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c r u d e
Editorial Advisor Phillip Lopate
DOMESTIC CRUDE is printed and published annually at the University of Houston. We wish to
acknowledge gratefully that funding for this issue was provided by the University of Houston, Office
of the Chancellor and Provost through the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.
DOMESTIC CRUDE welcomes submissions and invites members of the UH community to join the staff.
For future issues, submissions of poetry, prose, photography and line drawings should be sent with a
stamped, self-addressed return envelope to DOMESTIC CRUDE, English Department, University of
Houston, Central Campus, Houston, Texas 77004. The magazine may be purchased for $3.00 on
campus and locally, or by mail by writing directly to DOMESTIC CRUDE.
Copyright 1983 University of Houston. Upon publication, all rights revert to contributors.
I I -3
Prose and Poetry Art
4 Wanda Grossman A Born Listener 9 Alain Clement
8 Paula Webb A Cement Heart 11 Perry House
13 Phillip Lopate The Nipple 19 Karin Broker
14 Vassar Miller Mrs. Lot 20 Chris Plowman
15 Job 23 Richard Thompson
16 Babette Fraser Prophecy 26 Charlie Kubricht
18 Gail Donohue Reading Other People's Mail 29 Mark Coughlin
24 Naomi Shihab Nye Trying to Name What Doesn't Change 32 Glynda Robbins
25 Pablo and I Have Lunch 35 Patricia Gonzalez
Hawaiian Punch Prayer, August 39 Chris Plowman
28 Joyce James Penson Roller Pigeons 40 Don Shaw
On This Sunday 43 Jeff Delude
29 Margaret Tufts Living in the Cold 44 Night as the Distance to Morning Jim Poag
30 Glenn Blake The Winning 46 Gay Block
37 Arthur Smith Tree Heart 55 Lynn Hurst
Tea Rose 58 Beth Secor
38 Jack Spula Change of season :
39 Red squirrel
40 Heidi Renteria The Somnologist
41 Catherine Austin Nothing
42 Paul Graves Aubade
42 Lawrence Broch Hour of Smoke
43 Houdini Meets Cotten Mather in Paradise
45 Jessica Greenbaum Unwritten Legacy
46 Eleanor Totz The Eulogy
48 Pattiann Rogers Waking God at Dawn
A Modicum of Decorum
50 Maureen Brown Requiem for a Foot
52 Patricia Clark At the Trout Farm, North of Wondering
53 A. R. Dryden Wassail
Jeff Gustavson Jittery Letter to Jenny
Pindar (!or Jenny)
54 Marie Ponsot Foreign Correspondent
56 Patricia Kimbrell Catalogues
Marilyn Stablein In India in the Sixties
57 Rabie Harris In Spite of Everything ....
59 Nancy Luton Tynan Ritual for Father and Daughter
On the Shortest Day of the Year
60 Charlotte A. Berkowitz You Want to See Me Dance?
on the Hudson
The Hudson is the Rhine of the
New World. Many estates landed
themselves on the hilly embankments
Hudson; castles, mansions,
immense tudors. This one house, it
looked like a haunted mansion, was
donated to the town along with a great
expanse of land, in order to build the
new hospital. My father could remember
the old hospital. Every time we drove
up to the big house I would ask who
lives there? I just liked to hear him retell
the history and he didn't mind.
Then I jumped out of the car and went
running down the hill, or rolling down.
Then I would roll down the hill again
and my father, in his suit pants and
sweater, was still locking his stethoscope
in the glove compartment, locking the
car, and walking down the hill. Every
weekend we always had to go walk
Honey, our Golden Retriever. My sister
and brother had just started being teenagers
and they weren't interested in
family walks. We always said that we
would come here in the winter sometime
and how far could you go on your sled, to
that line of trees or down to the dirt
road? Maybe Bernie, my brother and
the leader of the sled-riders on our street,
would want to come along. He would
appreciate this new territory. We never
did go on our walks during the winter.
Then I went under the tree. Its branches
touched the ground and it always kept
its leaves and I played under there for
five or so minutes until my father laughed,
"Jean, you there?"
I would say, "You've got to see this,
come here come here," but he couldn't
find his way in although once I got him
to step inside, take a look around and
say, "Yes, I see, I see, it's great, c'mon,
let's get started, we have to be back by
A Sterling Silver Ring
and My Sister
0 nee, while we were on the
road through the woods at
the bottom of the hill, my
father found a sterling silver
ring engraved with
some flowers. The ring became our project
and we got home that Sunday and
wrote an ad for the newspaper and ran
the ad for a week, but no one ever
answered. The ring was much too big for
me, but sometimes I wore it on my
For two weeks I wore the ring every
day and my sister made her favorite
ugly face at me whenever she saw my
hands. She wouldn't look at me, her eyes
slid right past me, but one nostril lifted
into a wrinkled, misshapen hole in her
pale face .
One day she asked me, "Where did
you get that ring?"
"Dad and I found it at the hospital." I
answered her quickly, since I was al ways
happy when she talked to me.
"It's much too big for you," she said,
"Do you want me to take care of it for a
while, so you don't lose it?" I felt she was
going to look after me, so I gladly took
the ring off my finger and handed it over
A beautiful, feminine gaze came over
her face, not an ugly expression at all.
"It fits me perfectly," she said, 'TH
give it back to you in a couple of years."
In a couple of years I took it back. I
wore the ring on my thumb again, sure
to have it always, but always taking it
off my finger nervously in school. Dropping
it on the floor in classes. Apologizing
to the teacher for the small clatter
and retrieving it. Once, I left it in the
girls' locker room and that was it, I never
had it again, after all those close calls.
The Newborn Babies
0 ccasionally, after we had
finished our walk, the end
of the walk climbing up
the hill and out of breath,
we would take a trip to the
"Jean, you want to go look at the newborns?"
This was my favorite activity
when we went to walk the dog at the
In fact, I often suggested, "Dad, you
want to go look at the newborns? The
newborns today, Dad?"
"I don't think so, well no, it's already
five-thirty." Sometimes he said, "OK,"
a little surprised, and I even more surprised
to see that he hadn't been thinking
about the newborns even though our
walk was finished, we were getting into
the car, and it was time to see them.
My Mother and I
We made cakes together.
She made the vanilla
and I made the chocolate
and then we swirled my
batter through hers with
a knife. She did the marbling, but not
because I couldn't handle a knife. I liked
to mix everything up and she said a
cake was not a mud-pie.
My father would reach for my mother's
hand where she sat next to him at the
dining room table, closest to the kitchen
door, and say, "You make the most magnificent
marble cake." She pointed at
me, the real baker.
He would tell me, too, "You are the
world's best marble cake baker."
In the back yard, I made salads from
weeds, onion grass, and wild mint. My
mother washed off the dirt from my salads
and told the family I had picked
scallions and put them into the real salad
we ate for dinner. My father chewed
She told me to put on long pants, not
shorts, when I went on walks outside.
During the height of poison ivy season
she washed me with brown soap when I
came home. She told my father to wear
"I can't make a housecall or show up
in the emergency room in blue jeans,"
he would say.
"You're walking the dog, who's gonna
'Tm always running into someone up
at the hospital, and you know, if Jean
and I go to the maternity ward ... "
"That's true," she said.
The Sum Total
We took our Sunday walks
during the newborns'
feeding time, that's just
how it worked out.
Through the side door on
the first floor and up a back elevator
where test tubes, jingling on a cart, got
out at the second floor, and we at the
third. Everyone said Hello Doctor, and
he had nicknames for everyone ("MelMy-
O ld-B uddy," "Sherry-Lee-Sunshine"),
all the doctors, nurses, and
patients who'd found a whole family of
familiarity and couldn't stay out of the
Then he swung open the double doors
that said No Visitors between 11 and 2,
3 and 6, and so on. It was almost always
feeding time for the newborns. I liked to
remark on our disregarding the No Visitors
sign just to hear my father say that
We Were Allowed. For a while we just
stood in front of the glass. Then my
father would point out which ones were
new this day, last night, two hours ago,
and look at that one being wheeled in
right now, straight from Obstetrics.
"But was it just born now or was it
fifteen minutes ago?"
"What can I tell you, Jean? The baby
is born and they bring it in here."
"Five minutes? Did it have to come up
in the elevator?"
"No, it's right here on this floor. They
wash it off, show it to the mother ... "
"Oh, that's right, the mother looks at
it. So it must be, fifteen minutes, yes?"
"About that." Then he smiles and hugs
me, "That's right."
The nurses are busy, but they have
noticed us in front of the glass by now.
They wave to my father and they like
me too. Once or twice, they have carried
a newborn right over to us, to the glass
between us. The baby doesn't have its
eyes open yet and I stare at it, trying to
make it smile back at me. Sometimes,
they wave their fists, kick off a corner of
the blanket, smile and cry all at once, as
if they didn't know how to have one feeling
at a time. The nurse would look at
the baby too and then at me, and then
smile at my father.
"Is that Patricia's baby?" my father
asks the nurse. She reads his lips and
understands, no, she points to a crib in
the far corner. She puts the baby she is
holding back in its crib. She makes signs
to show that Patricia's baby is eight
pounds and my father shakes his hand
from the wrist.
Finally, I am torn away. On the way
down to the car, I total up the number of
kids on my street that my father has
delivered. The count includes my best
Years later, when the children in town
got married, he would say, "Can you
believe I delivered that kid?" and he
would shake his hand from the wrist.
The Sound of Talking
M ost of the time we talked
while we walked. Ifnot, I
climbed rocks and trees
and went running after
the dog. Ifwe were silent
I would ask my father a question, sometimes
it took three questions, so that he
would have to talk on one subject for a
while, explaining. I just wanted to keep
him talking because I liked the sound of
his voice which was easy to daydream
to. I would daydream, but understand
just enough of what he was saying in
order to make the appropriate exclamations
or ask another question if he
I developed the ability to skim what
he was saying and summarize it as ifl'd
been listening astutely while thinking
about cowboys and Indians. Then I would
go running after Honey. I was the Indian
messenger chasing my horse through
the forest. My father and I would watch
Honey go swimming in a stream, then
climb back up to the path silently, and
dry off Honey before getting back into
the car so that she didn't ruin the rug at
The Children's Talk Show
At the dinner table, waiting
for our meal, we would imitate
an educational children's
talk show called The
Smart Akes. My father would
ask the questions. "How do you pronounce
"Next question, the Santa Maria is
one ship in a fleet of which three ships,
and who sailed them?"
"Niii.a, Pinta, Christopher Columbus,"
I whispered to my brother who likes to
ignore my answers and advice. "Isn't
"No," he says.
"Yes it is!" I say urgently. Time is
passing quickly. My sister has already
My brother looks at me, says firmly,
flatly, "'Yes' means 'No' and 'No' means
My father asks another question.
"Name a country on the equator," and
suddenly I am alert because my brother
and sister are having a difficult time
answering this one and even my mother
has hesitated in the midst of adjusting
the meal in the kitchen. My brother
despises mulling over a challenging
question, but my father gives us a few
more minutes to think. I am thinking as
quickly as I can seeing my sister is still
unable to answer. This was an opportunity
for me to make my debut. "Florida?"
I say because my grandparents live
there and it's always hot. I imagine
groves of palm trees but cannot come to
any conclusion about the name of a
steamy land mass situated on the equator.
"Equa, equa, Equador," I say. "That's
right, look at that," says my father, my
brother calls me a cheater and my sister
continues to eat in the European fashion,
showing the back of her fork as she
brings choice morsel to mouth, little precocious
bites, chewing cleverly. My
mother runs into the dining room looking
frightened that she may have yet
another child prodigy on her hands.
Finally everyone's nerves are calmed
and we begin to eat. During the first
half of the meal, my father looks at me
too during the various conversations and
my mother insists that I be consulted for
my opinion. I don't know what cardiology
is and I wish they would stop asking me
questions, because they're interrupting
my thinking. By the second half of the
meal, they have stopped including me,
what a relief.
The Educated Guess
B ut my mother never forgot
that I had ventured to make
this educated guess and she
returned to me often, asking
for example, my thoughts on
my brother and sister's schooling. I had
no thoughts on this matter. Often I had
to make up an opinion when asked to
speak, so that it would appear that my
thoughts were in context. This process
of spontaneous invention slowed my
speech considerably and naturally they
all became quite impatient with me.
After I finished one ofmy short speeches
my brother and sister would huff, puff,
and sigh, my father would have glanced
at my mother, irritated that she had
held up the conversation by calling on
me, and my mother would stare at me
intensely for a minute, feeling she had
made a mistake by attributing the familial
intelligence to me also. She was
continually trying to make a space for
me in the family talks and I continued
to refuse the offer.
Coming to a Conclusion
Finally, I came to this conclusion:
The faster I tripped up
during one ofmy short speeches,
the faster everyone's embarrassment
would be relieved.
I managed to make remarks of such
extreme abstraction that no one could
follow anything I said. I became the wizard
of vagueries. This trick worked in
the opposite manner as that of a stutterer,
whose speech must be followed
closely. Any comment I made could be
swatted away like a tiny buzzing mosquito
without any reflective or conscious
A BORN LISTENER
A Return to the Hospital
0 ne day, when I too had
become a disinterested
teenager, my father asked
me to come with him to
the hospital. We were go- ·
ing to take Honey for a walk, although
I'd stopped accompanying him on these
walks. I was very pleased at this return
to old times. Then he said, "Your mother
wanted us to be alone together so I could
talk to you." She had told him that I
rarely spoke to her.
