Language of the heart


We hunted poetry Sunday, driving 900 km to find this place of peace, wondering at the words of poems read in the car. I’m told that after I went to bed the first night, poetry was recited by heart in Polish before a crackling fire and emptying bottle of vodka. We find ourselves in rich hunting grounds. I passed fields full of deer and thought of betrayal and communism and empty villages where people sold their souls.

“No prostitutes standing along the highway anymore,” I said. “We don’t do that anymore,” came the answer.

The one piece of research I still needed for my novel was how old painting frames could be renovated, and yesterday, after falling asleep in rooms with 200-year-old hardwood floors, every plank a story, we went to the grandfather’s studio and old frames looked back at me through hollow eyes

And winked.

Old and new.

Renewed, rejoicing, resurrected, rehabilitated, renovated, relaxed, rested, resuscitated, revelatory, redeemed, revealed, reborn, and released.

Sunset, orange with purple hues seen out of a snowladen window: dried-up well, trees, fading sky,

Back home.

So tonight he cried. The grandfather. And so did I. And then my student friend also. “She has this effect on people,” she said, I think about me. For a few precious seconds we spoke the language of the heart. It had been two days of Polish, French, and English, words all around us, some invisible, others so tangible they cut us open, poetry and vodka at night before an open fire place until 1:30 a.m., poetry our own, poetry by others, words like balm over the wounds of time.

La langue du cœur. She: “That was such a powerful moment. Did you see his eyes, they watched his grandfather and filled with such emotion.” It was the first time he’d seen his grandfather cry in 20 years.

The letting go, the white-hot power at the table; we all sat so confused, struck dumb with compassion, even the words did not know what to say.

This after the grandfather told about being asked to write a book about his childhood during the war and surviving the Warsaw Uprising as a child living in the sewers. I sit beside him now and watch him laugh, tortoise-shell round glasses, a cap patchworked velvet with holes around the sides, “so my head can breathe,” slippers gray with white embroidery flowers. “My way of creating is a mess, a catastrophe. I have no method, no regimen,” said the man who roams the flea markets of Brussels and rescues his prizes like released hostages. Labors of love, the paintings restored, the frames enhanced, wooden sculptures, refurbished furniture, polished wood, all these sculptures and carvings and Italian Renaissance and Art Nouveau and Impressionist artists, they crowd around us, a cloud of witnesses to the words whispered and sighed, poets present, poets past.

Last night one of my student friends heard the news that an article he wrote would be published by one of the top Foreign Policy journals in the world. We celebrated with vodka, of course.

I asked the grandfather how he decided what to work on; so many projects calling to him, what filter did he use?

But the other student said to me, “Anne, your writing is different than his workshop. If he doesn’t work on something, it’s still on the table a week later when he returns to the studio. If you don’t write down what is there when it shows up, you lose it.” So what I’ve heard today is 1) to follow my heart, 2) to do what is burning brightest, like a child builds a fort—work your hardest, and when you’re finished, you walk away.

I’ve known this. I’ve known that the writing is supposed to be played like music, in childlike abandon. I unburied this treasure all those years ago, yet again and again I squandered the knowing, imposing schedules and deadlines, restricting the flow, damming the Living Water to a stagnant hell.

I told the grandfather in a previous life I was a mafiosa. He told me in a previous life he was my servant. I told him, “You are mistaken; in a previous life, we were brother and sister.”

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