I sit on my brother’s porch, breathing in the honeysuckle’s incense (Lonicera sempervirens), trying to identify that first step, that first choosing, when I knew I would write. I cannot remember a time when there was not a passion for cadence and knowing and naming.
I come from a family that read hungrily and constantly; there was music—banjo to clarinet to piano—and hikes beside copper-colored ponds, beneath the huff and shrug of spruce at places like Peaks of Otter, reciting the names of deciduous trees. In between, stillness, time to reflect. And within that, Walter Farley’s novels and Webster’s Dictionary, the 1970 edition, I Capture the Castle and World Book Encyclopedia, which opened up the universe and made me hungry to understand why a Tennessee Walking Horse was what it was. But I cannot tease it apart, say, here I begin, here I turn my face toward a different tree line, moving from reader and listener to writer. It doesn’t begin. It doesn’t end.
I had a flute teacher once who stood me on a wooden floor and told me to feel the planed boards under my feet and to think of oak roots, to hold a middle G for as long as I could sustain the largeness of the tree, root to branch, with my breath and mind. We did this over and over again. That note will always sound like damp earth and acorn meat to me, and smell like tarnished silver. Another teacher argued passionately about whether hot chocolate had any part of texture that could be called grainy. Each time I try another variety of cocoa, I am tempted to dip into the dregs to retest the theory. I know these moments shaped my work because I recollect them vividly.
It’s all of a piece: the amalgam of sugar and milk and chocolate, the oak-root note. I want to follow something deeper in.
The beach down the hill is composed of pea- to pumpkin-sized rocks and gritty sand. That sand is a myriad of shapes, hexahedrons, spikey stars, honeycombs, colors ranging from saffron to blush to azure. I cannot recall a time when such things did not fascinate me, and I don’t know exactly when that fascination moved onto the page. I pull up a chair and grab a book on geology. This is also a pivotal moment.
I keep turning, the road branching out behind and in front of me. I want to know everything and I want time to examine the architecture of a checkered mallow. Where else can such desires co-exist so exquisitely, where else is permission given for such fascination with simply everything, but poetry?
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