Monday, August 20, 2007


performed 8/16/07 at the Fletcher Gallery, Woodstock, NY

I am heading north from the city – November 1986. From the tape deck of my cheerful old aqua Mustang, Willie Nelson is singing a very a old Frankie Laine song. A song that I have not heard since 1950. Nineteen-fifty when I was 15 and the song was everywhere – Everywhere except in the big formal summer houses our family used to own – Neckties at breakfast. Pedigreed people in rarefied places sealed off from rural poverty. Where I head now hoping to save a pretty cousin.

Up in the morning, out on the job,
Work like a devil for my pay
But that lucky old sun has got nothing to do,
But roll around heaven all day.

The White Mountains of New Hampshire – place of perfect summers – so I once thought. That family up there – so safe seeming back then with their popovers, Floating Island and Anglophilia. My grandfather with his distinguished walking stick. My grandmother orchestrating formal finger bowl dinners. Their compliant children. And their children’s children -

My generation. The dead or walking dead – suicide, drugs & incest. Me in peril recently, a foreign war zone enemy of my twin in the CIA. Now Cousin Lauryn, the youngest, my favorite, beaten and fucked before puberty, back now, sprung from a battered women’s shelter.
I drive north on the hunt now for what really happened. Driving by aqua Mustang through time into scenes from earliest childhood – until at 15, in 1950, it seemed I could escape. Friends, girlfriends outside our estate. Regular people’s songs and a life – please God – not bounded by their tasteful striped awnings, their marble bird baths, granite mountains.

I go for years without seeing those mountains but they are always there in consciousness - even when I am in war zones far away. And in this new time, 1986, I realize that also in consciousness, every day of my life, whatever might be happening, there were and are always songs in my head. Never sung aloud, for I do not sing yet – but always in my head. Songs. A parallel if hidden reality – a world beyond.

Fuss with my woman, toil for my kids
Sweat till I’m wrinkled and gray
But that lucky old sun’s, he’s got nothing to do,
But roll around heaven all day.

So fine, this working man’s chant. In the Mustang I feel so fine, though I believe I am driving into the belly of the beast. I fear for Lauryn, who has returned…

She was going to be a dancer. I drive north to do battle with the ravenous past. And yet as I point the car north, my heart leaps – and it is almost as if I am headed not into the belly of a beast in a freezing November but into happy summer days – mountain beauty and romance.

Dear lord above, don’t you know I’m pining,
Tears are in my eyes,
Send down that cloud with a silver lining,
Lift me to paradise.

The night is blacker than I had expected. I reach Franconia Notch. That’s the mountain pass you have to cross to get to those old summer places.
Deep in the notch, on the highway between Cannon Mountain and Mt. Lafayette, there is no starlight, no moonlight , no traffic except me. I sense more than I can see of the icy black granite that rises on either side. Suddenly a fierce early mountain snow storm, like out of the past, it creates a full white-out. Opaque whiteness. I can see nothing in front of the car.

This is just the sort of thing so feared by the upright people who were my people in the rich houses – the way they feared lighting strikes on golf courses, and brake failures on ill-kept mountain roads, and hunters’ bullets in the woods, and non-Episcopalians, including cute New Englanders who use the adjective “wicked”— They feared the rage of mama bears, and they feared the larceny of poor people. Feared everyone and everything except what they should have feared – each other.

No way to tell in the white-out if I’ve stopped the Mustang in the middle of the notch road where something might crash and crush me. No way to tell if I’m on a shoulder at a ravine with no guard rail.

Am I to die here so near to where I began? Die listening to old music and remembering old scenes. Die in this whiteness just as the past is coming clear?

Show me that river, take me across,
Wash all my troubles away,
Like that lucky old sun, give me nothing to do,
But roll around heaven all day.

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