Brian Blanchfield: On Tumbleweed

Blanchfield considers the place where tumbleweeds and visiting poets meet @ Guernica. Yesterday, a tumbleweed blew right up to my driver’s side door, at a stoplight, here in Tucson. Simpson westbound, turning onto the highway frontage road north. I was alone at the light. Two hours prior, a hard decision, I turned down the offer of a three-year Visiting Poet position at a prominent creative writing MFA program a thousand miles away. I got out of the car, chased it a little ways in a subsequent gust, and then fit it into the backseat of my Mitsubishi, where it crumbled a bit in tight captivity. It was my lunch hour—I work a support position at an arts nonprofit downtown—and I brought it home with me. Later, my boyfriend John and I decided we would string it up as a chandelier in our living room. It’s December 21st and we’d been wondering whether we’d get a tree. What does it mean when the universal symbol of itinerancy knocks into you the day you committed to stay a while?

The flicker of the firelight will throw the tumbleweed’s shadow complexly on the ceiling is my hunch, giving the room a little twirl and flutter. I’ll suspend a tiny mirrored disco ball within it. One ornament spinning within another. I want to show it to John even more than I want to see it.

When I met John’s father, Edmund, when he and his wife Diane, John’s mom, visited their son in Montana about this time two years ago, his first words to me, over the handshake, were: “So. Visiting. Poet?” I felt it as a challenge, just as twenty minutes later, when dinner was over, he’d outwit me to pay the check. He knew I had been John’s teacher, and I was uneasy in any misapprehension that our romance began when he was my student. I made sure to narrate the timeline as naturally as I could over our plates of river trout, and it was in that discernible anxiety I felt myself fall farther in Ed’s early estimation. It seems to me that of all his children, John is most like him: unpredictable conversationally, apt equally to quip obliquely or to wander off on his own in thought—a peppery kind of depressive, stubborn, quick enough to be disappointed in the world, good enough to prompt others to show him any flair for transcending the ordinary. John is made that way, too, except in his demeanor he is more graceful, more liquid, lovelier. It is clear that Edmund loves John supremely. A visiting poet, might by definition leave new relations by moving on, this visiting poet who presumably had upswept his son in poetry or something, his son whom he had known all twenty-nine years theretofore and had been unable to save from every hurt or letdown.

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