Friday, November 19, 2010

Solace for two hands

In St. Paul, MN, visiting friends for a few days. When I left WI to drive up here yesterday, it was cold but winter hadn't yet arrived. There were still tufts of green lawn under the scudding clouds. Here in St. Paul there is snow on the ground, and it feels like winter is already settled in. I'm spending a quiet morning in a corner coffeeshop blocks from the Cathedral, sipping hot chocolate, integrating my thoughts and experiences from the past few days.

Observing my own processes. Contemplating the mysteries. Finding some quiet time before diving into the day's threads of active pursuits.

Last night, tired after driving all day, after a long dinner conversation on topics metaphysical, I sat on my friend's couch while he took a bath to unwind, and felt myself growing into that uncommunicatve, reflective mood in which I want to make something, anything, right now. I got out my camera and took B&W photos of his apartment, of his cat, of the streetlight through the night window. I made photos of a piece of Mexican tribal art that he has hanging on his wall near the window. And I made a drawing as well.

You get in that mood, and you just have to do something with it. The creative pressure builds behind the mask of self that you normally present to the world, and you have to get busy doing your creative work, or explode. The mask falls away, and you can seem to be a bit anti-social for the duration. What it really is, though, is concentration on the moment of making, the process and act of creation. Giving it your full attention is respectful both to yourself and to your process. (It helps if the friend you're visiting is also an artist, recognizes the process, and leaves you alone to do it uninterrupted. One of the advantages of having artists as friends is mutual understanding of the needs of the creative process.)

After making photos, and making a pencil drawing, I went back a page or so in my journal and added to a poem that I'd begun last week, then set aside unfinished, as the mood waned then, and as I had chores to do. I knew at the time that the poem wasn't done, and as usual I didn't know if it ever would be. Sometimes they just lie there, unfinished sketches. Sometimes lightning strikes, and you come back to it later, with a fresh eye, and suddenly know just what it needs.

Sometimes the glue that binds the poem together only appears later—and suddenly the poem's structure reveals itself to you, and its theme, and what needs to happen to it in order to breathe life into it, and make something that doesn't just lie there on the page, but comes alive.

In this case, the glue came with the realization of what the poem was about. I had no idea of a title as yet. I did what I often do, which is to look into the poem for a line that can become the title, or indicate what the title might be, as a point of resonance. I noticed the repetition of the word "solace" in the poem, and suddenly the glue made itself known to me, and the poem came into focus and more or less finished writing itself.

Solace for two hands


Stepping away from the overwhelm
that sense you can't get anything done
and back toward a long line of notes
that together make up something
like a sonata, a solace for two hands

Threading simple wires of sound
between warp of carpet and curve of chair
a place to sit under shade trees and listen
while leaves press notes into lyres
a fulcrum settled under waves


Slant of wolf in light
scant knowledge of the terrain
come down a hill covered in snow
silent behind wind
that absorbs every thought


Pure design of light swerving
on highway gap between suns
a soliloquoy within an alley
that silently makes a cat inside
a black windowpane look up at distant geese

The solace in between of in-betweens
become in stained glass blue a summons
to mushroom-clouded glare and roar
some time later like a solstice quiver
expecting bright snow where none has been

Don't think of it don't think
of anything at all in this catacomb
don't let it stumble into form
no form of ending is worth such penance
this revelation at the end of ropes a surcease

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