An excerpt from a work in progress . . .
I see the shapes,
I remember from maps.
I see the shoreline.
I see the whitecaps.
A baseball diamond,
nice weather down there.
I see the school and the houses
where the kids are.
Places to park
by the factories and buildings.
Restaurants and bar
for later in the evening.
Then we come to the farmlands,
and the undeveloped areas.
And I have learned how
these things work together.
I see the parkway
that passes through them all.
And I have learned how
to look at these things and I say,
I wouldnt live there if you paid me.
I couldnt live like that, no siree!
--Talking Heads, "The Big Country "
Though Beatrice doesn’t live at the end of the world, this is beginning to seem a technicality. Because so far it feels like you’re driving through an early Springsteen album: leather, denim and baseball caps inside too many tricked-out cars. And the endless succession of skinny kids hanging around on every corner, like that one, with his upended bike, kneeling next to the ratcheting gears. The town exudes a civic pride in being a kind of Wayne’s World simulation, and this guarantees the wink you’ve been waiting for is never going to come: each one of these chop tops is aspirational instead of a John Waters reference, and you’ll need to think hard about that tonight, with scotch and a long journal entry . . . .
Something never thought about; something almost forgotten: The whir of a push mower and the play of sunlight on leaves that will be gone in three years’ time. Which makes you what? Seven years old? Or very close to it.
Your father's mower whirring in the front yard, under the canopy of limbs that will soon be diseased. But all the memories of him have been too-long packed away, and so you have to make do with impressions: He’s conjured up as short, with darkish hair; in a white tee shirt, inappropriate pants and the smudgy suggestion of work shoes. All of this Sears-Catalog neat; it’s almost conceptual clothing. Because you can’t recall if he sweats while working out there--or if he perspires at all. Which, it now becomes clear, is also the reason you’ve parted and combed his hair.
Another season’s whirring, across a less-shaded lawn, as the last elms in the neighborhood begin their rapid decline. The kitchen’s still there; it can still be imagined, complete with its strange dimensions: too narrow and too long and then all at once wide in a way you remember as momentary. It's where the savage intimacies of the family had most often been exchanged; collisions leaving many more scars than that dangerous drawer full of loose German knives. In the kitchen the family had been too distant and at the same time much too close; it had been a place where acceptance widened-out, only to narrow and close ranks again. The dining room, however, has become theoretical--as detail-free as the interchangeable dinners that had marked each holiday and celebration. Reduced to an essence half a lifetime later, this room’s revealed to have been the kitchen in a chandeliered Sunday Best; where weekday dictates and intolerance had been served up on good china. But its mislaid appearance has also faded these uneasy memories: the narcotic blessing of forgetfulness, though late, has at last arrived.
Still later, on a stifling night long before there’s any air-conditioning, a spray truck whirs past your tight-shut window, fogging yellow-lit neighborhood streets. This last-ditch rescue of the trees comes at the songbirds’ expense, because the insecticide kills many more robins than the number of elms it saves. The Midwest, however, is equal parts of momentum and determination--there once something is put into motion, no price seems too high to pay. Which isn’t surprising, because a comfortable rut is the most costly thing of all.
And then your father’s mower, blades glinting in the bright sun, trims around the new birch, avoiding the stakes. But the whirring this time is your childhood receding, leaving you earthbound, stranded and ten.