Won’t you celebrate with me the mere fact that we are together here today? Think of chains of events that had to happen exactly as they happened since the beginning of time for us to be together today. If one of those things didn’t happen the way it happened, then we aren’t together. That’s an improbably huge number of events, decisions, choices, and outcomes to calculate. Impossible, perhaps. First of all, consider that ever one of your ancestors, every single organism all the way back to the first splitting single -cell, had to survive long enough to reproduce. If even a single one of those organism dies before reproducing? You aren’t here. And if you aren’t here, our group is different. And even if you think only about today. The fact that all of your decisions, and all of my decisions, lead us to be here together, either physically in the classroom, or connected to us via the miracle of Zoom. And yes, I said miracle. Why not? Try explaining Zoom to you great-grandparents. You’d blow their minds. They think you were a witch. So won’t you celebrate with me that we all together here today? It’s almost beyond comprehension.
name, or my
less firsts were
born, where they
tribes, bands, clans,
the old one
His branch has
no known name,
the tree has
no known name.
He thinks: I
shall climb down
so the song
rushed to fill
and the trunk
of his tree,
and the walls
of my home—
I hardly ever come here any more. I seldom post . I suppose that’s because I don’t write much these days. Or I don’t need to share what I write. It’s like shouting into the void. Shaking a fist at the rain. I’m not sure why I’m writing here now. It’s sort of like talking to myself. Sort of like a journal, except that I’m nicer to myself here than I am in a journal. I just wonder if this space is something I need to maintain. Perhaps it is time to archive and move on. I don’t need a digital footprint. I don’t need something else that needs to be erased, deleted, expunged, scrubbed when I’m gone. I don’t think I’ll delete it today. Maybe tomorrow.
There is too much stuff here. There’s no place to sit. There’s a pile of old nails in the corner. He took the chimney down and stacked the bricks against the wall. He collected the mortar in plastic tubs. Plaster has fallen from the ceiling, exposing the lathe. Dust plumes with my every step. Everything is coming apart at the joints. There is too much air. Or not enough. There’s nothing holding it together. Let’s get down to it. Let’s get on with it. There’s no time to waste. His body isn’t here. He’s on my shoes and in my lungs. Here is a box of dishrags. Here is a box of unused dishes, kept for a special occasion. Here is a small yellow teapot that belonged to his mother. It’s insides are tea-stained, the shadows of water. Here are the patent medicine bottles. Here are the sprockets and springs. Here is the bottle of Sloan’s Liniment. Here is the tube of Ben Gay. He used to say, Go get my heat rub. Here is the iodine. Here is the mercurochrome. Here is the cotton batting. Here is an envelope where they kept hair from my first haircut. Who needs all this?
I’m not sure what to make of the dead. The old man had a chest like a tombstone. He was a builder. He believed in all those Egypt conspiracies: ancient gods, aliens, cat-people, stardust, magic. He has a scrapbook of all the UFO articles in the newspaper. He used to take me walking through the woods and pretend to be looking for Bigfoot. He’d seen unexplained lights over the Sea of Japan when he was on R&R during his tour in Vietnam. He said, I wasn’t the only one that saw them. They came over the horizon and went straight on past us like we were standing still. We were in one of those big transports. I know you have doubts, but I saw what I saw.
For a few years, he tried painting. He bought thousands of dollars worth of canvas, brushes, pastels, acrylics, oils, bottles of ink, charcoal pencils, sketch books, erasers, thinners, acetone, palettes, easels. He never showed any of us his paintings. We didn’t want to see them. What was there to see? They’re in the back room now. Rows of canvases stacked against each other, all the paintings some version of a horizon, a straight line across the canvas, sky, clouds, surf. He was trying to paint one particular thing. He applied the paint in thick layers. The images are in motion, shifting, searching, incomplete. I’ll get to them eventually. The floor isn’t sturdy. There are mice in the walls. Here is a bucket of mousetraps. Here is a basket of chalk. Here is a tin of rubber bands, an envelope full of to-do lists. The wallpaper is peeling away at the corners. The plaster beneath is dark with age. It’s difficult to breath. Here’s a pile of notebooks, doodles and hieroglyphics, missives from a forgotten world.
I can’t though. I’m down at the bottom. I’m down through the dark. I’m up in the attic. I’m looking through suitcases. He must have collected fifty suitcases. I’m holding a coffee can of of lag bolts. I’m shaking a box of fountain pen cartridges. Here is a stack of spiral notebooks where he recorded every financial record. Here is a collection of driving logs. He recorded every mile he ever drove, and every gallon of gas he ever bought. This is a box of bills from 1978. Once, he told me he had the cancelled check from the lawyer he paid to handle my adoption. He said I cost 263 dollars. I stared at him until he turned back around and went into his shop.
