Having become infatuated with the idea of divesting, of giving away, of selling, losing things, I find a worn and heavily annotated paperback at a book sale: The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language and the Cosmos by Gaston Bachelard. Having loved his other books The Poetics of Space and The Psychoanlysis of Fire, I buy it for 50 cents. Although the acquisition makes me queasy, I also believe that books find us when we need them. I open to a page at random:
A beautiful poem makes us pardon a very ancient grief.
I take the book to the newly clean Echo Park Lake. I have an hour or two before I go downtown to the architecture school where I will do phone interviews with incoming students. The newly clean lake is full of lotus flowers. On the surface, they are the pink flowers I’ve seen on the front of countless books on Buddhism, pink-edged metaphors for unfolding, for beauty that is possible in the muck and maya of the world. Beneath the water, in the haze of silt, the pale green roots serve a practical function. The frogs lay their eggs among the stalks, a submerged forest, a place for trout to rest.
Bachelard quotes the poet Friedrich Holderlin:
” ‘Don’t chase a man too quickly from the cabin where his childhood was spent.’ ” Isn’t this request by Holderlin addressed to the psychoanalyst, that bailiff who believes it is his duty to chase man away from the attic of memory where he would go to cry when he was a child? The native house—lost, destroyed, razed—remains the main building for our reveries of childhood. The shelters of the past welcome and protect our reveries.”
A mother duck and eight ducklings glide into the floating lotuses. The ducklings walk across the broad, floating leaves, heads of fuzz, maniacally pecking at some invisible feast.
Later I drive aimlessly above the squalor of Sunset to a gorgeous street of trees, grand houses with broad porches, stately Victorians. One of the palatial lawns is covered with chairs. I can’t tell if the family is moving in or out of the brown shingled mansion.
On the way downtown, I think I recognize an embattled stucco house at the top of a terraced hill that should lead to a temple, not to a sad bungalow. I’m convinced that I’ve seen the house before in a movie about a gypsy with a milky eye. And that other house, the one above the faded 80s mural of the runners with their hair swept back in the wind, starred in a movie about love ending. I remember how it perched, a dark nest above the syrupy ribbon of the freeway.
As I drive to school, I think of childhood shelters and all the facades from nameless movies that have become inseparable somehow from real-life buildings, like a rain-soaked magazine I found in a ruined house, the image and text a blur and tear, a one-ness.
At school I pick up the phone, call a student in China. Just to chat. To see if he could use an extra English class before beginning his fall program.
Tell me about yourself, I ask. What are you reading these days?
Bachelard, he says. He writes about childhood and space.