9 Ridge Road, Rutherford, New Jersey

The home of Dr. William Carlos Williams, 1912 - 1963

Why do we do this? This breathing in, this breathing out. Heart beat after heart beat after heart beat. These moments that pass us by like so many horseman and make up the long caravan of our lives. Why? And why do we spend them thus? With our eyes on the horizon of some dreamlike paradise we never quite attain, while our hands and feet are covered in the muck and slime of the day. It’s that muck and slime that is really our lives, you know. Not the dream. The dream is like the covers of the book. The words are the muck and the slime. The words are the papercuts and the infections and the hiccups and the sneezes. The vacation, the party, the financial security, those have about as much to do with us as the morocco that binds the dusty volumes on a forgotten bookshelf in some old man’s library. For you may get to the end of your life and tell the gathered what you had accomplished, which of those aspirations you had beheld. But you will know that what you actually did in your life, with your life – these were the things you held in your hands. The things you spilled, poured, and fumbled. That you ate when you weren’t conscious of eating. That you said when you weren’t conscious of speaking. That you watched, smelled, touched when your thinking angels were distracted by the horizon.

So who among us can tell us about these moments? Who can identify them? Give them names. Pin them like so many butterflies in so many shadowboxes. Or better yet, who can be their patron saint? Who has the skill to be? The patron saint of a cat climbing over a jamcloset. The patron saint of dirty plates and a glass of milk. Of sparrows who sit at my window. Of miscellaneous weeds and the rain. Who?

Here I stand at the house of Dr. William Carlos Williams. His house and home and office. From whence he wrote poetry that won Pulitzer’s prize. From whence he traveled to argue with Pound and Eliot and Joyce. And from whence he journeyed to deliver babies, fix broken arms, sit in kitchens and discuss matters of life and death – literally life and death – with people who would have believed anything he advised, but who never would have believed he wrote poetry. And who, if they had been able to step out of their lives and believed it, would never have believed he wrote the poetry he wrote. The unrhyming poetry of existence, the circadian heartbeat of the spaces in life.

For there are great silences here. Amidst the ideas, amidst the things. The silences of work done late at night, when the world is asleep, when reflection is possible, when the best ideas are floating through the ether, unburdened by the static of mendacity. That is how I like to think of him writing. When day is done, and the moon hangs high and he sits at a kitchen table, overcoat still on. Hat on chair. Empty plums in a nearby bowl. Pencil in hand, filling out in longhand the thoughts birthed during that day. The moments he’d seen, resonating and vibrating beyond their instants.

Here is his house. Is it robin’s egg? Is it lilac? Is it the color of the dawn on a spring day as he returned from a night spent watching someone die? The trim, is it crimson? Like a sunset or an incision? Never mind. It‘s a doctor’s house. A doctor’s house then. A doctor’s house now. Greenery and ancient trees provide some little privacy from the nearby shops and businesses that are across the street, that are down the hill. Can you hear them waking up every morning? Shop windows opening during idle conversation. Doors unlocking. Awnings squeaking as they roll down, offering shade before the day gets too hot to bear and the metal too hot to touch.

And at night, could you hear what we will generously call the revellers (or less generously, the anesthetized), as they step carefully up sidewalks, find car keys and cars, make their farewells and then proceed back, under cover of stars, to beds and other soft places? Close enough to see – should one have eyes to see; close enough to hear – if you could tune your ears to the delicate frequency of the passing moments of life. Close, but not so close.

I see him sitting in this house, at this mythical table, in the quiet spaces of the night. I see him tired from escorting a life into this world, or easing one out of it. I see him thinking about the life and the death he’d borne witness to. I see a fleck of something on his shoe. And then I see him hearing these infinitesimal moments. The sounds of small cheeping birds that make all of our pronouncements about life mis-shapen and grotesque.

So breathe. Breathe deep. Put your hand on your chest and feel your heart as it motors away. Prick up your ears for the car that goes by. Feel the music wash over you as it passes. Catch a fragment of a conversation, the end of a gesture. Smell the lilacs from a neighbor’s house whisper past. Remember not these ideas. Remember these things. These things.

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~ by martinbihl on December 22, 2009.

One Response to “9 Ridge Road, Rutherford, New Jersey”

  1. Thank you for this. See the review of WC Williams’ life and work in the most recent NY Review of Books (Feb 23, 2012). Best regards.

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