Theory of Insomnia
By Jeffrey Skinner
Dreams back up where the stream is blocked for whatever reason. What comes is lucid but unbidden: How that bartender looked at you thirty years ago when you ran out of money and begged a drink. How he held that look as he filled your glass. You discover there are no empty hours of night -- each minute in fact is dense, expansive -- the air itself might be folded and stacked in the closet. Shelves of books like lost friends whose problems bore you. Your own problem: how to let go of consciousness. What is death, divorce, illness, even drunkenness, to that? In the window you watch a giant hand hold the moon beneath the horizon, like a head beneath the waves. The ocean is pounding in your temples, pressing heavily against your back. And though you know this can't go on forever, it goes on forever.
From Skinner's latest book Salt Water Amnesia, reprinted in yesterday's Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World. In prose poetry, writes Robert Pinsky, sometimes one should draw comparisons not with narrative prose but essays. "The freedom to leap from place to place without stopping for signposts or instructions makes a difference," he declares, citing Skinner's poem as "of that 'essayistic' kind...the movement from dreams to stream, or from the air folded like sheets to the shelves of books, or from the moon to the head forced underwater to the insomniac's headache: That movement, too, is poetry."
I had a very nice Mother's Day visiting with assorted relatives, though it began with near-disaster when one of the light fixtures in our kitchen fell onto the table and shattered the bowl of fruit and a plate of tomatoes, sending shards of glass everywhere. We ended up having bagels with assorted cheese and lox in the living room rather than the kitchen, where we were still finding slivers tonight -- no bare feet in there for awhile. My in-laws came down from Pennsylvania, having recently returned from visiting apaulled's brother on the west coast and bringing chocolate; my parents gave me silver earrings, my husband and kids a book on English castles and Great Big CD & DVD.
After brunch we went to Hillwood Museum, Marjorie Merriweather Post's estate in Washington, DC where on a clear day one can see the Washington Monument from the backyard...today we had to settle for its vague outline among the clouds. She collected decorative art objects while she was married to E.F. Hutton (it's very helpful to be the Post cereal heiress) and then went to the Soviet Union with her third husband, the American ambassador, as Stalin was consolidating power and bought up Russian religious icons, Faberge eggs and a phenomenal collection of Russian porcelain including the tea service Catherine the Great gave to Count Orlov. It was quite crowded, particularly since it was raining most of the afternoon so nearly everyone was indoors instead of in the garden (though my father was more restless than my children, who were fine going through until my father started rushing everyone because he wanted to get ice cream in the very overpriced cafe). My parents ended up deciding not to take umbrellas through the extensive back gardens and thankfully took my children home with them while I went with my in-laws through the Japanese garden and the Friendship Garden, where the azaleas were fading but the rhododendrons were just coming into their own.
From this part of the backyard on a clear day, you can see the Washington Monument, but as you can see, it was not a clear day.
The dacha in the garden.
One of the many fountains, this one in the upper formal garden with bushes trimmed in decorative shapes.
I love the zodiac going around this lamppost.
apaulled made dinner in my mother's kitchen so there would be more room for everyone, and we hung out and ate over there. Then my in-laws departed and we came home for the finale of The West Wing, which was enjoyable if anticlimactic and somewhat unsatisfying...I'm not sure they could have done a single episode that would have come close to wrapping it all up, though. The only moment I found really wrenching were when CJ handed Josh the "What Would Leo Do" reminder and when Jed gave Charlie his copy of the Constitution of the United States -- "I don't need this anymore" -- as a going-away-to-law-school gift, though if his father really gave it to him (I was kind of confused whether he meant that exact copy), I feel sorry for Zoe or one of his other daughters that they don't rate it so far as he's concerned.
In general I thought both Matt and Helen had a great episode and I really like the two of them together (which did not stop me from smirking broadly when Josh said "You look good back there" to Matt when Matt asked what Josh was staring at when he was going on about troops in Asia). I loved the overcoat argument ("Didn't a two-hour inaugural kill a president once?" "William Henry Harrison...but I'm wearing long underwear.") and Matt's decision not to run off to South America with Helen because their kids would be mad if they only sent a note. And her announcement that she hoped the woman who beat her for the last spot on the swim team and got her prom date was watching on TV! I like Helen a lot and relate to her better than Superwoman Abbey, who has always seemed a little more unreal and less accessible to me even than C.J. who is the coolest woman in the world. Though Abbey and Jed did have that perfectly awesome exchange where Jed explained how Jefferson, Adams, et al picked January for the inauguration, and Abbey said, "They should have lined them up and shot them," and Jed replied, "That's what King George had in mind."
Unfortunately not all couples on this show can be that awesome together. I wish Danny had been around for the farewell, even if he was just standing in the shadows letting CJ do what she needed to finish, just so we could see him do it. I am confused about whether Will and Kate are going to try to stay together or not, and I'm not remotely convinced on the Josh-and-Donna front by what we've had in the past couple of weeks; I feel like Donna has disappeared in the past season, and I don't mean in terms of her screen time. Maybe she always wanted to disappear and be Josh's satellite and now she has a big pretty office, too, so she can put Helen and Josh both back together when things are rough. It seems, I don't know, like we've had superficial validation of Donna tossed at us instead of a real character arc where she figured out who she was and what she wanted. I mean, I am sure the longtime Josh/Donna shippers don't feel that way, but as someone who wasn't one of those, I don't feel that any effort has been made to make sense of them finally being together.
Damn, I wish we could have a two-hour TV movie about the Santos' administration's first hundred days or something...even though I do feel like it was time for this show to go and it has been showing its age, I am going to miss it a lot. Afterward we watched Shadows and Fog, one of Woody Allen's strangest movies and perhaps Mia Farrow's least bearable role among a whole string of unbearable roles...I first saw this in the theater in the early 1990s, right before I dropped out of grad school, and its scathing indictments of theory for theory's sake, the excessive celebration of the carnivalesque and how deconstruction can allow fascism to operate are still really fascinating, but I no longer have the academic vocabulary to discuss it properly!