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.

Friday, August 10, 2007

GRANITE STATE IX - Driving and driving

I drive and drive through these hills and mountains of New Hampshire, on the trail, in the summer in ’86, of what had happened to them all – the cousins dead or dying or drugged out or molested – but not just the cousins of my generation in this family I came from but all of them in those grand houses in the White Mountains where everything was supposed to be so in order, though no one in my childhood time seemed to honor much that had happened since the turn of the century except maybe World War I, and the non-Marxist phase of the Russian revolution, covered by my grandfather the writer – which meant there was no room for another writer in this family – these rarefied people in these formal summer houses – where the men tended to have neckties on at breakfast.

That world seemed the enemy now. The cousins, who died, seemed my allies. But the version of the past that had held in these houses I was revisiting – driving and driving that summer – this was more dead than the mere dead bodies of cousin Paul and Cousin Elka and Cousin Margaret, or the battered body of my favorite, Cousin Lauryn.

And yet I had never felt more alive than in this time. I had stopped my writing, which was too controlled to be of any use to me as night became day and day night and gentle places became dangerous places and my mother and brother betrayed me and I too could have died – my brother revealing himself as a C.I.A. man in Manila , where I had been there under death threat dealing with the opposition to the Marcos dictatorship the CIA had helped set up, in this time when the heroes of my writing were being murdered. In Manila , where my brother swore he’d never been. And it was exhilarating too, new freedom, new worlds opening up to me. I had stopped writing but I was about to start painting. In ways I had never considered, never realized were there, I stepped into art – seeing things I had never seen before, from Piero della Francesa to Arshile Gorky – and nature – noticing for instance how it was not just new leaves coming in, the tree were billowing.

I said more than once to new people coming into my life that it would not be all that bad if I died now for now at last in 1986, though I did not feel being in my fifties made me old, at last I knew things I could so easily, like the others in the family I came from, gone to my death never knowing – art and life. It is true I would wake up some mornings in my Chelsea apartment putting all this new knowledge out of mind – the death of the family version and the deaths of the cousins - thinking at first that if I kept it all away, none of these things would have happened – so long as I could hold off remembering. Yet when I remembered it, I was elated.

And then as I drove through New England on this hunt for what had happened, with some side pleasure too, I felt that kind of freedom that I knew goes along with the end of a prolonged dying – like when my father died three years back, deserted by all his close relatives and friends except for me and my about to be ex-wife, whose picture he carried with him in his last moves from nursing home to home care to hospital, to home care, to nursing home to hospital, and on and on. Deserted by all except my then wife and also by me, which may not have counted for I was never considered in step with this family that enclosed them all.

And now I was free. As I drove through New England with Willie Nelson on the tape deck singing songs I knew from my hidden radio in childhood – “Stormy weather,” “Don’t Get around much anymore,” “I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter,” “Old fashioned love,” “Someone exactly like you.”

Monday, August 6, 2007


I favored time-warp roads in these trips I was making into the past – two times in August over from Vermont, where I had gone using the old Taconic rather than the thruway or the interstates – financed for the summer with money from Penthouse – one of many lives I was leaving – and then in September a trysting trip – and now this trip to see Lauryn.

On the trysting trip each time I called in to my answering machine in Chelsea I got the voice of my Aunt Alice – who, as someone once defined it for me when he saw an old smiling photo of her - your aunt, the black sheep of her generation, who has sex on behalf of all the family members who have none –

At the end of the tryst – the end of the affair, which seemed in motion so long as we were in motion – traveling in foliage time through the mountains of Vermont – so soft and comforting, so many shades of green – some of it in perfect square patches of planted high altitude clover – and in motion traveling through the mountains of New Hampshire – big and wild and jagged and scarred – these mountains we were in in New Hampshire while practically at the doorstep of this aunt who could not know I was back in town after so many years, and was trying to reach me in New York.

When the tryst, the affair, was over – for it did not transfer from being on the road in New England to being planted in life in New York – when it was suddenly over I returned the call to my aunt – and this was when this aunt, the only relative with a light touch in my childhood, this pretty laughing woman whom I had called my favorite aunt –

This was when on the phone she said something awful had happened to her - and then told me about the awful thing that had happened to her daughter Lauryn – and this was when she said she really could not blame the guy –

As I listened I was cold.

I was remembering.

I was getting what I had recently heard a person searching hard for clear memories call the “the visuals” – the visuals I had hoped for when I began the search to find out what had happened.