Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Another Exchange

ptg01511781We weren’t the only Marshalls in La Marque, Texas. Others lived on the opposite side of the highway, in another part of town we seldom visited and were encouraged to avoid.

I knew Kirby and Landis, two of the other Marshalls, because they were in my gym classes. We lined up beside each other when Coach read the roll, and sometimes Landis would pick me for a team when I was left over. Otherwise, we seldom encountered each other. He was black, and I was white. In La Marque, that meant nearly everything.

Still some strange surname solidarity must have moved him to choose me. I wasn’t tall or coordinated or strong, so I wasn’t always wanted. Seldom, really. The one athletic ability I did have was speed. My genetics or running from my angry brothers made me fast, and, even if I couldn’t snag a spiral or hit with a racket or kick a rolling ball, I could almost always catch someone or—more usefully—flee.

Once in eighth grade, during the track and field unit, we were making relay teams, and Landis urged one of his black friends to pick me for their team.

He leaned toward his friend. “Honky’s fast,” he whispered, loud enough for me to hear.

But his friend wasn’t as generous as Landis and passed me over. Landis ran the first leg and put his team well in the lead. My team, though they weren’t as good, were game, and, by the time I received the baton on the last leg, we were only twenty yards behind. The boy who’d rejected me was ahead, and, when I saw that, a familiar surge went through me.

Back then, the strangest element of running was knowing. Sometimes I saw someone in front of me and just knew where I’d end up. When I felt that unaccountable certainly, I ran faster. Races often fulfilled a script my mind wrote, with little or no doubt. I wish that were still true now.

It took me nearly the entire lap, but by the time I reached the final turn, I was even with Landis’ friend. On the home stretch I pulled away and won. Over the last twenty or thirty yards of the race—when the outcome was truly known—I heard Landis in the infield laughing and shouting at his teammate. “I told you, man! I told you, man! You can’t beat no Marshalls. You can’t!”

If this event were an afterschool special, Landis and I would become best friends, but I only remember handing the baton to Coach and going inside, dreading the shower he’d make me take. Landis and I must have been on teams together after that—if I had a chance to pick him, I’m sure I was smart and did—but I can’t remember a single conversation between us.

My family left La Marque after my sophomore year in high school when my father took a new job in North Carolina. I didn’t fuss because, then, La Marque was a small place you might know nearly everyone. We all attended school together from the beginning of time and, if you wanted the salt from the next table, you found the name to ask… even if you hadn’t uttered it since fourth grade. So leaving and dropping into a world of new names seemed exciting.

Those last, odd couple of months, my younger brother and I ran summer track, and one of our sporadic teammates was Kirby Marshall. My brother may know if Kirby and Landis were related, but I didn’t. And didn’t ask. Yet I begged our coach to put us on a relay together because I thought it would be funny to go Marshall to Marshall to Marshall to… I suppose I had some fantasy that Landis might join us.

I didn’t know Landis outside my imagination, wouldn’t know how to find him, wouldn’t know how he might react to being found.

Yet, in my head, we talked. He explained his living wherever I dreamed he did, and I talked about my neighborhood and all its odd characters. I told him about my dad, my family, the inadequacy I felt living amid expectations, and the absence of any true friend. He understood.

He was imaginary and had no other choice.

When we left town, he stood among the ghosts I’d miss most. I’d never really known him in any meaningful way at all.

I think sometimes of people and picture them at this, very, moment. In another world, Landis and I might lament our divided lives and wonder how much we lost through disconnection. In that separate dimension, we might be real friends.

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Filed under Aging, America, Desire, Doubt, Essays, Fiction, Identity, Laments, life, Meditations, Memory, Nostalgia, Place, Recollection, Running, Thoughts, Time, Worry

Empty Bed

empty_bed_in_an_empty_room_ii_by_aimeelikestotakepicsAs I’ve said before, I’m not particularly gifted at fiction, but sometimes stories occur to me, and I write them down.

She leaves him sleeping, but he isn’t asleep. With his eyes closed he assigns meanings to each zip and snap. When she steps in front of the window, a shadow like a wandering cloud overtakes him. The mattress dips. He hears her putting her feet into her shoes, imagines her pausing at the mirror, waking her hair with her fingers, tilting her head to her left and leaning toward her reflection, rubbing the smudges under her eyes as she does, giving up, and then walking out. At any point, he might speak. She might speak. Neither care to.

