Topping Off (2)
(from "Character in the Works: Twentieth-Century Lives")
1 It was all a boy could do to keep his hands on it, to hear the voice of Delano, with wounds, with schooling, hearing the news from continents, to let her see herself, and the boys who'd share their lives as double-features, playfields ahead, the sweet insouciance, as much as any of them could stand, college ahead and uniforms, casual and plainer doctoring. Once, 13, star-prompted and consoled, I saw her scissors glint, and the ribbon 2 would join hands on to sever, leaving the eyes to feast on all her tempting attributes, on all the nightmares one would personalize as content. I clipped and swept, attending grounds, kept aisles orderly, hoping to see such daylight step to ice-cream dens, stepping her own good news beneath the marquis overhangs. -- A heart itself might blush remembering. Kids, and kids of kids: a dollar or few paid weekly to assume the keeping up, for all that northside audience, listening to the comics distracting hearts, aiming shots by heart against the German nastiness. And she, too hot to cover up, receives a man in his first year of family practice, 1942, a woman given to twins to suck, remembering something like, her old man chasing Togo into lethal fields, and the yard grown still, private enough for these new roles and the pronouncements of well-being, nothing there to mend, nothing to heal except the absence after all, the feelings stretched and steered till recognized. 2 Brides circulate in strength, 1942, '3, '4, calculate nightshade, and then this daybright laboring, measuring themselves against pin-ups, sharing their drinks with men and all the ancient wishes. Brides, asking me to think, to be young enough, quiet enough to listen. I see her moved, and, knowing better than, because some large short-sighted thing had warmed to her, responded whispering, sneaking away with him to films, or, spared the troubles of exhaustion, regretting everything, 1944, accepting the hours in parked sedans, spared Italy, spared Guam, and spared the terrible orders of assault, the motions with young men put through hand-to-hand. 1944, a family practice prospering. Housecalls, hospital births. The flail and sway of modern medicine. And costs to households say, 1944, of brides in factories, of grandmothers, sitting the first-born, women talking as women will, everything love was, and everything love misses, tempting a wife to guess, even to these young men, and to these the women address behind me as I drink, finish the evening's sandwiches, permitted by eyes to touch, by eyes brought round to these permissions of the body, too long apart to fear the screened confessional, to fear young men and missing men, the anonymous crew-cuts, attracting the light retreating into safer neighborhoods, to fear the stub, crossfire, and repeating instruments. Imagine the women keep their sweethearts whispering. Imagine an evening's news, and dates ahead, the miscreant holidays ahead, 1944, the reach of nightmare into leaves, creeping curbstones as the stories multiply, as letters home stretch out this way through the confusions: as blanks to fill, with mindful meals and with evening exercise, the planet cooling toward midnight, and midnight cooling then to milk deliveries, to perishing dark and angular chromatics, eyes that mind the seasonal and keener offerings, following the shapes eyes mark, eyes tear and vandalize. 3 Bloom! Bloom! Bloom! the guns declare. A people satisfied to rent enjoys the benefits. Mornings, centered by street care, by tents the veterans stake on useless grounds, I tend the lawns outside my grandfather's apartments, 1932, below his 6 room flats, clip and sweep, squaring myself to him and to that referential pride, loosened by memory in me, among the landed drunks, a man at 50 looking back on decades through loose threads, seeing the spills, the works of lives, the berserk biology. I sweep, 17, the trolley stop, the corner and ways in, giving room to children running errands for the women, to kids my age, spending what they will inside the ice-cream den, approaching the side door up, the side door opening to the shoemaker's dark quarters, Bonfi calling to me, the father of football sons a few years older than the sweeper. 50 years and more! Bloom! 