Lichen with native iris, second verse! This is another of the pictures from the Tilden Botanic Garden. Lichen is very ancient, and so is the memory thread I am about to spin tonight.
In 1953, when I was about to take the two-day train journey from Schenectady to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona, the matter of my choosing a major, or direction of study, came up. I hadn't thought much about it; I had always known I wanted to attend U of A, where my parents had gone, but hadn't really thought of what I might actually study when I got there. My mother suggested that I Major in Drama--I don't really know why. Earlier I had planned to become a librarian because of my love of reading. But then I watched the high school librarian as she snipped nudes from an art book. It looked boring. She was also very timid and relentlessly unmarried, even desiccated, to my unkind eye. So I gave that up. I had been in the senior play at school (they powdered my hair--hard to wash out--and I played an old lady in a wheel chair) and, when Chester Rychek forgot his lines, I had ad-libbed the necessary information for the audience's understanding. But I didn't feel a calling to the stage, really. Anyhow, off I went, on the train, with my sewing machine, my portable typewriter, my small suitcase of writing supplies, paper, ink, staples and tape, and one other item. This meant that, in Chicago, where I changed trains, I had to carry something heavy in each hand and something else under each arm. A trunk followed after. I never have been able to travel light. My father gave me a $20 bill at the station, but didn't tell me what it was for, like tipping a porter to help me carry that stuff in Chicago, or buying food. I got to Arizona without breaking that bill.
I was reading reviews of autobiographical novels today and I remembered that year, that journey and that time in the Drama Dept. at U of A. One of the first plays we put on was called The House of Bernarda Alba, which is a pretty bleak drama by Garcia Lorca. The director was the department head, whose name I have been trying to remember all day, something like Peter Marroney. He was a short, short-tempered fellow, bossy and definite. A main role was played by a pretty thespian whose hair was very blonde. He insisted she dye it black (the characters were Spaniards, after all!) and after much resistance, she finally gave in. I guess her hair was porous from having already been made blonder through chemistry, but the result of the black dye job was hair that was unmistakably green! A deep rich green, that in some lights might have even looked a little blackish, but not much. There was a great conflab on this, more dyeing, and eventually compromises involving headscarves. At the outskirts of all this, I was a fascinated observer as I waited to learn how to help move furniture around on the darkened stage between scenes.
Here is something from Eliot's Four Quartet's which I return to every so often, because Pat Shelley told me it was her favorite work. This poem also concerns memory. Read it twice or even three times. Read it out loud.
La Figlia Che Piange
O quam te memorem virgo
Stand on the highest pavement of the stair— Lean on a garden urn— Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair— Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise— Fling them to the ground and turn With a fugitive resentment in your eyes: But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair. So I would have had him leave, So I would have had her stand and grieve, So he would have left As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised, As the mind deserts the body it has used. I should find Some way incomparably light and deft, Some way we both should understand, Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand. She turned away, but with the autumn weather Compelled my imagination many days, Many days and many hours: Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers. And I wonder how they should have been together! I should have lost a gesture and a pose. Sometimes these cogitations still amaze The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.
T.S. Eliot 1888-1965