The first torment is isolation–the blindfold
it takes to get you there so you don’t know
where you are, your mind hollering run
hide, but where can you run or hide? Thus
excised from the world you knew, you begin
to feel what’s done to you is some kind of
penance, you begin to think of your captor
as the agent of your deliverance. Something
in the intimacy of your suffering makes you
feel complicit, makes you hide yourself so
deep away that ever after you will feel like an
impostor—outcast, mis-cast– and the only
thing that feels like choice is renunciation of
what you no longer have. Still, even in this
dark captivity, there is the shining mind, the
scintillating vision of a heaven of light and sky,
and then all the ecstatic words you conjure up
to explain it. No one now can forbid you to
make a devotion of it, this expansive freeing
space you’ve found inside.
This is the part where, you think, you don’t know anything, for surely if you knew something, you would feel compelled to say something, unlike, you think, the other part when you knew something and didn’t say anything—that past part, the long part, the part eating up your life, the part you tell yourself you’re not in now. Tell and tell.
This is the part where you try to act like life is the same but you can’t because it’s not.
Always behind any surface that you show, it’s like you’re some cartoon character who—running away from some danger—has sawed a hole in the floor only to fall through it a long, long time and end up on the opposite side of the world. But no matter where you are, run away and it will keep you running. You think. You think that, but you don’t believe it.
Then one day you know this part you seem to have fallen into is really going nowhere—it’s static, it’s like waiting but not waiting for anything in particular, or maybe forgetting what you’re waiting for—but it’s just the waiting part, a part without the usual parts of waiting like being patient or impatient, like checking and checking the time, like daydreaming at a stop light or idly flipping through a magazine in some waiting room. It’s not that kind of waiting.
It’s waiting that’s a kind of absolute stillness in which you’ve stopped trying to know anything because there are so many things you know that you wish you didn’t. The phone bills, the messages—endearments, pleas—not meant for you but written nonetheless in searing letters in the front of your mind.
Maybe you were waiting to know but when you knew, the waiting didn’t stop. Maybe you gave up on knowing—so much transportation, so many ways to get to the wrong place. All those other things you didn’t think about then or didn’t do—doors you opened when you should have been locking them, things you looked into when you really should have run away. Now there’s no not knowing.
And now you know what part this is. This is the part where you keep in deep silence the other’s secret, the secret that is also the secret of how you’ve been wounded, the burden of it, this part where all that’s left of you is where the secret is, the part where the other’s secret is all you have left of him.
How we loved our paradise of silks and breezes,
noisy water in the distance, comestibles nearby,
libations, sleeping in whatever god’s pajamas and
sneezing their incensey perfume, how we pawed
through things and went without shoes, you tied my
hair in a knot and tried to throw me off the roof, oh
how we laughed, we were so good at laughing, we
were so not good at everything else except perhaps
sleeping, and sex, oh we rode those magic carpets
bomblets whistling down to left and right and in the
hazy distance a sheathy zeppelin gliding whale-like
through air you could breathe up there if you were up
there but we were down here and the long holiday
was becoming a not holiday, a kind of anti-fetish, oh
everything was just so nonetheless, the sky the color
of a stone, you polished my shoes for me and sent
me off to look for work, oh how I looked for work and
trudged from till to till how distant our paradise then
as I ironed my iron-worn skirt, when nothing I did
was good enough and there wasn’t even any sex, I
started forgetting about that somehow, to my
consternation, I recall, oh we weren’t laughing then
or even speaking and all the doors that would be
slammed had been slammed and there were no more
words, the look I caught on my face passing a mirror
was like death like something had slammed into my
head and lodged there and I’d have to wobble about
wincing like that with it forever, like some alien thing
had crawled up inside my life to brood—out out out
I’d say but everything was rushing in, rushing into all
the troughs and hollows flooding corridors and
floating the lamps and how I longed then how we
longed separately for our easy long ago days when
we didn’t sleep on ice and didn’t faint not very often
or just fall out with grief all the lost people and all the
