Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cory Ericson's garden

This cairn is a work-in-progress by Cory Ericson, who lives in Wendell, MA, up toward the New Hampshire border in high deep woods above the Connecticut River Valley. This last week Cory invited us to come out and see his place, after we admired this tower he's building in our friend Dara Wier's front yard out of flagstone and pieces of quartz he pulls out of the woods. There's a light inside, powered by a solar panel, and at night the quartz will glow with a soft, stone-filtered light.

The first thing I thought about at Cory's house and garden was his love for his materials, all found things, especially stones of great character and individuality. He has a profound connection to the mineral world, as Auden did, and he finds garnets, black tourmaline crystals, mica, beryl, schist. Those outbreaks of crystals seem like the thoughts of stones somehow, like outbreaks of energy. He also likes gnarled branches, old bottles, and pieces of metal from the ubiquitous old woodland dumps. He has a heap of rusty iron templates used to make shoes in many sizes; once this pile of scrap stamped out soles and heels, tongues and side-panels. Something strangely elegaic about that pile -- all that old metal meant to makes shelters for human feet.

In the garden Cory's stone walls rise to regular peaks, reminiscent of that famous French house the Surrealists loved by the Postman Chevalier, and more cairns with lights inside. He works unexpected transformations on trees: there are slim maples lashed together into arches, of various sizes. On some trees the slender branches are woven horizontally, sometimes making an arc from one tree to the next. The most amazing of these works is a solitary apple tree whose branches have all been woven horizontally and back in toward the trunk, making the tree into a kind of big complex upswept basket with leaves. It's gnarly and beautiful, and might be something from the garden of a baroque Italian villa.

All Cory's work has a meditative quality about it, the natural and the discarded shaped into objects that are painstakingly assembled, more than a little obsessive, probably impermanent, memorable things with a little loneliness and ache about them, but also with an exuberant flourish, like those crystals in their plain rocks.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pink changes everything

In Frank Lloyd Wright's plans for the Guggenheim Museum, he tried out a number of colors, including "Cherokee Red" and this lavish flamingo-by-night. Would Fifth Avenue be a different place with a pink Guggenheim?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Vertigo in Amherst

We're in Amherst for a week of teaching at the Juniper Institute. I woke up yesterday morning early, to get ready for the first day of workshop, and when I stood up I felt strangely lightheaded. A few minutes later the room was starting to swim. I lay back down and the room kept moving, especially when I moved my head. I thought this would pass in a moment, but every time I'd muster the strength to sit up again, I'd feel the world start a sickening slide. It wasn't long before I felt the responsibilities of the day just fall away; who could do anything without balance, with a head that felt nauseatingly liquid?

Lisa Olstein was kind enough to take over my class; Paul fetched necessities; by late afternoon I made it to the Health Center to have my worst fantasies (Lyme disease?) allayed. I have an ear infection, related to a sinus infection -- maybe something to do with the summer's wild wave of pollen, or maybe all those books I've been sorting from storage, with their accumulation of dust and molds? I'm medicated and much better, albeit not well. Dara Wier's second floor guestroom feels like such a haven: blue window frames, up in the treetops, outside a slow-eddying tide of green. Inviting books, a pierced tin ceiling lamp, a Scottie dog with an infinite interest in giving and receiving calm affection. Something appealing about recuperating there; I'd like to just lie up in that room all day and read, say, George Eliot. But I'm going to teach poetry workshop instead; send me strength.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Skeins of light and legacy on the East End

This morning we needed a couple of things from the hardware store in East Hampton, which is a little bigger than the closer one in Amagansett, so we drove into town and had breakfast, bought the necessary supplies, and then thought to stop by The Drawing Room, a gallery that had a show up by Robert Harms we'd read about in the Times. Harms spent the last year painting beside a pond in Southampton, and the reproduction in the review was alluringly full of water-light, and I liked that his work seemed in the line of Joan Mitchell, a painter I love.

The show was just beautiful -- vital, watery dramas of color and brushstroke that didn't so much represent the surface of things as enact the motions and layers of that surface. In the white, light-filled little rooms of the gallery, the work just sang.

And then Robert Harms himself appeared, who turned out to be a friend of our pal Eileen Myles, and as we got to talking we learned that it was Robert, a friend of the late Joe LeSueur's, who'd found on Joe's desk after his death the manuscript of a book of reminiscences about O'Hara and his poems. Joe hadn't felt confident enough about the book to publish it during his lifetime, but Robert loved it, and gave it to Jonathan Galassi, who edited the manuscript. And thus we got the best book about O'Hara I know, SOME DIGRESSIONS ON POEMS BY FRANK O'HARA. Its off-the-cuff, casual memories of who was doing what and sleeping with whom and what was going on while a particular poem was composed are wonderful; they give you the texture of the conversation and presence of the man himself.

