When I speak

Dale’s blog was the first I’d ever read. I started blogging myself a few minutes later.

And this, from Mole, almost ten years later:

The young woman on my table today was so slender that with one hand under the small of her back, and one on her belly, I had her almost compassed. All lean muscle. Radiantly beautiful, with the winter light falling across her face and her shoulders. Sometimes I think my table is a boat drifting by Avalon, half-submerged, carrying the lady from one world to the next; and I am one of those fixtures, the old waterman who steers it, neither of this world nor of that; and my straggly gray beard is threaded through the buttonholes of my coat. When I speak it is like the twitter of birds, or the splash of water, or the snapping of dry reedstalks. I belong to the boat: I have no story apart from it.

Sometimes I remember, amazed and laughing, that I’ve never met or spoken with Dale. He has, I know, been speaking with me all along.


Above: Voyage of King Author and Morgan Le Fay to the Isle of Avalon by Frank William Warwick Topham (1888).


I took Tori to the Portland State library so she could read some articles for a paper she’s writing. She studies steadily, with a calm discipline that amazes me. Read her way carefully through two articles in difficult academic journals, taking careful notes. She’s old enough to look perfectly at home in a college library, now. Gave me a curious twinge.

As did wandering through the stacks at PSU. Wandered up to the Middle English section and pulled down my only publication (Chaucer Review, 1991 — “Anelida and Arcite: Anti-Feminist Allegory, Pro-Feminist Complaint.” Check the big department stores and airport bookstalls; bound to be copies there.) There I am, in all my glory — quoting in French, Latin, and Italian (what a fraud! I knew not a word of Italian). Making a trendy and somewhat dubious argument. But it was a good reading of Chaucer’s poem. Even at my worst, I’ve always been a sensitive reader.

And my footnotes are — still — magnificent. The only genre I’ve ever mastered is the footnote. The magisterial evaluation, the wry aside, the six-line demolition of unworthy critics, the hinting at vast learning and contemplation held in reserve — I had it all.

Odd that I published that. I had already given up on an academic career when it was accepted. I had, in fact, forgotten that I’d sent it off, when I got the acceptance. It was an early chapter of one of my dissertations: sending it out may in fact have been a sort of surrender on ever finishing a dissertation. “Here: there’s a piece out of all this wreck that might be worth saving, but there ain’t no book here, I know that!”

A vanished life. And one just blossoming. And an accidental, grizzle-bearded father walking through the sour book-dust of his past.

Not a past I look back on fondly, for the most part. Like so much of my past, I mostly just feel grateful that I escaped from it more or less intact. So much of my past is a tangle of false hopes and masquerade. Pretending to know Italian, pretending that I’d read all of the Teseida in the original, is pretty typical of my past. I’m glad to be in the present. I carry on my various poses and pretences for only minutes at a time now, rather than years. It’s a sweet, hard-bought freedom.
© 2004 mole. Used by permission.