lost things and weariness oh the weariness what a
weary weariness it was, so so weary, we wore muu-
muus and overalls and accidentally took our daytime
meds one night oh what a night that was–pacing
waiting sleep never coming then the day arrived like
coming down from lsd without having had any of the
fun that was so like things then, everything was
aftermath without having any of the before until we
forgot about before and there in our forgetting a new
world erupted in the midst of things, one in which we
were suddenly gallant and vaguely tipsy with
all that forgetting but not really caring much at all
after all falling in our boney way into our cushy scroll
the shreds of all our thoughts like bedding in some
short creature’s cage oh how all hinges were loose
then how we rolled this way and that looking for the
thing inside that was like a counterweight,something
anything to outweigh suffering or trick it into
shuffling off bye now and don’t come back but we’d
forget that too from minute to minute we were good
then at forgetting forgot our keys forgot to put on
our outdoor shoes forgot how we had once hated
each other and ourselves forgot in fact all the years
intervening between about 25 and then whenever
then was, forgot, forgot, forgot,and there we were—
the people we would always be, every moment like
bobbing up for air in the ocean on some bright blue
day with its frightening horizon where all time stops
but still not like the last day on earth though maybe
a bit like the last but one, suddenly this
spaciousness in which nothing much was expected to
happen, so anything could.
People are always passing through the perpetual room, looking different, being the same. You don’t know what you’re missing, you’re not much troubled by anything. It’s always noon in the perpetual room, without shadows you cannot tell demon from friend, but there’s no time for caution.
You don’t know where you go to sleep, you dream of objectless yearning, swamp lights, threatening mail. You wake up in the perpetual room surprised to find that you yourself are always passing through, one side of the door no different from the other: you’ve been here before, you’ll be here again, you’ll have to go out when you want to get in.
Always on your way to other places that somehow always end up being here, you cannot fully appreciate the beauty of the perpetual room–its transparent walls and soft landings, its finely calibrated air, the narcotic effect of its ambient music, the spectacular near-misses of its perihelia. Nonetheless, you surmise that all this passing through is what keeps the perpetual room perpetual: zero, one, not being in the same place at the same time, not being.
At some point you discover you’ve been navigating all this time you thought you were just along for the ride. Now Saturn scares you, so cold, so colorless to mortal eyes, so damn close to far away and where you’re going. Always too late tomorrow, never too late yesterday.
It was late so Pap made Jen throw the fish out in the snow and Pap said for the 100th time oh ho ho we don’t need no freezer course come summer we will need a freezer but ain’t this just the best life we could possibly have and he was saying this outside and I heard Mam inside fixing dinner it always sounds like she is throwing pots at the wall when we are outside and she’s alone inside but when we go in there she is just glued there like always steam coming off the stove her with a spoon in her hand and sometimes fanning herself with her apron. It’s so loud when I hear it outside one time I looked around after everyone was asleep and sure enough there were some dents in the wall and all the pots were dented but maybe all those dents and things were already there and how anyway could she be doing that and then we don’t see anything like that show about the poltergeist the family hears all this noise and then when they look nothing is out of place.
So anyway we have the same cream corn and peas and the same fish every night and every night they look exactly I’ve looked like what we had the night before. Of course Jen and me we don’t eat fish we have a system it disappears off our plates as soon as Pap starts a fight with Mam and they aren’t paying attention to any of us it disappears into whatever we have a boot a pocket a paper bag and then one of us slips out and buries the dam things where Mam and Pap won’t find them. One day we couldn’t get out Pap was making us play cards so he could win our allowances back like we’d have anywhere to spend them anyway and the next day before we went out Mam found what we hadn’t eaten in the laundry basket where we put it till we could get out all she said was I know what you are doing. I know what you are doing. Just like that. Not pissed off though I guess she would be sad if she could still be sad. Mam we said we. Don’t say a word she said and then went on sorting the clothes like she does every day.
Anyhow. So the next morning Pap was all excited rousted us out of bed made us all get dressed even Mam and Tom who still hasn’t talked and he’s four and Pap said come look what the fish we caught done done we went outside and Pap said it’s like magic ain’t it and there were the fish down from the trailer all in a line standing on their heads with their tails up in the air. Jen turned her head away and I knew she was crying. Jilly was all excited and said how’d they do that Pap how’d they do that and Pap said they were acrobat fish that like to stand on their heads and flip around and then Mam said it’s more like they want to show you their behind and Pap raised his hand up like he was going to slap her and then started laughing and said he was just kidding then he sent Jayjay inside to get the camera and traipse down there and take a picture of the rest of us standing up at the trailer looking down at the acrobat fish and it seemed like forever before Pap would let us go inside and get warm before we went out fishing for the day there are never enough fish for Pap and we never do anything right and I hate him.
When we were in bed that night Jen whispered real loud to me Why’d he have to do that to the fish isn’t it bad enough we kill them I hate Pap and I said that I hate Pap too. Jen said she wished the next morning when we woke up we’d look down there and see Pap frozen on his head with his f—-n feet in the air. I said don’t talk like that it might come true. Oh Jen said you’re just afraid that if it happened we’d have to eat Pap piece by piece night after night with the cream corn and peas. No I said if it happened then the fish would come back and eat Pap and maybe eat us too. No she said Only Pap.
Don’t say it I said it took me a long time to get to sleep I kept hearing these scrambling and tapping kinds of noises outside but it’s just the wind. Then I dreamed that we went in to dinner and all those fish were sitting at the table all of them like the table was surrounded by fish and they were looking at that big platter Mam uses for turkey at Thanksgiving and there on it was Pap’s head steaming a little with the look on his face that’s always there when he slaps one of us except Jilly he never slaps Jilly. One of the fish looked at me and in this strangling kind of voice said Eat up. And then all of them were hollering Eat up eat up eat up.
image: “Frozen walleye pike kiss the snow in Mille Lacs, Minnesota, 1959.Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie, National Geographic.http://natgeofound.tumblr.com/post/57795083277/frozen-walleye-pike-kiss-the-snow-in-mille-lacs”
In ten parts: 1. Jesus is on our TV! 2. Up close 3. After intermission, joyous horns 4. And tweeting! 5. The Pilate Show 6. Whereas, Jesus. 7. Gathering 8. Here comes Judas. 9. Even in this trumped-up Jesusland 10. If this is love
1. Jesus is on our TV!
A sleek, slow-moving, gliding movie Jesus looking now like an El Greco Jesus, then–declaiming atop a spaceship-shaped boulder—a rather Rio de Janeiro Jesus, then the Byzantine icon look, and otherwise other things. In other words, just about every possible Jesus. Except the Jesus in the bible your mother gave me, the one your pothead friend tried to tear a page out of when he ran out of rolling papers.
Movie-TV Jesus has followers who, well, are always following him, an excessive kind of following, like you worry if he suddenly stops they’re gonna Continue reading
For links to all chapters of Stella Ridley: https://accidentalantenna.wordpress.com/stella-ridley/
One Sunday in church when I was ten or eleven years old, Molly elbowed me as we were singing “Holy, holy, holy” and cut her eyes down toward a yawning hole in Aunt Deena’s stockings. I looked and then quickly stared straight ahead and sang louder, trying to sing over whatever nonsense Molly was singing instead of “merciful and mighty.” I didn’t need to look to know that further down the row Matu was leaning over her hymnal and glaring at us with her mouth in that tense line that even then was getting to be a habit. When we sat down for the sermon, Molly was quaking with repressed laughter, and I had to pinch myself hard as I did every Sunday, with or without Molly’s puns and antics. I don’t know what was wrong with me. During the most solemn moments, I was possessed by the impulse to leap up and shout. In fact, when I heard the phrase “mortification of the flesh,” I thought it referred to the repressed and rather itchy urge to guffaw or shout in church, and I was secretly of the opinion that I might be more at home in one of those evangelical sects that elevate losing control to a form of worship.
