Again, excuse my absence. I haven’t wanted to write here lately because I haven’t wanted to reveal much about what I am doing right now. I know better, though, than to think you can leave something out of writing and still string the sentences together—you can’t do that and write the “one true sentence” (as Hemingway called it) that you need to build on.

Two weeks ago, I left Robbie’s and came home to my mother’s house. More than any other time in my life, I feel like I am failing at a crucial relationship. Something irrational tells me Robbie is supposed to be in my life, while another part of me thinks that a person can choose her destiny, can choose whether to invite struggle and confusion and uncertainty into things.

I am an emotional kaleidoscope at the moment, which is hardly surprising. What I feel most overwhelmingly is that I want to go home, to be home, to find a place where all the parts of my life are together and I don’t have to work so hard to overcome distance, to knit work and love and family together, to simply do the days.

* * *

Longing for home is not new to me. I have always travelled itinerantly; always sought out new things or blended myself into new places. One of the things Robbie and I have in common is our ability to be chameleons, to fit into all sorts of situations. But sometimes it’s necessary to feel that things won’t always change, that one will settle down, that there won’t always be upheavals, packing, unpacking, confusion, disorganization, flying-by-the-seat of one’s pants. (Other times, the lack of that sense of adventure is achingly real, causing me to throw all kinds of things to the wind in pursuit of a sense of freedom.) I bounce between these two poles, of belonging and longing, often and in many ways, but not more so than wondering where I might live my life out.

In fact, one of my favorite poems, by Robert Graves, is called Here Live your Life Out! Graves is good at capturing the unbearable lightness of being, the difficulty of only having one life to life when you’d really like to compare and contrast.


Here Live Your Life Out!

Window-gazing, at one time or another
In the course of travel, you must have startled at
Some coign of true felicity. “Stay!” it beckoned,
“Here live your life out!” If you were simple-hearted
The village rose, perhaps, from a broad stream
Lined with alders and gold-flowering flags—
Hills, mills, hay-fields, orchards—and, plain to see,
The very house behind its mulberry-tree
Stood, by a miracle, untenanted!

Alas, you could not alight, found yourself jolted
Viciously on. Public conveyances
Are not amenable to casual halts
Except in sternly drawn emergencies—
Bandits, floods, landslides, earthquakes or the like—
Nor could you muster resolution enough
To shout “This is emergency, let me out!”
Rushing to grasp their brakes; so the whole scene
Withdrew forever. Once at the terminus
(As your internal mentor will have told you),
It would have been pure folly to engage
A private car, drive back, sue for possession.
Too far, too late:
Already bolder tenants were at the gate.

* * *

Graves is surpassed in tracing what-might-have-been by Elizabeth Bishop, one of my favorite favorites. Much of Bishop’s work ponders the question of where she belongs, whether in Nova Scotia, where she lived as a child with her maternal grandparents; in Key West, where she wrote her first, Pulitzer-Prize winning book of poems, North and South ; or in Brazil, where she lived on and off with her lover, Lota de Macedo Soares, from 1951 until Soares committed suicide in 1967. Famous for her villanelle “One Art,” written after Soares’ deatg, in which Bishop (seemingly) casually describes how she lost “some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent”, the poet was on intimate terms with her own rootlessness.

My favorite of Bishop’s books, Questions of Travel, overflows with the wonder of her discovery of Brazil. But the book also never loses the sense that all the wonders a person discovers come with a price, or at least, a set of irresolvable doubts.

* * *

Part of me feels that home is where my parents live, where I grew up. So much of what I think I ought to embrace is here—education, culture, politics, “the chattering classes,” a world of people who always appear to know what their neighbors are accomplishing, a comfortable, even privileged world. My parents worked hard, and still do, to make me feel that what seem like luxuries to me here—rich stores of education, money, leisure, and intellect—are my birthright. It’s not something I particularly wanted to inherit and it has its own minor drawbacks, but it’s rather too late to go back into the womb now.

Part of me feels my home is where I live on my own, where my cats are, where I work and have connections, where I have built a life for myself. I woke up the other night feeling pressure against me as I slept (I think I’d fallen asleep on a book), and for a few moments I thought the cat who likes to sleep curled up next to me was there. I was overcome by missing the routines I’ve had, for better or worse, for nearly a decade now.

Part of me feels that home is Robbie’s home. The first night I met him, Robbie took me out to look at the stars behind his house. I had never seen the sky that bright; never seen the Milky Way like a cloud against a field of stars. He put his arms around me and pointed up at the constellations. It felt perfect, and I told him so, told him how amazing the place he lived was to me. “Yes,” he said, “It feels like home, doesn’t it?” And then he kissed me deeply, so warmly. I fell in love with him that night.

So now, home again, I am, still, homesick. I am once again faced with what Bishop asks in Questions of Travel: “Where should we be today?”

* * *

Questions of Travel

.

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams

hurry too rapidly down to the sea,

and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops

makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,

turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.

—For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,

aren’t waterfalls yet,

in a quick age or so, as ages go here,

they probably will be.

But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,

the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,

slime-hung and barnacled.


Think of the long trip home.

Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?

Where should we be today?

Is it right to be watching strangers in a play

in this strangest of theatres?

What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life

in our bodies, we are determined to rush

to see the sun the other way around?

The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?

To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,

inexplicable and impenetrable,

at any view,

instantly seen and always, always delightful?

Oh, must we dream our dreams

and have them, too?

And have we room

for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?


But surely it would have been a pity

not to have seen the trees along this road,

really exaggerated in their beauty,

not to have seen them gesturing

like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.

—Not to have had to stop for gas and heard

the sad, two-noted, wooden tune

of disparate wooden clogs

carelessly clacking over

a grease-stained filling-station floor.

(In another country the clogs would all be tested.

Each pair there would have identical pitch.)

—A pity not to have heard

the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird

who sings above the broken gasoline pump

in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:

three towers, five silver crosses.

—Yes, a pity not to have pondered,

blurr’dly and inconclusively,

on what connection can exist for centuries

between the crudest wooden footwear

and, careful and finicky,

the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.

—Never to have studied history in

the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages.

—And never to have had to listen to rain

so much like politicians’ speeches:

two hours of unrelenting oratory

and then a sudden golden silence

in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

.

Is it lack of imagination that makes us come

to imagined places, not just stay at home?

Or could Pascal have been not entirely right

about just sitting quietly in one’s room?

.

Continent, city, country, society:

the choice is never wide and never free.

And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,

wherever that may be?

.

.

Photographs I couldn’t stop staring at, by Erica Shires.