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Words on the Street

December 23, 2005 8 comments
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The Map

December 22, 2005 15 comments

Inside the obdurate
bones of my skull, a map
to the city where I was
born, and each night I walk

its spidery lines.
I stop at each corner
to read the street names,
to gather the wanderers

who lived there once. I walk
outward from my house
on the dead end road, toward
the center of the city

and greet every half-forgotten
neighbor along the way.
I pass the house where half
a century ago, a young

girl heaved her newborn
into the well. I peer
into the scrappy yard
where she’d brought

her child; I feel them both
trembling in the dark.
The bones are there, too–
smaller and whiter than

anything on this earth.
I stop at a dirty
stream near a house where
an outcast family had

lived. I call them out
to play but hear only
the defiant murmur
of wind and water.

I’m tired then but there are
a few more miles to walk
before I sleep — past church
and school, past factories

where nothing has been made
for decades. I walk faster
under the bridge where men
with deadened eyes cling to

the bottles they thought would
save them. When I was young,
I feared that looking into
those eyes would curse me.

Now, caretaker of this lost
city, I know the reverse
is true: It’s in the turning
away that we perish.

by Patry Francis of Simply Wait

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A Little Place in Town

December 20, 2005 12 comments
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Rapture

December 19, 2005 7 comments

rhymes with rupture
and that’s exactly what the sky does,
some would have you believe.
You know those paint chips in abandoned rooms
that lie on windowsills like bits of eggshell.
This time I saw the source, a hole the size of a quarter,
struck as I was by an older, darker blue beneath,
that corollary of another soul
escaped to her maker
where surely it was warmer
this Christmas day,
heat on here only high enough
to preserve the pipes
the years she’d wintered elsewhere,
driven herself there, the county home,
to check herself in.

You see, my sister in search of a bigger house,
we were in her husband’s late,
ninety-two-year-old-grandmother’s place, eerily
empty despite their family, my brother’s, mine
and my mother, rummaging around, the furniture
intact, junk neatly stacked
on the dinning room table for the taking,
down to an address book, blank in spots
though not where my thumb stopped
the pages that sputtered under it:
“police.”

Slowly we dispersed but first just stood,
thinking, maybe, like me, how a house
without bread is not a home
(I’d come upon my mother before a bare cupboard).

Then, with my nephew of four, I took the tour.

“Right here is where she died,” he said
at a worn spot on the carpet.
His cousins, of course, had lied.
But I made my eyes go wide, saw
on a wall a picture of her church,
and caught on the floor still another pile,
her Bible on top.
Here were the real remains, I thought
and thought how odd the body is decked
with her best jewelry
instead of a good book.

I suppose we left as hopeful as not.

After the holidays, halted at a toll booth
half way home,
I read a red bumper sticker ahead:

IN CASE OF RAPTURE
THIS VEHICLE WILL BE UNMANNED.

I thought of the nerve,
the fear.
I thought then of the house,
the line on everyone’s mind:
“The place has possibilities.”

We drove off.

And looking back, I saw the earth.

Written by Karl Elder

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Home

December 18, 2005 14 comments

One winter day in my childhood, I was walking on the shoulder of a road. Fields of weeds stretched away on my right, and to my left was a tangle of Douglas firs. I can’t locate the place in time or space, but I know it was a cold still day, a “white day,” as I have always called them in my private language, when a featureless Oregon overcast erases all shadow without providing any compensatory brightness. Everything close was unnaturally distinct, though drained of color, and everything far away was dim and faded. Wherever I was, I was miles from home.

And I was toying with the word “home,” saying it over and over. An uneasiness had come over me, because the word had come free of the language, like a tooth coming loose. It no longer made sense to me. I pronounced it – the aspiration, and then the buzz of the vocal cords, damped by the closing lips into a hum. How could this sound mean anything? And why?

I walked on, over the old oil-stained pavement, under that formless white canopy. I spelled the word in my mind’s eye. It made no sense that way either. The “o” actually started inside the “h” and lingered into the “m,” while the “e” hovered uselessly at the end. Why? Why did we write the sounds down like that? And why did we use those particular sounds to mean that particular thing?

It had begun, maybe, as an exercise in de-familiarizing the familiar, a constant pastime in my childhood. I loved to lie on my back and imagine that up was down – to think how the ceiling’s plaster would crunch under my feet, and how the doors would all stand a couple feet off the ground, so you’d have to step over the low walls of the lintels to go through them, and the windows would be set low down on the walls, while their curtains would flop uselessly, because they were attached at the bottom. In my imagination I would wander all through the upside-down house: I could turn on the faucets, which all pointed upwards now, to make fountains of them; I could hoist myself up onto the shelf formed by the underside of the dining-room table. It was great fun, but of course the best fun was abruptly rolling over and having the whole thing reverse and snap back into place, right side up. A moment of dizziness, and then I was back in the usual world.

But now it was as though down had stayed up. “Home” stayed meaningless. Was it really even a word? I began to panic. All the other words began to come loose too. I mouthed the improbable sounds of my name. What tied them to me? Nothing that I could see.

I stopped on the road, and slowly turned in place. What made it a road? Only the fact that I was traveling on it. If I walked a couple steps to the centerline and sat down on the asphalt, it would no longer be a road. It would be a long, flat-topped gray ridge, extending straight to the left and the right. No road at all.

I became frightened. If it was no longer a road, then what was to keep me from sitting down in the middle of it? I might be run over by a car. Or I might already, for that matter, have forgotten something. Standing still by the side of the road – wasn’t that odd? People didn’t do that, did they? And now I didn’t know why not. And I didn’t even know, now, if I still spoke their language. Would anyone be able to understand me, or was I utterly alone, now and forever?

It takes longer to describe the experience than it did to have it. I resumed my walk. The road became a road again. Words anchored themselves in the English language again.

All except one. That one. “Home,” ever since, has been loose in its socket. An undependable word. Or maybe – as I have more recently come to think of it – a little opening, a window, through which a wider, richer, more dangerous world can be glimpsed.

Someday, maybe, I am going home. So drive carefully.

Written by Dale Favier of
Mole.

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