So Dig This Big Crux

Eye of The Virgin

Maybe if she had lost her daughter, she thought. Not because she didn’t love her child but because she had gotten to a point in her life where she couldn’t feel anything. Just living in her body, unable to process normal emotions, like sipping coffee and how that brought her back to Portland. The feeling of her tongue getting scorched. Gloria thought if her daughter, her only child from her only marriage, somehow disappeared, maybe by accident, she could feel what it was like to be here in the world again. Maybe some extreme, unknowable pain would shock her back into existence.

And the man on the radio said If you accept that you have no control over your destiny, that only God knows the true path of your life, you will be saved and you will be prepared for the final judgement.

On a skyless Tuesday morning, Gloria was driving the long hours it would take to cross the state. She’d heard about an image of the Virgin Mary on the side of an office building in Clearwater. A miraculous vision, something that happens on divine occasion, something worth driving long distances across open landscapes of sweltering purity.

For that time in your life when you want to enjoy moments of quiet reflection, Sunset Valley affords you the luxury of living life at your own pace.

Gloria wondered if she could walk up to the building and touch the wall.

The wind off the highway felt good. She rolled the windows down as much as she could. The stale air inside dusted up, blowing dead ashes through the car’s cramped interior. A scentless air freshener blew in the breeze, bringing back moments when she’d drive Becky to summer camp down in the Everglades and the highway smelled of freshly cut grass and the possibilities were wide open and everything felt new for Gloria and her young family.

The building was an abandoned office complex in a strip mall next to a Chinese restaurant offering a special buffet for all “Pilgrims of Lady Guadalupe.” It was one of those developments that sprang up like kudzu all across Central and South Florida in the decades after the war. Opportunity was everywhere, all at once, and state land was being swallowed up and paved over by shiny new condo communities, middle class subdivisions, gas-station car-wash combo drive-throughs, airport sized shopping centers and plots for landfills to dispose of all the byproducts of the great commercial experiment that was spilling into Florida unfiltered.

The parking lot was empty and still. Gloria pulled in under a willow tree and stayed in the car. An old woman sat in a white lawn chair outside the building’s entrance, gazing out at nothing much at all.

Gloria could see an image on the wall from where she was parked, large and exposed, gleaming in the late morning sun. The shapes were abstract but recognizable, with what looked like a veiled head slightly bent to the left and two hands held toward the sky. She sat quiet, staring intently at the wall. Gloria thought this looked like the pictures of the Virgin Mary she’d seen in churches and in books. She felt this may just be an important place, that maybe this was the start of something good and positive and she was glad she’d made the drive across the state.

This hour has been brought to you by the law offices of Schoenberg and Straight.

The woman from the lawn chair walked towards the car. She was small, slightly hobbled, with a sun blazed complexion that spoke of untold years exposed to direct sunlight. She wore red sunglasses and carried an unseen weight. The woman knocked on the windshield.

Ma’am? You OK in there…ma’am?

Gloria, jarred awake to half consciousness, tried focusing on the figure outside the car.

Ma’am, you asleep?

Oh, I’m sorry.

People die like that, fallin’ sleep in cars.

Gloria rolled down the window. Excuse me, can I ask you something?

The woman turned. Her flat gaze was intimidating and Gloria was still somewhere between sleep and consciousness, but she felt the need to understand something about this place.

Are you here because of the Virgin Mary?

Yes.

Are you a sister or something?

A sister?

Yes, from the church?

No, I ain’t a sister.

Can I…can I touch the wall?

Touch the wall?

I was wondering, I don’t know.

You were wonderin’ if you could touch the wall, that right?

Well, yes.

Gloria was shutting down. That feeling she got when everything changed in an instant, from a familiar human connection with warmth and understanding to a standoff, a place of uncertainty between two people who were conversing for the very first time and were feeling each other out, giving only as much as they could bare. She was worried that she may have pushed too hard, asked the wrong question the wrong way.

How about inside?

Inside? You wanna go inside the building? That’s ain’t allowed. That ain’t ever been allowed.

Gloria stayed fixed on the woman’s sunglasses, reflections careening off each other, battling for prominence across a world of bright light.

I’ve been inside myself, but only once. Many years ago. I was young.

What’s it like inside?

Inside? Can’t say.

Why’s that?

The woman froze momentarily, looking through Gloria, although you couldn’t tell exactly where her eyes were falling.

I’m only the gatekeeper, the woman said.

•••••

Gloria Simmons sat in the car and didn’t move, contemplating the Virgin Mary on the side of an abandoned office building in a parking lot in Clearwater, Florida on a bright Tuesday as she listened to AM 88.9, Central Florida’s Home of Christian Radio Since 1975.

What The Writer Said

The grandmother said she’d once had a drink with a famous American writer, in a Paris cafe. It was La Palette, she remembered, which was known to be frequented by artists. This was after the war. The grandmother didn’t know who the woman was at first, but when she heard her speaking English, she was relieved.

She asked the writer what she was doing in Paris.

“Getting drunk,” the writer said.

Then she went into a long story about her husband, who was still in Germany, and how they hoped to spend a weekend in Paris before returning to Florida.

She asked the writer if she was married.

“Like I said.”

