Originally published in Willow Springs 79
From the author
Notes on “Sunday Morning Coming Down”
The story of how this essay developed is built into the essay itself, which is a different kind of essayistic form for me. I’m always interested in bringing unlikely strands together in essays, to create something new from the juxtaposition of disparate elements, but I do that more intentionally here in an exploration of time, eternity, memory, childbearing, the strange emotional quagmire that is labeled “Sunday,” and the limitations inherent in making art with language as the only medium. My companion in writing and life, the R mentioned in the essay, is always inspiring me to push the language envelope, so the essay grew from his lecture on writers like Kay Boyle and William Goyen who layer narratives with point-of-view shifts. I already had some notes on “Sundayness” that were poking into the nature of time’s layeredness, so I cannibalized those notes for this essay. Somewhere in there I visited my mother; we canned tomatoes and discussed the year’s cabbage crop, so the kraut memories wormed their way into the essay-in-progress. It was a mess from the start, and I loved the process. It was exciting to try to push the sentence as far as I could: it was like talking until I absolutely had to take a breath. A main challenge was keeping the syntax controlled enough for a reader; another was how to keep the various elements in check, especially keeping the meta elements—the reflection on trying to write with as much dimensionality as possible—from becoming self-indulgent. Sam is a terrific editor and he helped me with these challenges immensely, making many judicious cuts.
Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.
I want to mention Kevin McIlvoy’s wondrous stories in The Complete History of New Mexico even though you’re not asking about the reading I’m up to! He somehow writes the way I want to live. My only ink is laundry-hung-on-bicep, and that’s about ten years old now. My friend Devon recently gave a beautiful lecture on “the endearing persistence of household objects” and included lines from Richard Wilbur’s “Love Calls Us to the Things of this World”—his lines about laundry (and the poem’s title) are usually all the answer I give to the why question about the tattoo: “The morning air is all awash with angels. // Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses.” Since I’m allergic to kittens, I brought a West Virginia stray hound into my home, Mona, named for Simone Weil because she meditates in the yard. I’ll include a photo of M and me on a hike—in Vermont visiting a dear friend, the K mentioned in the essay, incidentally. I am usually out of date with music, but I’ve been listening a lot to Joanna Newsom’s Divers, Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell, and Loyalty by The Weather Station (which is good Sunday music). Also the North Mississippi Allstars. Also some eerie PJ Harvey.
About Jessie van Eerden
Jessie van Eerden is author of the novels Glorybound (WordFarm, 2012), winner of ForeWord Reviews’ Editor’s Choice Fiction Prize, and My Radio Radio (Vandalia Press, 2016), and the forthcoming essay collection The Long Weeping (Orison Books, 2017). Her work has appeared in Best American Spiritual Writing, The Oxford American, and other publications. Jessie holds an MFA in nonfiction from the University of Iowa and directs the low-residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College. You can find more at her website or follow her on Twitter.