I'm stealing this wonderful painting by Nellie Mae Rowe from the header of one blog and using it as the header of my own blog because, among other things, when I first saw it I thought immediatly of the Book of Abraham. The Book of Abraham is a Mormon book of scripture and has a few images in it. I thought of one depicting Abraham as a child when I saw this amazing painting. I thought of many other things too but childhood was definitely a prominent theme. The blog post I stole this from and the post before it - both themed around the beginnings of creativity (the writer, Tom, shows us his first attempt at painting a rooster, which he describes as an abortion) - inspired the following rush-write this morning. I spent fifteen minutes writing and an hour cleaning it up. It's not perfect, but who cares. It's a beginning.
I’m sitting on the wooden bench outside in the square; an open but fenced space between my apartment building and the others around it. The air is matted with that crisp morning chill you notice but which doesn’t send you indoors, mixed with the weight of clouds before the sun has risen. These thick clouds hang over the charcoal lines of trees and building brick and chain link. The square is dotted with planter pots whose contents are dormant or dead from winter. There’s also a playground set with two adjoining plastic blue slides that curve down to the ground, each ending in a slightly different spot than its conjoined twin. Birds twitter beyond my view and a crow squawks in the distance. Then I hear a dog bark. At this point I am no longer sitting but standing in the center next to the conjoined slides and next to that, the thick curled slinky shape of iron with a plastic horse on top. One a child might mount and rock on, to and fro. I walk closer to the steps that lead down to the doorway into my building’s basement and I grasp the horseshoe shaped latch on the gate guarding the stairs. I push the shoe latch up; an easy move. But the hinge screw catches in the up position and you have to apply pressure to get it back down again.
I had been in the basement before sitting on the wooden bench today. If I am up this early at all these days, I am apt to walk around the block to one of two bodegas that have become familiar. Before that, I’d grabbed the eight quarters in my cup made of tiny strung beads and stuffed them into my back pocket. Two dollars buys you a standard can of Red Bull. It’s my version of morning coffee; coffee and a cigarette on the park bench in the square. After visiting the bodega and plopping down my eight coins, I’d walked along Nagle Avenue where I live. There’s a sign at the corner of my street across from the post office. One sign reads ‘Nagle’ and the other reads ‘Hillside.’ I rarely notice them but of course they’re always there for the times when I do.
Sometimes I simply squat down across the street from the bodega on Hillside with my back against the wall of a building. I pull out my iphone and scroll through the facebook newsfeed. People post their memes with silly little phrases or photos or a sentence that’s supposed to make you wise or make you laugh or maybe just piss you off.
Today I’d walked directly back to my building past the paid parking lot. Whoever came up with the logo and placemet for the entrance sign to this lot is either a hilarious jokester or just has no sense of proximity. The company name is ‘Impark’ and the logo is a giant ‘P’ which has been placed on the sign just to left of the company name. Now as I pass I think of a scene from the book I started this morning about two foster children. In the scene, the female narrator, Hannah, describes her brother in front of the television watching Electric Company starring Morgan Freeman. I remember the word games they played in that show because I was a child when it was on TV. It was a game with two or three syllables or a letter and a syllable. You’d get two silhouette faces looking at each other and one would speak the first letter or syllable. Then the other silhouette face would speak the other letter or syllable. When each would speak, the letter or letters of what they were saying would appear, sliding out of their mouths. Now as I pass the paid parking garage next to my building, I see Morgan Freeman’s silhouette profile across from a woman silhouette profile. He says, “Puh” and a giant “P” appears from his lips on the screen. The woman says “Impark’ and the letters appear outside her lips on the screen. They say their parts again, "P"..."Impark" and the letters move closer together. Then they both say, “Pimpark.” The idea makes me smile and I imagine the silhouettes of Morgan and the woman beaming with delight, possibly even clapping, as their creation and this new word stands proudly between them.
