dispatch from 02139 (in which….well, let’s not give away the whole story. not just yet anyway….)
alas, it’s not what you think. not here anyway. i know, i know. the more common usage of that flouncy noun, the “fling,” would be one in which all caution was hurled to the wind, and tumbling would occur.
like i said: not here.
for starters, the tall one is off being mr. professor this week, nowhere to be seen, for days and days on end. and when he trundles home, he’s bleary-eyed. or interested in talking only of the gates of harvard yard. not exactly pillow mumble.
and here, instead of silky sheets a la fling, there’s an afghan. a hand-crocheted one, mind you. and the cozy corner of a couch. and, most of all, a tall stack of pages to be turned.
alas, the fling of which i type is the one that lured me for months. seductive, yes. sexy, hardly. it springs upon that settled-in corner of the futon-couch, looking east toward the atlantic (though obscured by towers tall, a bumper crop sprouted across the hills of cambridge). the one where the lamp glows golden, and where the stack of books only grows and grows.
for the whole first semester, i dreamed of a day when nothing would call my name, nor insist on my appearance, nothing other than the corner of the couch.
and even though we’ve had a full six weeks away from lecture halls and seminar tables, it’s only been the last few days — days when the minus sign was hauled out of storage so thermometers could flash the bitter cold — that i’ve been nestling there where i so longed to be.
it’s taxing, this flinging. it goes like this: first, you shoosh everyone out the door quick as quick can be (so much so that they might wonder if there’s a toxic waste from which they’re being shielded), scrub the breakfast plates, pour the last of the coffee, then dive onto the couch, bottom first. unfurl the afghan, pull it tight around your chin. play eenie-meenie-minie-mo. with all the books. will it be a poet? a memoirist? or yet another poet?
fueled by pots of tea, and polished apples, it goes like this till sundown. all afternoon, i trace the disappearing light, as it trails from living room to dining room to kitchen, before slipping off the planet’s edge, making way for nightfall.
and here’s what i’ve discovered: i’m not so good at making like a lotus, knees akimbo, toes tucked under bum. i get the itches, oh, ’round half past 3. start looking up, thinking about popcorn. wondering if i should start to chop an onion, make like i’m the hausfrau fixing vittles for the clan.
like so many things in life that from afar look glorious, all sparkly on the shelf where we can’t reach, the fact is, once we’ve held them in our hands, we see the bumps and odd spots. a glorious afternoon’s reprieve is most glorious when it’s an interlude amid the madness.
when, instead, it’s the beginning and the end, when there’s no variegation in between, well, it all turns rather blah. even when the pages come in ooohs and ahhs.
and, whaddyaknow, like magic, i’ve come crashing to the end of this dalliance. i’ve only one last round, after this afternoon’s errands are wiped off the slate. and perhaps today, as the clouds come out to play, and the snowflakes start to tumble, i’ll savor that hallelujah romp under the afghan, me & all my books.
come monday, we’re back at it again, with a whole slate of classes filling up my days. i’d toyed with the idea of cutting back, of not carrying quite the load as fall semester. but then, i picked up the course catalog, and on and on, i clicked. carried on like a hungry girl in an ice cream shop, who couldn’t bear to pass up one more scoop.
sad truth is, in a mere four months, the sparkly shoes get kicked behind, the coach returns to pumpkin. this year of thinking sumptuously, it up and poofs! all gone! back to scrubbing chimneypots.
so, come round two of this exercise in fantasy academics, i’ve got my eye on this little roster:
monday mornings, i’ll get to work with noted historian henry louis gates, as i whirl through “intro to african-american studies.” then i’ll straddle two continents as i dive into “english 64 — diffusions: american renaissance and irish revival,” reading dickinson, emerson, hawthorne, melville, thoreau and whitman, alongside joyce, o’casey, synge and yeats. my cymbal crash will be mondays, wednesdays and fridays at noon when the northstar of poetry, helen vendler, waltzes into the lecture hall and barely takes a breath for the next 55 minutes, waxing poems, poets and poetry in a standing-room-only class titled (not so poetically) “aesthetic and interpretive understanding 20.”
on tuesdays, i’m dabbling in trees, forests and global change over at the science center. and washing that down with sacred and secular poetry. wednesdays i repeat monday but add a two-hour block of fairy tales and folklore with the jaw-dropping maria tatar (whose class i am already begging to enter). and so it’ll go, straight on through friday afternoons.
so my old couch will grow lonely. go cold. and i’m guessing, like any love that’s lost, i’ll soon enough hear that old stack of wood and cushion coo my name. it’ll sound sweet, seductive. and some rainy vernal afternoon, i might give in to the temptation, and curl up once again.
but for now, after two unbroken days of sitting and turning pages, i’m thinking a lecture hall, filled with laptops, and kids click-clicking away, that’s my new rendition of an afternoon’s fine fling.
silk sheets not included.
so, if you could pick one unencumbered afternoon to do wholly as you please, what might be on the list? and would you guess that it would ever, could ever, grow old? or have you found a tune that you could hum for a long long while?
the reading list, in case you’re interested:
“several short sentences about writing,” by verlyn klinkenborg. (heavenly!)
“on moving: a writer’s meditation on new houses, old haunts and finding home again,” by louise de salvo. (a gift; just diving in. looks quite heavenly.)
“birdology: adventures with a pack of hens, a peck of pigeons, cantankerous crows, fierce falcons, hip hop parrots, baby hummingbirds, and one murderously big living dinosaur,” by sy montgomery. (recommended right here at the table by our no. 1 turtle lover and aquarial expert.)
“good prose: the art of nonfiction,” by tracy kidder and richard todd.
“facts about the moon,” by dorianne laux. (a wild book of poetry.)
“magical journey: an apprenticeship in contentment,” by katrina kenison. (arrived in this week’s mail from a literary editor friend, who remembered that i liked kenison’s earlier works).
“prayers of a young poet: rainer maria rilke,” translated by mark s. burrows. (my beloved landlord and guiding light, in preparation for a rilke retreat next weekend at glastonbury abbey on boston’s south shore.)