They’re friends, but lately they’ve acknowledged this mutual need and the convenient means to fill it. Sometimes, in the throes, he detects a low strain of melancholy in her voice, and he thinks she must want more from him than release, or a release greater than this. Sometimes she reminds him: if she finds someone, they are through with these nights.

And he agrees. When the door closes, he swings his feet to the floor and finds it welcomely cool. These first moments are an untangling—complications resolved in cascades. He’s hungry now and will eat.

They met in middle school. She wasn’t so beautiful then, with odd glasses and braces and a shape stretched mid-growth and not yet full. Still, she seemed perfect, and he averted his eyes when she caught him looking. He engineered ways to line up near her or stand at the same lab table. From the beginning, they laughed apart from the rest. All day, as bells moved him from class to class, their last conversation lingered, and, later, when they spoke again, she remembered what he’d told her. They were experts in each others’ lives.

Through it all, he felt grateful, indebted. She had boyfriends in high school—and some girls had been interested in him—but their friendship never suffered. She still called late. He still gathered thoughts he meant to tell her. When they met again after college, each brought a new store of experience to share. Only recently have they stopped really talking.

When he opens the refrigerator he sees she’s taken the leftovers. He has eggs, the little butter remaining, and a jar of salsa. Enough.

His friends didn’t believe him when he said he’d never kissed her before six months ago, and he was immediately sorry he’d said so. He doesn’t talk about her staying over. She doesn’t forbid him—she wouldn’t—but he always knows what she wants. He doesn’t always like it or like knowing, but he does.

In the years they lost each other, he reinvented her, imagined new warmth between them. During his loneliest hours, she was his fantasy. Now these are his loneliest hours. The touch between them is a sort of ache. He can’t remember how it started.

One day she’ll have news. She’ll meet someone or find distant work. They’ll have a last dinner between them and laugh. Old stories will be aired, and she’ll say again how much he’s always meant to her.

He wonders what he wishes she’d say. He eats his eggs and stares at the blank face of his phone.

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Filed under Apologies, Desire, Doubt, Ego, Experiments, Fiction, Friendship, Hope, Identity, Laments, life, Love, Metaphor, Modern Life, Nostalgia, Resolutions, Silence, Solitude, Thoughts, Time, Worry

12 Thoughts on the Tranportation of Affection

touching-11.

“Crush” seems an odd word for infatuation. Even if you don’t carry it to its full violence—imagine Giles Corey being accused of witchcraft in Salem and dying after two days of being “pressed” by heavy stones—a “crush” speaks to an inescapable position, some burden demanding extrication, impossible somehow to bear.

Which isn’t the way we use the word. We deploy it to describe our most innocent affections, and we verbize the word—to crush. We blunt it with prepositions so we “crush on” someone and elude anything like love… or lust.

We try to flee.

2.

My high school girlfriend was a twin. She and her sister were cheerleaders, and when they dressed identically on game days and no one could tell them apart, my friends asked if they had ever tried to “switch on me.”

My girlfriend and her sister never considered it, I’d bet.

When you know someone, the faintest gesture communicates. Their eyes don’t point as they might, or a hand rests on a table wrongly, or that smile isn’t quite complete. When you know something, it’s continually defining itself.

3.

I wonder if any age or condition makes you immune to crushes. But wondering, I suppose, is admitting I’m not immune—despite being happily married and probably too old.

In my defense, we over-define the word. A light touch or glance may initiate an infatuation. An economy of expression, the mellifluence of words, a simple sideways move to catch a falling object, a half laugh—all might start a crush.

4.

Before Netflix began distinguishing different family members on an account, my viewing habits built a very strange profile. My children howled over recommendations we received for romantic comedies or Bollywood.

“What are you watching?!” they’d ask.

Sheepish evasion followed. How do you admit such an addiction to sentiment when you’re supposed to be educated and beyond such twaddle? Saying I liked to see him or her won was tantamount to confessing girlishness, the worst sort, the sort that screams at the Beatles or tacks Teen Beat photographs to a wall.

5.

I’m unambiguously straight, but some of my worst crushes involve other males.

My daughter rolls her eyes and says, “You’re having a bro-mance” when I say I admire a colleague or wish I were closer to some man I know.

“The way you talk about him,” she says, “it’s so effusive.”

I’d deny her claim if I weren’t aware of it myself, a thrill at making a connection, a sense of some link forged in mystery long before actually meeting.

