Category Archives: Modernist

longships

We go a-viking: The Long Ships

Original review, posted April 2012

So, this isn’t entirely a drunk book review, but it’s also not entirely sober. As such, I know I’m not going to bother checking my references and making sure I’m not making stuff up, so fair warning. 

Which is the thing. The Long Ships was written by a Swede (or possibly a Norwegian or a Dane) in the run-up to the second world war, drawing on his fiercely academic background in Old German/English/Norse semi-oral histories, stuff like the Icelandic Sagas, the Nibelungenlied, Beowulf, etc. Unlike certain crunchy Oxford dons I can think of, Bengtsson has a super sly sense of humor. He’s not trying to build an Anglo-Saxon mythology that works with his Christian ret-con. Seriously, why I am being so coy here? What I am trying to say is that Bengtsson and J.R.R. Tolkien were both writing at the same time, using the same source materials as their guide posts, but they came home with some seriously different narratives. That Bengtsson is in the dust bin of history, and Tolkien is wherever he is with his name recognition, I can’t say what that means. Something. 

Whatever, moving on. 

So, The Long Ships? I’m again not going to look this up, but I think that Michael Chabon in the introduction called this the “last Victorian novel”. Which is, like, super overheated blurb-fodder, but I get what he was at. There’s something un-psychological un-Modern here. These characters are all recognizably human, and they certainly have their thoughts and motivations, but there’s something charmingly without hand-wringing and deeper purpose in terms of The Psyche here. People are what they are, and things happen, and sometimes these things have anything to do with each other, but mostly they don’t. Plot isn’t discovery; it’s shit that happens. 

Which, can we talk about narrator for a minute? I’ve been reading myself some Anglo-Saxon poetry, and I loves how snide they are. The Beowulf narrator can’t help, when he’s introducing some dude he hates, but warn us that the dude he hates is going to slip on banana peels in the third act and die or worse. He’s gonna get it! But watch him be a jackass now so you can savor it when the banana peels rear up under his heels. The narrator here isn’t as entirely intrusive, but he’s going to let you know that while Orm is rowing as a galley slave, that Orm will get out of it in the end, and it’ll make a good story, don’t worry. And it totally does. This is all good story. 

So, wait, plot? Orm Somethingson leaves his home to go a-viking, gets screwed almost immediately, and in a series of reversals of fortune, ends up as a soldier in Muslim Spain. They he bails and heads back to England/Ireland/Scandinavia, where some stuff happens, mostly involving the Christianization of that area. The first section – and, apparently, this was published as two discrete novels back in the day – is much more rip-roaring, trotting all over Europe, meeting up with Jews and Muslims and Christians, holding turn of the first millennium convos about how god(s) work, getting laid, and plundering booty. Which, fuck yeah. It’s like what Skye O’Malley would have been if that didn’t suck rocks. And donkey balls. Almost literally. 

Book two, or the second section, this was tougher sledding for me. Orm converts to Christianity, and although his conversion is super funny – he’s part of a Viking mission that has England by the short and curlies, and the English king is this total cowardly dork, and I’m not going into it more, because, boring for you – the parts where Orm bolts down in Scandowhereveria and has some babies and fights with his neighbors….zzzzz. Or not entirely zzzzz, but it lacks that broad-stroke of the first section, and as an early second millennium reader, I give Christian converts the stink eye. There’s no fanatic like a convert, as my mother likes to say, though that’s not exactly what happens here. Orm isn’t above beating the holy spirit into folk, which is funny, and his theology, when it runs at odds with the priests’, is sweetly pragmatic. But then we go a-viking again! Boo-yah! There’s not lot of danger here, in the sense that the narrator is warning you that everything will turn out all right, and then it does! Squee! Go Orm and all of his descendants!

And now, off topic. Again, according to sources I am not looking up, Bengtsson refused to let the Nazis publish his books under their occupation (must have been Sweden?) and use them as propaganda. Which, interestingly, nor did Tolkien allow the Allies to use Middle Earth as a propaganda tool.* (Which I’m also not looking up, but I’m fairly sure it’s true. Jesus, can you imagine how effective propaganda based on his sort of Teutonic Christianity would have been? Shudder.) I mean, we probably would have forgiven Tolkien in hindsight, should he engage in propaganda for the winning (and non-Nazi, in all fairness) side, but, interestingly, I think Bengtsson’s work is less suited to propaganda. Orm is living in a much more pluralistic society than Middle Earth, regardless of the varying versions of Western Christian societies that peopled that realm: Rohan, Gondor, The Shire. (Which can be read as Anglo-Saxons, Renaissance Italians, and the bucolic English.) Orm’s latent paganism is all over everything he does, even when embraces the True Faith and all that. Orm abides. Dude. 

An interesting book, and I’m glad I’ve read it, although I’m not going to say it wasn’t trying at times. I’m still not through worrying the idea that this is a Victorian novel, because I’m pretty sure that’s wrong, but I’m not sure how to articulate why. Certainly this is no psychological journey, Freud’s grubby hand-prints all over the action and its meaning. But it’s not sentimental either, which I think you can see heaped in huge flowering beds all over (some) Victorian novels. There’s no moral to the story. No coda. No gloss. So I think I’m going to call bullshit on this being a Victorian novel. I can’t say this is Modernist or post-Modernist or anything else though, which makes it incredibly cool and weird. 

Also, there’s a lot of beards. If you like beards, this is for you. Beardo.

 

*Update, Jan 2015:

Not long after I wrote this, I realized my little tossed off comment about Tolkien and WWII propaganda cannot be true: Lord of the Rings wasn’t published into the early 1950s, though of course it was written during the War, and most certainly drew upon JRRT’s experiences in the previous world war. (What exactly that influence is, you may quibble amongst yourselves.  For sure the Dead Marshes, at the very least, are a WWI reference, as is much of the relationship between Sam and Frodo.)

In the interest of fact-checking previous drunken me’s assertions — I know I must have read somewhere about how Tolkien managed the political application of his Middle Earth, as far as he was able — I googled “Tolkien propaganda”. I got a lot of stuff in German and some other blather. Not looking too closely, I clicked on a link called “Tolkien, his Dwarves, and the Jews”. I’m reading through, getting more and more worried by the antisemitic tone of this thing, when I realize I’m on a white supremacist message board. Ye gads! What the actual fuck!? Get me out of here!!!1!

