Eternally true statements are hard to properly credit. Time is one big VitaMix, chopping, sluicing, pureeing all the words. The phrase, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal,” for example, has been attributed to Pablo Picasso, T.S. Eliot, Stravinsky, Faulkner, and many others. Does it matter who said it? Not really — unless you’re a guy named Joe Smith and you said it and never got credit. That would be kinda sad.
There’s a statement I love that I thought belonged to Mark Twain. He wrote a letter to a friend, the story goes, and said, essentially, “I apologize for the length of this letter; if I had had more time, it would’ve been shorter.” What he meant, of course, is that it takes longer to write tighter, better sentences than loosey-goosey, long, unfocused ones. It takes far more time to put all one’s thoughts onto a single handwritten page than it does to type half those thoughts in a small novel. As it turns out, it may not have been Twain at all who said that; I looked it up and the “shorter letter more time” concept might have come to us by way of our man Blaise Pascal or George Bernard Shaw. Whoever said it, however they did, they were right.
This post is proof. Here’s why.
I rode in a taxi this morning for about thirty-five minutes. The sky in D.C. is grey; it’s a blustery February day, a Monday. In my cab, I craned my neck all around to look at what we were driving past; I’m still soaking in all the places and sights and streets of this town and riding in a taxi is great for sightseeing, for bearing-finding. We drove east on Constitution, and that meant we went right by the Washington Monument, right by the Museum of Natural History, and then we passed the National Gallery, and so many more Beaux-Arts buildings standing white and pristine in the dull, sunless sky.
There was a lot of traffic, so we stopped a lot and for many minutes at a time. Right before the Washington Monument, I looked out the window and saw an extraordinary sight. There was a park on our right, many hundreds of yards from the street. The trees in the park were tall, tall, tall, and spindly — and leafless, of course. They were all skinny and went so high up; they were needles. And deep in the tree line (is that right? the tree line?) was a woman in a well-cut, fine red coat. The shade of the coat was not tomato, nor cherry, nor brick, but cardinal red, so precisely cardinal red that she looked as natural as could be in the trees there, as though she were the bird itself.
I saw her and thought, “She must have a dog.” Because this woman was standing there in the trees and looking up; it would have made sense for her to be waiting for her dog to finish doing its business. But I squinted and saw she had no pet. She was just standing amongst the trees, looking up at the sky, I guess, regarding it. Considering it, all by herself, on Monday morning, near the tallest structure in this entire city. Black birds flew. A car horn sounded. I watched her as long as I could, waiting to see if I could discern what she was doing, standing so still and alone in that park. The cab began to pull forward and I began to lose sight of the woman. Then, the car we got behind was playing a Bob Dylan song loud enough it was like the taxi driver had turned on the radio in our car.
What this post should be is a poem. I should go write a poem about female cardinal, the needle trees, and Bob Dylan; I should work on a poem about the white of the stones in the monuments against the pewter sky in a city I’m falling in love with. But I don’t have time. It would take a long time to write that poem properly. But I can’t do nothing. I can’t forget it. I can’t put it out of my mind. So loosey-goosey it is, PaperGirl is the clearinghouse for my experience this morning.
What were you looking at?