Saturday, September 6th
tonight in Chicago
She’ll be performing at Constellation.
Morton Feldman (1926-1987), Triadic Memories (excerpt)
Marilyn Nonken (piano), 2004
John Koethe (1945-), “A Private Singularity” (Poetry, 9/14)
I used to like being young, and I still do,Because I think I still am. There are physicalObjections to that thought, and yet whatFascinates me now is how obsessed I was at thirty-fiveWith feeling older than I was: it seemed so smartAnd worldly, so fastidiously knowing to dwell so muchOn time — on what it gives, what it destroys, on how it feels.And now it’s here and doesn’t feel like anything at all:A little warm perhaps, a little cool, but mostly waiting on myLife to fill it up, and meanwhile living in the light and listeningTo the music floating through my living room each night.It’s something you can only recognize in retrospect, long afterEverything that used to fill those years has disappearedAnd they’ve become regrets and images, leaving you aloneIn a perpetual present, in a nondescript small room where it began.You find it in yourself: the ways that led inexorably fromHome to here are simply stories now, leading nowhere anymore;The wilderness they led through is the space behind a doorThrough which a sentence flows, following a map in the heart.Along the way the self that you were born with turns intoThe self that you created, but they come together at the end,United in the memory where time began: the tinkling of a bellOn a garden gate in Combray, or the clang of a driven nailIn a Los Angeles backyard, or a pure, angelic clang in Nova Scotia —Whatever age restores. It isn’t the generalizations that I lovedAt thirty-five that move me now, but particular momentsWhen my life comes into focus, and the feeling of the yearsBetween them comes alive. Time stops, and then resumes its story,Like a train to Balbec or a steamer to Brazil. We moved to San Diego,Then I headed east, then settled in the middle of the countryWhere I’ve waited now for almost forty years, going through theMotions of the moments as they pass from now to nothing,Reading by their light. I don’t know why I’m reading them again —Elizabeth Bishop, Proust. The stories you remember feel like mirrors,And rereading them like leafing through your life at a certain age,As though the years were pages. I keep living in the lightUnder the door, waiting on those vague sensations floating inAnd out of consciousness like odors, like the smell of sperm and lilacs.In the afternoon I bicycle to a park that overlooks Lake Michigan,Linger on a bench and read Contre Sainte-Beuve and Time Reborn,A physics book that argues time is real. And that’s my life —It isn’t much, and yet it hangs together: its obsessions dovetailWith each other, as the private world of my experience takes its placeWithin a natural order that absorbs it, but for a while lets it live.It feels like such a miracle, this life: it promises everything,And even keeps its promise when you’ve grown too old to care.It seems unremarkable at first, and then as time goes by itStarts to seem unreal, a figment of the years inside a universeThat flows around them and dissolves them in the end,But meanwhile lets you linger in a universe of one —A village on a summer afternoon, a garden after dark,A small backyard beneath a boring California sky.I said I still felt young, and so I am, yet what that meansEludes me. Maybe it’s the feeling of the presenceOf the past, or of its disappearance, or both of them at once —A long estrangement and a private singularity, intactWithin a tinkling bell, an iron nail, a pure, angelic clang —The echo of a clear, metallic sound from childhood,Where time began: “Oh, beautiful sound, strike again!”