Works in progress

I have a system. The one I was given. The one that was taken away. I live in between the two, developing others, which in turn develop systems within me.

So pieces develop. I find them here and there in the notebooks people have given to me over time. Years later the notebooks have things in them that I think I wrote. I definitely wrote them. But the people who gave them to me may have taken them back while I wasn’t looking. Because some of the things I find in them seem very unfamiliar.

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A phantom ocean

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M. Jakubowski

Bored at night I go upstairs to the window that leads to the back roof. Parting the curtains turning the latches pushing up the glass and the screen to bend down to less than half my height with my chin almost touching my knee I side-step over the sill onto the flat rowhouse roof.

My foot is immediately assailed with the waning warmth of the July sun stored in the roof’s surface. I feel the eyes of the birds and squirrels on me, a pale giraffe joining them suddenly thirty feet above the ground to peer at each other between the maple leaves. They stay quiet until I look away. Continue reading

Some expected pain

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They saw us holding hands and made one sort of face or another. This man and a boy. A child without its mother. A father and a son walking around at midday downtown on a Wednesday. A man who wasn’t working regular business hours. Maybe tourists.

The heat as we walked across the sidewalk clamped into the air, fixing the humidity with a vaporous rigidity, giving each breath in and out a clammy form that seemed to widen the nostrils on its way into the body.

His palm was sweaty in mine and usually at the first touch of sweat he’d let go but he didn’t. Continue reading

Seasons at the lake

 

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In photo albums at the lake in Michigan, your parents in the 1970’s haven’t hit 30 yet. They look like happy teenagers in swimsuits and long hair without a thread of gray. You are one of the pudgy faces among a dozen pudgy siblings and cousins, on people’s laps, propped up on a hip, in the shallow water learning what a toy sand shovel is. Your grandparents smile at the scene from the lawn holding drinks. The air smells like fresh cut grass, boat engine oil, pipe tobacco, coconut oil, dead perch, the burnt metal of lit sparklers. Continue reading

Fearing love and its absence

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Credit: M. Jakubowski

When did the boy get so fast? Warnings can’t slow him down and if they did I think I’d regret it a little. His speed is remarkable to see. He’s four. His little blue shoes land so confidently now on the gray dust of the rocky trail as he sprints through the woods. Continue reading

Keeping a private language

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Quantum entanglement is perhaps the loveliest phrase in English. That’s my humble opinion. I heard that at one time a survey revealed that among English speakers and non-English speakers researchers were somehow able to determine among the respondents the phrase “cellar door” was the most beautiful in all of English. How they decided, among every syllable and permutation possible, is a mystery, but I do recall some teacher in my past discussing this anecdote and its disappointing result — “cellar door,” this image that brings to mind the entryway to dimly lit dirty spaces.

If this kind of survey ever goes out to the world again, “cellar door” is going to have some newfangled competition in the form of “quantum entanglement,” this technical phrase that unlocks its beauty like a lotus, seeming to speak its exact meaning hinged with mysteries within mysteries from one clear syllable to the next. I’m sure it doesn’t speak the same kind of thing to other people. Everyone has their own pet phrases and secret languages from the past that evoke memories we’re happy to keep inside these personal worlds within words, and of course there are deep horrors locked in everyday language that we wish we could filter out completely.

I’m happy to stand up for the beauty I hear and feel in the possibilities inspired by the words quantum entanglement. But there are others I’ll never discuss. Like the secret tree language characters use in Christina Rivera Garza’s novel, “The Iliac Crest,” and as Yoko Tawada wrote in her novel, “Portrait of a Tongue,” as translated by Chantal Wright, “You don’t always want to share a language with the anonymous masses.”

Sparrows, when you were six

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Credit: M. Jakubowski

I saw them up ahead of us beside the road, eight or nine moving in the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the curb, sure they would flee as soon as I stopped at the light at the corner, but they had city-bird courage, a sturdy flock; browns, grays, ivories, tans made over in the morning light diffused by the fog. Stubby beaks neat and trim, black eyes round as obsidian pearl, heads clicking at angles at every sound and potential danger, as I watched them with love so near the car in the grass alive with green lividity from the week-long rain. They nibbled at the flowering blades, snipping the seeds so neatly, as I waited for the light to change, my human form hidden behind the curved metal and glass shapes they were used to seeing flash by like fleeing buildings.

Sparrows out for their morning hunt. For seeds and soggy moths. Battered beetles and breadcrumbs. I turned the car to take my son the last few blocks to school, and did not point out the birds. We’d been there for a few seconds and he was listening to the song on the radio looking out his own window at the fog in silence, a six-year-old person with a father who stares at sparrows. The cost of an education changes families. Mothers and father disappear into duty. Who will they vote for? Is another mistake unavoidable? Who will care for their parents and their parents before them? What is it to tell someone about the beauty that lies in the grass between the road and the sidewalk, someone trying to prove between stoplights, weekends, birthdays, and funerals that the world is made vast by small brave beings alive in the grass here with us, alive in eternal feathery abundance. The song on the radio went on for years. The boy left the car and there was no school. You turn and see your father. He’s doing something you don’t understand and when you see this you understand a few words of something he said before that made no sense at the time. You swallow some kind of hatred you’re afraid of.