I Once Promised to Read Middlemarch…

It was the summer between my junior and senior year in college. I was taking one class for summer school — an Independent Study on Women’s Literature. For those unfamiliar with the concept, that meant I just read some books I wanted to read by women and wrote papers about them. I remember reading The Awakening, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and Mrs. Dalloway; I’m sure I could name a few others if I really thought hard. At the end of the summer, the professor, Mrs. Constantine, told me I had done a great job, but she had slipped up in not requiring me to read Middlemarch, by George Eliot. It was one of the greatest books by any woman author ever, she said. I should really have made you read it. Promise me you will read it, and I’ll give you an A.

Two years later, I was unemployed during one of the hottest summers ever, and I spent it in the air-conditioned public library. It was the summer that convinced me to go back to school and get a library science degree. It was the summer of reading. One of the first books I checked out was Middlemarch. I think I made it to about page 60, and then I put it down in favor of The Lord of the Rings.

I’ll read it some other time, I thought.

Three years later I was finished with library school, working in a public library, and a used copy of Middlemarch fell into my hands at the library’s used book sale. 25 cents.

I brought it home and started to read. I got to about page 60, and put it down in favor of The Doll Maker by Harriet Arnow.

But at least it was now on my bookshelves. Every couple of years I would pick it up again. I would always make it to about page 60 before I put it down in favor of just about any other novel — Dune, Angle of Repose, A Hundred Years of Solitude, Chronicles of Narnia, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes….

The book finally took its toll on me — every time I went to my bookshelves, the thick spine haunted me — all 850 pages. I finally gave it back to another library’s used book sale to assuage my guilt.

The last time I tried to read it was ten years ago. I got to about page 60. When I put it down for what I thought was the last time, in favor of Anna Karenina, I apologized to Mrs. Constantine for accepting that A under false pretenses; I apologized to Mary Anne Evans for not being able to read her seminal work; I apologized to the muses of great literature for failing to make it beyond 60 pages of what has been called one of the greatest novels ever written; and I apologized to the great God of all for not keeping a promise.

Last month while adding to my Netflix queue, I discovered that Middlemarch had been done as a Masterpiece Theater series in 1994 and was available on 2 discs. I moved it to Number 1 & 2 and hoped Mr. H. C. was amenable to watching it.

I admit to having always always always decried watching the filmed version of a book, any book. From Charlotte’s Web to Empire Falls. From The Hobbit to Sophie’s Choice.

But we loved watching it.

So much that I have now downloaded Middlemarch to my Kindle, and I am now on page 137.

Perhaps that A wasn’t under false pretenses after all. At least I’ve made it past page 60.

(In case you are interested, dear reader, chapter 5 begins on page 60. Before that, chapter 4 is where Dorothea meets Casaubon at their dinner party. Like Celia, I must have been bored to tears by Casaubon…)

Relics of Time and Memory

Indian Rock

There are big rocks thirty miles to the south
in Slippery Rock Creek.
There are big rocks thirty miles to the east
in the National Forest.
There are big rocks thirty miles to the north
on the shores of Lake Erie.
But here in the rolling farm lands of Black Ash
there is just one big rock.

Walk with us just down the hill
past the edges of the berry bramble
and the fallow field
to where the
North Fork of the West Branch of Little Sugar Creek
winds its way through the beeches and hemlocks,
rippling and glinting
murmuring and echoing
the breeze of the leaves.

witch_hazel_03_fullTurn here at the witch hazel tree.
The path narrows, but just a stone’s throw
into the little glen
Indian Rock is there,
dominating.
A ten-foot maple tree grows from its moss;
Eons and roots have split the smooth stone.
There is a foot ledge
to enable scrambling,
but no grand view from the top,
for this granite boulder guards a small ravine
and a bubbling spring
that feeds the
North Fork of the West Branch of
Little Sugar Creek.

a giant granite anomaly amidst
a sea of sandstone,
thrown here in ancient days by melting glaciers
and God.

The granite is carpeted with moss
and baby blue forget-me-nots
Pale green lichens and fiddlehead ferns–
Miniature perfection.

delicate rock garden Forget-me-not flowers in moss and stones

Image courtesy of freeimages.co.uk

Relics were found here.
Mortars, pestles, arrowheads
from the people called Seneca.
Picture the mother, baby strapped to her back
pounding the leather, the corn,
kneeling to collect clear cool water from the spring.
i carry my child in a bright green back pack and we
collect the water
in our plastic Mr. Donut buckets,
but i feel a kinship with her just the same.

i lift him from the backpack and sit him on the soft moss;
i step up on the ledge from behind
and we rest in the shimmering green sunlight
on an ancient moraine.

my pale hand reaches to stroke this red haired child
crawling on the mossy rock
as her brown hand tousles the dark hair of her child
crawling on the mossy rock
and in that second
our fingers
touch
through
time.

sunlight on rocks

August Is Yellow

Part One
the august sun shines like a spotlight on the ten year old
joyfully riding her new green bicycle (without the training wheels) 
down the gravel driveway.

like a pro, not even braking,
she leans to the left and whizzes onto the dirt path
packed down through years of truck tires.

through the trees she rides, slowing now, for the pull of the dirt
is harder on bicycle tires (though easier on knees).
the trees bow to her, the queen of the bicycle.

the sun glints through the leaves and the air is
saturated with the sweet scent of ripe peaches
and the hum of satisfied and satiated bees.

she pays no attention to the glorious around her
because she is ten years old and not yet aware
that her childhood Augusts were golden.
peaches at apple hill

Part Two
the grandfather is waiting for her to tire of riding circles 
in the orchard. he figures it will take twice (maybe three times)
and she’ll be ready to listen to the lesson that peaches teach.

he has the ladder ready when 
she drops her bike next to the dusty green farm truck.
“Help me pick some peaches?” he asks.

he steadies the ladder and guides her small hand as they reach,
touching the fuzz gently, gently, every squeeze will bruise these 
peaches easy as you bruise those knees.

gently gently she places the peach in the basket looped over her 
      skinny arm.
he moves her hand to another hanging low on the branch. 
see this green? see this fuzz? peaches have to ripen on the tree.

their juices have to be warmed by the hot August sun. they take 
their time ripening and can’t be hurried. you can’t pick the tree 
clean, you have to go again and again to the same tree. 
       peaches teach patience.

together they fill the basket, moving the ladder around the tree
taking their time — savoring the tree-ripened juicy chin-sticky 
sweet yellow sweltering August patience-teaching peaches.

patience is not his usual shape, this short round man in the straw 
hat and farm clothes teaching peaches to the skinny girl with bruised
      knees. 
she learned peaches. she learned love. she still stamps her foot at
      patience

and she can’t abide sickly grocery store peaches.
grandfather

For the next few weeks I’m taking an online poetry course over at Monna McDiarmid’s place. This first week we were asked to write about childhood, and if we wanted, to use the color yellow. I probably won’t post  all the poems, but this one I liked because it was such a good memory of my grandfather, who built Apple Hill Cottage. And my sister sent me this photo just as I was writing the poem…It’s a work in progress. Comments welcome.