Poem of the Week, by Robert Frost

In the book I’m writing, a desperate child imagines himself far above the planet, far from the endlessly breaking bad news. He isn’t wired for the constant barrage of awfulness. None of us are. This is why I love and admire people like thirty-three-year-old Chris Smalls, who, independent from any giant outside organization, unionized the Staten Island Amazon warehouse last week. Smalls and three friends saw injustice, jumped in and built the Amazon Labor Union from scratch. There are so many good people out there just jumping in and getting things done, so many ideas we haven’t yet tried.

Riders, by Robert Frost

The surest thing there is is we are riders,
And though none too successful at it, guiders,
Through everything presented, land and tide
And now the very air, of what we ride.

What is this talked of mystery of birth
But being mounted bareback on the earth?
We can just see the infant up astride,
His small fist buried in the bushy hide.

There is our wildest mount, a headless horse.
But though it runs unbridled off its course,
And all our blandishments would seem defied,
We have ideas yet that we haven’t tried.

For more information about Robert Frost, check out this site, where an unknown someone has written about him in an odd, strangely phrased (“happily buried”?) and somehow charming way.


Words by Winter: my podcast

"It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there"

Just now I sat at my kitchen table, eating saag paneer and yogurt and sauteed carrots and reading a book of poems. Flipping through the book of poems, to be accurate, letting serendipity dictate which ones I ended up reading. A word here and there –ghost, twilight, firefly, road– the sort of word I’m inexorably drawn to, would catch my eye and then I would stop and read the poem.

In the early morning, every morning, I read a few poems. Three, usually. Sometimes I trawl the internet for poems, typing a few catch words into Mr. Google and seeing what the tide tosses up on the beach.

Some days are dry and stunted. No poems appear, or maybe my mind is a desert that day, unable to see glints in the sand.

Other days a friend will send me a poem I’ve never seen before, by a poet I’ve never heard of, and it will hit me like a shock wave, that enormous jolt that Miss Dickinson described as feeling as if the top of her head had come off. And when I hunt down that new poet, each poem I read shocks me anew.

And that new poet leads to other new poets. One shining poem after another, all cut and pasted into my poetry files. Thousands and thousands of poems I’ve saved over the years. Sometimes I go back twelve or more years, just to see what poems I loved back then, to see if my taste has changed.

Nope. The thing is, if I loved a poem back then, I still love that poem. Same with music. Same with art. Same with people, most of them anyway. I am not a fickle lover.

I don’t remember liking poetry when I was little. Back then it came in the form of limericks and doggerel and jingly ads. The ending words of every line rhymed. The meter was rigid, a prison of rhythm that forced you to recite the poem with Sousa-like precision.

If poetry didn’t come in the form of limericks and doggerel and the occasional haiku, it was so formal, with apostrophes in weird places and half-words like ’tis and ‘ere and o’er, not to mention a lack of thingness –literal thingness, as in things that you can see and touch– that my eyes glazed over.

I was little. I was untutored. I was semi-feral. If I wasn’t making forts in the hay barn or escaping into the treehouse that only I was able to haul myself into, I was reading novels or one of the hundreds of biographies about the Childhoods of Famous Americans that the library stocked.

The only thing I remember, about poetry, is that my grandfather used to recite it to us. He was a dairy farmer who didn’t graduate high school, but he knew a lot of poetry by heart. Long poems, which he would recite spontaneously, in the living room, in their entirety.

I don’t remember reading poetry in high school, unless you count the Rod McKuen and Susan Polis Schutz paperbacks that everyone carried around back then, and I don’t.

I don’t remember studying poetry in college either –I was a Chinese Studies major– unless you count the Chaucer-Milton-Shakespeare class I took freshman year, and I do. The teacher had us take turns reading the Canterbury Tales aloud, in middle English, and I loved that.

