Notes from a school for solitude

Solitude . . . bears us away
Into its icy comforting, our pain and our happiness.
– Charles Wright, “Half February”

I have been cold. All day yesterday & the day before my hands stayed warm to the touch – or so I would imagine – but inside, behind the knuckles & at the base of the thumbs, a spreading numbness. My enormous kneecaps have begun to ache, poor things, even under long johns. When I climb the stairs they make audible clicking noises. They feel as if they might come unattached, somehow.

Equinox. Who’s there? In last night’s dream, a random remark prompted the poetry teacher to assign the making of masks – right now, drop everything! Some were carved & painted, some forged, some molded in clay or – like mine – built up with flour paste and strips of yesterday’s news. They were glorious.

I find myself longing for another cigarette – it was just this time of year I stopped smoking back in 2000. The cloudless mid-September sky seeps in through every pore. I sit in the woods & listen to the oak trees tapping everywhere with their acorn mallets.

The best tones come from things that are the most hollow: logs, of course, but also certain flat rocks with ant or termite galleries underneath them. Sometimes an acorn strikes another acorn on a lower branch & one hears a rapid tick-tock as both hit the ground.

I watch a mourning cloak butterfly glide from one patch of sunlight to another, dark brown/magenta fringed in white lace. This one will over-winter, I know, will find a suitable piece of bark to crawl behind & let itself freeze solid, the glycerol in its blood keeping ice crystals from growing in the narrow cave of its heart. I’ll see it again on the first warm day in March, wings duller, flight path more erratic.

A chipmunk clucks from six feet away, standing erect like the world’s smallest grizzly. It stares right through me until I begin to question my own presence. A doe and its almost-grown fawn drift in and out of sight among the laurel, chewing loudly. Archery season begins in little over a week.

I decide to stay put until the oaks can incorporate me into their on-going composition. My body’s own distracted percussionist slows to match the chipmunk’s insistent metronome. My scalp begins to tingle, anticipating its Chicken Little moment. With what tact, I wonder, will an acorn strike – a sound I hope to hear inside & out? Or maybe it will merely test for a reflex, a one-two tap on these knees I hug to my chest . . .

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