Four Walks with Patti Smith (after reading Devotion)
I. Two Morning Walks
In this version, I made a useless effort to entertain Patti Smith by taking her for two morning walks today. I intended to first show her the athletic track I walk often that seems to go on in white spiral after white spiral forever, and second, the perfectly round pond I am so dedicated to walking during my lowest hours.
I say my effort was useless because Patti Smith does not need to be entertained. She is a bit like me, an inquisitive mind, satisfied to be left alone exploring the world from a chair with a good cup of coffee.
Useless, because she did not speak the entire time. Instead one of her character’s in Devotion did, and then only briefly.
And useless for we completed neither walk. Both were started, yet a quarter of a mile into them, we gave in to other needs. The need for a restroom. The need for the pen that was forgotten in the car. The need for a coffee. Always, there are needs.
And the only conversation we had was not about those white spirals on black tar I walk each day under an enormous open sky while trying to ward off a day of depression and bed. Not about the small pond whose geese and pines and pond lilies are capable of absorbing whole worlds of sadness and sorrow and human suffering any time they are asked. No, the only conversation had was between the elegant, young figure skater named Eugenia, and me. It went like this:
Eugenia, why? For God’s sake! Why kill yourself?!
I did not kill myself! Stop saying that! I skated so far into myself that I became my own sacrifice to become myself. Can you not see past the surface of words?
II. Four Tree Island
In this version, I argue with Pattie Smith to put away the photos of Camus’s door, Camus’s grave, and the final draft of his last manuscript. I chide her about how ceremoniously she washed her hands before touching it. I know all the edits he wrote in the margins, I say, but think of all those edits he thought about, yet didn’t write down―there must have been thousands! Will you seek to read these too! For a little while she puts these things down and follows me through downtown Portsmouth. At the edge of a waterfront park I buy us coffee to go and lead us down a narrow land path and bridge out to a small island. Standing at the very tip of this island I tell her, This is where the sea and fresh water meet. And if you look out over there, I point, you can see the old abandoned Naval Prison. No one ever skates on this estuary, it never really freezes. But if you stare long enough, you can see hundreds of drafts of poems my late husband wrote on the salt air out here. And hundreds I have written too. Each one, a draft of how we lived because we could not “simply live”. I want to ask her to look into my face, to tell me if I am worthy of continuing to live, continuing a life that is beyond “simply living”, but I do not. I know her. Even though she might be capable, she will tell no one their future, and judge no one’s present. She is beyond words. She says nothing. The coffee has gone cold. Camus’s final manuscript is waiting for her. I have no choice but to follow.
III. Walking To the Currier Museum of Art
I wake puzzling over a dream that tells me: I have not learned to walk steadily with a hand on my shoulder guiding my turns. Instead I have succumbed to fits of steps forward, and small hesitations back. It is true I am often ashamed of those guides that come to us out of nowhere to point us to our own fate. Instead, I do things like refuse today’s cheap flight to Houston in my in-box, and only dream of one day entering the Rothko Chapel there. Instead, I stand in front of the eleven Rothko paintings assembled in a room at the MFA in Boston on Saturday, and for days still see them out of the corner of my mind. Yes, that black is not black. Black never is, I tell Patti when I wake to find her at my kitchen table this morning. She looks up briefly from the page she is writing about her visit to the grave of Simon Weil. She solemnly hands me her photograph of Weil’s grave, as though it were proof of the existence of guides and gods, and returns to her notebook. I know this gravely black and white photo is one of Patti’s own “relics of consumption”. One of those mementos wrapped in silk that calls out long after we have become our own grave. I know she will leave it with me here, and I will trace it again with my fingers on those slippery mornings I can’t quite find a root to hang on to, or on those nights I feel surrounded by nothing but White Pine and the unspeaking snow. I know I was not meant to pour over Camus’ lost thoughts forever. I know I was not meant to merely sit at the edge of Eugenia’s perfect pond, wondering what it is like or what it means to skate into infinity. There is a grave waiting that I must finish filling with my own relics. And there is a museum two miles from here that has one of Rothko’s paintings in its permanent collection. I ask Patti if she would like to walk there with me this afternoon. But she does not look up from her scribbling, and I can make out nothing more from her fading pen. My house becomes so silent! I imagine it is as silent as that chapel in Houston.
S Stephanie’s poetry, fiction and book reviews have appeared in many literary magazines such as, Birmingham Poetry Review, Café Review, Clover & Bee, Hole in the Head Review, Iowa Review, One, Rattle, St. Petersburg Review, Southern Indiana Review, The Southern Review, The Sun, Third Coast, and Turtle Island Review. She has three collections of poetry out. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Art and teaches poetry and writing on both the community and college level. Currently she teaches at New England College Institute of Art & Design, lives in Rollinsford, NH and respects cats. http://sstephanie.com/