"I do talk to her, I tell her what I do
in school and she pretends she doesn't
"Listen doll," he said, "You've got to
give us a chance. You say one or two
words, of course we don't understand,
and then you go up in smoke, run out of
I wouldn't answer him and he said,
"You're not going to talk to me? Oh
c'mon, Jeanie," and I kept walking just
a little bit faster than him so that he
couldn't catch up. We wound around the
path through the woods and back up the
hill. I stayed just ahead of him although
it meant sacrificing running alongside
Honey. We got into the car and drove
In the garage my father said, "I wish
you would talk to me sweetheart." I
thought, no, and don't ever ask me on a
walk to the hospital again.
A Cement Heart
Marriage makes me mean, wrote Connie
Lou in her goodbye letter to her husband
I love you, but a woman like me can't
make a man like you happy for long. My
music is my only pride. You know this is
true. I'm the best damn bass player in
southwest Arkansas, and when I sit in
Friday nights at the Smokehouse, I feel
almost beautiful, like these big hands can
do something special, not just be too big
and get stuck in fruit jars.
I just can't make any more casseroles,
Wade. I just can't join the Volunteer Firemen's
Auxiliary and go to those conventions
in Little Rock, like you want me to. I
don't know how to talk to people, especially
wives. But when I play, I feel real
elegant, only I'm the only one who knows.
Playing bass is not like playing guitar. You
just can't whip it out and charm people.
I'm no showboat. I just do what I do, keep
the song on course, the harmony steady.
Wade, I love you, but we've been together
three years now, and there hasn't
been even one week when I haven't seen
that look of tired disappointment come
across your face. I just can't see that sad
face anymore, Wade. You were born to
laugh, be a father to a bunch of kids. The
whole town lights up when they see you
coming down the street. I feel like the
bitter shadow in your life. I can't do a thing
for you, Wade. You don't need me, and
since you'll never leave me, I've got to
leave you. I'm sadder than I can ever tell
you with words, my darling. Goodbye.
Your loving wife, Connie Lou Hollywood.
She left the letter propped up against
their wedding toaster on the round kitchen
table. Wade got in early from work, disappointed
not to see the camper, since
he'd had a good day at the John Deere
Company and had sold three new yellow
posthole diggers to a statewide outfit out
of Magnolia. He wanted to take Connie
Lou into town for dinner, maybe run by
late and see that new band at the Holiday
Inn Rainbow Room. Connie Lou would
like that, a little celebration right here in
the middle of the week, a little music, no
dishes to wash.
"Being married to a musician has real
advantages," he told all his friends. "When
she listens to music, she takes it all apart,
hears the guitar, the bass, the voices all
separate. Then she puts it back together,
plays variations on the table edge, tells
me what she hears. I never knew music 'til
I met Connie Lou. It don't matter to me she
" It's a good thing that's how you feel,
Wade," said Joe Robert, his best friend .
"We 'bout died last Thanksgiving, choking
down that yellow squash casserole at
When Wade found the letter, he put his
head down on the oilcloth and cried. "I
love this woman," he said out loud. "But
she has never believed it. I should've
known this was coming. She's been brittle
as pine kindling ever since her daddy
Zack Taylor was a legend in Fayette
County. The youngest son of a country
Baptist preacher, he learned early on that
the Lord's grace might be contrary and
that he'd have to take matters into his own
hands. He inherited a gift for storytelling
from his preaching daddy, but he used
Biblical references in only those cases
when he felt his audience slipping away.
On a hot and sticky summer night on
the front porch-the little kids already in
thin, cotton pajamas but still wrestling out
the day's insults; the older kids and the
adults shelling peas into big, white, enamel
pans, wishing the little ones would just
hush or fall asleep on the floor pallets, or
both; the bugs, way too many of them,
buzzing and swarming around the mercury
vapor light by the wellhouse- Zack
was always welcome. He could make
that heavy heat go away in a minute, all
for the price of a tall glass of sugared
iced tea. He could make you shiver, wish
for a sweater on a muggy August night,
telling you a story about duck hunting in
the Louisiana swamps some cold, wet
Zack called himself a trading fool , but
there wasn't much foolish about him. He
was born to sell and play poker. Cards, he
was good at, although he declined to play
on Sundays, but at selling he was downright
masterful, seven days a week. He
could sell anything, find anything, trade
anything, and take pleasure in every turn
of the negotiation. He hunted for high risk
deals, playing on people's vanity and
greed, and while he committed to no specialty,
he achieved considerable success
turning rusted -out steel into cash. He
would find some old, barely working ,
fishing tool equipment in a new widow's
backyard in Amarillo, then sell it in two
days to a young and hopeful independent
rigger with skin too fair for outdoor
work in Hattiesburg. Everybody'd be
happy with the deal, especially Zack,
who'd go off right away to Houston or
New Orleans and buy himself a brand
He always drove a Buick, claimed they
were the best cars on the road, and everybody
was mystified how he kept those
cars so clean and shining, driving those
dusty, red-dirt, Arkansas country roads.
He was a big man, stood a whole head
above most people, and he always wore
a city hat, white straw in the summer,
brown felt in the winter. He wore white,
half-sleeve shirts ordered special from
Battelsteins in Houston, he carried a leatherette
briefcase nobody ever saw him
open, and he always knew the latest
jokes. Giving advice to his daughter
Connie Lou, or anyone else who might be
listening, he pushed his hat back on his
head with his cigar-smoking hand and
said, "Never drink cheap booze, and
always do your banking during regular
hours, so you can be sure and wave 'hey'
to your loan officer."
For address purposes, Zack kept a
room at the old hotel in Lewisville, but he
was rarely there, always on the scent of
some hot new deal that would make him
rich. When Connie Lou finally decided to
marry Wade, she couldn't even find Zack
to tell him, but he found out somehow, he
always knew everything anyway, and
showed up at the very last minute, an
armful of camelias for his daughter and a
whole case of Jack Daniels for Wade.
"She's a good woman," he told Wade,
over two shot glasses of bourbon from the
bottle he kept in the glove compartment.
"But, she's as moody as her mother. The
first time I saw her, nearly three weeks
old, I regretted my whole life and considered
settling down, going to pharmacy
school, having my own store, just so's I
could be near her. She was the littlest
thing I ever saw, born too early, but she
had her mama's eyes and my great big
hands. I loved her like I loved nothing else
in this world, but she wouldn't let me comfort
her, never has. I hoped her body would
grow up to her hands, but that didn't work
out. Everything about her just continued
to grow with a powerful stubbornness to
confound scale. By the time she was three,
we all had to admit that daintiness was
not her destiny, so I figured we might as
well say to hell with all that regret, and
start concentrating on how special she
was. She was, too, special as spring. She
loved music, stayed real close to the radio
in the kitchen like it was a bonfire on a
freezing Halloween night. So for her fifth
birthday, I traded 2000 feet of four-inch
cable and an old diamond-bit drilling head
any Oakie could use with happiness, and
got her a Gibson guitar. The music teacher
in town said she had a lot of ability, as if
we didn't know, but said she got frustrated
with all the strings, so I traded the guitar
for a four-string Fender bass, and after
that everything went fine. I remember
coming home, driving all night from Gulfport
the night her mama died, and finding
her out by the wellhouse, hugging that
bass and playing steady, the tears streaming
down her face. She looked like the
angel she is, but would take no hugging
from me for her sorrow. I love that child
with all my heart, but with all my traveling,
I've never been able to raise any recognition
in her. I tell you, Wade, I feared it
would be just Connie Lou and her bass
and those big, lonesome eyes for all time,
until you came along. I'm grateful to you,
Wade, for calling out her trust, and I wish
you all the happiness and glory there is in
Zack couldn't stay for the wedding, a
big deal was brewing in Lake Charles that
he had to attend to. "This could be the big
one," he whispered to his daughter, kissing
her quick on the cheek, and then waving
goodbye to everyone, honking his horn
all the way down the road. Zack Taylor
was never one to leave a party quiet.
Almost three years later on a rainy
December night in Houston, a single sheet
of newspaper floated like a threat in the
air above the lanes of traffic. Zack Taylor,
in his brand new Buick, hurrying to meet
a group of young real estate developers,
lurched into the fast lane, hoping to beat
the odds, and lost. The floating newspaper
glided slowly toward the Buick, then
dropped quick, stuck to the windshield,
hung fast, and got caught in the wiper.
Zack was blinded. He braked too short
and skidded everywhere, crashing into
cars, trucks, the railing. An independent
trucker with a load of salvage pipe saw
him coming, but could do nothing. The
impact of the Buick on the truck's rear
end loosened the safety ropes, and the
load spilled out over five lanes of heavy
traffic. Eleven people were injured, fifteen
cars were damaged, 34 wreckers came.
Zack Taylor and two others were killed
instantly, by the mercy of the Lord. The
Buick was totaled.
With an irony everyone understood,
they held the funeral at Zack Taylor's daddy's
country church up at Stamps. Wade
gave the eulogy and sang "Amazing
Grace" in a high, sweet voice. He broke
down at the end. People came from everywhere
to say goodbye to someone they
all knew as well as he would let them. "He
was as close as kin," they said in low
voices. "Sometimes closer." They brought
their children and their memories. In their
best, Sunday clothes the men sat in the
front room before the service, talking softly,
shaking hands all around. The women
fluttered in the kitchen, unwrapping and
arranging covered dish specialties, made
from family recipes, and offered on big
china platters, received long ago as wedding
Corrine Knighton, Joe Robert's wife,
stood as family by the kitchen door, receiving
the food for the eating before and
after, making sure masking tape labels
were stuck to the bottoms of the cake
pans. After the services, back at Preacher
Taylor's old house, Corrine let the kids
take off their coats and run off their good
manners outside with the dogs. The women
joined the men in the front dining room, a
fire roaring in the double fireplace, eating
a meal worthy of Thanksgiving, sharing
their grief, and contradicting one another.
"That waddn't the way I heard that story,"
said Joe Robert. "But come to think on it, I
never did hear that son-of-a-bitch tell any
story the same way twice."
All in all, it was a worthy tribute to the
deceased, but Connie Lou participated
in none of it. She sat to the side, alone and
gray, didn't talk with anybody. "I hate
cold chicken," she whispered to Wade,
and left her husband to do the gracious
thing. "Thank you for coming," he said
again and again. "She'll really need you
in a few weeks, you know. Your flowers
are beautiful. Yes, we'll miss him in the
future even more than we can guess now."
Connie Lou never cried, anyway not
so's anybody ever saw, and everybody
was looking. "She's in shock," they said.
"It'll hit her in a few days," they said. "Call
us if you need us, Wade."
"He was a miserable, thieving son-ofa-
bitch," Connie Lou screamed on the
way home in the car. "A blood-sucking,
no account, son-of-a-bitch skunk. He ran
some shady deal on almost everyone
there and owed them all money or favors.
You know, he ran out on my mama. I think
he killed her with his fast-talking, dandy
ways and celebrated exits, all those promises
of the big deal coming. What a load
of horse crap that man was. The world is
better, rid of that trash."
"It was diphtheria that killed you mama,
Connie Lou," said Wade, driving slow on
the road he knew as well as Connie Lou's
variation on Waylon Jennings' "Good
"Wade, you better get this clear. I hate
him, totally and complete. And I'm beginning
to hate you, too, you and your princely
ways. I'm giving you warning: get off my
back." With that, she settled down quiet,
not speaking another word. She moved
as far away from Wade as she could and
still be in the same car, looking out the
window, wondering why it wasn't raining.
"She'll be back. I know she will," Wade
told Minnie, the ironing lady who came
Tuesdays. "She's just upset, been that
way ever since her daddy died. You know
this is true. She'll be back in a week or
" I don't know, Wade," said Minnie.
"Looks to me like she really cleaned out.
No lady born in Mississippi is planning a
real quick return when she takes all her
mops. I think you better face it, Wade.
That wife of yours is gone."
The trouble was, Wade couldn't face
any such thing. To face Connie Lou's permanent
leaving was to face defeat, and
Wade Hollywood was never one to do
that with any grace. He was a goodlooking
man, played varsity football in high
school, leading the local team to the state
championships. He went to the business
school in Magnolia for two years at night,
working days at the John Deere Company
with his daddy and uncles, like he had in
high school. " It's my pride to have him as
a son," his mama said, and the whole
town agreed that there wasn't a thing that
could come up that Wade Hollywood
could disappoint a person about. The men
liked him, and the women hoped for him.
He had a lot of chances to marry early, but
he waited out all the gardenia-smelling
overtures and somehow never hurt anybody's
But, it was all over one Saturday morning
in February when Wade saw Connie
Lou at the drugstore. His throat got dry at
the back, he felt his heart rac ing, a tingling
low down. All he could do was grin,
and the pharmacist, Mr. Clyde Billingsley,
who was witness to it all, said he'd never
seen Wade look so hot and cold at the
same time, or act so foolish. The whole
town watched the courting, which lasted
a good while, and when Connie Lou finally
relented and said, "Yes," everyone rejoiced
in Wade's contentment.
"She's the prettiest thing I ever saw,"
Wade told Joe Robert. "She's got eyes
ten miles deep, as green as the river, and
the blue-blackest hair I ever hope to see.
She's quiet, you know, most of the time,
but that goes with her music, and I tell
you, I feel like some kind of hero when I
can get her to laugh."
