in search of lost time

I prefer not to be governed by anything that outpaces my pulse. The ticking above my wrist would confuse my blood – which is my true heart? 

My life is slow and gentle – somnolent. There is time to look, and feel, and dream. It’s not a luxury, it’s a choice. We choose our taskmasters. We choose what we count, and what counts.

Minutes? Money? 

We count our breaths like misers.

I haven’t worn a watch since I was eighteen. I’ve been blissfully unaware of minutes ever since, which can be maddening or charming to other people, depending. My life has its own cycles, beginning with the journey of the sun. 

Sundials are more human-paced; they cast lazy shadows and measure days by half hours. Shadows slide off the sides of buildings and onto the grass, telling us it’s time for repose. 

In a watchmaker’s window display on via Romana, near Boboli Garden, I once saw a still life of a disassembled watch that appeared to be floating –  invisible threads holding each minuscule component mid-air; wheels, cogs, spokes, screws and coils suspended in space – as if the watch had been photographed in the act of explosion – defying time itself. Remarkable puppetry. 

You may as well hang the sun from a thread.

This is exactly how time has always felt to me; violent, scalping the hours, splintering my days into sliced still lifes above my pulse point – the sun reduced to a drum. I’d rather slice into appearances, surfaces, and find the meaning or connection beneath. Emily Dickinson, for example, urges us to “split the lark” and “find the music.”

I’d rather wear an hourglass around my neck. My body is an hourglass; in shape and function. 

I think of Victorian children spinning wheels for fun, and hula hoops, bicycles, the circles we create when we leave our houses and come back again at night, how we curl into ourselves to sleep; our dreams are our escape wheels. 

“If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less, but to dream more, to dream all the time.” – Proust

I write this in March, though I’ll be too shy to publish it until months later. It’s March but my calendar is still on August. There’s an illustration of flowers in full bloom above the empty squares of my days. My calendar is just as oblivious as I am. If it is still August, that means my daughter is still here in Florence celebrating my birthday with me, and my older daughter is visiting any day now. It’s no wonder that I don’t turn the page. In August I haven’t yet walked into the four months of melancholy in which I couldn’t leave my bed, my heartbeat a metronome counting out the minutes – the “bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,” as Graves wrote. 

In August, there was a blessed reprieve from missing my daughters, missing the punctuation of family life: doors opening and closing, laughter in an adjoining room, smells from the kitchen, wet footprints on the bathroom floor. 

From October to January I curled up in the memory of August and refused to enter September, refused to be alone again, in a foreign country, a semi-legal immigrant afraid of footsteps on the stairs, and jumping at the doorbell and what could be waiting for me on the other side. I walked in my daughters’ wet footsteps on the tile floor of a bathroom in a house many countries away, a world away, a world that I’m deported from, not allowed to enter. Lying in bed, I walk the trail of their footsteps before they dry completely and I can’t call them to memory any longer. 

I’m blissfully unaware of the cycles on approaching calendar pages, unaware of the fall and its evergreens; the word “ever” a lie, in nature and human nature both. The only everlastingness is cycles; the weather, reunions, sleep, sustenance, hunger, melancholy, seasons. 

When my children used to climb the stairs to my room, we’d say, “Hello, tiny footsteps!” 

One of our family homes had a spiral staircase in a stone turret. Another was three stories high, with floating wooden steps. The last ascended 70 stairs into the Oxford skyline like trekking a mountain on the banks of the Thames. I could count their steps to my bedroom in the attics, could hear and anticipate their arrival. 

There are so many ways to measure things. 

Outside of Palazzo Vecchio, next to a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David, is a gold statue of a man standsing on a chair with a ruler in hand to measure the clouds – a statue by Farbe. I smile every time I pass it by; the futility and hubris is so endearing.  David holds a sling shot, and this man holds a yardstick, both intent on exacting their will on the universe. Though I’m a cloud-buster, I’m the first to be charmed by cloud atlases. Imagine, a taxonomy of fluff…

The second you see a picture in a stretch of cirrocumulus, it morphs into something else. 

The sky is ephemeral, its seconds are painted onto one another. 

I’m not really cognizant of seconds. How can anyone be? 

The instant I think of one, it’s already gone – like clouds, or electrons that spin so quickly, it’s impossible to observe them directly. They’re running away from us; seconds, electrons, the sky; the earth even spins away beneath our feet. You can chase them forever, or stand still and wait for it all to cycle back around to you. 

I’d rather let the blur pass me by.

I can slip a pinky beneath the leather band of my love’s watch and feel his humid skin. I love this virgin bracelet around my love’s wrist, the manacle of tan line when he unbuckles the hours and becomes master of our time together. We divide one moment from another with embraces, laughter, kisses, breath. My body is a timepiece wrapped around him, the seconds gaining speed when our eyes meet. Scientists have demonstrated that two living heart cells placed in a petri dish together will gravitate toward one another, and their beating will synchronize. 

Cardiac cells beat on a cellular level. They have no idea they’re not whole. 

The seasons, my sleeping, my daughter’s growth into women, the shuffle of my love’s slippered feet bringing me coffee in bed in the morning, the somnolent droop of tulips on my dining table, the limp in my dog’s back leg that led him to the grave – these are all my timepieces. 

Photograph: Luca’s antiques shop on via dei Serragli,
one of my favorite shops in Florence.

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