|Publisher:||Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.58(d)|
About the Author
Molly Gloss is a fourth-generation Oregonian who now lives in Portland on the west side of the Tualatin Hills. She is the author of five novels: The Jump-Off Creek, The Dazzle of Day, Wild Life, The Hearts of Horses, and Falling from Horses, and one collection of stories, Unforseen. Her awards include the Oregon Book Award, a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, the PEN West Fiction Prize, the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and a Whiting Writers Award; and her short story, “Lambing Season” was a finalist for the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Her work often concerns the landscape, literature, mythology, and life of the American West.
Read an Excerpt
The Dazzle of Day
By Gloss, Molly
Tor BooksCopyright © 1998 Gloss, Molly
All right reserved.
Darest thou now O soul,
Walk out with me toward the unknown region,
Where neither ground is for the feet
nor any path to follow?
My family once considered themselves Tico, but the old Hispanic tradition of community has so long ago disappeared from this continent, subsumed in the monoculture of the West, that I consider my only culture to be Quaker. Still, the Friends who are joining us in this migration have Japanese names, English, Norwegian--these Friends are strangers to me. Moreover I don't speak Esperanto very well, and maybe I'm too old to learn it better, or maybe too tired. Esperanto is a language without much grace: In the rainy season, who would want to give up saying invierno, which lies sweetly on the tongue, in trade for the crabbed little sound of vintro?
I am sixty years old, and afraid the arthritis in my knees, which is a new thing, may before long make me no use to anyone--or worse, an encumbrance, which would surely be a vaster problem in that young ship than here on this old land.
It might be, the matrix that's been used is too diminished after all for species survival. With the first of these toroids it was something like that, the one named Crommelin, built for the rich man, Jon Crommelin, a scrupulously beautiful, flauntingly private refuge put to circling the earth just above thispoisoned sky, every grain of dirt disinfected, every person and object sterilized, unpleasant insects and reptiles shut out. In a year, less than a year, there was a collapse of the organic life, and the dead construct was abandoned. It was sects of the counterculture--Carsonites and bird-watchers and Rodale farmers, Quakers and Mennonites--who understood the microbial needs of a closed system, guessed the conceit that must have killed the life there, and joined in bargaining for the Crommelin and attempting its renascence, as a kind of public proof of the connectedness of all life.
A decade of seeding and reseeding, trials of species-packing and of minimalism, emending and remodeling the nexus, and now there is a modest proliferation of these small forged moons, these hollow wheels with their interior, tubular landscapes. I, for one, had thought every isolationist party from Aryan Nation to Doomwatchers would soon flock up to the sky, but what has been proven by these toroids is only the absolute unmindful benightedness of the greater part of the human race. The very difficulties and economics of a closed circle of recycle and reuse have kept the stations, against all expectation, in the hands of the patient and whole-minded; our Miller is the only one yet to make preparations for casting off moorings--setting sail for the farthest shore. What if, in ten years or twenty, when we are too far away to get back, all the trees and the birds begin to die?
The toroid takes its plain Quaker name, Dusty Miller, from the reflective sail's whitish aspect in the sun's transparent light, and I have lain awake and imagined it; the small circle of raft--the houseboat, as people are saying--at the center of its great circle of flimsy sailcloth, moving soundlessly across the blackness of space like a moth, a leaf, a little puff of pollen adrift on a solar wind, which is an image that sits well with me. But I shall not see it thus except in my mind's eye; I shall live within its ceiled and narrow view, in a circumscribed world lying under fields of lamps. Never to see the sky! The stars!
The closed circle of the hollow torus can be walked round in fifteen or twenty minutes, a bare two thousand meters from starting point round again to starting point. Big as some islands, people say, and they tell me of balance and proportion, scale and siting, the compact order of a Japanese garden. But other people have said there is a melancholy that gets into the soul of an island people--and, indeed, into the souls of migrants, for among the pilgrims of the Mayflower, and at Plymouth, there was black discouragement and suicide. There still are mornings in the Fourth Month rains when I get a yearning to tramp out to the horizon, a wanderlust so palpable it makes my breast ache. Where, on the Dusty Miller, would I tramp to?
