The protagonist of The Visitor is Walter Vale, an academic who has retired from life after his wife’s death. A political economist at a small Connecticut college, Walter (played by Richard Jenkins) is no longer engaged with his students. He’s taken a reduced teaching load ostensibly to complete a book, but he’s not writing one.
Rome is over. Not just the republic, but the TV show. Despite solid ratings and Golden Globe nominations, the popular cable series ended last year. HBO, the BBC and the Italian RAI had teamed up to offer two seasons of ten episodes each about ancient Rome. Now the series is available on DVD.
The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing Alive enough to have the strength to die. —“Neutral Tones” (Psalm 72))
It won’t last long, this snow that sheathes the dooryard pine in April and lays its feckless cover on the slope behind. Crocuses, just tall enough, poke their small blue noses through. It’s clear that they’re alive enough to live. April’s gale is loud as bombers. What’s left of ice around the pond in town is rough as predators’ teeth. The fisher fells the luckless squirrel.
There’s much I too may try to cover. For all of that I feel a gladness in watching this omni-inclusive white blot out the neutral tones that pushed our brilliant poet to ponder death, and love’s deceit, its cruelty. We’ve been together, my love and I, near three decades, which have scudded by like these sideways flakes. My lover-wife. There can come pangs, but the freshets have started
to wander the brush and make their signs: soon we’ll find the trillium, the painted kind, in that secret place which I discovered springs ago, and which since then I’ve kept a secret from all but her—from even our children; and the valley’s white-faced Herefords, while winter endured, dropped new calves, which now, though mud clots up like blood, shine clean as a man’s most colorful dream.
What is this one’s dream? That life go on as ever. That all our lives go on. No more than dream, of course. I know, the planet heating up, the cretin politicians waving swords, as if, by counter-logic, war might transform earth into something more saintly. So many hard facts conspire against me. To know that, though, is to make me cling the harder to gifts that appear to be given
without my having to deserve them. Flowers, beasts, the glinting trees. My disposition, which has moved me here to mute dispute with my great better, in spite of all my darker doubt. Inkling that something will soon come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth. Let us praise the Lord, and every weather. Or the smile on the mouth of my lover, which still can blind like snow.
Or the road agent waving from his bright-red plow as it smooths the mud-clotted back lanes over.
New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, largely inhabited by poor African-American residents, looks not much different now from when the floodwaters receded. You have to wonder how Washington would have reacted if Katrina had hit a wealthy, white gated community.
Along the Beaver Creek, lobelia clings to the soil, foiling its every effort to sneak into the stream, which riffles over rocks below, aerating the water that fuels the wetland where a dragonfly squints its blue, bulbous eyes, spying mosquitoes mating, then steers its body to reach their next move. Do you dare, while traipsing this trail and glancing milkweed blossoms, to covet anything your neighbor may have?
Six months later, and a mile away, on a lime-dusted field, a singular tree, its leaves shorn and humming in wind somewhere south, waits. Winter will bear a crop of snow, which will deepen with the season and wrap around the stoic oak. No one will amble by for months. Driving by, will you sing your praise purely from the road’s safe distance?
In between, where there is so much time, when inspiration won’t spread its wings and raise its crimson head,
when nothing but mud dominates the wetland, when tarnished tin is the only color the sky can muster,
what then? Will you savor the age-old scent of the now-and-not-yet, sense its tension in the toppled tree, damp and fungus festooned,
Print books remain significantly more popular than digital books, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. The bad news is that the number of people who reported reading a book in any format last year was 73 percent, down from 79 percent in 2011 when Pew first started gathering data on the reading habits of America (Publishers Weekly, September 16).