Wade was known for his tender ways,
but nobody ever saw anything like the
way he carried on about Connie Lou. " I
tell you, I feel a good bit of personal relief
at this union," Joe Robert told Connie Lou
at the wedding. "Wade just about ruined
duck hunting for me this fall, going on and
on like he does about your virtues. I wel-
come you as a sister, Mrs. Hollywood,
and look forward to many more happy
They liked her okay, although she really
was a quiet one, and most everybody
gave up trying to draw her out. She was
pretty, everyone said, and a damn hot
bass player, although she about ruined
Wade's Saturday morning productivity,
keeping him up late on Friday nights after
her playing. She had come into their lives
highly recommended, the love of Wade
Hollywood's life and the only child of
Storytelling Zack Taylor, the best supper
visitor anyone could ever think of. When
she left Wade, the whole town grieved,
not for her so much, since they never
really knew her, but for the trouble her life
had been, the losing of her daddy in so
tragic a manner, the cloud of disappointment
around the two of them when she
lost their baby, born two months before its
time. But she was gone. There was no
doubt about that, and everyone felt it was
about time Wade took to getting over his
grief and getting on with his life. The trouble
was, while the whole town passed
around Wade's shame and sorrow, Wade
Hollywood wouldn't have a thing to do
with any of it.
"She'll be back. I know she will. Connie
Lou's not like anybody else in this world,
and she just has to make her path through
her own pain in her own way. She'll be
back, I tell you, just any day."
"That plumb makes me sick, Wade,"
said Joe Robert. "She's been gone 'bout
six months now, and you just keep holding
on, waiting by the mailbox for a Valentine
that ain't ever coming. She's gone,
Wade, cleared out. Left nothing but an
old sweater under the bed to torture your
memory, which she more than likely just
forgot, since she never was much of a
housekeeper in my opinion. My cousin
Roxanne from Texarkana has expressed
an interest in your welfare, and you're a
damn fool if you don't study on her invitation
and do something for yourself. I'm
afraid you're gonna go crazy if you keep
on like you do, just pretending nothing
real 's happened."
"My own true fear is that he won't go
crazy," said Joe Robert's wife Corrine.
"Wade's life's been just about the way he
wanted it all his days, 'ti! Connie Lou left
him. He don't know nothing about crazy,
and most of us figure it's about time he
learned, what with this opportunity and
all. Everybody thinks Wade got left, but
I'm of the mind that Connie Lou left him,
and I'm most concerned about her grieving.
Remember how she got Wade to
finally go to bed late Friday nights, so she
could sit on the front porch alone with only
the memory of her playing? If you were on
the road early, you could almost always
see the front porch light on at their house
at dawn, that little Connie Lou in her flannel
nightgown on the porch swing, pushing
one foot and playing that bass real
In September, finally, a letter came, but
it wasn't the Valentine Wade was hoping
for. Dear Wade, she began. I grieve that I
have caused you a good deal of sorrow,
since I've got to tell you, you're the kindest
man I've ever known and deserve the
contented life you want so much. I hope
you can now understand why I had to do
what I did. It was for me mostly, and I am
shamed at my selfishness. But, it was for
us too, and what we could never be.
It has been a good while now since I've
been gone from you, and I'm playing regular
with a band I like pretty much. I joined
up with them in Waco, and we've been
traveling all over Texas and New Mexico
for the past few months, playing in seedy
little joints where they don't always listen
and confuse us with the jukebox. Still, I'm
playing real good and learning a lot about
music and myself. I think of my daddy
sometimes and realize how lonesome he
must've been a lot of nights in strange
towns. When you're just passing through,
you take what comfort you need from
strangers and try talking yourself into the
lie that they're really your friends. It's true
I've missed you many times, but I can't
see us ever being able to reconcile our
different ways. It's time we talked, Wade,
about the legal ending of all of this. I want
you to get on with your happiness. We're
playing two weeks in north Houston, a
greasy little dive called The Memories
Lounge. The irony of my current life is, the
place is not two miles from where my
daddy had his final accident. Strangely, I
feel his presence with me, and at night I
dream the stories he used to tell. Try to
meet me here as soon as you can, if you're
able to get away. I look forward to seeing
how you're getting along and what your
plans might be. All my best wishes, Connie
Wade had been checking the mailbox
by the road twice a day for months, and
although this wasn't the kind of letter he'd
been hoping for, any news at this point
was like a dream come true. Everybody in
town knew the letter had come, since the
postman, Mr. Lewis Kirksey, had never
been able to keep a private thing still.
When Wade roared into town that afternoon
in the truck, weaving like a drunk
Indian, and rented a jackhammer from
Joe Robert's daddy's concrete company,
the whole town figured he's snapped
clean out of his composure.
"You'd best go see about him, Joe
Robert," Corrine telephoned her husband.
"He was all wild-eyed and almost hysterical.
I would've thought he was drunk right
here in the middle of the day, had I not
been sure he wasn't no drinking man.
Still, you know, I sure wish he'd get flat out
drunk, just one time, to purge himself of
all this foolishness. "
By the time Joe Robert got out to
Wade's place, Wade had worked up a
real good sweat and most of the driveway.
"What in the sam hell is going on
here?" yelled Joe Robert, over the loud
fury of the jackhammer.
"Help me with this part right here, Joe
Robert. I got a pretty woman to see in
Houston, and I ain't got a minute to talk."
Joe Robert shook his head, then rolled
up his sleeves, and pitched in with the
work. There wasn't a damn thing a man
could do for a best friend who'd gone
crazy, except to get right into the craziness
with him. They worked together for
as long as it took, which was a pretty
good while, and when it was over, Joe
Robert thought he would've killed for a
cold beer and a sit-down on the front
porch. But Wade was still moving real
fast, and Joe Robert just figured he couldn't
voice any suggestion that would get him
any ear, so he just sat down in the shade
and tried to remember what his normal
breathing was like.
"Now pick this end up here, Joe Robert,
real careful like, and help me get it into the
flatbed," said Wade, breathing heavy.
"Slow up, Wade, you miserable fool,"
said Joe Robert. "You're going to give us
both a goddamned heart attack."
"That's exactly what's happening, Joe
Robert. I'm having a goddamn, five-star
heart attack." And he jumped off the
flatbed and ran into the house.
"Wade, you sure you know what you're
doing?" Joe Robert called out to Wade
through the shower curtain. "I do admit, I
admire your plan, but I'm worried about
you, boy. You've always had the luck and
leaning for winning, but your attitude these
past few months has been downright
peculiar to most folks. You sure you want
to do this? What if she says 'no'?"
"I guess she could say that, Joe Robert.
She might have to, for herself and her own
plans, and she might even be right about
us. But I love her more than I can ever say,
and I just can't roll over and die cause
things haven't worked out the way I'd
hoped. The trouble with me is, you know, I
get real worked up about my own hopes
and forget to check with people to see if
they're going along. Connie Lou's got her
own mind about most things, but I gotta
try and tell her how I feel clean through,
all the way to my heart. Living with that
woman is all I want to do, and I ain't gonna
accept anything different 'til I'm convinced
that's how the cards really lay."
"You romantic dog," laughed Joe
Robert, and punched his friend hard on
the arm. "The best of luck to you, cause I
think you're gonna need it, you son-of-abitch."
Wade took off in the truck fast, throwing
shell and bits of concrete, waving wild out
of the cab window. Joe Robert waved
back, laughing and yelling, "Just get back
home in time for duck hunting." Wade
kept on waving and grinning to himself 'til
he couldn't see Joe Robert clear anymore.
When Wade and Connie Lou moved
into the new house their first happy year
together, they put in a new driveway. Joe
Robert, and Joe Robert's daddy, and
Wade's cousin J.T. from Hot Springs all
came out to help and did a real good job.
Later, Corrine came over with a picnic
supper, and they all sat outside until the
mosquitoes got too bad and had a fine
time. Connie Lou strummed a little on the
bass, and J.T. played banjo. They all sang
songs in lousy harmony and laughed at
themselves until it got late.
When everybody had gone home and
Connie Lou was getting ready for bed,
Wade called her to come outside. The
moon had just come up, and the light was
still that pretty deep-violet the night holds
onto sometimes in the spring before it
releases the day and goes all black. With
long switches Wade cut from the chinaberry
tree, they drew a big heart in the still
wet cement and wrote their names. Wade
Keith and Connie Lou Hollywood, In Love
for Now and Forever. They sealed the vow
for all time with prints of their hands and
feet, then made love under the chinaberry
tree while the light changed, at its own
pacing and theirs, from deep-violet, to
deep-blue, to silky black.
"Hot damn," yelled Wade, driving south
toward Houston. "Double rainbows at twilight,
and I was counting on my own good
He drove straight through them, taking
all of nature's blessings, while the cement
heart rode steady in the flatbed.
Mother, you told me when I was born
the air raid sirens and blackouts
made all the babies scream.
I alone was quiet. I'd found your breast.
In that hospital you were happy,
a woman who loved to conceive.
Your favorite time was nursing, confident
your large breasts would never run out.
You used to speak pityingly
of women who didn't lactate.
And when I read of wetnurses in books,
I thought you had missed your calling.
Instead you went off to factory work,
miserable and making us miserable.
We kids raised ourselves, like urchins
running through the rubble of empty lots.
And ever since, I've been looking for your breasts
in the avenues, on women I pass,
on city trees in vest-pocket parks
triangling to a dead end, or even on
the Woolworth Building's Egyptian friezes
of bearded pharoahs with plump chests.
The kind, indifferent pillow of granite
which is New York, I imagine your bosom.
This love I feel from the surrounding streets
I will never hug, make personal, take home
with me, but the yearning keeps me a writer,
remembering Whitman's disappointed rapture.
Mother, now that I've made you into the world,
how do I scale down from your beckoning,
rejecting plenitude to reach the one
I could allow to cradle me in her breasts?
(Smaller than yours, Mom, that has to be.)
Must I finish with you first,
bruise or embrace you once and for all,
before I can become a father?
As though you even had to be forgiven!
Once, I'll admit, I thought it was your fault
for loving me
so erratic after so pure a start.
Silly of me. You who gave me the nipple
must take it away, leave me to figure it out.
There has to be something good said for Lot's
wife, for looking back, not moving on, for,
in other words, nostalgia, that onetwo
word, when even the Bible, which condemns
her says to remember Lot's wife, and why
else if it doesn't mean what it says (of
course, Jesus said it, and He always
liked women, unlike Paul, who didn't like
them much)-maybe because he knew they were
apt to cling to their homes, not having
in those days much else to cling to-and what
if they clung-like Lot's poor old wife whose
name we don't even know to recall, she
having to pull up stakes and get out
just because some men liked other men, that
being none of her affair, besides which
she'd never liked Uncle Abraham's loose
foot she swore he was born with, and so she
has long gazed back on her past which she
couldn't put back any more than a pulled
tooth, for which crime she stands changed to a briny
pillar, still turned toward her yesterdays and
her God who surrounds her on all sides-right,
left, front, and back-her sad but salty stare.
Job, down in the dumps, sat on a dump, groaning
and cursing his birthday and every single
candle sprouting like thorns on his birthday
cake when God shouted down to him, "Where were
you, Job, when I created the stars from
the stuff of light and scattered mudballs of
matter everywhere?" and Job answered, "Not
here, that's certain!" "Yes, and where were you," God
asked, "when I made the hippopotamus and
the crocodile and the horse and the wild
ass?" "Not here, but getting there," Job sighed, "if
you know what I mean." "Where were you," God went
on, "when I made the rain and the snow and
the hail?" "Not here," said Job, scooting his sore
rump over an inch or two-until God kept
on peeling Job down to the nub of
his nothingness and poor Job cried out, "I
will lay my hand upon my mouth!" when, so
the writer tells us, God gave Job more
than he had before, but the writer had
switched to prose in writing this, and we
know only poetry can tell the truth.
The phone call is from my mother's
friend, Ella Jamison, who knows everything.
She tells me she saw the photograph
in an antique shop on Ferndale
Street. I like that street and walk along it
frequently for exercise I don't find boring.
That's because of its houses. They continue
to look like houses, but are instead
galleries, restaurants, a nursery school,
and several shops like the one Ella mentions.
Their former and present selves survive
together. Even flourish. And that comforts
me. "Go and see for yourself," Ella
Jamison says. "I could be wrong."
It's too hot to walk on July mornings like
this one, but I do it anyway. The heat
doesn't bother me and, walking, I see
things drivers miss. Bird migrations. The
flowering of plants. Repairs and new construction.
Changes that walking slows
As I enter the shop, I notice a lovely
yellow and blue quilt at the rear. I am a nut
about old cotton quilts with their soft colors
and smooth, cool textures. This one,
in a double wedding ring design, particu
larly attracts me, but halfway to it I see
my destination. A wedding photograph
from around 1930. Four attendants flank
a bride whose fluted gown and marcelled
hair say the date better than any label
could have. They are, as Ella guessed,
my aunt, my mother, their older sister and
two friends. Right there on the wall of this
store. It's odd to see your family that way,
as a stranger would, when that's not what
you're supposed to be at all. I also see
that in the collapsed time of the photograph,
they are beautiful. It is a surprise I
don't enjoy. By my theory, generations
should progress, if only to justify life. I
should be smarter, prettier, more sane
than the people who came before me.
Because of science, maybe. Vitamins and
so forth. But the photograph denies this.
