When the men leave me,
they leave me in a beautiful place.
It is always late summer.
When I think of them now,
I think of the place.
And being happy alone afterwards.
This time it’s Clinton, New York.
I swim in the public pool
at six when the other people
have gone home.
The sky is gray, the air is hot.
I walk back across the mown lawn
loving the smell and the houses
so completely it leaves my heart empty.
– Linda Gregg
I had never quite understood the fullness that emptiness can bring. In my younger days of reckless abandon, when I would just let my heart fall for whomever it felt the days pointing toward, the emptiness just felt empty. I could whisper and it would echo, and the cavernous spaces felt like dark holes with no doors leading to the light outside. But there is a particular beauty in emptiness. If no one else could tell you, a modernist could. First, you approach with fear and uncertainty. It looks dark and cold and you know you’ll be alone, but you don’t know for how long. But then you sit on the hardwood floors, and then you let your body slump down until you are lying on your back with your arms stretched out wide, like you could hug the world and carry it on your shoulders like Atlas. You are open to the world. Just as you are open to the joys it offers in its fullness — family and friends and lovers and books and cake all around — you are open to its idleness and all of the time that opens up when you dedicate the minutes only to you. And in that so-called emptiness, you do not need to count the minutes passing. You simply stare at the ceiling until the drifting thoughts and non-thoughts became a hazy mess. That mess is you in your purest form, and it is beautiful and free.
I’m in a small town, the sun shines and kids run down the street laughing. I sip mint lemonade on my deck and I listen to the slight, muted sounds of hummingbirds flapping their wings. The day renews me, and I am full again.
This post is also an advertisement for Garrison Kiellor’s podcast and newsletter, The Writer’s Almanac. Every day, the show reads a new poem (or you can read it online, which is what I prefer), which means that every day, you can have a new perspective on the world around you. You can read and breathe, if only for five minutes. It’s given me the gift of a few new favorite poets, like Tony Hoagland, and it has kept my faith in words alive.
No matter who you are, I promise there is a combination of words that will haunt you. Mine is from Frank Bidart: “How those now dead used love to explain wild regret.”