To lift, to fetch, to drive, to shed, to pen,
Are acts I recognize, with all they mean
Of shepherding the unruly, for a kind of
Controlled woolgathering is my work too.
—Cecil Day Lewis
Writing poetry requires a lot of wool-gathering,
and in twelve hours there's only so much wool.
—Kay Ryan, then Poet Laureate, during a colloquium at Stanford
My work, like the poets', is a kind of woolgathering. I gather impressions, inspiration, and iridescence from absolutely everywhere, forever after trying to herd them into some kind of coherence and order. For instance, a list I made three years ago of the details my god is in (god being, as we're told, in the details):
the fossil fish
the flute player sitting crosslegged on a sandstone ledge up at the Ceremonial Cave (playing the interlude from Carmen)
the red quintessence on a blackbird’s wing
a mound of cloud seen from a plane (the little lights too, on the airplane wing, and footprints)
a hefty PG Wodehouse collection
Rilke in translation
graham crackers and milk
a Paris rooftop with a little children’s wading pool
the cat’s eye at the end of Tristes Tropiques
the Emperor Concerto
a spool of turquoise thread
a curl of lemon peel
goldfish swimming in silky circles
rain in the late afternoon
a rhubarb-red umbrella, furled
the frozen breath of lions in the January zoo
a minister in cowboy boots
Western ghost towns
the Rhine in early June, a boat running down it
the Taiko drummers through an open door one evening after class
sea turtles in slow caramelly motion
three red flowerpots
the big bowl of a pipe (Maigret or Sherlock Holmes)
light catching on a reeling cloud of sandpipers
the seeds in a dried chili pod
landing in Sicily after a night and half day’s flight
what grows on lava
burned pine trees nourishing new growth
the movements of a white knight on a chessboard
the efficient little legs of a dachsund
inner-tubing in the snow at Hyde Park
mercury, spilling heavily from a broken thermometer
Chinon wine, cool and tasting of the earth
the taverna under the ancient aqueduct full of nesting ravens
a silver shaman
handprints in deep French caves
the tutu store, with satin toe shoes
an elevator repairman in the Algonquin
a wind-ruffled apple orchard
the old Chimera bookshop
the old women fishing for shrimp with nets near Hilo Bay
oxbow rivers silvered with the last sunlight
picnics with Tanqueray martinis
pork loin stuffed with herbs
the shape of certain Js and Cs
Snoopy typing on his doghouse
the stripes of melons
a Keats tag on a carry-on bag
the Irish fishmonger on the high street
cutting out lacy paper snowflakes
sprouting pinto beans in milk cartons
growing alum crystals
So for this loopy work, what in the world—wherever in the world—is my workspace? (In answer to a posting in a friend's Facebook forum.) Where does all of that wool come from, and go, to be carded and spun and woven into even or unruly stripes? Here's a partial answer, or the beginning of one.
Books, everywhere—on my writing room shelf; upstairs in a Canterbury shop; in Lewes near the W. Sussex Downs, where Sherlock Holmes retired to tend his beehives; or in the carved hands of a quiet reader with her child on Canyon Road, on my way to The Teahouse Santa Fe to sit under apricot trees and gather thoughts and a lifetime of memories in my open notebook.
A few of my muses. A Zuni fetish horse, a luminescent stone, the juncos that come to my Zen stone and the basin of the St. Francis from Mission San Juan Bautista. Kwan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion, who has lived unrecognized in our patio first underneath the Greek flag then under a flight of cloth birds, confused with Shiva for reasons I don't remember. A disarming old saint in Bath. My lovely John, in the cloister of Canterbury Cathedral.
The stuff of poetry—what feeds my spiritual being, my work, my life.
Sensual and spiritual riches: colors, etc.
. lilacs (these in Kew Gardens)
. peonies and sunstruck glass (left by a friend)
Travel, across the world.
. oranges (the artist's house in North Kohala where I once holed up to write)
. stolen days in Mallorca (a ruinous old finca borrowed for my ghazal-writing detective, and the green door his archaeologist partner comes across while walking each morning around Alcudia's medieval walls, planning her lecture on Carthaginian goddesses)
Letters and words. A fascination of letters to choose among; languages to lure me in, to puzzle out. These, in
. Treviso, on the way to Venice
. Pu'uhonua o Honaunau, the ancient Place of Refuge (nao = grain of wood or stone, a slight ripple on the water; pio = to die down, as a wave)
My writing and art. Work in progress (the tea probably Happiness, but maybe Spring Cherry, lavender white; the page from "Whole Cloth," the second of my novellas set in Mallorca); pages from collage notebooks; a row of mailboxes in Santa Fe, waiting for letters that I alone in the world, it seems, still send.
The spaces themselves.
. My writing room, and some of its offerings.
. The patio behind our cottage, my well-loved outdoor writing space, and place of inspiration/restoration. Skies that transport me; things that come from someplace else, and take me back, away, with them, like water rippling out from a still center.
. Borrowed spaces, across the world. Santa Cruz, the hushed cathedral of redwoods, Keauhou Bay, Treviso. Kew Gardens again, with John in the perfect reading and writing spot, an ideal place for woolgathering.
image: Christie B. Cochrell, page from collage notebook