If I didn’t think about what I was reading, if I just let the strange words form themselves on my tongue, they rolled right out. It was as if I’d been speaking middle English my whole life. Reading them aloud, you could hear the music and laughter and enormous intelligence behind those bawdy tales.

For my 21st birthday my brilliant mathematician friend Doc gave me a book of poetry by John Ashbery. I puzzled over that book for a long time. Mostly because I wanted to be worthy of the poetry book that Doc, whom I adored, had picked out for me. So little of it made any sense to me, untutored and semi-feral poetry reader that I still was at that point.

But these lines made me shiver, and I memorized them. They still make me shiver:

    Mostly I think of feelings, they fill up my life
      Like the wind, like tumbling clouds
    In a sky full of clouds, clouds upon clouds.

Like tumbling clouds in a sky full of clouds, clouds upon clouds. From those few lines in that book which, because my beloved Doc had given it to me, I read and read, searching for meaning, I learned the power of words repeated upon themselves.

In a sky full of clouds, clouds upon clouds. This was something that no Childhood of A Famous American, no matter how many dozens of them I tossed down like after-dinner mints back then, could teach me.

By the time I moved to Minneapolis at age 26 I must have turned the poetry corner. I know this because I remember standing in line in Calhoun Square with a paperback book of poetry clutched to my chest, waiting patiently for the woman who wrote the book to autograph it for me. I was getting up at dawn every day back then, writing my stories, not one of which would be published.

There was a poem in the book I was holding that haunted me. It still haunts me. The ending line especially, the italicized fierceness of it: Sister, there is nothing I would not do. That line stayed in my head for years.

It’s still in my head. Years ago it became part of my bones and blood and heart. One day, years after I first read that line, my friend GE and I were walking along the Mississippi River.

“Some people are still water,” he said, “and others are moving water.”

I didn’t know exactly what he meant –GE is a little Ashbery-esque himself– but still, I knew that he was right. In that same moment the line from the poem —Sister, there is nothing I would not do– came haunting back into my head. The next day I began to write All Rivers Flow to the Sea, which is a book about sisters, and which I wrote in the form of moving water.

So there I was, in my 20’s, waiting in line at Calhoun Square for the darkhaired, friendly woman sitting at the table they’d set up in the courtyard there to sign my book for me. She was there to sign another book, a newly-published, different book, a novel, but when I got to the table she took the little paperback poetry book and smiled at it.

“Jacklight,” she said. “I love that you brought this.”

She looked up at me and met my eyes. She looked at me for what felt like a long moment. Then she picked up her pen and wrote something in the book and handed it back to me.

For she who enters the deep woods.

It was one of those rare moments in life, a moment when a stranger looks at you and sees something in you. Recognizes something in you, a fellow traveler. That line has been with me ever since, carried in my heart and also in that little paperback that has journeyed with me everywhere I’ve moved since that day.

Just now I was running upstairs to get some socks and I looked to the right, where a series of original sketches from the picture book most close to my heart hangs on the wall. Sometimes my own obtuseness stuns me, and this was one of those times. Look at this sketch, will you?

The line from Someday, the book that accompanies the sketch (by the wondrous Peter Reynolds) is “Someday you will enter a deep wood.”

That I didn’t consciously connect that line with the one the poet scribbled in my book so long ago doesn’t surprise me, because I’m a dolt, yes, but also because I have learned that those rare things, including those rare people, that you love completely and utterly the minute you see them, don’t ever go away. They migrate into your heart and become part of you.

(I just mis-typed the last part of that previous sentence, so that before I corrected it, it read “They migrate into your heart and become art of you.” Both sentences are true.)

I’ve never formally studied poetry, but knowledge of it has seeped into me by osmosis, the reading and reading and reading of beautiful poems. Giving myself poetry assignments –write a picture book in the form of a sestina, write a villanelle that contains a river flowing north, write a pantoum, write a free verse poem that begins with Carver’s question “Did you get what you wanted from this life?”– has been an education unto itself.

