MTPR

The Hums And Stops Of Life: David Allan Cates And Robert Hass

Mar 1, 2017

"Sixty years old and riding my bike no-handed across the Higgins Street bridge into downtown Missoula, feeling my stomach churn with the anger and fear that has choked our civic air — but also the with the miracles of hot wind and flowing water," writes poet, novelist and teacher, David Allan Cates. "Despite my spread-arm victory pose, I carry a feeling of lost-ness—of emptiness that’s also a kind of balance—a wound, that’s also, somehow, a spring. I’ve written books that felt to me when I wrote them to be a matter of life or death—and now they sit placidly on shelves like pretty colored sea shells.
 
My goal anymore is just to hold it all—to spread my arms like a Tour de France champion and feel the lightness and sadness that comes from the loss of parents, from three daughters moved far from home striving for courage in both common and heroic ways. I’ve got a garden in my backyard that’s full of weeds, a wife who treats me as though after all of these years she still loves me, and a lecture I’m preparing for grad students about the Life of the Imagination.
 
Well, well. I’m enjoying the ride, and I drop my hands to brake so a couple can cross the street in front of me. They look like transients, and they are drunk. They are young, maybe thirty, but rough-looking. And the woman, after they’ve stepped safely onto the curb, turns back and shouts at me over her shoulder, “Hey, quit looking so happy riding around!”

I’m thinking of the way we’re called to hold all the feelings life asks us to feel, somehow, cradle them in our palms, or our hearts. We’re all suffering. We’re all going to die. We get a few moments, and what I’m trying to do more than ever in my life is simply hold them, each one, close." 

Cates pairs his reflection with an excerpt from a poem by Robert Hass, who won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2008.  Cates adds, "Hass says everything better than I do." Like Cates, Hass's poem expresses how moments of a single September evening reflect the larger hums and stops of life. 
 
from "Calm"

September sun, a little fog in the mornings. No sanctified terror. At night Luke says, “How do you connect a b to an a in cursive?” He is bent to the task with such absorption that he doesn’t notice the Scarlatti on the stereo, which he would in other circumstances turn off. He has said that chamber music sounds to him, worried.

I go out and look at the early stars. They glow faintly: faintly the mountain is swashed in the color of sunset, at that season a faded scarlet like the petals of the bougainvillea, which is also fading.

A power saw, somewhere in the neighborhood, is enacting someone’s idea of more pleasure, an extra room or a redwood tub. It hums and stops, hums and stops.

 

(Broadcast: "Reflections West," 8/24/16 and 3/1/17. Listen weekly on the radio, Wednesdays at 4:54 p.m.)