Friday, July 24, 2015

The most important thing

Here is how I picture us. 

In a common wood, sitting side by side on a rock made for two. A breeze finds my face, and I lean into its lure. The leaves around us seem an extension of skin, rustling. A large nut drops from someplace high and untouched and lands, with a thwack, on last year's slough. Cicadas and birds we can't name mark out a perimeter, but they can't edge that bit of cloud, puffing along beyond the treetops' sights.

You put your hands on your knees, mirroring me. Our mouths are still talking about the fawn we saw back there, how it's a shame these pathways are lined with gravel. There was a rabbit, too, we startled with our clumsy, human progress. But I'm remembering back farther than that, to your very first words as we stepped out of the car: "It looks like Provence," you said, before looking down at your shoes, as if to check some instinct for confession. You can't know what that did to me. 

The light is water, running down your cheek, past the ridge of your throat, to be swallowed by your collar. I can just make out the color of your eyes. But that is not the most important thing.

I don't know how life can be as beautiful as this, or why we can't be like the trees, so easily roused, all of the time. 

What I do know is that I'm alone, on a rock made for two, but not lonely at all, for you're here, too.

The camera shutter opens, and closes. It's been doing that all day.   

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Tin Man

That boy I went to high school with—the one who stabbed his father fifty times—the one found not guilty of murder, by reason of insanity—the man committed to a hospital for the rest of his life—Jonathan—

He recently got permission to leave the grounds, unsupervised—and what can I say—I'm glad for him.

Maybe, if you'd sat with him in honors English—captained by the supremely competent Mrs. Thompson—you'd feel the same. He was so smart, you see. Not book smart, like I was, but smart smart, like that entire first row of upper-class aces. He was the rare kid who thought for himself. (Which begs the question: when did the thoughts start thinking for him?) But he was also unassuming and shy, which if you were a teenage girl, you could sort of take and run with. (For instance—I once had a year-long crush on a boy who never opened his mouth—I saw him the other day, and smiled).

But this wasn't shyness. It was something else. Something so silent and creeping that none of us saw it for what it was—certainly not us second-rowers, with our heads-down balk before Shelley and Shakespeare ("Jonathan, could you help us out here?" Mrs. Thompson might ask, after a pause, perseveringly).

My friend, half in love with him, dubbed him "Legs," for short—she especially enjoyed watching him run track—he was a middle-of-the-pack, middle-distance sort—and how does that seem like the strangest part of this whole, strange affair? 

The valedictorian and the murderer. Both overflowing with that youthful, bright magic we mark as potential.

The valedictorian, my friend, whom I haven't talked to in twenty years—but who I know, thanks to Google, is now a primary care doctor with a master's degree in public health—has not come back to our little town. Saving the world makes one busy. Yes, Jenny met her destiny, chin to the stars.

But once, we were all huddled in that English class, haltingly discussing our Ozymandias and our Lady Macbeth, squinting at the tissue-thin pages of the Nortons in front of us, skimming the text for examples of symbolism and foreshadowing, ticking off syllables to grasp a mysterious force called iambic pentameter

Our hearts in the grip of such fear and hope.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Finger paint

(Portrait of Adeline Ravoux by Vincent Van Gogh)

Standing in front of a painting by Van Gogh is different than standing in front of a painting by anyone else. 

Time becomes viscous. Your insides turn wobbly. Your eyes turn wet. Like a child, you want to touch his wiggles, his crosses, his splotches. You want to touch him. The artist. The man. Vincent. 

I don't feel quite the same compulsion to connect with Picasso, with Matisse, with Cezanne. Sure, in a print, at home, I might like any one of them better. But when confronted by the hot topography of paint-on-canvas, I'm not as unmoored by their work. I'm not as moved. It's not the ear-cutting, either. It's not our societal obsession for romanticizing the eccentric, the different, the troubled. 

It's simply that, more than any other artist, Van Gogh seems both bracingly there in his work and most profoundly not. There it is—the primacy of an impulse stationed by the pigments of the past. Such frenetic, bubbling life! Such a quietude of death. This is the contradiction coursing through all of our fates, but rarely do we feel it as viscerally, like a swipe of neon through the gut. 

So I stand, for as long as I can, letting the current go through me.

And what does the girl in the painting—young Adeline Ravoux—look toward, so piercingly and true? 

Not at us, I'm sure.