Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hawthorne on His Way Home

In November 2007 I quoted on this blog part of a poem by Lawrence Raab. Entitled “Hawthorne on His Way Home,” it had appeared in the New Yorker five months earlier: the June 25 issue, to be exact. A friend had pinned it to his bulletin board after its first appearance in print. In the coming months he would share it with me.

When I return to the November 18 posting of the poem on Writing Cabin, I am startled to recall that a week later I would be wheeled down a workplace corridor and hospitalized for suspicious symptoms related to my heart.

Raab’s words can seem prescient: “Unforeseen events occur.”

When I return to the November 18 posting, I can click on the accompanying image and virtually enter a backyard that I had owned in 2007 and then left in 2008 and sold in 2009. The image still stuns me with its detail. I seem able to smell again the cold of the flower beds next to the garage that November day. The autumn colors are vivid, and the branches appear to trust the yearly transformation in store for them.

I still have in electronic form emails that I had sent and received the week before the November 18 posting. They tell other stories, any one of which might have become the major thread that would follow through most prominently in the months ahead. The issues referenced in those emails sound important, decisive, principled, non-negotiable. Fate would not give them the final say, however.

We are given any number of Novembers in our lives, and they can each seem powerful in the gravity of the perspectives that open up and the energies that re-arrange how a heart works.

We are given any number of Octobers as well. In my personal experience, Octobers are months that do not yet touch the tall shadows cast across lives by All Saints’ Day, by All Souls’ Day, by Thanksgiving. That month that I claim as my birthday month is still two weeks away, and I get to remain a little longer the age I was at the turning of the year almost ten full months ago.

I want to pack October and November and December of this year, pack them in brown paper and tie them with sturdy cord, and carry them into the new year with no sudden changes or transformations or challenges to show during their long weeks.

I suspect I will not get to do that. I suspect that I will need once more to let a year go where it will.

I actually suspect that will be OK.

Hawthorne on His Way Home

Walking through the village
of Danvers, late one afternoon
in the fall of 1836, Nathaniel Hawthorne
saw an old man carrying

two dry, rustling bundles
of cornstalks, and he thought:
A good personification of Autumn.
Another man was hoeing up potatoes.

What did he represent? It was October.
The wild rosebushes were bare.
In the fields—brittle Indian corn,
pale rows of cabbages.

“A landscape now wholly autumnal,”
Hawthorne wrote in his journal, and perhaps
he noticed the way now means then
as soon as it’s written down,

the way remembering conceals invention,
or tries to. Idea for a tale:
a man, composing a story, finds
it shaping itself against his intentions.

The characters act otherwise
than he planned. Unforeseen events occur.
Hawthorne paused. Above the village,
clouds were being carried off by the wind.

In a story, he thought, what a man observes
might shadow forth his fate:
wild roses, barberry, Indian corn.
The down of thistles flying through the air.

Lawrence Raab

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