I'm a very slow reader, and a very slow writer. From western Connecticut, where I spent most of today (work-related), driving from and back to Boston on a bus, reading fragments from Geoffrey H. Hartman's essay "A Poet's Progress: Wordsworth and the Via Naturaliter Negativa" (1962):

"Thus Nature is not an 'object' but a presence and a power; a motion and a spirit; not something to be worshiped or consumed, an immediate or ultimate principle of life, but--and here it becomes most hard to find items that preserve the poet in the thinker--something whose immediacy, like that of a poem, is not separable from the work of perfect mediation. Wordsworth fails to celebrate his sunset because poetry is not an act of consecration and Nature not an immediate external object to be consecrated."

That "presence" and "power" was clearly evident for me outside the bus windows in the white-capped rush of a river's current alongside the road, in the full moon framed behind foothills with bare branches.

Place always influences how I read a specific text. The author's location and, more importantly, my own location when finding or reading a particular text. Every time I pass through Connecticut I feel very little connection to that place. No particular reason I should, except that my mother was born and raised in Connecticut. Today's "vision" of the trees (always, trees are holy for me) and moon coincided with my recent efforts to start reading Wordsworth's Prelude again--see if I can actually finish it this time. His longer poems usually excite me so much that I end up leaving the book and going outside to see friends or walk around, anything besides reading.

Standing in rural Connecticut most of today (for a x-country running race, our students won their division) I was constantly distracted by the trees, the cold wind, the sunshine, the foothills. Thinking of my mother's childhood in that state, closer to the city (in Greenwhich) but still the same physical place, give or take some miles. It's like a movie I glimpse, with no further connection after it's over.

Last year, when Isabel and I were trying to get our immigration problems with the Chavistas resolved, our mother's maiden name became this heavy presence we had never thought about much before. Our parents had not added her maiden name to ours on birth certificates but, being Latin America, every time we were addressed by Venezuelan immigration officials and US Embassy officials it was by our full last names: Parra Washburn. The first time I heard it over the loudspeakers at the US Embassy ("Mr. Parra Washburn, please.") I looked at Isabel and we laughed. The strangeness of those two names together. If the Chavistas needed proof that we were nothing more than "oligarchs" or "gringos," there was that "Washburn" for them to identify us with as not-quite Venezuelan enough for the "revolution."

But that name I've always felt so distant from, so outside of, has now been returned to me. So, looking at the moon from Connecticut, seeing that river flow by at dusk beside our bus--they could have happened anywhere. But it was there, a reminder of the Parra Washburn gulf/crisis/dialogue/misplacement/confluence. My full name then (all four names) takes a long time to say out loud. Just as I am a slow reader and a slow writer.

No comments: