October 15, 2007

Linda Finds Leaf, Joe Sees Parrotfish

The parrotfishleaf is still alive. Green leaf has golden fins and swam down to the path. A sapsuck bug has cut an eye that will be seen by Joe. Through the veins sugary blood is slowing. With the first frost, the parrotfishleaf will bleed out and turn brown, be crushed by feet, turn to dust, sink in the shallows of black dirt and rain. Down below, undisturbed by the current, a worm will eat the parrotfishleaf dust and poop out its remains. The thready root of the parent tree will stretch another inch, so father will eat sonleaf, or mother will eat daughterleaf, and in the spring, more green minnowleaves will venture from the eggbud on the twig, and many months later, another parrotfish will swim on a breeze to earth.

October 2, 2007

Thank God It Was a Small Picture

...and a blurred screen. When Katrina hit, and the pictures of bloated bodies were in the paper and on the news, I thought I saw my friend Mickey Lee, floating face down in the water with some boards and branches. The same tan jean jacket (or is it John who has one of those?), the same cowboy boots (or is that my brother?), the same gray ponytail (or is that Paul?) Ten days later Mickey Lee called, safe from Baton Rouge. I asked him about his ponytail and he laughed. "Don't have it anymore! When your ponytail begins to look like a tired squirrel, it's time to cut it off."

One Hymn or Another

  The same piano Hermione had refused to practice was still in the living room, but it was fifty years since she'd maddened her mother by sitting on the stool, twisting back and forth, screaming "No, I won't" over and over. Hermione lived with the petulant ghost of the Volga Boatman and the veils of Psalms pulled over her eyes by her father. Her mother's powder-dusted room (with pearly beads rolled under gaps in the baseboards) had been closed for thirty years. Her father's room (smelling of crystallized urine and his dry-rotted galoshes) had been shut for nearly twenty years, since the day her father walked down to the river, lay down in the water, and grappled with a fallen tree until it pinned him.
  One thing Hermione loved was to drive--fast and alone. She'd kept her mother's last car--a 1971 mustard Ford Galaxy. Saturdays she drove the hell out of it-- to "blow out the valves."
  The husband of one of her friends was stricken with his own clogged valves while he played billiards. He was going to make a bank shot to put three balls in three pockets, but after chalking his cue, plop! he fell across the table.
  Could Hermione give a few ladies a ride to the funeral in the Galaxy? No, the car wasn't up to going so slow--behind a hearse--plus with the lights on.
  But she drove the piano stool down the hill and cut through a shopping center parking lot, twisting in the seat to turn, and never once had to stop. She pulled up at the funeral parlor, carried the stool in and set it down at the keyboard. Hermione was playing Chopsticks when the hearse arrived.

Brown-Eyed Handsome Man

  This was Memphis, 1963. One place to go late was a six-stool counter diner, where for about a dollar you could get fried eggs, toast, and cigaret ash, dusted on the grill when the cook talked out of the folds and squints of her face. She always had a Lucky Strike in her mouth. We were so young she seemed even older than she was and we'd sort of laugh about her later. Sometimes we had enough money to play "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" on the jukebox. She danced a little one time on her steel-strung legs and winked at my dark-eyed friend Mickey Lee.

Ivory Tunes

Polished with milk, and tickled by childish fingers, the tuning clings to the hammers and the keys like a damp leaf does to a birdbath, until hot weather dries it up. What do piano keys do when they're not played? They tremble notes back into the elephant's tusk; the elephant stamps on the veldt; the veldt vibrates the blood of vultures, without prejudice; and some just-born composer sounds her first note, a high B#.

What a Ride!

  Soon we'll be off to the burial of our friend Haines. What a fine man he was. Loved his dogs, ate his apples, helped his neighbors. Now, outside the church, we look around. We'll each be driving ourselves--a race to beat the black-coated minister, who wants everything sombre and by the book. For Haines? According to rules? Hell, no.
  One friend slides across the butt-shined bench seat of his old gray Ford sedan. It knows him well; every lever and knob is ready with a secret handshake. He turns the key and off they go.
Another friend climbs heartily into her old tan van--a Dodge so set in its ways it tries to drive home and she has to arm-wrestle it to go down Willow Boulevard to the cemetary. Another friend jumps on his silver motor scooter from Japan. He turns the key in the heart of the scooter's chest and it clears its throat, and goes.
  I stand looking around. Gray sedan, tan van, silver scooter--all out of sight now; they follow the mischief of our dead friend as he is pulled toward the cemetary in a hearse. Well, so, remembering how our Haines loved B-flat chords and dubious harmony--he couldn't play anything but a kazoo--I find myself on a piano stool--mahogany, with little wheels on the four legs and a swivelling seat. I ride downhill on Willow, steer around the sedan, hop over broken bricks, pass the scooter with its throbbing heart.
  Finally, with a wave and a halloooo! I pass my friend in the van, and the hearse too, and ride through the gates. I'm singing some song I don't know the words to, but I hear a kazoo.