Thursday, February 14, 2013

Epistle. To: Grace Nelson

   Remember that tattoo your cousin had? After she shaved her head bald and had her skull lined with an old Chinese curse - may you live in interesting times - and then grew her hair back over the message? Maybe only the next barber or an autopsy might see it? Well I was thinking about that a few days ago. For a number of reasons. Any one of them by themselves just might add up to be true.
   I ran into a kid crossing South Onion on his way up the hill. He had a backpack on that seemed way too big for someone with a spine his age. Hanging on the backpack was a decal or something like a bumper sticker. I had to look at it twice. But what it said was - youth shooter.  So I asked him about it. He said he was in a gun club and was learning how to shoot and fired at targets. It was pretty cool he said because he was learning stuff but he had to go now because he was going to be late for a summer class if he didn't. Thanks I said and off he went up the hill, checking his phone, hunched over like he was a climbing trellis and something growing around him was taking over his body.
   The sky was overcast again - too much humidity - too many demands. You might think over time it turned out easier than that. But not really. And I hate to be caught out in a thunderstorm. The metal halo holding my neck and skull in place seems like the perfect landing for a lightning strike. Somewhere between Ben Franklin's kite held aloft in a thin new world and poor Frankenstein's search for meaning in the fuse of an old one, you always wonder - what are the clouds going to do? A flat line grayness stretched from the buildings above to the ground below. It was like a monotone that became the air, thick enough to reach out and touch, and in doing so made you feel stupid to bother with connections if you were just going to be oppressed anyway for your troubles. In a way like the possible navigations to the thousands of colors any one problem had were yours alone and were not spread around. Some days it's hard to avoid the whole cosmological business being underneath the influence and trying to dodge brute facts meanwhile.
   Oh I know - why not be happy and call it a technicality and just leave it at that. I guess for the most part that works. And for the sake of letting go then yea for sure.
   So I walked on to the market to grab a sandwich and coffee. It's great when the nurse has AM duty. She left the house like a curtain in a open window. Left me a plate of fruit with mint sprigs and a cup of simple vanilla yogurt. Left a corn muffin big as curiosity in a tumor and as lovely as an August day. And always this sad little promise in a handwritten note. I was on my own for a few hours and so be careful until she returned. It's like you rise out of bed and suddenly everything around you becomes so fine that you start to feel molecular. Bit by bit it's a groove and a scheduling of humanity takes shape and whoa there you are naked and dumbfounded in the morning like a yawn released from the trap of sleep.  But I've always had this problem with identity. Let's just say when my eyes touch the dawn then I feel trouble for no reason, and simultaneously come to grips with an idea that gets flung from the back of my head explaining to me there's no reason to do this. So ate everything - my response to the handwritten note - a gastronomical test message - how it is to be in love with a satisfying but now empty plate. And after I injected the meds to prop me up for a few hours internally and adjusted the braces so I wouldn't actually fall down on the street, I wanted grease caffeine and the more sublet approach from the world outside. So forgive me if it sounds like I want it all. But we all do and that's not really a cause for alarm.  How do you freeze one moment when that moment you're trying to freeze gives off to another splendid one?
   Anyway - and let me go on record again -  to say that crashing into limitations all day long does not hold down the long view of imagination - give me ideas and things and witness marks and I'll return a satisfied utterance before I die - but I was in the check out line at the market. And there was this guy ahead of me. He was buying the usual stuff you pick up a market like eggs and cheese and frozen foods and cookies. When it came time to pay he swiped a card, and waiting for a prompt then touched a machine keypad with information enough that appeared to satisfy both the machine and to get him out the door and on his way.
   What happened to you he asked? He was holding the card up in his hand and waving it around like that meant something to me.
   Alas I thought. Caught again. Before I could sufficiently answer the question and throw all the headaches of explanation back at him like a mirror and say who the fuck are you - well I said I was was in a bicycle accident and now children call me monster and even after now it's great to be out among the living. Being among the living I said is what I do.
   In response he threw his lips at me like so much air and held the card in front of my face.
   You don't bother to remember this he yelled. Do you know how odd it is to remember a number on a bank card? Do you have that? How odd it is? You don't bother to remember it you just rattle the damn thing off. Into whatever machine. Plastic in and you cash out situations. Just arrange the digits. When was the last time you paid actual cash for a bag of food? And think if the systems went down how will you survive? What are we going to do? Wave some white flag?  Pin number equals new shoes. A new tank of gasoline. Know what gets me he said?