After nuking my browser and clearing any and all fucking cookies, I can’t quote exactly what these shitheels were saying, but suffice it to say it’s not good. They quote Tolkien saying that the dwarves were modeled after Jews, which surprises the white supremacist. Don’t the dwarves have honor and stuff? And Jews obviously do not, etc, gag. If indeed Tolkien modeled dwarves after Jews — which I don’t find hard to believe, shitty source notwithstanding — then there are a number of troubling implications of this equation.

I’ll try not to get too nerdy here, but let’s just realize how far down the nerd hole we are already. So, basically, Middle Earth is a religious cosmology — we won’t say allegory — in which the main deity, Eru Ilúvatar, creates the races of Elves and Men. The race of Dwarves is created by a demi-god — a sort of Hephaestian character — called Aulë. As such, they’re lesser order beings, imperfect copies of perfect creations. Like Ents or Orcs, who were also created by beings other than Eru Ilúvatar, they struggle with sterility and a bent towards beastliness, tending back to the non-sentient animism of their origin. Eru Ilúvatar eventually gives the Dwarves sapience, but this doesn’t really overturn their origins. Which is why the equation of Dwarves with the Jews is…let’s just use the bullshit term “problematic”.

I’m losing my point here, and mostly I’m just freaking out at Tolkien being used by violent racists to bolster their cause. Oh, I know what my point was! It’s one of those old hoary chestnuts of criticism that “you can’t judge literature from the past with the sensibilities of the present argle bargle”. To which I say, bullshit. I can do anything I want, motherfucker, and if what I want to do is decide that Tolkien’s “races” are treading dangerously close to racial biological determinism and its attendant social violence, then I can do that in the privacy of my own home. And I mos def have both the textual and extra-textual evidence to back that up. It’s not like I’m making shit up; even the white supremacists see it.

But! This determination is a slightly different thing than using Tolkien — or any other writer — and his (admittedly historically determined) blindspots and straight up prejudices as propaganda in perpetuating such diseased worldviews. There is a lot I love about Tolkien, from his shitty poetry to his linguistic ardor for English and a half a dozen other dead languages, but this 1) doesn’t make me blind to his failings and 2) doesn’t mean if I love the baby I need to drink the bathwater. After the LotR movies came out, a bunch of the actors, of myriad political inclinations, came out with various “Tolkien said this or that about politics” statements. To which I say, who gives a shit? I don’t base my political opinions on what my racist great-uncle said about the War, or Jews, or whatever — and dude said plenty, I assure you, and it was all awful — and I’m not going to base my opinions on someone else’s great-uncle either, even if I love his poetry. The personal is the political, sure, but not the other way around.

 

dory

The Art of Losing

I’m in the middle of planning the last of my grandparents’ funerals, the one for my Grandma Dory who died three weeks ago. I’m a mess, and I’m not going to sugarcoat that. This is going to be messy.

Writing Grandpa Ed’s was easy, though the writing was the only easy thing about it. I was about to be married, and my mother, his daughter, was out of the country, and my sister was sicker than I’ve ever seen her. I ended up blinking, dazed, in this foreign country of grief, digging through the papers on his desk in the basement room of his house, the one he called office. There was a stack of photos on the desk, this chronology of his life. He knew he was dying. I moused open his computer, which was a cast-off from my college days, which I’d set to the largest system font I could find to accommodate his blindness. He was writing to the end.

The easy thing about his funeral was that he was a man for poetry: maudlin, Celtic, one of those large, performing personalities that acts as subterfuge for a moody, feeling introvert. Dylan Thomas, we said, almost at once. Fern Hill.We made my dad read the poem, which was almost a cruelty I can see now. At the time all I knew was that I couldn’t read it. I can barely read it now.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
       In the moon that is always rising,
               Nor that riding to sleep
       I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
               Time held me green and dying
       Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Dad was the only one who fit my grandfather’s suits, and there was a fashion party as we stood in my grandfather’s narrow room and shrugged them onto his shoulders. The red one, with the big 70s lapels. The dappled grey and black one in a winter wool. The ties on a tie rack. Grandpa’s car, which took us to the funeral and then refused to work again, like a dog pining at an empty bedside.
Grandpa Chris was the next. He was not a man for poetry – reed-thin and active, Scandinavian and full of puns. He had a doctor’s sensibility, all bedside manner and efficiency and easy charm. In a book called Medical Mentors: Practicing the Art of Medicine in Duluth 1927-1996 by Kathleen Hannan, my grandfather said:

“Do what you like to do. Live in the area that you would like to live. Enjoy your time off. I like the more simple life, down to earth. In a smaller town you have so many friends, real genuine friends.”

Also in the book, he talked about his mother’s death, when he was six, of child-bed fever. It was the defining moment of his life, in some ways, this woman lost a century ago. I wish I’d met her. I wish she’d lived long enough to raise him up so he didn’t keep looking for her all those years later in the throes of his senior dementia. I wonder about her funeral. It would have been horrible, like all funerals for young women and new mothers. I went and bought my son a suit today and worried about his hair grown long. I can just see Chris at six with an ill-fitting new suit and a haircut. I can see his infant sister. The prairie of Iowa would have been hard and flat.

At his service I read “How One Winter Came in the Lake Region” by Wilfred Campbell, a Canadian Anglican priest. I’m not sure anyone understood why, including me, but then I’m not sure I care. It was right, this slow freezing and the joy in that, the shift of seasons.

When one strange night the sun like blood went down,
Flooding the heavens in a ruddy hue;
Red grew the lake, the sere fields parched and brown,
Red grew the marshes where the creeks stole down,
But never a wind-breath blew.
That night I felt the winter in my veins,
A joyous tremor of the icy glow;
And woke to hear the north’s wild vibrant strains,
While far and wide, by withered woods and plains,
Fast fell the driving snow.

