Wednesday, January 6, 2016

January 6: Red-Winged Blackbirds, Leisurely Pace, Kim Addonizio, "Mermaid Song"

Unfortunately, nature is very much a now-you-see-it, now-you-don't affair.  A fish flashes, then dissolves in the water before my eyes like so much salt.  Deer apparently ascend bodily into heaven; the brightest oriole fades into leaves.  These disappearances stun me into stillness and concentration; they say of nature that it conceals with a grand nonchalance, and they say of vision that it is a deliberate gift, the revelation of a dancer who for my eyes only flings away her seven veils.  For nature does reveal as well as conceal:  now-you-don't-see-it, now-you-do.  For a week last September migrating red-winged blackbirds were feeding heavily down by the creek at the back of the house.  One day I went out to investigate the racket; I walked up to a tree, an Osage orange, and a hundred birds flew away.  They simply materialized out of the tree.  I saw a tree, then a whisk of color, then a tree again.  I walked closer and another hundred blackbirds took flight.  Not a branch, not a twig budged:  the birds were apparently weightless as well as invisible.  Or, it was as if the leaves of the Osage orange had been freed from a spell in the form of red-winged blackbirds; they flew from the tree, caught my eye in the sky, and vanished.  When I looked again at the tree the leaves had reassembled as if nothing had happened.  Finally I walked directly to the trunk of the tree and a final hundred, the real diehards, appeared spread, and vanished.  How could so many hide in the tree without my seeing them?  The Osage orange, unruffled, looked just as it had looked from the house, when three hundred red-winged blackbirds cried from its crown.  I looked downstream where they flew, and they were gone.  Searching, I couldn't spot one.  I wandered downstream to force them to play their hand, but they'd crossed the creek and scattered.  One show to a customer.  These appearances catch at my throat; they are the free gifts, the bright coppers at the roots of trees.

Yes, I know these passages from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek are long.  Annie Dillard does not write short paragraphs.  But the beauty of her description stuns me.  The very idea of so many miracles hidden in the branches of a single tree.  That's why I chose this book.  It reminds me that, even though the world is filled violence and strife and darkness (and that's just Donald Trump), there are wonders out there, just waiting to be revealed.

It has been a quiet day of vacation.  Both of my children went to school this morning (my daughter was home sick yesterday).  My wife and I slept a little, and then I got up, got dressed, and went to shovel out a friend's house from the recent snowstorm.  My friend is visiting family in California and is due back soon.

The snow had formed a thick crust, like cream on top of milk.  As I pushed my shovel into it, its surface sort of splintered upward, erupting in white shards.  And it made a sound like snapping styrofoam.  It took me about an hour to undo the work of Mother Nature.

Tonight, I will be working in my office at the university.  Classes start back up in less than a week, and I have to get myself organized.  Syllabi to update.  Assignments to finalize.  Copies to make.  All the busy work that accompanies the start of a new semester.

I must say that I enjoy the leisurely pace of this first week of January, when I take time off from both of my jobs (medical office and college).  It puts me in a meditative state of being.  Sort of like that snow I shoveled this morning.  On the surface, calm and white, but with potential for icy explosions of sound.  I like the pace of my life right now.

In a few minutes, I have to go pick my daughter up from school.  She's fifteen now.  High school freshman.  A little gawky, full of grace and awkwardness.  She'll come stalking up to my car and fling herself into the front seat.  As the car starts moving, I'll ask her, "How was school?"  She'll shrug her shoulders in that teenage girl way and say, "Okay, I guess."  Or she'll kick her feet, flail like a trout on a beach, say something like, "Whyeeeee?"

Saint Marty is grateful for this day, this time.  For shoveled snow.  For his not-so-little girl.  His little mermaid.

Mermaid Song

by:  Kim Addonizio

for Aya at fifteen

Damp-haired from the bath, you drape yourself
upside down across the sofa, reading,
one hand idly sunk into a bowl
of crackers, goldfish with smiles stamped on.
I think they are growing gills, swimming
up the sweet air to reach you. Small girl,
my slim miracle, they multiply.
In the black hours when I lie sleepless,
near drowning, dread-heavy, your face
is the bright lure I look for, love's hook
piercing me, hauling me cleanly up.

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