For this annual interstate free-for-all we Americans stop work for, I’ll be heading back toward New York to my Aunt Gloria’s house. We will all miss my Uncle Jim, the poet I’ve mentioned—and quoted—here before, though we all know that despite a sincere pleasure in seeing everybody he felt such obligatory festivity more a bother than anything else. And there are those family touchstones, the material things that serve as emotional anchors for me: the beautiful portrait of my grandmother, Charlotte, as a child in a white dress, her hands demurely clasped together, in a huge, gilded, circular frame; the grandfather clock, tall and stern and reliable as a patriarch; the steps up to my uncle’s study, a woody realm of books handled reverently and replaced precisely and suffused with the memory of pipe smoke.
I remember an early poem of his about writing poetry, which he likened to a kind of addiction. As a young reader, I was impressed by how he weaved that image throughout the poem—and pleased with myself that I “got it”, as if a successful poem is really a kind of “in” joke. I’ve never thought of the desire or need to write as an addiction. I’m too practical—I’ve regarded it as a tool, a vehicle; a means of connection, expression, and self-assertion. But I still remember its penultimate line: “..and so I find myself plunging into that same vein…”. As, creatures of both habit and nostalgia, we all do in one way or another.Happy Thanksgiving, and travel safely!
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5 years ago