Yes, let’s picture Prince. His blue suit, the white clouds, that impish grin, big brown eyes drawing you in….
One, Two, One, two, three, four.
I was working part time in a five-and-dime. My boss was Mr. McGee. Seems that I was busy doing something close to nothing But different than the day before. That’s when I saw her, ooh, I saw her. She walked in through the out door, out door.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
[lyrics from Prince’s Raspberry Beret]
[This is a re-post. Prince passed away five years ago, a genius lost much too soon.]
We learned about souls in the first or second grade, not long after we learned about God. Maybe it was part of getting ready for our first confession. Preparing…that’s what they called it…preparing for our first confession.
There’s a soul in us, they said, in the middle of us, and it wasn’t our heart. Other than that, they were fuzzy on the details. They didn’t tell us how it looked, like they might if it was an arm or leg, or even a stomach or brain. What I do remember was that we are born with a clean soul. Before you got old enough to sin, your soul is clean. Perfectly clean.
Then you sin, and it’s not so clean. If you sin a lot, if you commit a mortal sin, or even multiple mortal sins, your soul turns. Then, if you go to confession, and say your penance, it gets washed clean again.
Back then, I pictured the soul like a circle. It wasn’t in my heart, and it wasn’t in my head, but somewhere else inside me. It was a very nuanced part of our being, although I knew nothing of nuance and I had a very mixed up idea of what it was to be a being. So I pictured the soul like what I would describe now as a pie chart. If you’ve been good, you have a nice clean circle, and if you’ve been bad, well, you can picture that pie chart.
Tall trees stand stubborn, dark straggly lines against a soft blue sky. It could be the middle of February. We … the humans … watch. We tap our toes and wonder. Isn’t it time for spring? Some small, discernible bits of newness? Some buds, or some green, some encouraging signs of a new season.
No, the trees look back, offering nothing more than a confident sway, as the uppermost branches, leafless, bend in unison.
They’re mostly oaks and a few poplars. And it’s like they’ve become defiant, adamant at least, about who’s in control. Plain, unadorned branches, move slowly left and then right in the breeze. Shouldn’t they be working on some green, some buds, even some pollen? I’ve watched this slow drama play out so many years, and yet I wonder impatiently what happens first. Tiny sprigs of green, or those long strands of gold pollen?
The trees, though, the trees stand stubborn, and they sway when they feel like it. They move with a swagger, resistant to every human wish for spring. We’re all used to waiting now, aren’t we? But It feels like it will be the 4th of July, and still those big old trees will be standing there looking like they looked in February. We … the humans … restless, watching, waiting for them to green up. And waiting for a life that resembles something like it used to be. Any day now, maybe next week, maybe in a few months.
Absent-minded, I look outside, and my brain works to pair long lines, from trees, with vertical panes, from the window. I like it when they’re perfectly parallel. When I take pictures in the woods, I angle the shot so trees naturally slanted to the sun come out straight up and down in the picture. Flowers too. And within the compulsion of these mental confines falls the nuisance and distraction of utility lines. Struggling to aim up over the lines so they don’t pull your eye from the clouds, or the sun, or the trees on the horizon. Sometimes, though, lines are inescapable. Sometimes you can’t take out the lines and have the same picture.
When I was little, we went to 12 o’clock mass on Sundays. That’s what it was called, 12 o’clock mass. Back then Catholics didn’t sing the same songs as Protestants. I don’t think singing Protestant songs qualified as a sacrilege, but some songs were Catholic songs and some were not. My recollection, anyhow. Like the Catholic Lord’s Prayer was different from the Protestant Lord’s Prayer. Although we called it the Our Father. In the confessional box, the last words from the priest were always, “For your penance, say five Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.”
It so happened that while we were getting ready for 12 o’clock mass on Sundays, there was a cartoon show on TV called Davy and Goliath. Davy was a little boy with a dog, Goliath, and the show had a religious theme of some sort. I liked the show but I never got to see the end because we left for church about fifteen minutes before it was over. The intro music for that show was A Mighty Fortress, and since then I’ve always loved that song. I think as a kid I found the words impressive. Mighty and cruel hate and Sabaoth. Abideth and doth. And the melody was sort of compelling. But I knew it wasn’t a song we ever sang in church.
One Sunday in November, Davy and Goliath was pre-empted, or maybe it was interrupted. It was that weekend when almost all the shows were pre-empted. Back then, breaking news was truly breaking news. As it turned out, that week, the previous Friday, my parents had to go to the funeral home because one of my uncles had died. I suppose I was young enough I didn’t have to go with them. When it came time for my parents to return home, some aunts and uncles were with them. I guess to pick up their kids, my cousins, who stayed at our house too that Friday. With the oldest in charge. When they walked in the house, in their Sunday best funeral home clothes, all the kids, including me, and the cousins, were jumping up and down on the beds. I don’t know how it started. I guess it just looked like fun. The grown ups were so angry. I’m not sure this is important, but it is the context for me that following Sunday.
