It’s coming on autumn. Soon, I will feel compelled to read a poem by Gregory Orr to my senior class. I might ask each of them to read it aloud again for themselves. I will likely do the same in the spring, before they leave.
Ghosts at Her Grandmother's House
It is autumn and I can see the lake because leaves have fallen. The distant water becomes blue leaves on the bare branches of oaks.
I look back at the house: two empty armchairs on the porch. She is sitting in one of them, and my wife is a child in her arms.
I will say this poem for their sakes, but also for my own. To read a poem is to breathe where it breathes, know as it knows. Inhabiting the consciousness of this poem, I become as composed as I struggle to be in life, as capable of seeing and trusting in the endurance of life, as capable of love. To read such a poem is a rehearsal.
After all, I am standing outside a house that holds few or no memories for me, within the gathering cold of a season of harvest and dying, and the rhythm of my perception is so untroubled, I feel at home. In such stillness, I am given to see living water, present to my sense precisely because the apparent fell away. In apprehending this moment, what’s far grows near. Distant blue (that mirrors sky and holds life unseen) limns the weathered trees before me. The convergence is so complete — conflating, as it does, earth and sky, water and air — it should shock my cognition, disorient, leave me bewildered, but the rhythm goes on being serene. The images that arrive are of deep rehabilitation, and they come as though expected: ghosts, guests. The attended imagination, I understand, is nothing to be feared.
How easy it would be now for me to become entranced, fall in love with the richness of the vision I've been given. Instead, in this consciousness, I turn. I turn from the element that filled an earthly depression and dazzlingly replenished life thought to be lost; I turn as though guided by what I saw, as though looking for its kin. I turn toward the life of my beloved. Again, loss and death are transfigured—necessary conditions, I see now, for me to see what I see now: the unending nature of remembered life. Here is my wife, years before the time I say I came to know her. And here is her grandmother, on this same porch, cradling the girl I will call my wife. Standing in the open air of autumn, I love what they love, and love them more for knowing them more.
For the time it takes to say the poem, I feel and know what it is for my self to dissolve into attentiveness, for time to coalesce, and for love to become more present.
And so, when soon I say this poem out loud and ask others to do the same (for I am a teacher), I will do so in the belief that when the bell propels us from the poem’s depths up to our own clamorous surfaces, and sends us out toward other people within a world that seems to be falling apart, something of this poem's consciousness will stay with us as we go.