Well, I tell myself, at least it works as
decoration. A stranger might choose it for
the wall of his country inn or theme restaurant.
I've seen similar pictures in the restrooms
of such places, or possibly in
upstairs hallways where the light is dim.
Borrowed forebears. Pictures that say
more than the innkeeper expects.
Maybe I should buy it, I think, but immediately
that seems a peculiar idea. Almost
as peculiar as selling a family photograph.
Or asking a dealer to sell it for you. I lift
the picture off the wall and turn it over. On
the back is scrawled "Norris," the name
of the oldest sister, who died last year.
There is no price. "Is it for sale?" I ask the
proprietor. "Oh, yes," he replies, looking
encouraged. But I'm more interested in
the beautiful quilt, I decide, although I
don't buy that, either.
In the weeks that follow, I can't get that
picture off my mind. Not just for the
wrongness of it to be where it is, but for all
it suggests of the way our family was and
isn't any more. It rises before me in the car
on my way to buy new underwear for my
forthcoming trip. I see it at the stoplight
two blocks from the kennel where I'm leaving
the dogs. The faces of the sisters at
such times are hopeful. In the picture they
can be judged only by what they show:
fine bones, good posture and attire. Their
faces expect a happy future, full of love
and money. I think of my mother, too, the
way she is now. Fighting age and illness.
I would rather think about the photograph.
I would rather see the face she wore then.
The next day I go to Dalhart. That's
where the bride in the picture moved fifty
years ago with the groom who wasn't
photographed. I've planned the trip for
months. I like to visit my Panhandle relatives:
my aunt Therese, my cousins Liz
and Steven and their respective broods.
Getting to know each other all over again
once or twice a decade. That lets me see
their children growing in stages. So they
are new people every time with faces that
remember how they were, but vaguely. I
have no children of my own.
It's especially important to see Liz. Of
all the cousins, she's the closest to me in
age. But, naturally, it is more than that. On
the fi rst night after I arrive, I am standing
in her kitchen. She has put me to work
dredging chicken pieces in flour while
she chops vegetables for salad. We are
talking about my mother. "Seventy is the
cracking point," says Liz, bringing the
blade of her knife a little too crisply into
the meat of the board. Her mother turns
seventy this fall and precedent has Liz
worried. The women of our family tend
toward robust health. Then, at seventy,
come cataracts, arthritis, bad hearts, burst
aneurysisms. As though invitations had
been sent. This was true of our great aunt
and grandmother; of Eugenie, the sister
who died. "It's hard to watch the people
you love get old and sick," I say, thinking
of the girls in the photograph. And for a
moment they seem more alive to me than
my mother did the day before, when I told
her goodbye. I want to talk to Liz about
the picture, but I don't know what I want to
The meal we sit down to is served on
are using her monogrammed silver in the
intricate old pattern she loved. And her
crystal. I think it is her crystal, as I lift my
goblet toward the chandelier. The red
Bordeaux it contains pools and intensifies
the light like stained glass. This, too, is as
I recall from my grandmother's house
where growing up was measured by
where you sat and how much water they
put in your wine.
Some things are missing, of course.
Particularly, the clatter of French people
speaking English. The conversations stepping
on one another with words that could
only be inserted sideways, where they
But the talk at Liz's table isn't so different,
really. Like me, she and Steve speak
quickly. Too rapidly for most people we
know to appreciate. Tante Therese, across
from me, speaks just as fast. And all this
talk bristles with energy and opinion. What
others would call argument, we have
always called discussion. I'm more at
home here than anywhere.
Later, as we are clearing away dessert,
I ask Liz whether she th inks our family has
changed much over the years. "Do you
feel any sense of loss?" She looks at me
with my grandmother's eyes. When they
look at you directly, you know you're being
seen. "No," she replies, gently. "Not loss."
"I was thinking about the extended family
situation," I explained, "where everybody
gets together and socializes. Where
the fami ly are each other's best friends,
no matter what they say to one another."
"We do that," she says, moving two
wine glasses to the sideboard. And she's
right, of course. We've been doing it all
evening. With her parents living across
the street, and Steve raising his children
one block over, they've recreated in Dalhart
the family life I knew, following a
pattern they weren't a part of, living so far
away. I tell her then about the picture.
"I remember that photograph," Liz says.
" It was hanging in Eugenie's study when I
came down for the funeral. I thought it
"What do you mean?"
"Just that it was a picture of my mother's
wedding and I'd never seen it before. I've
never seen Mother's, assuming she has
"Assuming they all had one," I add,
wondering about my mother. "Do you
sometimes feel our family is unusually
secretive?" I am balancing three dessert
plates, with forks, in my left hand.
Liz smiles. "Absolutely."
"Do you have any idea why?" I put
down the dishes. I want to concentrate on
porcelain dishes, passed across one of her answer.
my grandmother's tablecloths. The lace She hesitates. "No. It probably comes
one I remember from holiday dinners. We out of their childhood, which they con-
sider perfect and won't discuss." She is
still smiling, as though she accepts the
"I guess so," I say, but I don't like it.
Here's another secret, I think.
When I get back to Houston, I go to see
the picture again. I've travelled in blue
jeans, which my mother deplores but I
prefer, so I don't even stop to change.
The late afternoon air is heavy and damp
on the skin and, as I climb the porch
steps, I notice the shop's windows are
nearly opaque with condensation. Going
in, I head straight for the photograph. I'm
determined to learn something from these
faces. Some idea of myself I've missed.
There must be a clue here, where the
forces that shaped me are present under
glass. I study the picture carefully. The
expressions in the sisters' eyes aren't
guarded, as they are in life. There isn't the
opportunity for movement, either, to distract
them from thoughts they don't like.
Here, as in death, no movement is possible.
The proprietor approaches, looking
hopeful. "How much?" I ask. "Fifty dollars,"
he replies, but I shake my head.
That night I tell my mother about the
picture. I am having dinner with her as I
do twice a week which she considers minimal,
hoping for more. She still lives in the
home where I was raised, although now a
lady comes at nightfall to cook and keep
her company. Tonight she has let her
companion go home early. This means
she wants to talk business. She enjoys
discussing finance, the stock market, that
sort of thing. My father ran a lumberyard
which she kept going for several years
after he died and then sold for a good
price. So she's no slouch where money is
concerned. But this is different. Tonight
she's talking bankruptcy. Her own imminent
bankruptcy. What's going on? I wonder.
"Honey," I say, leaning forward in my
chair and taking her hand. It looks like my
hand, now it is thin. The skin on the back
is smooth, unblemished. "There's no way
you can go bankrupt. You get the statements.
You see the dividends. You're OK.
Better than OK, even."
"Do you really think so?" She turns her
dark eyes toward me. My grandmother's
eyes again. Too large for ordinary faces.
"Yes, I really think so," I say, as firmly
as I can say anything.
"I hope you're right," she sighs, but I
can see she isn't convinced.
"Is there something more to it?" I ask.
"Is it something you can tell me about?"
My heart beats faster. I am offering what I
have offered before without success. My
mother doesn't like to confide in me, but
will occasionally, if I don't act interested. I
have to be careful. This time she is weaker
than usual. She may give something away.
She looks at me, measuring advantages.
"Oh, it's nothing, really," she begins, her
gaze drifting off into the air around her
dressing table. "Something a fortune teller
told me once, a long time ago."
That surprises me. She's always dismissed
fortune tellers as frivolous. "You
don't believe in that stuff, do you?" I ask.
Then I remember how she won't let anybody
put a hat on a bed. Ever. So that to
this day I whisk hats off beds, in my own
or anyone's home. I contain myself. I know
better than to ask what the fortune teller
said. "Was it a crystal ball or tarot cards or
what? It makes a difference, I think."
"It happened before you were born.
She read my palm."
"But palm reading is so obscure. All
those little lines and you make up junk to
fit them. Who was she? Was she a professional?"
I am sure she's holding back
the most significant detail.
"Just a woman at a party." Her eyes
slide away again.
"Well, who? Please tell me. It might
" It was nobody," she says, but her voice
is stronger. She is becoming annoyed with
me. "Can't you see I don't want to talk
And it is later, as I'm leaving, that I tell
her about the photograph. It just pops
out. There's a picture of my father that I
love, but which has faded badly, so Mother
turned its face to the wall for protection. I
see it standing there like it is being punished,
and I remember the photograph of
my aunt's wedding. So I tell her and she
hits the ceiling, like I thought she would.
She more or less collapses onto the chaise
tongue, gasping for breath. "How could
they?" she says. She feels betrayed. That
much is clear.
"Maybe it's an accident," I say, trying
to calm her. "Settling an estate isn't always
as tidy as a person might like." But Mother
isn't listening. She's muttering about how
strangers are looking at, even handling,
this portion of her life. "Someone might
buy it," she says in a constricted voice.
After a minute, she whispers, "Sarah's
responsible." Sarah is Eugenie's oldest
daughter. They've never gotten along,
competing as they did for Eugenie's
attention. Mother goes silent, then, and
as I monitor her breathing, I notice a funny
thing. It may be true of any old person,
lying down, especially if they're thin when
they weren't for a while. Gravity seems
to smooth the facial skin that time has
stretched. So, as I watch her lying there
with her skin resting closer to the bone
than it has in years, I can see the girl she
was in the photograph showing through
the person she has become. I can see
both people in her at once for the first time
and also myself, the way I will look and
possibly be at her age. It isn't a pleasant
sensation, feel ing time just rush away
beneath you like that, in both directions.
"What do you want me to do?" I ask,
finally, but she doesn't answer and a few
minutes later I leave.
The next night I am invited to a party.
That's unusual around here in August,
since so many people are out of town,
escapin.g the heat. But it's the hostess'
fortieth birthday and she said the significance
wouldn't be the same if she waited
until September. "It's now I need distraction,"
she told me. So I go. Without a date.
Dates are hard to come by at any time,
but especially in this season. I don't really
mind. Having a date doesn't make that
much difference at a party anyway. I
mean, if it can't be someone you care
about. Either way, parties are usually
lonely for me and this one is no exception.
I steel myself. Walk up to a group of people
standing inside the door. I know the
women from my weekly exercise class.
" Hi," I say, smiling intently.
" Hi, Mary." It's Joan who greets me.
They're discussing her new car. An Audi.
"Why can't they make American cars
handle that well?" a man asks. He is nice
looking. Two lines connect the ends of his
mouth with the sides of his nostrils. Otherwise
he seems a contented person.
"But don't the new ones?" I interject,
wanting to be part of the group. "The
ones with front wheel drive?"
The man continues as though I'm not
there. "I drove a rent car in Dallas the
other day and it handled like a cheap
"Speaking of boats," says the other
woman, Betty is her name, "didn't you get
a new ketch, recently?" She's addressing
the man who made the comparison.
"What is the difference between a ketch
and a yawl?" asks Joan, with a pretty
smile. " I've always wanted to know."
At that point I leave them. I need a
drink, I think. I need to examine the bookshelf.
If I'm lucky, I might find something
to read. Hear voices more interesting than
the live ones so far encountered. Or
someone equally spare might talk to me,
for the short time I'll stay.
As I'm getting ready for bed a few hours
afterward, the phone rings. It's Liz, calling
long distance. "I hope I didn't wake you,"
"Oh, no," I reply, glad to hear her. I'm
surprised how glad.
"I just had an interesting talk with Daddy
and I wanted to tell you."
"Sure. Go ahead." I sit on the side of
" It's about that photograph. I've kept
wondering about it. I mean, why wouldn't
Mother have shown me such a beautiful
picture? You'd think she'd have been
proud of it. I know I can't ask her, so I
asked Daddy." She pauses. I hear her
exhale. "He was reluctant to talk at first,
but gave in when I swore not to mention it
to Mother. He didn't say I couldn't tell
"I won't say anything, either. Go on."
"Well, he said there had been trouble
at the wedding having to do with one of
the friends in the picture. Apparently, one
of them said something at a party the
night before the wedding that upset your
mother terribly. Daddy wouldn't tell me
what. I'm not sure he knows. But your
mother fainted and they had to call a doctor.
Daddy said the photograph makes
everyone unhappy and it's best left alone."
"It didn't make Eugenie unhappy," I
" It couldn't have made Eugenie unhappy
if she had it in her study."
"Yes, I guess that's so," says Liz. "It is
odd, isn't it?"
"What's new?" I say. "But thank you for
telling me. I've been trying to decide what
to do about it."
"Yes, well, a propos of that, there's
something else. I think I know how you
feel , and I don't want to interfere, but
there are some things a person can never
know about another person. And maybe
shouldn't try too hard to learn."
"OK," I say. "Thanks for the advice."
And when I hang up, I realize I'm angry.
Maybe I've been angry all along. Needing
answers and getting lies, or blanks where
explanations ought to be. So I've never
understood the actions of people. The
connections or gaps between what they
say and do. My family has abandoned me
to this confusing world without directions.
That's why I have to buy the picture.
There's an answer there, if I look hard
enough. There's an answer in the way it
affects the people of my mother's generation,
who are disappearing so fast. If I can
take that picture to my mother, maybe it
will force her to reveal why everything
changed. Why the family get-togethers
stopped-long before Eugenie died. Why
she and I are so isolated here in this city of
So the next morning I go the store, but
the photograph isn't there. In its place
hangs a caricature by Spy. I can see the
proprietor at the back of the store behind
the glass partition, talking on the phone. I
tap gently on the glass. He nods.