Back in the station wagon, Matu and Mamaw Ridley sat in front, and Aunt Deena, Molly, Baby Robert, Adela (my pet sibling at the time), and I crammed into the backseat because no one liked to sit in the seat that was the whole point of having a station wagon, what we called the “way back seat,” which faced backwards and therefore seemed, well, unsociable. Molly held the baby, and Adela, who was probably about four then, sat on my lap and reached over to fondle Deena’s locket. When Deena kissed Adela’s little chubby hand, a brief, inexplicable shock of envy ran through me as it always did when I saw moments of love or affection that did not include me, but then Molly started humming the hymn we had sung in church, and we started laughing and couldn’t stop.
“What are they on about?” Matu said, craning her head up and sideways to look in the rearview mirror, squinting back at Deena and nearly running over poor Miss Estelle from down the street. Deena said, “I have no idea, but I’m sure that it’s irreverent,” in that voice she had that we children all loved, a voice that–no matter what it was saying–said that everything was wonderful and good. “What? What?” Mamaw said and looked around frantically as if she’d just heard a shotgun go off, but by then we were home and nobody paid her any mind. As we were all piling out of the car, Matu said, “Deena! Look at your stockings!” and Deena did look, and laughed. “I didn’t have time to give Miss Monkey her cream, so she swatted me as I was going out the door,” she said. And Matu glared at her and shook her head and started in with “Deena, I’ve never seen you without a hole or a ladder-run in your stockings. And there is such a thing as hairspray you know.”
Deena patted at her frizzy hair and laughed, said, “I can’t help it if I have our mother’s hair. And there’s nothing I can do about the wind.”
“Really, Deena, people notice these things! How can I raise these girls up right if you set such a . . . such a scruffy example?”
Molly handed the baby to Matu and turned back toward me, smirked, and made yackety-yack motions with her hands. She mouthed the words “people notice”—one of Matu’s favorite phrases–and opened her eyes wide in mock alarm. Matu could not have actually seen this, but Matu seemed to know everything, seen or not. She snapped, “Molly! Stop that disrespectful behavior! Right now!”
At that time, Molly and I—Molly was only a year and a half older than me, and I was very precise about this “only”–were just on the verge of thinking about stockings and hairspray and such, but Matu had already started avidly monitoring our behavior, our grooming, our posture, even our facial expressions. She was hoping, I suppose, that she could avoid the inevitable upheaval of our adolescence if she prepared everything in advance and had us well in line. She knew that we were rather charmed by Deena’s blithe violations of propriety, and she had become increasingly exasperated with Deena, as if Deena were a naughty child. And women in my family, whatever they were doing, were relentless. We sometimes overheard Matu all ganged up with Mamaw on the subject of Deena’s appearance. They said things like “Now Deena, you have such a pretty face. If only you’d wear makeup. Not that dab of lipstick. A proper foundation.” Deena would interrupt them with a laugh and say she didn’t have time for makeup, but they would then go on at length about how much easier life is if you make an effort to fit in (another of Matu’s and Mamaw’s favorite phrases). But Deena would just laugh some more. Not in a mean way, mind you—Aunt Deena didn’t have a mean bone in her body—but in a way that said to them that she found their criticism endearing or cute, which must have irritated them as no meanness or scoffing resistance ever could.
When they got onto Deena this way, the only thing that would bring them up short was Papaw, who would exercise his mouth for what seemed like forever until he had maneuvered his dentures into place and then grumble, “Girl’s fine just as she is. Leave her alone.”
“What do you mean no one will know it’s me? Everyone will know it’s me. Or someone. And I grow faint in my struggles with this damnable shirt-like creature.”
“But,” said Nedbert standing in the wings with the wings and unruffled as usual by Optimus’s balking and doubting and prolonging the simplest of activities, “by someone do you mean that everyone won’t know it’s you but someone will know it’s you?
“Or do you mean that everyone will know that the Lepidoptera peacockamamierum gigantica appearing before them is not real but is, rather, someone perhaps not you, perhaps someone other than you, wearing what will be a thoroughly striking man-sized lepidopteral outfit?”
