On Light and Radishes

Every morning (roughly speaking) I throw on a slip or dressing gown -- such an elaborate name! evoking the vestige of what extended procedure for preparing to face the day i can't imagine; if I remember to drag a brush through my hair I figure I'm doing well -- and push open the curtains, four of them, to reveal the floor-to-ceiling view of sickly urban trees, brick walls, metal roofs, hydroelectric poles and wires, squirrels and birds, or not, cars, sky, and in the distance, very small, the freeway on its crumbling concrete legs. On rare occasions, my action coincides with the sun just cresting the buildings east of mine, so that light bounces all over the leaves and branches and wires and bricks, picking out the smallest details, endowing every texture, each bit of debris and apparatus, with apparent significance. For a moment, and if I'm lucky the moment extends to half an hour or, when I'm very lucky, an hour or more, I watch.

There are times, increasingly often, that language is slow to come to me. Of the possible forms of expression -- the hug or kiss in greeting, for example, or gesturing down the street and around the corner for a stranger -- the verbal sometimes takes more energy than I can muster.

Japanese radishes drying. Image by risumiru
And this is not always a bad thing. Issa, in Robert Hass's translation: "The man pulling radishes/pointed my way/with a radish." We even have a handy aphorism, actions speak louder than words, a little nutkin of wisdom that turns up like a clutch of mushrooms under leaf mold when we're tempted toward believing someone or something we should know better than to, if we've been paying attention.

And what about that highly-polished nut, A picture's worth a thousand words? It's often used to sell, usually (paradoxically) things we aren't meant to examine very closely. And if we were to take it literally, we'd soon stop using language altogether, and instead invent a system of pictograms pointing our way to....

You can see the problem of "being a writer," if being a writer means making with language. It may be more useful to a writer to think of writing as a circling back to cave paintings and lines scratched in shifting sand.

Not every morning offers up that radiance. But so much of writing poetry is about attending, by which I mean showing up and waiting around for nothing to happen (if I may alter the context of what Auden supposedly said). It's in this window I sometimes find my way.