I’d object if I didn’t enjoy being somehow swept away… by anything.

6.

In the end, I don’t think having a crush and lust are at all the same thing.

7.

I’ve been watching the series “Chuck” and find I’m quite uninterested in most of the comedy and most of the spy stuff. I skip forward to see how close Chuck and Sarah Walker get to kissing.

My certainty they ought to be together expresses a broader wish everyone so baffled by indefinable connections might find their way to their desired, and perhaps denied, destination.

It’s better to think of the world as moving toward joy. I like to think it is.

8.

No one would call me “romantic” in either a literary or colloquial sense. My wife might say I’m sporadically attentive, and the planning and vision that goes into Valentines Day or anniversaries largely escape me or at least challenge me.

My genuine moments of sentimentality and affection feel like water spilling from overfull cups. They can’t be stopped, and who really wants to?

9.

What would life be without ambush, the surprise of a face to meet your own?

10.

I fell in love for the first time in fifth grade when I saw a classmate performing a baton routine to “Jingle Bell Rock.” I didn’t understand how anything else could be so perfect.

11.

Have you ever felt yourself instantly attached? She or he turns to a light or sound, and the change somehow captures you. “This,” you think, “is it… a grand awakening, a dimension entirely invisible before now.”

You want to believe, that’s key. You are looking for some touch that isn’t physical, some attachment impossible, made of implausible affection.

 12.

The odd contacts sting. You mean to reach for something commonly desired—a tool or object—and find one another instead.

It won’t last and may not be real, but it feels so.

What in us lusts after these ends? Why do we want surprise so much?

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Filed under Aging, Desire, Essays, Experiments, Identity, Laments, life, Love, Lyric Essays, Meditations, Memory, Nostalgia, Solitude, Thoughts, Valentine's Day, Voice

A Drink With My Brother

DRINKSI’ve never been as patient as I’d like to be, and recently less so. The blame rests partly with the pace of my life, which seems wired to split my attention and atomize my every attempt to ease my fretful existence.

Technology makes relentless activity possible, and none of us can do anything about the electronic landscape—the toothpaste is out of the tube, ground into the carpet, rubbed onto the walls, and diffused molecule by molecule into even the most remote parts of the world. But technology is not all the problem. You can shut devices down for a few hours. The issue is recharging yourself as devotedly as you do your devices.

Instant and ubiquitous access, gratification, and flexibility mean time has few anchors. I drift according to what I feel like doing right now because it seldom matters when you do anything. Life’s simple pleasures sometimes seem unimpressive because talking to friends, seeing movies, or playing games can occur any time you desire… and nearly all the time, if you desire that.

Lately I’ve been thinking about those regular social events that enticed earlier generations to celebrate life more deliberately—their high teas and tea ceremonies, their Sunday dinners with family, their ritual chores and seasonal obligations, their extended family picnics, even their network-mandated TV viewing.

Once you had to watch when things were on—though that would be annoying for us, it compelled people to spend time together and share common experience… and without multi-“tasking” on phones, laptops, and iPads.

Some people keep together time sacred, but I don’t. So last weekend, I sent my brother a proposal to start a remote cocktail club. We can’t meet—we live in different cities—but we can share making a drink even if we can’t drink it together. Each week, one of will offer a drink recipe—the more elaborate, the better—and we’ll try it. Not together, but we’ll share our outcomes. Just talking that much, I’m embarrassed to say, will necessitate communicating more than we usually do, but it will also hold us responsible for one weekly celebration of life. We’ll expand not only our liquor cabinets but also our knowledge and expertise. We’ll learn something, and possibly more than just how to make cocktails. We’ll slow down long enough to do something frivolous and fun.

You, dear reader, are welcome to join us. I’ve created a blog to record our journey, A Drink With My Brother: The Adventures of Two Not-So-Savvy Cocktailians. As the mission page says, “Big things start small. Maybe a few more casual celebrations can make the world a calmer place.”

One weekly cocktail won’t slow the unremitting rush of my life, but it’s an experiment worth trying. It will be strange (and nice) to schedule a little revelry.

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25 Unsent Letters to My First Best Friend

tbt_bferry61.

My first thought today brought back Bolivar. When I stayed with you there, foghorns on tugboats pushing barges lowed in the Intracoastal Waterway. Even when I didn’t hear them, I held them in my head like thoughts loosely tethered together.

2.

