A Windowsill in Rome
We’re back from our two weeks in Rome, where we rented an apartment on Via di Capo le Case near the top of the Spanish Stairs. My head is so full of it all that I don’t even know where to begin. So I’ll begin with the window and its sill. I’ll begin with the small gestures, the dailiness, those things that are the same no matter where one is. I’ll begin with glimpsing, swinging open the shutters, and I’ll begin with the poetry of humble things. Breakfast, lunch, cookies, flowers.
We went to Rome to look at art, and walked everywhere looking for it, and in 2 weeks, didn’t exhaust the possibilities. Art galleries, museums, churches, historical sites, fountains. We spent the days walking, looking, daydreaming, slowly taking it all in, delighting, taking photos. It had been twenty five and a half years, since we were last there on our honeymoon. Previous to that Rob had been twice. Why Rome for two weeks? It had to do with the art, the authenticity of the place, the Caravaggio trail, and maybe it had to do with the fact that once we had thrown a coin into the Trevi Fountain. Maybe. Rome called, we went.
Our only real expectation was to see art and take photos. My unspoken goals had to do with measuring myself, our twenty five years together, artist and writer. What would we find out about ourselves, our life in art, built and forged quietly in a place far from the acknowledged centres of art? Would we find that we had measured up? Another goal had been to begin to daydream my way forward. To think about what I wanted to write next, to dream up the end of the novel I’ve been working on. And I may have done just that.
Since our honeymoon, I’ve written a fair number of books. We’re raised an amazing daughter. Rob has painted continuously. We’ve lived a life in art, with all its highs and lows. Of course it’s too late to go back and has been from the beginning. It seems a miracle that we persisted, really. Going to Rome was to be some sort of marker for just that, for that particular type of persistence.
Making a life in art is its own reward, that I can tell you. But it’s not exactly a picnic. It’s not all calm things, though those things have been our anchor.
In the chapter on windows, she says:
“Many good poems have a kind of window-moment in them – they change their direction of gaze in a way that suddenly opens a broadens landscape of meaning and feeling. Encountering such a moment, the reader breathes in some new infusion, as steeply perceptible as any physical window’s increase of light, scent, sound, or air. The gesture is one of lifting, unlatching, releasing: mind and attention swing open to new-peeled vistas.”
“Every poem – every work of art – is already working, when considered as a whole, as a kind of window: art is a way to release our attention from immediacy’s grip into gestures that encompass, draw from, and remind of more expansive constellations and connection. The experience of an enlarged intimacy is not the only reason to want art in our lives, but it is a central reason.”
Thinking about the words of Jane Hirshfield, and looking at these images of the various bits of lunches and breakfasts we ate in Rome, at first seemed strange. But I’m addressing this post to a kind of hunger, you could say.
“Good art is a truing of vision, in the way a saw is trued in the saw shop, to cut more cleanly. It is also a changing of vision. Entering a good poem, a person feels, tastes, hears, thinks, and sees in altered ways. Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged by its presence and mysterious means? Some hunger for more is in us – more range, more depth, more feeling, more associative freedom, more beauty. More perplexity and more friction of interest. More prismatic grief and unstinted delight, more longing, more darkness. More saturation and permeability in knowing our own existence as also the existence of others. More capacity to be astonished. Art adds to the sum of the lives we would have, were it possible to live without it. And by changing selves, one by one, art changes also the outer world that selves create and share.”
These words are good to take in, for me. Because I am not done hungering. I hunger, indeed, for much more. I, too, hunger for more freedom, more depth, more feeling, more beauty. Do not we all?
Do not we all.
In the few days since returning from Rome, I, who am not a cryer, have almost cried several times. I’ve put it down to sleep-deprivation, jet lag. But I know also that I’m crying out for more.
I’m hungering for the truing of my vision. I’m unshuttering, I’m vowing to open it up, look outward, continue. I’m leaning out, I’m breathing in. I’m listening to what’s out there.