Disclaimer: every now and then you have to try out what you teach to see how full of shit you are. So, last Saturday I read up on clouds for 4 hours, wrote about clouds, went cloud-viewing, then edited my clouds. I consider this post a contained collage, some snip-its along, of my disaster journey toward my love of clouds. Disaster, if only because the poems are garbage.
Probably the easiest and most enjoyable way to become a weather watcher is simply to observe the clouds. They are, in effect, a weather station aloft, revealing what is going on at different levels of the atmosphere, and they give indications of what may happen in the hours and days to come. Low-level cumulus clouds, middle-altitude altostratus clouds, and high-flying cirrus clouds all convey information about their respective atmospheric realms. ‘It is by observing the changes and transitions of cloud form that the weather may be predicted,’ advised Luke Howard, a founding father of British meteorology. As a bonus, clouds are often spectacularly beautiful in form and color, making them a delight to study.
– National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Weather.
If you are like me, you cringe when the deep images pop up in your writing. For me, it’s a simple anguish: Give me the thing, not some iconic dream-picture of the thing. (There’s no need I say “hypocrite” or “guilty as hell,” is there?)
Surely the (insert adjective) moon is not as sad as a loveless month. The (insert adjective) sun can never illuminate any meaningful heart-tire. (Insert adjective) bones don’t recall, as I wish they would, things like the Saturday mornings of sorting grandma’s pots and pans cupboard, or anything else nostalgic or aging-pointing. Symbols are empty; symbols are dead. So what?
When I surveyed the poems I had worked on over the summer, there are many more appearances to the moon, sun, and bones than the loveless months, the heart-tire, and the sorting Saturdays. I know this is nothing controversial, not much alarming, really just a common discrepancy between my will and my writing. But it always unnerves and delights how the manuscripting process shows such awarelessness.
Of course I’m okay with all the symbols and all the symbollessness. Every poem comes around to its adolescence, its becoming more than its conception, its saying, “Hey, I’m a half inch taller than you, dad.” We all know to revel when it does. And last weekend, that was for me. The “actually, all of this is BS”, the “you know what, you don’t ever have a clue what your talking about”, the “dude, you don’t control your love of clouds. Go get out there and really love clouds. Do as you do.”
But first, vanity: I went through my shelves for the best clouds. And found some.
In Aristophanes’ play, The Clouds, the comedy of ideas. The chorus: a parade of Clouds, the patron goddesses of thinkers and other layabouts. In this play, made famous by Plato’s Apology testifying it as leading to Socrates’ execution, our old thinker gets a lot of fun poked at him. And so we are made to feel always suspect about his (our) sweet devotion to the clouds. Moments like this, when Socrates says:
Never could I have rightly discerned matters celestial
Did I not suspend my judgment and mingle my intellect
With its kindred air. If I gazed upward from below, nothing
Could I find. Earth’s force draws intellect’s sap to itself.
And so it is with watercress too.
And moments like this, when he says:
Heavenly Clouds are they, potent deities for the shiftless.
‘Tis they who supply acumen and casuistry, verbal sleights, circumlocutions,
Quick repartee and knockout arguments.
The exaggeratory tone is jesting, but also spot on with my reverie for clouds. I am becoming okay with this ambivalence.
My favorite moment in the play is when the chorus of Clouds takes a break from the story, and everyone exits stage, and they turn to the audience and they bitch for a little bit about how Aristophanes is the greatest playwright and the play should have won at the festival the year before when it was presented. This is cloud work! This is clouds, aside.
There were these really blanking cumulonimbos (Cb), these are the multi-strata massive ones that literally weigh down on you, if seeming like a tent roof, all across western Massachusetts:
It made best sense to call upon a friend to go to the top of a mountain. Better to get a closer look.
But before that, I found Geraldine Monk’s Sky Scrapers, my favorite poem about clouds, and brought it with me. This part is her take on the Cb clouds of the day (which are around a lot of days these days):
sky brutal arctic
bull struck madly
brawls card games
flutters & docking
ship flowers salted petals
wildcat hearts race rudely
supporter had trouble containing volume
he swaggered afternoon earth
scorched by haste over fag ends
one rambling rosette
We drove up Mt. Holyoke, a booming 935 ft above sea level.
And at the summit house it was like a thick fog. Maybe it was fog, maybe cloud. Sky Scrapers doesn’t cover the difference. But it made me think of a note in Bruce Nauman’s book of artist’s writings Please Pay Attention Please:
“When I want to make a painting of something covered with dust or in fog should I paint the whole surface first with dust or fog and then pick out those parts of objects which can be seen or first paint in all the objects and then paint over them the dust or fog?”
An hour up there. Of thinking about what’s scary, of what’s old in us, of a WWII bomber that crashed into the hill 65 years ago, of jokes about Indiana Jones, of a strange gray and yellow cricket-butterfly thing. It was the right thing to do on a cloudy Saturday. And while my curiosity about clouds and my love is still frantic, I now have a grommetted loop in my relationship with them, a hole strengthened to withstand more years of shoelace.
I believe there may be more to come on cloud matters later. And for what reason? This is an 1836 painting from the summit.