Reading too many poems in the morning
And an ode to the best businesswoman I know
I woke too early the other morning and could not fall back asleep. It was the kind of early when the sky is blue-black and you don’t really want to be conscious. I came downstairs, lit a candle, unloaded the dishwasher, and read a hundred poems by Jack Gilbert. (Truly, a hundred! Guion chided me afterward, said no one should ever read poetry at that pace.) But they went light and fast, and my mind, in that odd state between sleep and wakefulness, I absorbed them as a dream.
Gilbert writes mostly about women he has loved, places he has lived, and revelations of consciousness. I’m returning to the poems again, the ones I marked as favorites, and finding them even more revelatory fully awake.
Here’s one good one among many:
The soft wind comes sweet in the night on the mountain. Invisible except for the sound it makes in the big poplars outside and the feel on his naked, single body, which breathes quietly a little before dawn, eyes open and in love with the table and chair in the transparent dark and stars in the other window. Soon it will be time for the first tea and cool pear and then the miles down and miles up the mountain. “Old and alone,” he thinks, smiling. Full of what abundance has done to his spirit. Feeling around inside to see if his heart is still, thank God, ambitious. The way old men look in their eyes each morning. Knowing she isn’t there and how much Michiko isn’t anywhere. The eyes close as he remembers seeing the big owl on the roof last night for the first time after hearing it for months. Thinking how much he has grown unsuited for love the size it is for him. “But maybe not,” he says. And the eyes open as he grins at the heart's stubborn pretending.
This past weekend, we celebrated Mom’s retirement in her garden. She closed her store, which she successfully owned and ran for 38 years in uptown Charlotte. Thirty-eight years! It’s an immense accomplishment. She opened the business with her sister, both of them newly married, in a time when young women did not often start businesses by themselves.
Through all of the many years, Mom kept The Beehive thriving. My sisters and I grew up there, helping on the weekends, running the cash register, restocking from the back room, and helping with inventory every year. And it was more than just a “gift shop”: Mom, my Aunt B, and her faithful colleagues created a space that their loyal customers found peaceful, welcoming, and calming, a place to retreat from their busy jobs in the Bank of America building. In the final days, many women embraced her with tears, saying their lives wouldn’t be the same without The Beehive. Three separate women also told her that now that The Beehive was gone, they would also retire, seeing no reason to come into work anymore.
I’m very proud of her and grateful to have had such a powerful role model throughout my childhood and young adulthood. (Somehow, she also managed to simultaneously homeschool all four of us while running the business, which is a feat I cannot even begin to comprehend, even though I lived through it, as an eyewitness.)
The party was a lovely celebration, and we were so thankful to be a part of it. Here’s to some well-deserved rest, TT.
The older I get…
The more I believe in witchy things, like ghosts and the mind-body-spirit connection in health care
The more license I feel in telling young people what to do (of which this newsletter is prime evidence)
The more context I gain for hardship
The more I want to turn away from mass culture/popular media and turn toward old, dead sages, specifically writers
The Wall, Marlen Haushofer
Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald
How to Stay Married, Harrison Scott Key
And a listening recommendation: I was so riveted by this episode of the Ezra Klein Show on pain and how we so often mistreat and misunderstand it as a purely biomechanical problem. Klein interviews Dr. Rachel Zoffness, a pain psychologist, whose insight I found fascinating, wise, and deeply helpful, as a person with a body.
What have you been reading or listening to lately?