There are three directions in which I must drive my children this humid summer morning for, after a series of large and fractious family consultations over corn on the cob, hot dogs, and diet caffeine-free Coke, we have signed them up for a variety of entertaining and educational summer day camps. Their backpacks are ready, loaded with ice packs, fruit snacks, sandwiches, cold drinks, bathing suits, sun screen, insect repellent, Dunkeroos, potato chips, orange slices and towels. They have finished their Mickey Magic cereal, their Coco Puffs, their bagel with ultra-lite salmon cream cheese, orange juice, water, and milk. They have been given their Flintstones chewable vitamins (an orange Fred, a purple Barney, a misshapen orange Wilma, or maybe it’s Bam Bam). They have been sun-screened. They are wearing their own hats and sunglasses. Their running shoes are on the right feet. I have turned the Nintendo off. They have been reminded about appropriate camp behaviour, about the afternoon pick-up arrangements, the schedule for soccer practices, about the friends who will come over after that for a swim, and – if things go well – for ice cream. There have been several arguments over seating arrangements in the minivan„ and finally an agreement has been established that seems at least temporarily satisfying to all concerned. The children are in place, their backpacks stowed beneath their feet. Their seat belts are on and the large stuffed Winnie the Pooh has found a place between my youngest children. I turn the Raffi CD onto “Bananaphone,” put the car into reverse, and accidentally drive over a bicycle that is skin-coloured and screams so loudly that the children cry. My youngest presses her face against the window.
“Bicycle Girl is dead,” she shouts. “Her spokes won’t turn again.”
I jump out of the car and cradle the bent metal limbs.
“Bicycle Girl is not dead,” I say as the little girl’s head trembles. I speak softly, reassure her that all will be well. We take her inside, and find a large cardboard box which we fill with tissue paper, a small pillow, and a blanket. We place the pink girl in the box. My daughter weeps as she kneels, singing Raffi songs in a small voice. I find a bell that had fallen off my bicycle years before. My son stands near the box and rings the bell. It is part dirge, part ice cream man, part mobile blade sharpener. I phone my wife — “Alice, come home,” — and my wife drives from work. She pulls back the blanket and touches the Bicycle Girl’s spokes with her fingers.
“Don’t worry,” my wife says. The Bicycle Girl whimpers. My wife spreads cream, then dresses the spokes with bandages. We carry the box into the family room by the television where we can be close.
“Daddy, I am pink inside,” my daughter says.
“We all are,” I tell her.
I don’t sleep. My brain is filled with hills. Bicycles ride up and down the sidewalks. Leaves fall on me, cover my eyes so that I wander into the road.
After a few days, the bicycle girl’s colour deepens to an almost red.
“It is time to remove the bandages,” my wife says.
Bicycle girl’s wheels turn, and she smiles when my son rings the old bell. She turns her head toward my daughter as she sings. Soon I am able to lift her out of the box and place her between my wife and I as we watch television. The news. A sitcom. Nature programming. My children’s friends visit our house.
“Where is she? Where is she?” they shout at the door. The girl wheels tentatively around the living room, my son holding on to her handlebars, helping her balance. Bicycle Girl. Little wheezing grandma. Leaves surround us like snow, and everything is quiet. I light a fire and the bicycle girl is fascinated. She circles the living room, drives up close to the fireplace.
“Does she have a family of her own?” my daughter asks. “Are they looking for her? What should we do?”
It’s only when we call the children for supper that we discover my daughter is missing. A neighbour reports seeing her and Bicycle Girl riding past the convenience store and over the bridge where the roads become vague.
a setting of bpNichol’s “Incest Song” from _Motherlove_ (1968)
a photograph of text on paper databended by running the raw data file through Audacity and adding echo and phase.
origami makes nothing happen
Our neighbor has a birthmark which covers most of her face. It’s not the shape of Jesus, nor of Stalin. It’s not the shape of the Great Rift Valley, nor of this story. Her birthmark is a black hole, vast and mysterious, and we cannot look, cannot look away.