My Grandma Fran, I can’t even work out the timeline for her death. She died so long and sudden. I have these memories of driving over the hills and bridges of Allegheny county, past the grim and vibrant steel towns laid down by the rivers of Pennsylvania. I remember my daughter in a fountain playing until the hospital security guard told us to get out. I remember flying home and waiting for the call from my mother, who stayed there until the end, or one of them. I remember cleaning out the house.

Fran was not a woman for poetry either. When I named my daughter after her, she was so perplexed: why would you do that? It wasn’t false modesty either, but something weirder, something hard and unsentimental. I never saw either of my grandmothers cry in the decades I knew them. I read Dylan Thomas’s “After the Funeral (In Memory of Ann Jones)” at her funeral. It was a counterpoint to Ed’s Fern Hill. I don’t know that there is anything written that could sum Fran in either poetry or prose.

I know her scrubbed and sour humble hands
Lie with religion in their cramp, her threadbare
Whisper in a damp word, her wits drilled hollow,
Her fist of a face died clenched on a round pain;
And sculptured Ann is seventy years of stone.
These cloud-sopped, marble hands, this monumental
Argument of the hewn voice, gesture and psalm
Storm me forever over her grave until
The stuffed lung of the fox twitch and cry Love
And the strutting fern lay seeds on the black sill.

And now Dory. I have to account for you in words now too, and I’m not sure I’m at the task of it. Dad and I trade phone calls, working out logistics; my children, who have been muddy with odd grief, calls from the teacher in the last month; what has happened? The Art of Losing at my knee last night, paging, paged. There’s so much here that gets the heart of it, but cannot be spoken aloud in a Cremation Society building in downtown Duluth. It would not be fair.

 

Translation

by Franz Wright

 

Death is nature’s way

of telling you to be quiet.

 

Of saying it’s time

to be weaned, your conflagration

starved to diamond.

 

I’ll give you something to cry about.

 

And what those treetops swaying

dimly in the wind spelled.

 

Dory was so domestic, so practiced in the arts of familiar deception. She was the most accomplished liar of my acquaintance, who rolled mythology as simple as truth. She read me maudlin Scandinavian folk tales as a kid, which I cried about with the pleasure of sorrowful fiction. She knitted like she breathed. She was the last, most important member of that generation to leave me here. I’m still surprised that it was possible for her to die.

Only until this cigarette is ended,
A little moment at the end of all,
While on the floor the quiet ashes fall,
And in the firelight to a lance extended,
Bizarrely with the jazzing music blended,
The broken shadow dances on the wall,
I will permit my memory to recall
The vision of you, by all my dreams attended.
And then adieu,–farewell!–the dream is done.
Yours is a face of which I can forget
The colour and the features, every one,
The words not ever, and the smiles not yet;
But in your day this moment is the sun
Upon a hill, after the sun has set.

Edna St Vincent Millay

 

Fran and Ed

For There She Was: Mrs Dalloway

Mrs Dalloway is a hard book to write about, for me. I read this on planes, and not on foot, in hard tubes that bolt up into the blue and down again into the strange sameness of airports; surrounded by strangers and boredom; trying to mask my weeping, coughing back my laughter; the phones off; the world insubstantial and patchy out the window of the plane. Wrong. I should have been walking, but then maybe flying is the better metaphor for Woolf’s strange prose, her perfect movement. At the end, wrung out after a week on vacation, I cried and pushed my head into my husband’s shoulder. We talked. I tried to convey why I was crying, but it’s all so inexplicable. Not sadness. Not sadness. Something more like the pain of recognition; the joy of disconnect; the shock of understanding.

Ten days before my husband and I married, twelve years ago this month, my grandfather died. My mother, in whose house we were to marry, was in Ireland. My sister, who was to be my only bridesmaid, was sick, so sick, ensconced in my mother’s bedroom. I would go there daily, more often if I could, and drop off videotapes of movies for her to watch, clear the dishes. She spent so much time lying down that her face swelled with uncirculated blood, narrowing her eyes to a squint.

Two days before he died he called me from the hospital, and we held a confusing conversation. He kept talking to nurses while talking to me, until he abruptly cut off the conversation and hung up. I tried to say I love you, but it was never said, or only said to the dead air on the phone. I cried then, cried hard, and I can see my not-yet-husband’s face while I wept into my hands alive with compassion and helplessness. He never did meet Grandpa. This week, in a shop in New Mexico, I looked over a set of string-ties, felt them with my hands, and told my husband that Grandpa would have loved these. I thought of his neck.

Grandma called to tell me he died. She told me not to tell my mother, not to disrupt her trip. Mum called me that evening, and I tried to lie, stupidly, bowing to the wishes of a woman who had lost her husband. I was strange, horrible. She called Grandma, who told her herself. Mum called back, and I confessed, broke it all over cords that run under the cold Atlantic all the way to Ireland. She was a daughter; I was a daughter; we owe these things to one another. That act of silence was the worst thing I’ve ever done.

I found myself in Homestead, that homely, ghostly town, in the week before my wedding running the strange minutia of a funeral that is in profound & exact correlation with the detail of a wedding. There is music, and an officiant; an afternoon going through poetry to find the poem to read; a caterer, a church, a house. The front row cordoned off for the old women; hats; nylon stockings; shoes. My father, my mother’s ex-husband, in my grandfather’s suit reading Fern Hill to a room of people. To me.

“Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.”

We took my grandfather’s giant, metal car though the car wash before the funeral. He had always loved those grandfatherly Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles, the seat belts belted to themselves so the warning lights wouldn’t chide him to buckle up. The car wash attendant, upon hearing of our loss, testified to Jesus. My atheism is soft – a lost tooth or a missing thumb – but I felt his foaming compassion in those imaginary fingers, in that void in my bite, in a way I have never before or since. He admired the car, and I think, had we not planned to drive that soul-body to the funeral, I would have given the keys to him and walked.

I married him, my husband, ten days later, in my mother’s house, with my sister, in a small miracle, by my side. During the reading of one of the poems, the Edna St. Vincent Millay I’d chosen before death sat me down to remind me of impermanence, I reached my hand back and found her hand and held it as hard as I could.

“Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.”

