The Golden Age
I drive home from Tennessee in gusty rain, caught in a storm of semis, trapped in narrowing highway traffic. Overdone by the stress of driving, flashing back on our accident, I get off at Newport and wind my way up into the leafy mountains. Pop in a mixtape and listen as Beck croaks: “Put your hands on the wheel, let the golden age begin.” The grades are steep. Detour at a downed bridge. (“Window down, the moonlight on your skin…”) I get lost in the drizzle and fog: passing for miles tumbledown barns and lonely horses in corners of tiny fields; a fast-filling river studded with fly fisherman. (“Treacherous road with a desolated view...”) Electric again on the switchbacks, I allow the music and rain to wash me raw. (“Drive all night just to feel like you’re okay…”) By the time I come to the turn for Hot Springs, I have returned to an earlier self, pre-accident. I sing along, yearning for stasis, to be content with simple things, wishing hard to come back. (“Doesn‘t even get by, I don’t even try, I don’t even try…”)
Fight or flight, my therapist tells me. (“Just like a paper tiger…”) That root impulse. Cellular tug. But how often are you really in danger? Hardly ever. (“No more ashes to ashes, no more cinders from the sky…”) Though I want to wrap my hands around that driver’s neck. To slam my car into the back of his sedan. Yell fuck you or throw a punch. And the hot flashes of shame and self-loathing? What of those? Where do I go then? Where are you in your body? Can you feel your feet? (“All the laws of creation, tell a dead man how to die…”) Too busy coaxing myself out of that oak outside the window. Unable to differentiate branches and feelings. Can you follow your breath? I nod. I can do that. (“…the desert down below us, the storm’s up above….”) And I walk a few steps in this way and, after a while, drop back down into my body (“Like a stray dog gone defective, like a paper tiger in the sun…”)—tired, sore, sad, scared. (“Like a broken diamond…”) Ok, I say, I can do that. (“Hold onto nothing…”)
Guess I’m Doing Fine
I woke this morning to birdcall and a far-off train. (“There’s a bluebird at my window, I can hear the songs he sings…”) No subway rumble, bus hiss, traffic clamor. I lay in the dark and assessed my condition. (“Oh the jewels from heaven they don’t look the same to me…”) Left hip tight. Body stiff and achy the way it used to be a year out. Right leg a little weak, dull pulse in the femur at each break. (“I just wait the tide’s to turn, oh I yearn to leave the past behind…”) Left foot a block, stiff at the ankle, like someone has strapped tape over the top of my arch and pulled tight. (“Guess I am doin’ fine…”) Even my ribcage makes itself known here and there—with a tiny blare of pain at the sternum where it hit steering wheel. Must have been all those cement sidewalks, hundreds of subway steps. (“Rest my face up against the window, see how warm it is inside…”) Everything about New York takes extra effort, someone said. I can take this soreness, this tightness. (“See the things that I’ve been missing, missing all this time…”) I can take it.
