long day. I was tired, I was nervous.
I had a conference with Marie Howe at her apartment. Nothing felt prepared. Nothing. Had I written enough? Was I ready to defend the “poetry” I had been producing?
What was this, anyway? This “prose” or perhaps it was “poetry”? Or perhaps it was simply a string of things, a little bit of words strung about on a page…. a transcription of how the day had passed…how my memory told its longest history.
How did I end up here, anyway? I thought, as I boarded the Metro North Railroad at New Rochelle.
God. Look at me. I have a notebook.
I have a black messenger bag. I have a ticket and I’m going to Grand Central.
Look at that man, sitting across from me. He’s so beautiful. He’s holding a child. I am rocking my body to one of the greatest cities in the world. And I am worried about my meager words?
So I arrive. Do not doubt this. Do not doubt the day. It is real and you are its child. You have lived to breathe this breath. THIS BREATH.
I took one and found my way to the shuttle to Times Square. A man looks at me on the platform.
You don’t look like a New Yorker, he says…Are you a New Yorker?
Um, well, I live in New Rochelle, I say.
Oh, well, that counts, he says, and laughs.
I smile. I beam my smile toward him. Because my iPod has some Monks chanting Psalm 19 in my ears. I can’t discern their exact words, is this Latin, I don’t know…but I feel rooted.
And he spoke to me. I smile, smile. He smiles.
Actually, I’m originally from Texas, I say.
I look down. I look down and remember a friend of mine said that when I look at my shoes, people think they did something wrong. So I stop looking down. I look back at him.
He says, I knew it! Well, I could just tell. It’s refreshing, don’t get me wrong. You’re just. You have a nice smile.
We get on the shuttle. He sits next to me. I say, Thank you.
Do you like New York? He asks.
Yes. I smile. The monks are saying Amen.
I have some land upstate. He says. I like the country. I bet you miss the country.
Yes. Sometimes. But when I’m in the country, I’d miss running into people like you on crowded shuttles to Times Square.
He laughs. He says, True.
I leave; find the 1 to Christopher St. Where’s such and such street, I ask a random dog walker.
One block down, he says as the mutts paw my jeans. I’m sorry, he says.
No problem. I don’t mind. Cute dogs, I say.
I walk, listening to the monks and the bells. The bells. The bells.
The dog walker taps me on the shoulder
I’m sorry! It’s actually three blocks down!
Thank you, I say. Thank you so much.
Smile. Smile. It is glorious, this day.
Still, my hands are shaking. How are my words doing? Am I writing? Right now, am I? Who should I be writing to? Which ones should I show her? What’s my whole body saying, right now? What…what….what is this moment in the scheme of things?
There’s a theatre on the corner. People are standing in line. It’s 7:00 pm. And this exact 7 pm will not be repeated. Remember that, Shannon. Remember this is THE 7 pm. And no other. You are a child of this 7 pm.
Oh, are you trying to get in? A man asks as I stand outside the door, waiting to buzz Marie.
Oh, um, well I’m just waiting. I say.
(I am supposed to wait until half past for my appointment).
Well, wait inside, where it’s warm, he says.
Oh, OK. Thank you. Thanks. I say as he pulls his keys out.
Thank you. Thank you for your keys. And your blue jeans. And those lovely shoes. You’re gorgeous. I think. You’re a fine man.
The stairs are so narrow. It creaks. So many bits of shoes have kissed the carpet. And now I am one of its suitors.
Should I knock on her door? Should I wait?
Again, again. What do I do? As my words cling and clatter in my messenger bag.
Hold on, I say. You’ll get a chance to speak. My little ones, my poems. My half-lives. I don’t know what exactly to call you. Call you. Should I knock?
Break to the scene where I am sitting on her couch.
You should never wait. This is your time. You’re having a hot flash, aren’t you? She asks.
Yes. I am sorry. I say. Fanning my face.
But I didn’t…I didn’t want to interrupt. Don’t be patient. Be aggressive.
I just don’t feel like I’m writing poetry….
The poems, they kind of do this dance.
I am on my feet. Don’t you see? I mean my knees. And how does the city curl inside my guts?
But the monks! The monks have their bread at night. And sing about the earth. Holding their breaths until mass.
This is going to sound cheesy, I say. I know. I know. But I feel like they are like my children. And I don’t know what to do with them yet. What can I do to help you be who you are supposed to be? They are just running around, you know? These “poems” these “works.”
It’s to God, isn’t it?
Why. Are you ashamed?
No. Yes. What can I do?
On the train home, a man with a field coat and the Financial Times. I told him, hello. Hello. Man. Man I know I shouldn’t say this. But you have kind eyes. See? We both have blue ones. Blue pearls. Did you sail once, as a boy, into the deep corner of some canyon? I held you then. Though, I was not alive. You were 10 and I was 20 years to birth. Remember? Yes. I loved you just as I love this minute.
What will I do with all of the words?
The field coat, he hung it on the hook behind his seat. He put on tortoise shell glasses. I was still listening to the monks chant. I was going back to New Rochelle. He was on his way to Connecticut. I know. I looked at his ticket.
This is how it feels to love the railings. So much. Are these to God?
I have a notebook. I write in it. The man next to me, he has a kid going to college. In California. Didn’t want to follow his dad’s footsteps to Harvard.
What to do with the string of things. These words. She said, keep writing. Are you ashamed?
Later, I will write:
Work must take time—so we can appreciate its gift. Not to demand, either from ourselves or the work, swift production—but that the work demands our attention, patience, servitude. How else will be become intimate with the infinite, with what cries out to last long after our shells crumble? Its not about us, our reward or fame—it’s about the complete body of what forms through us, what waits to speak to generations.
Oh, and then I will read:
“Is life so wretched? Isn’t it rather your hands which are too small, your vision which is muddled? You are the one who must grow up.”
“Dare he, for whom circumstances make it possible to realize his true destiny, refuse it simply because he is not prepared to give up everything else?
Thank you, Dag Hammerskjold
Your will to unearth the running stream of passion. Your only moment between the hardest of hours was to question your own voice.
This is the feeling. What I felt on the train. In Greenwich Village. In a kind of longing. Where my words were to be up front and center. In this blessed day. Does it matter? What are the smallest bits of me to say?
See this as my prayer. As I ride the shuttle to Times Square with a man who tells me of his land upstate. As I ask for directions from the dog walker. As I tell the stranger in the filed coat on the Metro North that, in fact, I love him. As I learn to ask for patience. As I lean into the couch as she tells me to read the diaries of a Holocaust Survivor. Who, who, am I to converse with her?
Humble words. I have a notebook. On the train to New Rochelle, I have a notebook.
Dare I refuse? Are you ashamed, she asks.
Me: straddling a fence between the immediate and the lasting—the night of someone’s body and the voice which outlasts the body—to dedicate hours to study or not, to choose social thirst or spiritual, need for attention now or after death. And who’s attention is it toward, anyway? Am I not a creature in thought? A mere shadows of the Universe?
Hello, he said.
I have the Beatles playing. He said.
And so we danced. Moment to moment. Danced.
What did she say? He asked.
She asked if I was ashamed. Said I should keep writing what I was writing.
I said as we danced. To the Beatles.
Is this writing? He asked?
Yes. I said. This is.