Things Seen at a Small Remove
Hunters in the Snow
For as long as I can remember he’d traveled, working round the world on turbines and ships’ engines, one of the few I’d known who, after attaining a degree in mechanical engineering, actually worked as one, a desire he’d had as a child, though it would later promise but an endless round of jets, hotels and work days ending on bar stools in the company of those with whom you worked, this the small cloistered world of field service.
And then, when he was in his early forties, he met her, a woman ten years his senior and the love of a lifetime. Lovers, husband and wife, the best of friends, they did all the things they loved in their own ‘faire companye’, boating and fishing on rivers and lakes, following the tides and the stripers, tramping through the Maine woods together in boots and woolens like Brueghel’s hunters.
At family events, you might find yourself drawn to observe them, to better understand the smooth and natural mechanics of how they functioned together, the ratio of gearing, the pitch of the tooth, to take in the full pleasure of watching each in their turn bear the brunt of the other’s goodhearted laughter while seeing in the flesh what one only finds in a novel. If they had hand-fasted as lovers did and still do under Irish and English skies, you might have caught sight of the cord binding them, each to each, its twill and color. When she grew ill, he stopped catching planes. They had but a handful of years together.
Driving to field service today across a particularly fine stretch of rural Georgia, I see them both afresh in the eyes of my eyes. Once the thought of them arises like a lingering scent of magnolia, I give it every quarter it wishes. Romance: was it in the shaded path I saw winding its way through an afternoon wood,
or did it lay in the long sibilant grasses of a meadow swept by the tails of paints and chestnuts that had once again drawn their faces in the air before me?
モクレンの死 mokuren no shi (Death of a Magnolia)
It is an enormous thing, perhaps a century old and no doubt venerated by the family that lives in the modest tin-roofed farmhouse beneath the quiet rain of its shade. With a girth as large as a handful of children holding hands round it, yellow leaves lay scattered and thick beneath it as it slowly dies by attrition. The scanty, topmost leaves, still a stiff shiny lacquer of green, roil like sea anemones in the wind’s currents.
This, too, is how we should die,
in the sunlight of an unsullied grace,
slowly, and with plenty of time
for we may have long goodbyes to say
to those we may have loved but neglected,
for a blindness to the beauty
housed in another
that we may have never seen nor looked for
but was always there.
A Solitude for Two
He would always clean them in the cottage’s chipped white sink where the shed scales would sparkle, bright as gems. The sound of it, of skin being torn from flesh, had a certain inevitable cruelty about it as he’d scale and skin their morning catch till his hands bled.
And I can’t recall a time when my father ever fished alone for my mother was always with him, the pleasure of journeying out on the water at dawn having made them both early risers, a joy for which no alarm clock was needed, for a thin mist of echoes would be waiting for them at the dock.
Some of us require solitude and others constant companionship, and still others a solitude for two. For indulging in one at the expense of another I’m often rebuked . . .
but when wading alone through a swale of ferns beaded with morning freshness, all stories converge in a clockwork of careful footfalls,
when with indescribable delight a chill seeps into the denim that both shields
and yields us from and back to ourselves.
May 7, 2016