“Why oh why must you always bring mystifying reinforcements into the arena of every discussion? Of course the leopard cannot change his spots. Only a magician can do that.”
“My point precisely, sir. Seeing is believing, and man often knows not the difference between what’s real and what’s a dream. It will be a magical moment. Or several magical moments all strung together to make an occasion. But before those moments or that occasion may occur, we must move forward with getting dressed.”
“Oh, my. I’ve forgotten. Am I to welcome the shirt-like creature or spurn it?”
“You cannot very well spur with an arm or a hand, sir, and the wall between us prevents my ascertaining the exact position of the shirt-like creature. But if you are in a state of wonder regarding whether to remove the shirt-like creature from your person, then, yes, you must remove the shirt-like creature before anything else can be done.”
“Well how was I to know that? I’ve been entangled here for centuries. One forgets if one is going forward or backwards.”
“That’s correct, sir, you can just back out of the shirt-like creature.”
“How can I back out of it if it grabs me no matter which direction I turn? And these leggings are all wrong. The wrong color. The wrong size. The wrong everything. ”
“Those aren’t leggings, sir, those are your handsome and attractive legs. And let me ask you a question. Can you even see your legs, or, if you insist, your leggings, from where you are beneath the shirt-like creature?”
“I can see barely anything, but if I look down I can see the bottom of the miroir, in which is the reflection of my sinister shoe and the rather more benign ankle above it.”
“We’ve discussed this before. That is not a miroir, sir. It’s a portal.”
“I thought we were going to a par-tay. You didn’t say anything about a por-tal.”
“Sir, we must pass through the portal to attend the par-tay. The portal is part of the par-tay, but you cannot go to the par-tay until you are attired. Please remove the shirt-like creature so you can remove the remainder of your underpinnings and I can spirit myself through this wall to affix these wings to your person.”
“Damn straight, I’m tired. I’m telling you I cannot get out of here. And if I remove my underpinnings, I shall be naked, and if I am naked—do you anticipate that I shall attend the par-tay naked. What a fool you are. And why don’t you help me free myself of this shirt-like creature?”
“You shall not go naked. We have ointments and flecks of gold with which to slather your person. and dress you. And I cannot help you sir. As you must know, I am on the other side of the wall. I am merely in waiting.”
“Baiting what? Are we going hunting?”
“Waiting, sir, I am waiting, always waiting, waiting on you. Sir, please, sir, disrobe. We have wings. ”
“Dreams? What dreams? Are we dreaming?”
“Wings. I said wings. You, sir, you are dreaming. You are the only dreamer here.”
One had to wash up after meetings just to feel human again.
The unit boss was a stodgy little thing with a closet full of personae. There was the prissy schoolmarm persona concocted for most of the email she sent us, though “sent” doesn’t convey the way she issued it forth, sometimes in wave after wave, as if she’d been saving it up. That little persona sometimes held hands with another one, a coquette who wore fancy hats and longed to be admired, and there was another one she seemed to imagine as a Victorian woman of letters with a long, slow hatpin and a lot of time on her hands. Her missives seemed to assume that we were pets of a sort–often bad pets–with no lives of our own, and thus always interested in hers.
Autumn is upon us, and I have yet to take my cozy winter shawls out and my somewhat trendy though purposeful rainboots still sit in the back of my closet, a bit dusty they are, though everything else in my tiny closet is neat as a pin awaiting the munificent and beguiling change in weather, which seems to be arriving sooner than I’d anticipated this year unlike last year when it arrived with the Perseids, those glistening ladies who swarmed in last November’s sky. I watched them from my sturdy balcony, drinking the special tea that an adoring friend sends me from China, accompanied by my faithful Esmerelda who could not see the magical fireworks of nature in the velvety dark sky because her eyesight, alas, is failing although she still greets me with excited little leaps and yips of joy whenever I return home from work, which, as you know, is often late in the evening because my duties as your leader are so numerous and so time-consuming . . .
You had to scroll through lots of that kind of thing to parse out or get to whatever it was that you needed to get to in addition to admiring her person and enjoying the glimpses she set forth of her fascinating life.