Quaker people have endured on this old estancia on the Pacific slope of middle America for 240 years, steadfastly practicing love and faith in the midst of chaos and wars. My parents are buried in this soil, my sister, my sister's daughter, I always had thought I would one day be buried beside them. Who would have thought it would come to this--sitting among the boxes of my possessions waiting to be taken up from this house, the house in which I have lived the whole of my life until now? Who would have thought I would one day be sitting on the floor of my house in the oppressive heat and drought of the verano, indulging myself in qualms and skittishness, thinking and now writing about the forepart of my life and the after, on this day that separates them?
I always have considered myself strong-minded, someone who would act on her feelings without faltering, and it has been a surprise to realize: I have been thinking of changing my mind, and hiding the thought from myself in this flurry of last-minute, agitated misgivings. Tonight, the last night for sleeping under this roof, I have been thinking of changing my mind, and looking for peace or clarity or certainty by trudging round in circles, sleepless, through the dusty night.
Tonight I walked along the cart road across the Rio Pardo and through the east-side fields and houses up onto the rocky ridge of the Ojo de la Luna, and home again by way of the goat-paths--a long looping tramp. The cart road is a rutted track; we have deliberately kept it poor and unpaved to discourage non-Quakers from coming onto the estancia, a tactic that has been only a little successful. There have been killings, crazy wildings, here as everywhere, but we have gone on using the road after dark on Quaker principles, bearing witness to peace, trusting in the unknowable justice of God. What happens, happens, people frequently say, meaning not only murder and rape on the roads but death by plague or by cancer, which seem in these days to be distilled from the very air and water. I went along the road through a breathless darkness, slapping my sandals down briskly in the dust.
My old house stands alone, but a little way up the road the houses of my neighbors stand in the manner of Friends, gathered up in a hamlet, and there I was kept company by the voices of people who know me, calling my name from their porches. Children were playing in the road in the still night, and some of them made me a little escort as far as the edge of the river where the road drops down in the rocky channel and begins to follow the low water. The air was darker there, cooler, more silent, a comfort of another kind: In the daylight the Rio Pardo is a grief, scummed yellow along its margins, but in the darkness tonight the sound it made was soft and easeful, and there was only the grayish bulk of the boulders against the colorless blackness of the water.
The heavy forest has been shorn from the steep slopes higher on the watershed, and in the flood season the river is every year more ravaging. Where a bridge had once spanned it, I waded across following the cart tracks between the old concrete footings, pushing my bare ankles through the dead and tepid water. Afterward, on my skin, the slime itched and stank, and finally I had to stoop and rub my sticky legs with handfuls of dust.
Where the track climbs from the gully of the river and turns east toward the rocky arista, the houses are scattered among their fields in the old Hispanic manner. People have been moving up to the Miller for months, and many houses are vacant, abandoned. Tonight even the occupied homes stood dark and mute, seeming to ghost the landscape. I imagined people lying inside their houses in the hot, torpid darkness, asleep or awake, measuring their breaths on the still night.
We are at the height of the dry season; no rain has fallen for weeks. The ground is fissured, the grasses brown, shrubbery stooped and withered. At this time of year, the verano, it is easy to imagine the death of the Earth, easy to believe in its imminence. Walking along the road, my sandals raised a fine pale powder that hung in the night, and I remembered suddenly, it had been in the verano the year before, when I had said I would go onto the Dusty Miller. It had been in the verano that I had become afraid I would live long enough to see the end of the world.
Species are extinguished by the hundred a day in the name of hungry people; wholesale obliteration of human cultures has been the history of the world for dozens of generations, in the name of human rights. By the time governments and corporations, those grindingly complex and malignant machines of human culture, have finally broken down under their own weight and can no longer deal destruction on the Earth, what of value will be left? It was in the verano that I began to dream the Dusty Miller's dream of a world in which people respectfully take part in their landscape, and go on doing it generation after generation.
But tonight, walking up the road through the fields of empty houses, I thought: If I see the end of the Earth, I see it. And I wondered why I had been afraid. "Now I am clear. I am fully clear," the prophet George Fox was supposed to have said when he died. It might be, there is only so much that can be learned from life; perhaps then one has to wait for what will be exhibited by death.
