Monday, February 29, 2016

The Crooked Stick

You said if you shove a crooked stick under water
it gets more crooked. It doesn't matter
if the crooked stick is in water or out.
But a crooked stick is more crooked in water.
I was holding that day a stick
crooked whether in water or out,
crooked on a hazy day, or a windy day.

I did not know that when stuck in water
the stick got more crooked—
which I told you the stick was crooked,
not a straight stick;
but when stuck in the water
is it supposed to become more crooked?
Like I should notice!
What did you mean by more?
Did you measure it?
I didn't see you measure it.

We were just sitting peacefully
beside this clean, swift-running mountain brook,
towering cu in a background of vermillion,
a peaceful wind stirring the conifers.
I was not deceiving myself!
I knew the stick was crooked,
and I dropped part of it into the whirling pool,
in which I had earlier seen a rainbow,
but I failed to notice
it got more crooked than it was before.

Why should this be an argument between us?
But I guess it is.
It has been much on my mind lately.
Why must you punish me?
Can't you see how I am suffering?
So what if I was wrong!
Why should it destroy our love?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

On Turning

One day my brother went down to visit the sea.
He witnessed alone the sun emerge from the sea.
The waves combed the sun's yellow hair.
The waves crashed on the beach, beseeching him hither.

He turns away. He went to work, and he worked hard.
He worked at the great engine factory in Rivertown.
He's a mechanic who assembles small-block eights.
He's solitary in the uproar and tumult of engines.

At quitting time he turns away, drives home to a woman
whose body he knows like a 305's bottom end and is wild with.
Inside her is good and, when he gazes into her eyes,
he is not afraid nor is she afraid, but he turns away,

turns away solitary forever in the tumult of engines.
Listen, he's a tortoise who has lived awhile.
The waves crashing on the beach beseech him hither.
One day my brother went down to visit the sea.

He crossed the black barrier onto the beach;
black water in moonlight originates many temptations.
His arms became familiar with the currents;
a terrible encasement inhibits his spine.

He swam toward a pale light which never came near.
The uproar of engines became a sighing, a rhythm.
Turning away—his life was a turning—,
for came a time when the waves lost their rapture.

One day he went down to visit the sea.
In the darkness was a light that never came near.
Turning away, he returned to the uproar of engines
and the dusted house of a woman who was not afraid.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Chapter 5—Alone!

Today because of Tuck Jimmy had been late to milking. He would have to take vacation time on the days he worked hours that conflicted with chore times. He could not be late any more; the habits of barn chores clobbered him and hurt too much. He ran up to the house to let out the dogs, who were barking shrilly at his arrival. Then he entered the barn. Once he had grained and watered the girls, they calmed down, but if looks could be daggers… The boys and men usually lined up at the fence after graining and waited to get petted. Michelle's men were stout, playful fellows. It was important to maintain comradeship with them because come time to breed or trim feet or get shots, if not friendly, they were easily big enough to hurt a grown man. Today they licked up their grain bowls and turned their backs on him and walked out to prance and browse in the late summer grass.
    Any sign of an out-of-sorts or ill goat immediately registered with Jimmy. The whole gang was out-of-sorts today. No more OT till Michelle got back; the goats would fall off if morning and evening chores were not done how and when they were used to. If they fell off and wilted and wallowed, Michelle would never forgive him. He was determined to hand them back upbeat as usual.
    Jimmy had been in barns, many of them, in which the hay in the boxes, when there was some at all, was last year's late first crop, hardly a green leaf, mostly brown. The water in the buckets was unclean. The goats were sickly from an overabundance of intestinal worms, hang dog and listless. Once proud, productive does now gave a few cups of milk, hardly that, if milked at all. It never seemed to matter what the barn was like; it could be the fanciest, newest barn anywhere, but the animals in it languished in the general carelessness. On the other hand, the cheapest built shed of a barn, if it had a sturdy roof and dry bedding, might house a herd going strong. Michelle had sold goats to a minister, he was a Methodist minister, Jimmy thought, who had done missionary work in Cambodia. He had married a Cambodian woman and they had a family of two boys and a vivacious little girl. The woman had grown up with goats and the simple way she kept them charmed Jimmy and Michelle. Their barn was a glorified lean-to but stout against the rain and wind. She milked them outside on a rough wooden stand. Taking care of them was a family project. The kids took them out to go brushing. This family got from their goats the absolute maximum of milk. Each one of them filled the bucket. And yet down the road a way was a nice barn, people whom Michelle had sold goats to, whose animals were slowly dying alive. It was hard to imagine what these people had in mind. Jimmy labored to talk to them. They seemed to like the goat idea but it never progressed beyond the symbolic into actual existence. Even their children seemed similarly put by. It wasn't neglect, rather a peculiar mismanagement of mind that went along with too much focus on work, money making or whatever else.
    Jimmy never could figure out who would actually work their goats. Sometimes it was not easy to get fresh water into the barn, for instance. Certain people who seemed like nice people in every other respect kept a deadly barn. Once Jimmy had left chores to a sturdy young man who lived nearby. Then he and Michelle and Dwight went to a big show for four days. They returned to a cacophony of out-of-sorts farm animals. It wasn't that the young man had done wrong, the animals didn't die, he had been responsible, but he hadn't done the job right. It took Jimmy two hours to get everything straightened out so the animals became calm again.
    Jimmy believed the art of keeping animals had been lost. Other careful goat owners complained about distractions. The youngsters except a few avoided the barn. Jimmy learned to see the barn as a large, sacred open space. One must be a serious person to keep a barn; one must insist on substance over style.
    Goats especially more than other animals showed lack of human contact; domestication was stronger in them than in cows or sheep or any other barnyard animal, though a farmer who kept cows or sheep might argue with him on that point. Birds also could take over ones life. But goat farmers talked about companionship, which was different. Jimmy noticed again and again that the more time he spent among them in physical presence, the better they did. Returning home late at night after a long evening shift, he'd wander into the barn and turn on the lights, and they'd rise from their herd circle and come by and greet him making soft, sweet goat sighs. They'd stand on the lower rungs of the fence—goats love to stand on anything that makes them higher, as if they would then, Jimmy theorized, be closer to God. They'd briefly nuzzle him, chew on the bill of his ball cap. The barn was brightly lighted against the midnight. When Jimmy was at work, Dwight would help his mother to do chores. When Mike was around, he liked the barn too, in the same way as Jimmy did, but Mike was a rare bird in school. Mike's real father, Sullivan Brown, had worked hard to give Mike the best possible education, and that didn't include toying around in a barn. Dwight was just a kid, and Jimmy did not expect him to do what Jimmy did exactly the right way. There were always little things to take care of late at night, or early in the morn before a hot summer day or any time Jimmy might not be able to sleep. Jimmy could relax after the stresses and nervousness of the kind of work everyone did for money, no matter what it might be. Michelle worried about breaking even and making a little profit on the goats every year to pay the taxes with. Jimmy wondered how he might do if he worked at the cheese making and the goats full time. There were lots of reasons why he did not.
    The goats always fell into his mood; Jimmy wondered, goats wondered. They returned into their circle, and heads upraised, they followed him around desultorily. He'd do this and that, bid them good night, and switch off the lights.

