return to me, winter.
embrace me in stone cold wisdom
I've come from the warmlight to put myself in your path
by heading north
enveloped in darkness, inside a starless cloud
afraid my wandering attention won't return
show your face
I've come this far to no one's benefit but yours
if I give up, you're lost.
We moved from New Jersey to Chicago when I was in grammar school, and after a couple years we went back to visit. I was in high school by then. The years had added eighteen inches to my height. I had biceps. I had tiny hairs on my lip.
When I returned to the street of my childhood home it was as if I was walking among the plastic structures beside a model railroad. My reality had melted and only the miniature remained. The houses were shrinking amid the trees. The road I had to carefully plan to cross as a child I could now bound in four wide steps. The deep canyon that provided death-defying roller coaster-like bicycle thrills had been transformed to a drainage ditch. The white water on our local river had become ripples in the storm drain dribble that was nothing but a small creek. And the footbridge from which my grandfather taught me to catch sunfish was in disrepair and had been barricaded by the department of public works.
When I got back home I wrote about my trip east for an English class composition. It was called "Remembrance". It was about how my childhood had disappeared and how at that point in my life, with my childhood not so distant, I felt I'd been violated by thieves who'd stolen the reality behind my memory.
I got a B+ on the composition, I thought, because Sister Ignatius Loyola couldn't bear to give me an "A" no matter how hard I worked. I'd stopped showing my parents my work when I got to high school, and so I was surprised when my father came into my bedroom holding the paper I'd probably left on the kitchen table.
"This could be better," he said.
"How can it be better? It's my memory. You can't tell me what I remember."
"As long as you feel that way you'll never get an 'A'."
That was the extent of my father's psychology and the limit of my attempt to communicate with him on the subject.
Since the late 70's I've been back to the street of my youth a few times. The evaporation has stopped but the change continues. As my memory fades the landmarks on that avenue appear as new to me. There is a tree I am certain I have climbed - I must have climbed it. The bark and branches are familiar and yet I can't place myself among the leaves.
There are rushes along the creek where the bridge used to be.
The land has forgotten me much more quickly than it forgot the Iroquois and the Seneca. My father and grandfather now reside in the past, unreachable, along with the bridge and the sunfish.
It's too late to get an "A" grade from Sister Ignatius Loyola. My precious memories still transmute and disappear. Someday the sun will go nova. A giant meteor will hit the earth. Then neither the memory or the writing will matter.
To believe there's a mystery to life is to put a value on our time on Earth. It's to treasure our consciousness of our surroundings. The mystery of life is locked in our notion of free will.
To what end does a man alter his future? There should be a reason for us to imagine the need for a reason.
Or is our belief in mystery the same gullibility that allows us to be entertained by a magician's deception? Could it be there's nothing but mirrors and mist? Could reality be a simple physical mechanism and our spirituality nothing more than the most statistically likely chemical reaction to occur in gray matter?
To when end, then?
To what use?
Where's the fun in believing there isn't anything we don't know?
Live from Juneau:
Last night the sky was full of aurora.
Radioactive green-white glow,
Earthwide CRT discharge,
Ghostly sinuous curtains, slithering plasmafied,
God's thoughts plastered from Orion to Cassiopea
Billowing in the cosmic breeze they say you can hear
When you're out in the rainforest
With all the other unborn children and gun nuts
It's snowing in Juneau this morning.
They have identified the bodies of the two men found shot outside Fairbanks from their fingerprints. No suspects yet.
The guys who killed the wolf come up for sentencing. The one who burned down the church last year apologizes again and again. He's looking at five years in Lemon Creek.
This morning at the coffee kiosk in the Nugget Mall parking lot the barista is dressed in fishnet stockings and a skirt that could only have protected the modesty of a smaller girl. She's spiked her koolaid-red hair and from a low-cut top shows all the cleavage her small frame supplies. I'm in my car on one side and there's another guy on the other who's staring at her at five forty-five AM. It crosses my mind that sexual attraction runs independent of the trivialities of physical forces like time.
She hands me my coffee and change by lunging out the window nearly upright. Laughs, "Can't bend over."
"Not dressed like that," I say, because she's my daughter for two seconds. There's two dollars change and I let her keep it. Happy halloween.
I wondered what her father thought of her costume, then realized he didn't know and would keep himself from knowing with images of her in one-piece flannel pajamas with bunny feet, lisping through missing baby teeth, searching for her linty sippy cup under the sofa.
