It's summer, 1956, in Maine, a camp resort on Belgrade Lakes, and I am cleaning fish, part of my job, along with luggage, firewood, Sunday ice cream, waking everyone by jogging around the island every morning swinging a rattle I hold in front of me to break the nightly spider threads. Adlai Stevenson is being nominated, but won't, again, beat Eisenhower, sad fact I'm half aware of, steeped as I am in Russian novels, bathing in the tea- brown lake, startling a deer and chasing it by canoe as it swims from the island to the mainland. I'm good at cleaning fish: lake trout, those beautiful deep swimmers, brown trout, I can fillet them and take them to the cook and the grateful fisherman may send a piece back from his table to mine, a salute. I clean in a swarm of yellow jackets, sure they won't sting me, so they don't, though they can't resist the fish, the slime, the guts that drop into the bucket, they're mad for meat, fresh death, they swarm around whenever I work at this outdoor sink with somebody's loving catch. Later this summer we'll find their nest and burn it one night with a blowtorch applied to the entrance, the paper hotel glowing with fire and smoke like a lantern, full of the death-bees, hornets, whatever they are, that drop like little coals and an oily smoke that rolls through the trees into the night of the last American summer next to this one, 36 years away, to show me time is a pomegranate, many-chambered, nothing like what I thought.
One A.M. [excerpt]
You'll show that toad-eater who wrote Night Thoughts what's happened in two centuries or so. You'll make your yard the spirit's doorway to metamorphs and comet-lit inventions. Go ahead, walk the cathedral-volumned night. Let Perseids stripe your eyes. * I read the other day that giant black snowballs from outer space created our oceans. Center me, physics, keep me from brooding too long on my fear, on the pickup truck that rammed the school bus, on the strange sea pastures of the Persian Gulf, on love and its string of losses. Now everything's strings, they say, cosmic strings that pull the galaxies toward the Great Attractor holding all matter together. Microcosm, meet macrocosm. Solace us with your kinship, make one little yard an everywhere. I think of Calvino's dark, humorous mind, another squirrel in the treetops-- how he made truth and wit from troubling loops of knowledge. And Miroslav Holub, who lived alone in this house one spring and pondered this yard as I do. The appetite for fact helped him survive, walk around and laugh to himself, inside this century's bluntest terrors-- the one that Hitler made, the one that Stalin added. A string may link me to them here, and run right through the blackened school bus, the rubble of Beirut, down to the toxic wastes, on up and out to the ice ball punching our atmosphere-- Like Theseus in his labyrinth, I stand here holding my little end of string. * I caught and cupped a firefly just now like an old miser blowing on his palms to keep some warmth in. I'd like that glow to be The milky streams of star-mess overhead, the rivulets of words below, nacreous teeth of the speaker in the dark words folding into the spiral that runs up to the coiled shape of galaxies as the brain whorls match the labyrinthine curves, echoing stairwell, spinning DNA, the play with nests and shrinking models, the sidewise slide, the folding-up of sense, the web the spider swings and spins, connecting. * Is this a dream?--I see my grandpa milking, I watch my mother watching him. The cats swarm round, the barn is cold, the cows chew steadily and stamp in random patterns, defecate in flops and splatters, steaming heaps. I'm the froth of the milk, the silvery pail, the piles of hay, the cats spiraling round my legs. I am the frost-coated lightning rod. We play with infinity, this is our luck, measureless measuring, lot lines and boundaries always deferred, always potential, doing, undoing, doing, undoing, we repeat ourselves so infinity can make love to finity, kiss it, dance with it all night. I taste the water from that old farm's well. The milk was warm. The water's hard and sweet. * Repetition's magic. I knew it in my bones. Let me repeat my dream for you, let me repeat it for myself. Let me talk on in this starlight, these meteor streakings of nonsense, this chaos, these fractals and freckles. Don't take my words away from me yet. I'm doing my midnight weeding, grasping the thistles close to the root, I'm losing the dream farm, I'm probably failing, repeating what others have said-- but that farm, like an old brown photograph suddenly filling the senses-- and this night, like a silver gelatin print-- and a string that runs from me to the past: the view from the farmhouse window across the silent fields of snow.