Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Weiser River Pillow Book #8

[Here's the July installment of Eberle's Weiser River Pillow Book series. Enjoy!]


Finishing the storage box for the corral, we sit and watch a single ant carrying a wood chip around and around on the cracked earth.

In a nearby field, a neighbor loading hay for us into the truck. My darling steadies the load as the hooks pull out of the bale, cruel looking hooks so close to him, and my heart skips a beat in the beautiful field at the foot of Sage Hill.

Deciding that my distaste for leeches is less than my desire to cut down cattails, and finally wading into the pond with my fierce pink-handled knife.


It doesn’t matter what the words are, when your beloved is tested, diagnosed. The cottonwoods with their terrible beauty went spinning out of reach, untouchable. As the hours passed, the presence of death made poetry everywhere—absolute perfection of line and form—it was appalling. How did I live through those two days? He said, please don’t cry any more, he said it very gently. I went to sit in the draw where the spring comes out of the earth and runs down. When I came out, I had stopped crying. I took his hand, loving him so much. And now we have begun.


Drove to the city to have the belt sander fixed.

Pulled the pump out of the swamp cooler when it broke.

Put chicken wire around the young plum trees.

Went to a Historic Preservation Commission meeting.

The first time we were apart, he went to softball practice, I went to drumming practice.

Put a nest of guinea hen eggs under the broody bantam hen.


Taking things to their logical conclusion, all texts became of equal value—all criticism also becomes of equal value. Yet strangely the idea of a canon persists, of authority and hierarchy, it was not killed by the silver bullet manufactured for its heart. You can’t really kill the undead, or stop the living from offering themselves as food for the undead.

Still, it’s strange to think how they continue, the oddly dismal halls of academe—with the frosted door-windows of offices, the colored posters, the clicking of respectable shoes on tiles visited nightly by the other world of the maintenance staff. And the few insects who have found a niche, silent within the walls, where, secretively, they live and eat.


I dreamed the ditch, although it was in another country, vaguely reminiscent of Bolivia, and the ditch was filled with fleshy-bony fish, so full that there was no water to step into. The horizon was distant, but flattened, the way it is in the land of death.


Incurable hope.

Infectious laughter.

Untreatable irreverence.


A man who plays on the softball team with my darling has a lung disease too.

Surprisingly, also, raises pigeons, which I have wanted for so long.

Inside his trailer, a helmet from the Vietnam war, a large TV, and a cat on the TV tray.

Inside the pigeon house made of plywood, truck windows, scraps, it is another world-- the beautiful colors and the muted light, the sound of wings, the unbreathable air.


A pocket in time, containing a diner and grocery store in one large room.

A large gumball machine, and in the bathroom a “Pandora’s Box” condom dispenser.

Salt and pepper shakers in the shape of pieces of toast in a toaster.


Onions from the onion trucks lying on the roadside.

In one field, piles of different colored onions, reminiscent of crop circles, sand paintings, and other ancient mysteries.

A house in the shape of a lighthouse on the edge of a dry field rippling dust.


Coming home from the city, we stopped at a fruit stand. The cherries looked past their prime and the thought that there would be no more this summer overwhelmed me with the fear of death—his death. He saw, and began filling a bag by the handful, to assuage my sudden anguish. The woman behind the counter shook her head indulgently at him. “Look at you,” she said, and told him she’d get a damp towel for his hands. The sharp moment softened as they spoke over the damp towel, across the counter, and when I got back into the car, I was glad of the cherries again.


When he moved in, he brought a colander with his kitchen things, so that we had two in the household. This upset me at first, giving me the sense of panic I get when there is too much stuff. How he persuaded me, gently, that it was all right to possess two colanders. Then the first night, making supper together, that we used both of them: one for salad, one for pasta, and I laughed at how useful, in fact, abundance could be.


These strange storms have created moments of stillness unusual for July. Not the false stillness of numbing heat, buzzing at the edges with insects, the swamp-cooler—but the stillness that comes between storms—a lack of breath that makes me terrified of breathlessness—the stillness of stilled leaves.


At first I thought that living with the shadow of death would somehow invalidate everything. But the opposite is more true: it is that shadow which completes things, which creates the thin bearable edge of unbearable beauty—which returns that beauty to the everyday, the immediate, the inalienable. I always forget this, and, always, remembering it again seems insurmountably difficult—at first.

Eberle Umbach
© Eberle Umbach 2001-2009

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  1. Eberle - Absolutely beautiful. The passage with the cherries and the intuitive way your beloved sensed your pain-filled thoughts was startling in its beauty.

    Whatever happens - whatever God intends, there will be an incredible, unforgettable legacy of art, humanity and spirit.


  2. Wow, there is so much love here. Blessed are you, for you suddenly see more are in my thoughts

  3. Kat is right. This is startling pain, and startling beauty.

    John and Eberle, I wish you both happiness and health - and most of all, that you never lose this wakefulness, this clarity of vision.

  4. Eberle. I love the idea of the pillow book which is a complete and wonderful discovery for me. I have now read through all the back episodes. Fantastic writing.

  5. Hi Kat & Chris & Sandra & Alan:

    There's nothing I can add to what Eberle wrote or to your comments, so thanks as always for stopping by, & for your wonderful thoughts.

  6. transcendent words.... my soul and heart are so moved.

    I adore the line "the presence of death made poetry everywhere" and will carry these words as I tag along observing house calls with the geriatric and palliative care teams I'm hanging with this summer.

    thank you.


  7. Lovely, scary, warm, ominous, and triumphant. Such is life.

  8. Hi Mouse & Jacqueline:

    Thanks so much for those words & thoughts from both of you.

  9. Sensitive and thoughtful insight to a life that is being lived fully and with care. Thanks for this.

  10. John - I'm just getting back here after a little blogging break.

    The Pillow Book idea is wonderful, the thoughts and feelings so startlingly painful yet love-filled and strong.

    You are both in my thoughts and healing prayers.

  11. Hi T & Karen:

    Sorry to be so late in responding--we've had a very busy end of the week/weekend--but thanks so much for your supportive words & thoughts.


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