The Old Dirt Road (Minnesota)
Lifting my head up, to take a hold of my coffee cup, then taking a sip, thoughts likened to caterpillars start crawling over the top of my brainstem, my cerebellum, it’s not an unusual happening for me. It is hard nowadays to hold onto thoughts—if I do not write them down, they are dead in only a few hours—a quiver in the brain says, by gosh, he is still alive. I reach out for that thought, touch it, now it gears up it lunges towards me, terrified it leaps down to my teeth and jaw and stomach, and I got to write it down before it falls over on its face, that’s how it is when you get old. It is like a penguin trying to rearrange his or her flippers, under normal conditions, this cannot be done,
It is mid September now, evening in my apartment, the white curtains are akin to shadows, which comes from the deep darkness behind them, day’s insanity is gone, I hope. A man in the evening does not notice all that much, it is normally—if not characteristically that is—time to settle down. It’s kind of when my impulses come to and through my mind too—producing my poetry (typically I say, not necessarily all the time, just more often than not—say:) such impulses come to my mind, come to be written down, come to be meditated on, see what trails those caterpillars left. Thoughts like the wind moves through my brain like branches growing everywhichway. Impulses, we have them: and they, these impulses, they want to live—they don’t want to be covered up, likened to what clouds do to the moon, especially in a poet, they even seem to have a will, don’t you agree? If you do, put them on the backs of the caterpillars. I heard one caterpillar say (once upon a time), “He’s sure taking a long time to die!” I forgive him he is long dead now. My brain waves are no longer coming out of his nostrils, he is more comfortable in death than he was swimming around in my head, I do believe. I think he fell off some cliff, and better for it.
Anyhow, I have this sudden sensation; it is half an inch under my optical lobe; a funny, if not stringy place to be. A wide-eyed reflection: death is like the sound of thunder—I have heard it and felt it, seen it, even endured it within my lifetime; I have flown around the whole planet. And it comes down to this—I should say, it comes back to this, to an old dirt road and an old attic window (and perhaps alongside of that was a dream, the dream of a pauper; you see, without dreams we remain, but mutts to the world around us…). The starfish of my youth you could say, and how slowly and evenly does this reflection move—develop in: my head, my soul—the spirit that talks to me—you know, that second self—but this starfish has a body of a dinosaur. You see a starfish can be a glacier too. My mind sweeps low and swift over this glacier, now the lamp is lit, and the full story to be told:
Once upon a time, there was a boy, he was no more than twelve years old, he was not at the time very intelligent, but he had good insight, intuition, perhaps foresight too. Also he had faith, more than a mustered seed, perchance more than a young man at his age needed; he often sat in his attic bedroom, sitting at the top of the stairs (often writing poetry, trying to figure out the stanza, and so forth), staring out the side window into his backyard—as if into nothingness. There was a big oak tree in front of the pantry, below him. The large oak tree, it extends up past his window, over the house like a giant umbrella; likened to a Titan guarding the house, and alongside the tree were two poles that concocted a clothesline, ropes extending from one end to the other, in rows. He would often help his mother unravel the bed sheets, stretching them from one corner to the other, putting those wooden clothespins onto the ends of the sheets—snapping them onto the clothesline, and in the middle of the sheets, securing them so the wind would not blow them to kingdom come. In the wintertime he’d run out to get those sheets, for his mother, they were like cardboard on the clothesline, nonetheless, it was a task assigned to him, and he’d do it wholeheartedly.
From that very same window, he would watch the changing of the leaves on the trees—season to season, year after year. Autumn to him was the best of the seasons, or the best part of fall, which was his season, he was an October boy, born on the 7th); and over across his grandfather’s property where he and his mother and brother lived together—kind of like an extended family type setting. Moreover, over across his grandfather’s property was a large empty lot. Once upon a time, it had held three other houses. Now long gone, perhaps a quarter century long gone—; now, this large space was dense with tall yellow and brown and thorny shrubbery it was hard to walk through, it was home to: rats and mince, quails, and a few pheasants, perhaps a snake or two, grasshoppers and ticks and all those sorts of insects.