My memory is that we were getting ready to leave for church on Sunday and the TV was still on. I think we all looked at the screen because they were going to show the guy who killed President Kennedy. We were standing in the living room watching and could see a lot of people in camera view, and they brought a man out in handcuffs. I remember thinking something like, “Is that him?” It seemed seconds later, one of the men on the bottom of the screen moved toward the prisoner, poked a gun into the suspect’s waist, and shot him. Right there, on TV while we watched.
Kennedy was just killed a few days earlier. Now, there we are in our living room, the guy who shot Kennedy was already caught, and some other man walks up to him in the middle of the press and the police, and shoots him dead. It seemed nobody even moved to stop the shooter. It was surreal. I’m sure I didn’t know that word back then. But it was the feeling we’d all had that whole creepy weekend. Surely, someone would come on TV and tell us some story other than Kennedy was dead. I think we expected them to say they got it wrong. It was a practice or a drill maybe, or somebody else was killed and they just thought it was Kennedy. Or they thought Kennedy died, but he was really still alive. Well, that didn’t happen. Now it was two days later, and they were saying this guy we just saw on TV got through the crowd and shot the suspect. The suspect who shot the president. Huh??
I was thinking, “Can we all go back to Davy and Goliath and A Mighty Fortress?”
But no, we turned off the TV that Sunday, piled in the car, and went off to 12 o’clock mass.
I’m no good at transitions. A few days after Christmas, people are ready to move on. They throw out the wrapping paper, they recycle the boxes, they take down the tree. January 23rd, and I’m still trying to squeeze in every moment, every song, every note I missed.
That cricket. That damn cricket. The last cricket.
He had to be in the house. Sometimes I walked in the kitchen, and he’d stop, and then seconds later he’d start back up. That cheep was always good for a tug, or a smile, somewhere back in the emotional part of me. It was the sound of something vaguely reassuring. I don’t know, a warm muggy night? You go outside and it seems the whole neighborhood is asleep. Maybe a lazy pause in the dark, on the cement step at the end of the walk. He sounded like the moment you were alone with the trees and the stars and the balmy air and the sounds of the last bits of summer.
It’s one of those microseconds when you look up with hopeless hope that somehow there’s still some summer left, and that’s all it lasts. A microsecond.
Embers flare and trail to the dark. A darkness thick and quiet.
Intermittent quiet … sporadic cracks flicker and pop. An abrupt smack, and another, and then another, catapult the burning sparks up into the emptiness above.
I look up and follow the trail of random lines and tiny lights. It could have been the smoke hanging above a campfire on a summer night. Or the puffs of smoke at a Christmas tree lot in the middle of December. But this was no campfire, and there was no festive holiday music. The smoky fog hovering around me fills the air with a mood that makes you want to hide, tuck your head, wrap your arms around your legs. Hide.
Heat distorted air around the fire whips into smoky remnants and a transparent film snakes its way up, part of the wind. Higher. And even higher. Past the shadows of the trees and past the yellow crescent form of the new moon.
I could feel the chill in the air, and the damp mist, not freezing yet, but oppressive. A strange fusion of cold and warm. I’m sitting close enough for heat to reach my face, but the rest of me feels pale and sickly. Overheated and chilled at the same time. As if I was getting a fever, first the chills, even as a fever brings a warm flush to the face.
The scent of musty, maybe even acidic. Smoke. An onslaught to my sensors. Sizzling burnt wood and fiery embers.
[Warning: This is about bad dreams and scary spiders, and yes, I really did have this dream.]
I had this dream some time ago, as a teenager, or maybe as a young adult. A dream that I had to kill a spider. I don’t like to step on bugs, while I’m awake and apparently in my dreams, especially if it’s a bug that has some ‘crunch’, that is, any bug bigger than tiny. It gives me a creepy, shuddering feeling. Well, the spider in my dream seemed like the kind of spider that had some crunch. But I also knew, in my dream, I had to kill it. For whatever reason, I had to.
I guess I hoped I could just step on it, and it would die in a negligibly quick painless second. So I lifted my foot and stepped down, fully intending to smash the spider. Unfortunately, I lacked the full-fledged commitment, or fortitude, and it turned out to be almost but not quite a step. When I lifted my shoe back up, I hoped there had been enough pressure applied, the spider would be dead, and that would be the end of that.
Ahh, if dreams could be so kind. Not only was the spider still alive, but it started to grow.
It grew and it grew, this slowly expanding creature in my dream. And this was no daddy long-legs. No. This guy had long, thick, furry legs. I’m sure the dream-like state that was me felt more horrified by those scary legs than whatever threat posed by any other part of its body. It continued to grow, until it was almost as big as me. I sensed the spider was enraged, furious with me, or out of its mind, whatever type of mind it is that spiders have.
Fortunately, the dream ended there.
Just thinking about all this makes me want to shake it off. Get up, get something to eat, take a nap, take a walk.
Take the words I typed here, select them all, and click ‘delete’.