A PAINTER, ON HER ANNIVERSARY
My first painting, that one. I remember the feeling that the light was creating the shade, somehow, of coming into November, of always turning, never waiting. But I've always been waiting. Remembering. I remember his hands, kind of clumsy, soft; strong as faith; and I knew no one would turn me like that again. But then I find I’m alone and waiting for someone . . . Two sons, though. They remember, but then they forget. What I remember I turn to paint, to call it back. And what I see, it's knowing myself: it's less than enough, it's more than was said. But I'm waiting for someone to remember me. And my second husband just died. He just died. I'm sorting it through, so many tokens like dusty leaves in a dry pot, so much pre-dates me, just stories I know or partly remember, I'd love to replant— but where? —the soil is blowing away, no container, loose particles, he knew how to save them: not a plant perished, if he had a say, turned brown to green; he'd wait for it to grow before finding a new place inside or out . . . . New places. They remind me where I've been. But where I want to go, it's not anywhere special, it's where I'm asked in. I had a rare red collie who loved the rain, never came in, except for thunder; she understood, she knew my name, when Mother called me, she’d answer. When she didn’t come back, she didn’t come back, and my worst fear is what I feared; she finds me in sleep, still does, she licks my neck, so in every canvas there’s a little red. Another friend turned on herself, she left me the ring I could never wear. How she wore me out with her infectious laugh when we played together at solitaire! But to win these marks? My age, you rest on a bed of shards— each memory is a cut, too many notches! I'm scarred by what I remember, or can't forget. I'm always trying to get it right, get it right, “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”? To find how shadow yields to light, how a dark sky turns a yellow field. My sons, though, I envy what they don't remember. But some corners can't be turned, it's all wall, until I find that doorway each November, waiting for someone to call me through it, and welcome me, it's your turn to be remembered, we didn't forget you! You lived for us, so we learned your memories. How I waited, wishing it were true, wishing it didn't matter. But it does — like light it adds nothing except itself, to be remembered, to be the sound and source of love. I'm waiting for someone to remember me.
THINGS TO DO WHILE YOU’RE HERE
I was at Disney World, by myself. I had been there a long time. Surrounded, but without companion. The rides did not look fun. When I ran into a Disney character on the street I felt uneasy. There’s Pluto, mute, unnaturally upright and intrepid on his two hind feet, a wide happy dog smile cut into the snout; from tip of black nose-bulb to saucer-size black pupil looked the length of a torso. Could I make out the sweating human body inside the heavy plush construction?—Hardly a costume, the cramping box of the “little ease” . . . And if I had a knife? Would I wrestle him down and liberate the body from its gainful employment?
I wandered aimlessly, from Frontierland to Tomorrowland to Liberty Square, eating Disney food and looking for a chair, away from the crowd, where I could sit and read the book I was carrying. I found myself again in a busy picnic area. Its dishevelment settled my nerves. I found an open bench, sat down, and opened the book on the long wooden table. Soon I was lost in a sentence, a cadence. My physical surroundings became a faint background to my book. The world slowed down. I was content, without worry. The sun was making the pages warm and crinkly, old pages. My elbows on the wood were not unpleasantly hot. Even as the wood got hotter, it was not unpleasant. But the brightness was making me dizzy.
Something made me look up. Dogs were surrounding me, six of them. With eye contact, the six dogs began a low growling. Their heads lowered, napes bristling; coarse-haired, scrawny. I could count their ribs. They were baring their teeth, their ulcerated gums. Something was wrong with them. Parts of their bodies had been shaved. Patches of scaly grey skin showed stitches. Had they been subjected to experiments? With a step towards me the circle was tightening. Can someone please help me? These dogs are going to hurt me. I was standing up, speaking out loud. Can someone please help me please? The sun was blinding in the blue sky, it was burning my neck. No one paid attention, they were all outside the circle of dogs. But here’s my friend Jonathan. Inside the closing circle. When did he appear? The circle was slowly closing. Had he been there all along? In a calm voice he was explaining something. His voice had a quiet authority, a softness and firmness I could hear before I made out the words he was saying. The problem is time. The problem is you can’t stop it. A subtle shadow passed over his face. The skin was drawn back from his mouth a little. He was slowly but visibly aging as he spoke. Now he looked younger, now older. Age ebbed in his face like tidal water. It’s not a special problem. It’s a problem for everyone. He was studying the dogs. But you can shape it. He turned from the dogs to the spires of the Magic Kingdom, its color and clamor. Vanilla and frying oil fragranced the air, mixing with the smell of hot garbage. He turned back to the closing circle of dogs. This is your nightmare, but you can do something with it. And for what seemed a long time I chose not to wake up.
JOSHUA WEINER is the author of two books of poetry, The World’s Room and From the Book of Giants, and the editor of At the Barriers: On the Poetry of Thom Gunn (all from Chicago). His new book of poems, The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish, will be published in spring 2013. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Guggenheim Fellowship. This year he holds the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship. His poems and essays have appeared in Best American Poetry, The New York Review of Books, The Nation, The American Scholar, Village Voice, Chicago Tribune, The New Republic, Threepenny Review, Poetry, Washington Post, Slate, and elsewhere. He teaches at the University of Maryland and lives with his family in Washington DC.