dispiriting things

A dog howling in the middle of the day. A sheet of newspaper caught in the branches of a rose bush. A creek that has run dry. Broken glass on the footpath to the water’s edge. A trap laid for a mouse.

A front porch at night with no light left burning. A closed door at the top of the stairs. A nursery in the dark, with no child sleeping in the bed.

A hearth with no fire lit in it.

You have taken great care to choose the proper dress for an occasion at which you will meet someone you have long desired. You put a flower in your hair. It might be a wild daisy from your garden or a slender stem of lavender. You wait at the designated meeting place. You stand on the bridge looking out over the waterfall or in front of the shop down in the village square. You ask a woman passing by with a child in her arms to tell you please the time. It is terribly dispiriting to wait for such a long time.

A letter arrives from your mother who has been ill. It is difficult to recognize her handwriting. The loops of her script are small and tight, like she is holding the pen with a clenched fist. The news she sends is not only dispiriting. It sends you to your bed for many hours.

When you walk out to the garden in the early morning and the grass is wet and someone has left bits of trash, the plastic wrapper from a bar of chocolate, seeing that carelessness can be dispiriting. If the morning air is sweet enough and there is a pleasant breeze, the discovery of trash on the lawn can seem less dispiriting.

It is dispiriting to see the bitter cores of apples left on a plate after the fruit has been taken. The dry skins of onions. In the winter, after all the leaves have fallen from the trees and they are dry and brittle and brown, with no longer any hint of the reds and oranges and yellows that they once were. There is no trace of such colors left and the ground is hard and cold and the wind. The way the wind howls is dispiriting, even if you can remember that spring will again come.

The letters from your mother arrive less frequently. You wait for many weeks without hearing news.

Cold rain all day on New Year’s Eve. 

things that give you pleasure

You’ve slept deeply for many hours on cool, smooth sheets. The window to your bedroom is open and a breeze blows in. The air is sweet and smells faintly of the sea. You wake with an unnamed longing. You drift back to sleep - but you sleep only lightly then - until morning. 

Finding a letter that someone wrote to you long ago. The ink has faded and holding the paper in your hands, you think it might dissolve at your touch. You can still read the lines though. The small, perfectly formed letters.

It’s extremely pleasing to see a photograph of yourself as a child with your mother and your father in the frame, watching you as you hold your hand out to feed the ducks who encircle you near the pond, in the park, where the ancient trees give shade. 

It’s also pleasing when you are in the company of people you admire, and someone you love a great deal is talking about something that has happened in the past, or a subject he has just learned about, or something he has heard discussed in the news, and when he speaks, he looks at you. He singles you out to look at you. 

Then there’s the pleasing moment when you’ve heard that someone important to you who is far away - perhaps in some distant place, or even elsewhere in your city - has had a small misfortune, perhaps has fallen ill, and you have worried and are worrying and wringing your hands  with concern, when news arrives that she has taken a turn for the better. 

Someone you love is praised by others. 

When something that you have made - a poem you have written or a small tapestry you have woven by hand - is talked about by other people in a way that you can know about it. It comes up in conversation with someone who says, “Your talents are not inconsiderable.” 

It is very pleasing when you sit next to a stranger on a crowded train and she tells you something that you did not know. And then the story that she told you comes up in conversation later, when you are in bed with your lover and the delightful moment when you cry out, “Oh, that is where it comes from!” and you enjoy recalling the stranger’s mention of it. 

Finding something you thought you had lost forever. Misplacing it again, but then finding it again, quickly. 

How could you not feel pleased when you win at a game? An archery match or some other competition that tests your physical skills. Or that tests the quickness of your mind. 

When someone you have loved who no longer loves you meets with some misfortune in love. You are pleased even though you know this is very wicked of you. 

You’ve sent a letter to someone far away and you expect to wait a long time for his response, but his letter back to you arrives quickly and with stories you have not heard before. 

It’s very pleasing when you recover from a long sickness. This could be a sickness of the body or of the mind. 

And it’s wonderfully pleasing when you wake from a night of troubled dreams and your jaw aches from clenching your teeth so tightly in your sleep and there is a small pain in your head like a point of hot white light that is growing larger and brighter, but when you finally open your eyes and become aware that you are no longer dreaming and you realize that you are in your own bed in the arms of someone you love and that the arms of this person are holding you in way you would want to be held for a very long time. For days, perhaps, or maybe even years. 

–(inspired by and indebted to The Pillow Book, Sei Shonagon: “[257] Things that give you pleasure”)

14 dreams

Dream: You call me from the hospital, but by the time I get there, you are gone. 

Dream: You are standing in a field of poppies. You rise up from a sea of red.

Dream: You are sitting on the concrete steps beneath the tunnel. I am standing there but you cannot see me. I say: Look at me, here I am. I am here. 

Dream: It is night. You are on your knees holding your head in your hands. It is raining.

Dream: You read to me from the dictionary, the words without their meanings. Compulsory, you say. Compunction. Computation. Compute

Dream: It is raining. You are on your knees in the middle of the open highway. I am standing there but you cannot see me. 

Dream: You say: Come to me and so I am running. 

Dream: Again, the dictionary. Again without meanings: Longhand. Longhouse. Longing.

Dream: You call me from the hospital parking lot. You call me from the highway. You call me from the train station. You call me from a field of poppies. 

Dream: You are lying on the grass. The sun is high and bright. The sun warms your skin. You are sleeping. 

Dream: You are sleeping in a field of poppies. I call out to you but you do not answer. I say Longhand. I say Longhouse. I say: Look at me. It is raining

Dream: I am chasing you through the streets of the city. Past the bus stop. Past the abandoned lot. I follow you through the tunnel, up the concrete steps. I follow you across the highway.

Dream: You are lying on the highway. You are lying in a field of poppies. You say: Come to me. You say: Longing.  

Dream: You are waiting for me on the bridge, down by the river that runs through the city. I run to you, through the tunnel, past the bus stop, the abandoned lot. I run to you past the field of wildflowers. Past the empty storefronts, the walls of graffiti. I run to you past the fountain beneath the concrete steps leading up. I run to you on the cracked pavement. I run to you through the empty streets. I run to you across the holes in the earth. I will never stop running.