“a splash quite unnoticed
—From Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by William Carlos Williams
Through my windshield, he rose into view. Hair loose and wind-whipped, mask tight around the face, eyes alert. The aged man had the look of someone just a bit astonished by the whole thing.
Another day shopping at Hannaford.
How quickly the normal becomes strange, the strange normal.
This morning, out my kitchen window, I see a robin in my drive, plucking away at a piece of dry grass, no doubt for nest building. I think: “how normal.”
It is reassuring.
I think of a painting I have thought much on, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and a poem by William Carlos Williams in response to it.
The poem’s opening:
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
It was spring
A Bach sonata plays its minor key as I sit and write, its dolorous notes mingling with the sound of spring birds chirping out my window. It’s spring here too.
I think of the old man, teetering in the parking lot, braced from a lifetime of grit. Undeterred, we wear masks to buy butter and lettuce (the strange alongside the normal).
As Icarus falls, the world goes on, the farmer plowing his field, hope alive for summer bounty. The catastrophic amidst the placid; the dirge blended with the hallelujah.
I have written friends in recent weeks, catching up on how things are. I have found myself closing out these emails with a phrase I’ve not used before: “so be it.”
So be it is often the translation for the words àṣẹ and amen. From West African philosophy and Christian religious practice, the words carry spiritual weight, serving as balm for our souls before what is. Not a sorry surrender, but rather welcome for the joyous and the grievous alike.
In our pandemic days, normal and strange give way to simply what is, and in our acceptance of what is, serenity follows.
So be it. (Àṣẹ; amen)
Peter Bruun is an artist and writer who moved from Baltimore to live year-round in the Boothbay Region in summer 2019.