“The instinct for heaven had its counterpart:
The instinct for earth, for New Haven, for his room,
The gay tournamonde as of a single world
In which he is and as and is are one.” —Wallace Stevens, “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven”
I spent a day this July in New Haven, researching Stevens at Yale’s Beinecke Library. The Beinecke holds one of the twenty-one surviving complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible. Its walls are made of transparent marble, to let in some light but not enough to damage the rare and old books it holds in its glass spine, and I touched the illumined veins, surprised at their sponged solidity and warmth.
What I really love is people. Everyone I interacted with, that day, was so kind—someone walking his dog in the park. A man who complimented me. A woman who saw me feeding a squirrel a bit of cookie and asked if I knew it, said I was sweet, was surprised that I didn’t visit that squirrel often, that I had never been there before. Three ladies from Newport News on the hotel shuttle; one said, “Bye baby! See you around Yale!” Not one person rude or forward. I have so much faith in these people, in most all of them. It makes me almost believe in some kind of god—or maybe just some supreme kindness, soft and catching.
I never knew that this was traveling alone. Those close to me reminded me that I am, unfortunately for safety’s sake, female, that I should be aware and travel light and limit excursions after dark. I worried about packing and overthought which books to take, which ones would last me, thought I’d be lonely or wish for someone to talk to, believed that I would bore myself, would walk so much that I’d blister my soles, refuse, and go home, would lose my wallet or my pills or my voice.
But I wander more, notice more, unconstrainedly. I go to multiple coffee shops in a day because I feel like it. I read on benches and move every time my legs want or jolt. I smile at passersby. Talk to myself. Talk to others. I am at the same time shy and exuberant, and I’m allowed to be with no one watching or imaginarily demanding consistency. I hog all the pillows, sleep mid-queen, shower long. I smile every time I wake up and savor missing you, this once, where I have the space to feel it.
In the research room, I typed pages of notes from four boxes of original material. I held the billfold Stevens threw away at 735 Farmington Avenue—where his landlady fished it, as well as some of his handwritten drafts, from the trash—thin leather, sat-on, the small golden corner—WS. I felt his typewriter keys’ impressions, his light pencil, his imperfect erasings and illegible signatures. I mistook muse for arms in his handwriting, humped like mountains or zippers or combs, things with soft teeth.