bildungsroman

Transmuted. I am simplifying its weight. I am subtraction; I am a sum. Mary Oliver’s words come to me as I gather up the rippling landscape of sheets, hem in hand: “I don’t want to lose a single thread / from the intricate brocade of this happiness. / I want to remember everything.”

***

The old man, Alan, sits beside me on the beach. I’m disturbing your reading, he says. A statement, not quite an apology. I close the Fitzgerald novel and place it beside me, It’s alright; I’ve read it before. He looks at me as if afresh. Your face is thin… Vous êtes très élégante. You look a bit like my mother. She had long fingers. She played piano, you know.

***

When a journey has charted its route, then comes the moment of clarity: I was singing my goodbye every step of the way. A petulant thistle scratches my ankle each time I hang laundry in the garden to dry, an ever-misstep. These patterns reek of constellations, mistakes yet fluttering like benedictions. Alison Brackenbury writes, “Geraniums / crumpled, brilliant, soaring out of water, / all sprigs which I have sliced off by mistake / in careless gardening, Now they thrive for days, / things done in error, the odd corners / of our lives, which flower and flower.” This is an ode to freshly baked buns and loaves, plum windfall, the pleading meow outside the door. This is a tender farewell. Here and no other, I awakened to light streaming through gauzy curtains while, outside, branches (their shadows) danced.

***

“You changed me, you should remember me. / I remember I had gone out / to walk in the garden. As before into / the streets of the city, into / the bedroom of that first apartment. / And yes, I was alone; / how could I not be?” -Louise Glück, “Seizure”

***

I dreamt again for the first time in ages, color after nights of blank darkness, a yawning abyss of rest in which to sink like a stone. The you that wasn’t really you, just a figment, you, they, looked into my eyes and asked softly, desiring nothing, Are you okay? The day that followed, I glimpsed the fox again, perhaps the same one that once startled me in the garden, peering intently through my kitchen window at night. It paused before crossing the road in the August dusk, waiting just long enough for me to catch sight. Summer had fled without reproach, and I was draped in my wool coat. When I beheld my friend again earlier that afternoon for the first time since January, we ran a little into each other’s arms. It was like that, I think. Immodest joy. We had weathered barrenness, the bleak winter. Look at us! she said. We made it.

***

“All the new thinking is about loss. / In this it resembles all the old thinking… / Longing, we say, because desire is full of endless distances… / There are moments when the body is as numinous / as words, days that are the good flesh continuing. / Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings, / saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.” -Robert Hass, “Meditation at Lagunitas”

***

In the dead of night, before the royal coffin journeyed from Balmoral to Holyrood, a small mourning procession disturbed my sleep: a black car and kilted soldiers, trailed by policemen on horses—hooves ringing out over cobblestones. I lay abed, insomniac, thinking in fragments of Plath, “Love is a shadow. / How you lie and cry after it / Listen: these are its hooves: it has gone off, like a horse. / All night I shall gallop thus, impetuously, / till your head is a stone, your pillow a little turf, / Echoing, echoing.” Always this poem, an elm expanding its roots.

***

“I / enter, without retreat or help from history, / the days of no day, my earth / of no earth, I re-enter / the city in which I love you. / And I never believed that the multitude / of dreams and many words were vain.” -Li-Young Lee, “The City in Which I Love You”

***

How many raindrops ’til rainfall? Passerby barrel past, chins tucked in upturned collars. How many brisk and misty days until summer surrenders to autumn? O, fickle gradient of seasons. Such obscurification from the thing itself—an image of an image of an image. Robert Hass penned an explanation to Czesław Miłosz on the poetic difference between o! and oh!—one being an invocation, a declaration of wonder or fierce longing, and the other a thought cut short in a moment of consuming surprise.

***
“In a dream, rain ran past me. / Half-shouting, half stumbling. Tripping over its dress of rain. / Beauty always seems to rush straight through me. On its way to someplace else… / In a dream, I walk across a plain carrying books filled with flowers. / People in books carry tulips and secrets and handwritten letters to each other. / Maybe my life is trying to tell me something. These days, / I want to wander. But the past still needs me.” -Hua Xi, “The Past Still Needs Me”

***

The night before leaving the coast, I hardly slept. Scrubbing and cleaning and packing away memories, followed by tossing and turning with dreams of overflow, too many possessions. I do not want this many things to name me, a small lopsided kingdom. In that kitchen, a friend said she believed love was the center of everything. In those months, I grew accustomed to seagull chatter, corpulent spiders, and the rickety dresser. I read Dickinson’s envelope poems and knitted hats. Students would go skateboarding down North Street in the wee hours or singing merrily offkey. My world turned there, found its axis in a hospitable solitude.

A year ago, when the man of kindness dropped off the last of my things, he enveloped me in a warm hug at the threshold before he turned to go. I think you will be very happy here, he said.

***

“I grew up with horses and poems / when that was the time for that… / Women have houses now, and children. / I live alone in a kind of luxury. / I wake when I feel like it, / read what Rilke wrote to Tsvetaeva, / At night I watch the apartments / whose windows are still lit / after midnight. I fell in love. / I believed people. And even now / I love the yellow light shining / down on the dirty brick wall.” -Linda Gregg, “Staying After”

***

The German word Bildungsroman means “novel of education” or “novel of formation.” A common variation of the Bildungsroman is the Künstlerroman, a novel dealing with the formative years of an artist. There are four traditional stages found within a Bildungsroman: loss, journey, conflict and personal growth, and maturity. The Bildungsroman traditionally ends on a positive note, though its action may be tempered by resignation and nostalgia.

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