THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide



a meditation, with haiku

When I worked part-time at Brentano's in the Chestnut Hill Mall I got Fridays off, but still had to take the trolley out to pick up my pay, since I have always lived a check-to-mouth existence. I compensated by treating myself to a good dinner every week at Legal Seafoods. Their menu is large, the cooking excellent, the management efficient, the cocktails generous, the waitresses pleasant and friendly, and the entire experience a delight. By the time I started working full-time I had tasted every sort of fish on their menu, but by then I had established a ritual. I still made the trip out to Chestnut Hill Saturdays around five-thirty.

                                                 A penny
                                                 H O T!!
                                              On the path


One Saturday in particular tuned out to be a perfect July day. The sun was hot, the sky totally cloudless and deep blue, without the milky humid haze that crept in on Sunday and remained for weeks afterward. And an occasional breeze kept the sunshine from baking you unbearably. Not only that: after the baked stuffed sole, after the sweet Manhattan before and the dry Chablis with, after the dazzlingly good book to read over dinner, and the waitresses saying "Glad to see you again," after the tables-full of satisfied diners to watch, and the coffee to cap the feast and a haiku or two doodled onto the receipt as an added tip --- after the whole soul- and body-satisfying ritual, the sun was still a couple of hours above the bird sanctuary across the pond when I left the restaurant.

                          Blue sky
                             Brown reeds, and
                                        Red carp!


I crossed the parking lot behind the shopping center and found an inviting boulder close to the water's edge. Before me was a break in the cat-tails that had run riot ever since The Blizzard had buried them all winter and, I suspect, had kept birds from thinning their crop of seeds. Just to my left was a tree that sent a few branches out in front of me at just the perfect height to shade the direct sunlight from my eyes. There was a slight breeze rippling the surface; because of it, the trees on the shore opposite, with the setting sun at their backs, threw elongated dark reflections half across the water. In the calm patch to my left, though, every tiny dent and furrow caught the rays of the unclouded sun and compressed them into a million diamond fireflies, winking and rioting and stabbing the eye with their exuberance. It was as if the already oranging sun spread itself in a smear of dazzle over half my squinted field of vision.

                                A Red canoe
                                  Sits on
                                A red canoe . .   .     .         .


Of course there were other places to put my eyes, other things to notice. A brace of swallows dipped down and began working the surface of the pond swiftly, efficiently, darting left and right, rising in sudden enthusiasm and sweeping off. I could never decide whether their swift little chitters were pique at having missed some easy bug by a hair's breadth, or the jubilant chuckle of triumph at some particularly tasty morsel. Closer to shore, I could see in the sun's spotlight what their fuss was about. Bugs galore seemed everywhere to be taking a cool afternoon's jaunt across the surface of the pond. Stitching through and around them were several sizes of dragonfly, some of them hitched nose-to-tail like some doubly-winged flying machines out of an old science-fiction engraving. A pair of stately ducks chugged slowly and proudly past towing a dutiful chain of three fuzzy ducklings in their wake. A seagull dropped in for a short afternoon sit, finally flapping heavily off to circle strenuously two or three times, before finding a respectable updraft to ride. A little later half a dozen roof-sitters from behind me came sliding swiftly in when one of them noticed a big bubble of heat breaking from the ground. They rode the airy elevator up and up, slowly circling inside its rising limits while it slid off slowly to my left. They came around each edge of the heated air with a minimal flap of rigid wings and a saucy shake of spread tail. Then once aloft they broke from the pattern and, each one picking a different destination, they set out in long, straight glide- paths, wings locked in what only looked like effortless indifference, and with only a hint of smugness about their cleverness.

                             In reflected sky


I found I could squint into the sundazzle, as I never could into the sun itself. Every tiniest ripple was diamond-studded. The breeze, I saw, came and went -- now bearing down hard, now slackening, now leaving a few isolated 'footprints', now stretching the width of the pond before me. The direct pushing of the wind against the water resulted in quick close ripples and cross-currented wavelets jamming each other, much like heavily crossed scorings on the surface of a rasp or file. Beyond the reach of the wind, though, the ripples continued across the surface, but in a calmer, deeper, more regular and unhurried rhythm -- without the agitated counter-rhythms that so fractured the surface under the even lazy lash of the wind's breath. The calmer wavelets, deep and firm, had their regular winking glints. When the breezes reached out to devil the waters in the direct light of the sun, however, they became three times as active and four times as bright.

