I've been given a cabin on the Gulf and six weeksto make sense of what's eluded mefor sixty-one years. Each day: a worryinginto words. Last night I stood on the beachand looked out at the Gulf, then upat the Milky Way and the two Bearsand then at my little cabin, with its twodusty windows, and its light on the tablewhere I left my books and my notesfor poems—it was enough to clarifywhat I would and would not accomplish.
I really don't know any other wayof trying to make sense of my life,Penn Warren, sixty-five, wrote to his old friendAllen Tate, enclosing a draft of a poem,some new words to catch what was lostthe moment it occurred. The morning here isone thing, then another—rain, sun, fog,the light on the water gray, green, silver blue.Clouds settle in then lift. The air's granularthen clear. There's a patternin these scatterings, and there isn't. [End Page 214]
I've been watching a fisherman casting outand reeling in for hours, nothing to showfor his time. When someone asksif he's caught anything, he replies,"I'm hopeful"—and I think of the psychologiston the radio the other night, explainingour incessant need to check our inbox.Intermittent reinforcement, he called it,adapting language for the behaviorof lab rats. Once food is placed intheir maze on random days, they can'tstop looking for more; like us, he said,once an e-mail has brought good news.
The tide's going out, and the sand,washed clean, could be a Zen garden plotready to quiet all thought in silence.The fisherman has broken down his rodsand carries them off now in an empty bucket,happy enough, it seems, with his few hoursof meditative practice. I used to worryabout running out of words for things.Now I worry I won't use up all the wordsI've been given. Here, in my ill-lit cabin,shadows moving across the walls,I live for that poem or two that seemto gather from the world, or my mind,or both, what they have to give. [End Page 215]
No one could say how it came to be there,on an islet of sand just above high tideone morning—a grand piano leftfor some Crusoe to make use of.The picture in the paper—a bird's-eye viewfrom one of those eye-in-the-sky helicopters—makes it seem like a New Yorker cartoonlooking for a caption, or a piano lookingfor a gull to plink a one-note concertby John Cage. It could be an installationby an unknown artist who's waitingfor someone to get what the piano issaying. Or just a late-in-the-night prankof some buzzed college kidslooking for some music in their lives.
No answers were ever found.Miami officials decided to let it bea roosting place for gulls and pelicans.Last night I dreamed I was fishing aroundthe little island where the piano sits.Drifting close, I kept hearing the wordsof songs I'd forgotten, but it wasn't the songsthat mattered; it was all the old questionsthat were suddenly pressing again—Where did it come from? Why was it here?What did it mean? The sun was hot, the skyso intensely blue I could barely face it.I wasn't catching anything, and, as usual,only silence was answering the big questions,but I felt alive, really alive, tuned againto what is here without explanation. [End Page 216]
Robert Cording teaches at the College of the Holy Cross, where he is the Barrett Professor in Creative Writing. He has published six collections of poems, most recently Walking With Ruskin, which was runner-up for the 2012 Poets' Prize. He has received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in poetry and two poetry grants...