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Somewhere Between Four and Five A.M.

November 24, 2020

We’ve finished cleaning up our basement library and Ron has successfully installed all the carpet squares. They look great. Even the cats like them, and cats don’t easily accept change.

In the course of cleaning up we noticed things we hadn’t really paid much attention to in years, like an old cabinet full of my papers from graduate school, with particleboard legs that got wet for the last time, or a four-drawer filing cabinet full of papers that we didn’t look at anymore. I found stuff in there that I had forgotten we’d kept, like old copies of birth certificates. I also found things we don’t need anymore: old receipts for things like graduate school parking permits, preschool fees, and plans for a deck on a house we no longer own. Plastic bins full of comforters and keepsake clothes and toys from when my kids were babies. An old teapot someone gave us because it had a picture of “Sunday in the Park with George” but the spout dribbled whenever we tried to pour from it so we kept it on a bookshelf along with other small keepsakes of people and places. We’ve lived in this house for thirty years, so it was time to go through some of the stuff.

One night, after taking a small SUV-sized load of things to Goodwill, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and realized that I didn’t know the location of a bag of bedding I’d kept on top of a rolltop bed, to make it up with.

But we’re on to the fun part of cleaning up the library now, rearranging the books as we put them back on the shelves. And we’re reading as we go, because, you know, that’s why we keep these books, so we can dip into them whenever we want to.

I came across a book of poetry by an acquaintance from graduate school, The Last Girl, by Rose Solari, and remembered how much I liked the poems. I especially liked “Somewhere Between Four and Five A.M.”:

Somewhere between four and five a.m., the soul
gets restless, leaves the body. You wake

to the kite-string tug, know all you can do
is wait, filling the time with books,

self-scrutiny, or scotch until that filament of self
settles back in.

Years ago, you had a chance

for a different life. A door opened, but you
were looking elsewhere, listening to someone’s

bad advice, and didn’t hear the hinge creak,
the voice whispering, this way. Or perhaps

you did, but thought your chances infinite, told
yourself you’d come back.

You could always

come back. Those are the breaks, your mother would say
if she heard you now, and she’d be right. But

sometimes, you know you see it, that unlived life. It passes
quick, in the corner of your eye. You glimpse yourself,

what you might have been, a face that could be
but is not your own. She isn’t angry. But she knows

everything you have missed, and is writing it down.

“You thought your chances infinite” sums up so much about finding yourself my age and still living in a place I don’t like because of people I do. I remember my parents talking about ending up in southern Missouri and how they never thought they’d stay there. At the time I thought it was an odd conversation—they were adults, they could have moved somewhere else, couldn’t they? At some point, a few of us do end up staying in a place we thought we would move on from. At the point where a person sees all her choices laid out in piles of paper, she can see what happened because it turned out that there was no coming back; those other lives are just hypothetical now.

But we still have all the books from everywhere we’ve been, and soon we will have them out of the boxes again.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Liz Keeney permalink
    November 24, 2020 12:55 pm

    When my father died in 1980, I took the job of cleaning out his study. He received his PhD circa 1940. There in one of two boxes that held his dissertation notes was a dead starling. The notes, and the remains, went. He had painstakingly hand copied medieval manuscripts, in Latin, on a research trip to London, and then translated them once back home. His handwriting was always something that resembled what I, with my terrible handwriting, might have produced with my left foot on a bad day. I was working on my own dissertation at the time, with lots of help from microfilm and photocopying. I kept thinking about the inevitable introduction of new errors his process must have included. It made me a far more skeptical historian.

    • November 27, 2020 4:10 pm

      Yiiikes, I’d have done a total saw-a-mouse-jumped-on-chair act if I found a dead animal in a box of books or papers. 😱

    • November 29, 2020 7:42 pm

      I can understand copying them in Latin and them translating them later, when he had more time. When I was doing my PhD research at the Folger Library I had to copy anything I needed out longhand using pencil, and that takes such a long time! If I’d had a laptop I could have brought it, but it was the 1980’s and I was a grad student so I had no such technology.
      And yes, I can see why it would make you a more skeptical historian or researcher in general.
      Also yes, the dead starling must have been startling, although since we live in a rural place I think we’re probably both more used to that than NeriSiren is.

  2. November 24, 2020 1:57 pm

    Oh the library is looking good! You have to share more photos when you get all the books on the shelves 🙂 That’s a great poem too!

    • November 29, 2020 7:43 pm

      I will continue to share photos as we get books on shelves. We’ve ordered an extra shelf to replace an old cabinet we got rid of, so there will be more book space! Ron thinks we have passed 10,000 books down there.

  3. lemming permalink
    November 24, 2020 5:19 pm

    I never imagined that I would spend so much of my life in this very peculiar to me place, or that I would come to actually feel more comfortable in it than in my home state. Yet here I am. I’m not doing what I imagined I’d be doing, but the people who are have paid a price I realized I could not.

    Love love the poem.

    • November 29, 2020 7:44 pm

      Yeah, the price is sometimes a lot stiffer than you thought it would be when you started out. I can see why you’d also love this poem.

  4. PAJ permalink
    November 25, 2020 1:15 am

    Love the poem.

    • November 29, 2020 7:45 pm

      I can see why you’d love it, as you embark on yet another move to a new place!

  5. Rohan Maitzen permalink
    November 25, 2020 5:42 pm

    It looks great!

    That poem really strikes a chord with me too, as do your comments about other options having become hypothetical. I think I am struggling now with a sense of stasis that is more about the future than the past: yes, this is where we live now, but will there still be – I hope there will still be? – more choices, more changes. It’s just hard to believe that right now, when everything everywhere is kind of on hold.

    Anyway, book sorting is a great project: have fun!

    • November 29, 2020 7:45 pm

      It does feel like everything is on hold. It’s a good time to stay in and play with one’s books.

  6. November 27, 2020 4:07 pm

    I love the kite imagery as a metaphor for the soul taking a short break from the body, while still ultimately tethered to it.

    Congratulations on the remodel! And I know exactly what you mean about thinking you’re going to leave a place ASAP until you find people who you’ll gladly stay for. I felt that way about my present location until I met my writer’s group.

    I used to have dreams about waking up in my old home. Now, the rare times those dreams recur, my dream self feels anxious about how far I am from my friends. 🙂

    • November 29, 2020 7:47 pm

      We actually moved here to live near friends who work at the college. We used to have plans to retire to a warmer climate but now who knows.

      • November 29, 2020 11:18 pm

        I hear ya! I want to regularly visit warmer and/or seaside climates, but I’m going to keep a tether to my current setting for a long time to come.

  7. November 29, 2020 5:26 pm

    Congrats on the reorganization! Looks great. So satisfying to do a good clean out.

    • November 29, 2020 7:50 pm

      Cleaning out makes me anxious; we take turns urging each other to throw stuff away and saying “oh no, but not that!” And yet I did take an entire car-full of stuff to Goodwill. We’ve also cleaned out one box of books we’re going to give away, mostly odd books the kids have outgrown (there’s a 6-10 book series of “Puppy Patrol” books that are going to delight some other 7 or 8 year old girl, I hope).


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