Saturday, October 20, 2018

Time (October 19, 2018)

My neighbor, 87, rings the doorbell to ask
if I might have seen her clipping shears
that went missing a decade ago,
with a little red paint on their shaft,
or the iron turkey bank and the porcelain
coffee cup that disappeared a while back
when her friend, now dead, called the police
to break in to see if she were ill, and have we
had trouble with our phone line, hers
is dead and her car and driver’s license
are missing though she can drive perfectly
well, just memory problems, and her son
is coming this morning to take her up
to Sheboygan, where she was born
and where the family has its burial lots,
to wait on assisted living space, and she
just wanted to say we’d been good neighbors
all these how many? years, and how lucky
I am to have found such a nice man
and could she borrow a screwdriver,
the door lock to her house is jammed.

I Have a Time Machine

But unfortunately it can only travel into the future
at a rate of one second per second,

which seems slow to the physicists and to the grant
committees and even to me.

But I manage to get there, time after time, to the next
moment and to the next.

Thing is, I can't turn it off. I keep zipping ahead—
well not zipping—And if I try

to get out of this time machine, open the latch,
I'll fall into space, unconscious,

then desiccated! And I'm pretty sure I'm afraid of that.
So I stay inside.

There's a window, though. It shows the past.
It's like a television or fish tank.

But it's never live; it's always over. The fish swim
in backward circles.

Sometimes it's like a rearview mirror, another chance
to see what I'm leaving behind,

and sometimes like blackout, all that time
wasted sleeping.

Myself age eight, whole head burnt with embarrassment
at having lost a library book.

Myself lurking in a candled corner expecting
to be found charming.

Me holding a rose though I want to put it down
so I can smoke.

Me exploding at my mother who explodes at me
because the explosion

of some dark star all the way back struck hard
at mother's mother's mother.

I turn away from the window, anticipating a blow.
I thought I'd find myself

an old woman by now, traveling so light in time.
But I haven't gotten far at all.

Strange not to be able to pick up the pace as I'd like;
the past is so horribly fast.

Time as Memory as Story

                        Let’s say it’s half a century later.
                        Let’s say it’s never too late.
                        Let’s say Skull Valley.
                        Let’s say.

                        Let’s say it’s half a century later.
                        Let’s say it’s never too late.
                        Let’s say Skull Valley.
                        Let’s say.

Time has no mercy. It’s there. It stays still or it moves.
And you’re there with it. Staying still or moving with it.
I think it moves. And we move with it. And keep moving.

Eleven years old and soon to be in fifth grade. That’s time.
Boys’ time. Who knows what time it is but them. Eternally.
No one knows time better than they. Always and forever.

Our family. Mama, me, Angie, Gilbert, Earl, Louise.
Kids. Daddy working in Skull Valley for the AT&SF RY.
Mama just packed us up in New Mexico and moved us.

Suddenly. A surprise. To me anyway. To join Daddy.
Who was away most of the time. Arizona. California.
Sometimes Colorado. Sometimes Texas. Always away.

Railroad work, labor, heavy machinery. Rails and sun.
Trains always moving. I remember the war. The 1940s.
Soldiers. Tanks. Cannons with huge guns and wheels.

Time does have mercy. But it doesn’t enumerate or wait.
It moves. And we move with it. Though for boys, maybe?
I wanted to wait. So things could happen more gently.

A boy misses his father. A boy watches younger sisters.
And younger brothers. All growing. And he’s growing.
And he misses the times his mother is happy, laughing.

Who knows time as well as boys and their young worries?
I was a boy growing within a family, community. And dreams.
And girls. Girl teenagers. I adored them, their pretty ways.

In the fourth grade at McCartys. Made a bookshelf in shop.
Proudly. Sanded. Varnished. Shiny. For my Mama.
With love. I wanted to be a good carpenter like my Dad.

