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 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.