Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dangerous Lines

Sometimes we see ahead of us the line we don't want to cross. And then we cross it.
Thanks for the assignment, Stu.

Dangerous Lines

I knew why I didn’t want to be there.

It was my second season; I was twelve years old. I sat on the trunk of the same fallen tree as I had the previous November, my gloved hand picking at bits of bark, my thighs taking the weight of the rifle that lay across them. My breath was full of frost. My back was to a small stand of pines and I faced a hundred yards of open meadow. And I knew why I didn’t want to be there. I knew what was coming.

Last season I had been lucky and hadn’t even seen a deer, let alone have one within gunshot range. My father and Uncle Jerome had their places in a stand, a dozen feet above the ground. I could see them if I turned. They could see me. If I got a shot, I’d have to take it. My gut was warm and wet with the fear that, given the chance, I would have to try to succeed. I knew how it would change me. I picked some more bark.

Then there was the slightest crackle of sound and I looked up. A deer with at least four points of antler stood some eighty yards away. I shuddered. Looking back over my shoulder I saw the faces of my father and my uncle. And they saw me.

My breath was ragged, but I slowly lifted the gun. It was a clear shot and I didn’t dare miss. A sissy would miss, they would say. They would laugh. I brought the stock to my cheek and sighted. A film of tear made my vision clearer than reality. I aimed, as I had been taught, to just above the shoulder, and squeezed the trigger.

The recoil knocked me off balance for a moment and when I recovered I could see the deer, flat on its side, not a twitch, not a hint of winter steam from its nostrils. A clear shot. A clear kill.

I could hear dad and Jerome behind me, clambering from their stand, clumping through the snow, shouting. Praise...there was lots of praise, and when they got to my tree there were hugs and back patting. Dad was grinning so hard I thought he might cry. I was afraid of crying too, knowing what was coming.

We three approached the deer. I had been taught how to dress a carcass. Jerome lent me his knife, I took off my gloves, and they talked me through the cutting and cleaning. We rolled the animal on to a broad plastic sheet and dad tied a length of nylon rope around the antlers.

“You done good,” said dad. “Good clean kill. You can drag him to the car and then come back and join us. You done good.” Smiling, they turned and disappeared into the woods.

I looked at my bloody hands and knew what was coming. I smiled, just as I knew I would, and sucked the sticky blood from my fingers.

Friday, April 20, 2007

8 MM

Last night at Writer's Group we were discussing old home movies. I remembered the following, which I had written over a dozen years ago. I did a bit of updating.

An Essay and Remembrance

A video camcorder lies by telling too much truth. Set it in a corner, set it on a tripod, set the switch to "on." It tapes a two hour birthday party for two hours. There is no discrimination.

There was a time, before this technology, when there were only movie cameras, Kodaks and Keystones. They were rare and the film came dear; a five minute reel for more than the price of today's five hour tape. One had to be discerning with ones' shots. Film, unlike tape, was good for only one exposure, no backing up and re recording. This is not to say the resultant subject quality was in any way superior forty years ago. People were as foolish before a lens then as they ever are now, but the difference is less in the shooting than in the viewing. Five minutes of eight millimeter snaps along-a few shots of a lawn party-a minute of the dog prancing for a treat-and then it's two seasons later and cousin Bob is throwing snowballs at the camera.

The camcorder dwells on its subject as though, in later showings we would really care to see every single second of an event. We don't. After the first few moments of the auto show we have no need to be reminded of every single car in sight and every pace between them. Within the frail time constraints of film we pop from highlight to highlight-moving snapshots-more like real memory and in that way, less is more. Fewer, briefer shots draw our closer attention; pique our curiosity as to what is coming next. Film seems the more satisfying experience. Times are reminded to us, not replayed verbatim.

It's only now that this distinction comes clear to me. It's only now, this year, that after long neglect I went to buy some eight millimeter film and found that it is no longer even manufactured.

