Perhaps here in the Southwest more than anywhere else, since at this time of year our temperatures fluctuate wildly between 30 degrees at night and seventy at mid-day. With snow on the mountains and pansies blooming in the garden, spring is like a perhaps hand in the window, which may be withdrawn at any time.
e e cummings’ poem goes on,
“(which comes carefully out of Nowhere) arranging
a window into which people look…
changing everything carefully
without breaking anything.”Healing, for me, comes in the spectacle of nature shifting into another key... and, always, in books.
I doubt if spring, or any great change can come, “without breaking anything,” even if it is only the ice on the stream where I walk, or the frozen soil I must break apart to plant my yellow pansies, or the winter’s hopes that are dashed with the firsts wave of warmth.
Healing, for me, comes in the spectacle of nature shifting into another key, and, always, in books.
My e e cummings quote comes from a battered paperback Norton Anthology of Poetry, Third Edition, which I picked up in one of the clearly temporary tea-and-used-books stores that appear from time to time here.
I was driving up to Taos when I stopped on the way in Espanola to visit the old church there and found this now-vanished tea-and-used-bookstore in a rundown commercial building. The proprietress, a formidable woman, clearly in charge of her store, had drawn in an assortment of local characters who lounged around on chairs and busted sofas. A glass case held a ragged assortment of cookies and off-kilter shelves displayed a ragged assortment of books.
I bought the anthology there because of the notes a dutiful student had entered next to every poem she read. Clearly, poetry was an unknown sea to her and she was embarking in a fragile canoe.
“Spring” earned a faintly penciled question mark—I wondered if she dared to ask her teacher for the meaning. “All in green went my lover riding” pleased her so much she added a smiley face in the margin. The final lines of that poem,
“four leans hounds crouched low and smiling
my heart fell dead before”
earned “WOW!” as did four other lines from four separate poems, but “the naughty thumb of science” was marked both with a question mark and UGH.
Of course I don’t know that the annotator was a young woman, but the freshness and spontaneity of her many comments mean to me that she was not only new to poetry, but relatively new to the world, with the lack of self-consciousness that is sometimes one of the most charming aspects of a young woman, and that melts as fast as ice in the sun.
My dear friend Cia sent it to me in response to our discussion of the issues of language raised when one writes from the point of view of an uneducated person. How to faithfully transcribe complex experience using a limited vocabulary, and without resorting to dialect?
Campbell’s stories provide an answer. They focus on the terrifying experiences of poor women, young and old, who are raped and abused by men. Unprotected by their mothers, unable to defend themselves, these girls go into a blighted adulthood deeply wounded, without recourse to any form of justice or recovery.
In Campbell’s poverty-stricken rural world, violence against women and girls is accepted as normal; this is what men do. In the brilliant and deeply disturbing title story—which is also horribly funny—the narrator, a woman on her deathbed, recalls allowing her boyfriend and other men to molest her eleven-year-old daughter because “I figured that if any of them bothered you, you would make a fuss, the way you made a fuss when I wanted you to get out of bed early and haul buckets of water from the well.”
For this narrator, men have earned the right to do anything they want to do with women because men do all the hard work and take all the physical risks.
“Men’s machines still sing to me: revving chainsaw, motorboat, log splitter, rototiller, leaf blower, generator humming, cordless drill, rattletrap tractor…”
The success of Campbell’s style depends on the repetition of the nouns that make up the texture of her hardscrabble country life—snails, slugs, hens, spiders—and the rare use of images that spring from that life: “Practical-minded spider mothers teach their daughters to spin silky threads as strong as steel wires and sticky enough to capture prey. Surely these mothers tell their daughters that if they happen to liquefy the internal organs of a man, they should go ahead and drink that protein rich soup, for in this way the male can help create stronger, healthier babies.”
These stories are not for the weak-hearted, but then neither is most of life.
It’s a long way from the perhaps hand in the window.