THE WATER TANK
When I first saw an El Greco painting of Toledo, this dark but shimmering city on a hill, I recognized it. Such a dark shimmering city lay just beyond the green Connecticut hill that was in my line of sight from my bed in the small yellow room at the back of the house into which I moved when I was three. And much later when I climbed a hill in the Arboretum and saw the actual towers of Boston I was in a familiar place again. That hill.
In a pre-commuter time this place had been an old Connecticut boarding house, and so my bed was three feet from a second floor door that opened at the top of a shaky outside staircase - flaking gray paint and a banister you had to be careful of because of splinters - this staircase that made me feel much of the time that it was not so much that I was an outcast in this house as that where I lived was actually another house, and while their house had ties to the town of Westport and to the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad in Saugatuck, mine was connected to things that were much grander.
When I was at last studying art, and going to every art school in New York and then into figure drawing studios late into every night, I was often drawing, in addition to pretty girls who had no clothes on, inanimate things that seemed like live things that I saw around me in the city - cars parked around the ILGWU houses, hanging traffic lights, buildings receding into the distance, for which I used perspective I had learned in the third grade forty-something years earlier, and thought I had forgotten. I was particularly taken with rooftops - Greek temples high on old buildings on Sixth Avenue, and on the tops of buildings everywhere cylindrical wooden water tanks with flattened dome roofs which I had not till now much noticed in New York but now could not get enough of, to the point of risking my life hanging from a fire escape at Parsons to get just the view I needed. These water tanks I had known since I was three - the exact shape and composition of the tank that held water for our house, which was at the top of the hill that was on a line from my yellow room. And I knew all about windmills too. Ours had an electric motor down below that pumped water from our old spring well (on the top of which copperheads sometimes sunned themselves) up to the water tank, but the windmill wheel kept on turning as if it were still needed.
In my bed, on a line from the hill, my dreams more often than not were nightmares, but sometimes they took me up the hill, right to the top, where suddenly I could see the equivalent of Toledo or Boston. And sometimes I would be up there as the groom in a wedding with a pretty girl - and there were rabbits and skunks and possums all around.
My most frequently recurring dream was of being caught in poison rain, wet red stuff that meant instant death coming down from the sky, with of course no place to run. But sometimes the sky was clear and I was a performer.
Sometimes I had to be on a platform at end of the our driveway that let through bright forsythia onto Lyons Plain Road (a road so wide and important it had a stripe down the center). I had to be on the platform because so many people were coming up the road to hear me sing and give speeches.