If we saw a butterfly, bird, snake, or insect, one of my brother’s books would identify it. We leaned over the pages as if we were looking into a deep hole. We didn’t mind touching. The object of our search didn’t always appear, so we whispered to catalog everything we had seen, pointing and saying when and where we’d encountered it.

3.

Early on, I thought of friendship as gathering together-stories, the time we shot a mocking bird with your b-b gun and buried it so the police wouldn’t discover we murdered the state bird, or the time we cut sections of grape vine to smoke and coughed for a week, or the time we soaked your sister’s underwear, froze it, and returned it to her drawer.

4.

In my memory you never ask me to go to your house after school, never show up at my door to ask me to play, never say “Best Friend.” Our parents negotiate our visits and sleepovers. We have no plans. We account for time by being together.

5.

Mom says the school must have separated us because we’d be trouble together. You may recall that after first grade, we never sat in adjacent desks.

6.

Concentrating, I can bring back your scent. It hits me just as the first whiff of your house did when I walked through your door.

7.

Do you remember all the accidents I witnessed? I was present when you spilled boiling water on your chest, cut your foot jumping out of the window over your garage, split your knee open as we skim-boarded after a morning thunderstorm. Your mother was so calm. She sent me home as if we both needed soothing.

8.

I don’t do friendship well anymore, as it requires leaving the room of myself, something strangely challenging. But our hours seemed easy, as neutral as the sun’s indecisive attention to shadows on a cloud-crowded day.

9.

We must have fought but I don’t remember apologies.

10.

People in the neighborhood often mistook me for you, partly because we were the same size but mostly because we shared the same first name. Did you know when they meant me? Did you correct them?

11.

The depression in the center of your chest troubled me. Where my sternum was straight as a last yours seemed to leave no room for your heart to beat.

12.

During all the weekends I spent with your family in Bolivar, the house remained unfinished. When we returned from roaming the salt marshes looking for Jean Lafitte’s treasure, empty cans of Falstaff and Lone Star gathered near sites of fitful labor.

13.

Mom says your dad was one of the most handsome men she’d ever seen. She thought you and I looked alike, but I wasn’t sure she approved of you. Sometimes you can tell when, inside, someone sneers.

14.

When people use the expression “Something came between us,” I imagine a scary story you made up once about a husband and wife waking with a corpse.

15.

We saw the moon landing together. Of everything I’ve reported, I’m sure you don’t need to be told that.

16.

Later we shared friends. They were your friends first, then mine. Being with them when you weren’t present felt like winging around in a looser orbit. One punched me in the face when I beat him at basketball. Another invited a girl over so I could learn how to French kiss. One day, out with one of your friends, we broke into an empty house to smoke cigarettes and the cops came. You may actually have been there too. It feels like it.

17.

You convinced me to explore the network of cement storm sewer tubes crisscrossing under our neighborhood. You kept saying how surprised people would be when we suddenly appeared somewhere else. Girls would be impressed, you said.

18.

I just remembered the summer I invented a language you refused to speak.

19.

There must have been a day I stopped calling you my best friend.

20.

Maybe memory stumbles here, but I connect every friend to you. Not directly, because all those separate steps disappear, but in character—as if they stood in the same circle of smoke blowing from the same fire.

21.

When people run into other people who know people they know or are people they know, they say, “It’s a small world.”  Maybe that’s the biggest change since last we met. It hasn’t felt small enough for me in quite some time.

22.

One of my college roommates regarded friendship as a test. If you passed, you couldn’t un-pass. He took you on forever, though not really. I expected to finally relax but never overcame feeling indebted. When I tried to explain my discomfort to another roommate, I used you to demonstrate proper friendship. I’m ashamed I’ve exploited your memory for such petty causes.

23.

The summer I left our hometown, I imagined saying goodbye to you, but, by then, we barely knew each other and practicing our conversation was like talking with a ghost who’d left the attic long before.

24.

People brought me news of you after I moved away—some of it horrifying and heartbreaking—but those accounts were as fanciful as games we played as boys, when it was fun to imagine the neighborhood as a harsher, less forgiving landscape.

25.

I’ve never reinvented you as a character in a story. The few times I’ve tried to describe you in writing before now, the prose slipped from my grip like a kite that slackened and fell as soon as I stopped tugging.

