Breath & Shadow
A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature
Breath and Shadow
Volume 11, Number 1
By Nancy Scott
I don't know precisely what year it was. My memory does not recall chronology. I would never have written anything resembling memoir had I needed a timeline.
It was probably around 1990. I had a second chance to hear Hayden Carruth in person. He was the first poet with books (plural) published that I'd ever heard read poetry. Something about that New England-accented voice began a turn in me. I wanted to do what he did. I wanted people to sit through my holding them hostage with words. I wanted the magic to rub off on me.
But there was a snowstorm. I convinced my brother to drive me to the Community College for the afternoon event. As he drove, Mark made long-suffering comments about blind sisters and “poetry, for God's sake,” and how much of a pain in the ass it and I were. We had several inches of crystalline effort on the ground by the time we got to the rather distant parking lot.
I don't remember Mark escorting me into the theater. When I heard Dr. Carruth in the hall, I do recall being very brave and asking him if I could record his reading. I got permission. I felt honored.
Mark might have stayed for some of the creative intention-- hiding near the exit, of course. He probably de-iced the windshield and smoked cigarettes in the car. It was a big car, good on snow—an old Cadillac, I think.
It snowed through cows and cursed chainsaws and coffeepots. It snowed through our slow drift home. As we crawled forward I realized that although I had published some work by then, I still had no idea how to be a poet.
“Don't say I don't do stuff for you,” Mark said.
“You owe me big time for this.”
Years later I was writing a poem about snow. It reminded me of that slippery trip.
“Remember how you complained about taking me to that reading,” I asked Mark?
“Oh, I actually like driving in snow. I don't remember the trip, but I was probably just busting your chops.”
All that guilt-tripping and sliding loyalty, and he didn't remember any of it?!
Mark died ten years ago last May. In some confluence of magic, I was reading someone else's poem about Hayden Carruth, and I thought of that snowstorm and all that generosity and where it led.
Because of apartment renovations, I have had to tarp and pack and decide what to keep—what necessities are. Snow has given way to longer days and softer nights. I am waiting for the one week when the white flowers will scent everything from the parking lot to the 7th floor. The white tree nearest our building was cut down years ago, but I always smell something floral in the late-May air. Maybe it's another tree that I can't see. Maybe it's memory. Does nostalgia have a scent?
Snowy Memory – 2
I have gotten rid of most of my cassettes, including that Hayden Carruth reading. But its lessons have lodged in my brain from listening over the years. I am reinventing myself and currently feeling the script slipping out of my control. My wonderful wind chimes and the piano are gone. There are no doilies anywhere. I need less-cluttered smooth surfaces to track mayhem.
But none of these things are really gone. They appear out of my memory on this page, perhaps happier and brighter and more useful than they actually were.
What is real tonight? Locust trees? Spring breeze? The absence of snow or the past and the possible?
Who is real tonight? Honor those who hover over left shoulders.
I hope I edit this piece well. I hope summer is kind or full of what I want to remember. I hope Hayden Carruth and Mark have some idea of their influence in this night and on my life. Perhaps they will meet in the astral and discuss the poetry of sisters and vision and snow.
Nancy Scott's over 600 bylines have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies and newspapers, and as audio commentaries. An essayist and poet, she has published three chapbooks.
She won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Recent work appears in Breath and Shadow, Contemporary Haibun Online, and Stone Voices.