I never have married, have no children to persuade me. Quite a few people I know are staying behind--some of them consider themselves too old for this change, and some are frightened. Some people see a moral imperative in standing against government oppression of the Peace churches. Or they say this emigration extends a frontier mythos whose legacy is destruction and exploitation. I haven't any compunction that way. Quaker principles have been proffered to the world for many hundreds of years, and indifferently spurned or actively expunged everywhere. I am weary of trying to live a moral and religious life against the persistent oppression of an immoral, irreligious world. It has become a terrible, exhausting struggle. How much longer can we few go on sustaining a society based on joy and authenticity--defining success as an internal process in a world that defines it by power and wealth? What is the mythos that propels the Dusty Miller, if not Wholeness?
No, my qualms are secular, personal, banal. This weather they have made to be inside the metal skin of the houseboat: Will there be the Fourth Month rains? What if I want to go on calling the dry season verano and not have to call it somero?
While I was turning over these worries in my mind, a shape reared up in the darkness alongside the road-cut, and my heart sprang against the cage of my ribs. I stood up straighter and made a swift plan for escaping through the taro field, back to the last lighted house. The person looked toward me and lifted both hands in a peaceful or inquiring gesture--there was something familiar in the way he stood. In a moment, I came on along the ruts.
"You gave me a start. Were you just sitting there by the road?"
"I been walking but my feet got hot. I need a drink, you got one?"
Arturo Remlinger is a slow-witted man whose mother died in the rainy season this past year. He frequently goes walking up and down the roads looking for her. He understands as much as a five-year-old, maybe, and what do five-year-olds understand of death? Oh my dear, what does anyone?
"No, I haven't got water, Arturo. But come on with me, we'll walk up the road and get you some." Arturo's brother has taken on his care. The brother's house wasn't far off; probably Arturo had padded out the door after everyone there had gone to bed.
I took his soft hand and led him. He has a big, doughy body, a round face without angles. He is prone to unpredictable storms of temper--he wheels his big arms and stomps his feet, rolls his head on his thick neck. The sounds that come out of him then are rageful and wordless, terrifying, heartbreaking. Neighbors come when they hear him, and help his brother as they used to help his mother, gently press him out-of-doors where he isn't as likely to hurt himself. The house his mother had lived in was bare of ornament; she had learned to give up breakable things. The brother has a wife who is a clay artist, and two young children. I wondered: What hangs on their walls, what sits on their tables now?
We walked along the road together. "What do you think? Is the dry season about finished?" I asked him. One of his interests is the weather. He likes to repeat and repeat the accounts he hears on the satellite radio stations, of weather in Lithuania and Botswana, Kampuchea, Greenland, Chile.
He swung his head back and forth heavily. "No. Not finished. But we'll get some rain someday, ha ha." He grinned softly and used the hand I was holding to gesture for both of us, vaguely overhead. "Rains every night, just about, on the houseboat. I like raining. Hey, Dolores, I'm going to live up there, how about you?"
I had been present when someone at a New World Planning Committee Meeting had wondered aloud: Should impaired and disabled people be kept from joining the emigration to the Dusty Miller? The way of Friends is to think quietly and to listen. We ask the question, we consider how the answer is made by different people, we ask again, answer again, change our minds; we reach an understanding. The Meeting evolves this way, not by shouting each other down, not by the weight of the majority, but by the capacity of individual human beings to comprehend one another. So there was a pondering silence and then someone stood and said, "What is impairment, I wonder. Is it arthritis? If one eye is blind but not the other, is that disabling?" People considered this. After a while someone else, a surgeon, said, "There won't be the resources to treat serious health problems. No microtechnology for prosthetics, for the metered administering of insulin, for synthetic laryngeal voicing."
People went on in this way for quite a while--not back and forth but circling around. There was a Japanese woman sitting at that Meeting, a young woman who had come over from Honshu to talk to our Farms Committee about the growing of kenaf and cilantro. This woman stood up after a long, listening silence and said what everyone there already knew--one of the four cardinal principles of the Religious Society of Friends: "Something of the inner light of God lives in every human being." I remember the precise pitch and cadence of her voice, her precisely correct Spanish, and the way the air felt at that moment, charged and vivid. And afterward there was no further questioning about the disabled.
"Yes, I'm going too," I said to Arturo Remlinger, before remembering I had been walking along the road doubting it.