A painting of Robert's from the Parish Musuem in Southampton called GREEN RAIN is above, and you can read about the show at The Drawing Room here.

There's something thrilling about these artistic legacies being so close at hand: O'Hara to LeSueur to Harms, and here is talking with us on a rainy Thursday morning, while the paintings glow around us.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bourbon and Dumaine, 9:30 PM, 6/12/2009

To go to the zoo... usually to spend as much time watching people as watching (other) animals. The last couple of days at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, I've been very aware of watching school groups, big roaming packs of kids hurrying from exhibit to exhibit, and also smaller family groups making their way through the heat from the elephants to the cafe to Monkey Hill. So I started thinking about what it is that children actually experience at the zoo, what are they seeing, noticing, remembering?

And thus this question, to anyone interested: What are your childhood memories of a trip to the zoo, what stands out?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What immortal hand or eye?

I'm in New Orleans today working on my zoo project. I toured the zoo with Brenda Walkenhorst, the education director. Brenda told me a great story about how she and her husband evacuated during Katrina with their fifteen animals -- dogs, cats, rats, chickens, guinea pigs, and probably some more I'm not remembering just now. And I thought Paul and I had trouble finding a motel in our dog-traveling days! We wandered around the zoo and looked at a hot island of flamingos. Four giraffes roaming around in a circle (they wanted their dinner) with a combination of grace and ungainliness that's entirely alien to human movement. A Louisiana black bear up to his neck in swamp-water, cooling down. It was so hot I wanted to get in there with him; it looked so inviting, to be swimming in dark water with that brilliant green algae on top.

And: tapirs. Two pure white alligators with blue eyes (hard not to think they were artificial) who live in indoor tanks because they'd perish of sunburn. Jaguars in repose, somehow both placid and tense at once. Curious and lively-faced river otters.

Earlier today I'd been reading Paul Mariani's biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and at the zoo I found myself thinking about the terrific felicity of his descriptive gift. Watching swallows in flight, he notes "the lisp of their wings." Studying carnations, he says they're "powdered with spankled red glister." Oak leaves are "platter-shaped stars." Each of these examples owes some of its sense of accuracy to its artfully built music: that "lisp" is a very precise way to evoke a certain kind of scissoring of wings; "spankled" and "glister" push against each other so pleasingly as to create a sonic equivalent or suggestion of the physicality of that particular red. He understands that what speech can do -- make music -- is a way that it approximates what it cannot: render the nuanced exactness of perception.

After the zoo closed, Carol, another education person, took me back behind the elephant exhibit to meet the two elephants, one in her forties and the other in her thirties, who've been together there for years. They were in their big cool barn, about to dine on hay and a pile of ginger plants; their handler asked them to step forward to see us. I fed them banana pieces -- first giving the piece to the marvelously articulated trunks and then putting one right into a great gray mouth. I stroked their massive foreheads with the odd thick hairs scattered here and there, looked into their eyes which are surrounded by a cluster of long, coarse lashes, splaying out like flower petals. I stood between them to be photographed, and one investigated my left shoe with her trunk; I could feel the very vital muscle of its aperture working my shoe leather, like a foot massage. How to describe them? Thoughtful, unhurried, something emotional in their presence -- I don't know if I mean that they themselves seem to be feeling, or that they provoke feeling in me, probably both.

And then we went into a cool, locked hallway, rather like a kennel -- and there, behind one of the barred doors, was a four hundred pound white Bengal tiger, of astonishing beauty, lying down with his huge front paws flat on the cool floor, and his open and curious gaze turned to us. He'd come inside to escape the heat; he seemed to like us, though when we began to talk about Blake and symmetry, and I recited a line or two of the poem, he stood up, turned around, and lay down again with his rump to us. Oh well.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Entire delight at Quail Hill Farm