    Today, the first morning Michelle was gone, Jimmy decided that he was honestly troubled. He sat down in the milking room on one of the stands. “This sucks,” he said to himself. “I am alone!  I haven't been alone forever.” He certainly wondered about being stuck with a naked soul. So he scrubbed his brow and the top of his head and tacked on a fact that he thought should be simple. “Yeah, and so what!” Maybe it would be wonderful; did he ever think that he might not want her back!  She was kind of a bitch sometimes anyway. And to think about it, once the animals were taken care of, and vacation time coming up, by God he could do anything he wanted!  Consider that!  What had he done in his life that was wrong? He ran into some bad luck. Oh-well!
    Now a memory came to mind. This memory came up now and then, but it had not come up for a long time past. He had been raised in a Roman Catholic family. Both his mother and father, though fallen away, were Roman Catholic. Alice and Grandfather Freeman, whom he had lived with after the fire, were Roman Catholic. And his foster family, the Grants, was a staunch Roman Catholic family. Jimmy did everything except altar boy: Sunday afternoon instruction, Novena, Mass often twice a week, Rosary every night during Lent. The big battle with God had begun. Kid chemistry would cease bubbling and the force of God and the force of nature, in which was evil, set up to do bloody battle. He was working then; the struggle with time was heating up. Money was important. The landscape was pale. Who could help him when he stumbled and fell? So Jimmy's foster mother, Adele Grant, sent the wide-eyed, sin befuddled kid to live with the Dominican monks at St Anselm's College in Manchester for two weeks. Father Gordievski drove Jimmy and two of the altar boys to the monastery. No funny business with Father Gordievski. He was with every string and tether of his being a bulwark of the faith. Later he became principal of the big Catholic High School in Rochester. Then years later during a visit to the Grants' house when Jimmy introduced them to Michelle, Mrs Grant announced, joyfully, “You remember Father G? Our Father G is gonna become a bishop!  The same young priest who blessed us and came and stood in this house is gonna become a bishop!”
    Jimmy did not actually live with the monks, he lived in the college dormitories with the other boys. But they were invited into the chapel any time to sit in the back and attend any of the monks' devotions, of which there were, Jimmy thought, more than enough for him, too many. His first impression was that if you wanted to become a monk, you would have to like to sing. And you'd have to hate disorder. But then a monk had few objects to get disorderly with. Ownership did not seem to impress anybody. But the big battle, as T Hobson, a young seminary student explained, was over wife and family in opposition to devotion to God. This young man, T for Theodore, whom they put in charge of Jimmy and the others from his town, was beginning his studies to become a full-fledged monk. He was not allowed to live in the monastery yet. He lived in an eight-by-twelve cubicle with desk and cot and what few books were minded to be worthwhile in his studies.
    “It's fire and ice,” the T warned. Jimmy followed him humbly to the chapel for the devotions. Jimmy considered this philosophic minded young man to be a “high person”. He did not seem touched by the subterfuges and hormonal disturbances that bothered Jimmy.
    Going inside the chapel Jimmy felt actual terror. He hesitated, “Maybe I could camp just outside the door?”
    The young priest had no patience with Jimmy's fears. “Come!  What would that accomplish?”
    Once inside and the service had started Jimmy was not so afraid. He forever after assigned to the chanting voices the word pure. The chapel was shadowy, the corners dark with anticipation, as if everyone expected an appearance. The wonder was not why but why not. One time Jimmy nodded off, and one of the monks, while filing out of the chapel, reached down, smiling, and shook him awake. Jimmy had suffered a violent embarrassment. But T, his mentor, reminded him, “Faith such as they have is rare. Especially when it is simple.” “Simple?” “Yes. No rebellion in it. You must search your soul continually to make it simple. According to our faith, it is what you must go through to become fair in the eyes of God.” “Is there more than one way?” Jimmy hoped. The young student-priest laughed, “God will give you your calling. Take it from no one but God.” Jimmy stayed on for the second week. There was a third and a fourth week, but while Jimmy was here, he was not other where at work making money. He was not allowed to read The Bible, T discouraged him from reading anything. When he read a book he had sneaked in, he felt guilty. “There is your job,” T said, pointing at the kneeler beside the window. He made a point of adding that the contraption was not used by the monks, who kneeled on the floor, sometimes for hours at a time. “What payment you receive for such works you may never know. God may never tell you. So you had better love it.” Jimmy had a terrible time kneeling, and he did not love it. But he could see the point of it, and he thought about it every day for the rest of his life.
    Then suddenly now, Jimmy, sitting alone in the barn, suffered such a terrific pain behind the eyes that he gasped. He was sinful flesh. The kneeler against the dormitory window in the twilight was a fact of his history that made him breathless. He used it maybe two or three times. He jumped up. “The hell with this.” Despite lust and sinful flesh Jimmy had work to do. Was it going to be like this?
    The does had formed a tangle against the gate, waiting for Jimmy to get his sorry human act together finally, sinful flesh and all, and relieve them of their burden of milk. He had goats in front of him, real living things, and there was Tuck, too, another real live thing, and here he was, Jimmy Freeman, buried in ancient history. “I'm coming, girls,” he said.
    Michelle had written a list on the blackboard in the milking room. He was supposed to take out the girls in this specific order according to the list or there would be chaos. Moon was the first on the list. He went to the gate. Moon, a slender, smallish doe overwhelmed by will to milk, was slithering through the gang toward the gate. Then Magic came out, for she was second on the list. Jimmy pinch hit with the milking often enough that he knew which udder belonged to which. Moon went to her stand on the left, and jumped aboard, and Magic went to her stand on the right, and jumped aboard, and they both dived into their grain ration. The grain was in a dish hanging in a slot under their noses. Guiltily, he faced two overfull udders. The milk poured out of Moon as if forever, almost ten pounds, close to a gallon. Just on this milking Moon gave almost ten percent of her body weight, not ten percent per day, as was the average. Jimmy wondered what it could be like carrying around all that weight. Alas, mystery and wonder, Jimmy thought, I am sick with them. Then he jumped over to Magic who filled the pot too, but she was a prancer, a light-hearted doe. At the shows Magic was in her prime; she loved to show off, and she was an eye catcher with the judges. Next were Sarabi and Dancer. Both were smoother, more rounded and powerful does. Sarabi was all brown, though her head was more tan than brown. He went through the entire list. There were ten does to milk because Michelle had put up on the board that she was drying off Dusty and Agnes. They were both older girls and they would not go to any of the late fall shows this year. He could milk them once a day for three or four days and then they could settle down and get ready for the buck. Dusty could not care less that he was passing her over. She kicked up her heels and went out with the others into the grass. But Agnes whimpered, staring at him, because she loved to be milked. Agnes had been born in this barn; she would die in this barn. Michelle might not even breed her this year because her kidding last year was hard. Two of the three kids had got tangled up and when Michelle finally hauled them out, they were dead. Michelle had never kept any of Agnes' kids. Agnes was not finished, she needed one more leg, but she had come close to finishing numerous times. None of her bucks made the cut, and Michelle sold off her does. This meant that Agnes's career was probably over, and she would join up with Macy and Day, two old finished champions, and spend her days in the clover. Then one day she would be dust same as all things become dust and her existence, as far as Jimmy knew, would fall into nothingness. Agnes stood by the gate watching him. None of her offspring would go into the books; Jimmy didn't think any of the does, though they had brought good money, had been sold with registration, although Michelle would probably know. Agnes had conducted her life with sweetness and simplicity, she had never been sick a day of it, and had every year been in milk. And now she must live without doing her necessary duty on earth. The darkness was enclosing her. Agnes stood motionless, silently eyeing him. Jimmy tried to turn away, but couldn't. She had lived her long life, eight years, without complaint, she had pushed forward nature, a slight animal of small weight, and suddenly a deep sorrow filled Jimmy's heart. “What does it matter?” Jimmy thought. “What rule would it break?” He let her out, and she climbed on the stand, dived into the grain, stomped her hind legs and presented her udder to be milked. But he would not milk her, he would give her this last moment of peace, and he petted her, for she had been a good girl, and she had just missed. Just missed!  It was not meant to be for her: lack of the small muscles which held up the rear udder. Her udder wobbled when she walked. Though big, strong, growthy, pretty color, black with white streaks, that was one thing, those damned muscles never developed, they only got worse. “Ah, alas,” Jimmy said to her. “I love you anyway. Shaky pudding or no.” After finishing the handfuls of grain, she turned toward him, looked up at him, seeming ready to get off the stand and go find some hay. So he helped her off the stand and let her back into the pen. That was milking.
    The girls had been full. The ten gallon stainless steel bucket was heavy to lug into the house. Deanna would come after it soon to use for her cheese making. Jimmy deserved a steak dinner and maybe a beer. As soon as he was in the house, the dogs crowded around. Their bowl had crumbles in it and water bowl was full of clean water. They were looking for attention. Sunshine and Cricket. Though a little lame at times nowadays, Sunshine was the pleasant, placid companion of fifteen years. Cricket, terrier firehouse markings and black face, her pointy ears standing up perfectly straight, was four years younger. In families kids depart leaving old dogs. Old dogs grow old and tired. I should eat, Jimmy thought, staggering down the hallway toward the bedroom, stripping as he went. Both dogs followed him. Cricket jumped in bed, burrowed under the covers. Sunshine turned round in her corner of the bedroom, she lay down on a quilt put out for her. Jimmy was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

My Escape

I dreamed I fashioned a bell jar
and turned it over on myself.
Like a specimen in the zoo, fascinated,
I observed the world pass by.

When they saw my eyelids flicker,
they knew I was alive.
"It's alive!" A scientist cries, stops,
examines me back and front; tested

Ineffable intelligencer! "Right!" he cries.
The eternal spheroid appears, my hair stands
on end. Radioactivity glows in the cement.

Seeing me naked, God's people
interfere. Would I go to heaven?
Where was my family, were my children alive?
All dead within? He'd never permit me in.

One took me aside, spoke privately,
a dense gas condensing on the glass.
"You have a duty to God and Man.
Come out! Don't ya wanna be boss?"

Then a brave man tried to break
my silence, insisting that I learn to speak.
"You must learn words," he says.
"Words will help you escape."

I thought about that for a long time.
Maybe I did not want to escape.
Words are a gloss, a dust, a lacquer.
Was their mystery worth struggling for?

I was feeling smothered breathless.
To catch a breath in a bell jar, it hurts.
People stop by watching everything,
whatever I do. They exaggerate my secrets.

Life is hard in a bell jar. Anguish,
too much going on. Asphyxiation.
Each breath climactic. I almost died, brother.
I still remember forty years later the terror.

But I got out! I thought of a loving, human touch.
A hand had touched me, loving fingertips.
Finally, the glass shattered outward: busted
my prison. A loving memory got me out.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Chapter 4—Barn Schizophrenia

