Thursday, January 6, 2011

How I Learned Absurdity As A Preposition

In Back Of

Driving to church, something amiss. I’d been an altar boy for several years and now it was my younger brother’s turn to say yes to mystery discomfiting like a strange shirt. I’d warned him: don’t get the priests angry, they have incredible tempers behind that patience, that imperturbability, they’ll turn on you and yell like a lion. St. Andrew the Apostle had incurred a new pastor, a steely man. Black jacket, black sunglasses, black mood. My brother had forgotten something. He was scheduled to serve the eleven thirty Sunday morning mass, not the ten o’clock. Father Steel was giving the ten o’clock. My brother was trapped in the sacristy, sweating out his realization. Father Steel’ll blow his top. My parents and I drive past the church at ten minutes to ten on Sunday. We see a pair of hopeless, squiggling legs squirming out from a window at the back of church. Little brown shoes first, then white socks, and black dress pants, then his brother, curly hair joyless in a fearful wind.


As a small boy I prized the organizing principle. Crayons everywhere, burnt orange, cadet blue, forest green, the basement a blueprint of chaos! My mom and I’d read in Sunday’s “helpful hints” column detailing a Styrofoam block inserted into a common shoe box with numerous pencil-sized columns drilled in—presto, a crayon holder. I loved and admired the plan, fearing its architectural ambitions were beyond me. One afternoon she presented me with the crayon holder. It gleamed in artificial know-how, my own snug structure. I loved it, and her for it, and marshaled my crayons into rows, tiny subdivisions of order. Days later and a friend is over. In front of my grieving eyes we’re smashing to bits my crayon holder, reckless and awful in our pettiness. With ersatz glee I crush yet another shiny chunk; soon there is a dirty snowfall covering the basement floor. I glance up at the top of the stairs. Me and my gaudy, shameful clique.

Apart From

Walking with my older brothers and their friends up Amherst Ave., feeling lucky. Not too often I stroll with this older crowd, heading up to the 7/11. Tiny and inconsequential in squeaking sneakers. There is a photograph of my family walking to the bus stop on our way downtown to the Washington D.C. mall for the 1976 Bicentennial. I’m walking out front with my buck teeth and shaggy bangs, skinny little job, pretending to enjoy the attention. Now we walk up Amherst and I’m out front. Squinting in the high sun: an older girl on a ten-speed; her shorts are short, and they’re riding up. I’m a block or so from puberty, and the roundness of a kitchen apple can send me into spasms for an afternoon. I stare at this wondrous ass, this rococo visitation, all the while strolling, cool, right smack into a parking meter, cold steel cracking into the bridge of my nose. Whirling stars and hoots, and anguish, and clichés of disrepute to last a small boy’s day.


In the cooler, lower depths of the house we play Hide & Seek. My brothers and I spend hours away from the blind of August skulking around the laundry room and the basement: the astonishment of the other body; pale limbs and paler giggles materializing from the a dark corner or out from behind a washing machine. Loss, hard bone beneath taut skin, intimate smells. We search and search for our younger brother, who’s nowhere to be found. This hunt is taking longer than we thought. We look everywhere: behind curtains; beneath the pool table; in the closet. We find him beneath the sheets on my brother’s bed, wrapped in swelter. A corpse perspiring, a corpse dreaming! He gasps for air and rips the sheets away, looking for them in desperation. Don’t move, you’ll ruin the game.

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