Dad drank though. Dark moods. Dark scary times. Danger.
And words hurtful, abrasive, accusing. Anger, pain, scorn.
A boy wonders. About time. About forever. When it ends.

I loved my Dad. Wonderful. Skilled man. Artist, singer.
Precious and assuring. Yet. Yet. Unpredictable moments.
You can never tell about time either. Like that, it is. It is.

We farmed. Corn, melons, chili, beets, carrots, cilantro.
Onions. Even potatoes in little mounds but they died.
Corn fields at night. Irrigating. June nights. I loved forever.

My grandpa I loved very much. Time was soothing then.
We didn’t really need time when days and nights were safe.
And with him they were. A healer and respected kiva elder.

Herded his sheep. Along with my uncle Estevan. And Roy.
Roy was a strange one. Chinese manner. So people said.
From Chinatown in California. He had a gentle soft smile.

And a storyteller he was. Yes. About his horse. Lightning.
Fast and nimble and quick. Lightning, his horse. He’d ride.
Yes, ride to see his girl to call her outside. Estella! Estella!

Stories. I’d listen. The boy I was. Seeing my uncle riding.
Riding his fast and nimble horse. I’d listen and he’d smile.
Memory and time. It doesn’t count all the time. Listening.

And because mothers are always loving. Alert. Ever caring.
Mama decided we must go to Skull Valley where Dad was.
Up to Grants, the depot there, we got on the westbound train.

Sacks and boxes, a trunk, suitcase or two. Clothes, things.
What did we have? I don’t remember. Not much though.
We never had much. Poor. And lonely for Dad always away.

I wonder. I wonder. Too often that’s been the Indian story.
Father gone. Mother and kids left behind. Is it like that?
Yes, too much. Dad didn’t like working for the hard railroad.

He’d complain and rant about the crude and mean whites.
The slave rules. The company. Trains powerful, unending.
Time I thought was in the trains. Fast, loud, dangerous.

I was afraid of the powerful trains. Like I said I’d see them.
Soldiers, army troop trains, going east and going west.
Unending. I wondered where they were all going. Where?

Lightning and thunder trapped in the train power and steel.
Yet I yearned for blue song. Hollow and lonely long tone.
Coming round the bend, and something beyond the horizon.

Far away maybe. Travel. Some other dream. Youth. Yes.
I liked songs. Music I heard on the radio. Hank Williams.
And stories that rang through the air. Talk and listening.

It was the first time ever we were leaving the reservation.
Only one world till then it seemed. Acoma community. Ours.
On the edge of another world though, something strange.

And fearful too. The dark moments. Like when Daddy drank.
When there was fire from another world. An unknown.
Yet fascinating somehow, oddly, something on the far horizon.

I didn’t remember riding the train before. Ever! Until then.
Like riding thunder. The horse, Lightning, Roy talked about.
Riding off somewhere into the dark night. Fast, fast. Fast.

Riding toward night. We watched the land speeding away.
Far across the land, along the edge of it was a highway.
With cars and trucks. Moving, moving. Only slower.

Time speeds, like you speed. Only not an awareness.
Or any way to tell what is taking place. When young.
And you’re trying to furnish your own answers, solutions.

To mysteries you’re anxious about. When all’s uncertain.
Youth is not the time when time is apparent. Too slow.
Or too fast. And you don’t really have clear reasons. Yet.

At Ashfork we got off the train onto the depot platform.
I sensed being lost. Lost mother and lost children. Dusk.
Where was this world? Where did home go? Children?

Lost at the edge of a strange world with a gray green depot.
Large letters painted. Little sister is hungry. She whimpers.
Mama says, “Hold my hand.” We walk, up street, walk, walk.

It could be Indians. A family, mother and children. Lost?
Where are they going? Up the street I think. Looking.
For something to eat. My mother held only a little money.

Hamburgers we split. Water and water. Self-conscious.
Moment is time. I looked out and saw a train passing.
Our train! I thought it was our train. But it wasn’t, just fear!