    Four years ago a retired man who had somehow managed to hustle a cute, young wife gave Michelle her first goats. He had lived an up and down life; he had even for some reason spent time in jail. He and his young wife liked to wander, so they might end up living in this or that house, often while the houses were up for sale. They were both handy, and they made repairs in lieu of rent, preparing the house for sale. They often lived in out of the way, curious places. Jimmy tried to remember how Michelle met this man and his young wife. He thought he had written something about them in his journal, but he hadn't been able to find a word. He remembered that he and Michelle had spent an afternoon with them. It was late winter, mud season, and they had parked at the end of a long, uphill driveway. The young wife baked the most wondrous tasting muffin cakes. The old man watched proudly. She didn't care for philosophy with the dialogue, preferred her philosophy to be straight out. They must have made Jimmy's journal. He had wanted a story to blame the catastrophe named goating on. But his journal in those days was a giant green book with thousands of extra paper clipped pages. Finding anything specific in it was luck, hit or miss. What added up was nowhere found, and what would never add up he found in paragraph after paragraph. So the history of the retired man and cute, sweet, adorable young wife remained a mystery, and Jimmy could never properly condemn them to a thousand consecutive sentences in hell without parole.
    Anyway, the young wife and Michelle, when she and Jimmy first moved to Maine, became acquainted. Michelle often collected acquaintances. Too bad Michelle was married, everyone thought, who would want to get to know the weird guy? In fact, Jimmy depended on Michelle for acquaintance collection; she brought that color into his life. Jimmy liked these people, young, old, unmarried; behind their backs he called them Adam and Eve. It was funny how they lived. Young women often have too much to do, and the old man might be unhappy getting dragged out of his easy chair. He'd go off around the corner, cussing. But by-and-by he returned to his young wife in the usual overjoyed state, and he tagged along where ever she went. The house they were living in was only a mile or so around the next hill. It was on a knoll at the end of a long, steep driveway. They had a splendid view of the mountains and foothills to the west. When they dropped by, the old man and Jimmy usually spent the visit studying the Ford Econoline van he drove. In his US Delivery days Jimmy had owned one, and he had acquired wisdom on how to keep them on the road. Other than elderly hoses and frayed belts the engine looked fine, no apparent coolant or oil leaks that Jimmy could see, which tended to put you broke down on the side of the road fast. But Jimmy had not yet learned how they did auto repair in Maine, which was drive it till it broke, and he still adhered to the big city philosophy of preventive maintenance. The old man nodded, grunted, got sick of hearing about it. A dead shock absorber meant nothing to him. Jimmy would soon learn the art of junker driving as it was practiced in Maine. The old man knew he would not have to teach Jimmy. That was one thing you learned soon enough. Instead, he seemed preoccupied with the young wife; when she was out of his sight, he was another old man, but give him a picture of her walking toward him smiling and he was thirty years younger. They often wandered around cross-country to distant family and friends and points unknown. One day he and young wife drove in. They got out, old man and smiling youngster, and they went around and opened the van and two saggy old four legged animals popped out. Old man and young wife led them on bailing twine leashes in front of the house. What were they? Existential dread comes to mind.
    Michelle popped out the door like a kid on Christmas morning. “They're goats, you nut,” she scolded Jimmy, clapping her hands.
    Whatever, they were the skankest looking four legged things Jimmy ever saw. He had finished building Michelle a twenty-by-twenty shed for a barn. He built it for love, thinking love would get him somewhere. In spite of it all, he wouldn't mind if she got pregnant again, but instead it got him nowhere. He ended up with goats. Some chickens she said, maybe pigs, there was already a Holstein heifer in one of the stalls, wandering around a fenced in acre. She had once thought about raising Irish Setters. They were gorgeous dogs and they went for five-hundred apiece. These two things standing in the driveway in front of him could not be the future! Jimmy fell backward in a sweat. Already he loved the barn at the same time as he hated the barn. Barn schizophrenia! Existential dread being by far too vague a phraseology.
    The old man explained, “A friend of ours used them to brush a field. Michelle said she might want them. What the hell, they're free.”
    “Oh, I don't think so,” Jimmy said, wandering toward them from the porch, garden spade in hand. It was spring. He was heading outside early, thinking about dirt with plenty of worms in it. He had some serious dirt round this house with plenty of worms in it.
    Michelle dived off the porch past him, jumped most of the steps, “I love the floppy ears,” she shouted.
    The young wife smiled. She wanted to get rid of them to a “good home”. She was more sensible than Michelle.
    “They're Nubian crosses,” Michelle said. “Oh, they'll be fine for now.”
    “Where we got them,” explained the old man, “he said they had been in with a buck. He said they were probably due soon. The meat is a great delicacy.”
    The previous summer Michelle had experimented with sheep. Neither he nor she knew anything about raising animals. Everything was a fight and a struggle. The two sheep had died. A nearby farmer, who was talkative and enthusiastic, taking a liking to Michelle, came around now and then, offering free advice. He was a big guy, hands like hams, he liked holding little animals in his arms. Mainers will drop by to check on you when you are new to see that you are not overwhelmed, still capable of getting somewhere, as Maine life, with the harsh winters, can get confusing. Finally, a baby Holstein heifer was born on Michelle's farm. George Brett came over to help pull the calf out, which then lay half-dead on the clean pine shavings. But Michelle knew exactly what to do, cleared the nostrils, toweled the poor devil, who was now awakening into hard, bitter life, and soon the calf was standing shakily, big dark eyes blank in the strange bright light, looking for a teat to suck on. George said, tersely, “Might be worth something someday.”
    All of this was to Jimmy a mystery. Michelle seemed to get it; she was the farmer. There was a stone wall called farming in front of Jimmy's eyes, and as hard as he rammed his head against it, he could never get past it into comprehension. Immanuel Kant on metaphysics was more understandable to him than a slime soaked, new born calf, flopping around in a bed of shavings. How did the calf know to get up and start looking for a teat? And then suck on it to get milk out of it? Or was a farmer not supposed to think about such things? Or the investment, as the animals ate endlessly. A horse, you could ride, a dairy cow eventually developed an udder—by no means a sure thing—that a dribble of milk came out of. When Jimmy debated economics, he always ended up in the red. Michelle, being the farmer, found common sense in it, but in confusion Jimmy wondered, doubted. What could it mean? He walked up to the barn everyday, hayed, grained, watered, cleaned pens, and hung out, scratching his head. What was this odor and comfortable racket? Turned out a dribble of milk did come out, while dung exited, landing with a plop nearby. Dung and milk didn't seem to add up, but milk with bread was the staff of life. As often happens, Jimmy became interested in the confusion going on, no matter the shortfall in common sense.
    The baby heifer and mother did eventually go to a nearby dairy farm for a tantalizing sum. A high school math teacher turned dairy farmer bought them. You'd think he'd be able to add things up. Jimmy never asked. It spurred Michelle on. She didn't care about money, she never cared about money, she wanted to make a dollar or two, enough to carry on with. Piglets were going for fifty bucks apiece. And so on.
    Before the goats pigs became attached to Jimmy, unknown why. One dark, cold, snowy night a sow was pigging. Jimmy had to go to work. “Michelle, 'Bama,”—he named them after US states—“is pigging. Go out in the barn and check that the piglets are making it under the heat lamp.”  He came back from work. 'Bama had ten piglets, only four still alive, the others dead from having been too groggy at first to find their way on their own to the pen in which were the heat lamps. Jimmy had insisted on pigs. He read Louis Bromfield's books. There were always pigs in his books. Bromfield said, “If you can't make money raising pigs, get out of farming.”  A big true fact about farming brutally stated.
    But to hell with advice from the real world. Michelle had farmers' logic. She forged onward. Pigs and sheep were a bore: no personality. Rabbits reproduced themselves with unbelievable rapidity. How do you keep all this reproduction under control? The market for rabbit flesh tumbled. The only local dealer in rabbit flesh left his wife and disappeared. Chickens were an interesting flirtation. Michelle sold eggs to the neighbors. She got out of the house; it was a social event. She established herself in the neighborhood, collected rumors, made friends with everybody. The animals frightened Jimmy because they were all mouth, all helpless need. Jimmy's world was best straight and simple. Auto repair, for instance, was straight and simple. Animals got sick; like children they got into things which tended to spiral out of control fast unless you insisted on fences and order. When disorder first appeared in the Garden of Eden, disorder walked out of the barn. Adam must have built a barn. Once disorder established himself, preening and strutting in the orchard, he gathered the serpent, and all was lost. Jimmy was sure goats must have been somewhere in the equation. Take the story of Joseph, son of Rachel and Jacob. Jimmy would bet anything that Joseph was good with the goats, and goating played an important part in Joseph's story. Fearing for the future, Jimmy watched Michelle load the two goats in a spare pen in the “barn”. Not long, goats jumped out, and were running around the dooryard. Took six of them, cussing old dude, young wife, Jimmy, already in a panic about the future, Michelle and Dwight and Dawn, whom Michelle had rousted out of bed, to help corral them. Dawn, who often took Jimmy's part in this animal thing of her mother's, was soon cussing in concert with the old dude.
