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Visiting Rowan Oak


I wanted something from Faulkner's house. I wanted something like you do when a grandfather is buried, when you leave a lover for what you know is the last time even if she does not, when you walk through the woods or a graveyard at the beginning of winter. A shirt, a stone. Something.

Circling the outside of Rowan Oak, I claimed a spot. A large patio where the setting sun was giving up, and I said, "this is where I would be." Inside the house, in the dining room that opened to the veranda, the placard said Faulkner often wrote outside, in that very place. For a second that was good enough, that we saw something the same way, we had this understanding, William and I, and it moved from the page, his pages, to his porch, and I got him. I was sure of it. I got him, and that made all the words real.

I had traveled to Mississippi with three other writers, and as we wandered I wasn't really sure if everyone was engaged with this minute of this stop, but our eyes and cameras were open and we ran other narratives, we prowled paths and ran our hands over screen doors and looked at the artifacts and holy relics gathered. The fetish of a bourbon bottle. His own leather boots. This desk, this bed.

That's what I saw. They are bound to have seen other things.

I've done enough things together with enough writers to know that this particular shared experience, filtered through each writer's curving cortex and gaping places and quilted projections, would make its way onto the Internet (or wouldn't) in layers of story--different posts, photos shared, Tweets and updates, all of it rock solid, not any of it wholly blood true, most of it connected at the base like wildly flinging and jamming typewriter keys but all of it sprung loose, too. Separate and knitted together, linked and overlapped, and somewhere in what isn't seen when linking from place to place is another story altogether. It occurred to me that these layers of voices and narratives and time slips and captures and secrets withheld, awareness/lack of awareness and all of it, all of that, is what Faulkner, and Joyce and Stein for that matter, and the others--it's what they were doing with their stream of consciousness experiments. How you graft your words into each other but you never, ever get it all tied up in a bow, years later you learn the real story of you & the other one, if that's what you can call it, there isn't a sensible timeline to anything, how you put it all together way after the fact and your personal version is based on relative patience and paste, bias and blinders, irrational love.

This is story. There are layers and different voices. The only true thing is you can only barely trust each narrator, each only fans some of the cards in front of you. She doesn't even know about the others. She's stuffed some in a bottle where it wicks beer alongside scraps of peeled label. Some fell from the car, flew out the window and we didn't even see it happen. Some will fall from her shirt as it is lifted past her head and off of her arms--music was playing, that must have been how they found their way there. She plays the cards close to her chest. A delta blues riff is laid down and she plays them as they lay.

It isn't always your story to tell.

What if the whole trip was a version of As I Lay Dying and I worried it was a dream, that I was still reading, just reading, always reading? Any road trip could be, I guess, damn you Faulkner, you smug bastard with your riding boots and your house that despite having a name is now falling apart--it's all falling apart--and your utter lack of concern with what we could understand on first read. Still, you knew it: we are moved forward by our missions and small hungers and lack. We are moved forward by the will of a woman who isn't even there. We are willing to re-read. That woman isn't even there yet her voice demands a chapter of its own. She is a fish. She is a fish caught on a line yesterday, gasping for air, and what now? Is your net big enough and is the weave fine enough to take what you find, is this thesomething: the shirt, the stone, the takeaway?

We tell stories as we go. We tell the past while we wear this new day out. We tentatively offer that there might/maybe/will be a tomorrow and it's for sure it will be so sunny you will smile. Or it might rain, hard against the tin roof, and you will laugh. Once upon a time, there was foreshadowing. Foreshadows fall from every cedar tree, tea leaves collect at the bottom of every wine glass. I want to always stay, I want to go home, I want to roll a new piece of paper through this old machine.

I'm reminded how Faulkner fought with Hemingway. They dismissed each other; it got ugly. Fighting words.

Things happen, the car hits train track and something important, a part of the whole, is MIA and a sound that concerns us all is born, thumping in the rear like a casket; earlier we got lost looking for pancakes. Pancakes! Prowling dirt shack streets knocking on thin windows looking for pancakes and the GPS saysrecalculating. How is that even possible? It is funny, darkly, inexplicably funny, we die laughing, we absolutely die laughing, and as we lay dying something wants to burn down a barn just to be free, and someone runs through the fire to pull out a save.

I found something at Rowan Oak. Something good and exactly what was unexpected. I found boot leather pushed against wallpaper. I found a 64 and that is my number. I found peeling window panes, the thick impressions of a broken "e" key against parchment, and a haunted garden. Later I found something quite a bit like a stone except it's also like salt, time and cedar. It's a word against my mouth. I'm just not sure what it will say.


Thank you SchmutzieJett and Laurie for an amazing trip to Mississippi.

Reader Comments (11)

Just lovely, Deb. Just lovely. something I needed to read today. something deep. with ripples.

(And thanks for the postcard that now adorns my fridge.)

December 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVarda (SquashedMom)

Beautiful. I have always wanted to visit Rowan Oak. I loved reading your different perspectives. You're such a beautiful writer.

December 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Oh I dream of a writers getaway, sounds like an amazing trip, illustrated perfectly with your words.

December 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

And I got your postcard. Lovely. So glad you all had a safe and narratively unique trip . . .

December 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

I didn't get no stinkin' postcard, but then again, I didn't exactly know about your trip as it was happening, so why would I?


Actually, Deb, all I really wanna say is I sense your passion, I see a glimpse, and I hang on to words woven, delicious, expressive...and I could've kept reading for ages.

My favorite piece I've read of yours, reminding me once again of your gift.

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobin ~ PENSIEVE


December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTerri

I love the passion in your writing and you have a way with words. I will for sure some back and read your future posts.

I hope you check out my blog at where you can find luxurious and affordable baby cribs, diaper bags, and crib bedding sets.

December 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermollyminks

YOU are a writer. Holy hell.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

This is achingly beautiful, Deb. It reminded me of this:

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaryLauren@My3LittleBirds

"We tell stories as we go. We tell the past while we wear this new day out."

I re-read this because Amy tweeted it and this is what I think I carried with me from it after all. Such a perfect line.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlaurie

months later and I still come back to read this.

I do hope to see you in NYC this August. I miss you.

February 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLora

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