October: A Moment

I began this month planning to do a close study of Louise Glück’s and May Swenson’s poems, both titled “October.” I even bought the books that house these poems: Glück’s Averno and Swenson’s Nature. But, on the second day of my study (oct 3), I started writing about Swenson’s reference to vision, eyes, and light in her poem, and the focus of my month shifted from October to writing about and reflecting on my vision. On October 4th, I wrote about wanting to find a form for a series of new poems about my declining vision. On October 6th, I wrote about how my vision sometimes turns mundane daily activities into strange surprises. Then, on October 7th, I seemed to settle in a bit more on a theme when I compared the moment in Glück’s first poem in Averno to Emily Dickinson’s moment in “We grow accustomed to the Dark—“. My interest in the moment returned on October 16th and 17th, with Marie Howe and an exploration of the possibilities within those moments when we are uncertain/undone. And on October 19th, I thought I might have found my way into writing about the Moment:

My poems will orbit around the idea of a moment after we enter a new phase/location/situation, and before we adjust to it. 

ED’s moment:

We grow accustomed to the Dark —
When Light is put away —
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Good bye —

Moment — We Uncertain step
For newness of the night —Then — fit our Vision to the Dark —
And meet the Road — erect —

My moment focuses on the uncertainty caused by my vision — how that uncertainty lasts much longer because of my lack of cone cells, how my brain compensates and adjusts to a lack of visual data, how it feels to (unlike full-sighted people) not have everything immediately make sense or be clear, various tips and tricks I used to grow accustomed, etc. There’s a lot I could do with this: visual illusions, accounts of my mishaps and failures, descriptions of what I see/don’t see, and more. 

The last stanza of the poem serves as a big inspiration too:

Either the Darkness alters —
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight —
And Life steps almost straight.

Last year, I spent time thinking about the almost, the approximate. I want to return to that and push more at what it means to dwell longer than I’d like in that almost, not quite, nearly there, only just, space. I’d also like to think more about how vision works, or doesn’t work, or works strangely, for everyone to different degrees. How what we see is not purely objective or accurate, where our eye is a camera faithfully rendering the real. Here’s an article I found yesterday that might help with that: The painter who revealed how our eyes really see the world

Oh, this is exciting! I hope this idea sticks and leads somewhere. I hope I find a form that fits and can hold all of these ideas!

Writing this, on October 29, I’m not sure if it has stuck or not. Maybe? On October 27th, I discovered a wonderful poem (and poet!) that is all about the befores and afters of a moment. Now I’m wondering if it might be interesting to try and play with the befores and afters in my thinking about where I am with my vision loss now? I like how messing with before and after could break up the idea that this is a linear progression that understands the order only ever as before / THE MOMENT / after. Here’s the poem:

Transubstantiation/ Susan Firer

Before rain hits the ground,
it’s water. It has no small.
After it hits the ground, it’s
memories: my mother,
on crutches, moving toeard me,
in rain, that last dry summer with her,
or a man, who later became my
husband, in a tent with me, in the
petrichor air, our bodies becoming
changelings, becoming a new house-
hold, becoming new gods, with
their own new myths. I was taught
that before the priest raises the host
and wine and says, “This is my body;
this is my blood,” and before the altar
girl rings the bells, the host is bread,
the wine is wine. After the words,
the host is God’s body the wine is
God’s blood. Transubstantiation: me
after him, a baby sucking my nipple,
rain ribboning windows. Now
my six-year-old grandson, in the early
August rainy morning, piano-practices
“The Merry Widow Waltz.” Before
I was a widow, that song was
only a practice piece, a funny
opera. The rocks along my lake
are always most beautiful in rain.
In rain, their colors deepen and shine.
The smell after rain hits the ground
has a name: petrichor,
from the Greek words petra,
meaning stone, and ichor, which is
the fluid like blood in the veins of gods.

a few more rambling thoughts about a moment

a/the moment:

a moment = anytime “we uncertain step/for the newness of the night.” All those moments when I can’t make sense of the scene before me.

the moment = what? the moment when it (my vision) loss happened? There is no one moment where this occurred, unless you count the moment in the ophthalmologist’s office when he told me I was losing my central vision, but that’s not when it happened, but when I realized it was happening. Actually, if the moment = when I lost my vision, then I’m still in the Moment, because this loss is gradual. I guess that’s true because I feel that constant uncertainty sometimes as my vision shifts. I felt it more in the early days, but it’s still there.

before/THE MOMENT/after: it’s difficult to remember before the moment because I’ve been having experiences of vision loss for decades — small, slight moments when I couldn’t make sense of something or when the leaves on the ground were swimming below me or when I was afraid to get my vision tested at the DMV.

avoiding/embracing moments: Sometimes I have no choice when I encounter these moments of uncertainty; I have to endure them. I ask for help or just wait until something makes sense to me. Sometimes, maybe too often?, I try to avoid them. I have narrowed my world to avoid them, relying on habits and patterns and practices that usually work, and not doing things that make me confront too harshly what I’m losing/having lost. But mostly, I have embraced these moments, studying them, writing about them, allowing them to reshape who I am and how I live. Is that what Emily Dickinson means with her line, We fit our vision to the Dark?