Well, a pilgrim is like a Nō play. Each one has the same structure, a question mark.
The other day when I was looking through the books of short stories and essay collections—some half-unread, some completely un-read—on my shelves, I found, in a Best American Essays 1988, an essay by Anne Carson entitled, “Kinds of Water.”
It obviously went on my list.
This essay was scheduled for my reading on the 6th of December; I only finished it this morning five days later. And I read it again a second time—moving, without realizing until after I sat down, into the quietest, most private space in my home. I read the essay again, confirming to myself that here was a piece of writing I would have to read again and again. And again.
“Kinds of Water” is about a man and a woman walking La Compostela. It begins on June 20th in St. Jean Pied de Port and ends, 35 magnificent pages later, on July 26th, in Finisterre. It’s about pilgrims of all kinds, about wolves, about water, about photographs and poetry, it’s about longing and power relations and hard walking, it’s about bread and rocks. About journeys.
It is probably the single most interesting piece of writing I have read all year.
I feel unable to write properly about it until I’ve read it several more times, so I won’t say much here and hope that in a few months, when I’ll read it again, or maybe next year, when I’ll read it a fourth time and a fifth time, I’ll find some way to describe its movement and content.
There is no question I covet that conversation. There is no question I am someone starving. There is no question I am making this journey to find out what the appetite is.
Or maybe I won’t, because maybe this is the kind of essay I can only keep for myself. And the only way to do that is not to talk about it.
Today, I’ll just leave a hint of it for you:
Gorge after gorge, turning, turning. Caverns of sunset, falling, falling away—just a single vast gold air breathed out by beings — they must have been marvelous beings, those gold-breathers. Down. Purple and green islands. Cleft and groined and gigantically pocked like something left behind after all the oceans vanished one huge night: the mountains. Their hills fold and fold again, fold away, down. Folded into the dens and rocks of the hills are ghost towns. Broken streets end in them, like a sound, nowhere. Shadow is inside. We walk (oh quietly) even so — breaking lines of force, someone’s. Houses stand in their stones. Each house an empty socket. Some streaked with red inside. Words once went on in there — no. I don’t believe that. Words never went on there.