Once I sat in a lecture listening to a novelist talk about the two types of writers, those who were writers of story and those who were writers of language. I turned to the writer I was sitting next to.

“You’re a story teller,” I said.

“And you’re language,” she said.

I was right, and so was she. To this day plot is my weakness, story my weakness, not that I don’t like a good story, but I would prostitute myself for beautiful language, story be damned. This is why a novel that reads like poetry is my ideal novel. This is why I love the reviewer who wrote, “She’s a poet who writes novels.” This is why poetry is my ideal, period.

Long ago –fifteen years now?– I started choosing one poem a week and sending it to a few friends: “Poem of the Week.” Those few friends began forwarding them to a few friends, who sometimes asked to be put on the original mailing list. The list began to grow. Now it numbers in the many hundreds. Most of the recipients are people I don’t know, some of whom live in other countries halfway around the world.

Once a week or so a poem boomerangs back, the recipient having thought she was forwarding it to someone else but mistakenly sending it back to me. Sometimes, from the forwarded email, I see that the sender is sending it on to dozens of others, forming her own poem of the week list. In this way I know that the poems are seeding themselves, spreading far and wide like apple seeds.

Some of the poems I send are by famous writers, most are by lesser-known poets. The only criterion I have for the poem of the week is that I have to love it. Any other reason for sending a poem out would muddy the waters, and poetry is one part of my life that I will not muddy.

A few weeks ago I told my students to memorize a poem to recite in class next week.

“The only rule is that it has to be a poem you love,” I said. “It doesn’t have to be more than a couple lines long, but you have to love it.”

That way, when they memorize the poem, it will become part of them. A gift that they can carry within themselves forever, always available.

  Mostly I think of feelings, they fill up my life
      Like the wind, like tumbling clouds
    In a sky full of clouds, clouds upon clouds.

In my father's house there are many mansions

There’s a one-room shop in New York City that features dozens of cubbies, like dioramas, of perfect miniature rooms, complete to the last detail. Doll house furnishings unlike any you’ve ever seen before – a rolled-up newspaper, headlines and print readable, measuring half an inch. A wooden tray, the size of your pinky nail, containing a folded napkin, half a dozen chocolate chip cookies and a pitcher of milk.

It’s easy to spend an hour wandering around that quiet little store admiring its precisely wrought wares. Tiny houses charm you and always have. Airstreams. Houseboats. Vintage, single-wide trailers like the kind your grandmother lived in when you were growing up. One-room studio apartments with miniature appliances, a miniature fireplace, like one you once lived in.

You’ve always wanted a miniature house for yourself. Once you once spent a couple of hours at a marina on the Mississippi, pretending to be in the market for a houseboat so you could check out the ones that were for sale. So perfect, all of them, with their built-in drawers and appliances and cupboards and beds and tables and chairs.

When you were little, you and your sisters used to make elaborate houses out of big cardboard boxes, hay bales, an abandoned chicken coop, a blanket thrown over a card table. Every square inch counted in those houses, and no space went to waste.

Why, then, given this love of miniaturization, do you keep having one particular dream?

In this dream, you’re in a house, a house that you live in. You like the house but you don’t love it, maybe because there’s somehow not quite enough room in it.

Then, in the dream, you suddenly discover that there’s a whole part of the house that you never knew about. The new part is usually circular, built in a ring around the outside of the house you’ve been living in. It’s made of wood, and very dusty, and the furniture in it –it comes fully furnished– is covered with white sheets. It’s been closed up for a long time.

You walk around opening door after door, peering into room after room. Balconies and hallways. Windows. High ceilings. So much room!

Whenever you have this dream, you wake up restless, half happy and half frustrated. Where is all that room? Where is the whole hidden enormous house that’s somewhere, somehow, part of the house you already live in?

When you were a kid you wanted a house like the one Batman lived in, with secret compartments and bookcases that revolved at a touch of a button to reveal a whole new wing of the mansion, including the Bat Cave where the Bat Car waited.