Then I walk past and notice the trees. It’s nearly the middle of March but the month is having an identity crisis. The snow has finally melted but only just a few days ago and the air swings from unseasonably warm to bitter cold. But this morning seems to be a nice mix complete with a heavy clouded sky and air that hangs with mist too fine to be visible to the naked eye. Thinking it I remember the book again. The female narrator describes playing upstairs in an attic room with a forest made from cardboard and imaginary train tracks lined with tunnels made from discarded oatmeal tubes. Through the attic window, sunlight filters in and lights the ancient dust which sparkles over her cardboard forest. The image takes me to my own childhood and my own forest. I remember hiking with my father or family camping and of one particular moment when I stood quite alone next to the thundering roll of a creek. That sound is now permanent for me. It will always run through me whenever I think of camping or a forest. It’s a wild sound and also methodical; constant and unspeakably mysterious. As a child I didn’t know the words to describe what I felt or heard. At least, few people ever asked me to describe what I heard while standing next to a creek in the mountains so who knows, really. It’s possible I did have the words. In second grade my teacher, Mrs. Wall, asked us to write a poem about the sun. My poem attracted the attention of our school’s principal who was a minor celebrity poet, herself. I didn’t know what I had written. I’d simply described what was in my mind but that description had brought her into my classroom and put her sitting next to me while I wrote more words. Now the creek water of my childhood forest rolls into my chest. I feel it humming on my skin. Hopeful and sad at once.
Dante is on my mind as well these past few days. In a recent facebook chat, I explained to my friend K, that when I say ‘smart and gorgeous’ to describe some of my friends, I mean what I can see of their hearts and souls. “That’s very Dante-esque of you,” was K's reply. Which inspired me to have a go - again - at reading the Divine Comedy. Dante has just begun and he is in a heavy forest and says his journey is filled with sleep. Here he meets and fears the she-wolf but also meets Virgil, who says of the wolf, “This beast, for which thou criest (who envy first set loose), lets not men pass her way; but so entangles that she slays them; and has a nature so perverse and vicious, that she never satiates her craving appetite; and after feeding she is hungrier than before.” Strangely enough my associations with Dante have heretofore included Morgan Freeman and that serial killer movie where the murderer uses the seven deadly sins as theme for carrying out his crimes. Out of context, this declaration from Virgil doesn’t help to mitigate the severity I feel about Dante and consequently my idea of any God Dante might describe. Yet it is a kindly and imperfect Virgil who offers to lead Dante on another path. As for me, I have decided to approach reading the Divine Comedy like a child meets a benign stranger. He’s just a man wandering in a dense forest. He might even stand next to that mysterious roar of a creek that rolls through his own childhood soul. In the mysterious roll he finds animals – a leopard, a lion, and this she-wolf. There he also finds Virgil, his guide who explains the she-wolf’s addictive avarice. Thus far in Dante’s world there are no severed heads in a cardboard box or serial killers screaming at Morgan Freeman, waving bloody fingers.
Now I sit on the wooden bench in the square and smoke my morning smoke and drink my morning drink and hear the crow chattering. Since this whole exercise seems to be one of associations, I might as well add that it’s only been recently – within a few years – that I’ve ever thought of crows and ‘chattering’ in the same sentence. A crow’s voice seemed much deeper and distinct and gravelly and even ominous to have considered what comes out of its beak, ‘chatter.’ But then, I think of chatter differently now too.
And the two orphans. I say orphans, but I mean foster-care children who are the two characters in this book I’ve just started. They see their natural parents often and spend their time at a foster home. The girl who narrates does what she can to please adults in order to feel secure. She also dreams of running away. There’s another association: running away. When I was in the second grade - yes the same year I wrote the sun poem - I told my sister, JoDee that I was running away. I’d packed a suitcase and she’d walked into my room before I could shove the case completely under my bed. She’d cried when I told her. “But then I won’t have a brother.” I didn’t know how to comfort her but remember wanting to. I also remember the tightly clenched jaw of my mother as she stood at the kitchen counter after I knew she’d discovered my plan. I walked in and her back was to me. I had to get along side her to see her jaw but even before I saw it, I knew it was clenched tight. As a child, I didn’t know how to describe the ‘trouble’ feelings in the room. Only that she was unhappy and I was the cause and there was no cure. I didn’t know then that my mother too was subject to other 'grown ups' and their various idols and she-wolves. Ghosts who weren’t presently visible but who had played their part and now she was playing the one she knew. And I was too. She peeled potatoes or carrots in silence. I don’t remember saying a word.