Someone had been walking in and out
Of the world without coming
To much decision about anything.
The sun seemed too hot most of the time.
There weren’t enough birds around
And the hills had a silly look
When he got on top of one.
The girls in heaven, however, thought
Nothing of asking to see his watch
Like you would want someone to tell
A joke – “Time,”they’d say, “what’s
That mean – Time?”, laughing with the edges
Of their white mouths, like a flutter of paper
In a madhouse. And he’d stumble over
General Sherman or Elizabeth B.
Browning, muttering, “Can’t you keep
Your big wings out of the aisle?” But down
Again, there’d be millions of people without
Enough to eat and men with guns just
Standing there shooting each other.
So he wanted to throw something
And he picked up a baseball.
by Kenneth Patchen
Not only is cancer eating up his insides and the doctors promising him no more than six months, the good state of Oklahoma is speeding up the process by executing him this afternoon. Thank you very much, Jimmy Dale, your services on this here planet are no longer needed. Wow. And I just thought having a last name like “Bland” was bad.
Joe took this picture: a jar of green beans sitting on the windowsill of the house our grandmother was raised in, a house that has been abandoned forty years now and is grown over with poison ivy and kudzu.
I remember being little at our other grandmother’s house and spending all afternoon sitting on the porch snapping and stringing beans. Mama Heaton would spread her knees and make a bowl out of the skirt of her dress, throw the heads and the strings of the beans into that bowl. Heather and Joe and I’d snap until our fingers hurt, and Mama Heaton’d tell us to keep snapping, and we’d snap some more.
I’m up in the mountains now–in Blowing Rock, North Carolina–not even an hour from that front porch. I’ve got this feeling of emptiness that I keep trying to find words for but it only comes to me in flashes: a salted tomato, the cracks in the sidewalk that ran up the street, a hickory bush, the smell of bologna frying, Bob Barker’s voice coming from the bedroom.
My mother told me once that her father (before he died–almost everybody is dead now) was building a boat in the basement of that old house. Every evening when he’d come home from the gas station and before he’d go to the mill, he sanded the wood and sawed the notches. He spent hundreds and hundreds of hours building a boat that–if it would have been possible to take out of the basement (it wasn’t)–could have sailed around the world. It was a giant ship in a bottle. The walls, though, weren’t made of glass; they were more like mud, and there was nothing much else down in that basement: old boxes of torn paper dolls, a washing machine that was nearly always off balance and metal shelves stacked with canned green beans.
When I dream about the basement, and I often do, there are secret tunnels and holes, places to hide, places to be found. I am usually reaching for Cody when I dream of it, terrified, and I go downstairs, take an Advil, drink cold water, make small deals with God to get me back to sleep. Sometimes, though, I dream that there is a door that opens into the back and that the back is a beautiful orchard: magnolia blossoms and Queen Anne’s Lace, ripe apples and just fallen pecans. When I dream of the orchard, I don’t even bother to look back to see if the house is still standing. I almost hope it wouldn’t be.
It’s been years since I’ve stepped into a church for anything more than to cool down on a hot city afternoon in the pale stained glass light. Somewhere along the way, Jesus has become a feeling more than anything else; when I hear the name I think blue sky and hot milk and love; I think goodness and blackberry pie and stopping to talk to your neighbor on her stoop.
It makes me think of this dream I had about Brad Pitt last week. In it, he was snorting a heckuva lot of cocaine. The white stuff rimmed his nose. And I said, heartbroken but aloud, “Oh my. I can’t believe I’ve been fooled by the media.”