Last week you were at your shack in the Green Mountains with a big list of things to do, tasks involving a shovel, a spade, a pitchfork, a hatchet, an axe, a scythe and a wheelbarrow.

At under 200 square feet, the shack is tiny. It began life as a pile of labeled wood with instructions that you bought off eBay, kind of like a giant Lincoln Log kit. Over four days, one sunny November years ago, you and your friends framed it up on a smoothed and leveled patch of gravel.

The shack sits in a small clearing surrounded by towering pines, next to a sunny slope set amongst ravines and bluffs and woods and creeks. That’s it up there at the top of this page. It’s more faded now. If you don’t do something to the wood soon it will keep fading more and more until it’s a silvery color.

Inside it smells like pine and earth, like concentration of woods.

You built the shack thinking that it was the beginning of a future real house. The first step in a long dream of life in Vermont.

Last week you constructed an indoor sink out of a jug and a bucket and a  cart, and the whole arrangement was so pleasing that you ended up washing your hands and brushing your teeth much more than usual, just to use the new sink.

In the tiny pitched-roof sleeping loft, an air mattress spread with a quilt is a bed. At night you can turn out the light and lie by the window sipping whiskey and looking out at the stars through the pine branches.

There’s a heater at the shack, and a couch, and many books. There’s a miniature refrigerator and a toaster and a well with a pump. There’s an outhouse. There’s a tent for guests, not that you’ve had any. There’s peanut butter and Jim Beam. There’s soap and a toothbrush and towels. There’s a table with a pen and paper.

There’s a hammock hung between two pines. It’s possible to spend half an hour watching an inchworm make its way across the entire, enormous-to-an-inchworm width of it.







Is the inchworm brave? Dumb? Is it acting purely on instinct and, if so, is it braver or dumber than a human being who tries to plot out its life from start to finish? Does it know where it’s going? Does it  know it’s going anywhere? Is it going somewhere, or is movement itself the biological destiny of an inchworm? Does an inchworm stop inching to sleep, or rest, or take a short nap?

These are some of the questions you wondered about as you sat in the hammock last week, watching the inchworm. Early on in the watching you decided that no matter what, you wouldn’t interfere with the inchworm. Neither by helping nor hindering would you influence the outcome of this journey, whatever that journey was.

The entire time you watched the inchworm, it never stopped moving, or trying to move, even when it reached a particularly deep fold in the fabric of the hammock. When that happened, it stretched itself out as far as possible and then flung as much of its body as it could over the abyss.

When you returned to the city you showed your youthful companion a tiny video you took of the inchworm, inching, and before three seconds went by she said, “Honestly? I’ve always really admired inchworms,” and you had to agree.

At some point you lay back in the hammock and looked straight up, into the crowns of the white pines and the blue sky beyond. You heard nothing but birds and crickets and bees and the faint drone of an invisible airplane.

Suddenly you realized that the shack isn’t a shack. It isn’t the beginning of a much bigger future house. It’s not the start of a dream; it’s a miniature house, complete in itself.

Why did this never occur to you before?

All you had to do, in order to turn the shack into the miniature house you’ve always wanted, was see it in a new way. Your whole life you’ve dreamed of a miniature house, and all this time you already had one.

It comes to you then, looking up at those trees, that there’s so much space in your miniature house. And on the hammock. So much space in the trees, arching toward the sky, and so much space in the sky.

So many rooms in everything, and everyone.

– and comes that other fall we name the fall

Once upon a time you and your sister Oatie spent the summer in Colorado. This was the summer after you graduated from college, the summer after her junior year in college.

You spent a week at home, waiting for Oatie to finish up with school, and then you flew out together. It was Oatie’s first time spending the summer away from home. You talked her into it.

“Come on,” you said. “It’s just for the summer. You can have my old job at the hotel.”

