Wednesday, August 5, 2015

August 5: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Miners Falls, Sharon Olds, "The Race," Adventures of Stickman

For years he found working late dispiriting, for he lived to see his kids.  On his desk, among the piles of mechanicals, memoranda, purchase orders, magazines, and page proofs, and upon his walls were a number of photographs:  a shot of himself and his father and brother and sister taken years ago in front of their house on Carroll Street; a picture of Robert, ten years of age, shaking hands with Pope John XXIII during a general audience at the Vatican, "the greatest moment of my son's life," Ives used to think, and a third and favorite shot, of himself and Annie and the kids when they were small, about 1956, posed in the park before Grant's Tomb.  Ives was in suit and tie, and Annie beautiful in a coat she'd received the Christmas past and a brilliant blue scarf, standing behind a stroller in which sat Caroline in a bonnet; Robert, age six, was dapper in a little bow tie and jacket, his flaxen hair falling over his innocent lineless face.  That had been taken on a late autumn day when shortly they were to meet with Ramirez  and his family, all of them piling into a big roomy black Oldsmobile and driving up along the Hudson to get a look at the changing leaves, their picnic that afternoon taking place on a grassy hill overlooking the river, just north of Tarrytown and the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (where Robert and Ramirez's kids had earlier played like ghosts among the tombs).  He loved that photograph because he and Robert were holding hands, and although they did not look particularly alike, they were standing in nearly identical positions, their feet planted wide apart, and each regarding the other with a slightly tilting head, eyes a little sad and enchanted at the same time, smiles nearly forming on the edges of their mouths.

Yes, this passage is incredibly long, but I find it very moving.  The family man Ives surrounding his desk with pictures of his wife and kids.  Vacation photos.  Day-trip photos.  Snapshots in Central Park.  Robert with Pope John XXIII.  His whole family in front of Grant's Tomb.  Robert and Ives staring at each other with the same expressions on their faces.  Full of sadness and love.

This afternoon, I took my family on a tour of waterfalls in the Munising, Michigan, area.  We visited four.  We did it because it didn't cost anything except the gas it took to get to the falls.  As I watched my kids running down the paths through the woods, I was reminded of the day trips my parents used to take us on when I was a kid.  Like Ives and his family, we'd all pile into the van on a summer day and, in a few hours, be standing in front of a 60-foot waterfall, feeling the mist on our faces.

One of my favorite moments of the day was hiking down to the base of Miners Falls with my six-year-old son.  My son is fearless, walking along ledges and slippery tree roots.  He moved with a kid's sense of immortality, as if nothing could hurt him.  I was behind him, holding on to branches and rock outcroppings, yelling, "Slow down!  Hold on!  Wait for me!"  When we got down to the bottom, my son looked at the falls and then up at me.  "This is so cool," he said.

I felt like I was somehow reliving my childhood with my son and daughter.  Like younger versions of my mom and dad and siblings were standing on those rocks with me, watching the water crashing over the cliff above us.  Even the smell of the air--pine and wet moss and heat--were like breaths of the past.

It made me a little sad, considering one of my brothers is already gone and one of my sisters is gravely ill.  Every time I get a text on my phone right now, I'm immediately filled of dread.  As if my sister's life is tethered to this world by a few unspoken words.  Life is fragile, and it's important to make lasting memories.  I'm sure, years from now, my daughter and son will visit those waterfalls again.  And they'll think of this day.  Remember the sun in the trees.  The smell of the evergreens.  The mist on their faces.

Saint Marty wasn't running a race today.  He was taking his time, building childhoods for his kids.

The Race

by:  Sharon Olds

When I got to the airport I rushed up to the desk,
bought a ticket, ten minutes later
they told me the flight was cancelled, the doctors
had said my father would not live through the night
and the flight was cancelled.  A young man
with a dark blond moustache told me
another airline had a non-stop
leaving in seven minutes.  See that
elevator over there, well go
down to the first floor, make a right, you'll
see a yellow bus, get off at the
second Pan Am terminal, I
ran, I who have no sense of direction
raced exactly where he'd told me, a fish
slipping upstream deftly against
the flow of the river.  I jumped off that bus with those
bags I had thrown everything into
in five minutes, and ran, the bags
wagged me from side to side as if
to prove I was under the claims of the material,
I ran up to a man with a white flower on his breast,
I who always go to the end of the line, I said
Help me.  He looked at my ticket, he said
Make a left and then a right, go up the moving stairs and then
run.  I lumbered up the moving stairs,
at the top I saw the corridor,
and then I took a deep breath, I said
Goodbye to my body, goodbye to comfort,
I used my legs and heart as if I would
gladly use them up for this,
to touch him again in this life.  I ran, and the
bags banged me, wheeled and coursed
in skewed orbits.  I have seen pictures of
women running, their belongings tied
in scarves grasped in their fists, I blessed my
long legs he gave me, my strong
heart I abandoned to its own purpose,
I ran to Gate 17 and they were
just lifting the thick white
lozenge of the door to fit it into
the socket of the plane.  Like the one who is not
too rich, I turned sideways and
slipped through the needle's eye, and then
I walked down the aisle toward my father.  The jet
was full, and people's hair was shining, they were
smiling, the interior of the plane was filled with a
mist of gold endorphin light,
I wept as people weep when they enter heaven,
in massive relief.  We lifted up
gently from one up tip of the continent
and did not stop until we set down lightly on the
other edge.  I walked into his room
and watched his chest rise slowly
and sink again, all night
I watched him breathe.

Adventures of STICKMAN


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