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Friday, July 23, 2021

Rain-poem, rumination, Russian

Poem at NAA: 

Woman, Tree, Rain

I'd forgotten this poem by the time it appeared. I've written stories with women in trees, and wrote a whole novel once that kept a woman high in a redwood. I've written poems that were self-portraits-as-dryad, and trees often invade my lines. So it wasn't surprising to reread and find that by the close I had found it worthwhile to communicate with a tree.

Thoreau crept in, who also loves trees, and also those wandering Walden-girls who pick up radiant leaves. I suppose the whole poem is a sort of gathered leaf that "improved the time." And who I am but one of those girls, grown older? A noticing sort of girl who picks up leaves.

And what does it mean to see the a tree as the axis mundi, the center of the turning world? The tree from that mountain garden of Eden, the knowledge of good and evil, turned by legend into the cross on the hill that drips blood onto the buried skull of Adam? I hadn't remembered the poem, and so was surprised that the leaves become a series of radiant words.

Well, it was pleasant to see it again. And to remember the moment of stopping to stare at the corner of Fair St. and Church St. That rain-slicked, brilliant tree! It seems a lonelier poem than I expected when I began to read. All that saying of logoi at the end, and yet the woman is alone, alone in her invisibly-walled, rainless room. Perhaps she had to be lonely to know that all things are speaking.

* * *

I've only been writing poems of late because some parts of life demand such large chunks of time devoted to family that it seems impossible to plan a novel. But I keep thinking of an idea for another long poem like Thaliad. Though I never thought about Thaliad before I woke up with the story in my head, ready to jump out onto the page. So maybe this one is not so urgent.

And maybe I"m done with novels. Who can say? The world isn't begging for one of mine, anyway, so there's no rush. And time always does tell...

* * *

I've started studying Russian--I had a wisp of it in college and have been doing Duolingo for a couple of weeks. Today I received in the mail a pared-down grammar, a book of conversations, and a book of easy stories. We'll see how long I can stick to it!

* * *

Here's a tree-ish thought, 
a pressing thought, 
a Russian thought for the day:

"To destroy a people, you must first sever their roots." --Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Ooh, chilling in light of what we've heard of late about the boarding school deaths of Indian youth in Canada. Severing roots was the schools' premise.

    I did a year of Russian language at university. Seems like a hundred years ago. We spent a month just practicing our handwriting, first our printing and then our cursive.

  3. I have a high suspicion that mine was a hundred years ago, haha!

    Yes, that's not the sole place where the attempt to deprive a people of their history appears, but it is a sorrowful one.

  4. Hahaha I once thought about learning Russian (for obvious reasons), but it looked too difficult. I don't think I'm particularly good with languages either.

    1. It is definitely difficult. All those conjugations, declensions, prefixes, suffixes... So I may fall away. Or not.

      You have the advantage of already knowing several languages--they say it makes such things easier.

    2. I only know 2 languages and a half, hahaha.
      Russian seems very complicated. How are you liking the different alphabet?

    3. 2.5 is impressive! I took a bit of Russian and a bit of French in school but never was proficient in either. I did speak Cajun French as a very small child in Gramercy, Louisiana, but I don't remember it.

      On the other hand, I've been to many countries with only a list of 50 or so sentences and questions, and managed to make myself understood... A rather fun challenge.

      I don't mind the alphabet. And was surprised that I remembered it from my tiny bit of Russian. It's the conjugations, the declensions, the prefixes, and the suffixes that seem daunting. Endless!

  5. Some years ago, I took a Russian course at the Russian Cultural Center here. It was only two evenings a week for six weeks; a trip prevented my taking the next class. We had scheduled a vacation that took in St. Petersburg, and I did not want to be wholly oblivious to the signs and speech.

    I found it interesting, in that the apparent cognates were so few--Chena for "woman" clearly cognate with the Greek "gune"; Lyudy for "people" related to the German "Leute". Yet the loan words were frequent: Kvartyra for apartment, etc.

    I suppose the class improved our navigation. I wouldn't mind learning more. But it is not a priority.

    1. It might not be for me either! Check back in a year for that one...

      Was the trip wonderful? St. Petersburg, mmm. Эрмита́ж?

    2. The Hermitage was fascinating. I thought that it could have used air conditioning, and perhaps better windows to screen the sunlight. Mostly, it seemed to me, the tsars' buyers were well-funded rather than discriminating: they purchased many great works, but even more that weren't. And one found, as everywhere, the box-checking tourists who hustle from one famous work to another. There was another museum, perhaps the museum of Russian art, that had fine paintings by artists I'd never heard of.

