Two days ago Glynn wrote about how place is of significance to poetry, and Wendell Berry's elaboration on the subject in his latest book The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford.
I happen to live near Rutherford. It is 4.6 miles away. It would take me 1 hr. 32 mins. to walk to downtown Rutherford, but I usually glide through Rutherford on the train into New York City.
I haven't been to Rutherford in a while. It's only one stop away on the train. I see the downtown shops as the train slows and hear the conductor announce, "Ruth-er-ferd" on the PA system. The people queue off and then queue on. It's a place where many commuters to the city get on and off. Sometimes they jam pack the train. At night, especially after Rangers or Knicks games, the business people are brown bagging beers and half drunk. I have had Coors Light spilled onto my shoes. It's not exactly William Carlos Williams' Rutherford. Who knows?
I don't really know Rutherford that well. I have frequented the Western store in Rutherford upon occasion. I went and watched Fourth of July fireworks there seven or eight years ago. But I haven't actually stepped foot on Rutherford soil in at least four years. I just glide right through it on the train, at least 30 times a year. I have visited it's sister city East Rutherford, where MetLife Stadium is, home of the Super Bowl bound Giants (I was there for the Giants vs. Jets game---that was an exercise in the identity of place if there ever was one: two home teams?). I haven't set foot in Rutherford proper in a while.
I suppose this is the long way of saying place is a tricky thing. I've seen shops close and open in Rutherford, seen the trees change color and the snow pile up. But this has always been through the window on a train. I know about popular restaurants that have opened, but that's just from the newspaper. I know a whole lot about Rutherford without actually setting foot there. Do I really know Rutherford then?
I would say yes. But place is on a spectrum.
I would say I know Rutherford less than William Carlos Williams, but more than Wendell Berry of Kentucky. He hasn't seen the latest bars pop up or the fancy condo complex they put next to the train station. Berry knows only of Williams' Rutherford, not the Rutherford I see once a week.
But I wouldn't say I know Rutherford. It's not my place. It's not the dust that cakes my shoes.
My place is 4.6 miles away on foot. A good distance, but not insurmountable. It's close. Maybe too close. There's no sense of adventure. It's closeness makes Rutherford just a place I pass to get to another place.
But I do want a couple new pearl snap shirts. Maybe I'll go check out the Western store soon. Then I can get some Rutherford dirt on my heels, and breath the lingering atoms of oxygen that may have once passed through Williams' lungs.