from   Five letters from one window,
San Gimignano, May 1981

      The view beyond my window is divided almost equally between green hills and a Della Robbia blue sky. In the last hour the blue has been suffused with a paler, thinner stuff, maybe mist, soothing the landscape with a calm evening light. Having a horizon to measure by alerts one to change. Only fifteen minutes ago, when I looked up from my work table, big puffs of white cloud were creeping swiftly over the edge of the buildings fronting the road at the top of the hill. Cloudrise, like sunrise speeded up. I thought, for a minute, the earth was tipping backwards. Now there is nothing but skim milk color and a few crowing roosters scratching the evening air. What happened in those brief moments, when I looked down, absorbed?

      Arturo (as they call him here) has just put a Mozart violin concerto on the record player. I can hear it drifting up the stairs and down the hall to me, a signal that the evening has formally begun and he would like my company. He is cooking some wonderful rabbit thing in mustard sauce, flamed with Stravecchio Branca (the local brandy). Last night, when I was cleaning squid bought at the morning market, I remembered you cooking it for my birthday. You stuffed their white bodies, and then we watched them swell up, one by one, as you turned them in butter . . . you'd just returned from Italy (we'de never been), and you kept comparing them to men's "private parts." But I didn't really understand until these last months, surrounded by so much Italian sculpture.

      The record has just been turned over. A flute concerto. In Firenze we bought some of those inexpensive, second-press recordings they sell at newsstands, because there was an old record-player here in the farmhouse. Two Charlie Parker albums. What bliss, to being the morning with "Moose the Mooch" turned up loud. . . . We are happy. Arturo often sits outside in the sun to study Italian, in a little alcove just under my window. I can hear him muttering his verb conjugations.

      My studio is upstairs. I chose it for the proportions of the room and its eastern light, which seems conducive to concentration and expansiveness. My writing is changing. One might sometimes think I was returning to the style of work I did twenty years ago, except that my line is surer and my eye more exacting. Still, I am just as uncertain and resistant, at the beginning of each work attempted, as I ever was. In fact, my bursts of confidence are fewer, my self-doubt greater. I'm trying to find a way to include these states of uncertainty . . . the shifting reality we've often talked about - fragments of perception that rise to the surface, almost inadvertently, and come blurting out when one has lived in intense desire and frustration. We need to be able to map how it is for us, as it changes . . . but are often half-choked by awkwardness in the face of the mot juste. But why deny this partialness as part of our writing? Why not find formal ways to visually articulate its complexity - the ongoing secret life - without necessarily making it a candidate for the simple-minded "confessional?" Writing is, in part, a record of our struggle to be human, as well as our delight in reimagining/reconstructing the formal designs and boundaries of what we've been given. If we don't make our claim, the world is simply that which others have described for us.

      I've pinned my favorite Wittgenstein quote to the wall just above my typewriter: "The world is everything that is the case." Is it?

reprinted with permission from Notes Preceeding Trust, 1987