" I've come about the photograph,"
tell him when he comes out. "You remember
the one I've been looking at. It was
hanging there." I point to the Spy cartoon.
"Oh, yes, I remember," he says. He
has a round pinkish face that appears to
be smiling even when it isn't. "There was
an elderly lady in about it yesterday afternoon.
I took it down so she could see it
more clearly." He glances around him, a
small frown beginning to dent the smooth
curve of his forehead. "I thought I put it
right here," he says, staring at the bare
top of an English lowboy.
"The old lady," I say. "She didn't buy
"No. I had to go into the office to take a
call and when I came out, she'd gone.
There were several people in the store at
the time so I didn't notice at first. My
assistant must have hung the cartoon this
"Maybe she took it," I offer.
"Oh, I rather doubt that. She didn't look
the type. Well-heeled, you know." He looks
at me, his natural cheerfulness rising
again. "I say, I am sorry. It may turn up.
Perhaps it's only been tucked away in a
drawer. I'll have a look myself and ring
you, shall I? If you'll leave your name."
So I do. I write my name, phone number
and address on the back of one of his
cards. I even smile. And slowly I go out,
again, into the heat that is always a surprise.
The noise of cicadas crowds me. I
look for reassurance to the house across
the street. One of my favorites, with its
dark grey shingle siding and white trim
like Nantucket houses. But it has become
unfamiliar. Its lawn is as tidy as Astroturf,
. the color artificial, too blue-green for grass
in summer. I sit down on a porch step. The
house looks silly, I think. After all, this isn't
Nantucket. And the house is a home for
objects, not people. I am sitting on the
front porch of one shop, looking at another
across a street that has only survived by
changing everything that is true about its
Of course, I continue to think about the
photograph and its disappearance. I
would like to see it. To have it on my wall,
for instruction, if nothing more. And I may
someday, if my notion is correct. That my
mother took the picture, as I believe. But
the important thing is I've decided not to
pursue the issue. Liz was right, on the
phone that night. There's so little Mother
can tell me, even if she wanted to, about
any of the things that matter. Just the
details of sad old stories, keeping the
sadness alive into another generation,
when we have enough of our own.
Reading Other People's Mail
The Gold Coast
Dearest, and then more dear, Sarah,
Hottest news is that Peter and I have decided to become
Feminists and stop being so campy and self-denigrating!!
Don't you love it?? Daddy says I cannot be Vice-President of the
Corporation until I get a wife on my resume. Meanwhile I open
the mail and get coffee for the secretaries. Mumso keeps
saying, "Why don't you ask that nice girl with the Preppie
boobs?" She means you of course swee'pea, but what can she
mean by that??
I have been Trying not to Pressure you but I just took a Diet
pill and I can't Help myself!! WHEN will you see the merits of my
proposed contract, you little silly?? I mean Our contract. My
attorney (a terribly cute number) is writing in an escalating
clause for Inflation. Should you accept today (PLEASE, my little
Croissant) you would get $15,000 a year plus expenses and
charge accounts at Bloomingdale's and Lord & Taylor. Tiffany
and Gucci if you're good, when you're fifty. Do you KNOW what
happened to me last Sat. at Bloomie's? While I was buying silk
pajamas? The silly cash register broke and the cashier (a real
Miss CandyTw*t) freaked and shrieked, "This always happens
on Saturdays when you boys come to this store! " Now what did
she mean by that?
I took a Diet pill because there have been so many won-der-ful
FABULOUS dinner parties that we are all stuffed like Strasbourg
geese. I am waiting to be pateed ! ! It doesn't work out when I go
to the Y to work out because I always get sidetracked by a
(censored! !) in the Snooze Room. Friday night Peter and I had
one of our own notorious dinner parties-we popped out of a
giant Baked Alaska and danced for the guests, including Olga
the Amazing Ambassadress from Luxembourg; we did Isadora
Duncan and Twyla Tharp for hours, knocking over drinks, plants,
guests, and removing CLOTHES! ! Sorry you missed it.
And Peter says if we have to marry somebody it might just as
well be you, although he can't remember if you have Preppie
boobs or not. You have Got to come back and help me manage
him- he has become a screaming Fuddy-Duddy! ! I had to go
up on the sun-roof to work on my tan and he informed me that a
tan was something one shouldn't have to work on, that it was
IMMATURE!? What the? But do you realize that it is impossible
to tell someone Older than you that he is the one who is
immature?? Take my word for it, it does not work. Also, his
Byronic poses are becoming Tedious.
All my other news could be summed up in a word if I could
think of one.
P.S. You must come back and rescue me from becoming just
another pretty Stereotype!!!!!! !!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!
From my existential capsule to yours
What should I do? Alfred presses me to become his Corporate
Wife. I don't want to BE married, I just want to GET married.
What I mean is I want the big wedding with lots of presents and
to be the center of attention for a day. And a big wedding cake,
mostly I'm in it for the cake. Fifteen frosted layers with a bride
and two grooms on top. And afterwards life would go on as
before only I would be settled and would have to go to insurance
conventions and other company picnics with Alfred in my
mink. I mean I would be in my mink, although the Freudian slip
is possible too.
Write me! Write me! Send me your business card in an old
Your affectionate niece,
PS. There is another boy I like, but he is still in school.
Sarah, my friend,
Boodles, Dolt, Bertie, and Smith
There is no time so satisfying as one in extremis. One revels
in adversity when it points direct ly to final things. But can you
really be thinking of contracting this bizarre marriage with
Alfred? His attorney sidled up to me at a Bar Association dinner
the other night and whispered to me between speeches by the
With the rest of Mother Nature's creatures, I too spent the
spring longing for a mate. However, my nutritionist loves me
because I stick to my diet and show the world that the Museum
of Science and Industry display on a balanced diet is accurate.
My hairdresser does very contemporary things and I'm learning
to wear make-up. Reading the ladies' magazines one
receives the impression that most of our sisters are floundering.
Hardly a comfort, but one does feel less singular. I am going to
be a federal judge and retire after my heart attack at 45. Marry
Alfred? I already have an index card typed out for you in my
Your friend in anxiety,
The University Club
Sarah, Sarah, Sarah:
Attach yourself to Alfred or not; only do not delude yourself,
illude, allude to changing him. Unfortunately, I've this week
decided that all evidence overwhelmingly confirms my gloomy
theory that people don't change very much at all and that we all
constantly repeat everything, mostly our errors. Squash is what's
brought me to this conclusion; when I go to my Club, to my vast
surprise I find that the same people are there and that all their
strategies and skills are exactly the same. The games people
play in squash are very distinctive; I'd have thought that everyone
would have progressed, but it's not true. I also have the
same game and the same philosophies. but lack the ability to
make shots and move around the court as I should, which is
Examining my whole life, of course. provides overabundant
evidence for this theory, since I've not done anything different
for twenty years. but I'd always thought that was my problem
and didn't apply to others. Alas; I find that. on closer examination.
everybody does about the same stuff all the time. has the
same weaknesses. and doesn't do anything at all about them.
So, if you decide to jump over the proverbial broomstick, as it
were, and don't care for it, you might consider jumping back
over it the other way. But do nothing 'til you hear from me. What
have you been doing? P.S. Who is this boy you like who is still
in school? You are 35.
I know I am 35. I have just turned it.
When I was 34½, Aunt Maxine sent me a sympathy card for
having passed marriageable age. Not a tragedy, she said,
because who would have married me anyway?
Your pear-shaped, graying, wrinkled niece,
University of Illinois
September 9 (36) see footnote
Today my Doctoral Committee shook my hand and informed
me that I too am a Doctor of Philosophy. A ten year undertaking,
and now, regrettably, I am forced to learn a trade and have
enlisted in Library School. Please continue to wait for me.
In addition, I am library student intern at the Urbana Public
Library. My primary duty is wiping book jackets clean of soot
from a fire when the boiler exploded. No one was here except
the gerbils in the Children's Room, who were saved when the
firemen put them in their pockets. A marvelous deistic metaphor.
If only a large and capable hand would lift us from our
smoky cages and carry us in its metaphysical pocket to safety!
Perhaps I could have ghostwritten sermons for John Donne. I
don't really want to go to Library School-maybe in Tahiti, when
I'm fifty, should there still be libraries then. The world is going to
explode and we deserve it, we decided recently at a tea in the
Rare Book Room.
I have a new hobby: taking highly magnified (31 00x) photographs
of collagen fiber bundles of hot dog casings through an
electron microscope. I am going to make Christmas cards from
All I really want from you is that you make an index for my
dissertation which has to be published or perish. I can't bear to
ever look at the Thing again.
P.S. Footnote: Those little numbers after the date come from
Sweden. where they refer to the year in terms of weeks, rather
than months. I understand from my reading, that, elsewhere,
business corporations sometimes see the year in such terms. I
prefer to think of it as Swedish, and I plan to spend my life
propagating its benefits.
The Gold Coast
Sara. Sweetums ...
Talk about STEREOTYPE CASTING .. . we all flew out for the
Fateful Night at the Oscars. Wh~re is Hollywood GOING? But
our lives remain unchanged: all that was always certain still is;
all that was unsure remains in limbo and the dance continues.
Kick, Shuffle, Step, "Higher, Girls!" If you were here as you
ought to be, I would have dinner ready for you: flounder rol l-ups
with fresh-cooked spinach, homemade popovers, onion soup
with melted mozzarella, saffron rice, a lovely white wine. tossed
salad of Boston lettuce and escarole and cherry tomatoes. with
the simplest of vinaigrettes. The napkins are blue and white,
from Bloomingdale's; the plates are clear glass; through the
glass plates one can see the table, insuring the stability of the
I have been THINKING of you; I mean to say I have been
thinking of your CLOTHES! Do come for a shopping trip and go
home ENGAGED! All your clothes should be the kind that look
like they need to be ironed rather than ugh, that tacke permanent
press. and all must have POCKETS. Colors such as
charcoal, dark red, black, dark navy. No jewelry save some thin
bracelets and a good watch. Plain black shoes, perhaps some
Belgian flats. The Look is QUIET. conservative, with a bit of Flair
in, say, the watchband. No make-up and stand upright. Of
course good boots and dress length always below the knee.
Tights under the dresses and above the flats. And a SMART
winter coat, all-wool, dark grey.
Here is my favorite, ABSOLUTELY. line from Trash-Holly
Woodl9-wn is having an affair with her sister. and Joe D. says to
her, "How could you ***** your own SISTER?" to which the
irrepressible Miss Woodlawn replies. "Well if you'll do it with
strangers, why not with your own family?" So if all those nasty
heterosexuals are getting married to each other. why shouldn't
P.S. I forgot to thank you for your incisive comments on
Immutability. I myself hope to survive existentialism by living on
platitudes, like the one about the cup half-full instead of halfempty,
and don't count your blessings before they hatch. Quite
impulsively I bought a raffle ticket that said, "Need Not be
Present to Win" and won a quilt made out of Salada tea bags,
the ones with the sayings on them.
What have I been doing? You and I might both ask. Winter
makes me capricious and perverse; I am afraid I am going to
do something untoward.
Sarah, my poor friend:
Boodles, Dolt, Bertie, and Smith
You simply must do something about Alfred or do something
to relieve me of my duties as your substitute. I thoroughly
misrepresent myself, unbecoming in a future federal judge, to
say the least. as Alfred 's intended, i.e .. you. Alfred and I were
forced by his parents to join their Arts Club Bowling League.
The bowling etiquette is most rigid, the scorekeeping complex;
each box is bowled as ceremoniously as if it were a coronation.
A strike entitles its bowler to a chaste kiss from each teammate
of the opposite sex; I keep kissing the members of the opposing
team and Alfred forgets where he is and kisses the men.
Alfred's mother bowls in her mink. I confess I am fascinated to
see how the other half bowls, but it is hard not to want the other
ladies' jewelry. How do they handle balls with all those rings?
Please come back and assume some sort of responsibility
before I am compelled to steal, which would be unbecoming
in a future federal judge.
Why do I have to be your substitute? Why do you have to
marry Alfred? Why not be independent like me, and become a
federal judge? I acquire a new strategy for the state of single
blessedness daily, the way others assimilate new words into
their wretched vocabularies. Today, for example, I learned how
to change a tire, at Stewie's Tire Sales. I bought the tire, put it on
myself, and paid Stewie's a dollar for the edifying lesson.
Can Alfred change a tire? Do you think Alfred would change
a tire for you? If he would, let me know and I will pay a dollar to
God Help Us All,
University of Illinois
Thank you for making my dissertation index and for sending
me a copy, which I am returning without corrections. As I have
neither a copy of the typed ms. in its final form nor the printed
page proof, I soon found that it was useless to try to check
against my copy of the text. Since only the text is being indexed,
and since the table of contents refers to them, I suppose it
would be inconsistent to refer to, in the index, with inclusive
pages, the bibliographical essay and the two appendixes. The
only corrections I have noted are:
1. Dieresis for Kohlrube: Kohlri..ibe, Wolfgang, 54-55.
2. Omit Magen and put page reference under Mahren, Gerhard,
The Magen in the text, page 72, should be changed to
Mahren .. I find no "Magen" in my ms. or in my typed copy; the
reference is evidently to the legend by Stevens on the Appendix
map to the contributions of Weil and Moren. I used the spelling
Moren because that is Stevens' spelling, but I had corrected it
to "Mahren" in my typed copy and evidently in some typing the
"h" was misread "g." I am chagrined that I did not catch the
error in the proof or galley. There is no Magen, and Stevens'
reference to Gerhard Moren's map in the legend is clearly a
reference to Gerhard Mahren's survey. That the "h" is the
correct spelling is proved by a holograph copy of the map that I
came across in the Public Record Office after giving my dissertation
defense and found in my notes later: PR.O., C.0 .6, 1956
(M.P.G. 734 (3)): "A map of the Province ... compiled from
actual surveys, the latest maps and other information. A.O.
