Passing the Arts and Crafts Fair
-in mem. Irving Chamberlin (1929-2011)
I read the sign on the fence, Artists Can Heal the Planet, and I think, Oh no, they can’t.
With few arts of my own to rely on, I liked to visit Irv’s shop, to watch him build a chair you could actually sit on. But I loved him, chair or no chair. There aren’t many like him anymore, the handy, soft-spoken old ones, who still know how to farm, how to raise up a house you can live in, how to still-hunt a whitetail. Of course, you have to break down their reticence, which takes patience, always well repaid. Even then, they play their parts in their own stories pretty humbly.
Irv dropped as he tilled the garden next to his and Marion’s house on the river, where today his ivory potato flowers likely display their blooms in neat rows. The potato flowers would do for his funeral, lovely as they are ̶ more so than whatever the artists may be displaying in their earth-healing fair. Not that I know that; I merely suspect it.
Irv’s gone, and the earth keeps whirling, not to be healed for now, maybe never. Probably never.
How fine, that almost shy way the man would greet anyone he cared for, his smile barely perceptible, his ice-blue eyes cast-down, his words hard to discern at first. Not that Irv was cold, only modest.
He was what he was, irreplaceable among other things.
The day is wind-raked, so Irv’s weathervane rooster must be spinning like the planet in question. He wrought the vane himself, I believe. It must point in every direction. Just to think of it is a grief.
Under her influence, the atman, (soul) mistakenly identifies with the body.
̶ The Heart of Hinduism
July, 1955 in a hot, brown field, whose only indication of life is the grasshoppers’ rattle. People are calling out a name. I see bits of clothing for bases, a lump of cloth in dirt for home. A gray boulder, unreliable backstop, slumps behind the catcher.
It’s a fight to recall these terms, not to mention that the contest has something called innings: whichever team can score a greater number in nine is called winner. I come to recognize all this for a moment, but yes, it takes an effort. In a brief spell of clarity, I notice that the members of one team are sulking. They must be losing, as people put it.
It all seems oddly present, though memory’s thinner than mist. Still I do know pretty certainly that back then I felt as if I were peering from under the eaves of my skull, or someone’s skull, onto a scene utterly strange, unfamiliar. Things were going on out there, but everything appeared immaterial, parts in a sort of shadow play.
An ensemble of voices kept repeating a name: they seemed to think it was mine, but what or whom could mine signify? Whomever they called was expected to come grab a bat, its wood slick with others’ sweat, then swing it at a ball.
Did those others mistake my hesitation for self-regard or for contempt of their fun? They taunted me, cursing how slowly I walked across the stubble field, and then how I idly watched an object sail from some farm boy’s grip. Three times it streaked near me, then past. I heard the jeers, but faintly, as if from some great distance.
I record all this because just now I felt something akin: I beheld a hand reaching inside a cabinet for a can, and wondered to whom the hand belonged, and what belonging could indicate.
Another day was starting. There were whimpers of a dog expecting food, the thump of its tail making a hollow, empty sound. Outside a window, nondescript birds stalked insects in a meadow turned umber by summer heat. A kitchen’s sheetrock walls dissolved into pallor. A wife and daughter, as some call them, lay sleeping somewhere upstairs.
That old I surely heard those catcalls at his listless arrival and his careless turn at bat. Just who do you think you are? someone shouted. He noticed gnats that hovered above the field, and higher, the vultures, to which he gave no meaning whatsoever. The wheat had been shorn by machines, so that even through their shoes some must have felt rough stubble, but in memory, he did not. A figure ̶ I? someone else? ̶ had approached home, which was no more than a jersey flung onto the earth, but, apart from that pocked, minor boulder, was the only halfway solid thing in view.
My fourth grade teacher abused me at every turn, no matter I was a good kid ̶ or maybe not that, but certainly not really a bad one.
Once, for example, the man accused me of writing some wise-guy story, when truth was, I meant only to compose a comic one. Sneering, he read it aloud to the class to demonstrate my unpardonable irreverence. I still hear his voice, deliberately turned mousey; I see his curled lip as he speaks. As I say, all I’d intended was comedy.
Believe me, I found no humor in what he called me the morning after my commonplace playground tussle with my good friend Monty, during which Monty fell and dislocated a vertebra in his neck. That meant he’d die, I knew, and I cried all night at the prospect of his death but equally of my own. Everyone understood that such a crime meant the electric chair. It was all so unjust: I’d meant no harm at all. You couldn’t even have called it a fight. No one felt angry.
Thank God, Monty came to school next day, wearing a big Elizabethan collar. He also wore a grin ̶ a bit self-conscious but genial ̶ as if nothing unusual had happened. No matter: that sadistic schoolmaster called me “Man-Killer” in front of everyone, which reduced me to tears again. My reaction wasn’t logical, because there my friend was, sitting at his regular desk. Yet the preceding night’s emotions, especially after so little sleep, had lingered, barely under the surface.
By now, the tyrant who often beat me, who constantly humiliated me in front of my friends and, far worse, enemies like George Piglio and Billy Legrand, is doubtless long dead. No matter, I find myself looking for an old-fashioned curse. I’m sure none has ever really worked, but I’ll give it a try anyhow.
Wherever he is, may my old teacher wear a collar like Monty’s, but lined with biting insects, and may someone yank it up over his head, abrading his ears as he did mine when I tried on my new peewee football pads, excited right after they’d been issued in the gym. Let someone rip the collar off, thrust it on again, rip it off, on and off, the bugs feasting, forever and ever, amen. Let someone magically turn him into a child for a spell, then lay on all the punishment in reprimand for normal childish behavior.
But no: here I am, come to think, flinging invective back his way over sixty years and more, even though he’s surely long dead, and I, still alive, having purged such spleen at last, should be able to pray, as I do, that he rest in peace ̶ the bastard.