    “Don't reckon they'll like being indoors,” predicted the old dude, easily winded.
    “Oh, I'm sure they'll like being here, eventually,” the young wife said, optimistically, “and they'll get used to it.”
    “How do you catch them to milk them?”  Michelle wondered with farmers' simple logic, a logic that always amazed Jimmy with its ability to throw aside distractions like the big picture and zero in on whatever pinhead of reality was about to be smashed into.
    “You milk them?”  Dawn said. “Who the hell would wanna do that?”
    Dwight said, “They have teats, you pull on their teats, dummy, and the milk comes out.”
    “You are shitting me. Every day?”
    “Course, like cows, morning and evening, or they dry up.”
    “Watch your language,” Michelle said, “we have company.”
    “They're goats,” the old man shrugged, meaning they deserve every cuss word they get.
    Eventually, the two fools had hopped and sprinted themselves into exhaustion. Dwight caught one, and the other was afraid to be alone, and then Dwight caught her. Jimmy nailed boards up almost to the ceiling. They went into amazing hysterics in a wild attempt to get out, gave up after a time and settled down miserably.
    “Wonder if they'll go in with the cow and calf?”  Jimmy said.
    “Sure, in a week or so. Give them some company,” Michelle said. “We'll haveta feed them separate some kind of way.”
    “Ma, this is crazy.”  Dawn pointed at her head. Dawn liked to remain on friendly terms with the obvious. She could not rest till she had taken care of or at least given expression to everything about the obvious.
    Michelle shrugged. Farmers' logic had vanished. That was another odd thing about farmers' logic. Somehow it had the ability to vanish as if into the fabric of nature. Whereupon, if inspired it oozed out again.
    She went to the young wife, thanked her profusely, and quivvered with delight and leaned over and hugged her.
    In a week the goats had calmed down. They let Michelle walk in the pen, pet them and make friends. They almost acted like normal barn yard animals. Jimmy took them out on the electric fencing, and they apparently knew what it was all about, because they would not go near the wire even out of curiosity. So Jimmy let them free in the pasture with the cow. They got along fine from the first, kept their distance. Michelle bought another calf, a beef, an Angus, and young Brett advised her to bottle feed both calves. She bought the Angus cheap on a chance. It had the runs. If she could nurse him round and it grew to good size, he would be worth big money. He hung on for awhile, then died. Took all of an afternoon for Jimmy to dig a hole big enough to bury the carcass in. But the math teacher dropped by to see the Holsteins, baby heifer and cow. Once Michelle weaned the calf, he wanted to buy them both. The money pleased Michelle. What remained in the bucket after milking the young cow, once the calves were fed, she brought in the house to drink. Everybody agreed that it was better than store bought. Soon the goats came to Jimmy when he walked out to them in the field with a bucket of grain. They'd freshen as soon as they kidded. The young cow had been in the barn long enough that both goats and humans missed her. The cows went and Michelle sold off the pigs and she began to fill the barnyard with goats.
    Michelle got clarifying info from the other goat ladies in the neighborhood. This began the process in which there were goat people, who were worth knowing, and otherwise the rest of the world's scalawags, who were not worth knowing.  Dawn had, to please her mother, joined the 4-H, and she went to the meetings in Locke's Mills for a short time. Dawn quickly became uninterested in both 4-H and the meetings. “They're just a bunch of kids jumping through hoops over animals. The gardening might be okay for the disabled or mentally deficient.”  To Dawn these rural concerns brought up images of stubborn lame men, inbreeding and mental deficiency. But Michelle immediately became friends with the 4-H leader, Esther Cole, because she had Nubian goats. Dwight, a beginning teenager at that time, replaced Dawn at the 4-H meetings. Dwight stayed with 4-H through high school, and he became one of the best showmen at the fairs, his mother's pride and joy.
    From Esther and Dwight Jimmy ended up with plans for a milking room, doors to and from, and a milking stand, which would hold the doe in place while Michelle was milking. She declared that these free girls—free as in any way you want to think about them—were not “promising”, but they did have udders which were expanding, and that meant that they were pregnant and would kid soon. And Jimmy must keep his eyes open for any such event.
    Then a few days after these announcements, Michelle went into town with Dawn grocery shopping. Before she left, she stood in front of him, gathered up his eyes, and said gravely, “Be aware, Jimmy, I don't think it will be much longer.”  What did that mean? Somebody was gonna die? He didn't care what it meant. He returned to clearing land for a garden.
    All this went straight over Jimmy's head. That those poor souls could reproduce was beyond his comprehension. He could sit with Plato and Socrates all day exploring the starry realms sooner than understand that those long-legged creatures off in the distance under the trees looking like insects could reproduce. Farmers' ineffable logic suddenly reappeared, “How do you think they have survived for all these thousands of years?”  Michelle said.
    “No kidding,” he replied, “these aren't the first ones?”  It made more sense to him to think that God had recently made a sudden, inexplicable error, and these were the outcome.
    Michelle's pronouncements on goats were similar to Michelle's usual pronouncements; they were not debatable. Jimmy, on the other hand, amused himself with the thought that goats had appeared suchlike at a specific moment in nature and likewise would disappear as suddenly, like the dinosaurs or whatever else had happened to evolve out of existence, hopefully sooner than later. That way, soon, he could go back to pigs again.
    He went around his normal details, which this time of year was collecting firewood and clearing garden space, and he happened to be working nearby, and he looked over and one of them, the one he called Charity, which had two white front stockings, was standing over a thing on the ground, licking it. “What the fuck is that?”  Jimmy thought, irritated to be disturbed. So he wandered over, and there was a tiny, brown little kid in the grass, more like a stick figure, who was struggling to stand up. Hysterical terror was his first thought. Where was Michelle? Where was Dawn? Dawn was with Michelle gone to town in the old VW. What was he supposed to do? It must die if he did nothing? He decided that he had to do something, though unclear about why he did not want it to die. There was Clyde Gimbal down the street where Michelle bought the grain and the farming tools, for which she paid extra in order to have a person nearby to get advice from. Jimmy ran inside the house. It never once occurred to him that he was acting like a fool. Hands shaking, he dialed Mr Gimbal's number.
    “Mr Gimbol, something has happened,” Jimmy started. “I don't know what to do.”
    “Barn set afire,” Gimbol said. “I'll be right up.”
    “No, not that. There's a thing in the field in the grass. One of the goats.”
    “Huh, oh that. That's even worse. In fact, I'd take a fire any day before that should happen. Done now, though.”
    “What am I supposed to do?”
    “You can watch out she don't eat it. They do that, after all the energy they used up they just might get some hungry.”  Gimbol got so much attached to this idea as a possibility that he settled down and fell right into it. “She'll clean it off some before though. Won't hurt her none. Take awhile, then they eat 'em for a snack aside the brush and stuff.”
    Jimmy was half taken in but then it got too ridiculous.
    “Naww, come on. What do I do?”
    So Gimbol burst out chuckling. Jimmy suddenly hoped this conversation would not end up returning to him after a trip around the neighborhood, which of course it did.
    “Well, if you hang on and do not a thing I expect the kid might eventually jump up and start looking around for the proverbial teat. Let her get a good drink. Colostrum has got antibodies what not in it.”
    Jimmy returned to the site of nature happening, gave it a good distance, squatted down, so as to take a low profile and not disturb the doe. Every now and then Charity glanced in his direction, fidgeted, but remained by the kid, who was now standing on its own, though wobbling. Jimmy sighed, wondering why he should care, but there it was: goats. He had never cared to the point of getting nervous about it when any other animal had been born, unless it died, then he cared, because he had to dig a hole in the tough Maine sod to bury it in. “What is that?” He said aloud. A warm mushy feeling in his breast, the fault of his wife. He put his hand over his heart to push it down. He stood and went back to chopping firewood. Something had just happened that would use up a big part of the rest of his life.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Somebody Must Know