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Filed under Aging, Doubt, Essays, Experiments, Friendship, Gratitude, Identity, Laments, Letters, life, Lyric Essays, Meditations, Memory, Nostalgia, Recollection, Thoughts, Tributes, Voice, Writing

17 One-Sentence Stories

20080609_subdivision_900x600Another experiment in fiction…

1. He left his castle in the sandbox hoping someone might visit it.

2. It was a street added to tendrils in his imagination.

3. Their neighbor’s “hello” weaved past empty boxes stacked in the entrance hall.

4. Summer baked the pavement—heat rose as from a new hell beneath his feet.

5. The girl in the desk ahead glanced to the side, perhaps to look at him.

6. When he reread the note later, he knew he couldn’t give it to her.

7. The dance not even half-way over, he worried no slow songs remained.

8. Her mom called her in, but he stayed in the tree’s vee dreaming her echo.

9. His father stayed shut in his bedroom, and that winter seemed chiefly gray.

10. The red eye of the phone machine blinked, its endless notice persistent.

11. His best friend warned him no one wants to be known as one half of a pair.

12. The cellar door promised cooler darkness—they took the steps together.

13. They would drive separately along highways she’d marked in daisy yellow.

14. Memory is cruel and made him believe what is so was always so.

15. What if other lives cross into this one, creating alternate webs?

16. Amid everything strewn about, nothing seemed accidentally broken.

17. She did his laundry then left his bag wide open on their unmade bed.

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Filed under American Sentences, Doubt, Experiments, Fiction, Fiction writing, Identity, Laments, life, Love, Memory, Nostalgia, Place, Writing

Fixing Everything

errata-voltaireFiction in an alternative form…

Errata [ih-rah-tuh, ih-rey-, ih-rat-uh] noun 1. plural of erratum. 2. a list of errors and their corrections inserted, usually on a separate page or slip of paper, in a book or other publication; corrigenda.

1. page 29 (third paragraph break, seventh line): The text “The outcome of this contest was fair” should read “…was fare.”

Early hopes are disappointed, and everyone knows so. Men and women can love whom they wish, and, in competitions of the heart, someone will slip into shadows, someone will find a lover’s eyes pointed elsewhere. Someone will sit, await a lover’s return, and discover the world cold, outside and inside. In the best moments—much later perhaps—a person hopes to build on the fiasco, to pay the full price to learn and accept it at last.

2. page 64 (first paragraph break, first line): The word “stupid” was inadvertently omitted from the sentence “The ceremony celebrated another [stupid] display of affection between them.”

So much of what passes as beautiful and momentous ends up noise. People mean to make others believe they’ve gripped fate when, really, they only find what’s satisfactory. Their solutions absorbed some but excluded others. Those left out try to believe the hierarchy these occasions suggest—what’s proper has happened—but how can you tell? Isn’t every vow—even a wedding vow—an assertion of just one fate? People want to believe in an absolute end and embrace it… but that’s just one choice.

3. page 123 (sixth paragraph break, second line): The waiter inserted here that his lover never cared and that this job, like the others, substituted for what he might be.

What makes this moment memorable is the waiter’s hand, paused on the plate before he lifted it away. The ceiling fans circulated heavy, humid air. The windows opened on the tidal basin and the occasional whiff of empty oyster shells piled outside. Boats with loud motors broke into conversation, but the waiter’s meaning was clear. His eyes settled on spots around the room as he spoke. The question was innocent, the response something else, and anyone listening would have felt the same sympathy for being alone among people who professed affection. Before that moment’s relevance bloomed, it was easy to overlook, which is why it eluded notice at the time.

4. page 186 (second paragraph break, seventh line): In no way did the author mean to imply that all solitude is lonely. Quite the contrary, readers will note that, only seven pages before, he describes being trapped on an elevator as strangely tranquil.

Memory swims in and out as if prodded invisibly, like the tide. Maybe something celestial dictates everything. Sitting on the floor of its cage, the chimpanzee feels and accepts moments as inevitable and fitting in some shaded sense. The chimpanzee doesn’t feel compelled to exploit one moment to improve the next and doesn’t think what the present lacks, all the ways it’s pale and mute and disappointing measured against his hopes. Yet that sort of peace seems rare to us. It’s tough to believe in quiet contentment. We’re taught peace of mind should be blissful. It isn’t meant to be mundane or blend one hour with others in our accustomed soup, a meal we eat daily.

5. page 237 (third paragraph break, eleventh line): You may not realize the universe conspires against such moments of clarity. Epiphany often seems delusion amid life’s chaos.

