Category Archives: Thingishness

The Framed Infinite

I believe windows are celebrated in direct proportion to the degree one is conscious of circumscription. For those who live a seemingly free range existence, oblivious of external limits, the window’s presence and function is assumed. Simultaneously looked through– and overlooked. Unregistered as the pattern of curtains in a neighbor’s home, or the direction of the thieving wind that rifles casually through the hillside untouchable by man made laws. 

Windows exist to be looked through yes, but they are not meant to be overlooked. Being transparent is not the same thing as being insignificant. In this way windows are related to the invisible. 

Put another way: if you do not have a meaningful relationship with windows, then it is possible, that you have some difficulty perceiving grace.

For those whose days are contained, and conscious, the window is as impossible to overlook as a peacock or a comet. It is a portal, a bridge, an altar and avenue whose significance is vital and imperative to life. 

A window is the infinite, framed in a rectangle of glass, granting depth, mystery and the possibility of exploration to actors who play daily in very small, forgotten theaters. 

Patients in hospital beds understand the silent sustenance of windows. So do prisoners. And largely housebound creatures with vast interior lives — like dogs, cats, very young humans, very old ones–and Emily Dickinson. 

It must be mentioned here that for optimal results windows must not be overzealously substituted for walls. A residence where all walls double as windows soon grows tedious and disconcerting. A reverse prison. Celebrities and goldfish understand this better than most. 

It is sometimes necessary to explain to denizens of the modern world, that television is not the same thing as a window. Neither is the internet. They bear certain overt similarities yes — but overt similarity is a very low bar for most things. A table and a panther are similar in that they both have four legs. But you cannot interchange them without attracting notice and untoward consequences.

If you find it absolutely necessary to draw comparisons, then a window is more like a book or a boat than a television or a computer screen. Should the occasion demand it you may swap one for the other without hesitation or catastrophic result.


The Private Shirt

The undershirt is the shirt that is not meant to be seen. The undershirt is a private shirt that exists primarily to preserve the outward appearance of the public shirt– the shirt that is worn over the undershirt. The private shirt, the shirt we do not see, is the shirt that does the heavy lifting. The private shirt is the shirt that absorbs the wear and tear of inner life, so that the public shirt, the shirt we do see, does not have to. Because of the shirt that we do not see, the youthful appearance of the shirt that we do see is prolonged, making it significantly harder, if not entirely impossible, to accurately guess the age of the public shirt. In this way the private shirt, the shirt that we do not see, in other words, the undershirt, is not unlike the portrait of Dorian Gray. Though as far as we know no Faustian pacts were involved in its making.

(And yes, it’s true. “Dorian Gray jokes never get old.”)


Hole

There is a very small hole in my husband’s gray pants. We noticed it a couple weeks ago when it came back from the dry cleaner’s. Not to imply that the dry cleaners are responsible for it, though they well may be. But just that that is when the hole first came to our attention. It is the size of a new crayon tip, and located in the region of the left pocket. Because it is in the locality of the pocket, it is not an empty space one glimpses through the hole but the whiteness of the white silk pocket lining. A small dot of white on an otherwise gray pair of pants. It is not very noticeable unless you already know it is there, in which case it is impossible not to notice it. We forgot about it until, this morning my husband put on the pair of pants and discovered the hole anew. “Why don’t we color it in?” I suggest. This proposal has all the sophistication of a first-grader. He is game to try it. I find a gray pen and begin to color in the hole, but my efforts do not go very far. The cloth does not take the ink. I pull out a black calligraphy pen then, working under the dubious premise that a black dot on a gray pair of pants is somehow less egregious than a white one. But even the stubborn ink of the calligraphy pen leaves little mark on our little white spot. It is bright as a tiny moon and just as persistent. I could try and sew over it with gray thread I say doubtfully. My mother is, but I am not, an accomplished seamstress. I don’t think that will work says my husband, who in most cases thinks I can do anything. But even his generous imagination falls short in this instance.


Merely to Say

“Praise, but tell the angel about the world,

not the indescribable. You can’t impress him

with your lofty feelings; in the universe,

where he feels with far greater feeling, you’re

just a beginner. So show him some simple thing,”

And here Rilke inverts the tendency of some kinds of seekers, to skip past the thing-ness of things to exalt their essence. The tendency to dismiss form and utterance, in blind favor of the rarefied, featureless, unsayable.

