“An Echo That Did Not Die Away”

[Image: a communications “satelloon.” For more information,
see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you’ve been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw — but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realize that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you were transported. Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of — something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat’s side? Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it — tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest — if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself — you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say “Here at last is the thing I was made for.” We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.

(C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain [source])

Not from whiskey river:

The tao of touch

What magic does touch create
that we crave it so. That babies
do not thrive without it. That
the nurse who cuts tough nails
and sands calluses on the elderly
tells me sometimes men weep
as she rubs lotion on their feet.

Yet the touch of a stranger
the bumping or predatory thrust
in the subway is like a slap.
We long for the familiar, the open
palm of love, its tender fingers.
It is our hands that tamed cats
into pets, not our food.

The widow looks in the mirror
thinking, no one will ever touch
me again, never. Not hold me.
Not caress the softness of my
breasts, my inner thighs, the swell
of my belly. Do I still live
if no one knows my body?

We touch each other so many
ways, in curiosity, in anger,
to command attention, to soothe,
to quiet, to rouse, to cure.
Touch is our first language
and often, our last as the breath
ebbs and a hand closes our eyes.

(Marge Piercy, from The Hunger Moon: New & Selected Poems, 1980-2010 [source])


The Pig

It was the first of May
A lovely warm spring day
I was strolling down the street in drunken pride,
But my knees were all a-flutter,
And I landed in the gutter
And a pig came up and lay down by my side.

Yes, I lay there in the gutter
Thinking thoughts I could not utter
When a lady passing by did softly say
“You can tell a man who boozes
By the company he chooses” —
And the pig got up and slowly walked away.


I don’t know  how it’s regarded these days, but for decades the National Film Board of Canada was an almost preternaturally good source of films you could find nowhere else: short documentaries, experimental films, animations — all funded by the often preternaturally good people of Canada for no reason other than that such things enrich a culture. The one below is called The Apprentice; about it, the NFB site says:

In this animated short from Richard Condie (The Big Snit), an old fool meets a young fool at a crossroads in the 14th century. The old fool stays behind while the young fool skips blindly down the wrong road. The old fool must then teach his young apprentice about the consequences of taking the wrong road. A quirky tale told without words.


Note: About the image: “satelloons” were prototype communication satellites developed by NASA in the 1960s; radio waves were simply bounced, passively, from their reflective surfaces back to the Earth. The one depicted here is currently in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum, although not on display there. It is 135 feet in diameter and weighs about 375 pounds. The satelloons, folded flat like mirrored bedsheets, were launched into space in the nose cone of the launch vehicle and inflated — very slowly and carefully — only when in orbit. A NASA history published in 1995 (cited here) said:

For those enamored with its aesthetics, folding the beautiful balloon into its small container for packing into the nose cone of a Thor-Delta rocket was somewhat like folding a large Rembrandt canvas into a tiny square and taking it home from an art sale in one’s wallet.

Only two went into operation before higher-capacity, active electronic satellites replaced them. The name of the NASA program, unsurprisingly: Project Echo. The one in the photograph was itself a prototype of Echo 2.

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  1. The CS Lewis says something I didn’t realize I needed said.

    And the Piercy and the pig quotes made me think of the stories I’d just written.

    No pressure, but please never stop blogging.

  2. marta: I’ve passed over numerous whiskey river items which weren’t nearly as long as the Lewis quotation — because they were too long. But I just couldn’t drop that one. I thought of trimming it down to a shorter excerpt, but I couldn’t do that either. I like it a lot just as it is.

    Thank you so much for that last sentence. (Although, ha: “no pressure”!)

  3. “We long for the familiar, the open
    palm of love, its tender fingers.”

    That’s a lovely line, isn’t it? Here’s the secret of grandmothers: we adore our grandbabies because they need our touch, reach for it, clearly thrive on it.

    I got part way into the magical, yearning C.S.Lewis piece and just HAD to scroll down to learn the author. That messed me up, because Lewis was, according to my pigeonholer, a Christian mystic. I’m not supposed to like that. Mystics are okay, but only the un-church-y ones. I am supposed to be suspicious of Lewis…which only winds up making me suspicious of myself. Oh, brother. Pigeonholing is hell.

  4. you’ve passed over numerous whiskey river items . . .

    I see.


    Just kidding. I thought of trimming it down to a shorter excerpt too, but, like you, couldn’t.

