Before I turned out my reading light last night, I saw the moon rising over Mount Hallowell, almost full, and hazy with cloud. It was a cold night, a cold moon, and I put an Ohio Star quilt over the duvet for extra warmth. When I woke at 5, the moon was setting in the west, over the hill we’ve always called Grass Lake Mountain, though it’s not a mountain and there’s no lake called Grass.
These are cold days. Perhaps not in terms of temperature. No frost, no snow, no thin skittering of ice on the water. But there’s a chill at their centre. A chill of not-knowing. Not knowing how long the pandemic will last. Not knowing if we will be spared. Not knowing if John’s damaged nerve will regenerate so that he can walk firmly on his right foot again. On Thursday he had the six-week consultation (by phone of course) with his surgeon and was given some hope that feeling might return to the foot, given that there’s now some movement in his toes and heel. He was told he can resume swimming and we went to the empty pool on Friday, relieved to discover that grace and movement in water are still possible. I am cold at night lying next to him, wondering how he must feel, truly, to have prepared himself for double hip surgery and to have awoken with a paralyzed foot. He is brave and most days he does his best with the exercises, walks the deck back and forth to try to urge some strength into his foot. Some days are dark (as well as cold). I know that this is not what he could ever have imagined.
We are reading Beowulf in the evenings, loving the wild energy of Maria Dahvana Headley’s translation.
Bro! Tell me we still know how to talk about kings! In the old days,
everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound. Only
stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes’ song, hoarded for hungry times.
The language owes something to our times, for sure, but translators have always brought elements of contemporary (whenever that might be) idiom to the poem. I think of Seamus Heaney’s translation, just to my right on my shelves, and how somehow his Beowulf has an Irish lilt. This one is wonderful to read aloud. Try this passage for yourself!
I’m the strongest and the boldest, and the bravest and the best.
Yes: I mean—I may have bathed in the blood of beasts,
netted five foul ogres at once, smashed my way into a troll den
and come out swinging, gone skinny-dipping in a sleeping sea
and made sashimi of some sea monsters.
Anyone who fucks with the Geats? Bro, they have to fuck with me. . . .
Now, I want to test my mettle on Grendel, best him,
a match from man into meat. Just us two,
hand to hand. Sweet.
So we read and put logs on the fire and at night I wake more than usual and think about the future–ours, the earth’s–and if I don’t always have the kind of equanimity I’d like to possess, I am doing my best. Sometimes not even the passage of the moon from eastern sky to western is enough reassurance that what matters is deep and resilient. So many of you have sent kind notes and left comments on this site and I thank you all. Even though we’re alone in our house, for health’s sake and safety’s sake, it’s good to know that others care about the progress of that foot and its slow waking. In the meantime, let me recommend this wonderful poem in your own antler-tipped tower during this siege we are all enduring.
The hall loomed, golden towers antler-tipped;
it was asking for burning, but that hadn’t happened yet.
You know how it is: every castle wants invading, and every family
has enemies born within it. Old grudges recrudesce.