Avenue Louise

We passed Avenue Louise.

“Look there, whores.”

I was a bit shocked. Not about the prostitutes, but the fact this proper Belgian woman in her mid-fifties was saying the word whores with such, I don’t know, gusto.

I guess she just liked saying it. Whores.

New Curtain

curtain

I close the curtain on my basement room window even though the sun is out and the people walking by they must think there’s like a junkie down here or something.

Girl on Bike

kinshasa

She said Kinshasa, like it held some sort of resonance.

Kinshasa.

In Africa, I’m going there, maybe Monday.

I asked if she’d ever been to Africa.

No, not really.

Kinshasa.

I need to know what it’s like, to be a stranger, she said.

Isn’t it dangerous, Kinshasa? Warring tribes, machetes, that sorta thing?

Don’t be fucking stupid, it’s like a major city.

She handed me a photo, of her on a bike, when she was young, all slow and clean.

Georgia Red Clay

redclay

I told you I recognize him right away. He come in looking for liquor, but I say we only got beer and he says he got enough beer, but thanks anyways. Then he’s wandering round, outta sorts like. So I ask him, you lost mister? Well he walks right over and puts his big hands on this counter and say Ma’am, I been lost real good all day. We both just about died laughing over that one.

Shy With Eyes

eyes

I went somewhere with you
In my mind last night
The story took place
In a wide open space
We were killing time in Tennessee
Drinking cheap red wine
Reading books about the sea
Living on our last dime

I’m shy with your eyes

Across the river there’s a place
Red buildings in the sky
Cars pass me by
White cloud lines
Then it occurred to me
You were standing right there
Right in front of me

I’m shy with your eyes

Objects Along a Wall

wall

Without realizing it, I put everything I had against the wall. Nothing left for the rest of the apartment. Like a sad hotel room.

Is this the right place?

Dead Hour Blues

blues1

She’d been taking Valium, pretty much every night.

“Every night?”

“I skipped a day,” she said.

“With the drinking?”

“A little wine,” she said.

Maybe that was it, the thing that hollowed her out, made her a black hole. She quit her job, but wouldn’t talk about it. I wondered what she did during the day.

She said something about ashes on the living room floor.

I remembered the moment we met. I was listening to Jackson C. Frank, and she walked in and said “Jackson C. Frank.” Just like that, as if it was totally normal, someone sitting there, listening to Jackson C. Frank.

That would never change. And now all this.

The Dreamers

themountain

Becky found herself transfixed, standing lifeless in front of the painting. It was as if she were trapped inside of it, engulfed by the landscape. It had a resonance, and it whispered to her. Becky couldn’t remember if she’d seen this painting before, but it had a place in her subconscious. Somewhere back in her own mind-library, the image made itself known to her. Maybe in a book, or this very room, something from her past. The gray, high-pitched rooms. The echoed steps of strangers and the storied narratives of portraits, landscapes, abstractions.

There was impending violence in the painting’s action, or non-action, because everyone and everything was frozen. There were physical actions taking place within the logic of the landscape, manifestations of movement, but the figures were disconnected from space and time; their own body space, their own time-continuum.

Was Becky the woman standing, stretching her arms above her head, pressing her breasts forward towards the kneeling man–her husband, father, lover? Did she drop her cane in an expression of excitement, or anger?

A woman passed in front of Becky without noticing the painting.

Or was Becky the body of another woman, skirt slightly hiked, lying motionless on the ground, asleep, dreaming, dying? A dead silence surrounded her, but was this in the painting, or was this in the gallery? She noticed there was no one else in the room. A ghostly cane, suspended in mountainous air. And then Becky was the figure in the distance, unreachable, unknowable. The farthest personification of humanity, lost and isolated to its own isle. She was trying to contact the others, maybe by voice, or physical movement, but her arms were immovable stones, set in cliffs a thousand years old.

An empty, still room.

Becky was all of these people, and the rolling hills, the jutting rock formations and the blue-tipped mountains. Beyond the gallery, pieces of conversations echoed, beginnings and endings overlapping to form invisible language structures. A woman approached.

This is my time, she said.

Excuse me?

You’re standing in my spot.

Becky wasn’t sure if she heard the voice clearly. Her tones were slight, hushed, dark with soot.

I come here everyday at this time, this spot.

Oh, I’m sorry, said Becky.

It’s OK, I understand.

Becky paused, turned slightly to see the presence beside her–a woman, hunched, wearing sunglasses, holding a cane.

You’ll come back, many times, much like myself. You see the woman lying on the ground, the one sleeping? That’s me, I’m dreaming. I know everything there is to know about this painting. I’ve studied it’s history, it’s cracks and pigments, the reflections of light and the nuances of the brush strokes. What the surface looks like at exactly this moment of the day, every day. What came before this moment, what comes after, what is just out of frame. The woman waved her hand across the canvass in a manner like the shadow movement of slow motion cinema.

The innocence, the women went on, but also something more, something unknown. The uncertain future, the dreams. I’ve come to think of it as my own. A vision of my life. In fact, I know too much.

Becky was silent, unsure.

The woman turned to speak to Becky. The woman dreaming, she said, it’s you.

 

Balthus. The Mountain. 1936-37