..First Glyph

January 15

This is the parking spot in which I parked my first car. This Winnebago is parked in the same spot in which I parked my first car as a Wichita teenager. It is in front of my parents home on Maple Lane. A dozen years later now and I lean here scribbling these words. An airplane lofts overhead. Automobiles steam past occasionally. A little traffic I hear muffled by distance. I cannot visit this neighborhood without regressing to a high school frame of reference. I expect that first car of mine to be sitting here still in this parking spot, shiny, waxed. I expect my old buddies to cruise by or to roar into the driveway at any moment. I expect all my old classmates to live in the same houses. I think about the girls. I think about the football games. I think about the illicit beer drinking.

Sleeping in my old bedroom nourishes this sensation. For, darkened, the room feels to me as it always has. Lighted, it is now my stepfather's smithing room. So, sleepless, I will lie there tonight, listening to the familiar wheeze of the vent as it sighs its warm air. I will mark too the infrequent passage of an automobile. Its familiar crescendo, decrescendo. Last night I stepped into the room with a stack of laundered clothes in my arms. I turned to lay the clothes on an exercise bench that was no longer there--an exercise bench that has not been there for over a decade now. Time warp.

And eerie and uncomfortable. The phenomenon rises out of some deep and buried place, from some viscous preserve that lies dormant and sluggish until pestered to a poppling boil. The place is rooty, unforgiving, chemical. It is the place where I began. Its putrescent odors interest me only as novelty, only as something to study objectively, as something to address in these notes. And I do so only because they compel me to do so. I would rather ignore these odors, to tell the truth, blinker my eyes, leave them to their inertia, pretend they did not exist.

My goal when growing up was to leave this state. I thirsted for the world and I had a suspicion southern Kansas did not contain it all. I was right. Southern Kansas culture is an exclusive culture. It's its own and not much else penetrates it. That suffocated me. I cannot breathe spiritually or intellectually without the assault of variety, without a clash of extremes. California has this. My time there was the most fertile and creative period of my short life. Always something near I had never experienced--some exotic face, some traffic of violence. And the sea. The sea irrigates imagination, I think. The sea gave birth to the classics of Greece, I think. The sea gave birth to the Renaissance of Italy, I think. The sea is responsible for all of Western culture, I think--even the movies.

Neither has the cold Kansas weather endeared to me this place. "Annoyed" has been my epithet of choice. I was judicious in its choosing because I welcome this time with my folks and I'm not going to tarnish it with descriptive plaints. But I have not endured a real winter since I finished graduate school five years ago.

Today was actually gladdeningly warm. The sun emerged and melted off the snow and warmed the motor home to almost sixty degrees. At fifty I stopped burning that noxious propane and suddenly found myself in a happy mood and drafting the first scene for The Don Quixote Piece. The scene came easily. Its ease brought into resolution the rest of the little work. Just a matter of waiting now for the remainder of it to ripen, and waiting for that impetus, for that right circumstance for its scribbling. I'll have to struggle to get the ballet parts right.

I just re-read these notes and was reminded of a meditation I experienced once in graduate school. I was lying on my bed in Indiana. My arms were outspread as if strapped to a cross, my legs together. Then I saw hovering above myself a monstrous pencil with its pink eraser turned toward me. The eraser began to describe tiny circles. The circles erased my body. After erasing my body the tiny circles erased the room I was lying in. And after erasing the room the monstrous pencil turned itself about and with its precise lead began to redraw a new room. The pencil drew the bedroom in which I slept throughout high school, the room in which I am sleeping right now. Suddenly, in that meditation, I lie in my high school bed. I lie there with my eyes open wide. The door to the bedroom stood ajar. My exercise bench was near the door. My shoes lie in the doorway. Above my head rose the window that looks out onto Maple Lane and onto this parking spot. My chest of drawers waited there. My teen idol posters. My shelves crowded with teenage junk. But most poignant was the diffuse color of the kitchen light, as, tired, it weakly fell across the threshold. Faint sounds came from the kitchen, sounds of sleepy domesticities. In the meditation I was still in high school. Everything around me was as it had been in high school. And the similitude was so overpowering that it flooded me with an intense and thorough longing, a sense of loss. It flooded me, of a sudden. I moved my fingertips to stir myself out of that meditation. The feeling was deep-felt, a yearning. I did not like it. I decided never to follow that thread of images again. But I have always remembered it. It forced me to long for the past even though I have no natural inclination to long for the past. Quite the opposite, really. I suppose anyone would be susceptible to such a nostalgia. Maybe that is why my mother weeps every time she sees me off on a journey. She must be the one in the kitchen making the quiet sounds that put her home to bed.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers