Though I knew it wasn’t you, I still looked longingly, as if her young form could be you, in the Toyota Tercel turning left onto Spring Park Road, you, when I first met you in 1991 in the bookstore at UBC in the fall, when you were young and healthy. It was something in her jaw, I think, and the shape of the shoulders and the arm. I couldn’t see her eyes. If I’d seen her eyes, I would have wondered how I could possibly have thought she was you. Her hair was the length yours was then and wavy, like yours was. And honey brown. And she was wearing a green sweater, a thin one, elegant and smooth on her very slender form, and it seemed that it could be a sweater you would have worn. Though after you were sick the first time you started wearing red more often and had a pair of slacks with a dragon on one leg. The air is so autumnal, it could be the air that reminds me of that first phone call in the fall, 10 years ago, the first time you got sick. And again, in the later fall, 5 years ago, the even harder call that told me I would never see you, not again in the form that I knew you, not on this earth, not in your body. She is moving gracefully in her own body, the determined woman in the green sweater turning left, and she is not your ghost. And yet I looked at her and felt the waters of my heart move, seeking you, wondering, seeing you again as you were and as you might have been, and loving this sweet sadness that knows I could not miss you if I had not loved you, and bowing before the blessing that you were here at all, ever, in this world, and we met.
When I should be getting ready for bed, I am talking on the phone and agreeing with my boyfriend about the improbability of my ever having a conversion to any organized religion, I am washing my supper dishes, I am trying to remember the words to Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits as sung by The Indigo Girls, I am watering my Devil’s Ivy, I am emptying the garbage cans, I am wondering if tonight is the night I should knock on my upstairs neighbours’ door to talk with them about the bangs and thumps on the floors that keep me awake on weeknights at this time, I am reading Rolf Fjelde’s introduction to Ibsen’s The Wild Duck and thinking particularly about this line in a paragraph on the signifcance of the bisected set—we have modern man, on average, as intrinsically self-divided, split between the unremitting pressures of a utilitarian existence and that more remote, rich and strange plenitude of life sensed to be beyond the daily struggle for survival—I am thinking that it would be nice to dwell in that rich and strange plenitude more often, I am thinking that sleep is a type of rich and strange plenitude, I am brushing my teeth, I am writing this post for my blog, I am resisting going to bed because, like Grover in The Monster at the End of this Book, I am avoiding what brings me closer to the alarm clock going off at 5:30 am, I am remembering the words and images I read this morning about monsters in Lynda Barry’s dream-like illustrated book What It Is, I am looking at pictures from my recent vacation with my boyfriend in Nova Scotia, I am smiling, I am melting my heart, I am turning off the lights, I am going to the bedroom and putting on my nightclothes, and I am going to bed, I am sleeping, I am drifting in another world, I am floating & serene, I am never the same way again.
I’d like to learn acupuncture of the ear, to ease someone’s pain. I’d like to learn how to stand on my head for meditative periods of time. I want to learn chess and how to bake bread. I want to know how to sew my own clothes and to speak Japanese. I want to figure out how to grow lettuce, basil, and chives, how to grow pumpkins so they thrive. I want to learn to drive standard, my father tried to teach me, one winter in Germany, but I didn’t master it. I want to learn to kayak. I want to learn the banjo. And how to recognize birds by their songs and their shapes in the sky. And how to walk the territory of dreams and wake up knowing where I’ve been—and why.
The cookie tin is dark metal blue with a wreath of vegetation, elegant, stylized, in silvery white, making a mandala of the lid. In the inner circle are two little boys, naked, with wings, cupids they are, little angels, and each holds a piece of rope or twining string or drapery which leads down to make an oval trap, a net, an enclosure for the fish. Is the fish’s expression doleful? Resigned? Neutral? Inscrutable? I’ve had this cookie tin for 20 years, maybe more, and never looked at it this closely before. I took it from my mother’s kitchen, or she gave it to me, or I asked her for it, I can’t remember. Also, where it came from before that, I cannot recall. When I bring cookies to a dinner or writer’s reading, I almost always bring them in this tin, and someone almost always says to me, I love it.
So do I. Why do they love it? Why do I? Isn’t the image disturbing? The fish – is it imprisoned? This morning, eating oatmeal cookies from this tin, a cascade of questions came to me. Why are the angels catching fish? Are they fishers of men as the bible tells us to be? Then, why so mischievous? And why such a realistic, fishy fish, redolent of fins? Baleful and remote. Or, wise beyond imagining, swimmer of the depths, the everchanging sea, caught in a gentle net by two innocents with wings…. Perhaps a trinity? Maybe one of them is a winged girl. Boy, fish, girl. Angels and their fish. Which one am I today? In what loose prison, garnished with knots, do I float, unharmed? Was it made by laughing angels? Are the cords that bind me divine? Ah, that’s why I am here.