Saturday, October 24, 2009

There Is Still More To Say

Late at night, absorbed in writing, something wrenches me into a sharp alert. I smell smoke. I'm certain of it. But no one smokes in this house. Still, I look around, peer from the window, get up and sniff the hallways.

The smoke is only in my mind. It is attached to a decades-old memory so resolute that I not only smell smoke, but seem to catch in the corner of my eye an ephemeral outline of a tiny woman balancing a long black cigarette holder, tendrils of smoke curling into the air. Professor H. Relaxed, sweater thrown over her shoulders. With a diamond ring glittering on her smallest finger, she holds forth in the large, high-ceiling old room.

"God that's it," she would say, in a deep, distinctive, gravelled voice that gave the impression of stage more than manuscript. "You've got something there. Go deeper. Write that."

Professor H. taught expository writing. I needed a senior year elective and V. recommended her. She told us to write our non-fiction essays on subjects that moved us. Go for the simple, she said. Forget lofty, that's artificial. Comb your memories. "Give me you."

I had scribbled diaries forever, journals, I had boxes of them. I brought a few back to school from home. They were from the early years. Growing up "like a wolf in the woods." Stealing honey from the gnarled tree with bamboo sticks. Hiding in a tree under the cover of black night. All the early hurts. Watching. Listening. Taking all those notes. I was bursting with essays.

But I also loved to listen to her. She had been friends for years with Scottie Fitzgerald, the daughter of F. Scott and Zelda. She had been in the Navy and traveled the world. She loved to talk, but more than that was an excellent listener.

The Alabama she knew through Scottie's tales, channeled through the southern aristocracy of Zelda's Montgomery, was a different universe from the northern part of the state. I grew up in the Tennessee River valley, surrounded by the Appalachian foothills. Our speech patterns, mannerisms, cultures, mores, all of it, worlds apart.

And Professor H. loved that. She wanted to hear more. Always.

And I had plenty of material to work from. Faded pictures, yellowed journals, scrapbooks. Mementoes from my time working in the mental institution as a volunteer. The wooden planks patient J. drew and colored on:

So many things. Boxes my husband in years since has tried to get me to throw away. "Let's clear away the clutter," he implores. What? The clutter?

This is my life. I've winnowed and thrown away and ditched so much. I have a few small boxes, still. Precious things. I can't lose them, not yet. They still need to be remembered, written about, witnessed. These pieces of paper and wood and written word are the reasons I can conjure up the detail that brings the visions to life here. Why I still remember.

Pictures, for instance. Uncle H's farm. Where the fox hunts started out. They're gone, H., my father, and recently their younger brother died in his 90s. The dogs they raised are long gone. But here, on these pages, they are waiting for their chance to bolt into that sweet fine night, blood and hearts pumping, strong, young, free.

Because when I write their stories, those who have vanished into the ether coalesce into vibrant life one more time. For mere moments, yes. Only for moments. But in that time, their memories take on the glow of flesh and blood and life. Like the black-haired boy R.G., who a couple of years ago drove to the river where we all used to go growing up. He got out, moved around, got back into the car. He did this for several hours. And then he took a gun and killed himself. What happened? Why? I ask and no one can tell me. Because they just don't know.

So I put away the few boxes I have left. And bring them out now and then and smell smoke that isn't there and hear Professor H. who isn't really there but still she is whispering, "Yes, that's it, that is exactly it."

Because there is more to say, still. Chances for resurrection through the careful ministrations of a few who help to reconstitute them, in a manner, for a few precious moments. Through an act so simple yet spiritual when it occurs. Which snaps the lost in those moments back into the sun and wind and rain. Into the fullness like a patchwork quilt long folded and gathering dust in the shadows. Allowing them breath and the full measure of their absolute vibrance.

It is happening now. You are making it so. Because you are here, reading these words, devoting your time and your care.

These are last portraits. And sometimes, through the long missing of the lost, they are finally what they should have been all along and us with them.

Shimmering, exquisite, cherished. Loved.

And through it all, ever remembered.


  1. Exactly how I feel about my treasures. Wonderfully written.

  2. Glad to hear you understand, tipper. I just can't lose them.

  3. I, too, understand Glimmer. This post is beautiful and evocative, as always.

    Sending love,


  4. And as always, it is wonderful to hear from you, S.B. I will soon be making a post in your honor, in fact. I just need to find a photo that is hiding because I can't post without it. You will KNOW the one. But I will give a shout out in case, you know, your readers are out doing the zombie thing that day.

  5. Glimmer, this is beautiful. I think about those people and animals that are lost quite a bit. I even remember things like my uncle's English bicycle, the first of its kind that I ever saw. I think about my cats, dogs and my horse from youth--all gone now. Some friends from elementary and high school are dead. You awoke a lot of my memories with this post.

  6. Thanks, Glimmer! I am honoured in advance. Can't wait.



  7. Syd: I am touched that this post brought your memories to life for a bit. It was an honor.

    SB: Like certain cats, the picture was following me around when I was paying no attention. So today I am back in ignore mode, trying to trick it back out.

  8. Truly a beautiful post... I read every word and couldn't agree with you more! Writing is our way of achieving immortality -- for ourselves and, more importantly, for those we love. Don't throw anything away... not until you've documented every small detail!

  9. Meg: I am glad you see things my way! Also, thank you for reading and commenting. On this post, especially.

  10. This post gave me goosebumps, it is exquisite, and I connect on so many levels- the journals, the need to catch the moments, to tell the stories, the grace of getting it right, the unanswerable why's. Whatever you write I'm reading. Thanks for sharing this, and I wish we could sit and chat, I wish I had a professor help me understand all this sooner, I wish I had more time to write, I wish I had more time to read more about writing! Anyway, I loed this post.

  11. Mel: Comments like this make it all worth it. Lugging boxes of tattered scrapbooks through multiple moves, hundreds of miles, dodging Mr. Throw It All Out (my stuff that is). Because I can't possibly keep it in my head. Somebody told me once I'm a visual learner -- I have to SEE it. And that's why I keep this stuff.

    Thank you for backing me up, all of you.

  12. I love this.
    Love the way you described the long dead dogs running free through the woods.

  13. Bethany, thank you. If you liked that blurb, then you might enjoy my post about it, The Fox Hunt:

    It was in May 2009 if this link doesn't link.

  14. Hi Bethany, I loved your comment on my page - it made me smile. Your writing is just beautiful. Thank you! xoxo

  15. Thank you for commenting and following Shannon. I'm not Bethany, but it's a pretty name and you can call me that anytime!

  16. I oft wonder would there have been a Yeats had he continually purged and dismissed the loves from his life. I doubt there would have been a Kipling had he tossed out the idea of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi because it was a short story and taking up space in a folder. What if we never got to know the joys and works of a raven and the words "Never more" had poe ever cleaned out his desk drawer because it was untidy. No, no. Clutter sometimes has purpose. Of course, we should always have a garage sale of sorts in thought and life to always open a door for the new and exciting. Balance, is the proper word. If that balance contains lost thoughts and treasures which would otherwise not live and breathe without you having written them, then so be it. You are the judge and YOU are the master of the things YOU find important in your life. Trust your gut and keep the memories as you deem fit and never let anyone dictate to you otherwise.

    Of course, now my head hurts from so much gravity and I'll go back to my blog now where I just write about breasts and people I hate. :P

  17. Thank you, I will ignore the thrower outter, C.L. He buys me pearls so I keep him!