water is something you cannot hold

Where have I been? I wake from a dream of overgrown rosebushes to find that weeks have passed in silence. Strange days. Drift and tumble.

In the dream, the branches grow wild and leggy. Thorns thicken to fierce points.

How many hours and days have passed? What wild sweet things have gone untended?

Days of Anne Carson: first NOX, then Antigonick. Then, “The Glass Essay,” which led me back, after all these years, to Wuthering Heights.

Then Plainwater:

“Let us be gentle when we question our fathers.”

I am thinking quite a bit about fathers.

There is a voice running warm and low in the background of these days. Is it my father’s voice?

you were so small sitting in that big chair in the dark you were waiting for me to come home how long had you been waiting you wore a blue dress it barely reached your knees you were so small your knees were scabbed I kneeled down and held your feet in my hands you were waiting so long in the dark I will come to you no matter what I will come to you when you are sick I will come to you if you need me if you are frightened I will come

My father is a mystery. He left so little behind. Not enough to compose a portrait of this man so that I might recognize, so that I might apprehend him. A man who seemed to have stumbled into a life that did not suit him. A poorly-tailored life for his lanky form and threadbare.

Anne Carson, from NOX:

“We want people to have a centre, a history, an account that makes sense. We want to be able to say This is what he did   and Here’s why. It forms a lock against oblivion.”

I am trying then, to form a lock against oblivion?

On translation: “I came to think of translating as a room, not exactly an unknown room, where one gropes for the light switch. A guess it never ends.”

“Prowling the meanings of a word, prowling the history of a person, no use expecting a flood of light. Human words have no main switch. But all those little kidnaps in the dark. And then the luminous, big, shivering, discandied, unrepentant, barking web of them that hangs in your mind when you turn back to the page you were trying to translate.”

A kind of translation. When so little is left, you can only prowl what remains.

It was a Sunday night in winter.
I heard his sentences filling up with fear.
He would start a sentence – about weather, lose his way, start another.
It made me furious to hear him floundering –

my tall proud father, former World War II navigator!
It made me merciless.
I stood on the edge of the conversation,

watching him thrash about for cues,
offering none,
and it came to me like a slow avalanche

that he had no idea who he was talking to.
Much colder today I guess…
his voice pressed into the silence and broke off,

snow falling on it.
There was a long pause while snow covered us both.
Well I won’t keep you,

he said with sudden desperate cheer as if sighting land.
I’ll say goodnight now,
I won’t run up your bill. Goodbye.

Goodbye.
Goodbye. Who are you?
I said into the dial tone.

(Anne Carson, from “The Glass Essay”)

While I was in college (a different kind of prowling) he called me unexpectedly one evening. I had not heard from him in years. You could come visit me, he said. You would love the pool here. It is sunny all the time. I will cook for you. I will make you all your favorite things.

You don’t know my favorite things.

Tell me what they are. I will write them down. Tell me what they are and I will make them for you.

“Water is something you cannot hold. Like men. I have tried. Father, brother, love, true friends, hungry ghosts and God, one by one all took themselves out of my hands. Maybe this is the way it should be – what anthropologists call “normal danger” in the encounter with alien cultures. It was an anthropologist who first taught me about danger. He emphasized the importance of using encounter rather than (say) discovery when talking about such things. ‘Think of it as the difference,’ he said, ‘between believing what you want to believe and believing what can be proved.’ I thought about that. ‘I don’t want to believe anything,’ I said. (But I was lying.) ‘And I have nothing to prove.’ (Lying again.) ‘I just like to travel into the world and stop, noticing what is under the sky.’ (This, in fact, is true.) Cruelly at this point, he mentioned a culture he had studied where true and false virgins are identified by ordeal of water. For an intact virgin can develop the skill of diving into deep water but a woman who has known love will drown. ‘I am not interested in true and false’ I said (one last lie) and we fell silent.”

(Anne Carson, “Diving: Introduction to the Anthropology of Water,” from Plainwater)

My father had a dear friend who convinced him to move away. He became a part of his family: Bill, his wife, their children. He was more theirs than ever he was ours. Eventually, he remarried. “I have never been happier in all my life,” he told me in a letter he wrote in the later years. “I have never been so much in love.”

But a woman who has known love will drown.

I visited him once. It was sunny all the time. I sat by the pool and swam the cool lengths of it. I did not drown.

He had not yet met the woman he would later marry. His happiest days were still to come.

Bill drove us to the airport. We embraced on the sidewalk while the skycaps blew their whistles.

I brought back no souvenirs.

Let us be gentle when we question our fathers.

It was the last time I saw him.