"Hey!" Arturo said. "You know they got a hurricane in the Philippines, and floods killed 82,056?" He went on telling me about the weather--hailstorms in Azerbaijan, drought throughout Africa, tornadoes in the delta of the Mississippi River. He remembered or invented numbers of dead, rainfall statistics, the projected paths of storms. I walked beside him silently, holding his clammy, pulpy hand. I was thinking of what I had said to him, and considering whether I had told the truth. I'm going too. Well, if I didn't go, no one would be angry. No one would ask me for an explanation. The heavy lift launches always were deliberately overbooked, allowing for the five or six who could be counted on to draw back at the last minute. Some few people have even gone up and then come down again. There isn't any shame in it. No one would want people living on the Dusty Miller who weren't sure they wanted to be there.
"Here, you're home," I said softly to Arturo when I led him up on the porch of his brother's house. The door stood open; Arturo had left it ajar, going out, or the family had left it open to release the built-up heat from under their roof. I wouldn't have gone inside, I didn't want to frighten anyone who might wake and see me standing there, but Arturo kept stubborn hold of my hand and brought me with him into the dark front room, where there were shapes of things--cupboards and tables and low cushions--but no shapes of people, who must have been sleeping in the second room.
"I sure need a drink," Arturo repeated patiently.
"I haven't forgotten." I peered in the darkness for their cask of distilled water while Arturo went on holding my hand. I was groping with my other hand in the shadows along the shelves of a cupboard, hunting for something to pour the water into, when a barefoot woman came out from the sleeping room.
"Arturo, who is it with you?" the woman said with a loud, false boldness, and I immediately understood that her husband wasn't in the house.
"It's Dolores Negrete," I said. "Arturo was out on the road."
The woman's body released its stiffness. She said, "Arturo," and then tiredly, "He goes out after we're asleep."
Arturo released his grip from my fingers and, standing with his heavy legs planted, he swung from the waist toward his sister-in-law, and swung back, lifting his arms slightly. "Dolores'll get me a drink," he said.
I made a hand motion. "I can't find a cup."
The sister-in-law came across the dark room. She wore a thin cotton slip, white or ginger-colored, that seemed to move alone, luminous, through the darkness. The woman took a cup from a shelf and held it beneath the tap of the water cask. "Here, Arturo, here's your drink, but you know where the water is, and the cups. You could just help yourself."
Arturo drank the water swiftly down, holding the cup to his mouth with both big hands. His drinking was silent, neat. Afterward, lowering the cup, he said, "Thirsty," as an explanation.
"Go and pee and then go to bed," the woman said to him.
"I already peed. I did it on a tree." I could see the edge of his white teeth, the sly smiling.
"All right, then. Just go to bed."
"Hey, Barbara, Dolores wants to live in the houseboat and so do we." He swung toward me. "My mother isn't going," he told me.
"Go to bed now," Barbara said. She took the big man by the shoulders and turned him toward the door of the sleeping room. He came around with her slowly, his shoulders ahead of his hips and his feet.
"See you, Dolores," he said, twisting his head back.
"Good night, Arturo."
"They got a big storm in the Philippines today."
"Good night, Arturo."
"Okay, Dolores, see you."
He went out of the front room slowly. We could hear him in a moment, whispering loudly to someone in the bedroom, his words obscure. "Philippines," he whispered.
"Thank you for bringing him home," Barbara said. She stood with her thin arms folded across the front of her slip. She had a small face, short hair, there was no seeing her features in the darkness. I didn't know her except by her work--delicate clay pots painted with rigid, grimacing faces in dark colors of blood and jade and cobalt, and ornamented by bits of bone and feather. Burial pots, I think they are, and I have enjoyed the irony of their popularity at the souvenir shops, in the gambling casinos and whore houses along the coast.
"Your whole family is going up there? Up to the Miller?" I had to ask her. Other people's decisions in this matter seemed suddenly important to me--they might have considered things that had escaped my attention.
"We are, but Juan is on the Legal Committee and he wants to stay until the expropriation appeals are all turned down."
As people leave the estancia for the Dusty Miller, and as the numbers of people here dwindle, there will be a government expropriation of "underutilized" land--this was something that was generally known. The tactic of the Legal Committee always was to exhaust every appeal.
