a gift from elsewhere

Posted by on June 27, 2012

New house at sunset @ 2012 Julia Mason Wickes.

New house at sunset @ 2012 Julia Mason Wickes.

The Arch

by Patricia Lockwood

Of all living monuments has the fewest
facts attached to it, they slide right off
its surface, no Lincoln lap for them to sit
on and no horse to be astride. Here is what
I know for sure:

Was a gift from one city to another. A city
cannot travel to another city, a city cannot visit
any city but itself, and in its sadness it gives
away a great door in the air. Well
a city cannot except for Paris, who puts
on a hat styled with pigeon wings and walks
through the streets of another city and will not
even see the sights, too full she is of the sights
already. And within her walk her women,
and the women of Paris looking like
they just walked through an Arch…

Or am I mixing it up I think I am
with another famous female statue? Born
in its shadow and shook-foil hot the facts
slid off me also. I and the Arch we burned
to the touch. “Don’t touch that Arch a boy
we know got third-degree burns from touch-
ing that Arch,” says my mother sitting
for her statue. She is metal on a hilltop and
so sad she isn’t a Cross. She was long ago
given to us by Ireland. What an underhand
gift for an elsewhere to give, a door
that reminds you you can leave it. She raises
her arm to brush my hair. Oh no female
armpit lovelier than the armpit of the Arch.

* * *

I wanted to post this poem last Wednesday but that was the day we were moving into our new house and it proved to be impossible. Today, I find it very close to impossible, but marginally possible, so here it is. Thanks to Kate who sent me this poem, since I am in the opposite of a literary frame of mind until things get more settled. But this poem is perfect not only because it is about St. Louis but also because there is something about the language that reflects the muddled and slightly disconnected state of my thoughts right now– like the dreamy place my brain goes to right before it falls asleep, or, for that matter, the place where it goes when it is in the middle of moving–moving out, moving across, and moving in– as it has been for several weeks now.Just now I was trying to order some sandals online for Elsa. Meanwhile, I was snapping at Esme, trying to order her back to the table where she had abandoned her sandwich. And I said, “Just finish your sandals, Esme!”There are so many impressions–endless impressions, actually– of life right now that I would love to sit down and write about, but cannot because things are still too unsettled for me to find that space. I love our house, and so far I love our surroundings too. There is a beautiful park nearby for the girls. There is a Trader Joe’s. There is a route we can walk to a quaint town center. A neighbor on our street invited us to a family movie night in her back yard. This neighbor also happens to work at a preschool where we think we will probably send Elsa in the fall so it looks like yet another very important piece of what-will-be-our-life here is falling into place. I love planning and dreaming about what do to with each room of our house and with the yard. I am happy, and yet still feeling the incredible daily frustration of settling in and getting things into order with two small children who cannot seem to exercise even the slightest bit of independence at the moment. Today I virtually yelled at them with many threats to go into the back yard and stay there and not bother me. Isn’t it reasonable that I should expect my children to develop at least a tiny bit of the rugged individualist spirit of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn if we are going to make our home in Missouri? I think so, starting today.

I will write more about all of this at some point. My mind is so full of thoughts about here, as well as the elsewhere we just came from, and all of the other elsewheres I have lived and known, liked and disliked. All of those elsewheres now live inside of me, and when I see that arch over downtown St. Louis, I will probably wax thoughtful about this place without ever forgetting those other places. For now, I take comfort in knowing that we are moving in the direction of being settled in a place where, first and foremost, I can raise these little children of ours, and the worst of the moving stress is behind us. We are home, and we will only be more so with each passing week.

  1. Evelina
    June 28, 2012

    Sometimes I'm telling a story to the kids and I start falling asleep while I'm talking, so I hear myself saying.. "And the dress of Cinderella turned into a beautiful article". Mila seems to be all right with that.

    I remember you ordering shoes right in the beginning of our stay in D.C. Isn't this a curious, cheap and innovative adaptation-strategy of yours!

    I'm very happy about your new home, and I wish you a splendid summer full of adventures!

  2. A M B E R
    June 28, 2012

    Ah, Julia. I know I've said this many times, but I am so happy for you! Moving into your own home, a washer and a dryer! A back yard! A basement!

    Maybe I'm just insanely jealous.

    I love the poem!

    And I'm glad you loved the Cummings poem. It's so good, right?

  3. Evelina
    June 29, 2012

    Yep, when I used "happy" I meant that I'm definitely very "jealous", but towards somebody that I love. Otherwise "jealous" would have been really appropriate. I want that all for me, too… beautiful house, friendly neighborhood, friendly neighbor who is also a preschool teacher. Oh wow!

  4. Julia
    June 29, 2012

    I definitely wish for my friends– especially the ones toiling through the academic life–the same thing that we have finally arrived at so much more quickly than I thought we would. I think I would feel guilty in proportion to others' jealousy if not for the fact that we put in our time in awful apartments in a difficult town for so many years. I'm also so very aware that, coming from the student life, what we consider to be an unattainable mountaintop is actually pretty modest by some standards (i.e. our house is by FAR the least expensive in this neighborhood, and currently our beautiful living room with a fireplace contains two mismatching rocking chairs and a play tent for furniture).

    And Evelina, now that you point it out, I realize that I must have a pattern of resorting to online shoe shopping (even for a toddler) as a form of self-medicating during times of stress. I guess now I can admit I have a problem… ; )