Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gathering In

I spent some time, this cold clear winter afternoon, before winter officially begins, gathering in what I have made in the past year, to look over, to remark, to assess. The past three years I have pulled together all poems written within the year into annual master files. This is both backup and overview. I spent some hours today gathering in this year's poem-harvest, bemused, as before, that there were as many individual shoots and branches as there were. I never seem to know how many pieces I have left scattered behind me in the road; I usually look forward, not back. The road goes ever on and on, and looking back is not always wise; except occasionally, just to see how far one has traveled. At some point, it's smart to stop and tell the bees, so they can spread the news around.

In this bleak, bitter cold, I look through what I've gathered, somewhat surprised. Did I write that this year? I thought it was so much older. Time compresses around art-making, so that you sometimes feel as if you've lived with a piece your entire life, but it's been only months. And time also dances around what we make, when we look more forwards than back, dancing that spiral dance that emerges and re-emerges and dissolves back into our deepest blood.

Snow Spiral, from Spiral Dance

I look over what I've made, this past cycle of time, and realize the time was not all ill-spent, not as wasted and empty as I had sometimes felt. Out of deserts come fountains, their blue water all the more precious for running down the sunstruck redrock.

Mostly what I've made I cannot explain, anymore than I can see the source of the desert water. The spring emerges from the stone, but did it flow down inside the cliff, or horizontally along strata from a scarp far the other side of nowhere? Are our sources near or far? Time and space collapse into knowing only that the water arrives, as it arrives, trickle by drop, never drying up, no less wet for rising into dry, dry air.

I can remember when I took a photograph, and where it was taken, the time of day, the location, the conditions, even sometimes what I was thinking as I looked through the viewfinder, preparatory to releasing the shutter. We release the shutter as if it were a hound that runs faster than eyesight, slipping out and back in a brief wind. I can often remember the technical details. But the photograph, looked at months later, remains a mystery, something sudden and unseen that has quickened into a moment one can contemplate long. There's no way to explain the way paper captures time. We can talk around it, even explain it away; we can rationalize why the shutter was snapped that moment, just so. But in truth it remains mysterious: spirit moving the finger, spirit posing for its own portrait, revealing itself in stopped motion to be never-stopping, never-still. If you wait long enough for spirit to take the photo, removing yourself from the occasion, you can make one or two true images in a life.

And the hours of music that spool out along the road like weightless threads hovering in air, as far behind back down the road as the horizon. The tapestry of never-ending. It rolls along, unbroken, a continuous silent soundtrack, never still, always vibrating, collapsing and expanding with the lunging never-quiet breath. Draw in through nose and out through song. As the road goes ever on and on.

Out of the book come drawing and words, the road's journal. Somehow the hand moves, still, moves again, tracing loops and lines and circles. Patterns of hand-turned ink carry meaning into the way ahead, carpeting the way behind. You can only look at the book's voice so long, before the page blinds and sears. The glare from light reflecting off that white seamless ground, tracks dancing on snow. Who left these marks, no one can name. They are here, noticed, remarked, but never owned.

Which rose first, the moon or the trees?



Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I find this whole looking back on the previous year so arbitrary. I can't say I've ever done it. Also I produce so little and file as I go that there's no need to gather anything. It's not that I never look back but I am finding more and more that it doesn't interest me very much. I say that I've always had a bad memory. I don't think that's really the case. It is simply a lack of interest in what I can't change. I'm also acutely aware of how we rewrite history anyway. On the whole this has been a year I'll probably gloss over. It's been a year I've survived. A few decent poems. Published a book I didn't have the energy to promote.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Here now, Ebenezer, lighten up. :)

Just kidding.

As you say, you gather in continuously rather than annually. One could argue that that's continuous looking-back rather than periodic. I'm not sure which is healthier, mentally. I only look backwards periodically; most of the time, I'm looking towards the next project.

The arbitrariness for me comes in when people say that you're supposed to do it during a certain season, a certain time of year, and ignore it the rest of the time.

Traditionally, anciently, winter was a dormancy time, an inward time, a time when the agrarian cycle was waiting. So people naturally looked inward, and assessed. Perhaps the modern flailing about at the holidays is a faint remnant of the old cycles.

But it's arbitrary, I agree, to do it at one time and not another. I do it when I feel like it, which can be any time. This past year for me has been a continuous sweep of re-assessment, in the wake of my parents' passings. I make no bones about it. I'm figuring out what to do next, by looking at what I've done so far. I've said so lots of times. There will be more of it to come.

Perhaps we're different, though, in that I produce a lot more than I can ever keep track of. I have for years. I don't try to track it or file it very often, until I need to. I usually remember where things are, when I need them again. (And I have filing software for helping with that, too.) When I do look back over the past year's output, I am often surprised at how much there is, because I often just keep going forward, letting it scatter out the back of the caravan as I go. Looking back for me is only periodic, not continuous.

11:58 AM  

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