Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Little Green Heron in Drop-Time

Several decades ago, I watched a Green Heron hunting in a half-strangled stream --dwindled to a thread at the bottom of a drainage ditch-- mere yards from a major intersection in a large city.

Wherever I had been going forgotten, I tracked that heron as it tracked fish. It knew I was there, but did not fly, so intent was it on its own errand. I crouched down among the reeds and the minor willows, and watched the heron for many minutes...five, ten, more, I did not know. So close I could see the blazing yoke of its eye, the striations of its throat plumage (it must have been an immature), the delicate fronding of the feathers on its back as it leaned forward, coppery green plumes overlapping with the rusty brown.

I have not lived in that city for many years but I visit often and have, on occasion, passed that spot. I always pause and look, hoping to catch another glimpse of a Green Heron there, furtively, professionally about its business. I never have (not there, though elsewhere), but I see always the palest tint of a shadow stalking down the little stream, and I smile and am for one long moment in the past, while simultaneously also in the past-as-I-recreate-it, the present, the present-as-I-imagine-it-for-the-future, the future, and the future-in-which-I-am-remembering-my-recollection-of-the-original-event.

That "then" is Drop-Time.

When that Green Heron walks with studious ferocity through my mind, I am in Drop-Time; that Green Heron leads me to and accompanies me in Drop-Time. A psychopomp perhaps, at the very end...but for now a guide who also escorts me back to the lands of Clock-Time.

What T.S. Eliot describes in "Burnt Norton":

"Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable."

Drop-Time: private time without intermediation, a surprise and an awakening, time hollowed out from the regular river, elongated and linked across the long stretches of the current, directly tied like a bundle of leaves (or feathers) floating and bobbing and dipping in the stream. Time that has a smell and a texture, anchors itself in a place, and is--above all--intimate, that is, not to be confused with the grand public memories constructed and commemorated in monuments, museums, what Pierre Nora dubbed "les lieux de memoire."

Drop-Time is where we go on our search for paradise, and revival, for our lost youth and our hopes for the future, the retrieval of once-dashed aspirations and the restoration of the world's first green.

Drop-Time is what Stefan Zweig seeks to inhabit-- and where he takes us-- as he calls forth life-as-it-was in the cafes of his vanished Vienna. Likewise Gregory von Rezzori looking for the Czernowitz of his birth in The Snows of Yesteryear, Kamau Brathwaite evoking Barbados and Jamaica, Rita Dove on the enchantment of the everyday ("You start out with one thing, end/ up with another, and nothing's/ like it used to be, not even the future"), Seamus Heaney disinterring memories and roped bog-men from Irish earth, Alice Oswald giving voice to the god of the river Dart. Drop-Time is the Breton childhood chiseled by Pierre-Jakez Helias in The Horse of Pride, is integral to the jazz-mystical odyssey poured forth by Nathaniel Mackey in his From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, is at the core of meaning surrounding the Ephrussi netsuke collection traced by Edmund de Waal in The Hare with Amber Eyes.

There goes my little Green Heron, forever hunting minnows along a tiny brook.

Eliot again, more "Burnt Norton":

"Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at."

Succumb, succumb to the deception! It yields heaven.

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