Thursday, October 07, 2010

On a Line by Janet Lewis

As the sun rose the fog among the pines turned from gray to white as though someone had thrown green wood on the fire. Shadows grew long across the sidewalk and parking lot. The school stands in a shallow dip, a creek erased by concrete and landscaping. Fog lingered in the morning glare until a wind pushed it away like a collapsible wall.

On the first morning of my only visit to New Mexico, a friend drove us early to Albuquerque’s West Mesa to see the petroglyphs and watch the sun rise. An anomalous December rain had fallen overnight and shreds of fog clung to the desert. The air was cool and scented with sage. We climbed the rocks and looked at carvings, some dating from the time of Aquinas. The sun rose and quickly burned off most of the fog, and the road surface steamed. A wind rose and cleared the air in minutes, leaving rock and sunlight.

"The sunlight pours unbroken through the wind."

[The sentence is from Lewis’ “Paho at Walpi.” A paho is a Hopi prayer stick, as the poem suggests with “supplication,” “gratitude,” “entreaty.’ Walpi is a pueblo in northeastern Arizona, one of the oldest continuously inhabited villages in the United States.]

1 comment:

William A. Sigler said...

I recognize the "occasion" of "Paho at Walpi," having myself gone through the thousand-million thoughts, none of them right, about the strange and awe-inspiring Hopi civilization at the end of the world—-the closest thing America has to a continuous spiritual tradition. The fact that one is not allowed to write in notebooks there, or take pictures, only deepens the reverence. "How do I presume?" as Eliot said, and I see Lewis takes a page out of that book by tamping down her emotions into tamped-down description that is as spare as the desolate land of the mesas. It’s as if she’s trying to gather everything that can’t be said into a line that honors the one thing that can: the continuous presence of wind and sunlight on that hallucinogenic plain, where the normal mental protections against nature’s magic are simply not there. Something also about tradition, how the Hopi have held on to their pantheon of Gods and devic presences against seemingly impossible odds-–bracingly strong sunlight still shines through wind that is, as one would know by visiting, pretty serious.