As we moved through our recovery, away from the wreckage, month after month, I relied on a trick of thought to get through the difficult hours. Would say to myself: Another hour, then sleep. Two more days ‘til the weekend. Another few weeks and… (“I don’t need them anymore…”) Like smoking a bowl or turning on an afternoon episode of Mad Men. Walking along an endless turn that never straightened out, always peering around the bend. (“Lonesome tears, I can’t cry them anymore”) Now, wanting life to return to its normal cadence, to re-inhabit it hour by hour, I have become immensely restless—like a night traveler stepping out of his car in some lonely gas station stretching, (“I don’t need them anymore…”) drawing in a few deep breaths before folding back into the car and driving again. (“Lonesome tears, I can’t cry them anymore”)
(“Baby you’re lost, baby you’re lost, baby you’re a lost cause…”) Not the abruptly slowing cars ahead, or the way traffic snarled to a standstill, not inching forward as the right lane merged with the left, (“Leave you here, wearing your wounds…”) not the blinking lights ahead, nor the ambulance sprawled sideways across the lanes; not the men and women huddled in the breakdown lane, not even the one automobile, turned over on its hood, door ajar. (“They see you coming, they see you go…”) None of it stirred my son and his friend from their video game cocoon, never once looking up to see. And on the way back from the match, late afternoon light cutting sideways across the lanes, visor down to block the blare, I passed the exit for 221, the road we crashed on at just this hour, heading up to Spruce Pine for a weekend getaway. (“There’s a place where you are going you ain’t never been before…”) I kept us straight on 40, letting the quiet music carry me forward; and as we headed up the mountains, (“No one left to get your back now…”) the stench of burning brakes from the trucks coming down, with the sun now bright and triumphant behind the Black Hills calling out the oncoming night in trumpeting reds and yellows, (“I am tired of fighting I am tired of fighting, fighting for a lost cause…”) even I didn’t look up from my cocoon of driving and notice all the potential wreckage, even I didn’t flare up in my own body or lose hope for the future. (“Baby you’re lost, baby you’re lost, baby you’re a lost cause…”)
End of the Day
I remember the first time after the accident I stepped tenderly into my own shower. After months in a wheelchair, then lugging a walker, then a cane…I hadn’t had a real stand-up shower ever since the wreck. (“I have seen the end of the day come to soon…”) Free standing, head down, floating around the little steamy bubble like a sunflower, the water just a notch under scald…(“Not a lot to say, not a lot to do…”)…letting myself hope, maybe for the first time, that I’d get back to my old life, my old body, taking a peek of the night’s show on tiptoe…(“…Depression dogs beset after you, wasted time…”)
Round the Bend
I walk the river trail from parked car to community garden. A few summers back I’d toiled there before giving in to the weeds. (“We don't have to worry, life goes where it does…) The day is warm, finally, after weeks of cold, and the breeze arranging the treetops whispers hoarsely of rain as bamboo rustles and clacks. (“Faster than a bullet from an empty gun…”) I hoped the old ceramic Green Man I’d planted in the center of the plot would have remained, but only new rows lined by straw, an indent in the clay. (“Loose change we could spend”) The garden cabin porch is empty except one woman typing away on her laptop. The garden cat’s a shadow slink in the periphery. Some students are heading out to the river. Others gather round a fire-pit. I watch as someone pours out tea in mismatched cups to a circle of friends. A dog sniffs my pant leg then wanders off. I sit on a stonewall overlooking the garden and write abandoned garden plot. A pair of crows argues up in branches. (“Turn”) I write: Green Man ceramic pressed into the earth. Gone.
The young woman who takes my ticket throws me a suspicious look. I stroll absent-mindedly through the aquarium, green lights and tanks on all sides. (“Time wears away all the pleasures of the day…”) Kids crisscross the space in random routes; adults converge in the corners. I hate so much about the place—the rows of bored sleepwalks drooling at the exhibits, the trapped fish—despise all the little expected surprises. (“Already dead to me now…”) Still, I can’t help circling back to the schooling fish exhibit: entranced by the cylinder of silver fish that revolves endlessly in a loop, bright scales flashing in and out in an aquatic weave. (“Because it feels like I am watching something die…”) There is a pad of stones beneath them, a whoosh of air from above like a mini carousel. There’s no leader, a kid points out to nobody in particular. I want to lean over and sneer: That’s right, kid. Get used to it. But I keep staring at the fish in school. (“On the edge of nothing more…”) The children wander off. I am left with the fish, their attentive, horrifying faces pressed against the smudged and scratched Plexiglas.
Side of the Road
At the back of a paperback pulled off the shelf, I find a few fragments of marginalia jotted years before. (“On a borrowed dime in different light…”) I have no recollection writing them. (“In a random room…”) He asked her to meet him in a strange city, at such and such a hotel, on the last Saturday of August. She hadn’t promised she’d come. But, if she did, he was sure it meant that everything they’d shared—all the unspoken glances and sparks between them—would bloom at the designated moment she walked into the hotel lobby. (“Kick an empty can across an empty floor…”) How strange to find my shadow version, no longer alive, sloughed off like a coat of snow. (“Let it pass on the side of the road…”) And, on the back page: They’d done all they could to salvage it; there was nothing left but to untangle their libraries. (“What a friend could tell me now…”)