You had spent the summer out there two years before, and the manager of the hotel was happy to hire your sister and give you both a place to live, in Apartment B.

“Cleaning rooms?”Oatie said. “Vacuuming the hallways?”

“Yeah!” you said. You stuck an exclamation mark into your voice. “It’s fun!”

Out you went, the both of you, on the plane instead of the Greyhound you originally planned to take. That was because you had broken your leg the last week of college, falling off your bike at the end of a long ride. All those hills, all those miles, and you chose to fall off while going three miles an hour across the grass to the dorm.


You knew it was broken because of the snap, but because you didn’t, and still don’t, swell, you had to convince the doctor to x-ray it.

The broken leg was a hindrance —hard to waitress with a broken leg, even one in a walking cast, and waitressing was what you wanted to do. Tips, which you loved. Hustle and bustle, which you loved. Free meals in the kitchen on break, always a plus.

Oh well.  Goodbye waitressing. Broken leg or not, you were going to Colorado for the summer, and Oatie was coming too. The two of you bought one-way tickets to Denver. From the airport you took the hound to the ski town up in the mountains, and up the wide, carpeted spiral ramp to Apartment B.

Why is this summer so much on your mind these days? You don’t really know. Three short months, was all it was. You and Oatie, living on your own together the way neither of you ever had. It was always she and Robert John –your other sister, the one with the male nickname– who had shared a room. She and Robert John who had their own language, their own shared routines.

But here you were, the two of you. Oatie cleaned rooms at the hotel, vacuumed the hallways, polished the windows and wrought iron railing of the wide circular ramp that led from the first to the third floor of the three-story hotel.

You tromped around the streets of the town in your walking cast, looking for work. You found a job at another hotel, at the front desk. You liked the manager there, and his girlfriend; he was bold and funny, she was kind, with golden curls and an air of sadness that never went away.

“Winter is wonderful, but summer is why we live here.”

That was the quote on the poster that was everywhere in that town, that summer. You had never been to the town in winter. You didn’t ski, but you were a hiker, and the hikes there were endless and every one was beautiful.

Not that you could hike, with the broken leg. You counted on it healing fast, so that you could squeeze in a few weeks of hiking at the end of the summer. Did you? You remember the cast coming off, and the shock of how skinny and hairy and creepy-looking a leg can get in just six weeks.

Enough with the broken leg. The leg is not what you remember, when you think of that summer.

You remember Oatie, dragging herself into Apartment B at the end of a long day of cleaning. You remember how she used to fling herself onto the couch and moan about how the basement had flooded again, how she had to use the wet-vac again, how she just wanted a beer.

“Again! I was down there for HOURS with the wet vac! HOURS!”

You, meanwhile, had spent the day at the front desk of the hotel, doing little but taking reservations, checking people in, and typing story after story on the hotel typewriter. That’s all you wrote back then: short stories, all gone now.

You remember teaching Oatie how to sneak food from the daily deliveries to Dos Amigos, the Mexican bar and grill accessible from the second floor of the hotel. “Steal” would be a more accurate term, harshly accurate. Crates and crates of avocados and tomatoes and onions and lettuce –guacamole and nachos– stacked in the basement.

Just one or two would be okay, right? No, but you took them anyway.

Halfway through the summer Oatie got a crazed gleam in her eye and started coming back to Apartment B with three, four, five of each. That was Oatie. Never one for half-measures.

“I’m tired of being poor!” she wailed.

How could you blame her? Neither of you had any money, and Oatie liked to spend it, not conserve it. You were stern, though.

Homemade English muffins. Homemade split pea soup. Endless bowls of oatmeal. Stir fry. A bottle of cheap vodka to drink before you went out, so as not to ring up a big bar tab.

These are some of the things you and Oatie snicker about on the phone when you remember that summer. When you want to make her laugh, all you have to do is leave her a voicemail or post a message on her page:

“English muffins! Split pea soup! Oatmeal!”