1771 Per G. Mahren" (3'4.6 x 2'5.7).
I am sending a copy of this letter to the university press with
the request and hope that the "Magen" be changed in the text
to "Mahren" (Moren is possible if the addition of "h" would
cause difficulty in resetting: then " Mohren" in the Index could
be followed by Moren to indicate that the spellings referred to
the same person).
Thank you for the 3-month membership at the weight-lifting
studio. You are right that it is a good place to meet boys, but all
these boys do is talk about mag wheels and when a Corvette
goes by they drop their barbells and run to the window. Don't
mind me, I'm just bitter this morning.
I have just come back from a visit to Alfred, who choreographed
a trousseau expedition. He tore an ad for Geoffrey
Beene pants out of The New Yorker and off we went to Lord &
Taylor to tear them off the mannequin. Not an easy thing to do,
as mannequins these days are in psychodrama poses, like
people. Alfred also sprayed me with some kind of expensive
perfume that I can't get off and that makes me smell like lettuce.
Your distraught niece,
Dear Sarah, dear,
What is it you are going to do that your Uncle won't tell me
about? This birthday card will reach you late but I did not want
to wish you Happy Birthday until I knew what it was. Which I still
don't. It's a regular birthday card because I did not want to
send you one of those belated ones. Anyhow, you think your
birthday has come and gone and of course it has, but I think it is
nice to have another about a month later-don't you? Especially
when no one is expecting it.
Have enjoyed your notes! Nice to be appreciated even tho' it
is not expected.
No doubt you and everyone else are wondering, "Whatever
happened to Auntie Maxine?" Well I am still alive and kicking,
but never seem to get to the things I want to do and should do
because by the time I get the things done I have to do I am too
darn tired to do anything else. How do you like that?
Well I bet by now you have given up on me, well I am still
around. I just made my yearly donation to the hospital, this time
it was my gallbladder, there is nothing left to donate now so next
time it will be for an autopsy I guess. I am feeling just fine, don't
you worry about me.
Your Uncle is so sweet. While I was in the hospital he sent me
a dozen roses with a sweet note to eat the rose petals because
they contain Vitamin C.
I have been busy, busy. You know how busy I am with the
house and making sure your Uncle doesn't get sick. I only hope
I get the housecleaning done before I die. I have been doing
Spring housecleaning in the Summer, and Fall housecleaning
in the Winter. It was long overdue. You should come and help
me have a garage sale. If you don't I might sell just the very
thing you treasured. Glad we didn't have one this weekend
because we are having a tornado right now, and of course
everything would blow around. The weatherman on the radio is
so excited he is stuttering! Your Uncle wants me to come down
in the cellar but this is the only time I can get to write your
birthday note. Besides, I want to be on top of the rubble.
Must say bye for now. Uncle has been scolding me for not
getting enough rest. I am flirting with a cold. You know how my
poor body is booby-trapped.
P.S. Happy Birthday dear.
Ri. ch ard Thompson
Naomi Shih ab Nye
+ + -+
I understand why you keep the pigeons.
They are the books
you write, scholar's achievements, leatherbound.
And the flights with them are
like the medieval monk's
in a hilltop monastery:
His flock was carefully edged, rowed and intermingled
with fleur-de-lis on delicate pages of manuscript
in renaissance colors, red, blue and gold.
On the other hand, you fly real birds upon water-marked skies.
The flock-a sphere, full of Japanese umbrellas-becomes
luminous purple, yellow, buff and grey.
You know each bird that will soar and twirl,
roll head over tail
as if shot in formation.
The performing space gathers to a center
and you return them to a coop-pets
to be praised with a handful of grain.
You know about praise,
held back too long-the
sunlight in your mother's eye.
You were her young dancing partner
she pressed like a wildflower
in a heavy book.
"Classical," she'd say of your writing and your teaching,
snatching a poem from your notebook
for her owR.
So with age: The black roller hens have become buff,
teetering on weathered perches,
wobbly as young pullets.
Your imagination cannot pull you
from the pigeons, tumbling like spools of thread
on a string.
On This Sunday
He moves around his friend's dead body
like prairie women tidying up on Sunday.
Searching for being
and unable to find anyone he knows,
he turns away, his back to the winds, a dust cloud following.
He tells me the great plains whipped life,
and mourns his dead friend, uncontainable
as the weather that stormed against West Texas homesteads.
The wind of the plains, straight and magnetic,
pulls through grain and grasses.
The women learned from the wind.
They dust the furniture
moving quickly across the room waving a gestured hand
as though pushing bothersome hair
out of their faces.
Tomorrow: more dust on top of dust.
The wind blows in this open-air parlor;
outside the cottonwood leaves rattle;
particles settle on Sabbath clocks.
Tom Ryan, 1913-1977
Their wings flutter and are reflected in your eyesa
near perfect image spins
and spills off, freed. Joyce James
a ~ -- -:::=:::,:_:;;::::::=-~
Living in the Cold
I remember how the window pane felt cold against my face
On the day you called to tell me he had died.
And how I leaned with the phone up to my ear
Toward the outside.
The ground was blank with snow.
And bodies bent into the solitary cold
Checked their steps across the icy walks.
All around, the air held that long blunt
Isolation that winters linger in.
Later, my forehead still pressed against the pane,
I watched the charred shell of the house next door
Being taken apart from the inside.
The ice house left by firehoses
Falling with its ashes into snow.
Those brittle noises hanging in the air
Like the ring of the phone.
And thinking they would go like cold,
I tried to stomp them from my bones.
But deep into the night I could hear the chain saws
Buzzing in the cavity, breaking the icicles
So that they fell away like long knives from the eaves.
I felt their wounds in my throat
And my words leaked out dwindling and unpronounced,
Having no sentences left to contain them as they were.
From Where I lie I can see the door,
Ajar for the insects' ease,
And the peeling, shredded screen.
The night moves across rocks,
A river over my body.
The dark becomes hot summer
Hanging as thick and heavy
As wet wool around the halls.
I am held in by rumpled sheets,
Your arm close around me.
The air is blue, black and
Full of the echoes of my last conversation.
They grow louder as I listen.
Your easy monotonous breathing
Moves in and widens the river.
The boatman refuses to let me across.
I have only a leg-aching impatience for morning
And I know this is not enough.
The night entices me, full
Of the round promises of sleep.
And sleep flits in and out the door
Romancing the insects,
Until I want to scream
For it to lie with me.
Upstairs there is water running,
Not in drips but a ticking stream.
I see it coming through the ceiling.
It is either sweat or tears.
I can no longer tell the difference.
The heat is fusing our skin
But what is close becomes too distant,
Like sleep and the morning.
WE were playing the Chambers course,
the seventh hole, a five par. We had started
early that morning, and there was still
dew all over the greens so that it was hard
I was up. I teed up my shot, took th ree
practice swings, and then hit it about a
hundred yards. All my drives are pretty
shitty like that. They don't go very far, and
they don't get very high, but they usually
always stay in the fairway.
It was Stu's shot. He stuck his tee in the
ground and gave me a mini-lecture on
what I was doing wrong: not teeing my
ball up high enough. He took a practice
swing and then sliced it about a hundred
yards into the woods.
I didn't say a word. I was standing there
watching him, pinching my side just above
the belt to keep from smiling.
He was looking at almost the exact spot
where the ball entered the woods, looking
forlorn as if something had just eaten one
of his pets. He reached into his pocket
and pulled out another ball and took an
"Sure, go ahead," I said, as if it mattered.
He very carefully placed his ball on the
tee, slowly addressed the ball, took a
practice swing , and then hit it like a
center-fielder. The ball hit a pine tree about
fifty feet out to the right. It rolled back in
our direction, back on the tee box, pretty
close to where his tee was. He reached
down and picked up the ball and inspected
it like maybe it was defective.
I was standing there biting an inch out
of the inside of my cheek. I was trying to
concentrate on the trees at the far end of
the fairway, trying to act as if I didn't see
him muff it. I could barely see the pin, the
red flag hanging straight down. There
wasn't a breeze. I could remember playing
in the woods not too far from there, before
we moved to the city, playing Houdini, the
I was always Houdini. Stu said it was a
big honor. Some days, Mamma would
drive into Beaumont shopping with Mrs.
Fischer, and Stu would have to babysit
me. We would wake up real early on those
mornings, and Stu and BubbaFullerwould
take me way out in the woods to their
clubhouse and tie me to this chair. Then
they'd tell me that I was Harry Houdini, the
greatest magician that ever lived, and that
if I concentrated real hard, I could untie
myself and escape. They usually came
back for me sometime in the afternoon
about the time Mamma would be getting
home, arguing the whole time between
them who was going to be Houdini next.
What they didn't know is that after the
first couple years, I learned how to untie
myself and fol lowed them all over the
neighborhood and spied on them, found
all their secret hide-outs. Then I'd run back
when they'd start coming for me and tie
myself up again.
STU was finally ready. He carefully
placed the ball on the tee, assumed the
proper stance (without his club}, shouted
"Fore," swooped down with his right hand
and grabbed the ball like a th ird baseman
barehanding a grounder, and threw it
about as far as my drive.
I didn't say anything. Stu's my older
brother. Sometimes. he gets pretty pissed.
HE was usually a good golfer, but that
day he got hexed early. It usually happened
to one of us. When you're as good
at golf as we are, you don't want to start
off the first couple of holes playing too
well because we've decided that God gets
pissed at you and starts screwing you up,
puts a hex on you. Any golfer will tell you.
You start playing great on the first two or
three holes, and then you start trying to
concentrate on what you're doing right,
and then it gets to the point that you can't
even hit the ball.
That day it was Stu's turn. The first hole
was a four par. He parred it. The second
hole was a difficult four par with a hard
dogleg to the right. He had a great drive
and a super great approach shot that
landed about fifteen feet from the hole.
He could two-putt it, and he'd have another
par. He one-putted it. He got a birdie.
When he pulled his ball out of the hole,
he looked at me kind of sorry that he'd
made such a good putt, shook his head
and said , "Well, I'm fucked to the gills
Stu was in a good mood. He was always
in a good mood as long as he was winning.
"Yeah," I said . "You'd better just go
back over and sit in the car for the rest of
the day. God's not even gonna let you hit
another ball in the fairway."
The third hole was a five par. He got a
twelve. On the next hole he had to take a
penalty stroke for hitting his ball out of
bounds. It was a four par, and he got an
eight. It was already the fifth hole, and he
was already pissed, saying things like,
"This is a wasted goddamned day," and
"Next time, don't call me! I don't care
anything about playing this game again.
Don't call me! O.K.?"
Stu usually said all that kind of stuff to
hurt my feel ings or to make me start
screwing up too. Sometimes, he could
get pretty nasty.
"It's the clubs," I told him. There was a
lot on his mind. It was his birthday. He had
just turned thirty, and that was bugging
him. But I knew there was something else.
For his birthday, Beck gave him a new
set of clubs. Beck and I got together, and
she gave him the clubs, and I gave him
two boxes of balls. When I came over that
morning, he gave me his old set.
" It's the clubs," I told him. We were
walking with pull carts. It was already hot
as a son of a bitch and quiet. All you could
hear were the cicadas and an occasional
golf ball bouncing off a tree.
"Here," I said . "You want to use your
"No," he said.
"Aw, come on! You can use 'em if you
"What?" he said. His mind was far off
on something else. Something was eating
on him. I could tell, and I was pretty
sure I knew what it was.
"Sure you don't want to? Use your old
He stopped walking. He turned around
and looked me in the eye and said , "No!
Now would you just shut upl Just shut the
fuck up, and I might be able to play! " If
you work on some people and get them
pissed off enough, they won't even be
able to curse right.
He turned and started walking again
for the fifth tee. He had a pretty blue and
silver golf bag that the old man had given
him. I had his old reject.
"Jeeesus!" I said. " I'm sorry. I just
thought you might have better luck playing
with your old clubs, but I'll shut up "
I had never beaten him at golf. Come to
think of it, I had never beaten him at any
game that meant a lot to him. Except
He taught me how to play when I was in
kindergarten (anyway, that's what Mamma
tells everyone). I only remember that I
was real young and that he would fool 's
mate me about every game. I can still see
him sliding his queen slowly across the
board and knocking my king from the
table. He'd grin and say, "Checkmate
Scrote! What you need is a lot of practice.
A lot of practice." He'd laugh, get up from
the table, kick the screen door open, and
go outside while I'd sit there, pick my
king up from the floor, and practice.
One Christmas. some thirteen years
later, after a lot of practice, I came home
from college, and we played a game that
lasted over two hours, and I beat him. I
didn't jump up and down on the table,
and I didn't knock his king from the board.
I just sat there and looked him in the eye
and said, "You lose." We never played
THE fifth hole was the kind of hole that
golfers have nightmares about. It was a
three par with a water hazard in front that
formed a horseshoe around the green. If I
had a dollar for every ball in that hazard,
I'd be a rich man. There was no doubt in
my mind, that of all the holes of the Chambers
course, the fifth was God's favorite. I
had never seen a human clear that water.