    He rambled, but rambled well.

  5. Nance: Coincidentally, on Friday my sister posted an entry at her own blog on the question of why we have pets (or vice-versa, depending on how you look at it). My answer, which I could not have given when I was younger (although we did have lots of pets), was: for the sake of our sense of touch. Piercy’s poem mentions an animal only glancingly, and that, focuses on the pet’s POV. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that it cut both ways back inside that cave. That cats dispatched vermin? That (it seems to me) was the afterthought in the relationship — the fringe benefit.

    By nature, I think, I tend to be charitably inclined towards mystics of all stripes. An interesting thing seems to happen during their lives, as they work their way through to their philosophic cores (digging down beneath the goofball surface): their writings — their minds — start to resemble one another’s. That core seems to be the thing that Lewis is writing about in this passage.

  6. whiskey: !

    I feel like the cuckoo who, while acknowledging that her nestlings slept well, has been caught complaining about the color of the nest — the stolen nest — in which they slept.

    Early last week I was thinking, guiltily, of how much I’ve gotten from your site over the years, even before I started this blog. I should try to trim down on the borrowings, I thought. Maybe I’ll base my Friday post on just use ONE day’s entry at whiskey river

    So then naturally the week I decide I should do this, the ONE entry which called to me more than others was the longest I think I may have ever seen there — certainly the longest in a long time.

    P.S. !

  7. John, if I trimmed down on the borrowings I would have a page intentionally left blank. So, no guilt. I think this is great, and I enjoy what I learn here from you, what you delve into and the connections you make.

  8. whiskey: I can’t honestly say that it’s always easy. (Well, it almost never is “easy” — but the connective tissue feels more real some weeks.) Sometimes Thursday rolls around and I think, y’know, “What the hell — what in the hell am I supposed to do with this assortment, wr?!?” If I didn’t know better, I’d swear your assortment of sources had been meeting in a room someplace off-camera to decide how to mess with my head.

    But the exercise always rewards. The first five to seven hours or so of nearly every Saturday is my one BIG block of time set aside each week strictly for writing and revising the work-in-progress; that’s a loooong session by most people’s standards (including mine). But by the time I’ve posted the Friday whiskey river-inspired entry here, my head is all loose and limbered up — not unlike some reports of the benefits of meditation. Fridays flow easily, for me, into Saturdays.

    Yet another lesson there, I think — and like many of the best lessons, not one I set out to learn.

    Thanks so, so much.

  9. I have always loved C.S. Lewis for so many things. But I love how he rambles on about something until you suddenly realize you know what he talking about and you might have even thought about, but certainly could NEVER put it down the way he does.

    The post was great. I thought the poem was Ogden Nash or Dorothy Parker, but I didn’t really look for it anywhere…so I’m just guessing.

  10. cynth: When I first saw that poem it said it really was anonymously composed; it seems to be an old “traditional” poem, one which probably masks itself as a temperance lecture while actually, at its heart, being just plain funny.

    I even found a long version:

    It was early last December, as near as I remember
    I was walking down the street in tipsy pride
    No one was I disturbing, as I lay down by the curbing
    And a pig came up and lay down by my side

    As I lay there in the gutter, thinking thoughts I cannot utter
    A lady passing by was heard to say
    “You can tell a man who boozes by the company he chooses”
    And the pig got up and slowly walked away

    One evening in October, when I was far from sober
    To keep my feet from wandering I tried,
    My poor legs were all a-flutter, so I lay down in the gutter
    And a pig came up and lay down by my side.
    We sang,”Never mind the weather just as long as we’re together”
    Till a lady passing by was heard to say,
    “You can tell a man who boozes by the company he chooses”
    And the pig got up and slowly walked away.

    Yes the pig got up and slowly walked away.
    Slowly walked away, slowly walked away
    Yes the pig got up and then smiled and winked at me
    As he slowly walked away.

    On cattle shows I’ve centered, in one a pig I entered
    And one day I sat down with him in his sty
    Famous people came to visit, when a sweet voice said, “What is it?”
    She said “What a lofely fella”, poked the pig with her umbrella
    Then she looked at me a while and whispered, “Say
    Yeah Ay tank dis iss hees brudder”—at my side I felt a shudder
    And the pig got up and slowly walked away.

    I wonder if Lewis would be shocked or amused to find himself in such company? :)

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