I traveled about 20 miles with Lily to go to the Montague Bookmill today. It wasn’t a very long journey, certainly almost nothing compared to the 8- or 9,000-mile journey we’ll undertake soon. Almost nothing. But here, in this river valley where we reside, we find astonishing corners of inspiration and refuge, the sound of water falling on rocks, the impossibly charming outside table, the grilled-Nutella-and-peanut-butter sandwich for Lily, and the irresistible lure of the Bookmill. The Bookmill sells used books and thoughtfully provides cozy chairs in corners, in addition to soothing views of the trees and river, and has the motto “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.”
It would have been enough to experience the delight of a warm day in the 80s and the full leafing-out of spring, little petals falling from the trees into our hair. It also would have been enough to be inundated with pleasure at my child now running, now exploring the path to the river, now curling up in my lap, now taking my face in her hands and dramatically declaring her filial love, now drawn into the rows of children’s books, reading to herself while lying on her belly on a bench, lower legs up and crossed at the ankles. Enough, too, to pick up a book here and there, led around by curiosity and the freedom of no single-minded agenda.
Those things all happened, and were delightful. Perhaps even predictable.
What I could not have predicted was this: as soon as I entered the Bookmill, I felt drawn to a particular room. In the room I felt immediately pulled toward a particular pile of books, not arrayed on a shelf but possibly waiting their turn to be arranged. On top of the pile was a volume of poetry, one published in the early 1980s but new to me, “Stone, Paper, Knife” by Marge Piercy. I picked it up. It was a bit yellowed. I traced my finger down the titles of the poems in the table of contents. The name I call you. Page 96. That one. I let the current of curiosity carry me to the page.
You know poems are my undoing, don’t you. You know that they disassemble any walls I might build. You know that in the reading of them, they reach deftly into my shadowlands and lay out my heart like a tag sale on the lawn. You know that in the writing of them, sometimes I shake with purpose, terror, lust, and frenzy, as if the hand-knotting of words to one another was my rope bridge across a vertiginous chasm.
Still, is there any girding myself for certain poems? It reached into me and I knew the eerie sound of certainty, like the call of an owl. The certainty that I would travel not just 20, but 20,000 miles for a single poem, sounding out in the dark forest, learning my native language.
The name I call you (by Marge Piercy)
A stained glass window pieced
from broken gutter bottles,
pain and jagged edges, loss and waste,
the refuse of city lives jangling:
now the mellow colors dapple our skin
and the emblem is the sun.
Already we have slept in thirty
beds together, learning how to share
the shaggy underbelly of the night,
learning how to sleep in each other’s
arms, learning how to follow dreams
down the whirlpool of eyes
the color of night and day, of wolf
and water, of bark and leaf.
Every week has its seasons of plenty
and lack, its droughts and its monsoons,
its small Julys and its miniature Februarys.
Sometimes we coil together, kittens
who at once suckle and suck, both
drawing sweet rich strength from the other,
both giving, both taking. Sometimes
we leap from ledge to ledge, scanning
new territory, tearing open
new insights, traveling
like ocelots, big cats
who swim, hunt paired,
share all their tasks, guard
the other’s flank.
For three years we have loved, now well,
now badly, now a love of honey and fire,
now of bone and rust, now of pick handles
entwined with red roses. I hold my breath
like a candle in the wind
trotting toward you, eager now
as the first night, the first month,
the first summer and fall and winter.
Love is work. Love is pleasure. Love
is studying. Love is holding and
letting go without going away.
Love is returning and turning
and rebuilding and building new.
Love is words mating like falcons a mile
high, love is work growing
strong and blossoming like an apple tree,
love is two rivers that flow together,
love is our minds stretching out webs
of thought and wonder and argument slung
across the flesh or the wires of distance,
love is the name I call you.