It was the darkness that first surprised me, the shadows of shadows, a dark that could drown you if you snuck too close to the edge.
Then it was the blue - the fierce, unyielding blue of water that never quivered or moved. It was ice and fire together. I sucked in my breath as we jostled backpacks between our sticky selves and our camera shutters clicked and flashed, trying to capture a picture of stillness.
Then it was the wind. It came from a direction I couldn't find, brushing our faces clean, widening our eyes. We put our cameras down after a few moments, when we realized that you can't see unless you drink it in, lean your face over the icy deep water and feel gravity almost push you in.
Our teachers told us to take an hour, to explore, to be still, alone, to write and draw. I nestled my back between a tree and a rock, staring into the pit where earth meets water and reflects sky. I couldn't draw it, I knew that much. But I wanted to tell the story, to put it in words. This was the moment when I knew, as Rilke so wisely asked me years later - that I must write. Deep inside myself, that ferocious blue of the water and the pale white rocks and the blank canvas that was the world waiting for my words.
I went to the Fontaine de Vaucluse in the south of France and I became a writer.
You see with words - labeling the world as you walk through it, and everything must be named and renamed as your fingers trace the letters in your journal and in the condensation on the car window and across the keyboard. Words surround you, overwhelm you until you will never type fast enough to catch the stream, until you're swimming in them, until you can't stop thinking about what to write, and how to write, and when and where...
You suddenly awake to how alive everything must and shall be. You realize that words are storehouses for moments - so that when you say, ocean you remember the stiff wind before sunrise and the feeling of the cool wet rock against your back and you remember how salt air is sometimes the only medicine. When you type the word lovely you think England and your field, with its hedgerows and overgrown weeds and the sheep that graze aimlessly next to you. When you hear the word, incandescent you shiver remembering the glow of the red moon over the harbor late one night as you ventured home.
That day at the Fontaine de Vaucluse I became a writer, and lately I've been feeling so at odds with writing, not sure what to say or how, not sure why, not even sure if I should do it anymore. So when I thought about blogging today all I wanted to figure out is that moment, when I answered the question, must I write? and I said, yes.
I scribbled down a poem that day, my pen leaking its own blue onto my fingers. I sat there, 16 years old and in love with words, in love with the awful beauty of things, and I've never stopped.
A Letter to Paul at the Fontaine de Vaucluse
You told me beauty
was not found on earth,
that nothing I see will last.
I tell you it has taken me years
to arrive at this still fountain,
years before my eyes learned to feel
the touch of the rock at my back.
Here, trees reach
to protect the stones beneath,
branches bowed, green bleeding into the sky above.
Here, silence stretches across water,
cliffs hold their breath.
You told me to seek Heaven,
the embrace of sky, but I cry,
it is found.
For moments, I linger in light,
words forgotten, and pray.