Wait. Then a train down Chino Valley. Long-distance night.
Stars vanished in too much night. Long day into night.
Where does time go? Does it go nowhere but into night?

Then at the sudden edge. The horizon. A vast bowl of light.
And only at the far end, trees. And still far ahead of us.
The train engine light. Always a light showing the way.

My brother and I excited. A deer stunned by train light.
Stilled. Stark. A cut stone. The dazzling moment held us.
Youth and time. Nothing like it. Thrilled. Never until then.

Years later I tried to tell about that moment to a love.
But love is time too. So. Can’t do anything but live time.
The horizon and beyond. Full of stars. Even unseen.

Always belief is firmer than faith. With and without dreams.
We arrived in Skull Valley early in the morning. Three-thirty?
Where were we? On the other side of the moon from Acoma.

A mother and her children and assorted bags and boxes.
Dreams. Time. Horizon. Farther from home than belief.
It felt like that. Within moment when you can’t turn away.

A train depot on the other side of the moon. Deserted.
After the train pulled away. Only the rails and starshine.
What’s a boy say to his mother? Earlier than anything.

A man whose picture I’d seen. White man. With a cap.
With a visor. Sitting at a tall wooden desk with shelves.
And a metal puzzle thing making clicking-clacking noises.

Who spoke with Mama. Who smiled. Who wondered at us.
An Indian woman with Indian children. Who were strangers.
Like we just came from the planet Acoma. The other side.

Of day. Of the present early morning night in that moment.
The telegrapher with the visor said. I think. I think he did.
He knew my father. Knew where he lived. Two miles away.

So we took a road. Early, early morning night trek. Time.
Shimmers in an odd amazing way. Within what might be.
A boy and a story. The dawn coming. Horizon ever so near.

When we knocked on his railroad worker housing door.
Daddy was shocked. In his underwear. Shadows upon.
And the background of his and Mama’s and our history.

We come to discover each other. All failures and gains.
Counting and mattering, no matter the time or sequence.
We laugh and hug and cry. Daddy. Daddy. We’re here.

Once again together. Family, history, travel, time, love.
To say what time is, even fifty years in the past to now.
In this moment, Skull Valley is just as real as it ever was.

Memory we cross and cross again. Treks, trauma, and on.
We do know what time is. It is loss and gain. A lingering.
Within discovery we come to ourselves. Finding. Destiny.

Moments recalled like friends. It was that way or another.
We’re fairly certain either way. Stories. They are with us.
Time doesn’t forsake. It doesn’t soothe or decrease. Never.

Skull Valley. A time for a boy. History engulfed beyond.
When I went back. Recently. I ate with friends at the cafe.
By the railroad track. I was fascinated by photographs.

Of the mountain lions in the mountains nearby. Ever there.
No matter what. And the stories of bones. Tall tales or truths.
They’re told. Apaches, it’s said. Wagon trains. Lies or no.

Our history is more than here. We know more than realize.
We realize what we don’t know. Or want to know. Truths.
Stalk us, just like they found. A boy. More than fifty years ago.

He discovered a world beyond Acoma. A world apart.
And a world together as time, memory, as story. As his own.
We seek and are found. Secure. Actual. Safe. And serene.

Last summer near Prescott that boy fifty vast years later.
Found carved images on stone walls that fit his hands.
Carved in time. Eternal as stone. Past and present. Ever.

                                                                Let’s say it is ever an ongoing story.

