Landscape, Curvature, Horizon, Renaissance
boy wakes up from a dream & walks outside. sees
the entire world around him is on fire – not like burning,
but like some brilliant splash of color has poured out
from the sky, so bright it makes his eyes leak. breathes
in all that beauty, all the pastel wonder looking down.
bright water. smears of rose gold, lavender, honeycomb.
a phosphorous orb dancing between strands of cotton
& sugarballs. boy looks up & sees electricity everywhere.
says to no one in particular today, i think i will become
a painter. today i will fill 100 canvasses with such great light.
he walks downtown to market, past the clock that spins like candy.
opens the heavy door to the art supply shop & pulls a bouquet
of dollars from his pocket to buy all the tools he will need
for his masterpiece. boy sits in the park, next to the old blue piano
that plays a symphony of dynamite & thunder when it rains,
tries to paint the sky with his big dumb hands. he takes the brushes
between his fingers & dips them one by one into a rainbow
of pigments, but every stroke comes out wrong. like a gasoline spill.
like a rusted oil pump pulling too much black blood from the ground.
boy spreads another daub of paint onto the stretched canvas
& his fingers turn into stiff iron bars. he tastes salt & copper
in his mouth. an acrid smell of burning plastic streams in his nostrils
like a cloud of buzzing flies. paint peels & blisters, splits
from the canvas like the skin of a too-ripe tomato & suddenly
boy is painted deep, dark red. so boy walks into the forest. fills
his palms with pine needles & damp earth, flattens them
between his hands until he has made a perfect square. a color-
wheel of flowers blooms from the dirt – dandelions, clover,
weatherglass, aster. boy takes each blossom into his mouth,
presses it between teeth & tongue, makes a paste of wet spit
& flower crush in a half-circle on a piece of curved birch-bark.
pulls the palette close to his face until his eye-lashes are covered,
blinks across the flat square of mud. leaves the portrait to cure
in the heat of summer until nightfall, then hangs a picture-
perfect replica of sunset precisely in the center of the stars.
I can tell you of how my father has never gone to war,
how the only rifle stock that has ever grazed his cheek
was warm walnut, glistening with oil. Sighted each December
for the white-tail at 100 yards. How the blade that hangs
from his hip is always slick with blood & matted fur
left there by the buck skinned two seasons past. How
his clothes always sag, ill-fitting & sloppy, not kept
with military discipline. His jeans, still sized for the time
before cancer swallowed a fourth of his mass & left him drowning
in an ocean of denim. His shirt torn by years of factory labor –
how the machines of industry are hungry teeth demanding
a feast of fabric or of flesh. I can tell you how his ripped jeans
& tattered work shirts rarely, if ever, were replaced, how instead
there was always enough money in the family coffers
to keep my sister & I clothed – perhaps in unfashionable thrift,
but our garments were always clean, perfectly presentable.
A sacrifice we never acknowledged. I can tell you how
for 29 years, I never saw my father cry. How in church
on Sunday mornings, I would watch him throw himself
before the altar to confess his sins, hoping to break open
the stuck-shut valves of his tear ducts pleading mercy
from the throne of god, how the church sermons passed by
each week without the falling of a single tear,
until the day his doctor changed prescriptions & suddenly
every conversation we had was halted by rivulets of saltwater
pouring in sobs. How he could never put words to the weeping,
but simply told us today’s kind of a rough one, I guess
& carried on. And I can tell you, again, of how my father
has never gone to war, yet he still built for us a battle ground
within the trailer park, the undiagnosed sickness in his head
laying a minefield of sudden rages & swinging fists,
the kitchen knife or the hunting rifle held close to our throats
when the chores weren’t finished before he came home
from another 10-hour factory shift, or when the numbers
on the paychecks were smaller than the numbers on the bills.
I can describe the way he howled in anger, cursing
first god, then the family for a lifetime of frustrations –
the always-breaking-down Dodge in the driveway spitting oil,
never making it more than six miles before smoking itself to ruin,
the late payment notices piled higher than lake effect snow,
the job he hated more than anything but was necessary
to pay the rent, a lifetime of perceived failures always haunting him.
And I can tell you how my father, though he never went to war,
has spent so many years fighting, never sure if the battle
is with his demons or just himself, just knowing the noise
would only stop if his fists kept swinging. But I would rather
tell you of a memory, flickering like a gas lamp in the corners
of my mind. A small child in a chair shaped like a half-moon,
sitting next to the desk where his father prepares
another Sunday school lesson late on a Saturday night,
my entire universe condensed in a photograph wrapped
in a single moment – my father, clad in cotton-polyester blend,
my fist, small but screaming, held up higher than the stars.
William James is a poet, aging punk, and train enthusiast from Manchester, NH. He’s the author of “rebel hearts & restless ghosts” (Timber Mouse Publishing) and the founding editor of Beech Street Review. Follow him on Twitter @thebilljim.
Author photo by Laura Elma Frament
Header Image: Creative Commons, Public Domain, modified.