I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
September 1, 2019: Sion Dayson
Sion is a kindred spirit, loving traveling as much as I do. She was born in New York, raised in North Carolina, spent a decade in Paris, and is now living in Spain. We were at Vermont College of Fine Arts together, and her first novel, As a River, will be published September 3rd by the wonderful Jaded Ibis Press, a feminist press with an emphasis on diverse voices.
In another lovely connecting thread, As a River takes place in a small town “in middle Georgia.” Columbus is not exactly small, but we are in middle Georgia and right on the Chattahoochee River.
As a River is Greer’s story–a story of leaving and returning. Here’s how it begins.
It should have been harder for a young black boy to slip undetected from a small Southern town. To hitch rides, travel back roads, set sail for who knows where.
And yet he did. A boy, green to the world, has power. A boy, freshly cut, can move unseen. Greer might have thought demons had come to claim him at the time, but in fact, he had angels too.
Now sixteen years later, at age thirty-two, Greer took his first steps back into Bannen.
We meet Greer first as he returns to take care of his dying mother, which raises the question for the reader of why he left. From there, the novel unfolds with chapters that alternate between the present of 1977 and a past that goes back not just sixteen years but thirty-two. The past comes to us in layers, each one containing a secret that pushes the story forward. In the following scene, Greer looks around as he enters his old room for the first time since he left as a boy, measuring what he sees against what he remembers.
You expect a bed to be made when you enter a room. But after setting down his suitcase and taking it all in, letting the strange weight of return settle, he realized that this one detail didn’t match the memory. He had left that night in such a hurry. Would he have thought to straighten the sheets? Plump the pillow? No. He had fled in a fury.
As we spend more and more time in the past, we become aware of the racial tension in this small southern town and can imagine how much relief might be found in walking along the river. In this scene from 1961, when Greer is almost sixteen, note how Sion’s description of the river enlarges it into a different landscape altogether and then into Time itself.
Greer stood on the edge of the river, trying to read the past in its black waves. With the night so dark and a quarter moon barely seeping light through the trees, all he could catch were glimpses of the hills and valleys of the water as it flowed along its way. He had taken to walking farther and farther along the banks of Snake Creek. With neither the river’s beginning nor end in sight, it was both comforting and frightening to think of something extending forever.
This next passage of lyrical prose grounded in the senses does so much work with such concision. Sion uses the sense of smell to ground us in place, in poverty, in character, and in memory.
There had been many smells. The coral honeysuckle that bloomed in mid-spring, the almost sickly sweet stench of Snake Creek, the rare, greasy treat when there was chicken enough for frying. His mother’s sadness almost had a scent, too. It was like a sachet of dried herbs left too long forgotten in an old shoebox at the bottom of a dusty closet, the odor so subtle you could hardly tell whether it was real or imagined. Sadness could have weight, it could have depth, but from as early as he could remember, Greer knew it also had a scent.
With Greer’s story, As a River asks the reader to take a close look at the question of shame, the reach of family secrets, and the decisions we make, almost without consideration, that define our lives.
Come back on SEPTEMBER 1st to read how SION DAYSON spends her days.