Although he went to church on Sundays, and I’d see him at night with his prayer book in his hands, it was his shop where he really worshiped. The church of tools. It’s sad to see what I’ve done to it. I pulled it all down and piled everything into bins, buckets, crates, cartons, trays and totes, garbage and giveaway. Here’s a pile of hammers. Here is a five-gallon bucket of screwdrivers. Here’s a stack of planes, a milk crate of clamps, a bundle of brackets, old cigar boxes full of bolts and washers. Here is his drafting table, still covered in blueprints and plans, the printing done in block capital letters. Everything was labeled. Here are his draftsman tools: speed compass, bow compass, beam bar, friction dividers, triangles, scales, paper cutters, pencil sharpeners, calipers, and micrometers. Here is a box of window glass, cans of glaze, glazing shovels, razors. Here is a tub of piping, u-joints, goop, caps, tape, channel locks, copper solder. Here is a tray of rubber stoppers, plugs, chains, washers, faucet stems, hot and cold handles. Here are the crescent wrenches and pliers, the vise-grips and box-cutters. Here are the circular saws, hammer-drills, drill presses, belt-sanders, impact-drivers. There’s too much inventory. Come take it away, please. Everything must go.
Here is a photo of us in front of the lapidary equipment. We are feeding rocks into a tumbler. We are both wearing aprons. My mother has sewn a patch onto mine that reads: Don’t Mess with Mother Nature. We both wear eye protection. We have turned at the waist toward the camera. His hand is on my shoulder. My mother must have taken the photo with that old heavy Nikon. She would have held the base of the camera in her left hand. Her right hand is focusing the lens. Here is her eye in the viewfinder. Here is her face, cheek, ear. Behind her is the laundry room, my Lincoln Logs and Legos spread out on the floor. Beyond that, the patio, the bird bath, the grapevine, the hill, the sandbox, the fence, the woods, the pumping station, the river, the bay. I’ve gone through the lens and all the way around until I’m looking out of my own eyes at my mother. It goes round and round. I’m seeing what I’m seeing. What am I looking at? I’m not doubting anything. I’m just asking.
I’m down in the old cellar. I’m in the garage. I’m reaching into a linen closet. I’m knocking on the walls, looking for treasure. There was always more with him. This is the place where I talk about dying. Don’t worry. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about me thinking about dying. It’s nothing. He’s not even here. He passed us like we were standing still. It won’t matter. Here is the dust I carry. This is my pocket. I’m cold. Stop moving. Wait for the clouds. Find the horizon. I’ve got to sit down. I’ve got to wait. This is the bench. This is where I wait. Here is a basket of nail clippers. Here is a leather punch. Here are the feathers he collected. Here is a travel sewing kit. Here are the tissues. Here is a box of expired cold medicine. Here is an unopened package of nine-volt batteries from 1986. I’m getting on. I’m going on. Is someone there? Is anyone waiting? I should tell someone I’m here. I should tell them I’ve come home.
the airfield, the airplanes, the heavy machines, the hum, all of it, back along the fence, back near the wildlife preserve, back at the beginning, this is the way we go, this is the way we’ve been before, the grass is wet, the chain links on our fingers as we pass the old ammo dump, this is the path we took, this is the path we take, this is the field with the antennas, this is the pine tree, this is the bridge, this is the sunlight, this is the water, this is the time, but this won’t work, we’re always walking, we’re always coming home, we’re always running, here is the water, we’re always jumping in, we’re always swimming, we’re always climbing out, the old rope swing is over there, the rocks are here, we go in now, we go in then, we can’t look, we don’t look, we never see, here is the beaver damn, this is the still water, this is the beach rose, this is the pine tree, this is the foundation, this is the firmament, this is light and dark, this is the spray paint, this is the graffiti, a black swirl, the name, the almost name, this is the trespassing sign, this is the hole in the fence, here is the bunker, this is the slab, this is the oil slick, this is the paving equipment, see how it rusts, see how it sinks, see how it’s gone, this is the landing pad, this is the radio tower, this is the field, this is the marsh, these are the reeds, these are your feet and mine, we can’t see the trail, the trail is overgrown, we’re walking, we’re running, we’re waiting, this is the duck blind, this is the fallen tree, this is the gully, this is the place where, that is the place when, we say this, we said this, we passed from the trail into the grove, this is where we came up, this is how we moved, this is my hand in yours, this is your