It’s a bright sunny January day and I’m cold—freezing actually—even though the frost on the lawn melted hours ago, wafting up in ghostly drifts—even though I’m wearing several layers of clothes, like Heidi when she arrived at her grandfather’s house in the Alps.
The poet in me paces, turns the heat to 68 (a rare event since we usually keep the thermostat at 64-66). She makes a cup of Zen tea, worrying, worrying the entire time—is it spiritual cold? Is it some signal from the atmosphere, personal, or maybe even global?
Am I coming down with something again? (I just got over a bout of flu.) Or am I simply experiencing the chill that goes along with certain mornings, that sluggish iciness in the veins that occasionally strikes on even the most clement of spring days?
Whatever it is I pile on the blankets then listen to Susan Stewart’s Cambridge Forum talk on poetry and perception. I reread the Bill Moyers interview with Paul Muldoon in Fooling With Words—I have a bit more leisure to do this now, old as I am, young as I was.
I get up to do the dishes, feeling the ice in my knees but I’m preoccupied. Something is beginning to write itself in my head. The shine on the wet tumblers I set to drain by the sink beams into me; I sense a thaw, a trickling at the base of my brain.
Six paragraphs in and a tangible warming. The brain and heart blood circulating. The oxygen flowing again. (This is exactly what I mean when I tell students: Write or die!) I hear the garbage trucks swinging by outside, saving us from epidemic and plague. I feel our brothers the ants tunneling beneath me in their subterranean caves—
I am losing myself in and to the Word—dressed in my layers I begin toiling toward it like that “small and shapeless person” up the mountain to some Alm-Uncle—like an ant, laboring in the communal villages of language.
“You just become absorbed in how words work, making them work for you. If you’re very lucky, those words will occasionally make some music. And that takes over your life.”*
Under a Yellow Leaf
I was trying to learn what it is to be nearly
invisible, the size of a pink pea
blossom’s sticky anther, a single grain
of pollen. I shrank down then stretched
out on my back under the leaf’s
crisp spine. I shook myself loose
the way an adventurer shakes the dust
from his boots, having just returned home
by ship from a perilous voyage
during which he starved and almost
drowned. What did I see down there?
Everything! The rootless tree
*Paul Muldoon, Fooling With Words, page 162.