Listening to Virginia
Driving to, around, and back from Iowa this weekend, I was listening to the first chapters of the audiobooks of Little, Big and Frog Music, which I had checked out of the library for the occasion. Some of my fondest memories of long car trips with Ron and the kids are of the audiobooks we were listening to along the way—the trip to Texas where we listened to all of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and the trip to Missouri when we heard The Enchanted Castle. Now, though, Ron doesn’t care for the kinds of books I can find at the library and the kids read so fast that they are impatient with listening.
Because I had just read “Listening to Virgina” by Jeffrey Harrison, a poem about Virginia Leishman reading To the Lighthouse, I was thinking about it as we drove from Grinnell to find the Field of Dreams movie site.
Getting there was like coming up on Stonehenge from the M4—you’ve been driving along through the countryside for hours, and then suddenly you’re in a place where your imagination has lived. It took us about two and a half hours to drive up to Dyersville from Grinnell. Cornfields. Soybeans. Grain silos. Goldenrod. A stop at a Casey’s General Store for gas and restroom. More cornfields. And then we looked to the left and…there it was–the house and the baseball field! The lights! The bleachers! The porch swing! We had been in an unfamiliar place, and then suddenly we turned left and we were in a place we knew well.
People were out on the field, some throwing real baseballs they’d brought, others catching rubber baseballs from the gift shop, and many just miming throwing and catching. Other people were sitting on the bleachers, watching.
It was sunny and warm, and it was hard not to think of my favorite line from the movie the whole time: “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.”
After we’d walked around and seen everything, we supported the maintenance of the field by visiting the gift shop, and then we played some three-way catch to make sure we got some real field of dreams dirt on our two rubber baseballs, one for Walker and one for my brother.
Now, after a Sunday drive back to Ohio from Iowa, I am back to work and driving around town doing errands, but my mind, as always, is in the fictional world, like the speaker of “Listening to Virginia” as he drives around his town:
Driving around town doing errands,
I almost have to pull to the side of the road
because I can’t go on another minute without
seeing the words of some gorgeous passage
in the paperback I keep on the passenger seat…
but I resist that impulse and keep listening,
until it is almost Woolf herself sitting beside me
like some dear great aunt who happens to be a genius
telling me stories in a voice like sparkling waves
and following eddies of thought into the minds
of other people sitting around a dinner table
or strolling under the trees, pulling me along
in the current of her words like a twig riding a stream
around boulders and down foaming cascades,
getting drawn into a whirlpool of consciousness
and sucked under swirling into the thoughts of
someone else, swimming for a time among the reeds
and glinting minnows before breaking free
and popping back up to the surface only to discover
that in my engrossment I’ve overshot
the grocery store and have to turn around,
and even after I’m settled in the parking lot
I can’t stop but sit there with the car idling
because now she is going over it all again
though differently this time, with new details
or from inside the mind of someone else,
as if each person were a hive with its own
murmurs and stirrings, that we visit like bees,
haunting its dark compartments, but reaching
only so far, never to the very heart, the queen’s
chamber where the deepest secrets are stored
(and only there to truly know another person),
though the vibrations and the dance of the worker bees
tell us something, give us something we can take
with us as we fly back out into honeyed daylight.
I miss the feeling of sharing a story, of being part of a group of people who are arriving at a fictional destination along with a real one. I always want something I can take with me as I leave. How about you?