Sunday, July 19, 2009

as yet Untitled

By: K. Harvey

I am sitting at the kitchen table smoking like Steinbeck in the picture on the back cover of the book you read this summer. Your father plays with matches on the floor. It doesn't matter the color of the linoleum. I know you like to think it is green. So it's green. He is making rockets, wrapping the match heads with tin foil on the end of a paperclip and heating them until the match inside the foil bursts and it flies over the floor. He uses two matches for every rocket. Already there is a pile of burnt matches between his knees. The floor needs sweeping. I roll another cigarette and spill some of the tobacco. It is a nuisance, rolling them myself. My hands don't like small things, but I always acquire little hobbies, I always have. I won't smoke the cigarette, but I'll keep it for later. Now it is only something while I watch your father play. Perhaps soon he will bring out his soldiers. Then, perhaps, he will pester me for war stories, of which I have none. I enjoy watching his battles, and his conception and awe of bravery. He is colder than any soldier ever was. He has a great imagination. Maybe I'll roll enough cigarettes for tomorrow too. He doesn't smile enough when one rocket goes farther than all the rest. He's going to get through that whole book of matches.

There are pines on our property. There are also the pines you've seen in the cemetery. There are pines everywhere here. It is not as bad as you imagine, growing up in a tar-paper house. We did not build the house, but we feel a kind of compassion for the pines, as if we had something to do with them.

We love the pines and the river and we love to fish. Sometimes fishing is all we want and all we ever wanted. The straightness of the pines and the fishing line in the running water and the pole wishing to be straight. It is all very lonely. When you spend your day with animals like cows it is good to be lonely in the afternoon. Cow are very stupid. It is difficult to be a woman to your grandpa, and not a cow. It is difficult, but it is something I take pride in. I know it is difficult for you too to not be an animal, like a kitten. But there is no taking pride in things fishing. We are sitting on the bank with our lures in the river and hoping nothing bites. If we do catch a fish we get upset for a moment and your grandpa gets smoke in his eye from his cigarette and he squints in that awful way. Your father is playing and asking us why we don't keep the fish and why we don't fish down stream where they catch the big trout while he chases a frog that he won't catch because he slips on the bank and also because he is too gentle and doesn't want to crush it. What do you want me to say, that I wish I could paint it all? The fishing poles and the lunch and your grandpa's face and our son with the frog?

On the coffee mug in the armoire is my picture with a fish. But your father has told you already that it's a fake. 'Ruth jumps at biggest fish in Jump River,' it says, but we took the picture on a lake. The mug was a present for Mother's Day. I have always enjoyed the newspaper pointilism, my face made up of so many not-so-tiny dots, all gray, as the dots of cities on a map make a state, or as certain dots and where they are make your sky. My hair in the picture is just as you imagine, brown like your sister's, but not like your wife's. Not like your mother's. It is the hair of a fisherwoman, of a farmer's wife, of a woman who is like the sister of the cows. If that explains it.

Your father said today that the word 'loneliness' looks like 'lions.' He had been reading about some mountains in Germany. I am painting another watercolor of bluebirds. He says they don't look like birds at all. I say they don't have to. If two things that are not the same, like lonely and lions, look the same, why can't two things that are the same look different? He says but how will people know that they are bluebirds? I say that I know they are bluebirds, and maybe I'll tell them, but maybe I won't. That seemed to upset him more than I intended. But I understand it all now, after. You are like him, you know. Like loneliness and lions. Like bluebirds.

I have painted a lot of the things we live with. That's how I love them. The painting of the bluebirds is in your bathroom. The first one I made, in which I made them look like bluebirds. I don't like that painting, but it made a good gift. And a portrait of your sister when she was a child. I was a child and she was a child, I painted so childishly then. That was when everything was so round and pink, before we developed corners in our faces and around our eyes. The corners you remember. We went fishing once in the moonlight and I thought how like the moon. How lonely almost as if it were yawning in the night after eating, and its lines were in it. We caught nothing. We had not brought bait, so I drew in my line and took out my earring and baited my hook with one of my pearl earrings. I had your grandpa tie the knot and I cast it back into the running water. We fished for hours until the early morning and when we went home the sun was rising pale purple and yellow and the tar-paper house was so quiet. There was a nibble at the line that night, but nothing else. Before we left your grandpa untied the pearl from the line and dropped it into the grass. We searched together for an hour and could not find it. We had meant to get home before sunrise, but he would not give up, even looking on the bank of the river so that his socks were wet. But to please him and to tease him that week at a picnic I wore the other pearl earring and a fishing lure in my other ear. He took my picture, but we lost that too.

I have always acquired little hobbies. I bought a Nikon camera a few years ago. I was in the barn on the day your father shot a pencil over the barn with a cannon made of metal piping and a firecracker. I had the camera in the barn, taking a picture of the cow I stabbed with the hay fork. The light was good and the four red marks in the thick black and white hide looked good through the lens. In my opinion red is the only color that comes through in black and white. I was trying to take the picture so I wouldn't forget, like you with the pigeon, and how you never wanted to forget. It was just my temper, I hadn't been drinking when I did it, and I wanted to remember that. Then perhaps I wouldn't drink, or go that far, but even for the photograph the god damn cow wouldn't get into the light, so I never got the picture. But when I heard your father shout and the pencil on the barn roof, I took the camera outside. Your father was standing by the barn in the weeds studying the cannon like a scientist, like a little boy, with that seriousness in children you sometimes look at as if it explains the good in the world. I took the picture, but I think I lost it.

We had macaroni and cheese for dinner. Your father cooked. There was a cut up hot dog in it, thank God for small favors. I was exhausted from the office. We are going to sell the farm soon and I don't like the buyers. I think she is planning to cut down our pines. Your father is holding the dog by its tongue and laughing. It looks as if the dog is trying to eat its own tongue. He reminds me of his father when he laughs. Especially when he laughs. Like a lion yawning after a meal, the tongue and the teeth just unwhite enough and the lines in his jaws and the corners of his eyes. These are the things I wish I could paint, but I am so tired. And I don't have the time anymore.

I am wearing a blue scarf over my hair. I am sitting at the picnic table with the other women. Some are standing and meddling with the food. Your father leans over my lap, talking and looking with his hands. Your grandpa is standing in the green grass and everything behind him looks yellow. He is standing like an old man. When he walks and sways the sun washes out the lens and he looks like some sort of golden cactus. It is how I would paint a lion's mane. He is laughing and nothing comes through the camera lens clearer than the lines on his jaw and his red flannel shirt. Not even my bright green eyes that notice and look away, but they are not the round dumb eyes of a cow. I have always smiled like the old great Hollywood women smile. Then I turn away. Your grandpa loves the camera and smiles at it holding the football and he throws the football rolling on the ground and a little girl runs after it. Now that he was older his worries are over. Mine were just beginning.

You saw the video of that picnic at a birthday party. How old is your father's uncle now? Eighty? Does he still fish in his pond in Missouri? You see, time has no sting to us now. We lie just as you imagine us, under the ground with our strong thin hands joined across two separate graves in the lonely part of the cemetery. The American flags over the graves mean nothing to us now, though your grandpa was a soldier, in the way that they mean little to you, because you were not. We were one of the host of German farmer's families settled in the Northern logging towns, in the towns which, at last, you think, will come to you, and yet have ended already before your time. And where did they end? It is not enough to know where we ended. Perhaps it was your father when he became a minister, cultivating hearts instead of fields, and not frustrated by cows but by people. But that is not it either. I will not say that God is a modern painter, but it is like that. It does not look like what it is. Mostly it does not look like anything, and that's where we get fooled. I felt the same when your grandpa died. But we know better now. The fish can tell you what's in the river before you cross it. And the pines can tell you too, when you cut them down. That there is nothing in the river, except that it runs up against the pines and keeps on running past the fish. On the other side is another pole, and another line, and a pearl for a lure. Perhaps that's too vague. I don't mean to say that it's another life just like the one on earth. I mean to say just the opposite. But how can I describe the way the river looks when it stops?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

More Lines Inspired by the Fishing Moon

By: K. Harvey

Is the moon wet when it rains?
How is it dry, rolling between the rain and I?
The horn of the unicorn is the killer of young women.
It is the cruel shepherd.
It is straight and not bowed,
Bowing as the bull bows to its aggressor
Possessing only forward motion and a rolling eye;
This eye is dry and sees nothing.
Wear what the lilac wears.
Have many tiny flowers.
There will be showers of pale glass when it bursts in heaven,
Like a bubble of champagne when the wine has made a rocket
Of its roundness,
So the sky expels the moon to drop it like a penny in a stone fountain
Where it lies with other moons and other desires forgotten.
Do not grow round like the moon;
Its radial spears, its upside-down towers.
Have many tiny flowers.

Father Abraham, papau, put the knife
(Bleating like a ram), father,
Not asking for its edge but for its grip.
Its roundness in her hand,
Her tongue behind her lips, between her teeth.
'Papau' Father Abraham Abra cadabra.
The blood provides. The blood is
That is the rain on the red stone.
Filling the fountain.
Nothing grows.
The killer of young women froze.
Only the bush shook.

Venus my lover Venus my sister Venus my wedding dress.
The killer of young women is stress.

She wields the knife.
The fields spreading like a lap
To a center stone where tap tap tap
The horn drones to the rhythm it sees
That is the running of the sap.
The unicorn turns and scratches its flank.
She has the moon where it sank on a string ringing out its syrup,
Amber droplets from its silver well confusing stars
And I am musing shall I lick it up or dip my feet in it?
That is the moon on the water.
The smaller flower showers little scent for even tiny bees.
The killer of young women is knees.
Wear what the lilacs wears.
Have many tiny flowers.
Understand. When the horn is in the bush
You need not even push
The knife away,
It is for cutting the line and letting the moon drown.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lines Inspired By The Fishing Moon

By: K. Harvey

Moon went fishing on the dimpled snow,
Simple Venus for a lure.
He had cast across the violet sky,
(The black sky was unfrozen)
Over the violent snow melting.

Alas, and for a rocket with four hundred and ninety lights,
To make moon think the sun is on the river and standing still.
The sun is a treader of water.

We dive below the celestial current swinging into a still eternity
Onto the bed where we have not yet slept,
To the overflowing cup collecting memories,
Our memories that have ended and descended into night;
Below the curled water
Which passed in the sun,
That was curling when it wet our ankles,
That was passing...
From the bed where sleep is brushed away by blinking eyes,
Where we dreamed that we were fearing death
And thought that we would live forever.

Eve will never be forgiven for her womb.
At the tomb of Venus there we leave our sleeping breath.

So why is it for me to be expending breath on the melting snow
And wondering could I reach at least the lure
Or one shore or the other?
The sun is a treader of water.
The river is the dream
Where we sleep watching the moon fishing and the snow melting
And moving. passing
Gaping to awaken with our tongue on a sweet hook.


By: K. Harvey

He looked at the blot on the brick wall that resembled a girl with yellow hair. She was smiling, as young girls do, half shyly. Her face was thin, it was almost skeletal like a corpse, like a dead woman, but with the yellow hair of a very young girl and the shy, inviting smile. He looked at the blot on the brick wall as the sky was becoming dark.

His father owned the funeral home in town. He had seen bodies. He had seen them in their coffins at night with the lids propped like traps. He had seen them naked on the prep table. He had seen them with terminal erections, when the blood rushes to the male genitalia after death. He was not afraid of bodies. ‘You got to go sometime,’ the old men said. He believed them. The blot made him think of the girl he wanted. She was a girl he would not be afraid of. He did not know any girls like her, but she was a girl who smiled half-shyly.

He walked away from the brick wall, away from the public library, down Second Street to Main Street. He turned right and walked in and out of the magic circles in orange on the sidewalk squares from intermittent streetlamps above. They had just come on when the sky went dark. He had missed them coming on. He remembered a painting he had seen called ‘The Magic Circle.’ Its was of a dark Spanish girl with black hair. Her feet were bare. She was surrounded by a circle she'd drawn in the sand, standing in it with a cauldron and a fire with a pillar of smoke rising. She was gorgeous and dangerous, but with the same inviting look. He remembered that the circle in the sand was incomplete, that the space between him and the girl in the painting was open. But all around she was protected by the magic circle from the demons she conjured, from the toad and the black crows and Death as a skull half buried in the sand. He did not believe in demons. He had seen bodies. They were kept from decomposing for a little while by chemicals.

He reached the Butternut Diner on Main Street near the center of town and pushed the greasy oak door aside. The door was as old as the building, which was almost as old as the town. It had been a feed store, now it was a diner. The small space was populated every night by men who did not love their wives but were not drunks and did not go to the bars. They went to the Butternut Diner instead. Their farmers’ hands had worn the oak door smooth and left green discoloration on its grain, like the first night the lake freezes in winter. Wake up one morning and it’s out there, in the middle of the lake, beautiful and dangerous. These men went to the diner until it was cold enough to sit in their ice fishing shacks on Big Butternut Lake staring into a circle in the ice.
He pushed the door aside and heard the familiar sound of the silver bell on the fishing line above the door. No one looked up. He did not look around. He went to the small table in the corner and sat with his back to the wall. Except for the white plastic ashtray, the table was empty. He leaned back from it, letting his butt slide forward to the edge of the chair, and pulled a box of Camels from the waistline of his jeans. His parents didn’t know he smoked. He kept the box there because it was invisible under his shirt. Soon she would come with his coffee. He came to the Butternut for the coffee, which masked the smell of tobacco on his breath. He lit a cigarette and felt the rise in his blood.

She came. Her seductive movements were unmanned by the haste of her waitressing. The black name tag was pinned over her left breast and it caught the light from the slow ceiling fan. Carlotta. He read it as she came over to him. She did not take the notebook from her apron.

“Eggs and sausage and hashbrowns?” She asked. Her accent was restrained, or reserved, and her fingernails were blood red as she set a gray porcelain mug on the table and filled it with coffee.

He smoked, and said, “Not tonight. Just hashbrowns tonight. And toast.”


He nodded, “Thanks. And some water please.”

She moved to the bar and he watched her shape, marked by the black apron tie and the pale pink skirt and the black everything else except for the skin of her calves. She was not more than twenty. Her eyes were dark, and her lashes were daubed with mascara like a burnt forest. She came with the water. She looked at him with her fingers on the glass on the table. He looked back. He had seen bodies.

They conversed in a friendly way, passing the time which she did not let on that she had. As he answered her he could hear her smiling. The sound came smoothly through her nose, above her lips which turned and stretched and rounded syllables dropped like hailstones on his senses. Her lips wet themselves on her teeth as her accent perverted the air that passed between them. Soberly he was drifting towards panic. The sweat beneath his hairline cooled in the mellow ceiling fans. He was bouncing his cigarette continually on the plastic ashtray, watching it. He wasn't saying much. A shudder took the muscles that surrounded the pounding organs in his chest and he knew she could hear it in his voice. She could hear it with her ears withheld behind black hair, full black hair which smelled when she pushed it away from the tree line of lashes. She leaned against the table, the fingertips of one hand spread on the wood tracing a circle, or a cage with the palm of her slender hand as a roof and the beating of her pulse in her wrist a continuous music. Her hand was like a tiny cathedral with pipe organ fingers. He had seen dead bodies, but hers was living, and he was afraid of this even more than dying because death would not laugh at him.
He had told her that he wrote poetry. “Oh,” she said, “that's nice. And what do you write about?”

“Anything, I guess. Whatever I’m thinking about.”

“About girls, then?” She smiled, a soft sound through her nose. Then she said, “Could you write one about me?”

“A poem?”

“Would you?”

“You mean now?”

“Why not.”

“I could, I guess.”

“Well will you? And then when you’re done you can read it to me. I think I will like that.”

He nodded.

“I am off at eleven. So you have until then. Do you need a pen?” She handed him the pen from her apron. “See you at eleven.”

It was forty minutes away. He lit another cigarette and wrote on a napkin. At first the pen made holes in the napkin.

“No no, not here, not here,” she said when they stood outside the Butternut on the deserted street in the yellow light from the windows of the diner, him with the napkin in his hand and her hand was tightly in her pocket and the other touched the color on her lips. “Let's walk to the lake.”

It was only about a half mile from the diner on the edge of town. On the west shore of Big Butternut, where the main road out of town passed close to the water, were three public docks. Two were simple platforms stretching into the water on either side of the boat landing, resting on a pair of algae coated tires at their ends. The third was new, built by a local church out of redwood planking and floating on buoys that were fixed to the lake floor by chains. This dock extended ten feet past the other two and was in the shape of a cross. It had railings all around it. A light with a green shade was fixed at its end. It would be deserted at this time of night and in this season.

As they walked together they shivered. The first snow had all but melted in the persistent sun of early winter and a breeze carried to their mouths the clarity of the night. The air was empty. He held the napkin in his fist in his pocket as they walked. They reached the dock and their footfall on the empty boards and the swish of water beneath them distracted him. He counted every step to the edge of the dock, to the green light at the end of the dock. They looked together at the lake in the moonlight. He stood near the light. She was in his shadow.

“Now,” she said, and sighed and leaned against the railing of the dock, “now you can read it to me.”

“'Darker than void, she is more black than non-existing.
She is turning back against the movement of the bull.
A foreign crowd is shouting,
Tongues she doesn’t understand,
Sung like chaos ringing in the star-arena.
The bull comes forward in a rush.
No hush moves the crowd,
And she must turn more deeply than The Earth
It seems: to right and left, her chin and breast...'”

His hands turned and wrinkled the napkin, as if to hold it in a better light. He saw the breath of her warm smile drift in frost in the clear air. She waited for him to continue. Her breath was green catching the light. He hated the poem. He hated it as though it were laughing at him, and not her.

“'...Redeem the beauty of theft;
Twists and turns that outmarch rhythm,
Outshine stars with raven bars
As her hair paints black the million crowd
And, blind, they throw their roses at their target
Flirting alone in the dirt of the stadium.
She loves and leaves when the bull is dead.
Loves, carries off its gory head,
Its body pouring red into the dust and roses.'”

She stood with her face bent towards the water, as if she would reach her hands in and splash it over her eyes and cheeks. As if to wash the green off. “I think I understand. The bull is a lover? It is a good poem. But not about me. I think it is not about me. I thought it would be sweeter.”

“It doesn’t mean anything really. Sorry.”

“No, but who is the bull? And the crowd? It is very dark sounding.”

“I don’t know. I guess I think Spain is romantic. That’s what I thought about when I thought about you.”

“No. Not Spain. I was right that the bull is a lover, but there is only one body in the arena, loving itself, right? And they throw roses. You don’t know much about Spain. My mama was born there, but she came here when she was four. She doesn't remember it very much.”

“I just thought it up because it sounded cool, I guess. It doesn’t mean anything.”

Carlotta turned away from him as if she were very angry. She exhaled sharply into the air like she was cursing. “Means nothing,” she said, “’Cool’ means nothing. Only ‘cool’ means nothing.”

“You asked me to write it,” he said, irritated.

“Yes I did, to write a poem about me and to be sweet. But you had to catch me, like a fish. With a little silver hook. You have to be so smart and make your little hole, your little circle in the ice instead of swimming. I see them here, they catch the fish and put them back in. I can be poetic too. Now you know, I am poetic too. But no, it's my own fault. We should go home now. And I'll see you all the time at the Butternut and it won't be bad, okay. It won't be bad like that.”

She was almost crying. Crying at his poetry. 'my witch,’ he thought of her, ‘my little witch.’ He thought it to see what it was like to think it. He moved out away from the green light towards her, leaning out of the circle of light towards his shadow on her. He touched her coat. He heard her feel him touch her.

But at the moment his fingers touched the wool coat, felt the sting of the tiny wool fibers, or at the moment the thought of her dark lips, her dark eyes and tongue, her hips and back and her dark fingernails, was it then that the sound came from the lake like the swish of the water under the dock but it was not under the dock. It was in the water and then on the shore. They turned and saw a figure, curled, balled, dripping green water silhouetted and catching the light from the dock. In the shadows of the shore white fingers were in the freezing mud gripping. A heaving chest blew clouds into the light of the streetlamp and scraped on the back of the man’s dry throat. The dry throat, and every wet sound that it mingled in, stopped his heart, and his hand from pulling Carlotta’s neck to himself. He stopped and forgot about it. Then they walked on the dock back to the shore, tip-toeing, and they walked in and out of the circles from the streetlamps, watching over their shoulders the stranger who had crawled from the freezing lake and now sat huddled in the mud waiting for the warmth to move and save himself. They got back to town and separated. They both heard the noise of the ambulance, but they were far apart by then. Someone had found the man. The man hadn't seen them leave. He had been trying to stay alive.

He ran trembling to the public library, where he knew his parents would not drive by, and lit a cigarette. He felt his body reacting while his mind convinced itself of amazing calm and blamelessness. But the thing he had conjured was in him. She would not forget. She was maybe laughing even now. She might laugh at him later, but without smiling, refilling his coffee in the Butternut Diner. He hated the poem. He finished his cigarette and took a piece of gum from his pocket. He rubbed and sugar and the spearmint smell from the wrapper into his fingers. He remembered how when he was young he threw butternuts and even hours later he could smell their smell on his hands when he tried to sleep and it kept him awake. But then he would throw butternuts until he could not find any more because of the snow.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sketch 4

By: K. Harvey

He couldn't tell what lane he was in. It had been an hour since the snow had stopped. It had come down in tiny crystals, the smallest possible snow, but it came down for hours. There were lights ahead and lights behind him, but he was alone on the highway. It was his highway. He could drive in the very center. His neck ached. His feet were cold where the snow melted in the heat in the car and into his socks. He wanted the thrill of a passing car, hoping they wouldn't slide, hoping they wouldn't slam into him, and watching them go. As if they would know what lane he was in. But it was his highway. It was taking him too long to get home. He drove slow and hard, like he felt he had to. He wouldn't remember the songs that played on the radio. He was driving too hard. But he knew what song he would listen to when he was home.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sketch 3

By: K. Harvey

The hurricane down in the Gulf of Mexico made a windstorm all the way up here. Seventy thousand people in the city were out of power. People had to make a lot of blocks, because trees were down in the roads. Coffee shops were busy. They stayed home. They got everything they wanted out of the fridge at once. It was a sunny day outside. Outside was very noisy. Shouts and laughter came through the windows. He realized then how many children lived on his street when they all came out at once.