80 years and more! This pen, a few years older than I am, this brown-and-pearl laminant, invites his company, the wide gold band laid in around the cap-lip. And now this healer's sedan, this sister tippling, counting men to do, centering this mirage, a brother avoiding calls, like stove-tops say, like flats that shock with their confusions of frayed wires, asking himself what counts, what business or retreat, responsibilities string pasts through the abstracts of a green awning. I climb the scaffolds, paint, or walk the rails painting eaves, leaning out and, balancing, stroking the colors down, feeling the years extemporize, the good hair falling or going white, seeing the lives of these deciding lives for the next century, authoring days of rain or dry days stretching out a summer, hearing this grandpa, say, brought home with happier prognoses, these grandmother's whispers, say, allowing herself the usual joys of being local, despite the newsreels' dark storms, 1944, and men, like case studies, in blues and drabs, sent that we might save protectorates. 4 The neighbors along the fence-lines guess what kind. And kids in ballcaps, ballgloves slipped on handlebars, begin all kinds of reasoning, letting their small hurts sink and catalogue for decades. We read our Heidegger, Rilke, Heine, our clock-smart Kant, imagining a nonsense trimmed, targeted by news assuming earthtones and devices, leaving sons with memories, with all the sharpness yet to feel they've encountered. We let the miracles show through, the sticky light of Friday's wine show through catastrophe, leaving a family innocent, suffering the dreadful foam, the words received in sealed correspondence, the famished looks of a sister afterward. Listen to the children cry for men who fall behind them with promotions. Decades look like that. And rooms, echoing the seder's smartly worded drift, lit by the moonlight clouding, where we'd hoped to find ourselves, beginning in bloom, in wooden jokes, in sleeves of muted symphonies, stepping ahead in bloom, too young to think through to good humor and to kinder times, too hot to think and not to come apart, seeing the looks of these the courts decide upon, orphans cramped by the pool's edge, delicate, unable to take the glare, the edge of sunlight straying off the water, leaving the kids dismantling days and classical devices, while boys with mothers nap, polio next door, who must at least pretend they have been sleeping, reminded themselves of afternoons, and of the fates of presidents, frosty details whispered into bedroom shade, and into the summer dark a lonely mother enters through... 5 1944, so many young men gone, so many mothers vanishing, forecast as stunts, as pitched cries echoing into tavern light, as the simplest good news or stretching out a budget, stretching the Sunday meals into midweek casseroles, windows opened up to air or shut to air in places of contagion. We might expect these hardest figures then, lives widows paint, far things come back, shimmerings settled on white buildings or travelling in parts, travelling in names for cowardice, lives widows paint, withdrawing among themselves or winking into practice. A man will wince before the trays of produce and dressed hens, will leave the cards untouched, conditioned by talk and weaponry, by the eyes of divorcees peeping from their draperies, anxious to have him come, spending his afternoons as these for all their housekeeping allow him. What if the grandfathers had not fled, because they loved the symphonies, because they enjoyed the treats, politer coffees afterward, had not been drawn along by these, by the happiest eyes been drawn away from occupations, eyes at short-hand, say, eyes edged by sleep, teaching the men first words, and words that might dismiss the nightmares hovering? She could say this anywhere, but, rabbi, would eyes turn, take up her innocence, the flames flowering as her own fires multiplied? So now this hovering make-believe survival asks of men requires these postures like her own, and legs like hers, brightening the spoiled bricks and tasks of casualties, the dusks with men loitering at burn-barrels, squatting in brush to dump, filling the air with fingers raw as wildwood. 6 I get my rations plus and drive, doors opened when I arrive, because the room's too warm, because she's stepped to the blue fields of a poor man's street, telling his jokes about the midriff and surprising busts, about the fabrics then, whatever the stitching meant, the lettings out and cuttings back, the patterns meant to show or to conceal. And she, at home, cuts back, enjoys a physician's courtesies, a room cooled down, as if for sleeping in, whatever she feared from it let out, whatever she learned in love between the scotch and burgundy, becoming this light between, the gauze screen drawn through light, between 2 caught up in the weight of their own bodies, because the evenings spooled so much, because the splendid tongues and genders complicate. I follow ideas out, the early drivers out, looking ahead, into the sound and its importance, into the weeks to come, and the walks to be alone at exercise. Silly to explain, silly to wake up ghosts, to see, in sheen again, the hovering likes of these, come to whisper at the hedge-lines, their hard wills eased in that broad anywhere they've come from, seeing the lives gone on, the shades and charms, the sweeps of new materials, the angular new lures and jet-inspired contours... 