And she will call you back and off you go, back into the past, into that long-ago summer.

Remember the mountain man?, she will say, and you will conjure the mountain man. He came walking into town with a dirty backpack and hiking boots that had seen hundreds of miles of mountains. He was hiking across the country in memory of his dead friend. The mountain man had sandy hair and blue eyes and he, too, emanated sadness.

You and Oatie offered the mountain man shelter. Sure, he could stay with you for a few days. The mountain man washed his clothes and took a shower and came out to the disco with you and Oatie and your other summer friends. He made dinner for you and Oatie and your friend Erin: lasagna.

He didn’t boil the noodles first. This was the first time you had ever considered that it might be possible to make lasagna without first boiling the noodles. You have made it this way ever since. Just add more liquid.

You remember dancing with the mountain man to a slow song, and how you could feel his loneliness, and how long it had been since he touched a girl. You could sense how much he was holding inside during those few days he spent with the two of you before he put the pack back on and headed out of town.

More of your friends came through that summer, and you and Oatie housed and fed them all. You especially remember Tom and Steve, and how they came running up the wide circular ramp, laughing. How, the day they left, they drove to the grocery store and came back with bags of groceries, groceries that were more than oatmeal and flour, and stocked your cupboards. You were sad to see them go.

“You have such great friends!” Oatie would say.

It was true. It still is.

You remember how every afternoon, around one o’clock, clouds would abruptly mass over the town. Awnings would be pulled out. The scrape scrape of chairs being quickly dragged inside. Then would come a brief, pounding rain, and just as abruptly, the skies would clear. The sun would shine down on the shining pavement.

From the balcony of Apartment B that smell, the smell of wet pavement, would drift upward. The air would feel rinsed and cool.

You remember hitching to the Stop ‘n Shop down the highway, to save money at a big store instead of the cute little pricey store in town. You and Oatie standing by the highway, thumbs in the air. Hitching back with the heavy paper bags. Lugging flour and oatmeal and peas, rice and vegetables and oil, back to Apartment B.

If you look at that photo up there you can see the big bag of flour, the oatmeal, the bottles of vegetable oil.

You remember the other residents of the hotel, the ones who, like you and Oatie, were working in town for the summer and renting rooms. Jerry leaps into your mind. Jerry who seemed to spend most of his time in the room he shared with two others, the three of them crammed into an ordinary-sized hotel room to save money.

Jerry ironed a lot. Jerry wore his bathrobe much of the time. Jerry talked incessantly of Europe, and to be told that your outfit looked European was a high compliment from Jerry. Jerry was funny, so funny. His constant gossip was always unkind but never truly unkind.

One of his roommates was silent Paul, tall blonde silent Paul who left early every morning for work. His other roommate was. . . who was he? That is the kind of question that Oatie can answer.

Now, so many years later, you look back and think of Jerry and wonder if he was caught by the disease that caught so many back then. It was that fall, when you left Colorado and moved back east, that the mutterings began, and spread, and then the disease itself spread, and laid waste to thousands.

You remember feeling lonely. You remember not knowing what waited for you, once you left the town and headed back east. One of your closest friends was getting married in early September and you were in the wedding; that was the end date to your summer. But after that? You remember not knowing what in the world would happen to you.

You wanted to live in Vermont, but where and how? You longed for a boy who lived there, but you knew he didn’t feel the same way. Your best friend was moving to Boston. Your other friends all seemed to have plans. You pretended you had a plan. But you didn’t.

Oatie was going back to school. She was safe. You did not feel safe.

All you knew was that you wanted to be a writer. You sat at that front desk at the hotel typing away, story after mediocre story, and was that how a person got to be a writer?

You had no idea.

"You ought to have seen what I saw on my way. . ."

You buy a pint of blueberries at the farmer’s market. Or, if your city backyard just happens to be overgrown with blueberries, you pick them yourself.

