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At Dusk

March 21, 2013

For the first time, this spring break, my 19-year-old daughter and I have been asked if we want separate checks when we’re out to lunch; we must look like two adults rather than obvious mother and child. This pleases both of us.

She brought home a book of poetry from one of her classes and gave it to me to read. It’s by Natasha Trethewey, who is coming to visit her college, and Eleanor has been invited to a dinner with the poet. I was telling Eleanor about a writer who came to my college and I was invited to the dinner—he wasn’t a writer I knew or had read before that, and I guess his writing didn’t make much of an impression on me because I can’t remember his name or what he wrote, but I will always remember his British turn of phrase when dessert was served and he turned to me and asked politely “do you have a longing for ice cream?” To this day, I rarely think of ice cream without thinking of the word “longing.”

One of the poems in the Tretheway book starts out being about a person calling an animal in at dusk, as we call our cats in and the person who lived across the street from my parents’ house used to call hers—her cats had food names, so we always used to joke that she sounded like she was hungry, standing out there yelling “Muffin! Peanut! Cookie! Butter Bean! Marshmallow!” into the dusk, as if ordering dinner from some kind of celestial delivery service. The most recalcitrant of our cats, Sabrina, often has to be called for a while before she will wander in, and I often think that one day I’m going to see a little old lady tottering up our driveway to ask why we’ve been calling her name so loudly for so long.

At Dusk

At first I think she is calling a child,
my neighbor, leaning through her doorway
at dusk, street lamps just starting to hum
the backdrop of evening. Then I hear
the high-pitched wheedling we send out
to animals who know only sound, not
the meanings of our words – here here –
nor how they sometimes fall short.
In another yard, beyond my neighbor’s
sight, the cat lifts her ears, turns first
toward the voice, then back
to the constellation of fireflies flickering
near her head. It’s as if she can’t decide
whether to leap over the low hedge,
the neat row of flowers, and bound
onto the porch, into the steady circle
of light, or stay where she is: luminous
possibility – all that would keep her
away from home – flitting before her.
I listen as my neighbor’s voice trails off.
She’s given up calling for now, left me
to imagine her inside the house waiting,
perhaps in a chair in front of the TV,
or walking around, doing small tasks;
left me to wonder that I too might lift
my voice, sure of someone out there,
send it over the lines stitching here
to there, certain the sounds I make
are enough to call someone home.

Eleanor came home for a few days and now has gone to Florida with a friend for part of her spring break. They like to tell the story that way, before revealing that they’ve gone down there to attend a science fiction convention—the IAFA, International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, where they get to meet Neil Gaiman and Kij Johnson and have the opportunity to go to readings and scholarly sessions–including two sessions on Supernatural–unless they blow off some of the conference in favor of the pool.

Last night Eleanor texted me a photo of her and the friend in front of an unbelievably luminous blue sky. I will be “walking around, doing small tasks” before calling her home again.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2013 9:43 am

    Neil Gaiman ans Kij Johnson! It sounds like my dream convention.

    Thank you, as always, for the poem.

    • March 22, 2013 8:20 am

      Eleanor reports that Neil Gaiman has promised a “fuckload of cybermen” in his next episode of Doctor Who and that he has a lovely reading voice. She went to one of the panels on Supernatural, but I haven’t heard any details yet.

  2. March 21, 2013 9:46 am

    I just loved this post and a longing for ice cream.

  3. lemming permalink
    March 21, 2013 10:20 am

    I used to work with a woman from Haiti who would say, “I have a taste for ice cream.”

    Your post reminded me of a song – YouTube can’t give me the tune, but here are the lyrics –

    http://www.folkmusic.com/lyrics/calling-all-children-home

    • March 22, 2013 8:24 am

      “…to the forest where the wild beasts roam…” is exactly why we call all the cats home at dusk!
      A “taste” for ice cream is less accurate, but it’s an evocative phrase.

  4. March 21, 2013 5:00 pm

    The people who lived across the street from us when I was a kid did this at all hours of the day and night, and one of their cats was named Elf? So when they would call for him to come home they would call “Eeeeeeeeeeeelfie,” in mournful tones, and it sounded like someone was wailing “Heeeeeeeeeeeeelp meeeeeee.” It freaked us all out.

    • March 22, 2013 8:27 am

      That is terrible. That is what I worry about when Sabrina won’t come back (for up to two hours) and we’re out there calling and calling.
      We have taught our cats to respond to their names, in the only way you can teach a cat anything–by feeding them when they come in response to the name. This took a little while with Sabrina, who had a different name before we found her at the shelter at 9 months old, but she knows it very well. She just doesn’t always feel like coming.

  5. March 21, 2013 6:08 pm

    I love this, too —

    • March 22, 2013 8:28 am

      Thought you might, you with your two almost-grown daughters.

  6. March 22, 2013 5:29 pm

    The cat story reminded me of the other day. I was making my list of gardening chores for the weekend and misspelled get ‘ant’ baits as ‘aunt’ baits. My husband threw up his hands and said, “Great. Now we’ll have shriveled up little old ladies all over the yard. And I suppose I’m the one who has to clean them up!”

    • March 22, 2013 9:15 pm

      I laughed so loudly at what your husband said that everyone in the house came and inquired what was so funny and I had to read it out loud to them (complete with Boston accent on “Aunt”).

  7. March 24, 2013 12:51 pm

    I can’t honestly say that a ‘longing’ for ice cream sounds particularly British to me, although it’s a cute phrase. And being a poet, I daresay he’d be thrilled to know that you retained a phrase of his because you liked it!

    • March 24, 2013 3:30 pm

      I’ll bet he would, at that. I wish I remembered his name, because it now seems callow and stupid to have forgotten it. But that’s what youth is for, I guess, reckless squandering of wonders.
      It’s even better to think that the phrase is not British, but was just him; it was so charmingly said.

  8. March 25, 2013 12:46 pm

    Now I have a longing for ice cream, too. Lovely post.

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