where things begin: the Inquirer essay on Chanticleer

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Several weeks ago, Avery Rome of the Philadelphia Inquirer got in touch with a question.  Would I be interested in writing in occasional pieces for the paper's Currents section?  Pieces about my intersection with my city and its fringes, perhaps.  Pieces about the people I meet or the questions I have.  Avery has been at work at the Inquirer through many seasons—vital and invigorating, disciplined and rigorous, enriching the pages with literature and poetics, even, with different and differing points of view.  If the Inquirer has gone through many phases, it has always been clear on one thing: Avery Rome is indispensable. 

Would I be interested? she'd asked.

Well, who would not be?  I'd have reason to sit and talk with Avery, for one thing, which is a pleasure every time.  And I would be joined in these pages by two incredibly special women, Karen Rile and Elizabeth Mosier.  Both are first-rate teachers and mentors—Karen at Penn and Elizabeth at Bryn Mawr College.  Both write sentences that thrill me, stories that impress. Both are mothers of children I love, children whose plays I have gone to, whose art I have worn, whose questions have made me think, whose inner beauty is as transparent as their outer gorgeousness.  And both are very essential friends.

Karen and Elizabeth's zinging essays have already appeared in the Inquirer and can be found here and hereMy piece appears today.  It was commissioned and written during the high heat of last week, before the gentling rains of this weekend.  It takes me back to Chanticleer, a garden that inspired two of my books (Ghosts in the Garden, Nothing but Ghosts) and is a source of escape, still.  The essay ends with these words and includes two of my photographs of small, sacred places at this gorgeous pleasure garden:
In the high heat of this summer I find myself again returning to Chanticleer — walking the garden alone or with friends. The sunflowers, gladiola, and hollyhocks are tall in the cutting garden. The water cascades (a clean sheet of cool) over the stone faces of the ruins and sits in a black hush in the sarcophagus. Bursts of color illuminate the dark shade of the Asian Woods. The creek runs thin but determined.

I don't know why I am forever surprised by all this. I don't know how it is that a garden I know so well — its hills, its people, its tendencies, its blocks of shade — continues to startle me, to teach me, to remind me about the sweet, cheap thrill of unbusyness, say, or the impossibility of perfect control. We do not commandeer nature — gardeners know this best of all. We are born of it, live with it, are destined for return.

Dust to dust, yes. But why not shade and blooms in between? Why not gardens in this summer of infernal, angry heat?
Wishing us all more rain, less heat, and the goodness of editors who love words, gardens that still grow, friendships that nurture, and children who move us on this Sunday morning.


Melissa Sarno said...

I love this. Thank you for sharing Chanticleer with me and letting me sit and look out at all that green. As you know, I spend every single day in this city looking for more green :) I think you're right that it helps you begin.

Elizabeth Mosier said...

I can't wait to read your piece! What a week it's been for you! xoxo

Serena said...

Wonderful. I will read the piece now.

Kelly McQuain said...

Hi, Beth--
I enjoyed your piece. I am also one of the columnists Avery recruited. My first column appeared last week. Kudos on your Inky debut. --Kelly McQuain

patti.mallett_pp said...

Of course, this piece thrills me! I can't wait to meet Chanticleer, up close and personal - in September.

Thanks for Sharing (your joy and your words for) this special place!

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