Posts Tagged 'dying'

Woman with a wandering eye

blonde-lady

There in the firelight sits a man, a dog, a chunk of meat and a knife. On the wall is a florid oil painting of a peacock walking across a garden, while a pale lady in a silk gown with a dangerously low bodice, wearing piles of yellow curls, sits on an ornate bench, holding her pekingese in her lap.

The man is drinking something: ale, if he’s been working with his men out on the moors; red wine, if he has guests of the more refined variety. But no, he’s got a chunk of meat and a knife. Let’s give him some crusted bread and devonshire cheese while we are at it. His complexion just got a bit higher, and one notices that the pale lady in the portrait appears to be looking at something over a low hedge: the gardener, is it? He’s a fine rustic lad, with a simple name, like Thomas or young Will. She’s looking at him over the hedge, while the pekingese is staring off the canvas at the meat lit up by the firelight.

The man and his ancestors have been in this home with its drafts, its wet stone walls, its brocades and warming pans, for over 400 years. This man, like others of his line, craved travel in his youth. He was the first of his people to travel across the ocean to the wild open west, the muddy roads, the rutted wagon trails. He was the first to break a palomino on the open range, the first to trade in furs and leathers and strange stories sent back across the wide seas. His letters to his father, who was staying in Constantinople with his second wife, were full of lies, and had more of truth hidden in them than he wanted his father to know. His mother, she of the pale hair and the lusting eye, was gone by then. She’d died of a fever one year when the garden was neglected, and the fruit trees had a late cold snap in May. The gardener was found leaning against a wall, dead of a bee sting, according to the parish doctor.

The man’s name is William, after all the Williams in their long line, and his eyes are not a pale hesitant blue like his mother, or a distracted grey, like his father. His eyes are green, the green of seas with warm currents, the green of coastal treasures, the green his descendants would see in the land beneath them 400 years later as they flew over New Zealand, or Brazil, or the western coast of Canada. Green turns to blue and then wanders out into the ocean, where sailors have travelled months at a time to reach the islands of tropical dreaming. The man’s name is William, he of a long line of Williams from chilly lands who have travelled the world in their younger days for hundreds of years. They have travelled to green islands and warm countries: palm trees, coconuts, lava flows, rice fields, machetes, oxen. All things foreign in a world spinning and gradually growing smaller, slower and coming to a resting place.

The pale woman’s descendants travel the world now on thin, light titanium bikes, wearing clothes that wick away moisture, and meals in tubes. They, too, love ale, all her green-eyed daughters, grand-daughters and great great grand-daughters, their friends and lovers. All of them love adventure, and slobbery dogs and frisbees, and all of them love the feeling of otherness that carries them in their strong female bodies through places where the fair-skinned woman with yellow curls and her pekingese were never able to go. And all of the woman’s sons and grand sons and great grand sons keep going back to their place by the fire, century after century, to their ancestral hall, and wait for the women to come home.

Gramma and Grampa retire

rocker

Gramma’s rocking chair was a Sears and Roebuck, not old enough or nice enough to be a proper antique. She got it when grampa retired, telling him “That’s it, old man, if you’re retired, then I am too.” That was in 1992. She wasn’t even 65 yet, but she had no intention of increasing her workload by the number of hours he would now be home getting under foot.

They sat there in their living room for a year, gramma in her rocking chair, grampa in his sectional recliner, staring out at their big screen TV, daring each other to say one wrong thing.

After a year of going out to Burger King for a breakfast biscuit and then making himself a ham sandwich with chips for lunch every day, grampa decided he might learn to cook. He set the TV in the kitchen to the food network and started in with salads and omelettes and fish papillote.

Gramma bought a computer and started playing the stock market. Then they thought they’d mess around in real estate, and then they got richer than rich. They got richer than any of their kids, any of their neighbors, any of their fishing buddies. Money sweetened gramma’s temperament considerably, and made grampa better looking. They both lost weight, and when they died last year in a boating accident in Hawaii, they were looking great. Absolutely fantastic.

luxury-yacht

Reverse alchemy

Under the hill we performed reverse alchemy, turning gold into lead, ascension into descent, descent past sun through clouds to trees then grass and under the hill, six feet under, planted only a mile from where we married, two miles from where our children were born.

