changing everything carefully

Posted by on February 8, 2012

Spring is like a perhaps hand

by E.E. Cummings

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of a flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

* * *

I’m here to tell you that February is not teeth-clinching affair here in D.C. that it was in Indiana, although I’ve heard that this winter is an anomaly, and it is an unusually mild across the U.S. When I talk to my friend in Indiana, I hear reports of children playing outside comfortably, without snowsuits.

So it is not spring according to the calendar, but after spending part of the afternoon yesterday taking photos of blooming snowdrops and crocuses, sprinkled over a bed of grass rivaling my accumulated memory of a lifetime of Easters, then it becomes permissible to take poetic recourse to something about spring by e.e. cummings. I want to get started with Poetry Wednesday again so I am starting today.

I was in the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks yesterday and it was pure gift just to be there. And it’s a gift to walk the streets of Georgetown because there are so many endless details of beauty and a golden kind of light hitting all of it in a way that is dappled, changeable, and rarely, if ever, dreary. I could live here indefinitely and never grow weary of looking–actively or passively– around me.

When Esme draws a picture of a human figure she invariably adds a crown on its head. There is no room for a proletariat in her imagination, apparently. And I know full well that she inherited my propensity for being dreamy. And all of my life I have struggled with the question of whether I should quit all of this inborn dreamy nonsense and join the nuts and bolts of the real working world. Because all the presidential candidates in this election year– whether republican or democratic–are talking mostly of jobs and bolstering industry, and I am reminded that however much I dislike the idea of more big factories and parking garages, I can admit that our country is not mobilized by its rose gardens and music rooms hung with medieval tapestries.

But life is sometimes nicer to me than I am to myself, and led me by the hand away from factories and strip malls, and into a neighborhood of dogs in fashionable sweaters and little brown birds perched on wrought iron fences, and lots of little places where you can drop in for something good to eat and drink. But although I can walk a long way from our red door here without coming to the end of all this, I realize that however much I wish that all the world could be like this, look like this, so that everyone could know this and enjoy it, I know that most of the world doesn’t look like this and isn’t capable of looking like this. The fallen suburbs lie just east of this Eden and I can almost hear the swish of the angels’ swords that guard the peripheries of this neighborhood. When we leave here, things are going to change for us yet again, and there are no guarantees about what that will look like. I’ll continue raising my children, doing laundry, reading books, and doing what I do, but without, perhaps, a beautiful view in the background, depending.

I am trying not to see our time here as a spoiling of my sensibilities, or an ante that will tilt all my circumstances hereafter into an unfavorable light, but just as a gift, like sunlight. You don’t analyze a sunbeam; you lift your face to it. As day follows day and new experience follows new experience I surrender to whatever this is turning out to be. I cannot underestimate the tiny action of healing that takes place when everywhere my eye looks it sees beauty and order. I look skyward and see a third floor window with brightly painted shutters and a flower box filled with ornamental cabbages. I breathe in the sight of a stone wall robustly covered with English Ivy. Gentle conversations with my international neighbors, who are bit by bit becoming friends, settle over my mind and personalize and illuminate greater territories the globe. I receive a piano concert in the music room at Dumbarton Oaks, where the white heads of old patrons and matrons doze off, the men in laughably fashionable scarves and the women in dangling earrings. They pay a pretty penny for these concerts while I can attend for free because I am married to this guy who translates Syriac and is at last, after so many years of slow and sure-footed work, blossoming into a real-deal scholar.

Ah, Liberal Arts, just because I am married to one of your darlings you are hanging some kind of scarlet, velvety, mink-trimmed cape over my undeserving shoulders and, like my daughter when she crafts our family portrait, scribbling a Queen’s crown over my head. I thought you were a poor and struggling country; I did not know you had these things in your storehouses.

I now know that life can be a careful arranger of things, shifting circumstances so entirely, ostensibly for the better. And yet to make these improvements requires her to reach in with very intentional fingers to unsettle the most fragile parts of my internal landscape. Life is invading me delicately and placing Old things here and New things there until I fear that I might not recognize myself when she is done. The picture of who I am is changing as little square inches of sky and grass are pasted just so. There is much to make me uncomfortable, much to dislike in this process, but I am trying to be quiet and get out of the way of those creative, lip-pursing moments, in which life is saying over and around me, “perhaps.” I will say with faith that all of this–both the beauty and the struggles that I am carrying in my deepest pockets along a tricky, hilly path– is all one thing: what I needed when I needed it.