Maybe families are accidental, maybe. But maybe not. My sister dreamed of him, our Grandpa, the night he died, unknowing of his death. She went to the attic and looked through old pictures. When I told her he was gone, we sat on the floor and she recreated her steps that night: my mother as a child; the pictures of the family car, my grandmother stylish and stunning in her fur-trimmed jackets in front; trips to Florida; unremembered friends. We didn’t cry, but talked, and it was like crying in its release. I would be on a plane within a day, and land down into the Homestead of grief, into the city of loss. My sister was too sick to come.

Mrs. Dalloway makes me think of this, makes me think of me. It’s shocking to find me there, in London, planning a party, this inconsequential thing; to find me in London, moving, and also far above the earth. She went out to buy some flowers and napped; she ran into an old lover; the party happened and was marred & perfected by death. It’s dangerous and egotistical to find meaning in events. My grandfather did not live and die so that I could be reminded of this long string of being, this ineffable web, but I couldn’t help thinking it at the time, and can’t help drawing the narrative that way now. It writes itself, our lives, my life. A life is not symbolic. The truth is unflattering and lacks the grammar of logic, but it moves in beauty and the snapped sentences of emotion. I have my stupidity for comfort, my unintellectual love, the unthinking feelings of connection and desertion.

“‘I will come,’ said Peter, but he sat on for a moment. What is this terror? what is this ecstasy? he thought to himself. What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement?

It is Clarissa, he said.

For there she was.”

 

ice

Ice by Anna Kavan

I woke up (on that June 2nd) from a very vivid dream. In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately.

Stephenie Meyer, from her Twilight FAQ

I don’t think I’m going to rate Ice by Anna Kavin, as I don’t think I can say I liked it - like is such a degraded term – but I also feel a fiercely uncomfortable kinship with its dead-eyed wonder. I think if I’d read this 20 years ago, I would have gone one of two ways. Either I’d dismiss it as plotless mind-fuckery – using, no doubt, a brilliant metaphor involving an emperor’s sartorial stylings or lack thereof – or I’d enact that uncomfortable bullshit of pretending to understand something I didn’t get. Maybe I’m not giving younger me enough credit, and I’m not trying to humble-brag that I get this now by trashing my younger self. I believe Ice is ultimately un-get-able, probably intentionally so (not that that factors for me, entirely), but in a way that speaks to several of my personal obsessions: the housewife in fiction, post-apocalyptic landscapes, the harder to describe slipperiness of mid-century female writers. Ice, for me, reads as a daughter of Story of O, fraught with the eroticism of landscape and decay, the brutalization of half-sketched girl through the eyes of half-sketched men, written by a woman who, like Pauline Réage, ran her identity like artwork itself. 

Nameless characters in a post-apocalyptic dream state enact a chilly, brutal love triangle.* There is a man, and another man – sometimes a warden, sometimes a husband – and they tug-of-war over the image of a sylph-like girl who is described dismissively by her hair color and her victimhood. She cowers, there. Her wrists become bruised. Her mother was cruel and taught her submission. The man – who is the main character – alternately murders her and tries to rescue her from the other man, sometimes at once. Locations bleed from one to the next; walls of ice rear up or cower themselves, in the distance; concrete details of flat-letting and luncheons dissolve into war and radiation. The girl is trussed and murdered a thousand times, or she isn’t, and everywhere she is half out-of-sight, a mirage in a damp-smelling room or a field of trees lit by moonlight and her bare, frozen feet are blue against the snow. Or the warden’s eyes are blue like a gem whose name the narrator can’t recall. Ice is infuriating until it poleaxes you, like the dream I had last night of a bunch of gossipy chatter at a picnic with a bunch of friends that did a focus-in, dolly-out on a creature, made of smoke, who sought possession of me and mine and I ran until I was screaming and my husband woke me up, telling me I was shouting in my sleep. Exactly like that. 

Like with Story of O, I’m maybe more interested in Kavan’s fascinating biography than I am with the text itself. Born to ex-pat Britons in France, people who are primarily referred to as cold, she was a heroine addict through most of her adult life. This is often described as medicinal, as she suffered from what we would pigeonhole as depression, and she herself was unrepentant about her addictions. She burned all her correspondences and most of her diaries near the end of her life, saying, “I was about to become the world’s best-kept secret; one that would never be told. What a thrilling enigma for posterity I should be.” And how, woman. Way to rock the fuck out of self-as-art. I can see thousands of sophomore-level papers about ice-as-addiction or ice-as-domestic-panic, and they wouldn’t be wrong, exactly, but they would also hugely fail. Ice might be the artifact of biography, but wrestling this bear down with life details won’t do. We shall not be going to the lighthouse today. 

“For now she need not think of anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of – to think; well not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others… and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.”

To the LighthouseVirginia Woolf

I read this up at the cabin, in snatches, like something stolen. In the category of post-apocalyptic post-Modern meta-mind-fuckery I’ve read at the cabin, I’m going to give the award to Wittgenstein’s Mistress, but it’s probably not wise to conflate the two. When my friend Alexis showed up with her daughter so we could enact our own lighthouse-not-going with the kids, we walked over the harsh geology of the north shore and shit-talked books and people. She’d read the back-flap of Ice, which likened Kavan to a raft of female authors, for no discernible reason other than they had lady-parts, and then named a raft of people she influenced, all male. Sure, it’s just blurb-craft bullshit, but it is also A Thing, this melting fulcrum of the pen spurting out its translations between the genders and influence and anxiety and all manner of Bloomian bullshit. 

Bullshit, she said, and pointed to the land, this mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon. 

Whatever. 

I am losing my coherence, the way I do. But I started with Stephenie Meyer talking about Bella Swann, that girl in the gloaming imagined by a woman asleep, the day before her kids were to start swimming lessons which would give her the brief stolen moments to write her dream of a girl being fought over like a bone by boyish monsters, her blood in the snow, her warm chastity, his chilly skin like a wall of ice. Sometimes when we dream, women dream of being killed by men. You can collapse the narrative of Ice with fractal precision into its opening and closing lines: “I was alone” and then, “The weight of the gun in my pocket was reassuring.” The rest is geometry, and the angles cut. 

