away I am / out there

We drive back from New York in the snow. Or I should say that M. drives and I sleep and when I wake, disoriented, I see snow flying at us, the sky white with it, before I drift back to sleep. 

The week has felt long. The stunning cold. A frozen pipe has caused domestic distress. 

At the office I am sad and tired, and so I walk to the museum at lunchtime and wander through. There is an exhibit on contemporary art and design and I linger there, drawn in by the Lagerfeld dress and a large Cy Twombly painting that I remember from my first visit, decades ago. Some names are familiar: Jackson Pollack, Grace Hartigan, Louise Bourgeois, Ernesto Pujol. But others are not: Wifredo Lam, Alice Neel, Janine Antoni, and the new exhilarates. I write the names down on the museum map to look up later. 

I stand in front of a Rothko painting for a long time. You can see the frayed edges of the canvas along the sides of the frame. I want so badly to touch them. The line of staples down the length of it - imperfect, crooked. The reminders that this was made by human hands. 

There are only a few people in the museum while I am there. I love the quiet, the solemnity, the sounds of my own footsteps.

We spent the last hours of the last night in the city in the hotel bar. We stayed out late. 

In the morning, we drove along the west side, stopped at the air and space museum for the boy, who had spotted its hulking structure in the river on the ride down. It is an aircraft carrier and inside, we climb all the narrow stairs to the flight deck. The steps are like ladders, the rungs barely wide enough for a child’s foot to rest. 

On the way down, he loses his balance and falls to the bottom, crying. I scoop him up. “I don’t want to go down anymore steps,” he says, but there is no other way to get back to the main floor. 

I tell him I will go in front of him, very slowly and he won’t fall because I will be there. And so we descend that way, one slow step at a time, my hands gripping the rails as tightly as I can, his small body close to mine.

The cold is wearying. The wind. There is sun, but the weather reports refer to it as “ineffective.” There are predictions of more snow. 

Here is something I am reading. The poem is called “After Sappho.” It is Hoa Nguyen, from her collection As Long as Trees Last:

Tell the mists again
The will gains so much

Find my mouth as moss

Latching my key
She holds these

Hold and blow     tough as night
     Hope-bow     tugged tight

Artful calling     how larks
mark heat     down low

Can all it be     Told
mesh meant     Keeping

your your your

I joined a little writing group. We’ve met once now in the lovely home of one of the women. She takes us upstairs to her attic loft and we drink tea from white cups and we read to each other and we talk about writing. 

I bring a story I have not yet shared with anyone. I read it aloud and in the reading, I hear things I didn’t know I was trying to do. By the time I am finished, I notice my hands shaking. From the cold, but also from the fear of reading something so new and so unfinished. It seems important, I think, to feel that fear sometimes. 

I meet a friend I’ve not seen in some time at the new bar downtown and we sit in the corner by the window and watch people walk past. She tells me about her new love, its progress, its complications. They have now met each other’s families, each other’s friends. “I want you to meet him,” she says and I say yes, of course. “We had a little fight,” she says and I let her talk about it. I shake my head. “You don’t like him?” she says, although I have not yet said anything. “I only know what you tell me,” I tell her. 

We have ordered little plates and they arrive. She enumerates his best qualities. “He is kind, and charming, and thoughtful. He brings me flowers. He is honest.”

“You don’t need to defend him,” I say. “I only want you to be happy.” 

A woman walks past the window. Beneath the streetlamp, she pauses to light a cigarette, walks on. 

One more from Hoa Nguyen:

Absence and a Cushion
     The bite in the ribbon    -Gertrude Stein

Why is green   brown   and golden winter
Winter stays and spills gold for the clustered
Keel     Daub a day

this cup of mine     Heated heart
Carolina Wren
you hear stabbing gold

Is tea to drink     why reach to steep
if why is the brown cloth
of me pulled taut to reach you there

Out of hearts     Heat
Stab a day
dear Heart
that stays and spills

We keep us vowed     Cup of keep
pink there and brown   a heard hunt

Out of that we spill

Tea of you are days

Away I am
out there
sucking at leaves

In the morning, my son comes downstairs. “I couldn’t find anyone and it is dark.” He climbs onto my lap and I hold him. “We’re right here,” I tell him. “Just like always.”

“When I woke up, I was alone,” he says. “I don’t like it when I am alone.”

He goes over to the couch, curls up on it. I put a blanket over him. Back at my desk, I stare out the window. It is still dark. Anything I was thinking before is now lost. 

Now I am thinking: Yes, none of us has learned well to be alone. 

Away I am
out there
sucking at leaves