Sunday, December 13, 2015

Been Wondering for Days

The first line of the chorus—“Been wondering for days . . .”—and the beat, together they are lyrical. The kind of lyricism that one feels listening to the radio, stuck in rush hour. In the middle of ten lanes of slow-moving traffic I turned to the left and the San Francisco Bay looked like a lagoon, the Golden Gate small and fragile in the distance. Behind me cars came off the Bay Bridge in a gentle arc. Ahead of me the cars stretched without pause. This song played on the radio and my mind was in a commotion. To the right of me I saw a car with three young people in it. A young woman in the back seat, her hair in a bun. I could barely see the side of her face, but she was beautiful in my imagination. I made up stuff about their conversation, dumb but full of warmth. I stole glances to see more of her and of them. They were framed by the lake and the thin trees of Aquatic Park. I stood once on the bridge that looks down on that lake, following the slow swimming of a turtle, large and poetic just beneath the surface of the water. I wanted the radio to keep playing this song over and over. Not because I love it any more than other popular songs but because it made sense: the rhythm of the cars inching forward; city life and its distinctive pulses; the attenuated lyricism of the radio. When I go camping I resist the urge to find nature more meaningful than the arbitrariness of the city. The Milky Way glowing above; the sound of animal life in dark, unseen spaces; ashes blowing away revealing a burning ember beneath. We make patterns out of stars and read them like stories. But sometimes the stars just look like bite marks, and no one reads those. The car with the young people pulled further ahead and my heart broke. I thought of Wallace Stevens, that racist motherfucker, and his beautiful poem, “Sunday Morning”; a poem that still makes my heart race as much as it did when I first read it as a teenager. The traffic, the sight of the sea and the lake, the loss of the young people were my “comforts of the sun,” my “pungent oranges and bright, green wings.” “Sunday Morning” asked whether it was possible to find in beautiful everyday things something that could fulfill our desire for the transcendental; whether we could love the sun “not as a god, but as a god might be,” in communion with us all. I want to love a traffic jam and the radio in the same way, to feel them not as a thing which keeps me from experiencing life, but, rather, as a sometimes unexpectedly beautiful part of life itself.