Friday, February 29, 2008


This is my slightly febrile, lovelorn bloggerly tribute to two men named Wallace who in equal measure take my breath away:

Stegner and Stevens.

I am reading Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner and right from the start it brims with wide-angle truth.
I started to establish the present and the present moved on. What I established is already buried under layers of tape. Before I can say I am, I was.
In my mind I write letters to the newspapers, saying Dear Editor, As a modern man and a one-legged man, I can tell you that the conditions are similar. We have been cut off, the past has been ended and the family has broken up and the present is adrift in its wheelchair.
It reminds me of the apocalyptic, millennial dread that fuels the feverish brilliance of Angels in America.

The other Wallace in my life is Wallace Stevens, insurance man/poetic genius. His tables of contents alone make my brain tingle.
Invective Against Swans
The Curtains in the House of the Metaphysician
Forces, the Will & the Weather
Phosphor Reading by His Own Light
The Search for Sound Free from Motion
The Hand as a Being
Mountains Covered with Cats
Holiday in Reality
The Planet on the Table
Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself
His poems are often formal in construct but wild in content, awestruck and earthbound and metaphysical at once. The sun is not only a heavenly body but the source from which all things and all life, every atom of our bodies, is constructed; his poems too trace the lines between the universe and the self and the details of earth.

For some reason I cannot read his poems without my heart swelling almost painfully in my ribcage, even when I can't articulate why. I read them out loud every time, even if just under my breath. I recommend it. This one is more for summer but that's where our hopes are pointed now, so:

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur—

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten on the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone—
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

(from "Harmonium," 1923)
Others I return to again and again are Waving Adieu, Adieu, Adieu and On the Road Home and Connoisseur of Chaos. And the brief and spare The Planet on the Table, one of his last poems (I think), kind of devastates me--the mortality of the writer and the writing, the final yearning for a shred of worthiness in both. Eulogy material.

This is the one benefit of being enervatingly sick with the flu. Not only can I lie sprawled on the couch with a novel all day, my condition demands it.

1 comment:

Donal Mosher said...

Dolly Parton, a connoisseur of a different chaos,
answers Mr Stevens with this... The sky is green and the grass is blue.