Sunday, January 03, 2010


This morning I heard a sound like a locomotive charging through my yard. Years ago, the town of Hampton was called Junction, on account of its central location for 4 railroads that crossed New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and probably New York and elsewhere. However, all the railroads are long gone, and the tracks behind my house have become a dumping spot for branches, leaves, and other types of compost by the neighborhood houses. The sound I heard was actually the wind--it's brutally cold out there, and lately I can't help feeling like I'm living in the Arctic.

Nonetheless, I got out of bed early, fed all my animals, and headed out to the cafe in Frenchtown this morning. The cafe opens with the sun in the wintertime--7:00 in the morning. Today, the cafe was as cold as the outside. I sat at my usual table near the back of the counter, and Katie, the waitress, hastened to bring me my coffee and take my order. My brain was not quite unfrozen, and I felt like I was talking to her through a fog of frozen breath, though none was to be seen. I held my coffee cup on my leg to feel its warmth. Rosella, the owner, put a space heater on the floor near my seat. "What's funny is that an hour from now, it will be so hot in here, I'll have to turn on the air conditioning," she said. Indeed, the reason I visit the cafe when it opens is because it fills up quickly--on some days every seat is filled by 7:15. Today it is not quite so full, but busy nonetheless. I am pleased to see Bill, one of the chefs, come out of the back to get his morning coffee. While the breakfast at the cafe is always excellent, when Bill is cooking, it is spectacular. He's been here for years, and it's certainly one of his natural talents.

As I sipped my coffee and waited for my food, I opened a brand new book I'd ordered myself for Christmas, Maggie Nelson's "Bluets". I saw a review of this book in the Rumpus. On Twitter, the person posting the link at the Rumpus did so with the comment, "This review makes me want to run out and buy this book right now." Intrigued, I read the review, and felt the same way. And as I sat reading, I could understand the reviewer's passion. It is a book about the author's love affair with the color "blue", and she offers over 200 "verses", sometimes lines, sometimes paragraphs, that reads like a mystical treatise--the words constantly point you to the feeling of blue, the idea of it, without quite touching what it intrinsically IS. But one of the questions offered is, can you touch it? If you love it, can it love you back?

Some of the most striking verses for me revolve around her feelings for a man she's loved and lost. In talking to her therapist, she is told that when she was in love with the man, she was only in love with what she thought he was--she was blind to who he really was. This prompts verse #45:

45. "This pains me enormously. She presses me to say why; I can't answer. Instead I say something about how clinical psychology forces everything we call love into the pathological or delusional or the biologically explicable, that if what I was feeling wasn't love, then I am forced to admit that I don't know what love is, or more simply, that I loved a bad man. How all of these formulations drain the blue right out of love and leave an ugly, pigmentless fish flapping on a cutting board on a kitchen counter."

and then, Verse 53:

53. "'We mainly suppose the experiential quality to be an intrinsic quality of the physical object'--this is the so called systematic illusion of color. Perhaps it is also that of love. But I am not willing to go there. Not just yet. I believed in you."

I sat with my breakfast, savoring roasted red potato home fries while reading about the erotic, the puritanical, about the sensation of fucking and being fucked ("fucking has a color, and it is not blue")--and also about women who plucked their own eyes out as an act of fidelity to God, but perhaps it was not this but a shame over their own lust. I stop, ironically enough, at verse 69.

I finish my coffee, pay the bill, and after waving goodbye to the regulars, I walk out into the freezing cold, back to my car. As I head on down Route 12 towards my next stop, time feels slower. I look outside at the rosy dawn, with the sun now fully risen, the sky partially obscured by clouds of a mysterious color. I am still thinking about what I've read. It's as much about me as it is about any woman who has loved a man. The clinical dissection of love is a defense against vulnerability. I am hugely guilty of it, as is anyone who has experienced the shattering experience of heartbreak.

Interestingly, reading the verses does not make me sad. It makes me feel at peace with the idea that loving someone is painful. Which is a good reason not to give up on love--anything worth doing requires some level of pain.

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