A Wilderness of Bears
So there I was, in the darkened bear cave, quietly working. Even though it was broad day outside, the only light came from the blue glow of my 40″ workstation monitor, the only sound was the light whirr of my 2 gig graphics card’s cooling fan. Yes, it’s quiet, but it drives me nuts, so I always have music playing. At that moment, it was “The Lark Ascending,” by Vaughan Williams. Anything will do, really.
I heard a disturbance outside, noticed the door handle turning. And then Kate came striding in, wearing her brand new leather boots, black with low heels, perfect for walking. I knew instantly something was up, something serious. When she just wants me to write, she carries her frying pan, cast iron with a long handle. She’s good at swinging, and with so much practice I’ve learned how to duck. But her hands were empty. This could only be trouble.
“William,” she began as she arranged herself in the big emerald arm chair, “you need to pick our Pushcart nominations. Right now!”
“Oh, geez. I don’t want to. This is why I never watch the NCAA basketball tournament. I want ALL 64 teams to win. And I want every single one of our contributors to feel good about their participation in our humble project. I don’t want to choose among them. Do I have to?”
“Yes. And I’ve been bugging you for days about writing an editorial, so people know what you like. What do you like?”
“I like you!,” I said.
“Focus! Details!,” she said, crossing her legs and kicking her foot lightly up and down.
“I like those boots: black leather with three intricate grommeted leather ribbons circling each ankle. The patterned stockings underneath- I want to trace every whorl of the design gently with my finger. And that skirt you’re wearing, oh my goodness, coral or rose silk with peonies against an ebony background. That belt with the gold celtic knot buckle… I still remember the day we bought it. It was cold outside, freezing, and your dark hair was beautiful against the swirling snow behind you. And that blouse, with the inviting buttons… I’d best not speak of those. And the little jacket with the jewelled peacock pin. You’re everything I’ve ever desired.”
“Returning to the subject at hand,” she said, “why do you pick the stories and essays and poems and art you choose for the journal. You must have some criteria?”
“I like to be seduced by beauty and passion.”
“Fine. There has to be a strong center, coupled with boundaries. There are always interesting things at the edges, like the seam of your blouse against your skin. A delicate scale. I like it when the elements return – your belt, those boots. The shape of your skirt, the positive space, defined. There needs to be a kind of deep interlocking, and at the same time an ambiguity. Contrasts and gradients and echoes and maybe even a tiny bit of roughness, a few wayward strands of hair near your ear, a sweet disorder within the careful refinement. Complex simplicity through interconnectedness. Effortless transparency, smooth and straightforward. That’s all I look for.”
“And do you find it?”
“Every day. Take today. Danielle Hanson sent us that poem, Love Song. It has all those qualities. And there are unexpected, surprising moments: “I’ve been learning a lost language / By listening to your thoughts.” I just love that.
“OK, who else?”
“Britny Cordera. Did you know she sets up in the town square, with her typewriter, and offers to create poems for passersby? And the things she comes up with, out of nowhere: “To knead the breath of a single olive shoot / is the scent of silver-green, / cerulean winds toting Aegean brine / upon their tendrils…” That’s from Van Gogh’s Metamorphoses. I could read her work all day.
“Hedy Habra. Deeper Than Tattoo. She must be classically educated, there’s such depth there, but it’s covert, not showy. There’s real emotion in the intricate detail: “Japanese Kintsukuroi fills / cracks with gold or silver, its filigree tells the true story, / the way scars map our skin / and heart.” I’m in awe of her talent.
“Clarence Major. Aesthetic Debt. Art, and the artistic process, as a gamble at the Casino in Monte Carlo. The setting, the risks, the stakes, the surprising turns. “What of the natural discourse / between art and the recipient, / the radical highlights, / the dismantled reverence, / religious reverence, graphic turmoil?” We share an aesthetic. “Know I would accounted be…”
“It’s Yeats, never mind. Five: Kelly Cherry. Murray, the Short Order Cook. A short story, mostly in dialogue: an encounter with God and Paradise. And Kansas City. You need to read it – serious subjects, lightly and delicately done.”
“Alfred Corn. The Peahen. Everyone focuses on the peacocks, but he sees the hen, her emotions, her concerns. “What she’s got are the peachicks, / boys most of them but all / now covered in down. They squirm and flop / needily against her white breast. / The cock was good for something…”
“I know. Admirably well done.”
“That’s it. You can go back to what you were doing…”
“But there are so many others! I can make an argument for every single one! Take this poem from…”
“Basta! You get six, and no more. I have to go and make letterhead for the journal. Do you know we have to send this by mail? And it has to be postmarked by today!”
And off she went, that skirt beautifully swishing behind her. I could watch that forever. I heard the clack of her heels on the stones of the cave, and the door closing quietly behind her. The only thing left was the scent of her perfume, which she swears she doesn’t wear. Maybe she doesn’t, who knows? And I turned back to my screen, and my reading: “Cold and golden lay the high heroine / in a wilderness of bears…” And that other song of his, which so often comes to mind:
“Forget not, when the rest is wholly done
and all of her splendors opened, one by one,
to add that she likes Henry, for reasons unknown,
and fate has bound them fast
one to another in linkages that last
and that are fair to see.”
December 1, 2016