*Though I admit my use of the term love triangle is primarily a troll – let’s see how many people run up in the defense of the seriousness of the literary qualities of this book – I’m somewhat douchily trying to enact the gendered ways we approach literature of all stripes. Love triangle is a dismissive term – oh, sigh, another girl thinks she’s average-special enough for a ream of hot guys to love her to the point of annihilation, which is, here, absolutely the fucking point, or not, who knows what the point it? There is no spoon. Do or do not. Both, motherfucker. None.

slasher

Slasher Films: Lolita

Lolita is a premonition of the slasher film by way of the Gothic novel, the point of view monster breathing in the grass as the co-educational campers couple amongst the furniture of middle America. It begins with that slasher staple, the note from the shrink, a wheezy clueless sort who mistakes fact for innuendo. This whole book occurs after the blackbird whistles, just to make an obscure poetic reference. The beginning sections reminded me of my local love, the anecdotal satirist of my youth, Sinclair Lewis, with his intricate and bawling America, laid out in sitting rooms and social climbing, Humbert the outsider, Humbert the imaginary monster, Hubert the European of our fantasies, all dissolution and our fevered dreams cum nightmares. (Har har.) 

The beginning is outrageously funny, the way horror stories are, Humber’ts parentheses side-commenting about this and that, a dagger commentary sheathed in brackets. Wait, a moment for his parentheses. Woolf may have taught me to love the semicolon, although that affection was in full bloom before I hit her mastery, but Nabokov and his creature (his Creature) have taught me to love those brief, epigrammatic asides. I await DFW to teach me the beauty of the endnote. At some point though, the whole thing grabbed me by the throat and shook, the way a dog does with prey (a cat, a wild-eyed rabbit) and I found myself shaken into another novel completely – the road trip novel, the long, undulating America, the Gothic panic of the narrow space recreated in a thousand unnamed American burgs and their sticky hotels, the mountains (which ones?) rising purple and ground down in the distance, the Oedipal struggle completely drawn with fangs that bite Oedipus in his hoary ass. Lo Lee Ta. A series of consonants and vowels that refuse to coalesce into meaning. 

Humbert is aggressively contructed, a narrator so damaged that the character is so fictional, so unreal, that it shimmers with the hot road mirage of truth, just up the bend, just under the bed. Humbert is awful, gross, a fraud, on so many levels; his Lolita, his Dolly, a work of the most perverse art. Like a character in a Browning monologue, we cannot believe anything he says, about her, about himself, the rough Freudian gloss muddling on about bad hearts and the newspaper, about childhood and its damage. Grrr, my heart’s abhorrence. No. Unlike a Browning poem, we can’t simply reverse Humbert’s statements to see past to the facts. Messy, like a mind, like knees in the dew-wet grass. Like any good Gothic novel, the bracket of the doctor’s statement is unclosed, and we end with Humbert and his musings on immortality. (Spoilers, I say, but that is ironic, at best.)

When I was 12, I had this friend. I still have her, as they say. We were not close at that time, just near in the surname alphabet, sitting close to one another, a desk away, two desks away. We liked each other; we were friends of the giggling sort. One day, she opened her purse, a denim number that looked like my own, and showed me the contents. Her eyes slanted away from mine. Look. Inside was a knife, in with the lipstick and tissue. Why do you have a knife? I asked, round-eyed, not understanding. My step-father…and here is an ellipses of details that are neither your business or mine, in the end. We slant our eyes away. I urged her naively to seek out an authority and tell, as children say. She did. It did not go well. 

You can write it in yourself, and I will not disgorge the hard details of this revelation or its rending conclusion. Her story is so commonplace as to be cliché, which makes it all the worse. That is not what this book is about. This book does not mistake fact for innuendo. It is the story of the madness of storytelling; the madness of the way we construct ourselves and others; a madness that won’t adhere to a lineal, Freudian causality. My friend’s step-father, the real monster, was a plump, useless, banal man with a beard and fat hands, may he roast in hell forever. Humbert is not this. He is fire and words, a long prissy, fated monologue that turns fiction on itself, a long slow gin of puns – there I made one, do you see? – an unclosed bracket on the American dream. Schwink schwink schink.

The Animal Family

I am not going to do The Animal Familyby Randall Jarrell justice, I know. This is incredibly beautiful, powerful, sad, wonderful stuff. My brilliant friend Georgeanna (and next door neighbor – Lyndale neighborhood represent!) pushed this into my hands when I freaked out about how wonderful The Last Unicornwas. She’s right – this is just as amazing, heartbreaking, literate, and poetic as Beagle’s stuff. Add in art from Maurice Sendak, and I am in hook, line and sinker.*

I am a land-locked soul, which is funny, because if I have a soul, it resides somewhere on a rocky beach on the north shore of Lake Superior. My soul watches the water, but it can’t swim, and spends its time trying skip rocks over the glass of the lake. Maybe this is why I freak out all day about selkie stories – freak out completely beyond the bounds. This isn’t necessarily a selkie story – she, who has no name, is referred to as a mermaid – but there’s something selkie-ish about the way the hunter and the mermaid find their connection on the spit of land between meadow and sea. Selkie stories** are about miscommunication and alienation and how they can be the basis of love, and how that is the most profound paradox to ever blow my mind.

 But she is a mermaid, not a selkie, and that works because selkie stories are usually massive bummers and this is not. I know from reading that if I am ever caught in an undertow, I am to swim at ninety degree angles against the pull, so that I may find myself in still waters. I’m not sure I would remember this if I were caught and drowning, but I know this now on land. I’m not a sea creature, and I can learn through telling, but that knowledge is incomplete and it always will be. I don’t know much about Randall Jarrell. I had this boyfriend once who loved him, and I hair-tossingly did not understand that love. (I was young. Shut up.) I associate him strongly with the WWII poetry that he is best known for:

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner  

 From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose. 

 I guess he was also a critic, but criticism has a faster expiration date than poetry even. (Sorry, no offense all of Goodreads. We’ve lit our candles at both ends.)

