O N V I S I T I N G A B O R R O W E D C O U N T R Y H O U S E I N A R C A D I A
By A. E. Stallings
To leave the city
Always takes a quarrel. Without warning,
Rancors that have gathered half the morning
Like things to pack, or a migraine, or a cloud,
Are suddenly allowed
To strike. They strike the same place twice.
We start by straining to be nice,
Then say something shitty.
Isn't it funny
How it's what has to happen
To make the unseen ivory gates swing open,
The rite we must perform so we can leave?
Always we must grieve
Our botched happiness: we goad
Each other till we pull to the hard shoulder of the road,
Yielding to tears inadequate as money.
But if instead
of turning back, we drive into the day,
We forget the things we didn't say.
The silence fills with row on row
Of vines or olive trees. The radio
Hums to itself. We make our way between
Saronic blue and hills of glaucous green
Beyond the legend of the map
Through footnote towns along the coast
Ruins of no account—a column
More woebegone than solemn—
Men watching soccer at two cafés
And half-built lots where dingy sheep still graze.
Climbing into the lap
Of the mountains now, we wind
Around blind, centrifugal turns.
The sun's great warship sinks and burns.
And where the roads without a sign are crossed,
We (inevitably) get lost.
Yet to be lost here
Still feels like being somewhere,
And we find
When we arrive and park,
No one minds that we are late—
There is no one to wait—
Only a bed to make, a suitcase to unpack.
The earth has turned her back
On one yellow middling star
To consider lights more various and far.
The shaggy mountains hulk in the dark
Like slow, titanic waves. the cries
of owls dilate the shadows. Weird harmonics rise
From the valley's distant glow, where coal
Extracted from the lignite mines must roll
On acres of conveyor belts that sing
The Pythagorean music of a string.
A huge grey plume
Of smoke or steam
Towers like the ghost of a monstrous flame
Or giant tree among the trees. And it is all the same—
The power plant, the forest, the night,
The manmade light.
We are engulfed in an immense
That does not sleep or dream.
Call it Nature if you will,
Though everything that is is natural—
The lignite-bearing earth, the factory,
A darkness taller than the sky—
This out-of-doors that wins us our release
And temporary peace—
Not because it is pristine or pretty,
But because it has no pity or self-pity.
Published in Poetry, June 2007, pp 211-213.
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We leave again tomorrow morning for a short vacation in Spring Lake, NJ with my in-laws. I am not ready to go, I cannot make myself pack. I am panicking about things that need to be done here. Fretting over nannies again, school schedules, budgets, unanswered emails, trying to get the little school we're starting on its feet.
This is the familiar state of being in-between things. Of not knowing, and so dreading, the next thing. The ideal me, who I imagine smiling—ready and prepared—versus the real me, who is balking at the amount of things I imagine I need to do to be ready and prepared. Lord! I could travel with a few less things. I didn't read a page of Jung's fat Symbols of Transformation that I packed along with us to the Cape. Target is everywhere well-stocked with diapers, wipes, crayons, my favorite shampoos; with anything I could possibly need. Just pack my phone charger and some clothes, wear the same sandals every day. Really, Amber!
Every hour I must weigh out the priorities over again. Remember what can be left undone, like the raisins on the floor under the table. It is a privilege to have so much I have I do not need. There is no danger of starvation or privation. There is just inconvenience, which is anything but disaster.
And trust that the nanny situation will work out, our school will begin running with or without all ten children, I will have those average days again where I drink coffee, check email, and do design work. And I will look back on these days with gratitude—for sand in the bed, rocks collected by small hands on the window sills, and the memory of time spent with family in the salty air.