Wondering as I begin to wander out under your internet gaze

The Best American Poetry Blog
November 08, 2009

“Uncle Tommy, What’s the difference between asking a question and wondering?”

Hmm. How about a cookie?

When you don’t have children of your own, you can forget that kids can be philosophy on-demand.

A friend of mine was late for coffee. I had been watching her ten year-old daughter and finally, the doorbell rang. With pseudo wide eyes and a salt bucket of sarcasm, I looked at my lovely ward of the morning and said, “Well, well, I wonder who that could be!”

My friend rushed in the door, flushed and caffeine-deprived. We sat down, laughed, caught up and gossiped. And a few minutes later her lovely daughter came back in the room as grim as Wittgenstein.

I was about to be punished into thinking about meaning what we say. “Uncle Tommy, What’s the difference between asking a question and wondering?”

Of course, if the dynamics of discipline only go this far, with cookies and coffee and questions of considering our words on Sunday afternoon, then, Foucault fans out there, I readily submit.

(But here’s what I wonder if you’ll wonder about as I begin a week at your feet: is the internet our new panopticon?)

So: asking and wondering.

The all too obvious way to go here is first things first: something gets wondered and then if there’s courage, opportunity, another person—or enough despair—wonder might condense, with breath and sound, into the cloud of a question or even a storm of them:

“And all these questions I ask myself,” says the narrator of Beckett’s “The Unnamable.” “It is not in a spirit of curiosity. I cannot be silent. About myself I need know nothing. Here all is clear. No, all is not clear. But the discourse must go on. So one invents obscurities. Rhetoric.”

Rhetoric and obscurities. We know them well. When questions come without any wonder. In other words, the anxiety, the talk, talk, talk of our every day.

But today, huzzah!, is not every day. It’s my first day of blogging … ever. And it’s Sunday.

And where I am (Washington, lots of rhetoric and obscurity, no silence, no seaside), it really is a sun day with intense autumn color breaking the glass of the slow Potomac. It’s Gypsy summer, Indian summer, St. Martin’s summer. So I’m allowing myself a cookie, an evasion of answers and an indulgent day of wondering while I go outside.

Oh, and don’t forget John Milton died today.

True, that was back in 1674, but since I was reading him this morning, it seems very recent. So, let me let Milton have the last word. (Theologically, would he consider that blasphemy? Something more to ponder.) It seems appropriate to close with Milton wondering the beauty of the day with a question.

“What wonder then if fields and regions here
Breathe forth Elixir pure, and rivers run
Potable gold, when with one virtuous touch
The arch-chimic sun, so far from us remote,
Produces, with terrestrial humor mixed,
Here in the dark so many precious things
Of color glorious, and effect so rare?”

Paradise Lost, Book III, 606-612

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