 So a mermaid and a hunter find their strange love on a beach, and then they adopt a family of animals over the years: a bear, a lynx, a human boy. I can’t put my finger on why, but I found myself near tears at the oddest of points. And that’s weird. This isn’t the kind of tale that is determined to work your tear ducts – in fact, it is sweet and comic in its tone – but there’s this sorrow to it, an affectionate sorrow, an everyday sorrow, but a sorrow nonetheless. I don’t even know how to describe it. Here’s a passage, where the lynx is scratching the hunter accidentally in play:

 “Velvet paws! velvet paws!” The hunter would cry warningly.  

 The mermaid had got used to his saying it, but the first time she’d asked perplexedly: “What’s velvet?” 

 “I don’t know,” the hunter said. “But it’s what you say to a cat to get him to keep his claws in. My mother used to say it on the boat.” 

So the hunter said it and the mermaid and the lynx understood it, each in his own way – a little scrap of velvet between the forest and the sea.

Omigod, do you see it? Do you see how this is everyday, happy and sad all in the same smooth movement? I think I may be done reviewing for now. I go to freak out.

 *So I can’t decide whether I want to use the Oxford comma or not. Sue me.

 **I recently saw the movie Ondine, which is a selkie story set in modern Ireland. I loved it like crazy.

smaug

The Hobbit: The Nursery is Where It’s At

I’ve undertaken to read this to the boy; our first real book with chapters. Richard and I alternate reading at bedtime, so the experience is kind of fractured, but so far I’m loving it. I got to be trolls tonight. I do brilliant trolls. 

—–

When I was six, my dad, who was more the reader-at-nighter of my parents, endeavored to read The Hobbit to me. He got to the part about the giant spiders in Mirkwood, and I promptly lost my damn mind, and begged him to stop reading. He did. My room at the time was this odd room that couldn’t rightly be said to be on any floor of the house but its own: you reached the top of the stairs to the second floor, and then there was a door at the end of the long, Victorian hallway, then then another set of maybe five stairs to a small room with sloping ceilings, kind of like a dormer, but not. I couldn’t be called an arachnophobe, exactly, but I was regularly terrified by mosquitoes that would somehow get into the bedroom while I was sleeping, drink my blood, and then whine around me in the dark. The ceilings were dotted with the bug and blood marks when my dad would have to come in after I started screaming and hunt down the offending insects with a shoe. So boo on you, mosquitoes, and boo on giant spiders. 

When I was eight, he started again, and the intervening two years gave me the composure necessary to finish the tale. I loved it. I didn’t really go on a big rampage of reading fantasy at this point, although I did like the Lloyd Alexander stuff I found in the school library. But something about this story made me want to write it myself, and I set to telling the tale of some creature who never went on adventures until he did and then all manner of craziness ensued. I don’t know where any of this writing has gone, and in truth I don’t think I really want to see it, but I’m now stuck by the power of Tolkien’s writing to make other people want to write. I just recently finished reading Meditations on Middle-Earth: New Writing on the Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien by Orson Scott Card, Ursula K. Le Guin, Raymond E. Fei, and if there is any commonality to the stories of latter day fantasists, it’s that being readers of Tolkien made them writers. (I mean, shit yeah, writers are always readers first – duh – but I’m just going to go on record as saying that if an author claims never to read, then they aren’t an author, they’re a dumb word product generator/marketer, and no reader should ever encourage them. There’s enough crappy word-product coming out of people who actually give a tinker’s damn, bless them.) There’s something exceptional about Tolkien’s world that drives people to tell stories themselves, something weird and hind-brain, coiled up in our mystical and commonplace daily word usage that jumps from the dinner table anecdote to the broad, unending vistas of the otherworldly. Man, just thinking about it makes me all hot. 

I started reading this to my own son now that he is six. I fretted a bunch about the giant spiders, but of course it turns out that I am not him, or he is not me, and we don’t share the same fears. I’ve read The Hobbit maybe a half dozen times, or had it read to me, but I’ve never before been in the position to read it aloud to someone else. I thoroughly recommend having some babies for the purposes of reading stuff aloud to them. Barring that, as that could possibly be irresponsible and expensive, take a very patient lover and spend some time in a darkish room in your pajamas and really roll the tale out. (This stuff may not be sexy in the strictest sense, but literacy is hot however you slice it, and this is the kind of tale for the telling.) Be the freaking trolls, wield Sting while you shout attercop and slash down your arachnid foes, smoke and steam and lie like Smaug in the ruined halls, squeak and scheme and try to avert a battle of five armies, and fail, but fail in the honesty of smallness. The story rips along for the most part, a busy enough tale to keep the attention of distractable six year olds for maybe half the time. This may sound like I’m damning it with faint praise, but half is maybe the best for which a parent can hope.

This most recent reading has given me an appreciation for the role of the narrator in The Hobbit. The narrator’s often a tricky beast, capable of bringing down the entire narrative house of cards with his or her weird intrusions and extra-narrative knowledge. Who the hell are you, narrator? Stop that right now! But when done well, the narrator can be this sly commentary on the mechanics of plot and character. I’m thinking here of the narrator in Persuasion, whose voice rings with the authority and social barbarism that is everything the (very beloved, and almost idealized) main character is not. Narrators are often genderless, but the Persuasion narrator is almost a counterpoint to Anne’s hyper-femininity, not male exactly, but differently female. You see this when one of the Musgroves injures herself in the seaside town. The prose is simple, descriptive, a series of declarations. Anne within this narrative takes charge in the most feminine of ways, and manages to tell everyone what to do without ever using the imperative; indeed, I think even without finishing a sentence, but I don’t have the book in front of me. (I’m so far off topic, it’s awesome to behold. I’ll try to bring it back around.) The narrator details the domestic with her clear prose; the character is the domestic with her silence and demurrals. 

