Pain and fear work in us that way, like I’m standing at the entrance of the farewell house: My soul has left me. It stands on the other side of the doorway, mingling with shadows and ghosts. It knows everything, even their silent language.
“Do not pity me,” she says. “I’m grounded. See how I can bend and honor Earth. See how I can reach and caress the sky.”
And opening the folds of her raiment: “I am filled with robins, blackbirds, finches, and jays. When I’m not singing with the wind, my soul radiates from their joyous symphony.”
Category Archives: Michael Parker
I walked to the bakery where we used to buy our weekly bread. I meandered through parking lots looking for our mini-van. I searched the faces in the grocery store trying to see Elle. Does she search the passing faces for a resemblance of me?
I scoped out the city park, gazing at the faces of the children on the playgrounds. Do any of them have my eyes or smile? I visited the city library and then haunted the entrances of our restaurants, theaters, and farmer’s market.
Despondent, and not remembering the way home, I took to the heart of the city. The streets and sidewalks were furiously alive. Cars were out in droves, passing to and fro like angry bees. People strolled by in faceless crowds, like giant flurries of storms crossing the valley with the saintly demeanor of purple-robed priests entering Communion.
I looked imploringly at the people approaching me. I held out my hands like a beggar. Each hand held a photo of my wife or kids. “Excuse me, have you seen my family?”
I knew that if just one person would look at the photos, they might recognize one of the faces and that would awaken a memory in them, and then that memory would become a story that they could tell. And then that story might be one of the missing stories that would fill part of my hungry void. But no one looked at me, nor even noticed me. No one told a story.
(In homage of the 33,771 Jews exterminated by SS Troops in Kiev, Ukraine, September 28th, 1941)
“Mammy, why do they throw sand in our eyes?”* a girl could be heard screaming from the 30-foot-deep ravine, Babi Yar. (*The Holocaust: A history of the Jews of Europe during the Second World War, Martin Gilbert, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., New York. Page 203.)
It was late in the night of the second day of the grand extermination. The German SS soldiers were cleaning up, bulldozing dirt and lye on top of the dead and the living.
It was a gravedigger from the local cemetery who heard her voice. And though he knew death well, and though, possibly, like his other fellow-Ukranians, he supported the Nazis’ “resettlement of the Jews,” maybe it was this innocent question from the mouth of a girl (who could be the age of his own daughter), that caused his heart to turn. And knowing as well as the backs of his dirt-engrained hands that he had witnessed things so terrible, he ran (stumbling, crying) back to his gravedigger’s shack, opened up the cemetery’s worn, leather-bound log book, and wrote down word for word the little girl’s question.
Maybe, too, he questioned seeing her last moment on the ledge: her mother’s arms tightly wrapping her into her naked body, her free hand holding her little head deep into her abdomen to shield her eyes from the machine guns, from that moment when they would jerk madly and petals of black-colored blood would blossom and burst from the bodies of her dad, brothers, sisters, and friends. She didn’t want her baby to know they would fall like baby birds with weak wings from their nest to their death.
(Inspired by the motion picture, The Wind Journeys [Columbia, 2009], directed by Ciro Guerra)
The desert was thirsty. Its face, cracked and peeling. The wind’s blast was hot, even the setting sun burned the horizon a brimstone red and stoked the land’s furnace. The Devil’s laugh was the screech of wind. Ignacio Carillo heard Him as he dug the grave that would hold the body of his beloved wife.
Ignacio knew misery was the harvest he sowed. He desired fame and women and got it making a deal with the troubadour who beat the Devil in a duel, winning His accordion. “I’ll take your place so you can be free to live your life.”
The Devil’s troubadour agreed.
Ignacio traveled Colombia for ten years. Wherever Ignacio played, he was never want of food, drink, or women.
But in a small town, Ignacio found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He vowed then he would never play again. And he didn’t. The Devil, in his fury, took the life of Ignacio’s wife. Devastated, Ignacio chose to return the cursed accordion to his mentor.
One morning, Ignacio left the town of his wife on a donkey and headed north to the shore of the Caribbean sea. After a half-day’s ride, he sensed another presence. Turning the donkey around, Ignacio saw a young man following. “What do you want?” Igancio bellowed.
“Are you the troubadour who plays the Devil’s accordion?” the boy asked confidently.
Ignacio’s heart grew heavy. Coincidence, he pondered. No, the Devil doesn’t play that game.
Adam was my scoutmaster. I mowed his lawn, especially while he was in Iraq. He built homes. Lost his job a year ago. I hadn’t seen him since his wife’s funeral. She was having a baby. It came early. She was bleeding. The baby was a dead boy. She died on the living room floor.
I went to say goodbye. I had just got home from work. He was moving. I mean, they were kicking him out of his house. His money was gone.
When he opened the door, he looked like a skeleton with skin. Eyes bulging, looked like he had been crying for years.
It was dark and cold. He had candles for light.
He was drinking. Empty liquor bottles were everywhere.
He hadn’t packed anything. It was all his wife’s stuff – the wall mirror, the curtains she made for the windows, family photos, and her favorite painting of Jesus Christ calming the sea. In the half-light, it was creepy: the disciples’ scared faces, Jesus’ arms stretched into the darkness that surrounded them, like a giant mouth of a beast was about to eat them alive. Adam saw me looking at it. He laughed:
“Miracles don’t happen to the poor.”
He bawled, said they were tearing him away from the “spirit of his wife.” She was there, he believed.
No, he didn’t talk of plans.
No, he didn’t talk about death.
Yes, I knew he owned guns. He loved guns.
Is there such a time as summer, long days, late afternoons on fire, the heat sticking to us like need, new lovers, day and night? I say, I remember what summer is. But that feels like an old memory, its colors fading to sepia, the edges blurring, and a memory’s details combobulating into others. And when that happens, there goes your own trust in your faculties to recall specifics, like a password to your only e-mail account, the mystical symbolism of each of your children’s birth times, or your vows at the wedding anniversary: the meaning of once important things. You and I both know that once a memory is called into question then your own history seems, well, lost, and no longer yours.
This is the history of summer: an old book in a specials collection, its leather binding brittle and breaking, and the stories written on each fragile page disintegrating if exposed to untreated air. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen old books opened. I’ve seen the fragments of words lifting off the page on thin wafers of paper the likeness of moths’ wings. That’s when you know the significance of each word: when you can no longer retrieve it to its home story.
Is there such a time as summer? If so, the recollection of it on these frigid winter days is fragile. My memory grows old. And the old books are blasted open and the blizzards are spreading the words across the plains.