Friday, October 29, 2010

If the locomotive... (parts two and three)

Last night I was so weary after a day of teaching and panel-participating that I ducked out of the evening reading here after the first reader was done: i'd like to have heard my two other colleagues read but I just couldn't attend to another thing. So I started walking up the hill to our room by myself in the dark, and just as my mountain lion fantasy began to assert itself, there in the darkness by the path was a jackrabbit, sitting up, elegantly lunar long ears alert. She was just sitting, and didn't budge till I walked over toward her and she scurried ahead a little. Then I realized why she wasn't darting away: a baby about the size of my hand was wandering around on the pine needles by my feet. This seemed a possible message from the night: you will not be eaten by a mountain lion, Mark, at least not tonight, but you might get to say hello to a mama jackrabbit.

And then tonight, after Terrance Hayes, John D'Agata and I read, Paul and I came walking back and took a different, higher path, so dark that we had to trust the gravel under our shoes to tell us we hadn't wandered astray, and over and behind the sound of some writers talking on the path below, we heard this high pitched concatenation of -- sirens? emergency vehicles? the whoops of cop cars when they want you to move over? Of course -- coyotes, in a grand yipping conclave, a wild-toned Bacchante pack. Wonderful, primal, disruptive, the delicious shiver of otherness in it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down....

Paul and I are at the Marconi Center, a coastal conference place just north of Point Reyes, on the incredible coast about an hour from San Francisco. The grounds -- which smell like eucalyptus, conifers, moss and rosemary-- are very dark at night, and we were walking up a steepish dark trail after the reading last night with two women we didn't know, participants in the conference. Somebody mentioned mountain lions, and we cheerfully recounted the story we'd head from a local fellow, who a few years back was walking in the middle of the day in the golden grasses up on the mountain above the dining hall when he saw such a creature stalking through the grass. He talked about how struck he was by the animal's movement, and I thought how much I'd love to see such a thing, even if were in the dark on the way back to our room. The women grew quiet after we told this story, and I admit that I found myself taking boyish pleasure in scaring them just a iittle with the idea of beastly proximity. I am afraid of various things, but mountain lions are not one of then, and I found myself quoting Jack Gibert's brilliant poem "A Brief for the Defense": "if the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, we should be grateful that our end had magnitude." I know there's a certain bravura jokiness in that sentence, but I also think I would rather be eaten by a cougar than, say, be devoured by an English Department. My companions did not see either the humor in this or the allure of magnitude, at least not at that moment on the dark path. And needless to say I don't really WANT to be eaten by a mountain lion. Not very much.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Good morning Baltimore...

My hosts here kindly found us a pet-friendly hotel, the Sheraton downtown, so Ned has just spent his first night in a hotel. The best part was the big bed, which allowed for mutual sprawl. We were both worn out from travel and the reading (three hours on a college campus with a lot of people around is little overstimulating for a young fellow) and unwound from the reading with answering e-mails and much rubbing of the blonde belly.

This morning, however, was a little more frantic. The patient and calm Ned, once he saw me putting on my socks, began to wiggle and jump and bark. (Is there anyone in the next room?) Down the hall to the elevator, and when the doors slid open Ned walked in, eyed the smooth travertine of the floor, and started to pee, the spreading puddle distinctly yellow against that bone-colored stone. What to do? I stuck my foot in the door, which alarmed Ned so much he ran out of the elevator back onto the carpet. I thought about running back to the room for a towel, but surely the elevator would be gone by the time we got back. On the bureau across from the elevator door was one copy of USA TODAY -- the perfect use for that paper! I wadded it up and set to work, Ned pulling at his leash and looking at the doors (which kept trying to close) with alarm. Then some kind of buzzer went off, a sign that something -- me -- was stuck between them. If I pulled my arm in, the doors would close on the leash, I'd be going down, and Ned would be left on the third floor wondering what happened. It didn't seem possible to push forward, but I gave it a go and the doors loosed their grip, sending me tumbling toward Ned and the paper sleeve of my coffee cup cup flying down into the bit of pee that remained on the floor. Maybe that would make it look like a bit of spilled coffee?

So we headed to the stairs, me with my big bundle of wet newspaper, Ned excited about walking down the hall. I forgot that he has been afraid of going down flights of stairs; in the city, where we live in a third floor walk-up, he simply sits down at the top of the stairway and expects to be carried down. This morning, no such thing: he went trotting down four flights of stairs into the lobby, where we strolled out to the revolving door and the sidewalk: Baltimore! October! So many thing to attend to: pigeons, passing dogs, children in strollers, anyone wearing a hat. We were promptly thrown out of a corporate plaza across the street, then headed west, into a universe of things to be investigated by nose and mouth: spilled drinks, urine, napkins, chicken bones, pizza crust, kleenex, KFC boxes, more newspaper, and the invitingly distinct scents of the shoes of men sitting at bus stops.