I tend my goats in the pasture next beyond the pass.
How can I be two places at once?
The old man built a big house on the hillside
outside town. He went up to the mountain
to visit the cloud everybody talks about.
The inhabitants in our town stand
in doorways hand furled over eyes, watching.
Nobody I know made clear what was going on.
The old man must carry on at length,
as long as he'd stay in that cloud.
I had milking to do.  Barn chores.
I cared for my flock, grazing in the pasture.

Oh, those high happenings!  Who has the time?
A wonder anybody ever gets anything done!
They get fascinated away. But I suppose they must.
They're always building, dickering—sinning, too.

Everyone rumored enough about that old man.
You'd swear he's up to something.
And therefore, you'd think you'd notice a change.
But everything stayed the same. Same mysteries,
misunderstandings, same muddle, same funky darkness.

I don't know. Never did change far as I can see.
Really, how could the old man know anything?
He was forever up in that cloud
and I am in the pasture knee deep in clover,
goats damp with milk for us to live on.
My feet stuck in the ground.  The clouds pass.
The same milk feeds good and evil.  I don't know.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Chapter 3—Michelle

When Michelle Bonney Freeman went to sleep, she never dreamed and if she ever did, she never remembered what she dreamed; she slept. And when Jimmy got up to go to work, she was sleeping. Lips brushed her forehead, there was a grumble. It seemed to her no time passed, and she woke up suddenly. She slept, then she always woke up suddenly, yawned once, from habit she swung her arm over in wondering for Jimmy, but no Jimmy. Then she remembered that tonight he worked the overnight. A sudden, not definable, sleepy anticipation bothered her. After a good stretch and yawn, she swung her legs out of bed, billowed housecoat over shoulders. The anticipation followed her walking up the hallway. She took out an apple from the refrigerator, a big, juicy Macintosh. Now was the season in Maine for big, juicy apples. She always ate a piece of fruit first thing. Then she made the coffee. Then the excitement of seeing her mother today, the plane ride to Florida started to swell up in her. She smiled. She was hoping for some fun; her mother must not be mean to her. Jimmy would be back at 6. Jimmy must be back by 6 to drive her to the airport to board the plane which would be departing at 9. With any luck she would be in Florida by noon. Then crunching on the apple started her thoroughly awake. Where was Jimmy? He must know to come home from work early. He wasn't happy about her going away, but Jimmy was not that kind of man. He always put up. She had never feared talking to him. If she needed anything, he might not like it, but he was always her good companion. Since he had come back from Mexico, the temper, all of the bad things she remembered, had been subdued, had ceased to exist. He stopped drinking, stating that it did not agree with him. He said, “I am not going to do anything wrong to you again.”  And he hadn't, really, not counting occasional complaining, such as when her herd of goats grew a little out of control and she'd agree, she ought to dial it back. Take politics!  She worried about the poor and the elderly and the environment. Jimmy was more skeptical. Most Maine wives would never argue with their husbands about gun control. But she did all the time. In the end they tended to agreed. Must be how you stay married, she wondered, one of the things anyway.
    Nobody took better care of the farm animals than Jimmy did. On a hot summer night, he'd switch the lights on in the barn way before dawn and he'd baby his pets, pitching out old bedding and laying down shavings, trimming feet, cleaning buckets and pouring in fresh, cold water from the barn hydrant. By the time she got out to the barn, udders would be bursting with milk. “It's a love-hate relationship with the barn,” he said. “I better keep doing it or I'll never find out which.”  Even after a long overnight, he'd head for the barn for at least two hours and come in finally so tired he was asleep shuffling out of his trousers as he walked down the hallway before crashing into bed. But, she thought, suppose he hadn't understood about the trip. No, he must, she had told him ten times. Soon the coffee was perking, and she sat at the kitchen table waiting for the five minutes to be up and she wondered if she had forgotten anything. After thinking for long enough to decide that she had everything packed and she was ready to go, she poured herself a cup of coffee, cream and sugar, and her mind wandered back to Jimmy.
    Since they had moved to Maine Jimmy had seemed to her different. He wasn't like before they separated and he went to Mexico. Before he had friends and he'd notice everything. Every weekend there was some party of the fliers he would drag her to. And she remembered watching big-eyed from a corner while Jimmy, sleeves rolled up, necktie slid down to his chest, was at the center of everything. Some of it probably had to do with the lubrication, but otherwise it was outward going Jimmy doing his thing. She knew him before the Army. They had a tempestuous relationship. But he changed in the Army so she wondered what might have happened that he didn't care to talk about. She considered that the Army often changed boys. Why shouldn't it? They went in at an impressionable age, and they got out older. She probably should be more interested than she was. When he got out she was living on Everett Avenue in Chelsea. Dawn, her little girl, was doing fine, but Mike was only four months old and he was sick all the time. Jimmy had helped her with Mike. And at that time Jerry, her younger brother, and Jimmy had been friendly. This was before Jerry started to get in trouble. Anyway, she and Jimmy had good times and they went out together. He was always working, but they naturally fell in together like thieves and they set up together because they looked forward to seeing each other, and unless they denned up, they wouldn't see each other hardly at all. Michelle considered that to be natural. Then she got pregnant with Dwight, who was Jimmy's. She had always wanted three or four kids, she loved kids, and she had never thought of the Dew as a mistake, but he was not born into the optimal situation either. She was afraid Jimmy would drift, but he was so thrilled with the baby, and then he wanted to get married, and she had always dreamed, what with all the shit that had happened, that somebody would want to marry her. If Dwight was born before the Army, she thought it might have been different. So the Army changed him but nothing like the Mexico thing. Come to think on it, there was this black kid back in the neighborhood. His dad was white, but mother was black. He fought in the ring. He loved fighting in the ring. He did all right, and then he went into some big fights, he was a neighborhood hero by then, and when they put him with the big guns he started to get beat up. And then the kid wasn't lively any more, he was quiet, he stayed away, silent. Jimmy was like that when he got back from Mexico, as if he had been in a big fight, and he got beat up. And over the years since, it seemed to her, he had gotten worse. He sat in the corner. When friends came over, or family, he disappeared, which aggravated her no end. Just when Ellis Hanson showed up, Jimmy would stop in and hang out with Ellis, another big storyteller, a local character and truck driver, and for two minutes Jimmy's face would brighten and eyes twinkle the way they used to. And as Michelle began to think about Jimmy being downcast looking, and maybe she wasn't a wonder to deal with, then she thought maybe this going to Florida was not a great idea. Michelle ought to arrange things at home a little better. A herd of twelve milkers was a load of work to do alone. She could sell some animals then she could go to Florida. She ought to call Jimmy early, make sure he remembered and he'd be back in time to drive her to Portland, but she had heard something about Tuck, and anyway, she didn't like bothering him at work.
    She knew Tuck well enough. Jimmy brought him home for Thanksgiving and Christmas some years because he had nowhere else to go. Jimmy doted on Tuck, took care of him. Jimmy and Tuck would wander around the barn yard holding hands and poor pale Tuck would have a big grin on his face. Tuck was always on his absolute best behavior. Sounded like bad teeth, from what she had heard. She certainly would agree with that. “Oh,” Michelle mumbled to herself, “better get a backup.”  So that is when she called her goat breeding pal, Deanna Parker, who she knew was in the habit of getting up around 4am or some such ungodly hour even earlier than that. She liked to make bread and goats' milk cheese early, which she sold at the co-op in town, and she liked to watch the dawn, and in winter she warmed up the house with the oven. Deanna was an early riser all her life, so Michelle got the phone jingling.
    Michelle explained about Jimmy to Deanna.
    “I understand perfectly,” Deanna said. “George doesn't get anything as many times as I tell him. And if I should come between him and work, I'd be a goner. He'd run over me in the driveway. Just give me a ring. I am almost done the bread for this morning, and I can make it to Portland and back before morning milking.”
    At six still no Jimmy. Five minutes of anguish later she dialed him at work.
    “Michelle,” she heard a breathless voice, “you ain't gonna believe this.”
    “Figured,” she said quietly.
    “Just a minute. Tuck, stop, give me a minute. It's Michelle, I have to talk to Michelle.”
    In disgust, Tuck let go of the kitchen table that he had been trying to crash through the sliding glass door, and he turned and walked out to the living room and dropped onto the couch, his fingers in his mouth.
    “I forgot.”
    “Thanks. Anyway, Deanna is taking me.”
    “Michelle, don't be angry. I don't want you to go away mad at me.”
    “You're hopeless, Jimmy. Take care of the girls.”
    “Don't I always? I wish you wouldn't go.”
    Then she said, softly, “We haven't been apart for a long time.”
    He made her wait before he said, “I'll take care of the girls. Go, do what you gotta do. I'll manage.”
    She wanted to hear a soft word but that wasn't Jimmy. “All right. I'll talk to you as soon as I get there.”
    “Okay. Gotta go. Tuck…by.”
    “By, Jimmy.”
    Thinking about Michelle, he swore that he should be more sentimental with her, Lord knows with the kids gone, and old guys' wives dead, money floating around and Michelle so young looking, like she was getting old backwards, and friends all over town. But Tuck had his fingers in his mouth and he was gnawing on them. If he chewed on his fingers too much, that would be another problem worse than the teeth. He had nicked up his fingers and arms enough already. Jimmy imagined the dentist refusing to see him. Tuck wouldn't let Jimmy pull his fingers from his mouth. “Tuck, please don't chew. We are going to the doctor today.”  Tuck released his hand from his mouth. His eyes were big and dark and hungry with an amazing sad confusion, and then Tuck was crying. “I know, baby, I know,” Jimmy said softly. “It will be better.”  Jimmy felt sorrow for Tuck, a sorrow that spread over him from top to toe. Jimmy gasped, leaned back, still holding Tuck's arm by the wrist, for he had not felt in his entire life any such sorrow for another human being before; he had not thought himself capable of it.
    Michelle called Deanna, and Deanna said, “Okay. Be right down.”
    Michelle moved her suitcase onto the porch and sat on a porch chair waiting for Deanna. It was late September, the day was dawning cool, clear and dry. Already on the corner of the porch facing east, the sun was brightening. Dwight would go out with his dad on summer mornings. Dwight loved going barefoot, and he'd go out barefoot to walk in the dew. Dew is in the dew, Jimmy would say. Jimmy and Dwight would work in the garden together. Mike on the other hand was a thinker. Mike was going to Brown, and his father and Michelle's brother, Ted, and Jimmy were cooperating. Mike was all eyes; a great student, he soaked up everything. Maybe she could convince her mother to help out, too. But Michelle still wondered if she was really going to go through with it. And then she didn't wonder, because she knew she was. There was in the background a shallow fear, because she was afraid of her mother. Her mother had in the background of Michelle's life a terrible cold grip. She remembered the Chelsea mist, the cold cobblestones on Cherry Street, the sharp report of her mother's heels as she walked up the street and disappeared round the corner toward Chelsea Square bus stop that day. It was after Michelle's father died. Her older brother, Ted, took over the household. She and her baby brother, Jerry, were still too young to do for themselves. They did not see her again for four years. In her absence, her mother took on the weight of legend. Michelle had been sure that her mother had gone away so that she could come back to them, and she'd bring Michelle pretty clothes to wear to school, and her mother would build a nice house for them to live in, and she'd cook for them again. And still to this day her mother cast a big shadow and Michelle wanted it out. She did not want a shadow, she wanted a real, flesh and blood mother. She wanted answers. If her mother was weak, Michelle wanted to know; if her mother was strong, Michelle wanted to know.
    Then the headlights to Deanna's pickup flickered in the long driveway. Michelle grasped her scuffed up leather satchel, carried it down into the dooryard, and swung it into the pickup body. Then jumping and pulling she climbed into the high cab.
    The diesel engine turned over with noisy busy clacking. Deanna's spare, dark face, sharpened by a lifetime without frills, and her keen eyes studied Michelle. “Well,” Deanna said, “no happy girl this morning?”
    “Don't know if this is such a great idea.”
    “Why's that?”
    “I hate my mother.”
    Deanna burst out laughing. “At your age? Best go and find out why.”
    Michelle sighed. “I think I know why. I think.”  She didn't tell her that she was also daunted by her mother, that even the thought of her mother had the effect of a billowing cloud crossing the sun on a summer day. Half a lifetime gone past and she was that incomplete. She tried to buck up, but it wasn't there. A dark ring circled round her heart. Her palms were damp and her hands trembled.
    “Let's go,” Michelle said.
    “Wow,” Deanna said, “you look like a kid heading for a thrashing.”
    Deanna turned the big pickup around in the dooryard space and while they were driving out Michelle thought that she would never again see these people, her family, and this place the way she had. The three kids she had raised, all in the fight, living lives of their own, the husband, whom she knew in a sudden moment long ago she had knotted herself to the rest of her days.  With a sharp tug at the heart she thought that when she returned, home must be forever different, whether for better or worse she knew not.

