September 1, 2008KR BlogUncategorized

Fallen Fruit


Since it’s Labor Day, I offer you a few of my recent preoccupations concerning the work of writing: making something out of nothing; food as space; and what happens when you nearly step on a plum, then look up..

One: Who needs writing rituals? In an interview in the Paris Review, Umberto Eco gives an Oprah sheen to the practice of writing while doing other things.

Interviewer: What is the secret of such prolific production? You have written prodigious quantities of scholarly work, and your five novels are not exactly short.

Eco: I always say that I am able to use the interstices. There is a lot of space between atom and atom and electron and electron, and if we reduced the matter of the universe by eliminating all the space in between, the entire universe would be compressed into a ball. Our lives are full of interstices. This morning you rang, but then you had to wait for the elevator, and several seconds elapsed before you showed up at the door. During those seconds, waiting for you, I was thinking of this new piece I’m writing. I can work in the water closet, in the train. While swimming I produce a lot of things, especially in the sea. Less so in the bathtub, but there too.

Two: Arrangement is everything. A poem from Martha Ronk’s glorious Displeasures of the Table:


Across the way Mr. Parsons filled the vacant lot with corn. In August he came over with arms full and when he and his family went on vacation we could go every early evening and pick ears for dinner. The shucking took place in the narrow strip of back yard as we, my sisters and mother and I, sat on plastic lawn chairs, shifting in our shorts as the webbing stuck, and talking. Our cat Gypsy who had wandered in from nowhere and lived 20 years and produced litters of kittens also loved corn and would eat it from end to end and then turn the cob with her paw to begin on the next row. After a dinner of corn, we’d return to the backyard and watch her do it until the fireflies came out. We’d talk to put off bedtime, we’d talk as if it could be put off past time itself, that talk could take its place.

Later a house went in where the corn had been. The Parsons moved and we grew up. It never occured to me that having someone to listen to one’s chatter was as unusual as finding corn across the way in a city. As one grows older one loses the perfect audience or it shifts from family to those who think as one does or work as one does or write as one does. Someone says yes to one’s sense of feeling (Sartre says so in The Words) artificial most of the time. One holds the receiver; the dizzying shift of most of the time holds still for a moment. Most poets I know have given up on audience; it is the future, they say; it is oneself; it is irrelevant; who cares. I give up on corn; it will never taste the same.

Three: Theft. This week I am stealthily canning the fruits of my neighbors–green plums, apples, blackberries. My son opens his mouth whenever we stop near a bush, any bush. Sometimes I wonder at what point my imitations of others’ poems become plagiarism. Is it when I hope they never see my imitation because they might be furious? Is it when I waffle over whether it’s worse or better to add in the “after__”, whether I should leave a jar of the plum preserves on the neighbor’s porch or just keep odd hours? Thankfully someone wrote a manifesto for the stealthy harvest.