Anne Hodges White
Messages along the road: writing the collage one shard at a time
“Collage is pieces of other things. Their edges don’t meet.”
“… the many becoming one, with the one never fully resolved because of the many
that continue to impinge upon it.”
“Story seems to say that everything happens for a reason,
and I want to say, No, it doesn’t.”
“A mosaic, made out of broken dishes,
makes no attempt to hide the fact that it’s made out of broken dishes,
in fact flaunts it.”
“The question is not What do you look at? but What do you see?”
David Shields, Reality Hunger
See what happens when shards — found objects — are slowly added:
Here: I read this somewhere recently–“Times Square must be an extraordinary place to visit if you can’t read.”
Connecticut: The bookstore on Post Road in Fairfield, CT, where I drink a Starbucks latte and write, sits across the street from the children’s toy store, magic beans. Thick lower case letters in green against a white-white building, and, alongside, a green bean lying on its back as logo. I imagine the bean planted, its roots pushing deep, and me climbing the bean stalk to the unexpected and to risk.
Stay as close as you can to the impression, I am told. Take in an impression without any confrontation with prior impressions. Let the mind see anew. Let the impression come to you, and resist rushing out to grasp at it. The muse hovers. Let her come to you too.
Between Valliguières and Avignon: Two road signs, one mounted above the other. The top one points east—Autre Directions. The other points west—Toutes Directions.
Connecticut: He’s a year old, our grandson, and he sits on the floor eying the box we saved for him. The new dishwasher came in it. We thought he’d crawl right in and make himself at home. His own private den. He maneuvers a flap—to him, a new variety of hinged door—and peeks into the brown cardboard construction of floor, ceiling, walls. The expression on his face says it’s a strange, dark place, and new. On the outside, he fingers the writing. Do Not Drop. He’s never seen this font, as thick as a tree trunk. And This End Up—the arrow’s as tall as he. He considers the threat of the writing and looks into the brown cave as if he just arrived from the other side of the moon. He shows himself to be a toddler-scientist: he tosses in his stuffed Hobbes, and listens, watches. He backs off, pulling Hobbes with him, carefully, and backs away.
I see this as early refusal to get trapped in somebody else’s box.
Columbia, S.C.: Seen on a poster in the window at Whole Foods—”Be a thorn in the time’s side.”
Qing Huang Dao to Bejing: The middle seat of the train is empty. I scoot in, climbing over the small man on the aisle. The woman by the window slaps her fat purse into the seat and smirks. “Is this seat taken?” I say in English. She says something in Chinese. In universal gesture, I ask, “May I sit here?” She says something clipped in Chinese, harsh, atonal. Everyone in the bus looks up, waiting a confrontation. She looks at me, then turns her head, stares out the window, and watches Qing Huang Dao disappear into countryside. I am defiant: I sit on the lap of the Chinese man on the aisle. Laiwai, they all whisper and nod. Foreign devil. Purse-woman has gained much face. Everyone has been entertained for a moment.
Yarmouth, Massachusetts: This morning we passed a road sign: “This week is National Poison Control Week.”
The Outer Banks: I’ve gathered shells on this beach for sixty years—a dog following scent. I collect sycamore bark too—once they’ve hit the ground they stay put—but shells wash in from who-knows-where and move house in the night. You don’t know where they might set up shop tomorrow, so reactions like grasp and grab fit here. I pick up the ones that attract. Some I keep—they join my windowsill stash—and some I toss out the window along I-95 on the return to New England.
Do archeologists make allowance for the ancient gatherer who picked up an amulet in, say, Damascus and tossed it from a hay cart in County Meath? I dropped a ticket stub for the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Nixon on a beach in St. Malo. What will some future archeologist think? That Brittany was settled by Republicans?
Boston: I have read A Canticle for Leibowitz seven times in four regions of the country, once recently, here.