Once I thought I saw a scene clearly. I was eating alone, and, half a bottle in, I watched the shuffle of passers-by flowing on the sidewalk. A woman much too young to care about me locked eyes and smiled. Perhaps she delighted in being noticed—my eyes and mind might have been too open—but I felt understanding between us, an instant history forming to make us familiars. My lips parted to speak, and she raised a hand. It may have been a greeting, a gesture to silence my speech as unnecessary, or a rebuff. But it felt all three. The purest fiction has no certain place, only effect. The effect is all that counts.

6. page 321 (fourth paragraph, seventh line): Please add, “There is a very loud amusement park across from my present dwelling.”

Forgive me. I’ve tried to speak confidently, but there’s so little I feel certainly. Sometimes my perception shrinks to light and color, sound and smell… and texture, and flavor. The world had so many opportunities to choose me and went on blaring and flashing. It went on shouting other names, and any intimacy I expected ran into the puddled ruts of wheels long passed, reflecting the red, yellow, and blue blinking lights of more vivid life I’ve known secondhand.

7. page 411 (seventh paragraph break, third line): Of course, the sum of all things can’t be counted, and so “sum” is itself fallacious, a way to abridge and not to describe.

I must be nearer the end than the beginning. If I found you, and if you wanted to start again, would time cooperate, would I be able to say who I am relative to who I was, or would my face speak something I’d have to deny?

8. page 438 (first paragraph, twelfth line): When I consider what might be said, I realize all I’ve said is incomplete, wrong in some grave sense.

When we met, you said you knew me without my having to speak. At the time, I took that as warmth, a sign we matched. Now I think you already knew me as finite. I wish I knew myself that way. The sun rises, solitary. I pair with it. I think of you.

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Filed under Apologies, Doubt, Experiments, Fiction, Hope, Identity, Laments, life, Love, Nostalgia, Play, Prose Poems, Solitude, Voice, Worry

Off to Work

depression-van-goghShe puts her cup down too hard, and the coffee inside gathers up and spits onto the tabletop. He rips a paper towel from the roll, hands it to her, and sits back down.

His interlaced fingers form a knot. As he stares into the hole created by his thumbs and index fingers, she continues to speak, and he half-listens. He’s heard the gist—cheer up, damn you—and sympathizes, though he struggles to comply. He’d like to save himself as she wishes but pretends instead.

The birds are already up, and cool, damp air seeps in from the open window. It will be another warm day, bearable in the morning—pleasant even—but still and heavy with sun by mid-afternoon.

The summer he was ten, he spent days like this with neighborhood boys. They collected personnel for baseball games at the backstop down the street or played capture-the-flag or hide-and-seek. They played like soldiers, occupying maps larger than their block. Sometimes, he hid among honeysuckles—though he knew he’d be found there—just to linger in the shadow and scent. If someone begged a ride, they’d go to the pool, and he’d return home in late afternoon cool, clean, and sated by sun. After TV, after supper, after another hour of play on the block, after more TV, after a few pages of a boys’ book, he slept.

Memory is dangerous. It makes one perfect summer day into a condition, what “would” happen every day. Then it rewrites the past altogether. He tells these stories so often their gilded nostalgia wears thin and reveals gray metal beneath. These tales were once solace, but he over-handles them, relying on bright imagination that never quite saves him.

She’s right to expect more. Because she loves him and he loves her, he tries and, for long stretches, rouses himself to cut vegetables, do the dishes, change the light bulb burned out upstairs, make and follow through on intentions. It’s all intention. He wants to believe in fresh pleasures and new stories but soon leaves cabinets open and forgets to set the timer for the potatoes. He crawls in bed early, unable to do one more thing, though he’s done much less than planned. He awakes to familiar rituals and gestures.

In school he learned about entropy, the heat death of the universe. Mr. Clements spread spaghetti-thin arms and said, “Everything will average. Hot will cool and cool will heat up. The whole universe will level out.” Sitting in the third row—as he did in every class—he pictured the universe as one bucket of tepid water.

Mr. Clements sat back down beside the overhead projector and rolled the notes forward. “Copy these,” he said. His eyes dropped to the page again.

She must be exhausted with restarting. A heavy sled without dogs, he dreams of hitting a frictionless patch with favorable gravity, a place motion will take. He wants to redeem her hope. He’s not sure what hope is.