The poet reclaims for us then, the power of encapsulation. To be contained he argues is not a limitation, but a privilege. To give voice not a reduction but a ripening. And maybe we exist for these very precise possibilities.

“Are we here,
perhaps, merely to say: house, bridge, fountain,
gate, jar, fruit tree, window
—at most,
pillar, tower? But to say them, you understand—
to say them in such a way that even the things
themselves never hoped to exist so intensely.”

I think of my niece whom I met in the middle of her second revolution around the sun. Words only recently being minted on her tongue, they slip out like new pennies, potent with un-use and their coppery original meaning. How she traveled on unsteady, eager feet alongside a wide pond, up a sweeping staircase, around the precipitously growing circumference of her days– pointing to and naming whatever was in her power to name. Urgent, insistent, daring, as though carrying out and protected by, a God-given duty. A small First Person tasked with the enormous responsibility of granting things their individual identities. As if aware that to name a thing was to call it more fully into being, was to release it, like bird from a net, into its consummate thing-ness, free it from the benevolent tyranny of being indistinguishable from eternity.

Chair. Chair. Chair. Apple. Apple. Apple. Dog. Dog. Dog. Broom. Broom. Broom. 

How the world brightened in her twinkling wake, how it rose like a long-limbed princess stirring from a centuries-old spell. Shaking off the slumber dust of familiarity, the reverie of accustomedness, throwing the casement window open to the moment’s infinite arrival, its charmed variety, its alarming aliveness.

“Show him how happy a thing can be, how innocent
and ours, how even the groan of sorrow decides
to become pure form, and serves as a thing
or dies in a thing, escaping to the beyond,
ecstatic, out of the violin. And these things,
that live only in passing, they understand
that you praise them. Fleeting, they look to us,
the most fleeting, for help. They hope that within
our invisible hearts we will change them entirely into—
oh endlessly—into us! Whoever we finally are.”

Whoever we finally are…how deliciously he leaves that ultimate identity unknowable, unnamed. And isn’t it unsurprising then, that identity and identical are twins who share the same cradle. Both springing from the Latin, idem et idem again, and again, over and over, the same. Identity a repetition a continuation, a fidelity to sameness, ‘the condition of being oneself, or itself, and not another,’ again and again. The difference that dances on the other side of sameness. Our identities are plural in identical ways, they grant shape to growing invisibilities.

“Earth, isn’t this what you want, to rise up in us
invisible? Isn’t it your dream to be someday
invisible? Earth! Invisible! If not this change,
what do you ask for so urgently? Earth, loved one,
I will. Believe me, you don’t need any more
of your springtimes to win me: one
is already more than my blood can take.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been yours
completely. You’ve always been right,
and your most sacred idea is that death
is an intimate friend.

Look: I live. But from where do I draw this life,
since neither childhood nor the future grows less . . . ?
More being than I can hold springs up in my heart!”

***

Look out your window. Be a First Person. Like a ruler portioning out her kingdom by the generous fistful, grant things their names.  Call them forth like gold medalists. Sky. Cloud. Tree. Street. Smokestack. Billboard. Old Man in a Beret. Let the names burst like first bite of an exotic fruit from a faraway land over your tongue.

May more being than you can hold spring up in your heart.


Doormat

“Welcome,” said the doormat brightly and the brown boot scraped against it once, twice and disappeared. “I am so tired”, said the doormat wistfully and to no one in particular, “of being treated like a doormat.”


Carry on Luggage

The poetry of carry on luggage was invented by snails, who eschew excess baggage, always travel economy and never with more than they can fit in. To move in this manner through time and space requires self-possession, simple tastes and an extraordinary talent for leaving things behind. (Self-pity, bathrobes, and irrational fears. Also blowdryers, ancient grudges and rearview mirrors).


Teaspoons

The poetry of teaspoons sleeps in kitchen drawers. Bright palms perfectly cupped, each in each. Delicate ovals graceful as easter eggs, poised above silver stalks. Lustrous godchild of the gruff shovel. Slender of build and possessed of exquisite table manners. Bred to travel a daily arc, faithful as a bus route. Conveying crystalline commuters to fragrant destinations. Stirring sweet rumors into cups perched like young birds in porcelain nests, their beaks wide open.