7 Were we more than thugs, casting out drag-lines, thugs correcting thugs? I walk the 5 miles out and back, reach hard for tenderness, through this embarrassment she feels to be so foreign and so used, to be waiting months without a word about a husband. And now she lets herself be touched, taking me on as confidante, until her smile says thanks, her eyes say jew, bringing the spine in line or tightening line of muscles, her nipples standing chilled, because of the breeze let slip, the minutes slipped so far. We put the nickles in. We watch the records lift, ease around and play, rhythms as dark as breath and as the club-dark elegance, steeped in the levels and musts of selves, imagining there had been no bivouac, no surgeons cutting away at prophecy, no husbands sprawled and finding every need for language. -- The lightning walks in unafraid. The lightning eases the voices in some lives, the hands with articles, with looks that gladly stand the talking to, seeking the selves they have become, remembering the looks of blocks and fences topped by barbs, where she was young and fit enough, getting back among the young men getting back. I am convicted then, mind and appetite, by months of night travel, months of schooling men suppose a styled ignorance, vets whose shoulders drop, whose fingers reach more deeply into pockets, that such as she might love me any less. 8 So used to roots, to pillage, to faces like their own, to voluble and local time, what hope withstands, what affecting etiquette extends the reach of a subscription? Maybe another car next year, a Riviera, Merc, some powerhouse and happy leather, conveniently equipped, abstracting flesh, distracting a man from scenes focussed by crosshairs, imagining that splash and progress into mulberries, leaving the sisters close, the girls their griefs and competitions for a husband. We change our minds on everything. We let our animals decide, the veiled looks of mothers bringing the kids around, and the silence of the daughters set before me prospering, seen to prospering, letting a right hand visit and affirm, drift within the private and protected space, among the fine-boned solitudes and mounding healthy breasts. A man will need to catch himself. And I, I sometimes catch myself, in the eyes of mothers asked come in, reading the amplitude gaze means, or personal interest makes of all the common human places. Migrations behind them everywhere. And, everywhere, this century-wide pour of refugees, the changing voices, lovely possibles, "of course you've seen one, doctor," followed by forms of breath, fingers holding the palms up a little off the table, the palm-flats working as a daughter's asked for breath, because I've asked a girl to breathe more deeply and continue, letting the hand reach in and the scrubbed fingers work, seeing the worlds gathering form in everybody's guesses. * A mother will walk away well pleased, look up and speak less thinly afterward, asking a man what restaurants, what laundresses must cost him, and wouldn't you think?, and wouldn't you?, asking a doctor home to dine and sip along on the espresso, a man to help himself, offering the plates of sausages, passing the vino and spumoni, offering the guitars and now the beauties of 2 daughters: Even if I admit, and even, before the conversation's finished with, before the old man hooks me with his worldly argument, admit to being mildly made scared by their proposals, either of the 2 , they're both agreed, watching my eyes for interest -- We let the sentence complicate. We let the sentence stand improbably complete, the end of some response, feeling the quiet circulate, wrapping myself to travel lightly, self-possessed, ashamed by the redundance rising news steeps in, and rumored stratagems, the ways a turn of phrase would race through turns of company. For each of the riddles and hand-bag koans, brought up with these, the forms of a new bookkeeping, features the lighting doctors now, (the looks of arsenal styled to estates and worship places, styled to voice, I think, and alterations in the practice, to the rinse behind cut words, unable to say, and observing regimen,) I see the twittering, light things setting on a subject, doubting the wisdom as hands drift here along a lap-desk, or as the hands are given to drag, rubbing wastes away.
Go to Topping Off (3)
© Copyright Robert Lietz.