    Tuck behaved fine at the dentist. Dr Boice, a gruff, stocky, powerful man, didn't care who you were or where you came from. Lucy went outside to smoke a cigarette. “I'll let you handle it. I don't like this doctor. He's a brute, if you ask me. I'd never take anybody to him if I didn't have to.”  Jimmy smiled, because he loved this dentist. He would work on Tuck when nobody else would and without chatter. But the  doctor had bad news. “His whole head is no good, dammit. He'll have to come back. I can't take them all out at once. It must hurt like hell. He'll need to take something for the pain right away. He's probably acting up.”  Tuck had not been on any meds for a long time. No one wanted to give him a med to cure the mischievousness. But there are meds for pain.
    While Tuck slept off the gas—or whatever it was, Jimmy hadn't seen what they gave Tuck to put him out, it had happened so fast—, he urinated on himself. That was the only bad thing he did. The nurse was unhappy. She gave them a spray bottle of cleaner, and Jimmy changed Tuck, still dead to the world, and Lucy cleaned up the puddle. Then the nurse apologized to Lucy for being testy. Lucy had none of it. When the nurse left, Lucy said, “Some bag!  A little urine. Tell me she's a nurse!”
    As soon as Tuck woke, Jimmy gave him the Demerol the nurse dropped off. Jimmy worried that Tuck would give them a hard time in the van on the way back. Lucy was a nervous driver, but Tuck didn't know how to unclip the seatbelt. Other than a few weary signs and impulsive arm waving, Tuck was quiet in the drive back to the house. Tuck had taken Demerol for pain one time before, when he broke his ankle. It had reduced his acting up, kept him in the wheelchair till he healed enough to start clomping around. Back at the house Lucy took Tuck's hand and led him up the stairs onto the porch and into the house.
    “Oh, poor sweetheart,” Lucy said, “does my baby hurt?”
    Tuck nodded. He wasn't supposed to have enough intelligence to understand words. Jimmy wondered whether it was Lucy's voice or her words that Tuck understood. Smiling, Jimmy watched them. Tuck lay his chin on her shoulder, and they embraced tenderly. “Come sit down with Lucy little Tucker…” While Lucy was going on with the baby talk, Jimmy got busy finishing up the shift documentation. Laura said that she'd relieve Jimmy and backup Lucy. But it seemed to Jimmy that Lucy had the situation under control. Tuck had fallen asleep. His head drooped over as he leaned against her.
    “Jimmy, between you and me, I do not like that doctor. He is mean.”
    “Name me another one who'd work on Tuck.”
    “I know. It's a mean and evil world. I hate it. But my health coach says I should be myself and not just get along when I don't want to.”
    “Sure. He got some teeth out. So Tuck is getting somewhere. Maybe in awhile, Tuck will be better.”
    “I don't believe he needs to have all his teeth out. Do you?”
    Lucy would carry on about these subjects indefinitely. Then every little detail would get the tint of her buxom shadow. The consumers loved her, followed her around like puppies. She always worked hard, but she had trouble staying anywhere. The complaint you'd always hear was that she was “superficial”. Rumor was that her first marriage went down the tubes because he accidentally used her toothbrush. That kind of thing. When she got going, as she was now, it did seem pointless.
    Jimmy was relieved to see Laura's fancy, black four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi sporty car drive into the driveway.
    Jimmy said, “I believe whatever that doctor tells me, don't you?”
    “But you want Tuck to get better, don't you?”
    Then Laura came through the door. She glanced at Tuck asleep on Lucy's shoulder. “Hi, kids. There!  Having a good time?”
    Laura Randall was a tall, sinewy woman. Her husband was a weight lifter and they had a gym in the house. The whole family lifted weights, and everybody had muscles on muscles, even the blonde little girl whom Jimmy often saw with her mother.
    “Luce doesn't like the doctor,” Jimmy said.
    “He gassed Tuck and then hit him like a truck,” Lucy demanded.
    “Be glad to give you the paltry list of dentists who'd have anything to do with Tuck, and you can go over it to your heart's content,” Laura said. “You've got to take it where you can get it, especially with these guys.”
    So they contemplated that fact for awhile.
    Then Laura spoke up, “You can go any time, Jimmy.”
    “Thanks. I've got twelve goats to milk, and Michelle's in Florida taking care of her sick mother.”
    “Gee, Jimmy,” Lucy said, apparently done with Dr Boice for awhile, “she just dumped you with the damage and went to Florida? That sucks.”
    Laura eyed him carefully, as if she already had figured something out. “Huh,” she said. Laura knew Michelle very well.
    Jimmy ought to ask Laura for vacation time. In this situation with Tuck he doubted that she'd be happy about it. Laura called emergencies “all hands on deck”. Everybody worried that staff or consumer would get hurt. And there might be a messy investigation by the state. And worse would become even worse. The theory was that nobody should get hurt if there was full staffing. Jimmy reminded Laura about the Demerol from the dentist's that he had locked in the medications' cabinet. She'd organize a prescription at Preb's Pharmacy in South Paris Square. The supervisors handled each of the drugs in a specific mysterious way. With Tuck acting so badly Laura was spending most of her time at Pinetree house working disaster control. Nobody wanted to see the state come in. They'd find a scapegoat and it could be anybody. Then they'd be in and out for the next six months without solving the problem of Tuck.
    Jimmy drove home to Michelle's goats. Though tired from a less than classic morning, it could have been worse. There were three other consumers besides Tuck and each one had their own needs, but recently nobody had heard a peep from any of them, as they also worked patiently through Tuck's chaos. Though Jimmy was tired the energy from the goats would pick him up as soon as he got in the barn. Only then would he have to face the dilemma of nobody home. “Nobody is gonna be home,” Jimmy said to himself. He had not come home to nobody since the Mexico thing fifteen years ago, and that had been a disaster. The ancient Ford pickup forged up the High Street hill then he came into the beautiful view of the rolling hills along the bluff. Every time he went over this route, he suddenly knew why he lived where he lived. He could breathe. He ought to stop at the corner in the village and get a six pack. He could stay drunk for two weeks if he wanted to. There certainly was a world of clowning around he could do if he wanted to.
    The goats noted him driving in and came to the fence and squalled and scolded under the pine trees along the driveway. He was late; their udders were bursting with milk. Like a fireman rushing to a fire he jumped into his barn boots, not bothering to go inside to change, and grained the entire crew, gave out fresh hay and water, and he explained the situation, “No mother for awhile, girls,” he said. It was amazing what goats understood. They organized themselves into groups by age and swing, and discussed the situation.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Chapter 2—Pinetree Road