Stu and I had a standing bet on which
of us could get closer to the green with
our first shot. It was usually ten dollars.
Both of us usually brought along a ten
dollar bill and a special ball, an old gnarled
one, one we didn't mind losing. The best
strategy that I had ever seen used on this
hole was teeing the ball close to the
ground, closing your eyes, and swinging.
There was no strategy that worked.
Stu usually landed closer to the green
in the water than I did. And because he
was usually the one who won the bet, he
was usually the one who brought it up.
That day, considering the way he was
playing, I knew that I could get closer.
And I knew that he knew it. It would be
interesting to see if he would bring up the
bet. If he didn't, it meant that he was afraid
"O.K. Scrote," he said. (That was my
nickname. That's short for "Scrotum." That
was Stu's favorite. His old school friends
used to call me that when I was little,
along with "Asshole" and "Shithead." But
"Scrote" was their favorite. That was my
informal name. My real name is Richard
so that when I was in public, it was a more
formal , "Hey Dick! How's it hanging?" A
lot of thought always went in with the creation
of those names. Back then, I had a
few for him too that I'd use when I wanted
to get the dog shit beat out of me. Big
brothers are wonderful. Everyone should
have about a hundred of them.)
"O.K. Scrote," he said. "What's the bet?
Ten big ones? You're up."
I pulled a seven iron out of my bag. "All
right," I said. "This is your idea now. If you
lose, don't go screaming at me all after-go
get those ducks out of the water? I'd
hate for you to kill one of them."
I was concentrating on the cliffs of
Dover. I was standing on the shore at
Dunkirk. It was just a nice, simple seven
iron over the channel. I took a practice
Stu said, "Hey Scrotum! I just saw an
S.PC.A. van pull up. The driver's got some
binos on you. He said he's gonna sue
your asshole if you get anywhere near
one of those baby duckies."
I was listening to every single quack of
the ducks. I was hoping the mother would
somehow raise one of her wings and say,
"Shhh babies! That man over there is
about to swing. Let's be real quiet!" But
Stu was over there leaning up against a
magnolia tree going, "Quack, quackquack."
I had a great idea. I pretended that Stu
was real little, that he was buried up to his
neck, and that the ball was his little head
saying, "Quack-quack, quack-quack." I
swung as hard as I could. The ball headed
directly for the water like a line drive, but
when it got there, it skipped twice on the
surface and landed on the fringe of the
Stu said, "You lucky little bastard."
I wanted to jump up and down and
shout like a kid, but I didn't.
Stu pulled a club out of his bag. He was
just looking at me and shaking his head.
He was ready to hit. "By the way," he said.
"You are coming tonight, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I'm coming," I said. "I thought I
might bring a date if that's all right with
"A date?" he said. "A date?! That's fine
with me, little brother, if you think you can
handle her, but I don't want you getting a
hard-on right in the middle of my birthday
party." He laughed.
"You want to double that bet?" I said.
He stopped laughing. "Or are you a
"You got it," he said.
The ducks were going wild. They were
really quacking it up, trying to get out of
the water. They had realized that they
were in the line of fire.
Stu drew back and hit a beautiful shot
noon." that landed almost exactly in the center of
"Come on, little brother," he said. the water hazard.
"Which of us is 'the loser'?"
"Fuck you," I said .
"Don't nut up now! Don't hit it in the
I was concentrating on the green. No, I
was concentrating about fifty or a hundred
yards past the green. There were some
ducks in the hazard. They were swimming
Stu said, "Hey Scrote! You want me to
It's enough to make you wonder sometimes
if there's not a special kind of water
in those hazards.
I was about to let out a good laugh
that we could both share when he kicked
a large divot out of the ground and shouted,
"Son of a bitch!"
Then I said something I didn't think
before saying but I said it to make him
feel better which it didn't. I said, "Come
on, Stu. It's just a game."
"No!" he shouted in reply. He spun
around and pointed his finger at me. "No!
No it's not just a goddamn game! And the
sooner you realize that, the better off you'll
"Well," I said. "I just don't see you letting
it ruin your day."
And he said, "You don't see it because
you don't understand. You never have had
and never will have what it takes to be a
"Let's just get nasty," I told him.
"That's what it takes sometimes," he
said. "It takes getting nasty. And if I don't
teach you anything else, I want you to
learn how important it is to come out on
FOR Stu, it had always been too important.
He was the kind of guy who loved to
win. I don't doubt that that's why he didn't
have any friends. He used to love to go
play tennis with some of his high school
friends and stomp the shit out of them. He
got off to that. Of course, nobody played
with him more than once. And as one by
one his friends left him, I was getting old
enough to be his patsy.
Stu never bragged. I'm not saying that.
But he could play you, and he could look
you in the eye and still stomp you at damn
near any sport you could name.
It was totally because of this that I loved
to beat him. Sure, there were times when I
was younger when I'd run to Mamma after
he'd beaten me, but those times passed,
and I decided that no matter how long it
took me, no matter how much I had to
suffer, that of the two of us, one day, he
would have to admit to himself that I was
ONE day we were jousting, and he split
my head open. We were playing knights
of the Round Table, and he was Arthur (he
was always Arthur), and I was Lancelot.
Of course, whoever got dubs on being
Arthur was guaranteed victory. Arthur
always won. He had Excalibur. Almost
We didn't have steeds or armor so we
used bicycles. Bicycles were the steeds,
and because you couldn't hold both lance
and shield and steer your steed, you
needed a squire. The squire steered and
ducked his head to keep clear of the
action and pedaled like a fiend. Both of
you sat on the banana seat. The squire
sat in front. For shields, we used garbage
can lids. For lances, commode plungers.
We followed normal jousting ru les. Both
squires took the steeds to the opposite
ends of the street. Then each knight raised
his lance high in the air and screamed.
The squires started pedaling, building up
speed, and the knights lowered their
lances, preparing for the attack.
As in regulation jousting, you tried to
stick your lance to your opponent's shield
and then pull it away from him. Then on
the next pass, you could poke him or his
squire in the head with your lance and
knock them off their steed.
On that particular pass, Stu stuck his
lance to my shield, but as it happened, I
pulled it free from his grip. So as the
squires turned for another pass, Stewart
had only a shield. I told my squire I wanted
a fast pass. I threw down my shield ,
grabbed the squire around the neck with
my free arm, and shouted, "Let's go!" I
got my lance ready. (That was another
good thing about those plungers. You
could swing them like a battle ax if you
wanted. That was in the rules.) I was going
to behead Stu or his squire. When we
met, I was preparing to hit his squire in the
throat when Stu crashed his shield into
the side of my head.
I spent something like a week in the
STU was quiet for the rest of the nine. I
didn't want him quiet. When he got quiet,
he quit trying. I didn't want him to quit
As we walked to the sixth hole, the
ducks were regrouping, recuperating from
I told him the story about the judge and
the geese. There was this judge from
Georgia or Virginia or somewhere who
was playing a game with his doctor friend.
They were betting something like a hundred
dollars a hole, and it all came down
to the eighteenth. They were even. That
hole had a water hazard with a lot of geese
in it. Anyway, the judge was putting, and
one of the geese slipped up and pecked
him on the ass. I think he screwed up his
putt pretty bad, knocked it off the green
and into the water. Then, he said, they all
started laughing at him, the geese I mean,
kind of honking, so he hauled off with this
putter and kil led about six of them. I think
he's in prison now.
AND so on the seventh hole Stu was
throwing it. I told him that I'd read somewhere
that the world record for throwing
the ball for eighteen holes was ninetythree.
"Jeeesus!" I told him. "We ought to
both start throwing it."
When we got to the greens, he got
down on his knees and shot the ball like a
marble. He got a ten and a nine on the
seventh and eighth holes.
As I was walking up to the ninth tee, he
said in almost a whisper, "Let's just go
"What?" I said. I was beating him for
once. "You don't want to play the back
"No," he said. "No, let's just go to the
house. Now. If you don't mind."
"All right," I said. "Sure. You don't want
to finish this hole?"
"You're not sick are you?" I said. "Why?
What's the matter?"
"No," he said. "Let's just go home."
I put my driver back in the bag and
started walking for the car.
About halfway down the fairway, he
said, clear out of the blue, "Richard, promise
me you'll never get married."
"What?!" I said.
He said, "Promise me."
"Sure," I said. "I hadn't planned on it.
"Because it doesn't work," he said. "I
don't know. You see all those T.V. shows
where everyone's happily married. Well,
it's all a lot of bullshit. Don't ever buy that
bullshit that it works, O.K.? Because it
"I won't," I told him. "Trouble at home?
You and Beck having some problems?"
"No," he said. "Yeah, sort of. Nothing
I can't handle though. Nothing I can't
On the next fairway, normal people were
THAT night I picked Connie up at eight.
We had been dating about two months.
Nothing serious, just a nice, slow, no obligations
relationship. I don't care much for
her. She's a nice girl and all, a blonde, on
a good day she's probably a five on a
scale of one to ten. She's not a barker.
Don't get me wrong. Let's just say she's
"sweet" looking. Personally, I prefer brunettes.
I sort of howl at the moon when I'm
around one. But Connie doesn't give me
any bullshit. That's what I like about her.
She hardly says anything. I like that. So
I'm sticking with her for the time being.
Connie had seen Stu over at my place
once, but she had never met Beck. I told
her that Beck's real name was Rebecca,
and that she'd probably better call her
Rebecca at first. I told her that Beck taught
at the high school; she was the girls' gym
coach, and she was probably the most
beautiful brunette I had ever seen.
Connie asked me to stay close and not
run off and leave her around people she
didn't know very well. I told her I would.
She made me promise.
When I turned onto Stu's street, I told
her that that was the street I grew up on
when we moved to the city, and that Stu's
house was just two houses down from
where Mamma still lives. I told her how the
old man died the week before I was to
graduate from college and how, about six
months later, Stu had bought his house to
keep an eye on Mamma.
I pulled into Mamma's driveway and
parked and told Connie that she'd better
wait in the car until I saw if Mamma was
feeling O.K. Mamma got "sick" just about
every day and couldn't get to the phone
so that it was good that Stu lived so close
and could check in on her. If she was
feeling like it, I was going to take her down
to Stu's for some cake.
It was just about dark. The gas light
hadn't worked since the old man died. I
picked up the two morning papers from
the lawn and got the mail from the box.
Sometimes, I liked to check to see if any
of the mail was still for me. It wasn't. The
T.V. was blaring so loud that I could hear
every word before I opened the front door.
Mam ma was sprawled out on the couch
with her mouth open, snoring. I turned the
T.V. off. "Mamma," I said. "Mamma?" She
didn't move. There was a cigarette still
burning on the lip of the ashtray about to
fall off onto the carpet. I spread her Afghan
over her feet.
I wanted to look at my old room before I
left. It was at the end of the hall, next to
Stu's old room. There was the fist hole at
about eye level in my door. I hated coming
back to that old room. I don't know
what I expected, maybe for things to return
to the way they had been before Stu
moved out, before the old man died,
before Mamma got sick.
It was empty. I had moved everything
out when I left home, and Mamma had
taken down everything else, all the pictures,
the posters. She had even taken
the drapes down. All that was left were
three ceramic chess pieces on the far
wall. There were only three of them, the
king, the queen, and a knight, maybe there
had been more of them at one time.
I looked through the window and saw a
young boy with a B.B. gun walking through
the back yard. It was time to go.
Without thinking , I said, "Good-bye
And she said, "You going?"
I turned around and said, "Yes ma'am.
I didn't mean to wake you." Her eyes were
closed again, and she was snoring. I
turned the T.V. on again and walked out
through the garage.
It was empty. Stu had moved all the old
man's tools down to his garage, the table
saws, the drill presses. He set them up
exactly like the old man had them. He had
his garage arranged exactly like the old
man's used to be, a couple of houses
down. He even had the old man's sign,
"Stewart Morrison," nailed up over his
workbench in just the right spot.
In a way, I think that Stu was trying to
recapture the old man. I can see the old
man in him. And sometimes, I'll drive up in
his driveway, and the garage door will be
open, and he'll be slumped over his workbench,
hammering or sawing on something,
and for an instant, I'll think that he is
Daddy and that I'd better hurry up and
get in there and help him.
I turned off the garage light, closed
and locked the door, and walked to the
car. I told Connie, "Maybe you can meet
her some other time."
"Is she sick?" Connie said.
"In a way," I said.
WHEN we got to Stu's house, the garage
light was on, and he was in there sawing. I
knew that if he cared anything about
seeing us he could have been inside.
Besides, I wanted to see Beck first and
see what was going on so we walked up
the sidewalk to the front door. I opened
the door and said, "Knock, knock! "
Beck was in the kitchen. "Come on in,"
she said . " I'll be in there in a second." She
walked around the bar, carrying the cake,
and set it on the dining room table. She
had different shades of icing on the sleeves
of her pullover. She looked delicious.
"Hello gorgeous," I said and gave her
a shortened hug because of Connie.
"Beck, this is Connie. Connie, this is
Beck." And before they could say their
"Nice to meet yous," " I've heard so much
about you," "You have such a pretty
house," I said, "What's old Stu doing in
Beck smiled at Connie and then looked
at me and said, "He's on a little tirade. But
it's his birthday." She looked at Connie.
"He's entitled to it."
"Sure," Connie said.
