The placidness of doom. That’s what my grandmother called it. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. It is in that moment when fear of the inevitable comes to light. “Gram,” I said. “How can you be calm when the worst is happening?” She would not say. Maybe she did not know how to explain it because it hadn’t fully come to her yet.
She knew inevitable. She had seven grandchildren and four of them were born out of wedlock. Back then, that was a black mark upon her name, but mostly it was against her no-account kin. Gram knew those children would grow up, get tangled in their own messes, and move on to face whatever dirtiness still lived inside them. None of them were worth a damn near as I can tell, but she loved us equally.
She lived most of her life as if she were lifting sacks of grain, toting us from one place to another, always tired, but not yawping about it. She kept lifting us up and setting us down in a comfortable place, even if that place wasn’t as comfortable as we would have liked. Her heart would break every time one of us left for good, or got jailed, or made pregnant, or turned out as worthless as she expected. She carried us the best she could.
Every Sunday morning, she would spread us on the living room floor and tell us Bible stories after breakfast, about Moses and Jesus and Job. I think she liked Job most of all, because it was like a mean joke you were allowed to tell. Job was a man who kept slipping on the banana peels God set before him, but he didn’t cuss his troubles. He went on stepping on those dang peels and he didn’t turn mean. Even a boy like me could figure out what she was saying: it was the placidness of doom. Everything will turn out all right if you don’t bare your teeth. It was a good story, and some of us learned it better than others. I reckon I took it to heart.
After the Bible stories, she would parcel out the Sunday funny pages. We would not snatch them from each other, or scatter the papers, or holler “my turn, my turn”. We would read them carefully, and then retell the funny parts in funny voices. Gram would sit in her ladder-back, hands on her knees, lean forward, and watch us laugh. I think that was her most favorite time of day. The inevitability of doom, for her, was far away in those moments, though surely she knew it was waiting on her, and for the rest of us. But there was calmness in her eyes. She didn’t call it doom. She called it life, and sometimes it could be good.
Thank you for reading, and may you have a calm and fruitful 2017
2016: what can I say? It’s been a long year, personally and professionally. Struggling with physical pain, difficult work deadlines, and creative inertia. Overworked and under-cooked. So it’s time for a rest. I haven’t abandoned writing. Discouraged and disappointed. A little poetry here, some flash there,clawing away at a novel. I haven’t lost the love of writing, but lately — to quote Springsteen — I’m just tired and bored with myself. My head’s not there. I’m not in the game. It’s time for a reset. And this seems like a good time. Rest, reset, renew.
So I’m taking some time off from blogging, to reassess and reaffirm what I’m doing, if the writing is still there, if it can be as good as I need it to be. No self-pity, no whining. Rest and resume.
To everyone who follows my little blog: thank you. You’ve been been incredibly supportive and kind and your comments have been so generous that I’m often overwhelmed. Thank you! I’ll be back after awhile, hopefully with more vigor. And more stories. Have a wonderful holiday season.
Ordinary Handsome and A Very Tall Summer are still available here.
This might as well be Mars, scarred and unrepentant, too distant to glow in heaven.
Our monuments to youth built with hurried hands, then toppled, then covered with sand.
Do you recall the worth of compassion, of rejoicing in our slaked passion?
No more, we say, no more.
And so we study upon the sky with our vainglorious trickster eyes,
our wisdom in cushioned layers, hurling shrill and jagged prayers,
standing alone, bare and barren,
with pleasures unfulfilled, and more monuments to build.
It was a dry cold, a mean cold. November flew in on a broom and bared her teeth. Cigarette butts in the alley, the same color as the leaves, and a boy was down there, sleeping under his field jacket, his head resting on cardboard. A drunk or another castaway, she couldn’t say. She was 42-years-old and had seen her share of both. She even loved them when they allowed, but they rarely did. They knew they would disappoint.
Morning seeped through the clouds, like cream funneling through cheesecloth. She stood on her balcony, coffee cup in hand. She wore her bathrobe and fuzzy Garfield slippers, and she shivered. But it was real, no mask, no artifice. This was her. Cold, but alive, sniffing the air like a deer. Baggage under the eyes, a firestorm of tumbled hair, still smelling of sleep. Alive-time before she dressed up for the world. She stared at the passed-out boy, stared at the wall across the alley. Lego windows set in brick, perfect squares of department store curtains, the fluid shapes behind them, 60-watt light illuminating an out-of-focus movie-of-the-week. Or movie-of-the-day. It was always the same cast, the same predictable story, and everyone was an extra in the story of their own lives. Fuck it.
She saw the other boy. Seventeen, maybe younger. And he was different. He was… beautiful. Was that the right word? Luminous. Yes.
Oh, David, is that you? Her coffee cup tumbled to the pavement and she did not feel it pass from her fingers.