Monday, December 29, 2008

Maneuvering Over The Wreckage

My body rests in the soft contours of a plush Oldsmobile seat. I am in the driver’s seat, in front of a clear windshield and a long cream colored hood, a hood so long I can barely see where it ends. In the rear is a long bench seat covered in maroon fabric that resembles velvet, but is not. Behind the back seat is a slightly tinted rear window and the long tail of the car that also curves beyond the horizon of my sight. The front seat is also a singular bench wide enough for three people, but in the car, there is only me and a 10 year old Korean boy who sits close to the passenger window, the right side of his body leaning into the car door. A fabric seat belt clings to him, stretching diagonally from the far end of the passenger door to the shiny buckle on his left side. The front seat is upholstered in the same faux velvet material, but its color is different than the back. Along the edges is an outline in maroon, but in the center, covering the middle of both the backrest and the seat, is a mixture of silver and brown threads that have been knitted together. Both my hands on the thin plastic wheel, slightly above center. We are in a wealthy suburban neighborhood on a very bright day. Although there are no clouds in the sky, the sky is not blue; it’s almost like the sunlight has taken over everything, turning every color into a yellow hue that’s so bright it borders on white. It is the brilliance of a candle flame, so bright it hurts to look at it. The light has colored each house into the shade of bleached sand. Each home in the neighborhood is large and spacious, they are mostly two story homes with wide steps that lead up to an impressive oak door. Each house is set apart from its neighbor by ample space and also slightly away from the street. The land between the street and houses is barren, there are no trees, no flowers, no cars or signs of life. The road that cuts through the neighborhood is wide, large enough for 6 lanes of traffic, but there are no other cars. Along with the black asphalt, all the traffic lines have disappeared beneath a thick layer of trash. Most of the debris is industrial, white plastic tubing, sharp pieces of chrome and aluminum in a thousand different sizes. Bricks add their color to the heavy chunks of cement and balls of wire. There are tires torn to shreds and pieces of paper that float slightly above the litter whenever a breeze picks up. Scattered every couple of feet are huge upright refrigerators made of tarnished metal, the kind used in commercial kitchens and bakeries. They are scattered along the road like orange cones without intent, without any uniformity or clear indication of purpose. As I drive, I swerve through them, sometimes needing to veer to the right to avoid hitting one, then needing to move back quickly to the left to avoid hitting another one that stands in our path. My foot is barely touching the gas pedal and the car crawls over the junk like a tortoise. My eyes are completely fixed on the road and I make every effort to avoid the corners of sharp objects, but I feel anxious, I’m afraid the tires will pop at any moment, I’m afraid we’ll hit a refrigerator. There are dings and dents in their sides, scars from other cars. Some of them have doors that hang by a single bolt. The little boy beside me takes no notice of the wreckage, he stares out the window in a posture of slight boredom and familiarity. This bumpy ride is nothing new to him, he has traveled the obstacle course of his neighborhood many times, staring through the window without any interest in the sights beyond.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Amusement Ride