      And then there were house museums: Pushkin's house, and the Nabokov house. The latter belongs to the university, and one can see only the first floor. Clearly it was grand in its day. I regret to say that we did not make into Akhmatova's house.

      We enjoyed our visit to St. Petersburg. It was a trip that took in Tallinn, St. Petersburg, and Helsinki.

  6. Paintings do like climate and light control... So a hodgepodge of great and not so great. Well worth seeing, though! I've been in several museums (one in California, one in eastern Europe) where I thought the works were almost all (save for a few treasures) lesser, though even that has its own interest or weird enlightenment. Clarifies the mind about the hierarchy of achievement, I suppose.

    In all your travels, what are your favorite museums? Life is not long enough to visit them all, but I have loved museums here and in Europe and Asia and South America. I didn't travel that much until my children were grown, and not nearly as much as my husband, but I do love staring at museums, churches and temples, and lovely village or city streets saved from past times. Going to Kesklinn Old Town in Tallinn must have been marvelous.

    1. US, north to south, east to west: in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art; in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art; in Washington, the National Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection, the Freer. The Broad in Los Angeles awakens my inner Philistine.

      In Europe, west to east: the Tate, the Rijksmuseum (spelled?), a museum in Bruges that John Montague mentions in a poem, the Louvre and Orsay, in Milan the Ambrosian Library, in Florence the Uffizi, in Rome the Vatican museums and the Villa Borghese. And then there are the places, generally churches, that are not museums per se but have amazing art: Our Lady's Church in Bruges, with a Michelangelo Madonna and Child; the Frari Church in Venice with a Bellini in the sacristy and Titian altar pieces; Santa Maria del Orto, also in Venice, Tintoretto's home parish with lots of his work.

    2. That is a great list. I have not been to all of those, though I have been to some not on the list that I thought stellar... (And I also like discovering little places that are modest in aim in out-of-the-way places, like a little woodblock museum on Sado Island where we were a rarity as Americans and met their most notable printmaker.)

      John Montague! Because I was a bit lonesome, I applied to a little workshop with him when I moved to Albany, and I'm still friends with and occasionally see writer Ginnah Howard, who was one of the five of us. What a lovely introduction to him and to the city that was, so long ago.

      Yes, churches are often stellar--and I love beautiful work that didn't expect to be identified by artist, pre-Renaissance. Do wish we could still put up such work. Or wish we were willing to build such things. I've been impressed by images of some new Russian churches. But so often we find the downright ugly in new churches! I have a friend who is planting an Orthodox mission church, and it's simple and airy with lots of icons. Not aiming at extravagance but keeping in mind beauty.

  7. 1. I read Val/Orson a few months ago, so I recognized the woman in the tree you mention. A fine book, with the line between house and forest quite blurred.

    2. I took a class on "reading modern Russian" back in college--all past tense, no conversational speech, useless for anything but reading the newspaper. Later I studied actual spoken Russian, and even managed to use it in Prague, helping another tourist find a museum. Most useful Russian sentence: Daita mne, pazhalasta, piva. ("Give me a beer, please.") I was struck not only by the complexity how every Russian language element has multiple forms in declination, but also by how different from English is the basic structure of Russian, how important prepositions are, how connections between nouns is more important than actions, etc. A wholly different conception of reality built into rules of the language.

    3. I've been concentrating on short stories, because I also lack the wherewithal to hold an entire novel in my head all at once. It's a tremendous feat of strength to imagine a book-length story, as you know, and I am too torn in many directions for that sort of thing. But I've discovered that I like writing short stories, and I can pile them all up and get cumulative effects similar to those in actual novels.

    1. So glad to see you surfacing! And I'm glad you're writing stories... I haven't written full-length stories in ages. Wrote a bunch for requests when I had only four or five books out, but most of those were because people liked the two fantasies I wrote for my daughter...

      I've really just started up the Russian. Had a bit in college in the old-fashioned mode where you memorize conjugations and declensions endlessly. That doesn't work for a lot of people, certainly not for me. Now I'm just fooling with online programs, mini stories, listening, etc., and not worrying about anything--more like the way a child learns language. Who knows if I'll have any staying power...

      Oh, thanks! Always glad to know you have read and liked something of mine. That wasn't the first time I put people in trees--some met in trees, some flooded into trees, some lolled in trees, etc.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.