I don’t mean the window in your bedroom or your office or your kitchen or your parlor. You won’t find this room in your house. I mean the window in another room, the place where you sit in the gloom and read and sip tea or smoke a pipe, surrounded by your books and your bottles. On the shelves where there’s a little space between the heavy, cobwebbed volumes, you see dried flowers in leaded crystal and pewter dragons long ago changed to gold by some magic whisper, and you sit and watch the flame of a candle flicker and you consider the ultimate ends of things. Everybody has a room like that. They gave you the key to the door to that room with your first breath. Maybe you move into it with your last.
That room has a window. Maybe the panes are dim and warped with age, maybe they’re clear, clean, a white plastic frame with a wire screen on the other side.
What do you see out that window?
Is it sunrise? Have you been up all night, and the candle burns low and gutters? Or is it twilight, the long night still ahead? If there are curtains, you’ve pulled them back for a moment just to look outside.
What do you see? The street and the house next door? Or maybe your room is on an upper floor. Perhaps you can look down into the center of the park, old men tossing corn to heavy, grey pigeons and young mothers walking their babes?
Or do you see the horizon, no sign of anyone in sight, but maybe the first star of the violet evening sky glimmering just above the fog shrouded walls of a ruined monastery perched atop the low forested hills under the crescent moon?
I’d be willing to bet that for most everyone, it’s either the park or it’s the horizon, and the difference means everything.
“Do you really want the girl?”
“How can you ask that?” And David stopped, his brow creasing. Rachael had a perfectly good reason for asking that, in fact. He remembered the way it felt when he saw Sita go out that door. He knew that feeling. He knew that feeling from a long way back, from the first time he ever looked at a horizon in the hills and realized that he wanted so badly to wander up into those dark woods and climb those misty slopes, because whatever he wanted, and he didn’t even know what to call it himself—he just knew he wanted it—and whatever it was, it was out there, just beyond sight. That’s where they always kept it, just on the other side of the horizon.
Of course he knew perfectly well what he would find if he actually wandered into those hills. He’d find old refrigerators dumped into ravines. He’d find rusted wire fences strung along. Poison ivy. No trespassing signs peppered through with bird shot. Blackberry brambles. And once he got to the top of the hill, he’d find himself looking out over a clear cut wasteland, the logging company just finished with the far side, or the backside of a subdivision, or another wooded slope tangled with briars and littered with bottles and abandoned refrigerators. Or at best another distant line of hills, hoping that maybe he’d find whatever he was looking for beyond that.
Yet, when sitting on the porch at home and looking out at those distant blue hills, they were the place where the magic drifted through the mist in the twilight, and just over the tops of those crests was the way to see into the land where the horns of elfland blew.
You just had to remember not to really go up there and look over the tops of the hills. That’s why the landscape looking down out the window of an airplane is always so dull. There’s no horizon for the poetry to hide behind.
That was stupid. What possible point was there in a creature that wanted something it couldn’t have, something that wasn’t even really there?
But humans made good use of that want. The far side of the hills, the land under the golden sunset—that isn’t the place where the abandoned refrigerators are. That’s the place where the poems live.
You just have to avoid going there and looking at it too carefully, that’s all.
(from The Lesser Gods)
So David’s no good at fooling himself. He writes poetry, and he knows where it comes from. You can tell what David sees outside his window.
But maybe there’s poetry in parks, too. Maybe you look across the street, the concrete sidewalk split and lifted by the roots of the oaks they planted when the window of this room could still be opened on a warm summer night, and you see the dimly lit windows five stories up across Connecticut Avenue, just above the street lamps that only look like gaslight now, and you get a half glimpse of a yellowed lamp shade and a painting on a far wall, and you’re pretty sure it’s a Fragonard, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see him, or her, sitting at a battered old writing desk, head resting on hand, hair askew, tapping pen on jaw and trying to tease out the words for this, the last letter they are ever going to write to that one.
Does looking across the lane take you inside, inside people, inside yourself? Looking at the horizon take you outside?
Is there a heart in the first mist of twilight? Or can you find the beginning—and the end—of all things in a pensive lonely face across the alley?
And would you dare to walk across that lane—or out to that horizon?
So, what do you see out your window?