Butterfly weather though it is a bit cool for them this early in the morning. My neighbor across the creek is already up and busy with his saw and hammer, despite it being Sunday, despite his having worked in the mines all the other six days of the week, often in water shoe-mouth deep, as he tells me, and in spite of there not being a plank requiring sawing or a nail needing driven. He must be doing something, just as I, propped up here by pillows on my four-post walnut bed, itself a creation of Jethro Amburgey, the dulcimer maker. I find I've written seven pages in a notebook --- extraneous matter, hardly any page belonging in subject to any other, pages looking toward books or manuscripts partially written, or only projected to a number I could not possibly complete given my age and biological life span.
The lady who once asked me, "Do you do your own writing?" and to whom I replied, "No, I have seven dwarves," has lately inquired, "Where do you get your ideas?" For me ideas are hanging from limbs like pears, from fences like gourds. They rise up like birds from cover. They spring out of reports in the Troublesome Creek Times, from a remark in a country store, a happening. The first summer I moved here was a dry one and the creek dried up to a series of potholes crowded with minnows. Every day I drew water from my well and replenished the holes to little avail. Few survived until the next rainfall. Thus:
In island of water along the creekbed sands
They spring on dying tails, white bellies to the sun,
Gills spread, gills fevered and gasping.
The creek is sun and sand, and fish throats rasping.
One pool has a peck of minnows. One living pool
Is knuckle deep with dying, a shrinking yard
Of glittering bellies. A thousand eyes look, look,
A thousand gills strain, strain the water air.
There is plenty of water above the dam, locked
Plenty, plenty and held. It is not here.
It is not where the minnows spring with lidless
They die as men die. Leap minnows, leap.
Log houses are not as warm as reputed. Not mine at least. My first winter here was "a horse." A February blizzard dipped many degrees below zero. I pushed my bed as close to the fire as dared; I heated a rock, wrapped it in a towel, put it at my feet. I wondered how my neighbors fared, many of them in less sheltered quarters. Spring came and there they were, without complaint.
We are winter-lean. our faces are sharp with cold
And there is the smell of wood smoke in our clothes;
Not all of us were warm, though we hugged the
Through the long chilled nights.
We have come out
Into the sun again, we have untied our knot
Of flesh: We are no thinner than a hound or mare,
Or an unleaved poplar. We have come through
To the grass, to the cows calving in the lot.
Last night the telephone rang in my head, in
my sleep, in my dreaming.
You had passed from all reckoning of our days
From our knowledge and practice of love
From terrestrial sleep to infinite slumber;
The coils which bound us snapped in two,
The bowl was broken at the well,
Our sky of crystal cracked and fell,
The seeds of surfeit sprouted and grew,
In my head, in my sleep, in my dreaming.
And it was true.
And it was true.
How it was in that place, how light hung in a
Of air like water, in an eddy of cloud and sky,
I will long remember. I will long recall
The maples blossoming wings, the oaks proud with
The spiders deep in silk, the squirrels fat on
The fields and draws and coves where quail and
Earth loved more than any earth, stand firm,
Trees burdened with leaf and bird, root deep,
Madly to Learn
Madly to learn,
To fathom, to discern,
To master the Gobi, the ruins at Petri,
Climb K-2 and Nanga Parbat,
Swim the Strait of Malacca,
Be Ahab aboard the Peaquod,
Milton in his agony,
Shakespeare treading the boards;
To unravel, to grasp, to speak
Freud's Theory of Seduction,
The mathematical beauty of irregular surfaces,
The Quantum theory, the leap genes,
The invisible morghognetic fields
Transmitted across space and time ----
Bridges to infinity -----
And why Tennyson's "Flower in a Crannied Wall"
May not tell us all and all and all.
Madly to learn.
It took time, my own time, to figure out the King of England is a myth, and all that implies --- the myths we live by, county lines, state lines, imaginary acts made actual by acceptance. I learned an apple is a modified leaf. My self-education proceeded from such facts. I am more an autodidact than a classroom scholar.
"How did you escape the stereotype 'hillbilly' writing?" -- a frequent question. That is, the stereotypical mountaineer and his dialectical speech as rendered by several authors of fiction in the past. I was hardly aware of them, didn't have access to their books. My experience was with the folks themselves. As for handling dialect in my fictions and Notebooks, the way folk actually talk, well, now, dialect of any sort on a printed page always bothered me. Peculiar spellings can't account for the tone of voice, body language, the intent behind the statement. My aim is to invoke speech. To expect the true sound of it to happen in the reader's head. Aberrant spelling rarely accomplishes it. I trust to preserve the "voice" of the speaker.
I answered a set of down-to-earth questions at Carmus Combs' store the other day. A fellow inquired, "How many years have you lived amongst us?"
"This year makes forty-six."
"You're the last 'possum up the tree. Everybody your age when you come here are dead. Hain't that so?"
"I thought they'd live forever."
"What's your notion about dying?"
"Death is as natural as sleep," I said, quoting Benjamin Franklin. "We will arise refreshed in the morning."
My neighbor is still hammering and sawing. He has apparently decided on something to build -- a doghouse, a chicken coop, perhaps a playpen for his children. He will not halt until it is accomplished. It is his act of creation.
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