                                 The pond


As I watched the slow, determined roll of the little wavelets bash gently into the waterweeds a few feet before me and literally collapse, snared in their nets or lulled to sleep by their gently pulsating reflections -- all motion began to die, and finally ceased entirely. The winds had grown bored with puffing on the so responsive water, and became calm. It took several minutes for all the little wavelets to come to rest. Finally, even the faint echoes of waves bouncing back from weeds and rocks and shoreline ran their weary courses, and the entire surface of the pond breathed a relaxing sigh and became still. The tree-branch still shaded my eyes, and I found I could stare directly into the glassy quietness of the trees' dark reflections, straight across towards the sun. The gem-hard winking flashes were gone, but the surface was flooded with bright sunlight. It picked out on that deeply dark surface what looked like a thin dusting of dry, golden powder. I suspected it was really pollution -- the fallout of chimneys and smokestacks and the parking cars I no longer noticed at my back. But that afternoon, what it looked to my forgiving eyes was a fine fall of pollen-grains defining the surface of the water.

                               The surface.


Once the contrast between breezy and calm surfaces registered, and my amazement abated, I noticed that everything was never totally calm, the surface never totally free of sunglint. At even its calmest the pond still shuddered and pulsated for reasons of its own, throwing here a glint, there a glitter into the deepening darkness. I wondered what could ruffle the still surface so delicately. I knew there were fish. Every May for two or three years in a row there had been a day on my march to work when, in the shallow reeds near the shore, I could see the red knots of rutting carp all squirming and spiralling in a compact mass, their tails splattering the surface in final fishy orgasm. And every day occasional splashes or ripples would mark the impertinent leap of fish after some negligent insects. They leaped more in late dusk, when wide-opened eyes focused generally on the surface could see the red-gold shapes flipping instantaneously out and back again, time after time -- given enough attention and patience. So perhaps the occasional flashes were some inquisitive dorsal fins knifing the surface from below.

                            Swirling whirlwind
                               Slowly rising...


Some of those regularly rolling glint-glint-glints were just random ripples.I knew that from their rhythm. But as my eyes wandered again across the surface, a new source surprised me. A sudden slash of six or seven tiny dots of light ran across my vision just a few feet in front of me. I was immediately focussed there, hoping to see the faintly red-gold ovoids of a school of fish. What I saw instead was a spidery little water-skimmer spread rigidly and resting on the faintly bobbing surface. Then as I watched its spasmodic jerking across the surface-tension, I was rewarded by a sudden string of glint-glint-glints streaking off with it -- and there it was! The little mite pressed on the water with no more pressure than a hair, yet even that quick, gentle caress, in this clear air and direct sun, gave off sparks! I opened my gaze to the entire pond, and sure enough, most of those meteoric little spurts were the length and quickness of a water- skimmer's dash. So responsive was the surface that I could pick out bug-trails from their errant ripples clear across the pond, though even the original skimmer I had noticed lay at rest totally invisible only a step or two away from me.

                                A breeze
                                And the mirror


A breeze returned briefly, to my right, in the middle of the pond, then stilled -- but the resultant rippling spread into my calmly perfect mirror in minutes. Suddenly there was too much sundazzle to find waterskimmer wakes. The sun had shifted a little lower, and I shifted pose and gaze to prevent blindness. The swallows were back, I thought, this time over at the far edge of the pond. It looked to me as though they were so intent on prey and so close to the surface that, three or four times, they splashed into the water in their eagerness. But I maligned their expertise, because I had never seen a kingfisher before -- that was what they really were. At first I thought the splashes were fish, and expected to see some crafty seagull scoop up a dinner. But no, I only saw what I thought were hovering swallows bashing the surface too far away for me to make out exactly what was going on.

                                Calm stream.
                             A fish leaps out!


I concluded -- incorrectly -- that they were chasing bugs down to the surface. Then suddenly a fish did surface near some lily-pads to my left, confirming my incorrect assumption. It was getting late, the boulder under me was hard, and the sun was larger and redder and much closer to the treetops. I widened my eyes and watched the surface where I had spotted the first circles, promising myself I would go once I had been rewarded with the sight of one leaping fish. I waited, eyeballs skinned and pointed nowhere -- as I used to wait hoping to see lightning streak from the rumbling sky, or to catch the long, lemon-yellow shriek of a Perseid meteor on those August nights of predictable showers. A huge splash to my left caught me totally unprepared, then another halfway across the pond. Then, just as I had about given up, right in the center of my gaze the red teardrop-taper of a fish, floppily ungainly out of the water, splashed once out of the surface and splashed again as it dropped heavily back -- and the concentric spread of ripples laughed out across the surface louder and louder at the sight. I smiled my thanks, tested stiffnesses in my back and limbs, and walked slowly off to catch my trolley home. On the way I reflected on all the irritations and frustrations and sorrows and losses that I had not been thinking of for the previous water-laved hour and a half. I wondered if perhaps I had been meditating, without ever realizing it.

                                 Then only
                                    Ripples .  .    .        .



THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide