Huna, I've learned, names determine the owner's nature and destiny.You ask your basic self to talk to you,
to tell you what its name is.In
the hush of orange-tree shadow, mine says loki—lake
or pool, or what is within.I'm
happy with that, remembering the introspective fishponds.But then a day or two later another,
small but more insistent voice surprises me.Belle, it
says.And says again, louder,
willful as ever.
own name, then, come claiming me.The hidden middle.The name
of my father's mother, the name of her daughter, my aunt, the name of the child
I was, cherished and safe in lamplight, in Navajo country, the northern Arizona
mountains, in first morning, the lighted darkness of journeys' beginnings, with
the smell of bacon and the gentle sweetness of honey wrapped all around the
spoon as if belonging to it utterly.
want her back, the innocent being it named.
embarrassed me much of my life, that unacknowledged name, because it can so
easily be taken wrong, be made to mock; because it carries overtones and
baggage.I've refused to let any
but my most trusted friends know it.I've been ashamed of it, as of my too-short bangs and funny teeth and
ears that stick out.It's been
down-home when I wanted to be uptown; down south instead of someplace I would
rather be.It's been too soft, I
think, too gentle—a vulnerable creature of a more forgiving time.
I now understand it fits so perfectly, after all.This keepsake of my father's family, of which I have no
others, is first a precious hand-me-down, chosen with love by my parents.But it's an older legacy as well, a
gift—if inadvertent—from another tongue.It tells of the France I have travelled happily, the language which has
opened worlds I couldn't have imagined.But it's not just any word from French, somehow transmuted to become our
own, we fortunate three (like muses or graces), but the single word which tells
of what it is I've made my lifelong quest, of what has come to be my vocation,
beyond everything:belle.What is beautiful.
lovely—the word I use most.Fine,
too.And calm, of the sea.
La Belle au bois dormant is Sleeping Beauty.That I've been as well, enchanted in the tangle of branches
grown up around me, keeping me apart.
beauty there has been, child.The
green-hearted fishponds—remember?The luscious, revelatory colors of Pierre Bonnard; a tart of windfall
apricots burnt gently on the top; a cathedral at first morning, or an ancient
stadium above Delphi; a resonant hymn; a black dog with joy in every bone; an
herb in a monastic garden:clary,
sage, or rue; words in the spacious slow-paced old Venetian fonts; Puccini on a
summer hillside, and, indoors, a little measured Bach; a high bird cage on a
lake, and next to it the time-worn lines of an old woman's amused face; stone
temples, lines of poetry, black islands; a sheath of milk-white orchids carried
out to sea; the ink called sepia; the Paris bridges; a dozen kinds of vongole with delicate transluscent
shells; alum crystals forming around string, and pieces of glass angled to
catch stars; the caldera of a volcano, underfoot; Ethiopian spices; Aunt
Terry's intricate leis; my mother's spirit; seeds, green bark, and
silver-backed leaves; an irridescent flurry of peacocks; a single white heron;
a secret, a lessening, a way of going forward.
this is, after all, in me.Of
me.Inextricable.Bound by the telling name that defines
me, in spite of my early embarrassed squirmings under it.
had resisted my name; and it came back to me in the silence of Huna.I felt it in me like a small child
standing in a doorway.Awakened
from sleep, trailing a blanket, coming into a lighted, laughing room, full of
all the people she loved best.Wistful, plaintive, forgotten.The neglected beauty of the sleeping woods, kissed, welcomed back in.
name is mine again, and everything that is beautiful.
be worthy of it, and of those others who have trusted me to be—that is my
daunting legacy and destiny.
On one particularly dark day back in the Bush Era, when it was clear that things were only going to get worse, our writing group was greatly heartened by this story about poet James Merrill and a transformative green scooter.
James Merrill wrote in his memoir, A Different Person (1993), about visiting a doctor about his depression, saying that he didn't know how to live or how to love, he just knew how to write a poem. The doctor, he said, "listened closely, then acted with undreamed-of kindness and dispatch. 'Come with me,' he said, in a flash ushering me out of his downtown office and onto the back seat of a smart little pale-green motorscooter. I put my arms, as instructed, about his stout, gray-suited person, and off we went in sunlight, through traffic, under trees, past architecture, over the muddy river to lunch." (The Writer’s Almanac, 3/3/3)
Our hope is that this collection of writing will give readers the same je ne sais quois that brief but immense lunchtime voyage gave us—encouragement for going on; inspiration to do something simply good for ourselves each ordinary day; a smile; a moment of respite or recognition; time out from global numbing; a pause for weirdness, wonder, and delight. We want to share what gives us pleasure or some keener satisfaction putting down as well as picking up.
So hop on the green scooter with us. Read and be well.