The Night, The Porch
We’re back from our road tour of the Midwest! On the 23rd, we drove to Cape Girardeau, Missouri to see my mother. We left after lunch on Christmas Day to drive to Warrensburg to see Ron’s parents. We left Warrensburg on the 27th to drive to Kansas City and take Walker to the airport, where he boarded a flight for Texas to play in a collegiate chess tournament. (Walker helped Oberlin’s team win “best performance by a small college.”) We then drove downtown to the Plaza to meet Elizabeth and Kent, because they live in KC now, and Ben and Suzanne, the people who were putting us up at their house while Ron’s dad was too frail to chance catching a virus from houseguests, but who we hadn’t yet seen in the daylight hours. We had a festive and lengthy lunch, and Ron and I gave Eleanor a short walking tour of the Plaza in its Christmas decorations. We left on the 28th for St. Louis (with Darth Vader in Walker’s seat) and the second wedding of my first cousin once removed, where we were joined by my brother and mother. Finally, we drove home on the 29th and picked Walker up at the Columbus airport on the 30th, marveling (but not mentioning it without knocking wood) that the highways had been clear and dry for our 1800-mile trip.
Today it is snowing. I have been staring out into it all morning, feeling lucky that we have nowhere to go, no promises to keep. It’s reminding me of our visit with Ron’s parents, still in their house where we’ve spent so many warm and buggy summer nights sitting on a porch, as in this poem by Mark Strand.
The Night, The Porch
To stare at nothing is to learn by heart
What all of us will be swept into, and baring oneself
To the wind is feeling the ungraspable somewhere close by.
Trees can sway or be still. Day or night can be what they wish.
What we desire, more than a season or weather, is the comfort
Of being strangers, at least to ourselves. This is the crux
Of the matter. Even now we seem to be waiting for something
Whose appearance would be its vanishing—the sound, say,
Of a few leaves falling, or just one leaf, or less.
There is no end to what we can learn. The book out there
Tells as much, and was never written with us in mind.
In retrospect, I can see that on every trip to Missouri since we left home, we were always waiting for something–with all four parents as college professors, we thought there was “no end to what we can learn.” Now their time is ending, though, and it seems like the largest part of we can do is sit with them and “learn by heart/what all of us will be swept into,” even if it didn’t happen on this trip.
Snow also gives us “the comfort of being strangers.” We stare out into it, and the distractions of routine are replaced with a million individual dramas of trying to get to work and then back home, to a place where we can stare blankly into nothing, tired of the effort it takes to get where we’re going.