The room is only semi-dark and the projector, perched on the coffee table, is balky. It has been over twenty years since I've threaded stiff, white, leader film through it. My mind forgets but my fingers remember how, and the framing comes into line. There is a hot and musty smell as two decades of dust burns off the brilliant bulb. Unshaped greens and yellows merge on the wall. I adjust the focus and see among the trees my cousin, Bob, waving towards the camera-standing gawky-squinting against the sun. Another moment and Bob is walking my collie pup past the trees. And now he is snapping his fingers to make her stand and jump. It is nineteen fifty-five.

There is no art in these pictures. They cut from shot to shot in no order. It was a July afternoon and I, at ten years old, was blinking my cameras' eye at whatever I could get to cross my path. More shots of Bob, more of the dog and some of Billy Moses who lived across the street. I reverse the film and watch the last few moments again, not to see Billy, but off to his right is the side of my house. It looks less wide, less huge, than I remember; "big as a house" meant more forty years ago. The trailer of film slapped, I rewound, and threaded the next reel quickly.

This image is less jerky. It pans across lilacs and small white flowers and keeps panning, away from the garden of my Grandpas house, to a small and obviously staged procession. Cousins Bob and Mike walking slowly, Bob mugging for the camera, and between them is my Great Grandmother. In this picture she is ninety-two years old. I move closer to the screen to see her face-the scene wobbles and blurs-an eyeball close to the lens-minutes of shifting red-orange light-massive over exposure. As the last two feet of film ratchet through the gates I see a few seconds of my grandpa waving from the porch.

A reel showing my fifth grade class. A field trip. My classmates and teachers wave from various poses for the full five minutes. this fourth mother walking the collie. She turns to the camera and waves. I pan down to the dog. I wait a moment for the pan to return to her face but it doesn't come; only the flowered print of her skirt. I want to see her face. I say it aloud to the image on the wall. Up...up...just a little...I want to see her face. Now the scene is shot from across the yard. She pauses and shades her eyes. She is small on the screen. Her hair is dark. Then it is Christmas morning. Dark indoor pictures of the tree. And the five seconds, no more, of my father squatting on the floor in his pajamas, holding up a box.

This reel will not seat onto the motor gear. It stutters along and I am afraid the film will tear or burn. After a fifth rethread it travels smoothly. Pictures of our beach vacation. A long pan of the wooden pier and then the sand. And then my family, framed well and close enough to see. Grandpa and Grandma, she in a beach chair, he standing beside, toned and tanned and gray. My uncle and aunt walking the waters edge. My mother and father relaxed and sitting on blankets. My father, lithe as he stands. He is dark blond and trimmer than I recall. A swimmer's body. He helps Mother rise and they move at ease with each other. I run this film again, and then the last part with Mom and Dad twice more. The warm and sandy images blur and sharpen, not from the camera lens but from the wet of my eyes.

The last reel. More of cousin Bob. More of the dog. And then a shot to prize. My Father wheels his new, yellow and green, nineteen fifty-five Buick Coupe into the driveway. He leaves the car wearing a snug, white tee shirt and khaki slacks. He walks toward the camera and me. He is smiling and unselfconscious and he doesn't wave. The film ends.

As I snap the cover on the projector a realization comes over me. My Father-my elder-my senior. My Father who died thirteen years ago at age eighty-one. I am now eighteen years older than he is in these films. And I drive a Buick Coupe.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Deeper...It might not be as it seems.

It may not be death. It maybe a state of mind...or just a situation. But it's probably death. Not a very cheerful post, but I like it anyway.


Water, loose around her feet, she wades,
Deep to her ankles, deep to her knees,
Deep enough to soak her heart.

Maybe islands, maybe clouds,
Out beyond her line of vision.
Something on the other shore,
Something more than nothing,
Closer every step.

Her skirt swirls, paisley in the tidal flow,
Panties, dry on the shore behind.
The current streams between her legs.
She knew somehow the massive sea
Would enter her.
One way or the other.

In amongst the weeds and slime and sea and decomposing fish,
She confesses as the water rises to her breast,
I’ve never felt so clean.

Ocean water on her tongue,
Drops of sour salt in her mouth,
She thinks of him,
And keeps walking.