February 11, 2016
There is just enough lace on the ground, darker grasses poking through and bending in breezes. And there is pepper liberally sprinkled on the cornfield, a thousand blackbirds gobbling up the last grain. One hunter glides over the cackling mob, west to east: a Cooper’s hawk, causing ripples in the black spice. Perhaps the predator doesn’t care for pepper.
Beneath my birdfeeder lines of bird tracks, like eighth notes on staff paper, undulate in the lace around the tree. The key is D Flat (the universal key of animals, American Indians say), the song writ on the ground fast-soulful.
You can sweep the lace, taste it, fling it at the sun and see sparklers. The little girls next door roll in it and make angels. You wear sunglasses indoors—the light is almost blinding. Even the dark is light.
I once did an artist-in-residence at a Catholic college in Iowa. It was Valentine’s Day, three below zero. Sister Marie took me for a walk through a cemetery, stopping and telling stories about all the nuns that were buried there. She paused at an empty space and said excitedly: “This is where I will sleep.” She jumped up and down in the snow, so thrilled she was.
‘Sister walks on lace and sleep,’ I wrote back in Chicago. ‘Sister dances.’
Only the living see death. Only the universe knows what comes next. Only the ten viginsextillion atoms of deep space sing a song beyond the wolf’s ability to hear.
I was driving home for Christmas one year, Chicago to Alton. A blizzard was underway, and I was driving a VW Beetle, my only luggage a basket of dirty laundry as a Christmas present for my stepmother. Near Joliet, the car came to a stop in a snow bank which filled the highway.
After an hour, the car ran out of gas. I piled all my laundry around me. “This is where I will sleep,” I thought. And I did sleep, but not the big sleep I thought was coming. I woke up later in the night, hearing the tapping of a flashlight, against the passenger-side window. I was half frozen.
A woman state trooper climbed in beside me. She pulled off her gloves, removed my shoes and put my feet against her crotch. She massaged the dead feet and talked calmly, like it was a summer day on the river. Feeling slowly returned, and I was conscious of her pubic bone pressing against my feet.
A Greyhound bus approached. It was full of stranded people. The trooper helped me shoe up and board the bus. She told me where my car would be towed. Half the other passengers had whiskey bottles in their hands, and they passed the bottles until we got to a motel. It was the quietest night I can remember.
There is a weight to lace. It can be heavy, comforter-thick and dangerous. And it can be as light as a ballerina on one toe—which is how it is this morning, and the bare trees are upside down dancers. And the peppered field has cleared, and the hawk hunts elsewhere.
And a new scene presents itself.