This #FavoriteFemalesFriday is dedicated to the goddess herself, Patti Smith.
I recently (this morning) finished M Train, her 2015 follow up to the National Book Award winning memoir, Just Kids, the gorgeous story of Patti’s life while moving to New York in her early 20s, meeting Robert Mapplethorpe, and becoming the rockstar/poetess we know her as today.
If you’re looking for a reprise of that book, you won’t necessarily find it in M Train, which is a slow, quiet meditation on Patti’s life now, with reflections back to a time living with her two children and late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith. The book floats between memory and the present as we travel with her to places around the world and around her home city of New York, become engrossed in Jean Genet and Haruki Murakami right along side her, feel the sting of things lost in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, dissect many TV crime shows, and drink plenty of coffee at corner tables. Set amongst Smith’s melodic passages and subtle black and white photographs, we consider objects and people lost, the lassitude of melancholy, the passage of time, and our own concept of age and death.
Smith’s words on the page have always done something to me. They are calm, soothing, meandering, poetic. I marked two passages that were particularly beautiful to me:
Fred finally achieved his pilot’s license but couldn’t afford to fly a plane. I wrote incessantly but published nothing. Through it all we held fast to the concept of the clock with no hands. Tasks were completed, sump pumps manned, sandbags piled, trees planted, shirts ironed, hems stitched, and yet we reserved the right to ignore the hands that kept on turning. Looking back, long after his death, our way of living seems a miracle, one that could only be achieved by the silent synchronization of the jewels and gears of a common mind.
The image of the faceless clock comes back again at the end, as we follow Smith through a dreamscape where Fred appears to her, racing next to a clock with no hands, as though always impervious to time.
Smith is open and unassuming about the loneliness that comes with being a writer, and especially the frustration of being alone but still unable to produce the words you want to say. While spending time in Japan and trying to conjure her muse at the time, Osuma Dazai, Smith writes:
I returned to my station and gazed at my notebook. I was determined to produce something despite an inescapable lassitude, no doubt due to the deeper effect of travel. I could not resist closing my eyes for just a moment and was instantaneously greeted with an expanding lattice that shook soundly, blanketing the edge of an impeccable maze with a torrent of petals. Horizontal clouds formed above a distant mountain: the floating lips of Lee Miller. Now now, I said half aloud, for I was not about to get lost in some surreal labyrinth. I was not thinking about mazes and muses. I was thinking about writers.
M Train is lovely in the way of a long conversation with a friend, or a first sip of hot coffee, or the first crack of a new book. Read it, enjoy it, and keep it on your shelf to come back to again and again.