larger bodies

26 Jul

(photo by rebecca)

(We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville Tennessee in that time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.)

…It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds’ hung havens, hangars. People go by; things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt; a loud auto; a quiet auto; people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, pasteboard and starched milk, the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squared with clowns in hueless amber.

A streetcar raising its iron moan; stopping, belling and starting; stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks; the iron whine rises on rising speed; still risen, faints; halts; the faint stinging bell; rises again, still fainter, fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten. Now is the night one blue dew.

Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose.

Low on the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes….

Parents on porches: rock and rock. From damp strings morning glories hang their ancient faces.

The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums.

On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there….They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine,…with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night. May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.

After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.

— James Agee (lyrics of Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915)

When I was in grad school at UVA, one of my best friends allowed me to participate in her distinguished major recital.  Together, we performed Samuel Barber’s 17-minute opus Knoxville: Summer of 1915  for voice and orchestra, reduced to one of the awesomest, most challenging piano arrangements, which of course Sarah schooled.  I have some not so great memories of learning the piece, wanting to smack myself for each missed entrance.  But what I remember most is our choir director’s adoration for the text and how the music echoed its intent.

My daughter does this sweet thing now where she’ll entertain herself for several moments as I’m getting things ready, then she’ll cock her head back and look up at me in eager anticipation of what’s next for us.  I always think about this line of music at which our director so encouraged us to marvel: “All my people are larger bodies than mine.”  You have to hear it.

I spent several moments admiring her tonight asleep, stretched out in her crib.  She is the littlest, but she seems so, so big.


4 Responses to “larger bodies”

  1. Larry Oppenheimer July 27, 2013 at 6:33 am #

    Very nice blog. Even nicer picture.

    All the best



    Sent from my iPad

  2. phantomdiver July 27, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    It seems to me that by having a child, one joins the club. Before you had Aurelia, there was so much that you didn’t know because you couldn’t know it. Now, with her, you have a deeper understanding of yourself and life and you can see, I hope, how you stretch back through your parents and their parents and their parents in a long living line that goes back practically forever.

    I have nothing against people who don’t have kids. But my life was incomplete before I had mine in so many ways that were an unopened book to that younger Melissa. Now my hand joins my parents’ hands as it did before, but the line of people doesn’t stop with me; my other hand reaches with my husband’s to join with those of our four children, and two of their hands join with their spouses to hold the hands of their five children, my grandchildren.

    Having children was always, back to my very early childhood, one of my most important ambitions. When I started to have them, I began to want grandchildren. I’ve definitely achieved those goals! It’s just about all that I’ve done with my life; no other careers seem to have worked out. Maybe it’s why I was born in the first place.

    • annaojesus October 5, 2013 at 12:06 am #

      i love this image of you being stretched back to previous and future generations!

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