Thursday, May 5, 2016

May 5: Painted with Roses, Arctic Aurora Borealis, Gregory Pardlo

I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest.  I'd half awaken.  He'd stick his skull under my nose and purr, stinking of urine and blood.  Some nights he kneaded my bare chest with his front paws, powerfully, arching his back, as if sharpening his claws, or pummeling a mother for milk.  And some mornings I'd wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I'd been painted with roses.

This is the first paragraph of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  It's a pretty gruesome beginning, Dillard waking up in the morning covered in dried carnage.  Yet, there's something beautiful in it, too.  Her old tom paints her with bloody roses in the middle of the night.  As she washes herself, she muses that she could have been covered in the "rose of union, the blood of murder, or the rose of beauty bare and blood of some unspeakable sacrifice or birth.  The sign on my body could have been an emblem or a stain, the keys to the kingdom or the mark of Cain."

I admire the way Dillard is able to take this grisly little scene and turn it into something profound.  I imagine her navigating her days, encountering something heartbreaking with every step.  Look, there's a seagull eviscerating a dead squirrel; think about the tenacity of the gull--running away, coming back, running away, coming back to the carcass until it is stripped clean.  Wow, how 'bout that frost on my windshield this morning, how it spreads across the glass like some arctic aurora borealis.

That's the way I'd like to live my life, with wonder all around me.  Black holes and anemones just a short jaunt away.  Maybe out in the backyard.  The problem is that I'm not paid to record the complexities of the universe in my journal.  I'm paid to enter names in a computer and collect money for things like cardiac ablations and stentings.  My wonder is limited to an hour in the morning and about three or four hours at night, if I can stay awake that long.

I think I need to prioritize my life a little differently.  Yes, it's important that I make enough money to pay my bills.  It's what I do with my "free" time that I need to rethink.  The best part of my day is typing a post for this blog.  It makes me feel . . . like I'm actually a writer, even if I'm not earning any money for these words I send out into the ether.  I can contemplate mystery for a little while each evening and pretend that someone cares about what I'm saying.

So, I need to write more.  Find a project that excites me.  Even if I write something that nobody else wants to read, I will still have written something.  (Being a poet, I'm used to writing stuff that nobody wants to read.)

And who knows?  Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year for his debut novel.  Maybe Saint Marty has a Pulitzer Prize in his future for his debut novel.  Or debut memoir.  Or debut Broadway musical.  Or second poetry collection (it worked for Gregory Pardlo).

It could happen...

Speaking of seeing things a little differently . . . .

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