Tolkien’s not much interested in the questions of gender. Now that I’ve typed maybe the most insanely obvious statement I’ve ever written in a review, (gold star! high fives!) when I give it some thought, I realize that women in The Hobbit function as a sort of bracketing device. There’s some mention of Bilbo’s mother at the start, descended from the Old Took himself, and Bilbo has to confront the acquisitive Sackville-Bagginses when he gets home, but at its heart, The Hobbit is concerned with what happens when a quiet boy is thrust into the world of men. Bilbo is not child at the beginning, but he’s comfortable and domestic, puffing about getting seed cakes and dratting unwelcome visitors who mess up his kitchen. Throughout the tale, he pines for food and bed, and those lovely old standards of feminine affection, the pocket handkerchief. I don’t think anyone much uses those anymore, but my Grandfather did, and those worn and frayed squares of cloth, washed, folded and placed habitually in the pockets of his jackets by my Grandmother, are one of the few items I took from his belongings when he died. For me, and it’s possible that I’m an eccentric in this regard, the pocket handkerchief is an emblem of the quiet and commonplace intersections that take place between partners in traditional gender roles, and Grandpa’s hanky, and his love for Grandma, and her love back makes me all weeping and nostalgic for a social structure that I habitually scorn, wasn’t raised in, and have no interest in bringing back, even if such a project weren’t doomed to utter failure. 

The narrator in the Hobbit consistently situates the events of the story in a mythic past, while the story itself plays out a very different set of values than the a traditional heroic legend. The story begins more in the style of the anecdote, with its digressions and definitions, and only very slowly works into the mode of the fairy tale. The narrator defines hobbits, gossips a bit about Gandalf, Bilbo’s parents and house, and then a few pages in does the “once upon a time” thing: “By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was more green and less noise…” The dwarves – my spell check is insisting on dwarfs, but it can go screw itself – intrude on Bilbo’s peace, tell tales of gold and dragon slaying and other glorious pursuits, and it’s the tale that sent him puffing out the door. Bilbo, the most hobbitest of hobbits, which is by definition the most domestic, social and quiet of beings, gets swept off into the world of legends, and I think it’s totally fascinating that Bilbo here functions as a kind of reader-proxy. I sit in the most domestic of settings, as my father did, read out this tale of adventure to my children in the safety of their own bedrooms, and Bilbo’s constant whining and dratting undercuts the honor of war and the mythos of danger. The boy loves the wizards and dangers, but part of the fascination is born of fear, and Bilbo keeps reminding us that the fear is real, hungry and uncomfortable. 

This is where the narrator comes in. He – and I’m going to call the narrator a he, because it’s the only thing that makes sense – is the voice of the present, who simultaneously places this story in the mythic past and then confounds the story’s mythic status. There are lots of fairy tales and the like about plucky younger sons who make their ways through the world using luck and wit, and I think one could mistake Bilbo for one of these, he’s really much more of a Shaggy-from-Scooby-Doo-style bungler and coward. I mean this in the best possible way. We all hate Fred, with his fearless masculinity, (or should, because c’mon, man) and Shaggy/Bilbo isn’t so much feminine as differently masculine, the kind of masculine that doesn’t sit upon hordes of gold with nothing to eat, but instead pines for a good meal and a hanky. The hanky ends up being the standard of femininity, carried with Bilbo on his journey, pined for in the dangerous world of men, their heroic wars, travels and squabbles. Bilbo carries idea of the handkerchief with him, trying to apply the less aggressive, less “heroic” modes of conflict resolution to the problems ahead of him. He sneaks, he burgles, he riddles: all the quiet activities of the clown, the the weakling, the sensitive boy, the Shag and Scoobs of the world. 

I realize now I have a hobby horse about Tolkien and his experience with WWI, but I’m going to get up and ride it anyway. The heroic tale of the national hero, whose ethnic identity is wound up with his goodness, managed to get his ass completely mowed down by the mechanism and mass-production of the world wars. There are no heroes in WWI, only silly and tragic figures like the Red Baron, who flew the symbol of the future of warfare using the outdated social models of the Romantic Past. Bilbo puts a face on the cannon fodder, and doesn’t so much speak to power as pick its pockets, get knocked in the head, and survive due to to love of comfort over the love of glory. Here is Bilbo’s response after being found, unconscious, at the end of the battle:

“Victory after all, I suppose!” he said, feeling his aching head. “Well, it seems a very gloomy business.” 

And again, after being led to the Thorin’s bedside, as Thorin lays dying he says to Bilbo:

“There is more good in you than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!”

Then Bilbo turned away, and went by himself, and sat alone wrapped in a blanket, and whether you believe it or not, he wept until his eyes were red and his voice was hoarse.”

I’ll try not to go off about Tolkien’s directional metaphors; how the West is often synonymous with tradition, the conservative, the homey, even while it carries the implications of death and stagnation. The East is where you go to find your death and salvation, in Tolkien’s most Christian of terms, but it is not a path of ease and comfort. 

I was also struck, in this reading, by Tolkien’s fierce and loving descriptions of landscape. One of the reasons Middle Earth seems so real is that Tolkien conjures dirt and rock, tree and water in this incredibly solid way. I was lucky enough to be the one who read the section in which Smaug batters and destroys the rock ledge where Bilbo and the dwarves had been camped in their attempts to infiltrate the mountain, and the majesty and violence of that description really moved me. It made me think of the devastation of Europe, the earth itself laid low by the engines of war. The earth of Middle Earth is a love song and a eulogy to the lost landscape of Tolkien’s youth. He and many other young men were swept out the door on the path to glory and victory, and the dragons they slew ended up being the myth of progress and heroism. Tolkien was savvy enough to see that the heroic quest is almost coded within the language, and that rewriting such a thing requires not just a simple reversal, but a reordering of heroism. Thorin, by all rights, is the hero of the story; his is the will that sets the plot in motion, and his temper and anger are the hallmarks of heroes stretching back to Achilles. Bilbo is not an anti-hero, who simply turns his anger and his will against the things for which the hero stands, but something subtler and more cunning: the fool. Sure, nothing would ever get done with a Bilbo in charge, but let us hope and pray that our Thorins can have clown such as Bilbo there to remind them that a myth is more useful in the nursery than on the battlefield. 

Tolkien was famously irritated that fairy tales had been “relegated to the nursery”, but I humbly think he’s wrong, that the telling of such stories to boys who will become men is the first order of business for we mothers who pray and hope for world in which the test of manhood is not glory but some courage and some wisdom, blended in equal measure. 

