A mere drive home had brought about a change. No—it was the newspaper that
morning. Among the film ads and comic strips and crossword puzzle, an image
called out to me. A memory of last fall. A vision of dance. Closing my eyes
revealed every move, every sway of cloth, each note. Try reading Moby-Dick while dreaming of dancers. It was a tap on the shoulder from God to go. And I
went. Went home for an evening. I attended the first performance with my mother
and would attend another. Giving Mom and Dad a call before I left, I cut short
their trip to the zoo. Milwaukee Zoo. I rode my bike to the lot where I'd
parked my car. A trip to take a trip. The seats were down in the back. I'd had
to store my bike there earlier that week after someone had taken a rock to the
back window and scattered prisms of glass everywhere. During Bible study the
night before, I'd removed three pieces from the soles of my flip-flops. A few
days earlier I'd plucked the last piece from my right-hand pinky finger. It had
glistened like a single grain of sugar. It is now embedded in someone else's
sole. It was two pm. The performance was at eight pm. The drive would take two
hours traveling at the speed limit. It took me an hour and a half. Of course it
had begun to rain. But I don't mind rain. Rain is my favorite precipitation. I
always say that.
Starting the car, WGN kicks on. Memories of silent car rides with my father.
Always this radio station filling the silence. Not an uncomfortable silence.
One in which the company of another seems to outweigh the quantity of what is
said. Someone I can't stand is on the radio. I can't remember whom. All the
voices meld together but are at the same time distinct when listened to one at
a time. Besides, I have brought with me my own voices. Jefferson Airplane.
Surrealistic Pillow. A record that was played when I was home for spring break.
My dad is cool. He's got record albums. They used to be stored in the linen
closet in boxes. He got rid of some of them. He still owns over four hundred.
Now they line one of the shelves in our family room. Four hundred pieces of
artwork on a single shelf. I photographed them in high school. The photograph
sits on top of the records. A record of records.
My mother looks like her mother. A snapshot of her mother. A photograph becomes
a mirror. There is one of my mother as a teenager that became a mirror for me.
But this was five years ago. Five years ago I wouldn't have jumped in the car
and gone. Granted I went home. But I would have missed the experience.
The ride home calms. Farmland and barns line both sides of the busy highway.
No—it really isn't that busy. A few cars. The railroad tracks follow the curves
of the highway. Telephone poles and wires follow the turns of the tracks. Every
third, fourth, fifth pole is tilted, crooked. Nothing too detrimental. A farm
on the left has sheep. Most crowd near the house. Two stand beside the swimming
pool slide. The barn in the background is both erect and falling, discolored and
vibrant. I am tempted to pull off to the side of the road and photograph them.
Last week I took some photographs on my bike ride. I sent them to my parents.
My mother wants to enlarge one and hang it in the front room. I've got a thing
for old buildings. It's the history. The stories.
My dad's first album, Yes. His first concert, Chicago and the Beach Boys. There
is a photograph I took when he wasn't looking. He has his back to the camera,
sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the turntable in the
entertainment center in our family room. There are records lying on the floor
next to him. He is holding an album cover in his hands, reading the back.
Looking for words that spark memory. Looking for memories. There is another of
him kneeling on the couch reading the titles of the music on the shelf. His
back is to the camera again. He didn't come with us to the performance. He
doesn't speak dance.
Neither does the other guy. The one who sent me my first letter. My first real
letter. Written on paper with ink and sent. He gave me words that I read and
reread. He gave me the ability to jump in the car and go. We saw each other for
five years. We met last summer.
My vision has adjusted to darkrooms. I can see in the dim red light as well as
in any well-lit room. The stalls with black machines. The tubs of chemicals
lining the center of the room. The sound of running water filling the sink
continually. Just enough noise to fill the silence. A comfortable silence. I
am a photographer and I am undisturbed. Everything is seen as a photograph now.
Through the lens of a camera. On film. No escape. A bird in the air is level
with the seventh floor of a building. The wind is so strong that the creature
is suspended in a single spot. A single moment. Wings flap but to no avail.
Stories down, tumbling on the wind, a plastic bag sweeps along. White and black
lettering dances across the cracked sidewalk. Torn handles. As a conductor waves
his hands. There was a study of chairs. A study of books in a case. A study of
statues. I would like to photograph statues. Just statues. Art displaying art.
Dreams of a photographer dashed by technique.
Looking through albums there are pictures of a red dog. Many. I was told not to
waste film on the red dog. He is gone. I have memories. It wasn't a waste. I
didn't make it home in time. I didn't pick up and go. I didn't know I had to.
But this was after.
