William Michaelian

Poems, Notes, and Drawings

Emerson, Thoreau, and a Compost Pile

In addition to the Harlem Renaissance novels and Thoreau’s journal, I have begun reading the two-volume edition of Emerson’s journal published ten years ago by the Library of America. Reading Emerson’s words aloud, as I do Thoreau’s, is more than a daily exercise in tongue and skill; the vibrations in my chest and skull create a conversational, dreamlike, philosophical intimacy that makes me feel we are together in the same room; our thoughts are in sync; theirs ground mine, while mine receive their nod. Thoreau, at times, grows impatient; Emerson, never. His is too sweet a soul. Thoreau prods with a pitchfork, as if in reading my mind he were tending a compost pile. At the age of sixty-four, I am the grand old man to Emerson’s twenty, the seasoned father of the thirty-five-year-old Thoreau. They are my children. I am their son. Like my other children, they know me as well as I know myself. And I know things they would be surprised to imagine, and which yet prove and exalt their understanding of the world. Now, you might say that all of this is imagined. And of course that’s true. But how?

November 15, 2020


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