Then you lie on your porch swing with a book and the pint of blueberries at your side. Reach in for a handful without looking and toss them into your mouth. Tasty, juicy, blueberryness.

Later that day you get a craving for some more blueberries. Back to the pint you go. Now you sit at the kitchen table and eat them more carefully – there are fewer left.

As the number of blueberries dwindles, you become more selective. No more handfuls tossed blithely down. Now you examine each blueberry. Before long you’re eating them one by one, each time selecting the biggest. Each time, the biggest and bluest becomes the best. Each time, you’re happy to be eating the best blueberry.

Only when you’re down to the last four or five blueberries does it occur to you that, compared to the beginning, when the pint was full of plump dark berries, these last four or five are runts. Shriveled, tiny, bruised. Overly examined.

You and your youthful companion have been traveling for days, through the sweeping Dakotas, Montana, Alberta, Idaho, Montana again, and Wyoming. Miles and miles and miles a day you drive, with your youthful companion in the seat next to you playing dj, navigator and personal assistant. (“Where did I put my sunglasses, youthful companion?” “You’re sitting on them.”)

The youthful companion, usually a car sleeper, doesn’t sleep. Her eyes, like yours, roam from side to side all day long.

“There’s so much to see,” she says.

So much to see, out here in the west, where in most states the entire population is less than the population of the city in which the two of you live. Snow-capped mountains rise up in the distance over the rolling plains. A constant wind ruffles the prairie grass into undulating sheets of green-yellow-blue that look like ocean waves, and this land was once an ocean.

Dark cattle lie in the sun or graze on the slopes or stand drinking at the edge of creeks. Horses stand motionless, long tails flicking flies away. Thousands of acres of grassland stretch in every direction, broken only by the dirt roads that lead to a distant houses separated by miles. Pickups rattle over cattle guards underneath iron ranch gates.

“I want to live out here,” says the youthful companion.

“Me too.”

“I don’t want to go back.”

“Me either.”

Silently you drive. You think about your house in the city, the tiny city lot, the block with all the other houses and duplexes and apartment buildings. You picture your back yard with its raised vegetable bed, all the perennials you’ve planted, the little patch of grass that you trundle the reel mower over every couple of weeks.

You feel tired at the thought of the city: the traffic, the noise, the minutiae of it all.

In the city, tiny things take on great significance. You have watched neighbors turn an apple tree and its dropped fruit –a branch that overhangs into one neighbor’s yard– into years-long warfare. You have watched surveyors take minute measurements to settle a 6″ fence differential argument. Your neighbor and you watched in horror one day as four men from the city chopped down the tree across the street, on orders from the sunlight-craving homeowner who lives behind it. You yourself have called the cops at 3 a.m. to silence the party house down the block.

The smaller and more crowded something gets, the more significance is attached to it.

“It’s good to be away from everyone and everything I know,” says the youthful companion.

“I know,” you say.

And you do. Out here, these endless miles, this sweep of sky, driving 80 across the empty road or 25 on the narrow guardrail-less roads that wind around and around and around the snowy mountains, you realize your own insignificance. Here, in the great beyond, you’re a speck.

“Can we live out here?” asks the youthful companion.

“Sure,” you say.

It’s become your habit to say “sure” to everything the youthful companion asks. Try it sometime. It’s like a lullaby. Can I. . . ? Sure. Will you. . . ? Sure. What if. . .? Sure.

“No, I mean really,” she says, unsmiling. “Can we?”

“Yes,” you say, and you mean it, because you want this too.

You want this enormous land, this vast sky. You picture the 6×12′ raised bed in your back yard, no doubt weed-ridden by now without you to hover over it, and you look to your right and to your left and behind you and ahead of you and all there is, is space. Space in which an extra foot or so, a patch of weeds, mean nothing. You are nothing, ultimately, but a traveler passing through an endless land.

The west is the full pint of blueberries.