There won't be a need for attorneys on the Dusty Miller, surely, nor perhaps artists, as some people say there won't be the resources. I wanted to ask her, What will your husband do in that place? Will you give up your art? Then Barbara said, as if I had spoken, "He'll be glad to be out of law, he never was happy in it. He wants to take up teaching, now that we'll be free of government constraints on our schools. He can keep Arturo with him. It's to be all home schooling and tutoring and apprenticing there, you know."
I nodded as if I did know, though I hadn't paid much attention to reports of things to do with children, or families.
"What will you do?" I asked Barbara, now that I'd been made to feel the subject was open.
Barbara's thin shoulders lifted slightly. "I'm a potter."
"Yes. I have seen your pots."
The woman made a soft sound, a laugh. "Oh, not those. Not there. Art is craft, anyway, at its pure heart. I'll make plates and bowls and ceramic parts for machinery. And tiles." She sounded satisfied, and there wasn't any way to see, in the darkness, if her face spoke another truth.
I said, shrugging, "I've always only farmed, myself. I guess the farming will be the same, there or here. That's what people say."
"Only the weather will be better." Barbara smiled slowly, gesturing with one hand. "Arturo has been telling us everything about the weather up there."
"And in the Philippines."
She laughed again. "Yes. In the Philippines."
"Well, there won't be any hurricanes in that thing, I guess. And if they've thought it out right, the made-rain won't burn the trees."
There was a brief silence. Then Barbara asked me, "When is it you're going up?"
"I'm packed. A car will come for me in the morning, deliver me to the launch site." I thought of adding, But I don't know if I'm going, and discovered I had no wish, after all, to let anyone else look at my decision.
Barbara nodded. She shifted her weight silently, and it became clear she was waiting to go back to her bed.
I went to the open door. "Well, good night, then," I said in embarrassment. I would have kept on with our talk. I seemed to have this compulsion now, to discuss the environment of the Dusty Miller.
"Good night," Barbara said, without moving from where she stood, arms folded, in the middle of the front room. "Thank you for bringing Arturo home. We'll see each other up there."
"Maybe we will."
I went out again to the cart road and stood at the edge of the ruts and thought of breaking off for home; I thought of giving up this restless, useless night-wandering and taking my poor wayworn body home to bed. But then my feet went on up the track toward the rocky ridge of the Ojo de la Luna.
The air became thicker, freighted with smoke, and I fell to a plodding pace. I wished I had gotten a drink from Arturo's cup. Wished I had brought him to the door and said goodnight and gone quickly away from the tired woman's house.
The cart road, when it had gained the ridge called the Eye of the Moon, turned south along the face of the limestone bluff, but I left the road and followed dimly worn trails northward along the backbone. From the high outlook, in the smoky night, the neat checkerwork of fields in the valley seemed fashioned of bronze, copper, umber, terracotta. The darkness was starless and feverish, the moon a smudged, brownish ellipse behind the dirty sky.
Where will the smoke go on the Dusty Miller? I wondered suddenly. People say the bodies of the dead will be burnt and the ashes turned in with the soil, but where will the smoke go in a closed world?
When I was young, still a girl, in certain months of the year the sun would come above the Ojo de la Luna in cool mornings and flood the sky with transparent light, and the atmosphere on such mornings was clear at least as far as the nearest summits of the cordillera. But even in those years, the farming populations all up and down the narrow highland spine of Middle America were burning their fields, the hillsides too stony or steep for plowing, and in the sowing months the burden of smoke in the air would shroud the peaks, the sun would rise red, a glare. Now the vast forests of the Amazon burn throughout the year, making way for fields of cattle, and there never are clear days now, not in the rainy season, not even in January, which has traditionally held the year's most pleasant weather. In the afternoons in every month the air is hot, murky, oppressive.