After about five-years living there old man Brandt, who lived on the other side of the empty lot, and a few of the neighbourhood boys, got together and cleared out a section of the bared and unfilled lot for a baseball area. A diamond, as it is often referred to—and the young boy he helped by picking up rocks, and cutting those towering weeds with a sickle. That was the boy’s world, one big change in half a decade, but a good change.
The backyard extended to an old dirt road, which was used for buggies and wooden wagons of another period in time, perhaps twenty-five to thirty-five years prior to the boy’s moving into this neighbourhood, at ten years old, that would have been in 1957 or ’58, there about: horse driven, back in those 1920s, or earlier. Had you walked up this old dirt road—the very one he walked up pert near everyday during his formative years, the once wooden barns, that still stood solid and firm, reinforced with cemented foundations and stronger rafters within the last decade or so, were transformed into garages, for automobiles.
That of course was once upon a time, over a half century ago now. Last time the boy had walked that old dirt road—he was not a boy anymore, he had grown into a middle-aged man—or there about. It had not changed much, although the garages had made a new transformation. And the houses below the embankment, looking down were gone, as was his house; torn down a quarter a century before, to make a playground, and those old tall yellow and brown weeds that hid the rats and mice and all those other forms of hidden life, were gone.
He told his inner secret self, “Things keep changing…”
The old oak tree was gone from his backyard—roots and all, he noticed, said, “Yes,” in a whisper, in the crackling cool air the Indian summer, “yes, the very one I had gazed upon twenty-five years ago! The very one I climbed when grandpa was gone, as a kid.”
Funny he thought, contemplated, pondered on: ‘No kids around, not any houses for kids to come out of to be around either, nonetheless, a playground, how very mysterious…’
Now looking back, another fifteen years passed, the area converted into a kind of asphalt parking lot; where his house used to be which also consumed part of the playground. How they levelled it all out, he could not figure out, it was surely costly; he deliberated, especially, eating up part of the playground for this hollow, if not valueless cause. And where old man Brandt’s house used to be, and two other houses on the opposite side of where his grandfather’s house used to be, where the fence was and the clotheslines were, all gone. Now just empty spaces, nothing filling it up, open to the sky and rain. In addition, they had taken down the fence that made the playground look like a playground. Now it looked like an empty park. Better yet, an empty something that I cannot find the word for; again I say, nothing filling it up, just grass, plain old green grass—that someone came to cut, that no one ever saw. And alongside that, the asphalt parking lot that no one seemingly ever parked in—but still no homes and the children were still gone, and there was no more industry—of course that had left the area long ago. By gosh he said, “Who’s parking here?” it was empty. It was a hollow street, empty neighbourhood—no life to it.
“Things change every six months,” he told himself— “in styles and fads, and so forth, things like that. “Neighbourhoods, every half a decade or so; and people—well, we are just part of the ongoing cycle. Luckily, we get to see some of these changes, as we change too—; caterpillars do not get to see these changes, have these reflections. Perhaps they are luckier than we are, and better for it—I am not sure, I just appreciate life, it is a gift. I suppose all that will ever be left of me, left behind that is, that will bring a remembrance of me to someone—that will be the same, is that old dirt road. That in over sixty years of my lifetime, hasn’t changed one iota, that seems so familiar, it hasn’t changed in a hundred years I bet, and I suppose that will have to be my spokesman, my legacy. It will be the only thing left of me, that one can say: here, this path, he walked this path. Yes, I walked up it once upon a time, a long time ago, many times, and down it many times, it knows me, and I it, my soul, my youth, I can feel it under my heels—just thinking of it, and long after I’m gone it will still hold my memory.”
In Poetic Prose; No: 3067 (9-15-2011)