Evening Post, August 14. 2014

A memoir: a prose poem

It is always August.  There was something in those thirty days under the Dog Star that seemed permanent and everlasting.   The weeks in June and July had been long enough to dim the memory of school bells and schedules and we of course gave no thought for the morrow, that is, for the new school year that would soon be upon us.   We were still too young for football tryouts, and this late we were even beyond city-league baseball and Bible school and any other sort of program or thing that would measure our time.   It was hot and the days were still long and there were no deadlines and no appointments.  No projects or papers due.  No report cards to be dreaded.  And there was no desire for anything.   I would not have cared if nothing had ever changed and, in some way, I carried the naive expectation that nothing ever would.

Or maybe it was the dread of the new school year that gave those free August days their feel of the eternal.  Maybe it was a determination to savor and soak up the empty hours and to allow the mind and soul complete rest and leisure and the absence of all anxiety.

Every day I walked worn pathways into the woods by myself.  Thirty acres of hillside that the older neighbors spoke of as being “tied up in heirship” and where no blade had touched leaf, soil or branch for over fifty years.  It was the last remnant of the Weimer farm, most of which had been sold off, lot by lot, eventually becoming our neighborhood.   While the Weimers held it, some of this land had been an orchard and the old apple trees, long past productivity and now dwarfed by the wild-growing oaks, poplars and sycamores, were bent and vine-matted and bramble-thick but still stood in their regular rows and still bore long-faded marks of tending.  Like steles from a lost civilization, their silent presence gave the sometimes frightening and sometimes sad feeling of loss and abandonment.  I, of course, knew where they were and had seen them a hundred times, but the sight of them was always something of a surprise to me, like beholding the holy.  I never went there after dark.

One of my clearest memories from those days in the woods is of a particular spring morning when I was about thirteen.  It had rained before dawn, but the morning had broken fair and warm and as I walked the woods were full of the scents of the weeds and the wet earth.  I was on my way to school, it would have been near the end of the year, and my mood would have been accordingly buoyant.  My path to the school passed the corner of the old orchard and on this morning the old trees were in full blossom.  I don’t recall ever being struck so deeply by anything visual since that day.  Every branch newly white and the sweet scent of the blossoms heavy in the still-moist air.

I felt things then that I had never felt before and that no art or teaching had prepared me for. I was transfixed, and I ached in the way that, I would much later learn, unrequited lovers ache. Although I did not understand what I felt and saw, I knew when I thought of it later in the day that I had been changed and that I had tasted of something that I could not communicate; for which I had no words and no analogies. I was uncomfortable with this new knowledge and felt newly estranged from all the familiar world. But I could not dismiss it. I could not tell myself, as I imagined my friends would have told themselves, as I imagined they would have told me, that there was no reality to the experience and that the whole thing was best forgotten

There have been other such moments through the years, always coming unbidden and completely unexpectedly. Rare moments of piercing, sad beauty, rising like some wild tide and then ebbing, leaving only ache and wonder. And I am, by these things, still estranged in some way from the mundane world and still unable, with any measure of completeness or accuracy, to quite tell what I feel. But I am no longer embarrassed to try. I know now that there are others like me. In fact, I am convinced that the effort to communicate some however vague echo of this message is one of the principle reasons for my life. It is my vocation; my calling. It is why I write. It is the thing that moves me to struggle against superficiality and cliche and conventional wisdom and that gives me the conviction that there is some truth beneath every mundane thing that, if discovered, if wrestled with and revealed, will feed and refresh the souls of men like a cold draught from the springs of Eden and remind them of what they have been given and what they are meant to be.

And so, with the aid of so many years of art and teaching between, I will say here what I could never have expressed to my eighth‑grade classmates. On that fresh morning the forgotten orchard sang. The song of the trees was a very sad and beautiful song. The trees sang of their own merits and complained that there was no man to care for them or to release them from the bondage and obscurity of the wild vines and brambles and the great trees that had overgrown them. They cried like an imprisoned maiden that in all of the earth and all of time, there was no beauty just like their own and this day when I passed them on my way to school was their day of fairest beauty.  In this expanding universe the sun would never shine on their blossoms in quite the same way as today and for all they knew, every moment of their existence, every bit of their struggle for life, had led to this very moment and would be wasted.

Our camping spots were natural rooms of vine walls and interlaced branches.  We laid sleeping bags on the ground, but we never slept.  We built a fire in a ring and roasted weiners and marshmallows and bragged in complete ignorance and innocence about our ways with girls and when dark had fallen completely, we started walking.  Around the edges of the woods and into and across back lawns.  Lawns of people we did not know, lawns of people whom we knew at church and lawns of girls we went to school with.  Sometimes we were loud, louder than anybody should have been at three or four in the morning and louder than we should have been out long past the curfew.  We were asking for it, we knew, but when someone would open a back door and head down the stoop after us, our hearts pounded as if we were facing a gun and we ran.

There was not a slow man in our group and we ran as if away from death itself, knees churning, gasping, lungs burning with a cold burn.  Harder and farther every time and always in weightless ecstasy away from the cut grass and the switched-on lights and into the woods that only we knew.  Over logs and around bushes and finding the path and disappearing into farther dark and diving face down onto the ground like recon men, fighting to hide the sound of our own panting.

Copyright 2014

This entry was posted in beauty, blogging, creative process, joy, literature, memoir, modern poetry, mystic, mythopoeia, new voices, new writers, novelists, novels in progress, poetry, summer, time, west virginia, writers, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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