One ninety-two Pinetree Road was in the middle of a swath of hay fields a mile north of Norway, Maine. Across the busy country road was a pine forest badly in need of thinning. For the most part Pinetree Road was a twisty country back road, but a mile or so before one ninety-two it straightened out and became a race track for the village speedsters. Pedestrians, beware! Most of the farms on the road had sold out to future development. The old farm houses, though neatly kept, some of them, were surrounded by collapsing outbuildings. Some of the houses were pre-built modulars which took on the years doubtfully. Others were stick-built, well kept and modern. Most were an incarnation of both: powerful steel roofs covered decades old trailers on gravel or cement pads. If kept in repair a house built on these lines might soldier on for fifty years, two generations or more before somebody died and nobody wanted to live in it anymore. Pinetree Road was rural and poor. Just up the street was a road named Poverty Lane. For most of the youngsters, having left their parents and starting out, the best they could hope for from life was a new trailer. Soon along the edges of the new trailer's driveway a museum of broken down mechanical devices began to collect rust. But no matter where you stood in this part of western Maine called “the foothills”, walk a mile and you'd come across a lovely scene of trees, pastures and hills. The lover of natural beauty instantly found home.
    The house at one ninety-two was a stick built salt-box with a gambrel roof. The front was ninety degrees sideways to the road, facing south so that the big front windows could collect warmth from the sun in winter. Though possibly the odd orientation reduced the resale value of the house, in Jimmy's opinion, the light that poured through the front windows in all seasons was far more important. In summer, when the sun was high, the gambrel roof dropped over the southern windows providing shade and a porch; in winter the low sun shone directly into the house. The upstairs was spacious with four bedrooms and a large bathroom. Downstairs was another large bedroom and a bathroom with a shower. A local contractor had built the house on speculation. But the market was slow at that time so he and his family moved in. Jimmy knew the sad story of this contractor. His wife was beautiful, and when they separated, she took the children with her. The contractor, alone and bankrupt, committed suicide.  The second owner of the house, Malcolm and Audrey Preston, did not fare well either.  They sold the house because he lost his job and they had no money. But Audrey Preston, though not good-looking, was loyal and kind and sweet. Nothing as tragic as what happened to the contractor would happen to the Prestons. Though broke, Audrey continued to re-produce. It was a mystery how they, who were both almost ugly, had together four pretty daughters. Though skinny, their smiling faces were lovely as the dawn, and mean thoughts unknown. But when Malcolm found another good job, he got caught with his hand in the till. He had friends, and although he did not have to go to jail, he departed Norway in a hurry. No great loss there, but he left with wife and beautiful daughters, which was a great loss, everyone thought.
    Audrey had been active with the elderly in the community. Her activities were often documented in the local newspaper. Audrey loved the old folks and she could not do enough for them. Unclear where such people as Audrey come from, but her presence amongst her gang of old folks was a sight to warm the most jaded heart. Each week she looked forward to Saturday. Before nine she'd have the family's mini-van full of the gang, and she'd devote the entire day to them, skittering here, there and everywhere, usually with her oldest daughter Nancy shoehorned betwixt, whom they liked to call Hot Stuff, giggling and making herself small. Audrey was a mover, she was always in the middle of old folks, and the community owed her a thousand favors. That's how Malcolm sold the house so quickly, and at a good price, too. Audrey, because of her activities with the elderly, knew a woman down Bangor who wanted to buy a house in the Norway area. This was around 1987. The court had reprimanded the State of Maine for its cruel and inadequate treatment of the inmates at the state mental health facility, Pineland Center. Actually in the '80s the state reformed Pineland, improving the “patients” lives. But what preceded the new regime had been ghastly. The words for the inmates were feeble-minded, retarded, idiots, and so on. The buildings were open barracks, twenty or thirty inmates to a floor. Staffing was minimal and brutal. Now was a good time to shut down Pineland and establish privately run facilities which had separate rooms and adequate staffing. Anybody with half a shred of simple humanity in their soul enthusiastically agreed. Reasonable men and women crowded to the cause. The Pineland Center campus was in the process of closing. The patients were looking for a place to live. The Bangor woman, who administered elderly housing, and who was for that reason friendly with Audrey, took one look at Audrey's house, noted the five bedrooms and spacious upstairs, a rarity in Maine, quickly bought the house and set it up as a home for mentally disabled consumers. Two came from Pineland and the other two came from the system which was at that time overwhelmed with petitioners.
    Jimmy had done all kinds of work in his life. Rather than wait for the big, good paying job you could be proud of, as people do, he'd work at anything to get paid, sometimes against his better judgment, because he knew that these jobs would never add up to anything. He had prepared for the adjustment to rural life, still it surprised him how difficult it was. Being on unemployment was a disaster that he hated. In high school he had worked in restaurants and in a candy store, and then Mr Casey, the owner of the candy store, sent him especially in the summer to help his friend, Mike Bowers, make ice cream. A big part of work, Jimmy learned as a youngster, was managing to get along with everybody. Mike, for instance, was a niggling, picky, detail guy obsessed with cleanliness. But making the best ice cream anywhere allowed Mike to quit work and retire with wife and daughter to Florida before he was fifty. That he probably drank himself to death before he was sixty says nothing about the money he made. Mike used to tell Jimmy, “If I don't make the ice cream, who else will?”  In other words, how could he get fired, there was nobody to replace him with: Mike's idea of a good job. But that didn't explain why Mike's ice cream tasted so much better than everyone else's. Jimmy figured if he could get along with Mike he could get along with anyone. It also meant that he could do any kind of job he happened to fall into.
    Often in high school Jimmy had more money in his pocket than the rich kids. Although he made the money scrubbing pots and vats in Mike's ice cream factory, a job as Mike said nobody else wanted, and milk turning sour bathed Jimmy everyday, the money was generous and his own to save or spend. Later he worked on road construction. The construction of the inter-state system was a big employer in central Vermont back then. After high school and after leaving his foster family, he went first to live in Vermont. He wanted to live near where his mother and father and the other kids were buried. He did not know why this was so. He got hired working on the road. It was good money for a kid, laboring on the road—$3.50 an hour. Every week he had money to put in the bank. After a year, though unsure exactly why or for what reason, except that he felt homesick for the home he never had and lonesome, just him and a motorcycle in the wilds of western Vermont, his family all dead, he applied to the University of New Hampshire.  He was not afraid of the draft, he was never afraid of the draft. The letter he got back astonished him: they admitted him as a Freshman to the class of 1970. In his Sophomore year Haight-Ashberry happened; he could not resist going to take that in. After he got back from 'Frisco, he went to live in Boston, where he did day work for awhile, then worked at Best Building Supply, waiting for his name to come up in the draft. After the Army he went to work at Panco Rubber in Chelsea, and he married Michelle Bonney. Panco was nothing and nowhere. There was a strike the company broke up. Jimmy quit after that, and he bought a Ford van and got into the delivery business. He had plenty of work; he always showed up; he could follow all the roads all day. Soon he knew every back alley in Boston in darkness, in storm and in light. Sometimes Michelle would go with him. But Dawn and Mike were getting older, and they didn't want to drive here and there all day with their mother and Jimmy. Dawn had a bout of car sickness, she wanted to play with friends and read her books, and Mike was still a baby. Besides, Michelle wanted to go back to work baking. Michelle said, “Stop.”  He dusted off the van, sold it and started printing. Printing was good work, at that time at least, that provided enough money to raise a family on. Jimmy would work second shift, take care of the kids while Michelle worked mornings in the bakery. While he was printing, with the help of the GI bill, he managed to graduate from Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts, and he got a commercial pilots' license. So that much added up. During the last years of flying he and Michelle bought eleven acres in Maine. Though he was still flying when they first moved to Maine, that didn't last long, and then he was out of work. Following Mike Bowers' good job dictum, do what nobody else will do, he did trash removal with his pickup, cleared brush with his chainsaw, cut firewood, made himself a surprising living, though hard on his body. You need to get into shape for that kind of thing. He came home beat up, ravenously hungry, dead to the world. He couldn't keep his eyes open. Leisure time?  What leisure time?  He amused himself raising numerous farm animals. He put up fencing, raised beef critters, chickens, pigs, turkeys, and helped Michelle with the goats she had always dreamed about. But then he had to go back to steady work. He couldn't wait any longer. By now all his pilots' licenses had expired. For awhile he thought he might go back to flying. But if he had to move to get back into flying, that would be the end of his marriage, because Michelle had decided that she was not going anywhere ever. All the rhetoric that came out of her, well, maybe if we moved, I'd be happier or the neighbors would be nicer, or the kids would act better, all that ceased. And then a job came up nearby working with mentally disabled people.
    He thought of it as something to do, a simple job to fill in until he finally found substantial work. What actually happened surprised him: he liked the job, and he stuck to it. In fact, after awhile, he didn't want to do anything else. The consumers, the official name for them, nobody could think of a name that was exactly right, were complicated. Though they couldn't pass any IQ test with a reasonable or rational number, that did not make them any less interesting. People who had been in the business a long time laughed at the thought of putting a number on intelligence. Jimmy amused himself for hours thinking about these people he was responsible for. He often wondered who put him in charge. Although helpless, or at least the ones on Pinetree Road were helpless, (if left alone in the real world they would not survive very long), they loved to amuse themselves by outsmarting and testing staff. Jimmy wondered in seriousness: if they are so dumb, how do they get plain, normal, ordinary folks so riled up and confused at times?  Jimmy thought they were funny; and he felt that he had to grow up to get along with them. And the more he had to do with them, the more they demanded from him the same qualities that he had been looking for in himself. He found that he tended to be more sympathetic and patient; and his impulsive temper ceased disturbing his life so embarrassingly often. He had to go back again to the beginning while he was working in high school when he had tried hard to get along with everyone. That, come to think of it, was what he missed most when he wasn't working. He would remind himself on the way to work: shut up and get along. Get into the flow! Nobody wanted to do anything illegal, in fact, Jimmy saw little of that vague gray area, but they each, whether staff or consumer, had crotchets, habits. When he actually did pass over a maddening thing that happened, he'd stop and think for a minute that he had improved himself in a deep way. Was that possible?  On the other hand, certain people were not cut out for the job. They didn't like the consumers. They got into the job for the same reason that Jimmy did, but since they could not find anything interesting or amusing about the people, they tended to treat them badly, sometimes without even knowing it, the same as they treated themselves badly without knowing it, and their own families. But they were soon returned to their former jobs sometimes after a few months or weeks when the down economy turned upward again. Jimmy made a point of getting along with them also, who were soon gone. Others were soon gone whom Jimmy was fond of because the starvation wages and no possibility of advancement compelled them elsewhere.
    So Jimmy stayed because he never got sick of the work. Many of the people in the business were sweet and kindhearted. Mean spirited people soon departed from boredom. The idea of responding meanly to a person who was ripping her hair out of her skull in handfuls was ridiculous. On occasion a staff may be unkind from stress. Some were quiet drinkers, and even when sober there was the residual irritability on Saturday morning, for instance, to be put up with. Psychotic or schizophrenic people seem capable of passing on their traits. The trick was to leave the job at work and to leave home at home. Sometimes situations came up when that was hard to do. You could lose track of reason in a bad moment and become as unreasonable as the ill person. The study of how this happened in his fellow staff was as interesting to Jimmy as the disabilities of the consumers. There was something cryptic and mysterious in what went on in actual fact in front of Jimmy: could God be that cruel?  Explain to me, if this be true, God's cruelty?

