Monday, February 22, 2010

The Angel is in the Details

Giving up Facebook for Lent has led me to do some rather miraculous things, like actually start reading fiction again, after a hiatus that is embarrassing to admit for a self-proclaimed bibliophile and writer.

I eased back in with my old pal Sam Shepard, who has - of late - been penning short stories, essays, monologues, and semi-autobiographical allegories alongside the periodic play or film.  His new book is called "Day Out of Days" and when I settled in at Dancing Goats Coffee House this past Sunday morning to read it for an hour before church, I almost missed the start of the service for getting lost in his aching attention to detail, his ability to make the simplest of daily routines seem mesmerizing, his gift for finding just the right word, and never settling for anything less.  Any writing that leaves me, both, inspired and humbled has done its job in spades.  

This is the first piece in the book.  It's called "Kitchen", and somewhere Raymond Carver is smiling.  Enjoy.  

Kitchen (Sam Shepard)

I've always done my best work in the kitchen.  I don't know why.  Cooking stuff up.  Maybe that's it.  Now I've got my own kitchen deep in the country with a big round table smack in the middle.  But I am surrounded.  I'm not sure who put all this stuff in here.  Who jumbled all this up on my white brick walls as though it told some story, made some sense; some whole world out of floating fractured bits and pieces.  Pencil drawing of Seattle Slew, long after retirement - bloated pasture-belly, glazed far-off stare in his eye as though looking back to the glory days of the Triple Crown.  And, wedged between the glass and flat back frame, snapshots of different sons in different shirts doing different things like fishing, riding mules and tractors; leaning up against their different mothers at radical angles.  Postcards of nineteenth century Lakota warriors like Gaul, adopted son of Sitting Bull, price on his head; left for dead only to come back and seek his perfect vengeance at the Battle of Little Bighorn.  Henry Miller with a walking stick, black beret, sitting on a rock wall gesticulating to the camera, some quote about morality and why don't we just give ourselves over completely and unabashedly to the present, since we're all up agains the same grim prospect anyway; same sinking ship.  Slaves in sepia tone, harvesting bluegrass seed and whistling "Dixie".  Wedged between the tile and brick, more pix of hawks and galloping horses out near where we used to chase skinny coyotes back into the tangled mesquite and ocotillo.  Then Beckett's sorrowful bespectacled hawk-face, gazing into oblivion with no trace of self-pity, hands clasped between his knees.  Underneath in neat black scrawl: "There is no return game between a man and his stars."

Who scrambled all this stuff in here with no seeming regard for associative order, shape or color?  Without the slightest care for where it might all wind up.  Just randomly pinned to cupboards and door frames, slipping sideways; gathering spotted stove grease and fly shit.  El Santuario de Chimayo, for instance, caked in Christmas snow, but what's it doing right next door to a business card for my horseshoer with an anvil and hammer logo?  Then, working up the wall, there's the little bay in Lubec, Maine, where another set of rum-running ancestors lay long buried, then magic stones from Bernalillo, Wounded Knee, the painted stick, guts of the dream catcher, antelope, prairie dog, old speckled racing greyhounds flying off the tailgates; rusted spurs on the back of the black walnut door.  What's all this shit for?  Some display for who?  For me?  What for?  Some guest or other?  I have no guests.  You know that.  I'm no host.  Never have been.  Maybe the old Sonoran man who drops off split oak but no real visitors, that's for sure.  Everyone knows to stay far away.  Especially now with the tiger-brindled pit bull out front.  The screaming burro kicking buckets down the hill.  The fighting gallo in attack mode.  I'm in this bunker all my own, surrounded by mysterious stuff.  It may be time to take a break and walk back out into the dripping black woods where I know the hollowed-out Grandaddy Sycamore sits and waits for you to climb inside and breathe up into its bone-white aching arms.

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