We performed reverse alchemy, turning gold into lead, fire into ash, water into dust. Like movie stars, I guess, traveling fast, dying young, more like a teenage tragedy song I might have listened to once. This reverse most likely to last, 2cool 2be 4gotten. Here lies Ned Hall, you and me babe, so I buried the Harley with you and think that some day you’ll come get me whether I want you to or not.

What’s it like to be a widow at 22, you are wondering? Some kind of break-up, like you pissed me off messing with some other girl so I dumped you, only then you were just gone, not with that girl, she’s just a phantom hanging with you at the graveyard while time holds tight onto me, arms around my waist, keeping me on top of this hill with you, feeling like a complete fool.

So eventually I got tired of being the widow and left – of course I did – you know I always do – and one day woke up single, not a trace of you left. It’s not in any letter, I had the headstone removed, I bought a Volvo wagon, and I never thought about you ever ever again.

At the intersection

© Teresa Valle 2006

I. Making change

Keep it in your pocket.
Give it to the men who hold signs in exhaust.
Give it to the barista with the plump little belly, the bright nose ring.

Change happens during coagulation, the altering of blood from liquid
to solid. A settling of substance, the end result a state of no change.
During circulation, the end result is no end result, end process only,
a flowing away of substance; never stops leaving,
never finishes arriving.

The biological definition of life is irritability.
If you poke it with a stick and it responds, it must be alive.

Curmudgeonly, the living. In a continual state of reaction and withdrawal.
Tidal.  Moonscape shows the blue-lit octopus waving his tentacles,
restless and resting, reaching, grabbing, sucking      exclamation points declaiming
alive alive alive      into the deep blue deep blue below

foggy eyes move past, bubbles
rise and sing and gasp

            Luke, I’m your father. Down on his knees, Luke crying
            Jesus fucking Christ I am alive and it hurts, old dad

           But old dad just keeps on wheezing, deeper and darker, colder
           than obsidian.           What a terrible risk it is

to be alive, what a terrible risk we say, and imagine a cold old
Davy Jones and the breathless beyond. We are sure
            somehow      that the unreachable unknowable is more
desirable than here where we struggle for air.

II. Evolution

Imagine that you are on your knees praying       day and night       except 
when working at your job,      scrubbing the toilet,      weeding
your garden,      washing your children,      taking your lover in
your mouth.     One day it occurs to you that

your life revolves around genuflection
bowing and scraping and breathing for release.  A remembrance of waves
washes by one day and draws you back into the deep.  The sound of air
calls a song from over-yonder and that reminds you
          somehow
of your grandpa and his mean-spirited lay gospel.  You imagine him
in the great beyond and it seems to have surprised him.  He’s wearing

nice clothes,    but    half the Beach Boys are there with him,
and lots of old blue-black blues men, and he’s pretty sure
there was supposed to be two heavens, one for white folks,
one for coloreds.    But    even before he passed he noticed
it was getting harder to tell exactly what color some folks
was, and it’s possible that that great great grandma of his mighta
been more colored than Indian,    so    maybe there was

   separate heavens, and he’d gotten assigned according to lineage,
the begettings and begottens of  a long family. He starts to think
 about evolution and himself as  half-man, half crocodile. This makes him
smile; he pats his own arms and belly,
looking for scales, or feathers, or something that says

man, here, is part of a continuum, not a settling of accounts, not
an end point.    But      patting his pocket he finds some
change      a few quarters, a nickel with an unfamiliar profile.
III. At the intersection

He sits for a long time on a log in a quiet place that smells of
swamp and a faint sea breath, playing with the coins, flipping
    head tail head head tail tail head    smoothing them
warm with thumb and forefinger.          Eventually, the sun goes down and he gets up, walks away from the log,
toward the sea breeze and the little patch of star-sky out over there.
He believes at last in evolution, and finally he is not irritable
   at all.

the sun goes down and he gets up, walks away from the log,
toward the sea breeze and the little patch of star-sky out over there.
He believes at last in evolution, and finally he is not irritable
   at all.
the sun goes down and he gets up, walks away from the log,
toward the sea breeze and the little patch of star-sky out over there.
He believes at last in evolution, and finally he is not irritable
   at all.

 


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