I am so grateful for National Public Radio. After the inanities of television, even television news, even so-called “Public Television,” the depth of National Public Radio is a great relief. I often hear a snatch of something as I’m driving, and then I come home, go to the web site, and read what I heard, or listen to it again. This time it’s a series on War and Literature, and a book by Aminatta Forna, a woman from Sierra Leone. Her most recent book is called Ancestor Stones. This piece of it brought tears to my eyes:
[From Aminatta Forna's novel Ancestor Stones published by Atlantic Monthly Press. Paperback edition to be published by Grove Press, August 2007.] In the corner a stack of chests once stood, of ascending size from top to bottom. Gone now. Fleetingly I imagined the treasures I might have found inside. Pieces of faded indigo fabric. Embroidered gowns crackling with ancient starch. Letters on onion-skin parchment. Leather-bound journals. Memories rendered into words. But, no. For here the past survives in the scent of a coffee bean, a person’s history is captured in the shape of an ear, and those most precious memories are hidden in the safest place of all. Safe from the fire or floods or war. In stories. Stories remembered, until they are ready to be told. Or perhaps simply ready to be heard.
And it is women’s work, this guarding of stories, like the tending of gardens. And as I go out to them, my aunts, silhouetted where they sit in the silver light of early dusk, I remember the women returning home at nightfall from the plots among the trees.
That reminds me how much I love stories, yes, the ones I read, but even more, the ones I hear; and that reminds me of Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes,” and the line, “each name a comfortable music in the mouth,” taken from this part of the poem:
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
And that reminds me that wherever any of us go, our first business is to befriend the people, and our second business is to hear their stories. We take that work with us anywhere, anywhere we go. More reason to be glad of being alive.
Speaking of which, it is flooding in Texas. We have had so much rain. Oyster Creek, where I walk every morning, is flooding, has flooded wild rabbits’ warrens. This morning, in the middle of the paved walking trail by the creek, a small rabbit’s soft body lies on its side in a position of complete exhaustion, its small mouth blue, its eyes open and unseeing, reflecting the blue patch of sky above the trumpet vines.
Tags: About Africa, Books and Movies