We traverse the streets and lanes of our commonplace books, strolling like Benjamin through the arcades, wandering like Woolf through notes and quotes made by our younger selves, intrigued and sometimes amazed at who and what we meet juxtaposed at the odd corner and skewed intersections.
For instance, we read and re-read the opening lines of the first poem, "Unknown," in The Unswept Room, by Sharon Olds (2002):
"On the last morning of the summer, a little/ family comes over the dune, across/ the pond, and lays out their cloth, and their nutmeat/ basket, the sweets and freshes cached in its/ worried-forehead lattice-shell."
Olds-- who in this collection once again powerfully demonstrates why she is one of our leading poets of the intimate and the elegiac-- follows the opening lines with an entire story of loss and yearning. I urge you to read all of "Unknown."
In the meantime, I see the "little family" coming over the dune, repeatedly in the theater of my mind, and I wonder about their history. I create stories of my own, little filigrees that spiral off the original text, drifting like down, down the by-ways and into the suburbs of the locus communis. I imagine the family's conversation over their nutmeats and sweets. The child-- a little girl-- traces the lattice-shell; she will always remember the feel of it, the whorl of its glaze over the anxious ripple, combined with the bark of a dog playing in the waves and the distant "halloo'ing" of the dog's master. The mother looks out over the surf, her hand shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun. The father spears a stranded jellyfish with a salad fork. Behind them on the crest of the dune, playing a flute very softly (just audible under the call of gulls and the suss'ing of the waves), is the figure of death, his long scythe laid lovingly on the hot sand.
And so on and on...many small fictions spinning out from the main story...and eventually, in the pages of our commonplace, catching upon the prongs of another reference, in this case the first song, "Twice," of the eponymous first album (2007) by Little Dragon, the band from Gothenburg, Sweden (one of our favorite cities, but that is just happenstance) led by Yukimi Nagano, a song they made the soundtrack of a shadow puppet play called "Dreams from the Woods," directed by Johannes Nyholm.
For more on Olds, click here.
For more on Little Dragon, click here.