He was ambitious once. In high school, he wrote his 400 meter times on a pad in his locker, noting each tenth gained as he approached the school record. He squeezed like a spring into the blocks and, at the gun, became pure will.

She reaches across the table, places her hand over his, and calls him back. There are practical matters, tasks to accomplish, obligations to fulfill. Another day of work awaits, and his mind leaps forward to take in all the time between now and returning. He prays, “Oh Lord, get me through.”

And he smiles. Some days, the only kindness he marshals is playing this role.

The birds chatter, and today’s humidity gathers in the kitchen. He loves this time of day and wants it to pass. He remembers joy and settles on survival. He takes a deep breath of morning air and sighs.

Throwing on his backpack, he heads toward the door. “Good bye,” he says, “have a great day.”

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Filed under Ambition, Depression, Doubt, Experiments, Fiction, Home Life, Identity, Laments, life, Nostalgia, Thoughts, Work

Speaking of You as Me (or the opposite)

photoIf you kept a part of everything you’ve broken, how big would the pile be? Several trunks would follow moves, and, if you dared to reach into shards of glass and crockery, you might find forgotten hours and days in fragments.

Prufrock has scuttling claws, you bits of mugs given by hands and faces lost long ago. This imaginary pile is mostly accidental, products of inattention and clumsiness. Other broken things touched you peripherally. You pushed the button for the last time or found the weak bridge of plastic, metal, or fabric fated to snap or sever at someone’s hand—yours.

That’s something though, you were an instrument, the person present.

Of course, writing about your collection of broken things wouldn’t necessitate talking about those moments. Writing is coy, as much silence as saying. Quiet means to seduce readers, even if, as you compose, the idea of being seductive seems laughable. No one sees you as you search for what might incite longing. It will be your longing and a reader’s only second-hand. Loss eludes the future tense. You write about what’s gone because you wish for belief, faith in what you once possessed and don’t anymore.

You can’t write without guessing an audience’s desire, so every approach invents resistance. So much of what you might say no one wants to hear. In that pile of broken things is a key snapped in half, the other buried in a lock elsewhere. In that pile are edges defining what’s gone, the eye that implies a face or an eyeless face. Somewhere, among all the pieces, is an object you meant to keep whole and, no longer whole, lament still.

Among the rubble is lost childhood, everything meant to be reassembled, clues to what led to life now. As you began, you continue. Where you assembled, you stoke your desire to repair. You picture placing parts together, searching for pleading edges, epiphany in dissimilar but sympathetic losses.

Here is a device. Here is a machine. Writing means to make discarded cogs mesh and turn detritus into treasure. You’ve been told, perhaps many times, there’s truth in trash. Just look and, if you see nothing else, you will see abandonment. Privation speaks. All the fragments shout loss, seen or unseen, implicit, explicit, invisible, and aching.

And even if you keep no pile or trunk of pieces, the broken will lurk by implication. You have only so many words, and you’re bound to surround reality in your attempt to say what you can’t. It will all be said, either in words or in what they leave out.

Some part of you circles this imaginary midden, looking for clues that might collect it all and speak at last. You won’t quit believing in meaning. You can’t stop collecting. You want to realize sense in what you know is gone. You’re sure there’s something there.

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Filed under Aging, Allegory, Ambition, Doubt, Essays, Experiments, Identity, Laments, life, Meditations, Memory, Nostalgia, Prose Poems, Revision, Thoughts, Worry, Writing

Coming Back to Me, Part II

A week ago last Thursday, the postal service delivered a book I’m sure few people own, Adam LeFevre’s Everything All At Once, published in 1978 by the Wesleyan University Press in Middletown, Connecticut. It’s Volume 89 of the Wesleyan Poetry Program.

The author, the title, the press, the series might be unfamiliar to you, but I’ve owned the book twice. The first time, in 1999, it appeared in a stack left by the school librarian with a post-it note, “To be discarded… any takers?” I don’t remember why I adopted this skinny orphan of a book but maybe I looked at the table of contents. Titles like “Sestina Sestina,” “Scapulae,” “Theoretical Landscape,” “The Difficult Birth of Walt Disney,” “Vampire Bride,” “Nordic Anthem,” “Monologue of the Girl in the Refrigerator,” and “Boots of Guilt,” might have helped me see LeFevre as a kindred title-er who shares my weakness for mordant humor. I love any title that might start a challenging writing exercise.