We grow a maize, a small old kind with a dark purple husk that fits the ear tightly and trails beyond it in a long stiff beard, tough husks that for the most part keep out the weevils that destroy so much stored grain in a climate prevailingly wet and warm, and we go on planting our maize as the Indians must have done on this same land before Columbus came, cutting the old stalks with machetes, dropping the seeds into holes made with pointed sticks, while elsewhere in this world people follow the pandemic, destructive impulse of technology: They plant larger and yet larger hybrids that outgrow their clothes, corn that keeps badly and has to be treated with pesticides, fungicides, formaldehyde. In the rest of the world, huge machines with glassed cabs roll across vast fields of played-out soil, and a bushel of corn is paid for in two bushels of topsoil, lifted to the sky in voluminous brown scrims of dust. In March, when the corporate farms are making ready to plant their fields, columns of smoke rise high above the tops of the ridges all around the estancia, and ash settles on the porches, the fields, the jacaranda trees.
If they want to put my ashes in the soil, there is a clarity to that, a circularity I like, but I don't want the smoke of my body to foul the air. What if there are no Fourth Month rains, and the smoke from people's burned bodies is let out to darken the air?
The goatpaths took me gradually down from the Ojo, northwest across a gravel wash and then westerly along the edges of terraced fields where a branch of the river had once flowed--a dusty channel now overgrown with shrubs and small trees. It was this same long-abandoned side channel that divided my own taro field from the maize, and finally, having decided nothing, I followed the troublous avenue of bare rocks in a long slow circling toward home.
My house is older than the Quaker settling of the land--built before The War, before the last several wars perhaps, a thick-walled bahareque with white-washed beams and an idiosyncratic placement: Its windowless back stands to the road, and the unglazed "front" windows look behind to a field dotted with orange trees, and a high-peaked shed roof that one time housed a sugar mill. When I came through the orange trees in the hot night, a Gray's thrush flew out from the dulce shed, and, looking, I saw she had built her nest high up in a dark corner of the metal roof.
I remember in the days of my childhood, my mother standing with her forearms resting on the wide frame of the window, watching birds crack apart the leavings of corn in their horned beaks, and she would name for me the doves and shy wood-rails, the toucans and quails attracted to the spillage. In those days there had been cinnamon-bellied squirrels as well, and a pair of blue tanagers who year after year made a small soft cup on the ridgepole in the very center of the high-peaked dulce shed. But no squirrels have been seen on this land in the last decade, and the tanagers have gone too, after yearly failing to hatch or raise a single nestling. The native birds are steadily more rare as their sheltering forests dwindle and coarser, more commonplace species take possession of the land. In the recent days since my corn was laded up to the sky, only grosbeaks have flocked into the yard to glean the spilled grain, and this Gray's thrush is the first I have seen in a year.
While I stood pondering the thrush's neat little nest, the poor bird waited in one of the orange trees, her eggs undefended. She will hatch them, if any of the eggs are viable, after I have moved to the Miller. And standing there in the hot dimness at the edge of my fields, I realized that this bird brooding in my shed might be the last Gray's thrush I would see in my lifetime.
The fields of the Miller are in the ancient Pennsylvania Quaker manner, every seventh acre set aside for forest, but the plantings are deliberately various, a subtropical pastiche. Among the few trees familiar to me--kapok and paperbark, breadfruit, candlenut--are to be banyan, bamboo, litchi, camphor: trees that seem to me as astonishingly exotic as cactus or the stunted pines of a tundra. And the greater part of the fauna have come from a little parcel of mountainous land that was willed to the Japanese Society of Friends by the Nature Conservancy. No carnivores have survived on that steep little woodland nor any of the big, wide-ranging herbivores; those are gone, all of them, gone for decades. But the Japanese Friends have succeeded in protecting a native biology, a few dozen species of formerly hundreds of tortoises, snakes, lizards, toads, frogs, newts, birds, insects; and these have formed the core of the Miller's living and creeping things. Whether a Gray's thrush will make its life in that polyglot forest among that little multitude of Japanese birds, Japanese animals, is not known to me. What birds will nest in the farm sheds of the Dusty Miller?
At last I went into my house and waited in the darkness until the wary bird came back to the eggs. When I put on the light, there were--almost a kind of surprise--the waiting boxes, and the loose drifts of uncrated belongings, things to be handed over to my homebound neighbors. I ought to have gone to bed. The long, absurd walking had brought me no clarity, I thought--had been only wearing and dusty and maundering. I was tired and someone would be at my door early to take away my packing. But I sat down among the crates and then got up again suddenly, restless, and went among my things until I'd found the books.
