Wednesday, March 18, 2009

No Object Lesson

When I was a child in Oklahoma the other kids would catch fireflies (which they might have called lightning bugs), rip them apart and put the bright chemicals on their fingers as glowing rings. My parents must have expressed some form of distaste for this practice, which I absorbed. The boys do not know about this practice, though Dylan mentioned the idea of collecting them in a Mason jar. I demurred, indirectly.

One afternoon the boys drew Kansas City and its landmarks, including their house here, and neighboring towns and their landmarks (including their other house there) in chalk on the sidewalk that runs from the porch to the street. A broad highway connected their chalk towns, populated with gigantic automobiles with overblown tires that looked like appendages.

When it cooled down last Fall, I gratefully set the electric bill aside and turned off the air conditioner, opened the windows. I had been cleaning and for a while the kitchen smelled like Pine-sol. I lit a vanilla candle. I thought about financial problems and remembered how rich I am, and said to my soul, 'Soul, we are a people who are insanely wealthy, the only people, perhaps, who live in unspeakable comfort, but fill ourselves with dread over the remote possibility of discomfort." In memory of Solzhenitsyn, I tried to take each (metaphorical) cigaret at a time with humility and gratitude, and several moments passed.

When I was a child and snubbed time, incapable of seeing idle moments as idle, but only as the energized space inhabited by all that I saw -- the green Oregon mountains to every side, lush tress and plants; by what I heard, the voice of my parents, the drone of the television, an airplane grinding into the sky overhead, the wail of chalk and the endless chatter of classmates gossipping and speaking of loving each other "in God's way" as opposed to love that is intense, fully embodied romantic eros, traced with shadowy sentiments reflexively borrowed from t.v.; the feeling of clean sheets and new clothes that gave me a sense of solidity, the strange suspension of my heart that seemed to float for a moment when a classmate (most likely, as opposed to an adult) showed me how to do something, how to color inside the lines by tracing the figure first, while I watched and listened in silent, confusing but pleasant elation; the taste of chocolate milk and the goodness of sugar, the firm and pleasant texture of food that is crisp rather than soft, scrambled eggs drowned in ketchup, tuna fish mixed with diced dill pickles; there was the odor of grass in the dry summer air, the rotten uncollected eggs of the hen that had no counterpart to fertilize them, the verdant aroma of wild weeds and ancient fossilized cow shit -- I took all the hours with fulness in and let them drift, my imagination furious and lonely and spontaneously unburdened.

In the field behind our house I made up a name ("Billy Porter") and pretended I was him, that I was on a horse, and galloped, my legs approximating, and ont his day at the age of nine thought of the difference between the city and the country, and imagined a person from the country (played by myself) impressing all the people from the city with his essential country qualities. Maybe this person was Billy Porter, and he had been from the city originally, but moved out into the country and lived there for a long time (not time in terms of months or years, but as a quality of absorption), then was sent back to the city where people do not know anything about rural life. The contrast ennobles him, and he is surrounded by a cloud of awed witnesses, as ethereal and silent in my imagination as saints and angels, awed, it may be implied, into a stupor by Billy's country character and unique down-home qualities, whatever it is that makes him something (a country boy) that they are not.

We lived on the edges of town in a large house with three-and-a-half fenced-in acres of field and a broken-down barn. Dad rented a stall out to someone who had an untamed horse for a while, and the horse would come to the stall at times and accept our apples, but usually we left it alone, and it moved about in the field. This day I went out to visit the horse, tramping through the field, Billy Porter drifting about in the periphery of my interior consciousness repeatedly amazing the city folks like in a repetitive dream during uneasy sleep. And suddenly I stood at a certain distance from the horse, and stopped, staring at it. "Hi," I said. I was just visiting, and had no crazy thoughts of actually trying to ride the horse or anything like that, but the horse didn't know that. Horses apparently are not mind-readers. I took a step forward, and he charged me. He came suddenly and with violence, his nostrils flaring, his eyes wild with crazed fear, his gait long and possibly trampling (a trampling gait), and I watched, filled with my own unleashed breath, my entire body shot through with dreadful adrenaline, and two feet from me he turned, swerving away, while I fell flat on my back, suddenly looking but not seeing the impossibly dark-blue sky. I ran, hoping he wouldn't chase me, heartbroken and betrayed. I did not go out into the field again.

There is no moral here, no object lesson, unless its unintentionally implied. I was nine years old and the horse gave me a warning, that's all. I went back to playing marbles, eating school lunches and trying to stand in line in such a way as to sit across from the right girl, and learning how to do tricks, such as "around the world", with my yo-yo.

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