Memoir Notebook: Through the Hands of Strangers

Memoir Notebook is a monthly (sometimes more) column dedicated to longer works.

By way of our Memoir Notebook, we want you to meander, get caught up, find yourself taken to places you hadn’t intended to go (but are so glad, in the end, that you went). You’ll get thoughts on aesthetics, craft, latest issues, tips and books to read. But it will feel like poetic narrative. And sometimes it will simply be poetic narrative. Come away with us and Wm. Anthony Connolly to the beach, for a last bit of summer.


Through the hands of strangers we went. Thrumming.

Dropping over the western landscape and listening to Brad Mehldau jazz. Into a modest sleeping place.  A super-noisy air conditioner and footfalls of patrons alone. Awoke to bright sunshine.

The people I’d seen at the airport, their faces, their hopes and dreams, still arriving, still departing.

Pacific air cool and fresh.

And a sunbeam on which a toddler surfs babbling an indecipherable language. The baby yells out and points to the sky: Nothing but blue sky.

Curving roads wend down.

To the crashing


Through Dutch towns asleep on a Sunday, drowsy and empty, slumbering hemlock and hammock and blank storefronts we amble. At the border androids run the asylum’s docket. Lives typed on pieces of paper, in manila folders, in gunmetal gray file cabinets, in nondescript tunnels deep in the Nevada nevermore.

Crossed the border in our car, and in our minds, began pondering where our home is… what is our purpose? Cars, and vans, highways and tree lines: The inexplicable sweetness of one moment, the potential for savagery the next. White on the dashboard; a blue yonder yawning.

We listened to public radio through the British Columbian interior. Rising into the mountain pass radio reception turned woozy and garbled, (our ears popped) then died, pulses of squeezebox and brimstone; innocuous car salesmen and staid weather accounts.

Dyan rigged up my iPod to a podcast of Pema Chödrön, the Buddhist nun out of Cape Breton.

Shrink from suffering, but love its causes, she says to Bill Moyers, quoting eighth century Buddhist scholar Shantideva.

That urge to keep doing, as the Buddha would say, where your desire for satisfaction and happiness are not in sync with the methods you go about using. Smoke and haze in the valley.

New bridges. Old ways. Down off the mountain and into town. A silver lake, deep and glistening speckled with boats.

Dinner at the El Dorado Hotel and its Old World gold; Zipa out on the water near sunset’s gauzy veil hoisting up alms for Guatavita. On the docks, New Money junk bonds, IPOs, tattoos, and tans.

For some reason the hotel reminds me of the sixties when the idea of vacationing at the lake was new. Motor boats and Coppertone; slicked back hair and smoldering cigarettes. Terrycloth, and gin.

New giant condos rim the lake.

The sun shimmers, sinks tangerine from distant fires.

 • • •

Up early to walk to the nearest Starbucks. The whiteness of the whale. Whalebone leg. Coffee and the news. I always envy couples sitting down together to have coffee and the newspaper. We walked thirty minutes there and thirty minutes back.

Good conversation. We talked about the rest of our lives.

Where we will live.

How free of baggage or major dramas. There is a sense the future is open. That we need only to step into the flow of what streams before us.

By God.

And the outlay of our own hopes and desires.

 • • •

Contrails tear at the sky.

Fascinatingly jarring, but increasingly dangerous.

As a child these jet-streams cut the permeable dome of the biosphere.

Where I sat perched on a wasted world foretold by way of fifties horror films.

Gort! Klaatu! Barada nikto!

 • • •

Our bodies betray us, of course.

The engine of memory. This heart-droning breastbone in desire. The thrum of it. When it’s convenient it forgets. The mind plays misfiring tricks.

And at the most inopportune time it conjures old snap shots of us, wet and tanned, svelte and young. Desire for satisfaction and happiness.

Not in sync with our methods to avoid suffering. It is at once.

Bitter and delicious. Coffee and newsprint.

The memory of what was the realization of what is. But the greater say: Accept flux. The metaphor nearby is the line of hills edging the highway whose face has changed over the years.

Worn by wind.

By sun and by time. They are still there, even though…

They once stood more and more. Ominous and proud; immortal.

  • • •

We painted. We sketched.

She the lake landscape. Me.

A bad Samuel Beckett. Salmon outdoors with small bones. A movie with Robin Williams.

Deep sleep.

  • • •

Trundle to newspaper and coffee. Travel by car.

To wineries of picturesque trees, valley, lake view. Sketch of trees in black and blue shadow and water. Broken sentences, disjointed images and lines in a journal as if gathering evidence on the fly. A running dossier.

Back to our vacation home exhausted. News of the Middle East aflame.

  • • •

Perhaps in dream, or late summer afternoon stupor I think I want a character to be named Beckett. Marriage is a silence/at the heart/

Of many biographies/.

Beckett came to understand James Joyce.

Who added to his revisions.

Taking out of his prose what he did not.


Krapp opens a drawer and pulls out a…

  • • •

The stories I read on the beach carry expressions of desperation and stupidity. Beautiful and deranged.

Do I place these qualities upon them or are they are there?

Wake pools of water and oil; rainbow.

  • • •

The clouds break and the sky an hour before the sunset clears.

Off to the beach with bread for the pigeons and the day’s warmest water. It is bathing in silver and gold.

Thanking Jesus. Finn, my father-in-law knee-deep in the water, his Parkinson’s paused, briefly still against the sloshing lake. Bev, my mother-in-law on a beach towel, minus her prosthetic left breast, shucking sunflower seeds and squinting at the lapping lake water. Dyan watching the sun drop to another.

Time and place.

  • • •

The next morning an agitated, shirtless, Finn paced.

Delirious and rank. It’s so innocent how darkness alights.

Terrorists have been arrested in Europe. FOXFULLBLAST. Twenty one.

Suspects were planning to board nine Trans-Atlantic flights.

Blow them up with plastic explosives. Today airports paced with agitation and delirium.

  • • •

Down at Bellingham bay, The Chrysalis Inn.

Beautifully calm water. A walkabout jetty. Gull cry. Spent and dozy. Limber tonight.


Location. …banana!

Still the stunning sun. Possibilities. Bright day’s end.

Terror abated. In the breast, in the head: a knowing.

 • • •

Just as the end of mirth is heaviness –

Sorrows are dispersed by the advent of joy.  Shrink from suffering, but love its causes.

Photo by Jurvetson, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Memoir Notebook by Wm. Anthony Connolly, author of the forthcoming novel, The Smallest Universe.

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  1. says

    I really like what you guys are up too. This type of clever work
    and reporting! Keep up the awesome works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my own blogroll.

  2. Michelle Vanstrom says

    I noticed you teach an online Lyric Essay course at Lindenwood University. Is it possible to audit your class? If not, do you teach it elsewhere on the Internet?
    Thank you. I look forward to your response.

    • says

      Michelle, so kind of you to read and write a comment here. I teach online at Lindenwood, but I’m not sure when the next lyric essay class will be… If you contact Beth Mead, the program director she can probably help you (tell her I sent you).

      Take care,

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