“Time does not bring relief; you all have lied”

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied   
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!   
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;   
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,   
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;   
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.   
There are a hundred places where I fear   
To go,—so with his memory they brim.   
And entering with relief some quiet place   
Where never fell his foot or shone his face   
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”   
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

Long time a child, and still a child, when years

Long time a child, and still a child, when years 
Had painted manhood on my cheek, was I,— 
For yet I lived like one not born to die; 
A thriftless prodigal of smiles and tears, 
No hope I needed, and I knew no fears. 
But sleep, though sweet, is only sleep, and waking, 
I waked to sleep no more, at once o’ertaking 
The vanguard of my age, with all arrears 
Of duty on my back. Nor child, nor man, 
Nor youth, nor sage, I find my head is grey, 
For I have lost the race I never ran: 
A rathe December blights my lagging May; 
And still I am a child, tho’ I be old, 
Time is my debtor for my years untold.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Violin (October 5, 2018)

Juliek's Violin

Even here?
In this snowbound barrack?

Suddenly, the illicit sounds
of Beethoven’s concerto

erupt from Juliek’s smuggled violin,
suffusing this doomsday shed

teeming with the trampled
and the barely alive,

realm of frostbite and squalor,
clawing panic and suffocation—

Insane, God of Abraham,
insanely beautiful:

a boy insisting
winter cannot reign forever,

a boy conveying his brief,
bounded life

with a psalmist’s or a cantor’s
arrow-sure ecstasy—

One prison-striped friend
endures to record

the spellbinding strings,
the woebegone—

and the other,
the impossible Polish fiddler,

is motionless by morning,
his renegade instrument

under the haggard weight

of winter-killed, unraveling men.
Music at the brink of the grave,

eloquent in the pitch dark,
tell-true, indelible,

as never before,
as never after—

emending beauty,

linger in the listening,
truth-carrying soul of Elie,

soul become slalom swift,
camp shrewd, uncrushable;

abundance, be here, always here,
in this not-yet-shattered violin.

Cyrus Cassells, "Juliek’s Violin" from The Crossed-Out Swastika.  Copyright © 2012 by Cyrus Cassells.  Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press,

Music Is Time

Music is time, said the violin master.
You can’t miss the stop or you’ll miss the train.
One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four,
one, two, three, four.

She clapped her hands together
as the boy moved the bow across the strings.
One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four,
one, two, three, four, the violin master shouted,

louder and more shrill so that her voice
traveled through the house like a metronome,
guiding him, commanding him to translate the beat,
to trust his own internal rhythm.

Good boy, she said.
See how hard you have to be on yourself?
How will your violin know who you are
unless you make it speak?