“What’s the big deal?” my son asks. “She was my Grade 2 teacher. She was really nice.“
“Look again,” I say. “Look through that telescope which you have coyly hidden behind the almost-closed curtains of your bedroom. Gaze into her birthmark and you will see time and space collapsing, light disappearing. The glint of the sideview mirror, new quarters flipped into the bright morning air, a sudden shine from the policeman’s badge. Your poor red heart will turn into some kind of ground beef and get sucked in into her birthmark along with streetsigns, seniors hobbling before our front window, horses, the planets, spiral nebulae, great gas giants, and the memories of entire civilizations, the Mesozoic, skipping games, philosophical paradoxes, and the sadness when youth is over. I’m sure you will feel that soon, son, its dull metal taste, its acrid, static melody. But you will have your children, their consolations and material support. And so, in the dim fossil glow when time has just about called it a day, your progeny orbiting bedside, spittle dribbling from your weak and juddering lips, your sallow lungs will wheeze, and you will whisper, perhaps to a son who is the age you are now. “Son,” you will say, I have something to tell you.”
“Wait,” my son interrupts. “Hold that thought. This just in.“ His eyes roll back in his head. I worry that this might be some kind of seizure, something medical and life ending. But he is gesticulating dramatically toward our neighbour, and he begin to speak.“Look across the street,” he says. “Our neighbour’s tawny and spectacular legs shudder like earthquakes, her breath is a solar flare. Her eyes fill with the obsidian shadows of deep space. Her pert teeth are constellations which tell their own legends. Who are we? What is our place in all this changeable uncertainty? If communication is dark matter, what are our mouths, our wild exhalations like solar wind seeking night?”
As always, my son is trying to upstage me with the febrile drama of his false pronouncements. But I am the great blue earth, and beneath the whorl of my clouds, my plains are filled with blond lions and velvet-nubbed giraffes, pods of great singing whales ranging beneath my chuffing seas. I am the centre of everything yet my son insists on performing his foppish and heliocentric Charlestons like a recalcitrant Galileo crocheting petty starlight before the otherworldly terra firma of the Holy Father.
“Your quotidian bluster lacks the poetic gravitas of the actual,” I tell him. “The black hole is ravenous. It is expanding. Soon it will cover our neighbour’s entire body, a predatory shadow, an endless mine-shaft through time and space. Then it will engulf her side of the street. Then the world. What sparkles at its core? What does it pull toward its alchemical treasures?”
My son, the foretold spittle now running in delicate rivulets down his upturned pink chin, raises both arms, and calls out some unintelligible equation, rotten with coefficients and imaginary trigonometric pig-Latin. Then he runs blindly across the street. We can be thankful that here, in the cul-de-sac of our lives, there is little traffic. No SUV charges toward its End-of Days assignation with daycare, no delivery truck plows forward, laden with time-sensitive communication and Internet-ordered folderol. The well-kept blades of our neighbour’s lawn part before the quick glossolalia of my son’s sneakers, a Exodus-enabling sea of grass flinching before his mad and unintelligible dance. He dives toward his former Grade 2 teacher searching for who knows what further instruction on the calligraphic mysteries of the letter F and the hieratic protocol surrounding the grasping of pigtails and the ringing of little girls’ hair. For a moment his body with its sad white sneakers is parallel to the slight curve of the earth and is beautiful.
My son disappears into the infinite shadow that is our neighbour’s birthmark.
Once again, he has stolen the scene.
Our neighbour, with her remarkable legs, leaps the fence, running to comfort me.
The Median is the Message
Really only a few more days to order this chapbook of my visual poetry (and other chapbooks of some great visual poetry by a range of other international) authors) before the publisher closes up shop permanently.
Link to order.
My book: “Photoglyphic collages of free-range semi-colons, vowels, imaginary letters, and an m or two. Language in its natural environment: a Magritte-like graphosphere of shifting sign and surface. A languagescape of pond, forest, and field notes. The alphabet as stigmata on the open hands of the world.”
"A word relationship between the word and the things seen" (for David McGimpsey)