Today, Wednesday, has been the kind of day I hope for two or three times a week when
Im home and not feeling pressed by a reading or proofing deadline for Shenandoah
or some prose "assignment."
By nine I was in the armchair at the upstairs west-facing window. In case
Yeats is right to say "the body is not bruised to pleasure soul," I was warm,
fed and clinging to a mug of coffee. Quiet flute music on the hi-fi. Telephone bell turned
off. And signs were auspicious -- rain after autumn drought, the deer corn gnawed, shapely
clouds charading steadily across the sky.
Hemingway, whom I occasionally heed, suggested that a writer not quit
until he knew where to start the next day. Last night I turned in knowing that I wanted to
revise a poem a friend had commented on, since early feedback is a rare treat for me.
Also, Id been thinking the night before, as I painted the bathroom, about the days
in Opelika, AL, and before that in Boone, NC, when I took my manuscripts to a desk made
from a luan door and typed them on a small Mercury manual I bought in a K-Mart toy
department in 1970. Mercury/ Hermes, healing/stealing, the keyboards code as some
spell to enter the underworld/unconscious (an Underwood might have worked as well): you
get the gist.
But first I wanted to read some of Thoreaus Maine Woods, a
chapter on drought in Virginia Bell Dabneys Once There Was a Farm... and some
poems by Michael Longley in the new issue of Metre. None of these relate directly
to my own writing projects at hand, but as I retire late and rise late to listen to news
on the radio, I like to clear my head with someone whose writing is unlike my own.
For two hours I read, scratched notes, fed the fire, replenished the
coffee, watched chickadees at the feeder, stared into space, put off opening my workbook
to a new page until the dam was about to burst, and then I drafted the new poem, and
again, and again. I set it aside, went downstairs to chop vegetables for soup, read the
old poem aloud, touched up the bathroom while the soup simmered, read the old poem, took
my soup upstairs to my chair and revised the new poem as I peeled and ate a Morris Orchard
Then it was time to shower, shave, rush into the town where I caught up on
some Shenandoah correspondence, called Betty Adcock to accept some poems,
interviewed two intern candidates, talked with my current intern about three short
stories, e-mail, phone messages, te-dum-te-dum-te-dum, grocery shopped at Food Lion, took
the back way home in hope of seeing a fox.
I read a futuristic story by Bill Harrison, grilled shrimp and tomatoes
and potatoes and bread, drank a glass of Tuscarora Red with supper, split a little wood by
floodlight. Then back to the old poem and the new poem and added to some notes about a
medieval trebuchet used to sling stones and diseased carcasses into besieged cities.
I watched the news and "Nightline," then the full moon that
Orion seemed to be chasing like a soccer ball. All this knowing that Sunday will provide
the next opportunity for such extended autonomy. Then I came back to this horizontal door,
where my computer now rests, to type this report from the home front and ruminate with the
other glass of red, on the studied rusticity of my present life, which owes a lot to
boyhood in Spalding County, Georgia and not a little to a decade in rural Lee County,
Alabama. And just a little to Plough and Hearth..
Yeats wondered whether to pursue perfection in the work or in the life.
Perfection is wholly beside the point for me, but I notice that the harder I pursue the
work and the more I engage with and address the undeniable facts and forces of nature that
do not swerve for humanity, the less work play is and the better my life. I will at
least get to wrestle with the new poem on Friday morning, so Thursday seems less menacing.
I may even be able to face the manuscripts to be read with a glee born of feeling things
in proper proportion. And so to bed.
R. T. Smith
Rockbridge County, VA