I walk into the theater. The solid, heavy, ornate doors. People crowding the
lobby waiting for their seats. Groups face each other dressed in black sipping
mimosas from plastic flutes. Others in jeans or slacks or dresses or. Many have
dreadlocks. Art students and dance students. I cling to them. I have red
dreadlock curls. The people greet each other with kisses on the cheek. The men
wear slim fitting tops and tailored slacks. Dancers. Grace and beauty by being
themselves. I cling to them. I danced years ago. Leapt, skipped, jumped,
twirled around the basement of a church. The lady with a cane. She taught
dance. Taught expression. I wore a blue tutu and danced to The Little Mermaid.
Mom still cries when she hears the song. Years were filled with Fred and
Ginger, and Gene. They still are.
A window. A window ledge to sit upon. Perspective to look out and see. Time to
look. Eat a bowl of cereal and look. See the puddle of water that is there
whether or not it has rained. The long thin piece of plastic that vines around
a tree branch. The ominous tree full of ominous birds looking ominous. Of
cabbages and kings. There is a street lamp that tells of a person's coming by
revealing a shadow long before the body emerges. The room is still as the girl
sits and watches. We are not afforded this any longer. I'm not that old but I
remember a different time. A time with my sister. Passing through the gate to
the backyard and into another world. The lined patio table a map. Three spins
atop the stump of a tree. A fort behind a pile of wood. A map hidden there too.
Beautiful sheet tents. Pinned to the walls of my room. The pinholes remain.
Pillows and blankets. Every inch covered in Holly Hobbit patterns. I long for
it again. I long for her. One would never put the two of us together. But He
knew I needed her.
As in a dream, the memory blurs around the edges. The backyard slopes up to an
ancient oak and fenced-in vegetable garden. This is before the garden. At the
bottom of the hill, a child runs and hears music. A man in love with his
daughters. A father teaches his children a song. They will dance to it at her
Treasures are collected. An old glass bottle with a rusted nail encased in it.
Paperbacks from an old bookstore. Rocks from a dried creek bed beneath the
bridge. Bits of glass dug up in the backyard from the farms that once stood
here. Driftwood in the shape of birds. Cicada shells, a robin's egg fallen from
a nest. The nest too. The shell a boy gave me in school. The tiny green
spaceship. A man on his motorcycle who turns his head just as the picture is
taken. Origami paper cranes. My grandmother's necklace. Recipes. Thoughts
written on backs of receipts. Postcards from an art museum and cardboard stars.
Words in ink on my wrist. Marc Chagall walks with me. Here and there.
Cross-legged I sit on a bed. Amid drafts and dictionaries and poetry and
papers. Luftmensch. Red dreadlock curls encompass me.
I didn't grow up in the country. Or the city. There is a local institution we
call the popcorn shop. A landmark. A rite of passage. A Wrigley Gum sign hangs
in the window of the red door indicating Open or Closed. The smell of popcorn
beckons through the narrow entrance. A brick tunnel. The right wall holds a
photograph of a train extending the length of the wall. Picture next to picture
next to picture. It might be the circus. Next, a plastic tub that once held
thousands of pieces of bubble gum. It now holds white paper bags. Shelves of
glass jars. At the end of the tunnel sits the owner. Sometimes a high school
kid. On a stool. Hand him your bag. The contents emptied on a tray lined with
white paper. Systematically the candy is returned to the white paper bag. He
knows which are the two-cent candies, which are the fifteen-cent ones. His
fingers run over the white and black tax sheet to add a few pennies. We were
given tokens for the popcorn shop at the school's holiday parties. Plastic
coins larger than a silver dollar with their value written in black permanent
marker. Across the street are the fountains. We tossed coins in, he and I.
I run past two boys smoking pipes. Halfway back I remove my flip-flops and
continue on. The lights are still on the tennis courts. Riding past a couple on bikes. A glimpse of women who bake chocolate cakes.
It's just as I remembered. Balcony seats. I always get balcony seats. People in
the orchestra are not the only ones to have their breath taken away. Not the
only ones to shed a tear at the beauty of a figure in dance. The joy of a
figure in dance. The dancers are as before. The steps are different. Until the
end of the evening. Then collective memory. Those who were there last time know
what is coming. I know what is coming. A soft golden light pierces the dark
stage. A spiritual floods the place. Hands reach and yearn and tell. Beautiful
anguish. No instruments. Only human voices. I wanna be ready I wanna be ready I
wanna be ready ready to put on my long, white robe Calling out. Being heard. A
story pierces through a body. A river of fabric runs across the stage. White
and blue lights are cast. Then an upbeat tempo. A new scene. Yellow rays and
women with fans and hats. Men in suits. Sunday suits. Rock-a my soul in the
bosom of Abraham rock-a my soul in the bosom of Abraham rock-a my soul in the
bosom of Abraham o rock-a my soul. A flurry of movement. Fans swirling and
fanning and talking.
The taking of photographs is not permitted.