Friday, December 19, 2008
December Excerpts from “The Weiser River Pillow Book”
If you checked out yesterday afternoon’s teaser, you know this is an excerpt from my wife, Eberle Umbach’s work, The Weiser River Pillow Book. It’s a journal she kept in 2000-2001; a generous excerpt was published in the anthology In Pieces by Impassio Press in 2006. Thanks so much, Eberle, for letting Robert Frost’s Banjo readers see this. Enough from me—here’s what Eberle said in her preface to the In Pieces excerpt, followed by our own selection:
For a year I kept a journal inspired by reading Sei Shōnagon’s “Pillow Book.” The vision of life in 11th century Japan that came through in her work in the form of lists and short prose was fascinating to me, and I thought that the particular way of life in the isolation of Adams County, Idaho, would adapt itself well to the form.
THINGS THAT LOOK GOOD COVERED WITH FROST
Branches of bushes and small trees.
Edges of leaves.
THINGS THAT DO NOT LOOK GOOD COVERED WITH FROST
Scraps in the chicken run.
The metal steps of the spiral staircase.
Bits of straw sticking out from the straw bales around the house.
In the pre-dawn light of the woodstove, the gold ornaments on the tree, the decorations in the room, seem thin and flat—as if Christmas in its entirety could be peeled away from the surface of cold and dark.
The ornament of a wooden mouse on a sled comes out of its newspaper wrapping looking like a treasure from another world—the sudden flash from a hidden source of magic and mystery, the sudden knowledge of good luck.
Every year at this time, the chill that comes going down the highway and seeing, instead of dead deer and elk bound to the trucks, the Christmas trees lashed there—some are body-sized and some are larger-than-life.
WHEN YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE SUN FOR DAYS
When you have not seen the sun for days, that delightful sense of a blank white page diminishes—instead of being a space in which things look magical, it becomes a space in which it is impossible to imagine anything at all. Now we are walking on thin ice, now we must be very careful with going through the day. The furniture, even, seems closer together—the space inside compressing while the space outside is becoming infinite.
The Laundromat when the washing machine at home is frozen up. It is a return to college days, or, for my companion, a return to city living. No one else in the building. For me, there is a luxurious abundance of listing machines and neglect. For my partner it is otherwise. Many warning signs on the walls: do not overload, do not wash greasy work clothes or sleeping bags. Machines the color called Harvest Gold.
When the truck's starter goes out at the dump, going into the caretaker's trailer to ask if we could leave the truck overnight. I have always wanted to go in there. The flimsy aluminum door rattles, and inside, very warm and full of cigarette smoke. His voice is kindly but filled with doom. He could drag the truck to the gate, he says. But it would be safer out of sight. Once he salvaged a snowmobile, he says, and chained it to the trailer, but still it was ravaged after dark by the dump-scavengers. They know no limits.
THINGS THAT HAVE CIRCUMSTANTIAL POIGNANCY
Almost any group of people, remembered over the distance of years, who had gathered together on a lawn in summer, in a lighted room in winter, on a shore with a wind blowing. It does not matter how boring the gathering was, or how fraught with currents of anger, possessiveness, jealousy, or ambition.
EIGHT DOLLARS IN DECEMBER
2 green peppers
1 bunch spring onions
1 bunch spinach
1 head cabbage
THINGS WITH LANDSCAPES IN THEM
Easter eggs of sugar that you can look into through one end and see a rabbit, a baby chicken, a flower.
The dark wood railings on my grandfather's desk, those tiny balconies, and pigeonholes making a suggestion of wings, the tiny chambers behind them from which at any moment people might rush out in bright colored robes and start waving.
THINGS THAT MAKE LANDSCAPES AROUND THEM
A woman's dress shoe in an outdated style.
My grandmother's silver tea set makes my motions seem dainty and self-contained when I handle the pieces—a green lawn and wrought iron railing hover at the edge of my vision.
A varnished cowry shell at a yard sale indicates the sea, with sandy shore, with pointy dark glasses, with kiosks from the fifties.
Snow sliding off the tin roofs and crashing.
The frozen bathtub faucet you left on suddenly thawing and gushing triumphantly forth.
The silence after the power goes off-- loud enough to wake you from a sound sleep.
After you have shoveled the driveway and the walkways and the poultry coops and gone out to the draw to feed the quail—you take a bubble bath and read of Isabella Bird's strange travels in Japan and then lie on the couch so tired as to be almost unable to move and then the sun comes out warming you through the window as you lay half-dozing by your parrot who is also half-dozing and you make little sounds at each other as the cars go by on the highway and everything is perfect.