Saturday, January 17, 2009

Train of Better Days

from Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address: 3/4/1865

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.


There were iris beds, a strawberry patch, a dog yard, a willow tree whose roots tangled into the septic tank, a dirt alley and a dozen neighbor kids out the back door of the house on Longview Street. Father stared out the window next to that back door every morning, drinking coffee and smoking. He stood there, and if I asked what he was doing he would say, "Looking out the window." Out the front door was a long porch, cool concrete, maple trees and pines, a lamp post, Longview Street, weeds, a cyclone fence, the golf course, then Sheridan Road. The cellar door opened horribly to dark steps, lined with mops, brooms, sponges, rags, cleaning brushes, vacuum attachments that followed children downstairs to a huge cellar with dark, high windows and a ringer washing machine which could swallow a child, shoelaces and all. Off to the side, under an eight-inch-thick concrete ceiling with a car parked on top of it, was a vault where we stashed supplies for nuclear attack or a tornado, whichever came first. The cellar door led to damp things, unfinished, underground things that made my heart beat fast, terror grabbing my throat and shoulder blades like claws that pulled me upstairs two steps at a time. The door to Grandmother’s room was open. There was a closet door in her room where it smelled of skin oil and perfume, where nylon print dresses hung silent above grandmother shoes and purses. Grandmother was forbidden to go through the kitchen door when Mother was in there working. "Can’t she help?" I asked, but Mother shushed me fast and Grandma pretended to be deaf. The garage door led to a blue, four-door Ford Fairlane, that took us from Illinois to California, the car that got vapor lock in the mountains. The garage door also led to shelves and shelves of tools and gimcracks Father used to fix things that were broken and vice versa. Once, to get a better view, Mother held the car door open while she backed out of the garage and left the car door jammed between the garage door elbow and the car. Once Father opened the large garage door, opened the car door, got in and backed the car in the garage into the car in the driveway. Later he said he’d always wanted to do that! Once Father slammed his finger in the car door, and once he slammed his finger in the garage door—index fingers on both hands, a matching set of vertical finger nails. One car door opened sideways, a lumpy brown Hudson Father bought for $50, the children’s taxi, he called it, saying it wouldn’t go fast enough for Mother to get a ticket, but she got one in the school zone in front of Greenwood Elementary School, the doors of which swelled with children of all descriptions, with multi-syllabic names from all over Europe, but when Grandmother asked me where my friends were from, I’d say, "America, Grandma!" There were two bathroom doors, one in Grandmother’s room; the other was the family bathroom in reference to which someone was always shouting, "Shut the door." There was a door to the front bedroom which was mine until Father built two rooms and another bathroom upstairs saying, "Wouldn’t it be nice for the girls to have a bathroom of their own, Anne?" There was a door at the end of the hall between my room and the large bedroom where Mother and Father slept next to jewelry boxes full of expensive jewelry which Mother didn’t like Father to spend money on, and costume jewelry she wore with color coordinated outfits. A plastic folding door petitioned off the nursery when my sister was a baby and there were sliding doors to Mother and Father’s closets which were dark and full of costumes that were hilarious. There was no lock on the attic door behind which were murderers. I pushed a chest against the attic door at night. In the daytime it was safe. I smoked back there until Father suggested I would be less likely to burn the house down if I smoked in the bathroom with the fan running so no one would know. The door to the upstairs bathroom was pink and Formica around the two sinks was pink and the towels were pink. So were the walls. The door from the dining room downstairs to the living room was an open arch and next to it was a brown arched tube radio we gathered around at night for radio dramas and world news in the corner of the living room furthest from the door to the front hall closet, full of coats, where it smelled like mothballs and where Mother kept the fur coat she wore when she dressed to go out the front door with Father, who kept his wallet, change, cigarettes and matches on an antique table next to the closet door, across from the piano next to the fireplace over which hung a large watercolor painting of a polar bear standing on an iceberg in the Arctic Ocean, which Father said made him cold. And there was the door to the train Father disappeared into every morning and stepped out of every evening, a black steaming engine pulling cars with green windows behind which sat people reading gigantic newspapers, a shrieking trail of doors rolling and clattering to Chicago and back, Chicago, where doors were stacked on top of doors in towers that turned streets into canyons, where a child could look up and not see the top, where revolving glass doors spun, never stopping, and an infinite tangle of doors led to restaurants and department stores, dentists and bathrooms, elevators and stairwells in patterns too complex for a child’s understanding and for that reason— exhilarating.

©Susan Bright, 1995, House of the Mother

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

Here's a link to Obama's message today about the start up of: Organizing for America.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your post! . . . it reminds me of this poem I wrote for my father:

Our Father All Under Cloud, Passes through Sea

Dad asked, Did you get a chance to see the sky in saffron?
The radio was telling how the clouds had dropped to ten feet.
I said, No, Dad.

You ought to. You haven’t heard the rain in blood-named washes,
or tasted anise in pine. The power lines carry rings of psalms,
the glitz of ice, and the low hum of old men. Your mother's the best friend…

I can't tell him about the water rising toward my feet, or the other woman
I met in a dream, the other woman whose baby pushed through
into my hands, the other woman
lying in the flooded aisle of a dark theater.

No, we hadn't taken the time to smell the dry wind in cedar.
I won't share with him my husband's run to the truck,
his run to outgun the rising tide in the town he'd passed through.

Still, I'll remember Dad's first lesson:
Look out the window.
And I'll know the water on the horizon could be a wave,
but if I look closer,
it's more like a mother's belly laughing,
my head resting on her navel.

Erica Maria Litz

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you! Very cool link!

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

can't believe i'd ever see it happen i went through school in Abilene under complete segregation hallelujah!
Paul Portuges

6:59 PM  

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