Lunch with Jerry Johnston at the Park Cafe:
We walked across a side street, under spots of shadow from overhanging trees, dapples of gray and sun on the asphalt, finally to a table by the edge of a white railing. I had tomato soup, which I stirred as we talked, the creamy bland color of milk and tomato - not red, not white, but creamy light red.We talked about the colors of words and the depths of feelings, compacted in this fragile frame. At a certain point we talked about how life is so encrusted with our past we can't escape it, like barnacles on the bottom of a heavy ship that docks and sails, constantly slipping into new seas, hovering over the mysteries of unfathomable deeps, and all on the surface of what we thought was desert, surrounded by mountains with other, more significant ports beyond the highest edges.
Until we wandered off and touched the farthest parts, and realized what people in those far places touch and smell and feel is just the same as we have felt, that the same sun revolving over our world revolves over theirs, and that our own average vessel, encrusted as it is, is as pertinent as anything we might have found somewhere else.
There is, we concluded, a part of us that carries a spark of all we have ever been, through all that has been before us, through the breath of our fathers and the bodies of our mothers.
I remember you gesturing with your arms, describing how it was to go to Wales and see the gait of your grandfather in the movement of people you had never seen before, hear him in the sound of voices in a pub, on a corner - the inflection of voice, the laugh, the memory of a sigh that might be the faintest hint and, at the same time, the strongest imprint of your own being.
We all go away from home, from the nourishing shade of those dappled trees planted in mundane rows. We travel the farthest seas, scraping our barnacles on the high peaks of passage as we leave, so anxious to be off.
And finally, we come home again, each in our own way, to the place that is ourselves. It has a familiar ring. It changes. It can never be what it was. Because life is of its nature in a constant state of flux, and if we struggle to stir the brew back to what it resembled before, we stir in vain, forever beyond the peace of being where we are.
You wrote a poem once that you gave me 12 years ago, about your grandmother and the recognition that there was something about her that you just then were discovering about yourself - the mirror of her passions reflected in the sound of your own voice, the contours of your own face.
You said she told you the meadowlarks sang your name.
And you believed her.
Since then, you have let the wind take you where it would, hungry for the breadth it gave. In the poem you wondered whether going wasn't a bit like hiding.
Maybe it wasn't - or maybe it was.
Speaking to your grandmother, you said:
Will hiding now help me to find you?
Will searching all the wrong places?
And where does a man find his secrets
When not even the meadowlarks remember his name?
As you said yesterday at the cafe, if you could just see the whole picture and know there was some sense to it, then you would be satisfied, consoled that someone, something remembers.
If we only knew our grandmothers were right. If only we could trust the meadowlarks to remember.