The Negativo Trio

NO was a violin, NOT a viola, and NEVER a cello. They were noble instruments, but highly nonconformist. Prickly in personality, if sexy. Wayward. Always went in their own direction. Made odd choices. Loved the difficult. Naysayed the popular. Collectively unified in a single reaction to the mainstream: negative.
      When they first chanced to come together, they doubted they would ever meld.
      But the minute they began to make music, they discovered a numinous core to their triangle. They couldn’t see this core, smell it, or touch it—and neither could their slender audience (thirty people on folding chairs in a church). But all felt it was a natural union of sound, nimble and sublime.
     That night they became the Negativo Trio.
     Retiring to nestle in the velvet warmth of their cases, they whispered to each other, debriefing and musing in the first of many nightly pajama parties. This very first evening they discovered that what they wanted above all were two things. One was to play their music with the very nacre of its nature, and the other was fame.
     Night after night they played. Increased their bookings. Recorded. And were downloaded. They raised money to pay off the debt of their obscure choices. On stage they each shone with the patina of centuries: maple, spruce, and willow with an elegant varnish of gum arabic, honey, and the whites of eggs.
     But they weren’t famous, even though they played a nocturne as if every note were a black pearl.
     Yet NO, NOT and NEVER did everything everyone advised them to be famous: they networked, they nodded nicely to publicists, they flashed their Negativo news on social media. But the fact was, the trio wasn’t for everybody.
     “Do you think it’s our name?” NOT the Viola asked. “Would we be more famous as the Nightingale Trio?”
     “Nope,” said NEVER the Cello. “Negativo has our brio.” And NEVER was right. The three of them played with nerve. The knottier the piece, the better. They made their audiences reach.
     “We should be sexier,” NO the Violin said. “Naughtier. It’s our propensity for the minor key; we should lighten it up.” But when they played in the minor key, their audiences felt they had arrived at the navel of the universe. The instruments could never give up the minor.
     Would the Negativos ever learn what the people in the seats knew? The trio wasn’t famous because, well, they kind of unnerved people. You had to have nettle to take them on.
     Though they certainly wouldn’t have said no to notoriety, eventually they had to admit that they could not surrender their quirks.
     “We will never be famous,” NEVER said one night after they had nestled in their cases for their midnight debriefing.
     “I’m nauseous,” said NO extravagantly.
     “And neglected,” said NOT excessively.
     “Never,” said NEVER decisively.
     They would never fill the biggest halls. Or be the first name on the tips of tongues. And with the inverted logic of misplaced dreams, even though they had toured, had notched up review, and had triumphs and fans, and websites and bloggers, and a body of criticism devoted to them, they felt they had reached their nadir.
     The next morning they couldn’t seem to get up. They lay immobile, as if their velvet-lined cases were coffins.
      A netherworldly silence descended.
      The dust of despair drifted through the crack between the case tops and bottoms onto these living dead.
     Time dragged like a dirty hem.
     Naught into Nil.
     Desolation into Dormancy.
     Dormancy into . . .
                                 . . . Rest.
     Rest into Snoozing.
     Snoozing into Sleep.
     Sleep into Healing.
     The nostrum of sleep lasted until the pinkish light that heralds spring.
     A noisy nuthatch drilled for insects in a nearby tree. It was a forest sound, yodel-y and ebullient. It awoke the maple and spruce and willow of the Negativo’s constitutions. Their bodies couldn’t help responding to the vernal signal given when spring utters its only word: Nevertheless. 
     If not fame, nevertheless music.
     “Numbskull nuthatch!” NEVER growled.
     “Ninny nuthatch,” NO yawned.
     “Bumptious bird,” NOT shifted, inadvertently jostling the snap to the dusty case. It sprang open. NO unclicked and climbed out, too. And NEVER heaved the lid.
      They played immediately of course, trying a violin piece by the underrated Nardini. Most thought him a lightweight, but the Negativos gave it their signature interpretation of naked necessity.
     “Oh it was NOTHING,” they began to say to one another as they did musical favors for themselves, producing scores of synchronicities and the occasional juicy nihilistic dissonance. They buoyed on their notes, as if a midnight Pacific of calm, rich, dark negatives were effused with luminescence.
      How relieved their listeners were to have them back. Again their audiences were made aware of the noses between their ears. That slight, brief piquancy in the nostrils was the smell of earthly harmony. It came from within the airy column that united the instruments, the nucleus of their refusal to suit. Such accord, though it is as rare as ease, seems like nothing.
     And so the Negativo Trio was known as a trio’s trio.
     Not famous, but known.
     Contrary to the vicissitudes of fame, ease is the path of the known, smooth as the satin of the instruments’ finish. To be recognized, yet not to suffer the disadvantages of fame, is a state so ideal it is the pinnacle of a career. NO, NOT and NEVER had at last woken up to that.

Bach in the DC Subway

As an experiment,
The Washington Post
asked a concert violinist—
wearing jeans, tennis shoes,
and a baseball cap—
to stand near a trash can
at rush hour in the subway
and play Bach
on a Stradivarius.
Partita No. 2 in D Minor
called out to commuters
like an ocean to waves,
sang to the station
about why we should bother
to live.

A thousand people
streamed by.  Seven of them
paused for a minute or so
and thirty-two dollars floated
into the open violin case.
A café hostess who drifted
over to the open door
each time she was free
said later that Bach
gave her peace,
and all the children,
all of them,
waded into the music
as if it were water,
listening until they had to be
rescued by parents
who had somewhere else to go.