Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer SAWNIE MORRIS.
I wake to a voice saying, Winter came & left her feathers everywhere.
A light dusting of snow has fallen, the first snow of the season, and with it a beneficence has left me this one line poem. I rise, do the necessary morning ablutions, return to the bed, and write in fits and starts. The line feels like it has its own destiny and I don’t know what that is.
The next day and the next, I force myself to get up and go directly to my studio, to the desk. I’ve been away for months now and the only way back is to ruthlessly dedicate myself. The effort is awkward, but I am starting to catch the faint scent of liberation, which is to say, I will disappear and only the writing will be left.
My husband has been experiencing his own struggle. He’s stuck in a painting. He doesn’t have to tell me, I see it in his face. And I can tell he’d like me to take a look, though he won’t ask.
A second snowstorm arrives, settles, departs. The day is sparkling, sky-filled. My husband has gone on a morning ski in the nearby mountains. I go to my studio, select a small box of oil crayons, and in my bare feet cross the cold outdoor flagstone of the courtyard to his studio. On the wall hangs the problematic painting, its chalky ripple of brush strokes, the pale cobalt blue and slashes of black. I consider the oil crayons. On the long table where he lays out his materials, I see the carousel of variously tinted inks. I love magenta. I want to eat it. I pick up the bottle, unscrew the top. I look back at the painting. An area in the top right, cloudy with swaths of titanium, suggests itself. I climb the wood platform my husband has constructed beneath the painting to extend his reach. I lift the nub of magenta ink. Then, thinking the better of it, lower myself from the platform, put the ink away, and go shuffling my fingers in a blonde box the size of my palm, full of graphite. Slender graphite, like friendly dark snakes momentarily stiffened for this use. I climb back on the platform and write in large loose free letters, WINTER CAME AND LEFT HER FEATHERS EVERYWHERE.
I let the words sift down through the air of the canvas.
I go to my desk and, for several hours, write.
When I finish, my husband is in the kitchen making a fried egg sandwich with tomato and avocado. I say, “So, what do you think?” He answers in a way that is emotionally elsewhere, neither grateful nor resentful. “It made the painting better,” he says. I look at him. My question has pivoted his outer gaze from the sandwich to the inner world of the painting. For several seconds, his mind is in the painting’s landscape and I can see that he is worried and alone in the snowfall of its forest, at the same time that he is fully awake and betting on his instincts to find the way out.
He turns back to the sandwich. I go on my walk.
It is a two-mile walk along a dirt road that ribbons the mesa. I am the small movement of a down vest the color of a river in winter beneath the magnificence of the mountain. I tuck my gloved hands in my pockets, move my legs along in their boots, breathe the cold air of early December. Half way through the walk I stop. My body makes this decision without consulting my mind. I find myself looking hard at the mountain, as though for an answer. No answer, but it comes to me that the mountain, this sacred mountain, will outlast human ignorance, no matter what.
I think about the one line poem. I think about the movement of feathers that often appears in my husband’s paintings. I think about the birds that frequent our courtyard, how my husband keeps the feeders full and the birdbath shimmering with clean water, even in winter. I think about the snow that fell in the night, twice.
AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?
Shortly after the election, I reread Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric. Reading Rankine is entering an unflinching commitment to truth, as such it grounds and gives courage.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
Write. Trust your instincts and get to know your own rhythms. Read the greats of all eras and gain a feel for your natural place in the lineages. Find someone with whom to share your work, someone who has a fundamental appreciation for your writing and whose opinion you respect.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
I write by hand first, which is probably not unusual for a poet. Maybe five years ago, I began to notice an urge, every spring, to write using color ink. By summer, I was content with black or blue again, but late March found me writing in green, pink, purple, red, turquoise, etc. Then, following a cataclysmic event in my life, I began feeling a need to write in color inks across the seasons. Every day, a different color, never the same color twice in a row.
By Sawnie Morris: