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?