. . . Just as season follows upon season, monthly reports are due on the last workday of each month—that’s the last workday, NOT the last day of each month. Unlike the season, which seems to be arriving unseasonably sooner than even I had anticipated, your monthly reports are sometimes arriving at the last minute or, unfortunately–dare I say it?–late. Some of you have of late–no pun intended, tee hee–been forgetting that when paperwork is not tendered forth at its appointed time, all is not right with the world even if the seasons go on, wistfully, perhaps, in their fleeting and inimitable if somewhat relentless and casual way without our notice. If you cannot submit required paperwork when it is due, I shall have to take the unfortunate and regrettable step of docking your otherwise generous pay, and I shall have to go out of my way to do so, or rather, I shall have to ask the Dean to go out of his way to do so. Nothing could make me less happy than taking such drastic action, and I’m sure you do not want to make your ever faithful and humble leader, me, unhappy.
She may have actually thought that we were grateful for her personal ruminations and thought them charming and witty. And some—perhaps many– of us may have. But I always felt as if I’d been pinned down and slapped around. After the first year of it, just seeing it waiting there to be opened made my lesser self run all around in my mind slamming doors and kicking children.
Of course that may have been because by then I had gotten to know the constant behind her miscellaneous personae, that unpredictable and snake-mean little person who was endlessly busy not so much being the boss as showing us that she was the boss and nobody was the boss of her. When she lobbed email at us or corralled us into the protracted performances she called meetings, the several fancy fussy little beings boiling away inside her couldn’t quite agree on why we needed to be bothered but all agreed that we should be bothered often. And at length. Some of us more than others.
Tatting away at her computer expanded opportunities to circulate and bestow her queenliness. The missives constructed for mass consumption (unlike those aimed at individuals and sent by regular mail and sometimes even registered mail to contaminate your home) always started with “dears” or “my dears” or “dear ones” and ended with “cheers,” words that began to look unsavory or even threatening when one paused to reflect, as I often did, on the contempt in that familiarity, or paused to reflect, as I often did, on the fact that she enjoyed having everyone in thrall and that she really could, and did, punish anyone who didn’t enact the appropriate excitement upon seeing her perambulations through the cubicles or seeing her planted firmly and troll-like in the nearest possible exit.
She had an unerring instinct for primitive–and very effective–forms of intimidation. At some point even before I was singled out for special treatment, I realized that she didn’t really smile: she bared her teeth. She wasn’t quite as good at the subtleties of impression management as she probably imagined herself to be. Everyone pretended not to notice, though no one should be faulted for that. If she thought you saw it, you yourself would be in for the kind of relentless micromanaging that makes it difficult to get any work done, the kind that had nothing really to do with your work and everything to do with her compulsion to tell you over and over that she could do anything she wanted to you and there was nothing you could do to stop it.
The fiefdom she maintained needed helpers of course, and she was a tireless recruiter. She’d beckon someone into her office or catch them off guard in the supply closet and in a flimsy approximation of casual chitchat she’d bring someone’s name up and slide it around in some faint praise before tarring it into place with some drummed up flaw or offense, and if you refused to participate in this, well, there were punishments. One must admit that she had a talent–though perhaps it was just a lot of practice–for turning innocuous or even good things into bad things. By the time she was advanced to a sort of permanent overlord position, she had turned a group of amiable and otherwise intelligent people, some of whom might even have been thought of as one’s friends, into a mob.
It’s hard to sit in a roomful of colleagues most of whom will no longer even look you in the eye and to know your part is to be the baboon at the bottom and to know that part of their part is not to be the baboon at the bottom by helping her make you the baboon at the bottom. But what’s even harder, perhaps, is to catch sight of your own face over the sink in the women’s room—one had to wash up after meetings just to feel human again—to catch sight of your own face and to know that if you didn’t know what it was like to be the bottom baboon, you yourself might be one of them, sitting in the smug seat of the sycophant, enjoying the high end of the pay scale.