The Undertow

Deep in the night, I woke thinking of a Raymond Carver story I had been reading, “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” My children had found this title infinitely amusing, riffing on it as a joke between the two of them.

All night long, while the girls and I had been sleeping, cumulus clouds floated over our house, the full moon shining through like a light at the bottom of an ocean turned upside down. I opened the door and stood on the balcony, imaging myself a clipper ship surrounded by this sea of luminescence. In the distant east, just over Woodbury Mountain’s black ridge, shone a single star. In the moonlight, I saw through the sparse woods the edge of the town’s tiny cemetery, where the slatted fence peels white paint.

The Carver story, simply, is about marriage, and it’s not a funny story at all. It’s about conundrums and paradox, about the mysterious, hidden parts of our lives. And yet, standing beneath that marvelous night sky, I watched the moonlight rush cloud shadows over the earth. I was glad to be awake.

…We could have some arrangement
By which I’d bind myself to keep hands off
Anything special you’re a-mind to name.
Though I don’t like such things ’twixt those that love.
Two that don’t love can’t live together without them.
But two that do can’t live together with them….

From “Home Burial” by Robert Frost


Hardwick, Vermont



These past few days I’ve been reading Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus, traveling through the rain in California, on an old bus named Sweetheart, with the desperate-hearted, the lovely and the profane, the young and the dying. The novel is classic Steinbeck, with an eye for the landscape, and characters so real you could pull up a chair and have a conversation. Near the end, when I began to think this wasn’t my favorite Steinbeck novel, I read a half page of dialogue that made the whole book rise and spin. Then I went with those two characters back to the bus, dug it out of a mud hole, and drove to San Juan.


We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the neverending contest in ourselves of good and evil.

– Steinbeck, East of Eden


Photo by Molly S.