write your way to the tree

There is a new project; its newness thrills.

It is all possibility.

I make notes, follow unexpected paths. Discover that one idea is linked to another and then I am scurrying around the library at lunchtime, stacking books.

As to the writing itself, it is difficult to know where exactly to begin.

I turn back to Mary Ruefle’s “On Beginnings:”

Paul Valery also described his perception of first lines so vividly, and to my mind so accurately, that I have never forgotten it: the opening line of a poem, he said, is like finding a fruit on the ground, a piece of fallen fruit you have never seen before, and the poet’s task is to create the tree from which such a fruit would fall.

No small task, tree creation.

I sit in on the final presentations of graduate students in architecture and in the conversation that follows, there is talk of beginnings. One young woman has chosen to design interventions for four city sites. Instead of presenting one problem, she works with four.

“This is a project about beginnings,” someone says.

“I guess I now know how to begin,” the student says when she is offered the opportunity to speak.

She says: “I was sitting in a courtyard in Oaxaca and it was a public space, but set back a bit, so it was also quiet. I wanted to create that sense of quiet in a public space.”


An act of the mind. To move, to make happen, to make manifest. By an act of Congress. A state of real existence rather than possibility. And poets love possibility! They love to wonder and explore. Hard lot! But the poem, no matter how full of possibility, has to exist! To conduct oneself, to behave.

In the class, an observation is offered:

“You are working with beginnings. Each one a kind of experiment. Perhaps what is useful to know is that if you keep repeating experiments, a methodology will emerge.”

The repeated act of beginning itself revealing its hypotheses.

To begin with one small thing: a breeze through a quiet courtyard in the afternoon sun.

To extract something of value and attempt to translate - through form, through the page, through material objects - that value.

To recreate it. Translated through self. Self as translation. Intervention as machine.

Text as machine through which value is extracted then reproduced.

A thought came to me while watching the presentations and hearing the questions they engendered and I carried it, turned it over in my mind, throughout:

How might you frame the problem such that your solution seems inevitable and urgent?

This is not so different, I think, from the fruit and the tree.

A breeze through a quiet courtyard in the afternoon sun. 

Sun on the skin is a place to start. Light and shadow. 

A point of entry: An archway in the courtyard.

Stone steps leading down to water. You can also say they are leading up.

Here is a way in. Here is a place to start.

Here is tender fruit on the ground. 

History, too is written backward.

Start here. Write your way to the courtyard, to the sun on your skin. Write your way to the tree.