   I didn't really and it wasn't really a question the way he said it because in other words he wasn't waiting for an answer from me.
   Pin number equals perceived affect he said. Having common goods and the material longing after them. Then square it and then square that because that's how often this all happens.
    I really didn't understand him. But I also really didn't care. The way it seemed I was just standing in his way.
   I was dead once I said for lack of a better conversational opener between strangers. For a minute and forty-seven seconds. Like dead in the books. Maybe afterwards what you got for living was a grainy head shot in the newspaper obits. And that shot of your death was fitted onto a page with the other deaths of the day running concurrent opposite the funnies and an advice column for a macaroni recipe. What I'm saying is...
   ... and it was not like I interrupted this guy... the success of it he said blowing right over me dazzles the innocent. This is where it's going he said.  And I don't care if you believe me or not he said. But look at those lawn chairs outside the windows for sale -  look at the coffee machine where you just were - the little geraniums outside by the lawn chairs - the pretty little watercolor cards in here on the rack - look at the way that light falls outside on the parking lot - look in here and here we are beneath the fluorescents...
   Meanwhile back at the checkout line the guy's bags were packed and put into his shopping cart and the gal at the register handed him a receipt. He stopped waving his card and put it back into his wallet. Then he walked away. I guess I was supposed to feel stupid but I really didn't.
   What do you think I asked? Should I buy that white lily out there?
   The gal at the register said sure come back in a month it'll be on sale.
   Then the thunderstorms rolled in. I waited out the downpour in the little cafe behind the registers.      
   You can jinx yourself so simply in time. You can't be perfect - but really that's what we want. Even as we try and avoid it we want to be perfect - to understand - to duck and cover - like something atomic that's solid one moment and fluid the next. So I hung out waiting for the rain to pass and took a corner and sipped a coffee. Strange beautiful moms nursed plastic cups and rocked infants in strollers. Backpack kids reading novels with cut up knuckles. A guy in a nice shirt and tie paced against the windows, like he was either magnificent or nervous and couldn't find out where he belonged where he stared eyeball to plate glass to the rain. Another guy who looked like he hadn't bathed since the last big flood was finishing up his hash browns and clicking madly onto a keyboard device and kept saying yes yes yes under his breath while nodding his scraggly head to the music implants in his big ears.  It all made me think - and while there's no crime in that - thinking can get you into trouble! I suddenly found myself wanting - wanting to be a backpack kid - wanting to walk down the street and escort a strange beautiful mom to home - wanting hash browns with too much salt and pepper and just slightly drowning in ketchup.
   So it put me in mind in kind so to speak.
  I remember watching a fledgling barn swallow that had fallen out of a nest. Flapping on the ground. Wanting to fly. Lost in the shadows of the old manure gutters. How does that work? Just when is that moment? Other birds with full on wings darted about the barn in small dozens zooming in and out of broken windows. Mysterious bird language flew about my head crying encouragement and warning I guess. I suppose loosely translated it said - get airborne before it's too late for comfort!
   And I thought so fuck the rain I gotta go... even if I wanted a shortcut... just a little piece of someplace  to belong to... straight up and unfiltered... the word conjure is a very handy verb to have...
  ... Later that day I saw a drunken cyclist. Pedaling along a freshly paved asphalt street and in clear violation of the city's open container law. Hoisting a beer can to the open sky. Toasting all that passed. Cheers to everyone everywhere he said! A real dude of the world. And a one clown parade that despite his wobbling front wheel was doing his best and bringing what he had to the pissed off  harried commuters sucking bumper to bumper in a straight taught line of air conditioned cars crawling nowhere on a Friday to get out of town and forget their livelihoods for the weekend. Hoisting a beer can to the sky he shouted it's real man it's real! He was like a shaman in a fit of happy hour ecstasy only he could see. I hope he saw the bus. Like Casey Jones on warm tar I hope he saw the bus. The one coming on from lakeside. The bus passing beneath the train bridge and into a severe dip in the road so for all intents what goes into that dip stays invisible for a moment further down the road. Just where he was headed. His spirited animal yahoos were like a hide to wear and he shouted in spades it's real man! There was nothing but the future for this guy. Hope he saw the bus. So happy and so generous he was weaving throughout the cars and banging on windshields. Hope he saw the bus. If not there was a roll headed his way...



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