    Michelle rarely made noise about what she was intending to do. Once she had decided, her independent-mindedness took over. That made her both easy and hard to deal with. On the one hand, he always knew her mind, but also when she was on her way, she was as good as gone, whether he liked it or not. That night, while Jimmy slept to get ready for the night shift, she prepared to go to Florida. She had the plane ticket, bags packed and put away in the closet. She had not intended to be sly, she was naturally orderly, hated leaving anything out, hated clutter. Now that they had a lot of “stuff” she tended to be even more orderly than when they had nothing. One of her pet peeves about Jimmy was the litter of books and tools, nuts and bolts, screws and nails, that followed him around. She naturally assumed that Jimmy had been paying attention and had arranged his shift so that he'd be home at 6 instead of 7a in order to take her to the airport in Portland. The drive was about an hour, the flight departed at 9, and the weather was good all along the east coast, so she didn't expect delays. Michelle didn't mind flying, Jimmy had often taken her up in light planes, so she was not nervous about the flight, rather excited to see her mother, whom she had not seen in almost two years. She went to bed early, and she was asleep instantly. No matter what was going on, Michelle always slept in a baby's peace. Jimmy admired her quiet, calm sleep. When Jimmy awoke at 10p, he wondered about seeing her in bed so early; it occurred to him that something must be up, but he didn't think much of it. Michelle always slept dead to the world. When she was tired, she went to bed. Jimmy was already thinking about the upcoming shift and Tuck. He had Tuck on his mind.
    When Merrill Tucker was eight years old he caught meningitis. His illness became a tragedy and disaster. Though the handsomest child you could imagine, the meningitis left him with a basic in the sense of minimal intelligence, and he became mute. His parents dropped him off one day on the doorstep of Pineland, where he lived most of his life. It so happened that Tuck's parents were about that time born again. Tuck's brother became a prominent minister nearby. None of Tuck's people ever had anything to do with him. Jimmy speculated about the wages of sin. The event of Tuck must be the wages of sin, though mysterious. Then Tuck moved to Pinetree Road. Tuck knew that when he was hungry, he should eat and since he was always hungry he wanted to eat all the time. But Tuck did not know much else about himself. He did not know when he should visit the bathroom, for instance, so a staff would lead him in and insist with numerous gestures what he might do since he was there. Sometimes Tuck did not sit on the toilet for two or three days, but he violently refused the treatment. In fact, there was so much downside to the treatment that nobody wanted to go through it. These anomalies, which were common in Pinetree Road house, fascinated Jimmy. What would Tuck think was so repugnant about a pill inserted up his butt?  It was over in a second, and relief from his constipation on the way. Jimmy deduced that for some reason Tuck intentionally saved it. But how could there be a reason for anything in a mind incapable of reasoning?  Tuck's sexual history was unknown. Jimmy Freeman was the encyclopedia of deductions, most of which amused only himself. But Tuck was a lively, happy guy, otherwise. There was plenty of yard space around the house, and Tuck would find branches and small trees fallen over and drag them to a place near the back porch and build a pile. In the summer staff would get ambitious and light a bonfire which always thrilled the consumers. Tuck loved to walk. Jimmy could talk him into going for a walk anytime. Tuck was always quiet and well behaved during those times. Other times Tuck liked to raise a big commotion. Laughing, he'd run away, or he might tip over a chair or a table, mouth making a big, round O in the hilarity of the disorder. Jimmy would say, “Mr Tucker, what are you doing?”  Jimmy would pick up the chair, straighten it out, and Tuck would tip it over again.
    Lately Tuck had been carrying on out of character. He had been acting bitterly violent. The theory was that his teeth hurt. One night Jimmy had surveyed the two cardboard boxes of written shift notes in the office closet. There were numerous instances of playful mischief. Tuck ran away, Tuck peed his pants at breakfast, Tuck walked around the house all night, Tuck stole staff's pocketbook and wouldn't give it back. But Jimmy found no evidence of dark edgy violence, such as now, rather than simple mischievousness, the word that was always used in the records: Tuck was mischievous today. The hypothesis was that his teeth had gone bad. Jimmy had never had trouble with his own teeth, though other staff had, and they assured Jimmy that a bad mouth would do it. On one especially hard day, they had taken Tuck to the emergency room at Memorial. Some of the emergency staff had been kind to Tuck in the past and the doctors knew him. Tuck had stayed overnight. He had been so active that he had become dehydrated. They also gave him a sedative, so that night at least Tuck got a good sleep. But back at it the next day.
    The doctors agreed with the teeth theory. But first, you had to find a dentist who would work on him. Then you had to arrange an appointment. Of course, there had to be adequate staffing so that Tuck wouldn't grab some high priced piece of equipment and throw it through the doctor's high priced office window. And anyway the house supervisor, Laura Randall, was not convinced about the teeth. If you looked in Tuck's mouth, there were rows of little, clean white teeth. Tuck habitually ground his teeth, so they looked worn down but where was the decay?, the broken edges? Still she had been trying to find a dentist to see Tuck. If he got to the office and Tuck was banging around as he had been, the dentists that she had talked to would send him home. But finally she found a dentist in Lewiston who would not be too set off by a bad actor. He did mental patients and convicts and street people, though in Tuck's case send him with a couple of staff who could keep him quiet till he was out. What he meant by that was clear to Laura as perhaps it would not be to someone else, for after all the years with Tuck and others, Laura was wise and experienced. It was not so much Tuck's mental incapacity as the “putting out” that made all the other dentists nervous. You cannot “do” a person who is “putting out”. If belligerent, whether child or adult, they were putting out and should be sent home unseen. Finding a dentist to treat Tuck took awhile. The routine sedative before might react differently in Tuck than normal, instead making him even more edgy.
    Laura was careful whom she sent Tuck with. The previous weeks had been riotous, to put it mildly. Tuck bit himself as a way of coping with the pain, so his face and mouth were often covered with blood while he was running around in a fit. Tuck would grab any nearby unattached object, including feces, and throw it. Throwing feces was Tuck's personal way of establishing control over a situation, and it was often found in the documents associated with mischief. But now he was throwing other stuff, dangerous stuff. He had narrowly missed Jimmy's head with a heavy coffee mug. Staff locked up kitchen tools. Nobody liked being chased around with a steak knife. So that was the chaos Jimmy walked into that night. Danny, the evening staff Jimmy was relieving, warned him that Tuck had been “a pain in the ass”. Danny said, “I've had enough for one night.”  This had been a big weight of responsibility on everybody. “I'm outta here,” he announced. “Laura left you a note in the everyday book. He's in bed now. Good luck.”  Danny in his tricked out 4wd Toyota pickup turned out the driveway in a hurry.
    Jimmy was not afraid of Tuck. There were consumers Jimmy was afraid of, but Tuck was not one of them. Jimmy and Tuck were well matched by size, and of course the meningitis that had ruined Tuck's intelligence also damaged his co-ordination, so Jimmy could stay out of reach while maneuvering Tuck into safe places. The job came with long hours of training; play acting was common; the powers wanted everybody doing the same thing. By now Jimmy had enough experience to keep Tuck and himself safe. He was alone at night most of the time; he did not want to take chances and have an ugly situation develop where he and another person, whether Tuck or anyone, another human being, were rolling around in the dark on the floor in such a way that somebody might get hurt. Michelle wouldn't put up with him coming home bruised and black eye, having caught a flying elbow, and anyway Jimmy would be too disgusted with himself and the world and the general situation to continue with it. The trick, Jimmy thought, was in the waiting. The high point of Tuck's rage lasted seconds, and within minutes if not aggravated it had wandered elsewhere to bother another somewhere. The bad teeth had intensified the process. But Jimmy was so confident of Tuck's soft heart that he never did anything physical to him any more. He rarely touched him and never restrained him on the floor. That was something a cop might do to a criminal in order to get the cuffs on. Tuck wasn't a criminal. Besides, with Tuck restraining never did any good. Jimmy might take something away from Tuck that he had found to throw. Jimmy didn't want to get clobbered with a pot, for instance, but by now there was nothing hanging around in the house for him to throw, so for those seconds Tuck continued acting badly, Jimmy stayed away. Within two minutes Tuck would breathe deep, sigh and flop on the couch.
    So forgetting everything else that had to do with home and family, he started work immediately while Tuck was sleeping or resting or upstairs in his room doing whatever. Sometimes, lately, Tuck got so exhausted from his strenuous, riotous days that he slept. But the house was in disorder, as the evening shift had not had spare time even to clear the supper table. Whatever furniture remained in the living room they had stacked into a corner. The company's maintenance staff, who loved small carpentry jobs, had built a cabinet with a Plexiglas door to lock the TV in, and lately he had screwed the cabinet to the wall. Jimmy caught up with housekeeping chores, and raced into the cellar to do laundry. After about two hours of relative peace, Jimmy had returned the house to normal. Ray, another consumer—there were four who lived at Pinetree house—got up to look around, then he went back to bed. Jimmy read the note Laura left for him in the everyday book. She wanted him to stay over till noon. Laura wanted him and another staff, Lucy Rice, who for some reason had a calming effect on Tuck, to take Tuck to Dr Boice in Lewiston. The appointment was at 9.
    Jimmy could figure out a way to work with anyone and enjoy it, but he didn't have to figure out a way to work with Lucy. Working with her was always a good time. She was an innately peaceful and uncomplicated woman. She was more worried about her fingernails than anything Tuck might do, and the consumers sensed that in her, releasing them from the need to show off. There was a fine line between acting up as an expression of pain and acting up to get attention. Usually, acting up was a jumble of both, and if you were able to get rid of the appeals for attention by seeming naturally non-attentive while being unusually attentive so that you missed nothing, then acting up as an everyday activity fizzled. Lucy sailed through a day of behaviors as if she was in town shopping. The difference between a houseful of experienced staff and a houseful of newbies was often almost unbelievable. Jimmy often thought of doing a scientific study: certain people walked in and the fireworks started fast, other people like Lucy walked in and nothing; what made one person different from the other?  Anyway, Lucy was dead weight on Tuck. She was a handsome woman, worried about her appearance, tall and into the health club scene. If she could apply the talent she possessed with the mentally ill to her ex-husbands, she might get somewhere. But she had not yet made the mistake of getting pregnant. She said, “A child needs both mother and father. I haven't been very successful in that area. My health coach says I should be myself.” She was always quoting her health coach. But Jimmy knew this detail to the dentist with her and Tuck would be an adventure, and Jimmy was already planning it out.
    Tuck got up at 4. He wound up for awhile and got started about an hour later, though most of his tricks remained mild till about 6, when he worked strenuously to pick up the kitchen table, a big outdoor picnic table, the only kitchen table that tended to stay in place and in one piece, as meals were often a great time to have a behavior: everybody was around and whatever points to be made could be made to everybody. Tuck's obvious objective was to shove the big table through the sliding glass door onto the porch. So Jimmy jumped on the table, which made it too heavy for Tuck to move at all, and then the phone rang. Only Michelle called him at this hour. So Jimmy was standing on the kitchen table, old Tuck sweating and groaning trying to lift both it and Jimmy and toss them through the door onto the porch when a sudden remembrance hit Jimmy like a thunderbolt. He was supposed to be doing something today.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Engine

In an eight-cylinder small block
the manifold transfers a mixture
of gasoline and air
into hollow, polished cylinders
in which blunt pistons stroking
then this liquidity compress
making it so unstable
a single electrical spark
propagates a detonation.

To oversee this hot, rapid flow
increments of change are employed
meaningless to the eye,
a thousandth of an inch,
a ten-thousandth,
alterations of sheet metal
in the engineering of which is no pale,
     radiant light,
no argument of metaphysics.

When there is a distressing vibration,
we dispatch experience to study it;
and should the mystery be unresolved,
we shall then ourselves within depart,
and dream about a new territory.

Invoke Agamemnon!
And journeying along the rim of recollection
stir awake the memory of a passion,
the sacred source and shaper of truth.
Soften our solitude with the unreal!
In which time, a bright lightness
more liquid than gas,
penetrating even what it seems not to touch,
nor ever turns around, ever,
is by an illusion reborn
in a faint rhythm,
as if a signal from the distant beach of
     a stormy gulf,
the rhythm as of an engine.
Oh, soften our solitude
with the unreality of this distant rhythm—
it is all we have!—
which makes us Agamemnon.

There, beyond the dread gulf,
beyond the edge of self,
beyond the silver mist of a fickle wind,
in a distant nowhere forlorn away,
is the rhythm as of an engine;
and a slowing down unto stillness,
not quite a stillness,
but a lilting immediacy, a mood, a silent
rejoicing. Listen! Do you hear it?

Agamemnon! Through a darkening glass we are
to the slick and oily heat of your sacrifice,
to the terrible self-importance
which encases your spine,
and to the rhythm of a distant engine
in which fuel into a mixture is metered
that is directed through a manifold to pistons
in whose slick and oily heat
is the same livid torment and liquefaction
     of violence
as in the fires you raised to Apollo
in the twilight on the beach before Troy.

It is an illusion we share:
a flicker of light in a darkening cylinder;
a compression of atmosphere as before a storm.
Imagination immeasurable.

Truth is an illusion, a mood, a meter:
Agamemnon sitting
among the black priests
beside the stormy gulf.
From twilight on a distant shore
sounds an engine,
the faint rhythm of an engine,
a small-block eight.
A crank on bearings turns
in the same slick and oily heat
as his fires of sacrifice.

Agamemnon yearning for a lost country,
a native simplicity;
a simplicity of superheated molecules
rising as do the fires illuminating
the Argive beach.

Hush, I hear an engine.
The yearning cry of a child,
Oh, Father!
Hush, I hear an engine…
it sounds like a small-block eight.