In early Meetings, worries were raised, and laid to rest, about the technology in the Miller: People wanted to go on living plainly, in the manner of Friends, and after all there would not be the resources for repairing or replacing complicated machinery, problematic instruments and appliances. But the balance that has been struck is sometimes odd, incongruous. Books, which are the plainest of human tools, must be housed in a manner to keep them carefully from the wet and warmth, and the limited space in that sealed and air-conditioned place, set against the necessary compass of knowledge, means a vast library of microfiche and videos, and just a tiny library of bound volumes. There are, in the two rooms of this house, many hundreds of books that will remain behind, and a single crate of twenty-six books that will travel with me to the Miller. The size of the box, the bulk and weight that are permitted to me, have forced me to providence: I have kept Zardoya's translations of Whitman, but nothing of Calderon. Have put aside Le Grand Meaulnes, kept Les Miserables. Now I was inexplicably, suddenly, stricken with apprehension: had I put Song of the Lark in the stacks to be given away, or the box to be taken up? Adios, Mr. Moxley? Sigrid Lavransdatter? I sorted through the books, reading and rereading the indexing in a fever of suspicion. By what measure had I included The Magic Mountain, but not Pajaros del Nuevo Mundo?
The air remained thick, hot. I knelt painfully before the box, overcome with nostalgia and an indecipherable sorrow. How had I imagined I could live the balance of my life without holding the pages of Cesar Vallejos in my hands? What if the people who had promised to include Beloved, Ficciones, Historie de ma Vie, changed their minds or forgot their promises?
In my crate, one book is old, rare, has a value beyond words. Elizabeth Martin and her husband had been among the First Seventy who settled the old estancia, and her handwritten diary is a family treasure. The First Seventy had been members of Ohio or Iowa Yearly Meetings, had emigrated after one of the first World Wars--escaping militarism, as they thought--thus Elizabeth's diary is in English. I am even now making my slow way through it for the third time or the fourth, my English still as poor as my Esperanto. There is a rayon ribbon I use to mark my place in it, and the ribbon now lies among painful pages: She is waiting for the slow doctor, the slow lab, to say if she has a cancer. She kept the secret, the little hard bead in her breast, even from her husband, confided her dread only to the pages of her diary. It is an old anxiety, made edgeless by familiarity, and tonight when my hands brought that book up from the bottom of the box I suppose my sudden brief weeping had as much to do with birds and starless nights and the burned and buried bodies of the dead, as with the worn old sorrows of Elizabeth Martin's life.
I have wondered: When Elizabeth wrote her secrets, who were they meant to be read by? She always would identify people. "Mary (my mother)," she would say. Or, "Arthur, my aunt's second son." Did she know, then, that her private words would be read by strangers? Why else identify these people she well knew? Who did she imagine would take the trouble to work out her English words, her crabbed vertical hand? Who would need the benefit of such naming?
Many people are keeping diaries again. They want to record the momentous events of these times, and their feelings--explanations, apologies, defense--addressed to children and grandchildren and the seven or eight generations afterward who must live out their lives within the hull of that houseboat until it fetches up on the distant rocks of Epsilon Eridani. I have no children, no one to whom I must apologize. I have wondered: What person would struggle to work out my spidery handwriting, my idiomatic Spanish, to read of arthritic joints, of the making of pottery and the growing of maize? For whom should I write?
But here, as you see, are the first pages of my diary.
Perhaps Elizabeth Martin imagined herself writing for a woman then unborn--for Dolores Negrete, who is only an old and childless woman descended from the Martins' family line, a Spanish-speaking woman who trudges through the night in order to circle round to the truth, a woman who sits on the floor of her house reading old painful confidences as she makes ready to begin her life again after sixty years. As I now imagine you, an Esperanto-speaking person unrelated to me, a person now unborn, who in 150 years, or two hundred, will be circling round again to the truth, beginning your life again. I imagine you sitting on the floor of your house reading my anxious musings about the smoke of burnt bodies and the leaving-behind of birds' nests, and as I am writing this, you are thinking of the forepart of your life and the after, in the days that separate them.
Copyright 1997 by Molly Gloss
Excerpted from The Dazzle of Day by Gloss, Molly Copyright © 1998 by Gloss, Molly. Excerpted by permission.
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