November 13th, 2009


So this is the way the night tastes

So this is the way the night tastes
one at a time
not early or late...

- W.S. Merwin, "Blueberries After Dark"
from The Shadow of Sirius, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

It was semi-dark in the courtyard of the Hammer Museum two weeks ago when I arrived, after bravely journeying across Los Angeles in the middle of rush hour, too late for the beginning of W.S. Merwin's poetry reading.

I had made great time at first, but traffic came to almost a dead stop a few miles before the 110 freeway.

Sunset bathed a mackerel sky with otherworldly color. I saw dark shadows of migrating birds, all heading south against the clouds. Planes were circling above and around to line up for the landing queue at LAX. KUSC played "The Skywalker Symphony."

My estimated arrival in Westwood shifted from "probably early" to "probably late" but I was in a surreal time-warp where time stood still and birds were traveling far faster than I was.

Eventually, I gave up on the 10 and just starting driving along Pico Boulevard, arriving at the Hammer Museum too late to make it inside where Wendy Wright's purse sat on the empty chair meant for me.

Yet, as I entered the courtyard, Merwin's melodious voice filled the air with poetry. Perhaps 50 people sat quietly around the bamboo and maple-filled courtyard, in the semi-dark with eyes closed, listening. Another 230 people were inside.

Poetry is alive and doing well in Los Angeles.

Inside this pocket of nature, framed by the skyscrapers of Westwood, I heard Merwin read from The Shadow of Sirius.

From "The Nomad Flute" --do you still hear me/does your air/remember you...

And, yes, Merwin, I still hear you, the way your voice sounds as I sit among bamboo and contemplate skyscrapers. I remember how the night tastes - cool, refreshing and full of poetry.

Deborah P Kolodji, W.S. Merwin
photo by Taoli-Ambika Talwar

(Note: Every cloud has a silver lining - by being outside the actual reading and listening from the courtyard, I was one of the first in the book signing line.)