Posted by: MC | April 17, 2012

Notes on Leaving

It is early morning in the middle of April.  I am on a bus leaving Oxford, UK.  I have kissed my daughter on the cheek more than twice.  We have hugged one another many more times than that.  Each embrace as if it were the actual goodbye – the one that would leave our parting fully signified and safe.  All through, we smile into each other’s eyes to fill the gaps between whatever small words we can find for amazement and gratitude.

My daughter is, of course, the reason I am here on this bus and leaving Oxford – a place I had never thought to imagine visiting – rarefied and steeped in esteem as this small section of earth and architecture has become.

I am sure many have written of leaving Oxford.  Perhaps another writer has taken a seat in the fourth row next to the window on the driver’s side, pulled out a pen, and offered words to the tenderness of parting. 

From here it is always possible to look onto a morning, each with its singular progression of people purposeful and underway on foot, in cars; moving today through a new spring’s chill and light and sound.

Two gray haired women pass one another on New Road.  The taller and younger of the two looks at her watch and pauses.  She stands facing the street left momentarily empty by the bus’s passage.  She looks about with expectation or a question.  The older woman moves steadily on.  Her gate is wide beneath a skirt of wool.  Her dark overcoat is buttoned, familiar with years of accommodating this woman’s progress, her purpose.

The bus turns left onto Aldates.  I have walked here past Christ Church with its gates and lawns.  Right now its excellent reach of spires is vivid, even startling against this morning’s blue.  Last Wednesday I walked along this road, in the direction the bus will not go.  I crossed a bridge, turned left down a stairway to the banks of the Thames and walked along the river to the locks at Iffly.

Today, like the day of my walk on Aldates, there are countless people.  Most are on foot but many ride bicycles.  They cross against the lights amidst busses and cars, around trucks delivering things they will eat or try on or use for creating the day’s business.

These people are by proportion brilliant – staggeringly so.  They must be for their part in the continuous weave of exception both demanded by and sustaining the University.  And if not of the University, their brilliance takes the quality necessitated by that designation – a brilliance required for securing dignity within life at the out-scribed margins of the most valued.  Life that by well-heeled convention is not as much figure as ground.

The streets wake this way every morning in Oxford.  The chemistry of animated forms moving in unrehearsed concert, in the liquid precision of bodies and busses.  Each person a unitary swirl of thought and circumstance, motion conscribed solely by a stretch of matter known by a name.  Workers wash windows or lift kegs through alley-way doors.  Aspiring state leaders and historians of art cut through the crowd.  A mathematical scholar daydreams so that today will coax forward a next nuanced derivation.  Spectral in content, one moment proceeding to the next is finally all that can happen.

The bus is out now from the city where fields breathe waves of yellow rape seed.  Two crows fly over the highway from north to south.  A sprinkle of sheep breakfasts on spring grasses, each blade thick with dew.  Two of the sheep are facing one another.  They are still and dusty white.  Their noses and eyes are black like coal when it is resting.  The two sheep stand with the left sides of their faces touching lightly.

I know this will change, but not in what I’ve written here.   Here those sheep stand cheek to cheek forever; their hearts beating, their eyes open.

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