hand, this is us, we are here, this is the irrigation ditch, this is the old orchard, this is the star chart, these are the airfield lights, this is what I remember, this is now, this is not, this is the beginning, this is the time I left, this is the time I called, this is me on the roof, this is me in the sun, this is the road, this is the stop sign, this is the tremor, these are the cars going by in the night, this is the farmhouse, these are the field-stones, this is the moment I’m thinking of, this is so far away, this is never not close, I’m coming to the end, I’m coming up for air, I’m coming home, I’ve already arrived, I’m already gone, this is me in the morning, this is when we were ready, this is the branch, this is the trunk, this is the wind, this is the way, we will never, we are not, we will again, we are in motion, we have walked here before, we can walk here again
I have to go, I’m already gone, this is the beginning, I’ve got to get there, but there is where I am, I am there, this is the bridge, this is the tide, this is the beginning, I’ve said that, I’ve been here, I’ve already gone, it’s all the same, I’m rolling back, I’m not here, but I can’t go forward, this is the beginning, I’ve been digging, I’ve been down, I can’t reach the top, this is the top, I’ve been down too far, I’ve been from the farm to the destruction, I’ve been from the destruction to the fire, I’ve been from the fire to the farm, I’ve returned and gone away, this is the middle, I’m in the middle, I’m not going in one direction, there is no middle, I’m down in the sand, I’m up in the leaves, I’m in the coal stove, I’m on the way, this is all a big misunderstanding, this is a rift, this is the breach, this is time, the middle, the opening, the tunnel, the farm, the house, the road, the tree, the stone, the wall, the field, the bramble, the field, the leaves, the fence, the barbs, the wire, the rust, the sign, the trespassing, the plane, the light, the opening, the door, I’m going back, there’s nothing keeping me here, I’m not here, I’m on the road, I’m down the road, get down, go down, be down, stay down, put it down, put it back, manners, please, manners, this is the rest of the story, I’m out, I’m there, I’m coming back, I’m back, I’m here, I’m going out, this is the way I see the night, it’s never night, it’s never coming, the light is everywhere but I can’t see the light, I’m left alone, I’m never alone, I’m at the tree line, I’m in the gully, I’m on the path, I’m coming through the reeds, I’m coming through the wires, I’m digging into chalk, I’m the ghost, I’m the tree, I’m the figure in the window in the house in the woods, that’s where I have to be, that’s how I remember being, I have to get back to where I am, get back to what I remember, I don’t know memory, I don’t see, I don’t want to see, there is nothing to see, I’m only looking, I’m only seeing, I’m only eating, I’m only breathing, there is no air, there is no water, there is no spirit, there is no firmament, there’s no way forward, I’m already there, I’m already knocking, I’m already coming in, I’m bringing bread, I’m coming through the light, it’s not a party, it’s not a funeral, it’s breakfast, it’s supper, I’m coming, I’m here, I’m leaving, I can’t come home, I’m already there, I’m at the beginning, it’s time to begin
1. My Soup is Cold: by Tex Ragu and the Sin City Sinners
2. Shut it Down: by Lucretia Netboxer and her Five Tall Friends
3. Beef? What is it Good For? Absolutely Nothing: by the St. Louis All Vegan Pipe-Fitter’s Union Choir.
4. Four Large Men: by Four Large Men
5. Songs for the Weeping Willow What Weeps Outside My Window: by Al Fuster’s Chocolate Fondue
6. You Call That a Fire? I’ll Show You a Fire: by Bic Tempo and the Michigan Flambé
7. Suite 47 in G (Ode to Tired Feet): by Gustavo Mu and the Beacon County Trombone Association
8. The Collected Speeches of Vicky Von Vanderschmidt, Inventor of the Tornado Capsule and Part-time Telescope Defiler
9. Dark Night of the Soul: by Grinning Jane Smiley and her Giggling Hyenas
10. Common Cents by Tom Pain and the Angry Colonists
1. Cooking cheese based delicacies for a dinner party consisting of stuffed animals and voodoo dolls.
2. Pumping up the jams.
3. Two words: Jazzercise
4. Wondering what happened to Lumpy from Leave it to Beaver.
5. Repeating “I pity the fool” to their own reflections in a dimly lit room that smells of lemongrass.
6. Man-Ape project in the basement.
7. Day drinking PBR in martini glasses.
8. Reading The Thorn Birds.
9. Knife fight.
10. Wondering when this dude is going to shut up I mean jeez c’mon wut?
Nine jobs I watched people do and one job I didn’t watch anyone do.
1. Cartographer’s Brow Mopper
2. Manual Rolodex Whirly Doodle
3. Simon’s Sesame Seed Swedish Bun Baker
4. Oil Derrick Jeter Lookout
5. Tuna Duster
6. Squirrel Hustler
7. Part-time Rascal
8. Full-time Hubba Hubba Ding Ding
9. Whoa, now, take it easy
10. Hiker lost near Sizzler All You Can Eat Salad Bar