Wednesday, October 23 – “Greyhaired, I have not grown wiser,
unless to perceive absurdity
is wisdom. A powerless wisdom.”
Why do all these autumn travel days remind me of Denise Levertov’s poem about falling in love as an elderly woman? The poem is as improbably playful as the leaves riding the wind gusts. Yesterday morning, I said goodbye to 3 weeks in mid-New England — mostly Worcester and Dudley, plus to visits to the heart of Boston, along Route 9. One Route 9 adventure took me for lunch at the Jamaica Plain home of one of my decades-long friends, Leo Marx, who will turn 100 next month. We were five: Leo, his daughter Lucy, and two other MIT soul friends of as many years. Roe Smith and I met in 1975 when he came to U Penn as visiting faculty; he and Bronwyn have been close ever since. Roz Williams welcomed me during my early years as visiting faculty at MIT’s Science, Technology, and Society beginning 1982. The five of us told stories about our academic lives and other adventures, over a platter of scrumptious sandwiches.
I drove back to Dudley after lunch, inordinately proud of my ability to GPS the tangle of streets and hills that make Jamaica Plain daunting and lovely. Two days later Worcester’s College of the Holy Cross hosted a gathering of former Jesuit Volunteers. Most days, though, I spent these retreat days in the home of Mary and George Burke, their daughter Caelin, and Ruby their still adolescent Black Lab. Mary, George, and Caelin hustle off early each work day leaving a quiet house and yard. These weeks have visited with me: alive with stillness and memories from my life and years of its graces.
This morning in Buffalo, I am staying with Beth Ann Finster and her fellow Sisters of St. Joseph. When I drove in last evening through driving rain and 405 miles on the Massachusetts and New York Turnpikes, these savvy women took one look at my bedraggled state and observed, “you aren’t thinking of driving to Detroit tomorrow?” I took their point. Now after some delicious sleep and good company, I am letting these women of Buffalo slow my pace and expand my travel time expectations. How often does that happen in our lives? Our plans welcomed into a context of the pace of life with its kindred spirits, soften and surprise.
Why do these two autumn travel days remind me of Denise Levertov’s poem about falling in love as an elderly woman? The poem is as improbably playful as the upstate New York leaves riding the wind gusts. So too the welcome from Beth Ann Finster and her sisters. So too, these October sabbatical surprises.
I love the poem and the poet; by the way, her birthdate is tomorrow.
Have a good day.
“Ancient Airs and Dances”
I knew too well
what had befallen me
when, one night, I put my lips to his wineglass
after he left–an impulse I thought was locked away with a smile
into memory’s museum.
When he took me to visit friends and the sea, he lay
asleep in the next room’s dark where the fire
rustled all night; and I, from a warm bed, sleepless,
watched through the open door
that glowing hearth, and heard,
drumming the roof, the rain’s
Greyhaired, I have not grown wiser,
unless to perceive absurdity
is wisdom. A powerless wisdom.
Shameless heart! Did you not vow to learn
stillness from the heron
quiet from the mists of fall,
and from the mountain–what was it?
You have forgotten already!
And now you clamor again
like an obstinate child demanding attention,
interrupting study and contemplation.
You try my patience. Bound as we are
together for life, must you now,
so late in the day, go bounding sideways,
trying to drag me with you?
Denise Levertov – Evening Train
October 24, 1923 – December 20, 1997