of our own buried life, the repressed feminine in us all, unearthed?

T. said...

Surely one of the pleasures of blogging is curatorial, placing things side by side.Indeed it is.

Stephen said...

Thanks for the mammoth baby picture.

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

That is an incredible photo.

I'm enjoying reading your book "Dog Years", after finding it on the library display table with books about animals, my current reading theme, after reading 'Edgar Sawtelle' and 'Hannah's Dream'.

I like to say,"there's no love like dog love. Amen."