Girl's gotta live. Minimum wage and tips. We all start out innocent and race to lose it, even in Alaska.
The mountains are powdered in termination dust. The trees flocked in white. The glaciers breathing easy, global warming's not an issue for another five months.
The radio says the bears have gone to sleep. We can put out our garbage cans as early as we want now.
I saw the guy from the gold mine at the gym this morning. Injunction's got the digging stalled while the environmental people have more time to figure out how to get the whole thing shut down. Legalities. Enviro politics. It's not so much a matter of whether or not the tailings will wreck the lake out there in Berner's Bay, it's how to use it to get Coeur Alaska to stop. Because. Just because.
I should probably take a position in this fight but I can't imagine what it would be.
"Lotta different companies have been out there digging since the 70's," he said to me. I'm thinking of tie-dye and leisure suits when I remember to add a hundred years. They broke ground on Kensington right after the Civil War. Got all the gold they could with pickaxes. Now they have radar and satellite mapping. Now they can get the gold nobody can see.
"The tunnel goes this way, that way. Who knows what's in there."
"What are you guys gonna do?"
"Keeping busy while they figure out the injunction. I'm in the office most of the time, now. Waiting for them to give us the all clear or shut us down. Just bought a house in the valley. My wife is going to open up a daycare center. There are enough kids."
After my shower I pass a guy at a locker near mine. Eyes averted, I get dressed but he's not going to let me get through my workout uninterrupted.
The description of his hip replacement follows his good morning. His history as a bush pilot follows his surgical recounting. When I got up this morning I didn't think I'd learn about someone's vacation in Allentown, Pennsylvania, or, to the chagrin of the Allentown Chamber of Commerce, that anyone in the world would vacation there.
"Wegman's. You know Wegman's?"
I didn't. I'd done a lot of work with ATT/Bellcore/Lucent in Emmaus in my east-coast software development days, so I knew about Allentown restaurants. There was Denny's, for instance.
"Great place, Wegman's." He got misty. Drifted off into an early morning dream.
I trudged out into the dark continuum Alaskan's call autumn. It's more dark than light now. The darkness touches your shoulders the way the light never can. Some suffer from claustrophobia in the winter. To keep themselves steady they remind themselves about first loves. They recount their high school dances and summers where the cicadas buzzed in humidity so thick the cloudless sky burned white and walking outdoors felt like swimming. In the winter Alaskans dream, safe from the dark in a childhood April.
They've identified the two bodies found at the end of Douglas road. A man and a woman. Hispanic. The man was a plumber and the woman was new to town. Both shot in the back of the head, execution style. No suspects.
The guy who killed the construction worker at Fred Meyer's got twenty years for being driven nuts by the ceaseless sound of Milwaukee impact tools. It's okay to go crazy. Not okay to move into town from Montana and make a gun crime a priority. Witnesses said the guy came out of his house in his bedclothes, walked across the street to the construction site, and shot the guy working with the jackhammer.
We had pizza with one of the witnesses the other night. Her hands shake. She touches where the memories live.
It's snowing in Juneau. The flakes are large irregular dollops, the way the snow gets when it's ready to stop or turning to rain. The kids are lined up in the dark. They're queuing for the school busses, dragging their books behind them in imitation airline roll-on cases. Tufts of fluff and glitter poke from between their jacket zippers. It's Halloween and everyone is someone else today.
"Less you're born here, there's only three reasons to be in Juneau," says Ira, the cashier in checkout aisle two at Safeway. Fifteen items or less. "You're running from the law, a bad marriage, or bills."
I hand him my Alaska Airlines Signature Visa. Everyone in town has one. We need the miles. Every purchase is about getting the miles. The only way out of town is to have the money or the miles. Someday, we're all getting out of here.
"You wanna know which I am?" I say to Ira as he runs my card through the reader.
Shakes his head. Says, "Nope."
At the end of the counter a woman old and wobbly enough to need a quad cane puts my purchases into a couple plastic bags. Bread in one. Eggs in the other. Her name tag says, "Safeway: Hi I'm MAGGIE".
Maggie says, "Didn't want to pack them too heavy, now."
I tell Maggie her packing is perfect. I tell her I don't like my eggs in the same bag as my bread. When she tells me to have a nice day, I say I will and I try to mean it. I will go home in the snowy dark. Sometimes I can't see far enough to remember where it is.
And over at the Triangle girls in skin and leather dance with each other while the fishermen sitting behind suds streaked empties whistle cat calls and promise not to remember.