July 2014

Lightsey Darst


A Closed Loop

On a very ordinary day, you might consult the world around you as to what comes next. What I have understood, what I haven't. What of these books I've read. Truth to tell, I read nothing, or read things through a haze of heat and love. Love is a distraction, love is self-enclosed, love is a vast loss from someone else's point of view. I read Fanny Howe and find no hint of my ecstasy (do you know I've never been able to spell that word -- I always have to stare at it, wondering where the sibilants go). Love is selfish and destructive of society, it is contrary to spiritual seeking, it is a closed loop. If it is reciprocated.


Go to the beach. Bring some silk robe you've never figured out how to wear and one book, only one. Leave the silk in your room and get a sunburn sitting on the deck with your book close at hand and closed. "I don't feel like I have to do a damn thing," someone says.

Epic, the waves wear down any inessential desires. And they wear down glass, all of it white, not green and brown and blue as it used to be when my grandmother collected it on her beach. She walked there every day, which I see now explains something about her, her lack of concern. How could you live on a beach and not become like the sand fleas, coquinas, the sandpipers -- washing up and down on the surf, feeding, silent.

What book did I bring? What book should I have brought. I've had such good intentions, read half of so much, promising faith, monogamy, diligence. But I've never gotten far with anything I should have done.


Back in the city I'm out with poets and they're all smoking skinny cocoa-colored cigarettes. Like a fool, I have the desire to join them, though I've never learned to inhale and know better anyway. But the puffs of smoke, directed here and there, have the piquancy of bons mots. Without a cigarette, I feel dull, my hands heavy. I fall silent -- still worn out from the shore, I say.

To be mute in the midst of conversation -- a nightmare. Deserted by the gift of gab. What if we meet and I can only stare.


I used to ask more experienced writers what I should read. I see now that was like asking them what I should wear. No one can tell you, and if someone does, you will only be startled or disappointed by the person's misunderstanding of you. People have thought I should read surrealists in the same way that people have thought I should wear flounced skirts. Never ask your beloved what clothes you would look best in.


Today, the young man who always sits in the corner reading Russian classics is reading Dawn Powell. Powell... yes, I read a novel by her once, The Locusts Have No King, of which I remember nothing. Probably I read it too early. Dim impression of heat, city, adult emotions. At that time I found it hard to read about unresolved sadness.

I look up Powell on the Internet, read about her life reduced to brief flashes: she met and married a man in one day, had a disabled child, was buried in potter's field. It can't have looked or felt this way to her, though. Sometimes it seems as if only other people have lives. Other people have events; but oneself has only a medium, like a wave or a fold of silk, through which one moves. I'm reading (still) the second volume of Susan Sontag's diaries, and I've found I like best those entries that are most a smudge of her hand against the page:

...The San Francisco earthquake; the San Andreas fault.

Paracelsus (1493?-1541)

Jack London's story "To Build a Fire" -- read aloud to Lenin on his deathbed.

Action, like a close vote in a split house, might not really represent the person. In the clear light of a sign, nothing happens. In the light of the OPEN sign, the barista locks the door. She's forgotten again.


What if I'm waiting for you and you keep me waiting. I remember a summer of storms and patience, years ago. I've never been a perfectionist. In fact, it wears me out to concentrate on all the details that must be fixed. I like to do a little and leave it. So the gift I ended up making wasn't what I had in mind. I am capable of a grand gesture -- cut off my little finger for the last rung of the ladder, that kind of thing. But I am not sure I can be any better. I might never master anything, not even the way you like to be kissed.


All day I've been listening to sound of heavy machinery shredding a tree that fell in the last storm. These Southern summer storms are like the beach, emotional weather, carrying the merely human before it. Except I have to get on with my life, drive my car through the downpour and across the impromptu lake and beside the trunk of lightning touching down. We should be more capable of respect, of stopping dead.

I read an Irish crime novel, then a book of Irish poetry. It's a coincidence, I think (but what do I know). The Irish poems are crafted, voice-driven, old-fashioned. They are not as philosophically or formally inquisitive as much modern American poetry. Instead, they are plunges into personal intensity, quick water, deeply-dyed cloth. They give me a sense of not enough -- space, time, chances. They give me, also, a headache like the build-up of another summer storm. I am in constant agitation even when I seem to be (want to be) still.