Song for the Spirit of Natalie Going
By Susan Wheeler
qui s'est réfugié
ton futur en moi
-- Stéphane Mallarmé, 'A Tomb for Anatole'
Small bundle of bones, small bundle of fingers, of plumpness, of heart,
predicate, prescient, standing and wobbling, lit up in the joy,
lachrymose GA, your bundle oh KA, the unfolding begun of the start,
of the toys, of witnessing, silly, the eyes startled and up, re-
énveloped now and fresh with the art, chordate, devoted,
sunk in dreaming of wisps and startled awake -- This is morning.
This is daddy. This is the number eight -- spacey, resplendent,
in seersucker bib, overalled, astonished, in dazzling fix
on the small crawling lights in their spaceship of night and the
plug and the cord and the big one's delight, pausing,
mezzed by mobile HEH HEH and again, stinging the shopkeepers
the monkeyish mouth, knees, child knees -- need to have the child
here -- absence -- knees fall -- and falling, a dream, a final
singsong UH HAH in the starkest of suns, the heat now a blanket
now a song of your soul -- Such a sharp love there is! Such a loud
love there beats! Such a filled hole you leave, in the dusk in the room,
in the wobbling hours of what has refúged here, your future in me.
Natalie Joy Hertel-Voisine, 1994-1995
"The trick in writing an elegy is to resist, as much as is humanly possible, writing about one's own grief," writes poet Wheeler in Poet's Choice. "When friends' infant daughter, Natalie Joy Hertel-Voisine, died suddenly, I knew that a child's death is beyond words...I thought of the extraordinary notes by Stéphane Mallarmé that make up 'A Tomb for Anatole,' which Paul Auster had assembled and translated. Mallarmé's son Anatole, sickly throughout his brief life, died at 8 years old, and the fragments Auster assembled were discontinuous and truncated notes toward a text the French poet had never written. Without full sentences, strung on a line of dashes, 'A Tomb' represented the terrible shattering in losing a child...for me, 'A Tomb for Anatole' provided a scaffolding, a syntax, for something that remains unspeakable."
We spent this very, very hot April day (90+ degrees, I'm told) at the University of Maryland, which was hosting its annual Maryland Day. This is a campus-wide college and community fair with dozens of activities; it's impossible to do everything, and considering the throngs of visitors spreading to every corner of the campus, that's a good thing! In previous years we have seen an anime festival, watched angora rabbits being groomed, learned how to crochet turtle bookmarks, cheered at a football scrimmage, and eaten lunch while watching a belly dancer perform. This year we stroked a tarantula, watched space scientists work with a robot in a 25-foot tank, held pumice and rocks from a volcano, met a local sportscaster, saw cows being groomed, and brought home a ladybug in a little plastic container to help control aphids in the region:
A cooking demonstration in the Global Village.
Kids gathering plastic duckies to exchange for prizes -- and cooling off from the heat -- in the fountain in the center of campus. (If you saw National Treasure: Book of Secrets, you may recognize McKeldin Library behind the tents.)
Adam holds a grasshopper at the entomology department's insect petting zoo.
Physics students showed off the smoke ring cannon, as well as a "pencil gun," liquid nitrogen ice cream and other fun tools of their trade.
Tim Brant, the main sportscaster at the DC-area ABC affiliate station, played linebacker for the Terps and signed to play with the Redskins before suffering a career-ending injury and becoming a professional analyst.
Another famous Maryland alumnus, Jim Henson, is immortalized on this statue with his most famous creation.
There is even a Kermit Testudo as one of the set of Testudos decorated and placed around campus.
After a brief stop at the student union for a cold drink, we left Maryland Day in the heat of the afternoon to pick up Daniel from his high school, where his three-day trip to Wallops Island ended. He came home sunburnt, happy, and carrying two loads of the dirtiest clothes I have ever seen; I don't think his baseball cap or sweatshirt can be saved even after two cycles in the laundry with colorfast bleach. We watched the first round of the NFL draft and were delighted to see Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey taken seventh by the Oakland Raiders; a few turns later, the Redskins drafted a defensive end named Brian Orakpo from Texas whom I don't know anything about. We didn't watch anything because both kids had homework. Sunday will involve more laundries in between some Bar Mitzvah chores and hopefully a visit to Lake Whetstone to see if we can find goslings!