Requiem: Angle of Repose

There is a first photograph and a last. The first hung in his office: a lair stuffed with books and objects which begged the visitor to hear their stories. Despite the usual distractions of youth, she noticed him. Hard not to. Physically and in personality he had presence. Tall, dark and vital he was the most attractive man she had seen.

The connection to each other spanned years: from teenage days to adulthood and its attending obligations. In recent times they lost touch and a year to the day that he died she discovered he was gone. Prior to this knowing she had a dream; the details are lost but she was in his cabin in Vermont.

A cabin deep in the woods — not even on a dirt road. Took some finding. The back land held a vista of fields, forest and rolling mountains. The cabin was handbuilt by his great-grandfather and its interior was a oaken harmony of striated wood from ceiling to walls to floor. A beauty. Not much else did she remember of the dream, but it was the dream that prompted her to look him up and learn his end.

But was it an end? Not really. The end of the era to reach out to him and he would be there, yet during her grief she knew it was the burgeoning of the legacy he left her. Not things — not at all, rather the beauty of soul, what is true and good, what is elemental. Such treasured gifts of magnitude.

The last photograph she saw in a tribute to him. He is older, reading a book. Reclined between the Maine Coast’s beach rocks, he holds the book Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. How perfect she thought. She too likes Stegner though they had never discussed his work. She always misread this title as Angel in Repose. How apt. Books, nature, joy, the forest, solitude, heart — that was he. He too was social, witty, slightly dangerous, and just underneath the skin, definitely male and fulsome Eros.

It was a heady feeling being the focus of his attention and it was also baffling. He was talking with her and as he finished he said, “Now consider yourself intellectually seduced.” It was a season of elegant ardent words and fantasies, and that time — especially at an impressionable age — he changed her. For good she now understood.

She loved him. She carried him with her over miles and people. The tributes to him were legion; it was stunning how many people he had touched and how beloved by all. He gave from the heart and was not depleted for doing so. He remained intact.

One rainy afternoon he told her of a scene he imagined: both of them racing through a woodland of birch trees. Then he said, “I come back to the moment and see I’m washing the dishes or something like that.”

He folded her into himself and she sustained that within her. Now as she washes dishes and looks out her window onto the early spring sunset, she thinks that the not knowing where she ended and he began had not changed; it shifted. She sensed in the days after learning he died that she was immersed in him completely, swimming in the deep temperature-less soft liquid of primeval waters.

Now he has entered her again but more completely — the membrane is thinner — to live her own measure of that which he entrusted to her. He is everywhere.

Someone once said he was foppish. She remembered that remark, intrigued by the antique word and the observation. Not readily dismissed since there was a hint of precision to it — it leaned into his lynx anima.

That was during the time that they existed in a snow globe where within their perfect stillness all sundry matter whirled around them. One spring she wore her hair in braids wrapped around her head.

The first photograph is of a train station house on a summer day. He gave her a print of it which she held onto. She can see that moment in time through his eyes: an old fashioned country depot stop. The photo is taken from the opposite track looking onto the people waiting outside the station house. She feels the heat of the August day, hears the cicadas, smells the industry of the railroad tracks. The windows and doors are open and there are three people on the bench: a man who is turned away from the camera, and a young couple in love. They are two teenagers laughing over a private joke. The girl is in profile kissing the boy’s temple and smiling. His head is down, buried in her neck and shoulder but she can tell he is smiling too. Barefoot they are. Where are those two people now, she wonders.

“On a certain day in the blue-moon month of September

Beneath a young plum tree, quietly

I held her there, my quiet, pale beloved

In my arms just like a graceful dream.

And over us in the beautiful summer sky

There was a cloud on which my gaze rested

It was very white and so immensely high

And when I looked up, it had disappeared.”

Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913-1956

Requiem: Angle of Repose, Clare Irwin, 18 March 2022


7 thoughts on “Requiem: Angle of Repose

  1. when something wonderful departs , it reveals itself ever more deeply , it unfolds more in absence , and it is met with gratitude and love . The dream was letting her know of his passing , the farewell , a gentle spiritual kiss , and the bridge tunnel departure with light at the end , a well trodden path , but the ancestral cabin embraced by nature in the woods , a narrow less trodden foot path , walked by the individual that is grateful for all of it , even the heaviness of grief and knowing that he passed by , a final dreamy visit , brings joy in sadness , elevating her spirit even when confronted by the finality of bodily death.

  2. My favorite quotes from Stegner’s book:
    “[T]hat old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air … Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.”
    “Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
    Thanks for the reminder! 💋

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