In any case, it came home and then I felt strangely adopted myself. Within a few hours no poem remained unread and reread. LeFevre’s surreal poems felt dazzlingly creative to me, and I wondered why he hadn’t echoed through the literary world. He seemed to me every bit the equal of Russell Edson, another of my favorites at the time.

That sense of injustice lost me the book. I had just started an MFA program, and I sent the book to my teacher with a note inside, “Why isn’t this book better known and what happened to this guy?” He never answered. He never returned the book. I considered asking for it, but then I guessed my teacher had answered after all. My affection was misplaced. The book was a discard after all.

I’ve researched LeFevre. He was born in Albany, New York and went to Williams and then Iowa. He also wrote plays and produced some. He became an actor. Poetry, it appears, was an intersection he left.

You don’t know it yet, but you’ve seen Adam LeFevre. He’s in that speed dating scene in Hitch and a lot of Law and Order. I saw him on one of those “That Guy” web pages once, the ones that help people discover faces that are recognizable but unnamable. Now that I’ve named him, you may see him everywhere. Someone may come out of the woodwork to say he or she knows him.

If so, please send my highest regards.

Spying him on television two weeks ago led me to second ownership. I wondered about this book I’d loved and wanted to know if I’d been wrong, entranced, seduced, or duped. I longed to smell its musty pages, so I found it on Amazon, used, $2.98.

And fell for it again. LeFevre is inventive, bold, clever. I collect sestinas and his is the funniest I’ve ever read. His sestina is about how horrible sestinas are to write and ends, “This form is a hungry monster. / Repetition wants something else every time. Six / mad kings and you, locked in a cell—that’s a sestina.” LeFevre is fearless in subject matter too. He writes a poem from the perspective of a girl trapped in a refrigerator during hide and seek . She discovers the door to heaven, “opens / just from your side.” In other poems, he occupies the odd space between memory, history, and imagination in poems about an astronaut stuck circling the earth, Matthew Brady, and Charles Darwin, lost and sick from a hangover.

Not one poem seems amateurish, cliché, or bungled by pretention or earnestness, which troubles me—because I still think I must be wrong, because I half-hoped to feel naïve and discover this ex of mine wouldn’t stand up to time.

I half-wish you could dispel my fondness, but I can’t retype all the poems, so here’s one of the shorter ones, “Aubade”:

A big nun is sitting on an azimuth.

Behind her back, the dark opens like hands

released from prayer

Snakes and rodents crawl out

in every direction.

The eyes of the nun are wet with love.

Between her legs the sun is rising.

An aubade is a morning love song, usually about two lovers parting after an illicit tryst—I’ve written one—but knowing the definition doesn’t help here because, well, this is a nun and no mate appears other than possibly the departing snakes and rodents or God. “Azimuth,” I looked it up, is an angular measurement in a spherical coordinate system where the vector from an observer, the “origin,” to a point of interest is projected perpendicularly onto a reference plane; The azimuth is the angle between that projected vector and a reference vector on the reference plane.

If that helps, you’re too smart for me.

Nonetheless, I love this poem. Everything is strange—the nun, her scientific location, the unclasped hands that open darkness, the critters moved as by the divine, the wet eyes of unnamed love, the sun rising in the nun’s sex. Its oddity is more than atmospheric and more than gimmicky aftermath. It evokes sexual love and religious love without conventional causes and mixes miracle and mystery in a curiously funny, nearly southern gothic, way.

Many of the poems are just as evocative and strange. Another poem, “On the Future of Bridges,” communicates the beautiful elusiveness I love in this book:

Bridges will strangle air until

It confesses something terrible

Something no one wants to know.

Then bridges will let go.

Epigrammatic certainty says everything and nothing and, perhaps I’m over-reading—oh, I must be—but LeFevre’s poems feel like those bridges. They “strangle air,” extracting from nothing something haunting, something ominous.

But I can’t shake the feeling I’m wrong. And why do I hope to discover my former affection was faulty, and why do I discount everything I liked once as something I thought I knew? Why can’t my original pleasure live into the present instead of fading like deuterium, its potency ticking until silence?

Was I always wrong, am I wrong now, will I be wrong later?

Too many questions, I know, but lately I find myself staring at my former self wondering who’s right.

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Filed under Adam LeFevre, Aesthetics, Aging, Art, Doubt, Essays, Fame, Identity, Memory, Nostalgia, Poetry, Reading, Thoughts, Tributes, Writing