Though tonight feels like a night for writing, I seem simultaneously scattered and blocked up. I am having the most peculiar conversation with Middlemarch today, teetering as I am somewhere between Dorothea (with her "mind struggling towards an ideal life," her nature "altogether ardent, theoretic, and intellectually consequent," her "exalted enthusiasm about the ends of life") and Casaubon (who freely admits "I live too much with the dead. My mind is something like the ghost of an ancient, wandering about the world"). To my mind, one mark of an exceptional story is that I always hope against hope that it will turn out differently. And so, all evening I've been reading my way toward the cataclysm of Dorothea Brooke's young life, knowing that in my fifth reading of the novel, she will still commit the same folly, still not recognize the irony of having told her sister, within a day of having become disastrously affianced, "I have so many thoughts that may be quite mistaken." Nothing I learn ever helps Dorothea; it is one of the lingering sadnesses of my life.
Bundled into the day with Middlemarch has come the chance, after several days, to read Calvin Trillin's essay about his wife Alice (who died in September 2001 of heart failure brought on by a decades-long battle with cancer) in this week's New Yorker. I'm meditating on marital subjectivity and memory these days, chiefly for work-related reasons, so "Alice, Off the Page" has come as a great boon. The essay isn't available online, but if you're not a subscriber, you should shell out the $3.99 at your local newsstand (or what have you), just to read pages 44-57 in the March 27 issue. If Middlemarch ultimately turns out to be about the dark side of how "[m]arriage is so unlike everything else," how "[t]here is something even awful in the nearness it brings," then Trillin's tribute to his wife is about the loveliness of that unparalleled, awe-striking nearness. It is the second such tribute I've had my heart broken by in the past six months; the first was Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which came out late last year and deserved all the acclaim it received, and then some more.
Yet somehow, despite the proximity of all these texts to one another, the best I can do for you this evening is not to thread words of my own together into thought (and, I hope, some degree of beauty) but rather to offer you a poem. I thought about giving you one by the poet who surprised my week so quietly and intensely and thoroughly, but instead, I'm diving back into my personal archives for a poem one of my dearest, oldest friends sent me back in the summer of 1999. It's a little early in the year for this one, particularly on a day that's seen everything from pelting sleet to cold, heavy rain, but everything else about it is right for now, for me. (Click the poem for an enlarged and more easily readable version.)