January 5. I’m having an eremitical pang on the feast day
of St. Simon or Simeon, looniest of all the desert fathers.
I, who couldn’t get away from parents, husbands, children,
dogs and cats, who could never just walk over any horizon,
into any sunset, have read a poem so beautiful
it cracked my ribs and sent me to the bio page
to find the poet, the unknown wonder, “now living in seclusion”
which is somewhere south of Scranton. Maybe a location different from
solitude, from living alone, or being dumped, or having the little ones
leave the nest. Seclusion is the nest, with a Dutch-door cottage
open to long walks, the time to read and write, and healthful lunches
of grains and sprouts. Time to enjoy those decorator touches,
flowers in a blue bowl, probably trillium, a recorder, a music stand,
the music bel tempo. Who wouldn’t sign on?
* * * * *
But not for a likelier scenario: to crawl along the silhouette
of mountains taller than the lid of my mind’s eye, or wash up
on a beach that must be Nova Scotia or the gray NJ shore.
Head for a house inland, a clearing in the woods, not gingerbread
but Unabomber mode, a cabin, curtainless and filthy, windows
plastered with the classifieds, and inside, a table
with an odd triangular stain, bare mattress, stone for a pillow,
a clutch of poultry waiting to be eaten, needing care.
To get away, a way, away from it all, from some of it
or any of it, better change your name and look for
a new backyard in Iowa. The plaid shirt on the clothesline
in a color you would never wear, will wave hello,
and in less pain than it takes to lose your fingerprints,
you will make a new life where everything has changed
except your memories. There in alien corn
keep a low profile, eat in, stay out of churches. Private devotions
bring you to the saint of the day.
Simeon, looking to be alone, traveled to the desert out of town.
For a hideout he built his first pillar just 9 ft high and made the climb.
The curious came to see him standing tall. So two more columns,
higher every time, his fourth and last at 60 ft, built by the crowd itself,
his audience for solitude as spectacle,
liking a good long-running show.
Clever of him to find that hermitage, to weather like a rock,
the serial stylite, turning in whatever direction put the wind at his back,
the sun on a face he no longer remembered.
“In Seclusion” was previously published in Atlanta Review