We Shall Not Be Going to the Lighthouse Today

I saw five lighthouses today, and at each one, I told my children that “We shall not be going to the lighthouse today”, and every single time, they almost started crying. I’ve been laughing about this, in an extremely immature fashion, but I’m also sad about how I can’t seem to stop joking about this thing that hurts them, even if it’s transitory and easily remedied by the fact of real lighthouses blow over by a clear, cold wind. Ah.

—–

We’re walking back on the lakewall and I meet Mum with her dogs. The boy is running ahead, his head full of the lake and its tidepools and wind. The girl and my husband are lagging, her short legs in almost comic contrast with his long swinging stride. Mum and I talk about the wind, which is palpable and cold. It pushes, insistent, but with an insistence that is less gentle than the similarly palpable sun. We talk of our separate walks: she to the point, we to the lighthouse.

The girl is mad for the lighthouse. She has demanded that we return this morning, despite our carefully worded choice to her: the lighthouse or the island. She chose the island, but returning by the lakewall she saw it again. We give in, and go, but I say it again, the horrible joke, the unfunny untruth, “We shall not be going to the lighthouse today.” She doesn’t hear me; she is far ahead, running, and I shout her back to hold my hand. The narrowness of the wall, her short legs, the insistent wind. I imagine the cold of the water, how horrible it would be to jump down and fish her out. No need to think of this. Her hand is small and warms my palm.

I don’t know how I work this into conversation with Mum on the lakewall on the way back. There’s a conversation before this about the dogs, their age. “To the Lighthousetakes place on the Hebrides, you know. I’m assuming Skye; the outer ones are too remote.” She and I have been to Skye, and the Uists ten years ago, no almost fifteen, the two of us in a car going from London where I’d spent a semester. Fifty miles from Hadrian’s wall, I, the map reader because I couldn’t drive on the wrong side, I saw a little triangle on the map that read “Carrawburgh, Temple of Mithras,” and began repeating this phrase at every opportunity, in the boomingest voice my lungs could muster.

We went. How could we not? It was Carrawburgh, Temple of Mithras. There was a small gravel car park, and a fence with a cattle grate, and cattle on the other side. In the car park was a German couple in a small car, having a fight. It ended with him stalking off to the ruins and her steaming in the car. We walked around the ruins, although the word “ruins” implies it was something other than a stone square on the ground with the roughest rock hint of an altar. Roman soldiers sacrificed bulls here, bathed in their blood, fortified themselves against the blue-streaked bodies of the Picts just over the wall. Now it was a stone page left carelessly in the grass. We read what we can.

On South Uist, the nearest of the outer Hebrides, it was just past mid-summer, and the sun was nearly constant, as close as we were to the arctic circle. The wind was not insistent, but demanding. The wind was cold and salty, and the land rose and fell with the tides. The sea continues to surprise me when I’m near it, raised as I was with a lake, The Lake, the Lake Superior, which crashes and gurgles like a sea, which kills and rages, but doesn’t breathe or slop. The sea never stills to glass. Archaeologists were excavating the home of Flora MacDonald, who housed Bonny Prince Charlie on his failed, bloody foray into Scotland. I wore everything I owned and the wind still poked its cold fingers through the weave of my clothes. The Ramsay’s house is somewhere just around the corner now, a ghost house, broken slowly by the wind, by the sea air. It lays like a page on the ground, but uncleared by archaeologists, so that the stone sleeps beneath earth and the harsh moss & winking heather. Keep the doors closed and the windows open.

The night before we’d sat around in the small trailer and talked about The Lighthouse. That afternoon I put down the cross stitch I only seem to work on in the car and read the first section. I tell Mum that I didn’t really get it as a freshman, when I read this first. Back at 19, I re-read the first six pages several times, because I simply couldn’t believe that I’d decided James was the protagonist, and then it turns out there is no protagonist, or all are protagonists. The society is the protagonist, the family, maybe. But not the term “society” that implies detachment, sociology, an idea of order as seen from above. But this time, the stream of consciousness felt easy, unforced, intuitive. I had invited Mum to join the group read when it started, but she talks now about how she couldn’t revisit this sadness, how she wept at this book when she read it in grad school. My husband asks why it’s so sad and I can see my mother’s eyes become reflective when she talks of the loss of Mrs. Ramsey. That she could die! That she could live and then die!

I’m thinking of Grandma Fran suddenly, my mother’s mother, who died, and her loss is a great lake of still, saltless water somewhere under my lungs that makes it hard to speak. Maybe Mum is thinking of her too, but she has her own lake, and it goes unmentioned. We talk about Joyce, and Ulysses, how Modernism often relies too heavily on the Classical mythology in ways that make it opaque to me. I express how surprised I was that the Stephen Dedalus of Ulysses was the same person as the one in Portrait of the Artist, how one captured something about my adolescence, and the other was kind of a jerk. I say that I didn’t understand the politics in Ulysses because I’m a bad student of history. Like, who is Parnell?

Mum leans forward. “But what about the dinner table fight about Parnell in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?” Oh, but I get that entirely! The emotional reality of the argument wasn’t about politics at all, and I saw myself blinking through Stephen’s eyes at the domestic rage that is the sister of the political. Here is where we can talk about Grandma, about her Mum, who is the same woman, but in parallax. We talk about Grandma Fran and her sister, devout Old World Catholics both in their different ways, and how Grandma loved to take big swings at the Pope at the dinner table that were designed to connect with Aunt Helen’s devotion. The men would leave the table as quick as they could. One cannot catalog the history of a family like the dates and battles of history; it will not run linearly. The way Woolf breaks our consciousness into separate, connected, ruptured understandings that flow from one eye to the other – this is the web of my mind.

Earlier the woman at the coffee shop told me there was a nesting killdeer, which is a shore-bird with the long, funny legs and rock-like plumage, living right near the start of the lakewall that leads to the lighthouse. To protect their nests they fake a broken wing, dragging it lamely on the ground, to lure the predator away. I’ve forgotten to look for her on our way out, our way in. Her eggs are there, somewhere, living rocks in with the more placid ones. Why do I want to find her and provoke her automatic response? Maybe because she shields her babies with a brokenness I understand, until the predator moves far enough away and she flies. She flies.