book 1: this is the beginning of the story

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there

-Wallace Stevens
The House was quiet and the World was Calm

 

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book 1: this is the beginning of the story

The yard surrounding the house had a metal gate on one side and a smoke tree on the other. The house was quiet but the large deciduous bush buzzed and crackled. I would lie underneath it all year, letting the winter snow stack on top of me. In the spring the water would thaw against the skin on my arms saturating me with the elongated raindrops shook off by the downy woodpeckers. Egg-shaped pods covered with fine white hairs grew and held brown seeds inside of them. The panicles grew in clusters and changed color as they aged. At their peak they were a smokey pink. I used to pry the pods open to peek at them in their state of forming. I watched their becoming.

The yard also had paper birches and elms, which provided more consistent shade than the smoke tree. It also had an ample lawn that provided a softer pillow. But it was the spiny intricate finger branches of the smoke tree that made room beneath itself, a small space, like a drawer in a floor and that’s where I would lie.  Each puff of the smoke tree was like a whole smoke tree, each contained chamber upon chamber of rooms. A tree of tree houses, perennial clouds of countless castles. One of the first things it told me was to begin to rely more on my ears, to listen to the sound of things. And from underneath the smoke tree, I would think of anything, any object in the world, and I’d ask the object questions. I would ask and then listen. The objects would reply, their imperceptible movements hissed and clicked to me. They often told me, we are the size of words.

One afternoon while lying beneath the smoke tree, a curious landscape revealed itself to me. It was a field. Its undulating green grass was glowing, lit not from the sun above but from a light source underground, beneath it. On the field, there were hundreds of walking women. Some were counting aloud, losing track over and over and continually beginning again. Many stepped over anything and everything in front of them, their eyes intently focused on the horizon. In the middle of the field piles of mattresses stacked on top of each other rose like totem poles. The women swerved around each other without colliding like a precisely choreographed dance. There was a small round window at the bottom of the mattress totems, lodged between the mattresses closest to the ground. I could see through one. Like a ship’s portal, there was an ocean behind it. On the glass there were water stains.

I didn’t tell anyone what I saw that day under the tree. I only watched.

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