The evening light is low enough to touch the trunks of the old pines. The fields away behind us are golden with it. We’re listening in chairs around the barn door, and Keith S. Wilson is tracing the subtle differences in trees — ‘some kind of ash, a box elder‘ …
He’s an awardwinning poet with work in national journals and a first book has a name full of attention and brilliant detail — Fieldnotes on Ordinary Love. And tonight he’s standing in the barn doorway at Arrowhead in Herman Melville’s meadow, with his fellow writers in the Mastheads writing residency, reading his work aloud.
It’s that time of year. People who have been inside, working, sometimes for a year and more, are coming out into our quiet places. They’re opening their arms in our old meadows and sidewalks and sharing their thoughts. In Williamstown, actors are performing solo plays, telling stories of home, and love and life surviving, even the barest, hardest times. In Becket, dancers from L.A. perform under the trees, and they are holding onto joy too in the face of a vast fear.
And here in Pittsfield, the Mastheads have re-opened their annual writing residency. Wilson is reading with poets Helene Achanzar, Christine Larusso, Amanda Smeltz and playwright Sam Mayer. They’ve come from across the country, from L.A. to Chicago to Brooklyn.
And they are looking with new eyes at places around them. In their poems, we hear moments from their two weeks here. They can be comfortable and uncomfortable, familiar and new. Here’s the lighthouse on Mount Greylock and the one scarlet fleck at the center of the flower of Queen Anne’s Lace … and here’s a sinewy dogwood tree.
Wilson is thinking about how we see individuality. If you look at a hillside in summer, and you don’t know the trees, maybe you see a green blur. Maybe the ridge looks empty or endless. But if you know the trees, you’ll see a maple, and a black walnut, and a pine. Maybe you’ll see the tall trunk of an ash tree, bare now and worn smooth — and the hawk sitting still at the top. Maybe you’ll see the walnuts forming.
He’s reminding me of the fear in not understanding and the power in knowing someone’s name. There’s a direct joy in seeing someone who sees me. And I’m thinking of the actors outside yesterday after the rain, and the dancers in Contra Tiempo this afternoon, who spoke in almost the same words — I will prosper you a future. If it’s one where we can talk together like this, then I want to live in it too.