What might some future dig reveal about us? Perhaps create an illuminated to-do list. Today, mine reads: TGV rsv—Paris to Avig; Avig to St.M.; Sat—copy new pulled pork recipe, make slaw; Sun—read ch. 3 in Jacob Needleman's The American Soul.
Fiat Lux, Br. Francis.
Attleboro, Massachusetts: All 32,000 square feet of the old Borders have been rented to a liquor store. Chris Gasbarro’s Wine and Spirits. At a windowed corner table where the muse and I, sitting in sunlight, gaining inspiration from Hilary Mantel, wrote cumulative and additive sentences, pleased with their length and clarity, where we barely tolerated the man on his cell phone selling faux furs to Romania, where the rest of us, writers all, looked at each other and rolled our eyes, where the manager had to ask him to leave, where in the end we took the news of the closing of our office space badly — there in the windowed corner, the new owners have created a Lifestyle Corner. During the holidays, Christmas tinsel hung from the Laphroaig display, contriving light.
Nearby, a sign reads “A meal without wine is called breakfast.”
Merced River, The Sierra Nevada: The conscious mind, moving body-rhythm slow, sifts material like river teeth. You don’t want to have too much control at this point. Wait. Wait until the current ebbs. See what’s caught.
Diving in the kelp forest off the Coronado Islands, Baja, Mexico: What’s the biological motor behind all this green—waving and alight?
Tulsa, Oklahoma: The warning light on the dashboard blinks on, red, an hour east of Tulsa. It’s a strip of I-44, flat and straight, airless and wavering in the heat. Our daughter’s with my husband; I have our dog. On the CB radios—these before cellphones—we puzzle: What kind of machines are U-Hauls? Forgiving, he says. Unrelenting, I say. We need to find out now, our daughter says.
“Says here in Jack Kornfield that Buddhist psychology recognizes three personality types: the deluded, the averse, and the grasping.” Ten miles down the road we are still laughing at who we believe we each are.
Route 6A from Barnstable to Sandwich: On the side of the road, the bottom edge of the 15’x20′ sign sits flush on the ground: “Today’s subliminal message is.”
Ensenada, Baja, Mexico: We spent the quiet weekend on the beach about 30 km south of Ensenada. Him, me, his surfboard, a tent, sleeping bags, and a cooler. On Saturday, he surfed the pipeline, I read Vonnegut. All weekend James Taylor sang, “You’ve got a friend.”
On Sunday we headed back to La Jolla. “Anything to declare?” the border guard asked at the Tijuana crossing. “Nothing,” my doctor friend said out his window. “Welcome back to the U.S. of A.” At a stoplight in Chula Vista, he said, “I didn’t want you to worry.” “About what?” “The stuff in the glove box.” “Pull over and let me out. Now.”
San Diego to San Francisco on I-5: Painted on the back of a truck: DO NOT FOLLOW.
Qing Huang Dao to Bejing: When the bus broke down, we were told to get out and stand on the side of the road. Passing us on the left were berry-brown men in loin cloth on bicycles—vegetables, hay, sticks, purses, tires, bricks, every imaginable product stacked behind them and tied down, higher than their heads, swollen and roped down. A huffing-puffing taxi passed us: “Beijing Taxi: We Take You.
Here: Potting instructions. To free the root ball from its form, you may slice vertically, and deeply, but be careful not to disturb the root hairs.
Root hairs—The tiny fingers near the growth end of a root that absorb water and minerals. Secreting an acid that catalyzes minerals into useful ions, they do their silent, optimistic work supporting the elongating root end, which can exert 120 pounds per square inch of pressure into sands, soils, clays, and into the cracks of ancient boulders, splintering them, scattering them, and creating new and unexpected forms.
Paris to Avignon aboard the TGV: Mounted on the sleek wall mid-car, a small plaque, a stylized cell phone with its “eyes” closed. Shhhhhh ….
At a roundabout on the A429 near Northleach, The Cotswolds: “You’ll have to go a round again.”