Today was our first harvest day at Quail Hill, the community-sponsored farm we've joined. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, members come for harvest days, and the people who work the farm post signs to tell you what's ready, and how much you can pick. The farm's spread over twenty acres, and there are intensely cultivated fields, and an apple orchard, a barn, a chicken house, and greenhouses. Today, while the rain mercifully held off till we were almost done, we took our orientation tour and then picked our share of what was ready: four kinds of lettuce, arugula, pointy-leafed spinach with a slightly purple tinge at the leaf edge, pea shoots, sage flowers, chive flowers, bronze fennel,intensely-flavored lovage (like concentrate of celery) -- plus garlic scapes and ten astonishingly slender long whips of green and violet asparagus, which we had in an omelette for breakfast. But not before rushing through the radish rows as the rain began, and pulling up little eggs of scarlet, plum, white, and even the French breakfast kind with their scarlet tube tipped in a white point. All came with the brown rich Amagansett dirt clinging to their roots, which made a veritable skim of mud in the kitchen sink: beautiful food and beautiful earth. It's like getting your hands down close to the source, "the dearest freshness deep down things." But it comes with a reminder that Hopkins' "dearest freshness" is also a sign of vigor, of a great wild force moving up and through, out into the rainy light, as though whatever fueled the thunder also came pouring up through the new roots and into the upshooting leaves.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Another moving day

We're back, after a fairly endless day of moving that actually wasn't all that bad, just long and wearying. Woke to a rainy dim Cape morning, with the ashen aspect of the breakwater and Provincetown Harbor out our motel window. It looked like some moody English seaside resort. For breakfast We went to a place we've always liked, a decades-old local restaurant, doggedly unfancy, with stuffed fish on the knotty pine walls. It represented something likable about Provincetown, with its mix of old Portuguese families, gay and straight tourists, old people -- all having fried fish platters and various kinds of cod, accompanied by baked potatoes and bowls of iceberg lettuce. Very sweet. Though this morning when we walked in, the woman at the door actually said -- instead of say,"Good morning"-- "Well, you're not fisherman so I'll have to seat you in the back." Every head in the place swiveled when we followed her to our table; we were the only gay men in the place, as it seemed to be some kind of fishing breakfast club meeting. I was steaming, sent to the back of the bus because I wasn't a hetero guy. I mean, does the fact that we're wearing nicely dark jeans and stylish glasses definitively indicate that we're not fishermen? Are gay men and fishermen two exclusive groups? Somehow this seemed especially wrong after the President's marvelous speech this morning, which we'd listened to over in-room coffee in the motel. Americans and Muslims, he noted, are not exclusive categories, are not in opposition. With homosexual men and fishermen, it may be a different story.

Or maybe that's just Provincetown, where the ongoing drama of sexual difference -- which seems to offer freedom and acceptance -- goes on provoking tension and polarization.

Then to the storage unit, where in a while two very nice Haitian guys showed up, and very carefully loaded their truck with all our boxes and furniture, talking soft Creole all the while. I was moved, watching them carry things out, because the old furniture looked so beautiful, and suddenly I felt that it really had been worth it to store that stuff for three years, and that something wonderful had been saved from the past. The loading took till noon, followed by an afternoon of traveling, and what with waiting two hours for a ferry it was after eight when we got home, and nine by the time the movers arrived. They carried things in (with lots of assistance from us) in the dark. Now our house seems disorderly and full of things to be attended to, but in truth there's lots of promise, too.

I opened only one box, which was labeled "kitchen." The contents seemed to have nothing to do with the kitchen whatsoever -- some framed pages from a 19th century botanical album of pressed and labeled plants, and an open tin can of Arden's favorite food, in which we'd saved, in the weeks after his death, the bits of black dog hair we'd find on the floorboards or on the rug. The very first box I open and it pierced my heart.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Opening Pharoah's tomb

This morning we're driving to Provincetown. It's a pretty glorious trip: first to Sag Harbor, then over a tiny ferry to Shelter Island, then across that green isle to a slightly longer ferry to Greenport, and then a drive to Orient Point. From there, it's an hour or so on our third ferry to New London. Then things get a little less romantic, as we take 95 to southern Massachusetts, then the Bourne Bridge onto the Cape. Ah.

We're cleaning out our storage unit in Truro. Tomorrow, quite early, a mover will meet us there, load everything up, and then the somewhat distilled accumulation of 15 years in Provincetown will arrive in the Springs. Books, a bunch of sweetly bad old landscape paintings, my majolica collection, probably a little too much of the old painted New England furniture I love: an apple-green jelly cupboard Wally and I bought at an auction in a darker green Vermont field twenty years ago, a wonderful little blue wooden cabinet that I bought from my neighbor Frank on Pearl Street, an old red table with a page or so of 1920s fashion advertisements stuck to its finish for ninety years. Lots of boxes. In truth, I don't even remember what's in them, though I will when I open them. One of the repeated processes of moving is confrontation with memory: out of the box, which could contain practically anything, comes the evidence of a specific day, a particular person, a year. I don't mean to portray this as an occasion of glowing sentiment: it seems an experience made of equal parts of joy, startle, sadness, and the plain dumb-to-language experience of the strangeness of being in time.