Beck pointed to the cake and shook
her head. "Look what he did to my little
The cake was white with a putting green
centered on the top of it. There was even
a blue water hazard to the left of the green.
On the green was a little man that looked
like he was putting.
"That's absolutely adorable!" Connie
" I did it all by myself," Beck said. "But
look what he did."
I looked closer.
"I had to special order that little golfer
from Houston," she said. "And a little while
ago Stu walked through here with a pair of
scissors or something and cut the guy's
little putter off."
I could see the little guy on the green,
but he didn't look much like a golfer. He
looked more like one of those little plastic
army men I had when I was a kid, the one
with the mine detector. This little guy was
just standing there, holding something.
"I threw the little thing away," Beck said.
"I thought it looked kind of disgusting."
"Well I'll tell you what it looks like now," I
said. I looked at Beck then at Connie. " It
looks like that little fellow's standing right
out in the open, in front of God and everybody
and taking a piss right there on
Stewart's birthday cake."
"Richard!" Beck said.
Connie just bit her lip and shook her
I got a good chuckle out of it and said,
"I'll go out and cheer up old Stubert."
"Good!" Beck said.
"I'll go out and tell him some guy's in
here taking a leak on his birthday cake." I
gave Beck a big grin. She turned her
head away from Connie and winked at
Stu was at the workbench with his back
to me. He was using a hacksaw.
"Here's the birthday boy," I said. "Hey
not so big brother, Mamma said to tell you
she was sorry she couldn't ... "
"Go back inside," he said. "I don't feel
like talking to anybody." He had his golf
bag leaned up against the workbench.
He had something in the vise, and he was
"Why?" I said. "What are you working ...
What are you doing? What in the hell are
He had one of his new clubs, an iron, in
the vice lengthwise, and he was sawing it
in half. I looked in the trash can, and he
had already done two or three.
"Have you lost your fucking mind?" I
said. "What's going on?"
"This is a symbol," he said. The handle
part of the club he was working on fell to
the floor. He loosened the vise and gave
me the other end. It was the seven iron.
He pulled the six out of his bag and
clamped it into the vise.
He said, "This is a symbol of what I
think of Beck's little affair."
"What?" I said. I tried to sound sur-prised.
"Yeah! She's sleeping with somebody."
"How do you know?" I said.
He stopped sawing. He turned around
and looked at me. " I know!" he said. "I
don't know who it is yet, but I know she's
doing it. You know, when we first got married,
she told me that if I was to ever kiss
another woman, I mean rea//ykiss another
woman, that she'd be able to tell. Well,
that works both ways, sport. It works both
"Aw, come on, Stu," I said. "Beck
wouldn't do that to you."
He started sawing again. "Yes she
would," he said. "You see, she hates me
in a way. Just like you hate me, Richard."
"Well, let's just feel sorry for ourselves," I
"Listen!" he said. " If you're going to
give me any of your bullshit, I don't want
you out here I"
"O.K." I said. "Sure. I get the picture." I
opened the door.
"Hey Scrotum!" he said. He still had his
back to me. "I had a bad round today,
and you beat me. You beat me on what
has been maybe the worst day of my life.
Now when you get home tonight, you be
sure and celebrate."
I closed the door behind me. I could
hear the girls talking. I listened. They were
talking about school. Connie was studying
to be a school teacher, and Beck was
telling her about our school district. I put a
smile on my face and walked into the
dining room where they were drinking
some of the birthday punch.
Beck stopped what she was saying
and asked me, "Did you cheer him up?"
"Sort of," I said. I couldn't tell her. I
knew there would be fireworks as soon as
we left. I didn't particularly want to be
around Beck and Connie in the same room
so I asked her, "Where's little Stu?"
"In his room," Beck said. "Don't get
him all worked up."
The hallway was dark, and I could see
the light on beneath his door. I knocked
once, and the light went off in the room.
"It's open," a voice said from inside. I
opened the door and stepped in. "Close
it behind you," the voice said. I closed it. I
was trying to locate him by the sound of
his voice. A flashlight was shined in my
face, and the voice said, "Password."
"Talleywacker," I said.
"Uncle Ricki" the voice said. "I didn't
know it was you."
"Bullshit!" I said. "Now where are the
"Behind you," he said.
I found the switch in the dark and
flipped it. He turned the flashlight off. He
was on the top bunk of Stu's old bunk
bed. He had a football helmet on, a flashlight
in one hand, and some kind of ray
gun in the other.
"My god!" I said. "It looks like you're
ready for an attack."
"I am!" he said.
I looked around the room to see if I
could find any of my old toys and stepped
carefully over the things on the floor. "You
know, Stewart, you really ought to clean
this place up," I told him. "One of these
days you're gonna get lost in here, and
your mother's not going to be able to find
you. Where are they?"
"I already set them up," he said.
"Good! Where's the gun?"
" I'll get it," he said.
"Get that and get the tape."
He brought the tape and the B.B. gun
that looked like a Winchester, and I started
taping the flashlight to the left side of the
gun barrel while he was opening the
drapes and opening the window.
"You go first, " he said and turned out
the lights. He had already taken the screen
off when he had crawled out the first time.
The windows in his room were full length
so that we had to get on our bellies to
shoot. I cocked the Winchester and turned
prepared to attack the Morrison household.
The way we played is that each of
us took turns shooting, and whoever killed
the most out of twelve won that round.
I located each soldier and shot the one
closest to the house, a hand grenade
thrower, perhaps the most potentially
dangerous. I handed him the gun.
"You know, Geek, you did a real ly fine
job setting up those men," I told him. "Now
take that damn helmet off so you can see ,
what you're doing!"
"You're the geekl" he said. "You even
smell like a geek."
"Shut up and shoot," I told him.
WE played for about half an hour until I
saw it was around nine and time for us to
go. I helped him get the screen back on
and closed the window.
It had been a close game, and he had
won, or he, at least, thought he had won.
I told him good night, closed his door,
and walked back into the dining room.
The girls were still talking, and they had
already started on the cake.
I asked Beck, "Stu didn't blow out the
"Ha, ha," she said. "I thought we'd better
go ahead without him. Besides, you
don't ask a dragon to blow out candles."
I looked at Connie and said, "We'd better
And Beck said, "You don't have to run
I looked at her, pointed in the direction
of the sawing, and nodded my head.
"O.K." she said. She looked at Connie.
"You'll have to come back and see us.
Hang on, and you can take some of this
cake." She walked around the bar and
brought back two paper plates. She cut
the cake and placed the pieces on the
plates like a pro. She wrapped them and
handed them to Connie.
"Thank you," Connie said.
We walked to the door.
"It was nice to meet you, Connie," Beck
"It was nice to meet you, too," Connie
said. She had a plate in each hand.
Outside, I said, "I'll go say bye to Stu."
Beck said, "Good night."
Connie said, "Good night."
I walked around to the side garage
door. He was up to the woods now. He
was on the three wood. I stepped inside
and said, "Happy birthday, big brother."
"Yeah! Happy birthday," was all he
I walked back around front. Connie was
on the flashlight and surveyed the back
yard. There were a dozen six inch plastic
army men situated at strategic places it!"
already sitting in the car with her door
open. I waved at her and pointed to the
front door. I wanted to tell Beck about
Stewart. I wanted to warn her. I opened
the door and leaned in and said, "Enjoyed
In my wondering I circle it, back-curled
From the trunk of an oak, one of many
Stalled, as every living thing is stalled,
Between the earth and sun. The heart is shaped
As we are fond of thinking of a heart,
More and more round, and cleft, and wounded
With desire, the words that are desire adding
Little to the present, nothing to the past.
It isn't much. What can be sensed, perhaps,
And what is sought is something of the spirit
Of the loved that is tangible, something more
Than this alphabet of longing-the need
To state the need, at least once, clearly,
In terms that might last only slightly longer.
If it grows at all, it grows in early March
Alone, by a field, stubble
And partly plowed,
The sadness of its salmon-colored buds
Apparent in perspective.
From the other side,
Looking back, toward what soon will be remembered
As her life-the gardens, walks,
The screened porch
Where one summer the piled-up Santa Rosa plums
Sweetened the air for days-
The rose is central.
It is hardly dawn. I've been up and troubled,
Torn by what she suffered and
Survived, by what
Dies, and what lives on. Slick and clustered,
Magenta, the leaves turn,
And turn again
With the wind, like fish wallowed in a current.
I hadn't thought that time
Could show the loss
I feared the most, in all its waste, as something
Less than final, though now
I find it focused
At the end of winter in a tea rose, so single-minded
In its mindlessness that pain
Follows in its course.
New growth, I think, and I'm empty and at ease.
And now the leaves roll pale,
And that too passes.
Change of season :
High-water-time : a new mark set.
In the Hydrosphere, silt-rain : oxides, silicates
how the valleys (ranks of slate-clefts,
pre-Cambrian shoulders dismantled) fill in
particle by particle.
Creekside : temperas draining from root-buttresses
burl-caves opened to Otter's snout.
All over spring-flats, still-tethered rosettes
(plantain, curly dock) are flushed
to their downhill-sides, twining & gathering
their leaf-stem streamers
as do dead squid their legs.
Site cleared 1793 (toepaths having grown to wheelroads
: Senecas exiled to Cattaraugus, Erie, the
Wind-Lands)-lst survey, rod-&-chain mindless of
freshets; gullies that defied climbing conquered by
the maps ... Seth & Elizabeth Radder, then lately
of Massachusetts, lived here to 1809, the year when
typhus pecked at the settlers like a crow at a cob ...
Their 1st-born lies in this cemetery- stone face-up
to the weather, read with difficulty-an occasional
verse runs down chalky to abundant wild violets,
barbarea . .. Parents laid nearby. The other children,
unnamed but numbered here in their mother's strict
biography, somehow have escaped the annals of this
little town-Italy, NY, County of Yates.
Who'll taste? feel?
Duck-nests flooded : I've seen eggs carried off,
seen them swelled to foggy-glass chambers
in the mud-saucer of a gar-hole,
Culverts overrun : on the asphalt, feelers
like worms migrating to drained soil
that can breathe thru them-but
this time what's striping the road
is too slick
to be clipped or crushed
into half- or double-selves.
All's past before the alert is believed.
In the gravelyard by the town barns
where trucks have firmed things,
where salt-leachate from gray dunes
brings to mind a wet down-cluster
plucked from a bigger myth,
many shifting prongs of water
are soon gone too-no
(I come to strangers' graves because the loved
speak from theirs shamelessly, but not for
Likewise the squatters : all it takes
is summer or one night
& the nests are gone anyhow
& squalls come to nothing.
in the cabin.
Well damn good part of it.
No hassle getting in
(under warp of the rafters?
gnaw-vent in the east peak?)
but hell getting out.
Or, offered Out, thought
had only incisors for breaking
on the bright side
chip by chip thru hardwood
but glass proved more
than a mouthful.
Provided a view tho.
Showed what snow can do
(wealth of detail &
but no route to same.
Passed awhile on a stash
in the walls
(so suppose) then
on a diet of railings
Then took off.
Or holed up.
Or was snatched up.
If last true
one lousy meal of fur
But for who?
Can hardly think more.
Only found the signs
not the signer.
Would indulge theories.
Send a good one.
Send your most
The Somnologist Heidi Renterfa
We met in a Bolivian airport. She appeared
to be dozing and didn't speak
when I sat down, but when we were sti ll
waiting there in the morning, I offered to
share my crackers and cheese, she gave
me one of her oranges, and we began to
tell each other our stories.
She traveled, she said, for only one
reason: to sleep in different countries.
Nightly, whether fed a five-course meal
(salad after meat, sherbet in between) or
dried fish and bread (no butter), whether
bathed in a six-foot tub brimming with hot
bubblebath or sponged with cold water
stinking of sulfur, whether bedded under
embroidered sheets or in a hammock (the
special hooks implanted in two walls of
the room), she slept and, sleeping, studied
the qualities of sleep in that particular
Oh certainly, she played the tourist in
the daytime, admiring the craftsmanship
of the stonework, the strangeness of the
vegetation (the pines of Tierra del Fuego,
the giant ferns of New Guinea), the sunsets
after a hurricane in the islands, the
dust-reddened moonrises in the deserts .
But her days were secondary to her real
researches, which began when her eyelids
closed. Life being short and the world
large and various, she was limited in the
length of time she could spend in any one
place, and she felt that seeing the conventional
tourist sights of a region was
one way to prepare for her serious study,
that these traditional routines had evolved
(she mentioned natural selection) just
because they are, on the whole, the most
satisfactory means of encompassing the
diurnal aspect of an unfamiliar location.
And after all, didn't the local inhabitants
also have parts to be played while the
"But," I asked, "do you then dream
about where you are?"
That missed the point, apparently.
Dreams, though fascinating , were but a
peripheral part of the study, like the fluttering
fringe.of an elaborate shawl.
"No, the infinitely intricate texture of
sleep becomes most compelling toward
its center, where it grows finer, more subtle,
more radiantly beautiful," she told me.
"And is sleep so different in other countries?"
"Oh absolutely. In its coming, in its
being with one, in the way it departs. In its
weight, most assuredly. In the expansion
of one's body, and in the tone of one's
sighs. In the depth of the waters one swims
through, and under. In the gold or blue
color of the light. In the height at which
one floats, or flies. In the distance from
which the sounds come, the herd-bells,
the thunder, the treefrogs, the voices."
She said that in some countries the
sleeping wasn't completed by morning,
and that to finish her work required putting