I am in the bowels of a very long and thin ship, a modern recreation of a Viking ship made from black painted wood, metal and plastic. There is no water below the planks, but rather, hard pebbly land interspersed with blades of new grass, nearly invisible in the shadow of night. The boat is suspended in the air, held at least forty feet from the ground by enormous steel support beams on each side. The beams are buried far in the soil and extend vertically into the night sky, topped by a horizontal metal beam that joins them together. Welded to the center of the middle beam is another long metal pole that reaches from the underside of the air-born ship through the darkness of the bowels, up through the center of the deck and to the exact center the pole.
Within the ship, there are no windows, no portholes. It’s almost completely dark except for the cracks in the plank-wood roof which seep in short rays of yellow moonlight. The ship is a popular amusement park ride, but there are only three riders. Up, down, and up again…we swing from one point to the other with violent force, rocking mechanically between the metal beams, attempting to mimic the rolling of ocean waves, only, we cut through the air seamlessly with the force of Eric the Red.
I’m strapped to my seat by the plastic chest plate that comes with most modern roller coasters. The ship swings up high and fast, going up, then down with brutal force and speed. With each swing, my body registers panic. My stomach lurches as we trace another crescent moon with the pointed tip of the ship, then, nearly vertical, we descend, tracing another half smile. My hands are wrapped around the plastic safety belt and, with the beginning of each ascent, I take a long and deep breath. With the beginning of each descent, I release my breath in an extended exhale through pursed fish-lips.
My sister is sitting in the seat in front of me, just a couple feet away. Her long curly red hair moves with the motion of the ship. She is not anxious about the intense rocking, rather, she is preoccupied with the single piece of long plastic tubing that extends down from the ceiling between us. The tubing is thin and bendable, like the extra-long balloons that clowns turn into poodles at birthday parties, only a little thicker and stronger.
With each swing of the ship, the plastic tubing knocks me slightly on my forehead, in the exact center. My sister stares at the sight with an open mouth. She stares at the tube, watching it land on me with a light thump, over and over with each turn of the ship, neither in worry or sympathy, but dumfounded with disbelief.
Five seats away, on my sister’s right side, is my mother. She is clearly anxious. Her knuckles are white, gripping the plastic safety harness on her chest. Her face is covered in lines of fear and paralysis. Her lips are thin and her head hangs slightly forward, like a woman finally dominated by circumstances. She looks over at me and I can see within her eyes, through the blackness that nearly surrounds us, that she would cut the plastic tubing if she could, releasing me from the endless tapping on my forehead.
But she is strapped, we are all strapped, going up and down, tracing and retracing our path in endless mechanical repetition. As we travel the same route, we are nearly silent. I can only hear the light squeaking of metal beams as they glide past each other and the slight hissing of my breath through pursed lips as I struggle to remain calm. The ship is captain-less, not even a carnie graces the decks. We are alone. Below us, on the pebbly soil, is my father.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Curiosity and Recoil

There is a full grown white stallion beneath a blue sky made pale by a thin layer of smooth clouds. The horse has a mane of thick and long white hair that hangs over the right side of his neck and a tail to match that journeys halfway down his long legs before tapering off into a thin point. All the bristly hair that should be covering the bulk of his body is gone, just a thin layer of grayish peach fuzz coats his meaty torso and accentuates the very small black and red dots that punctuate its pale pink skin. There is no pattern to the dots, but they cover him extensively, from the skin above his hoofs to the underside of his soft belly, there are dots the size of pinpricks left to bleed. Despite his skin, he is a healthy animal, there are no protruding ribs and his footing seems steady on the compacted soil.
There are houses and a busy street not too far away and the sounds of tires on asphalt can be heard in the distance, but there is still a quietness in the landscape and in the surrounding hills and the feeling that no one is around despite the signs of their proximity. There are houses in four directions surrounding the horse, but they are far removed ranch houses that do not impede so much on the raw landscape, on the sense of open exploration that abounds in a world without roofs and walls.
From where the horse stands, there are four wide paths made clear by the blades of a small tractor; each dirt path eventually leads to a house in the distance. There is not a stray patch of clover or a rogue yellow dandelion on the paths. They are well traveled and maintained. But, along the edges, not too far from the horse, there are large patches of young grass. Each blade is only half an inch tall and they are the brightest of greens, the burst of chlorophyll containing the raw life wish of the soil and seeds. It is the first exploding note of a song, loud and clear as bells floating over hillsides. It is the color of birth and crying, the baby in the arms of mother soil.
Also in the intersection between paths, only a couple steps from the horse, is an old woman in a stainless steel wheelchair. She is thick from lethargy and lack of exercise. Her bulk fills up the entire space of the vinyl seat and spills over the tops of the arm rests like dough left far too long to rise. Her feet rest upon the small metal foot rests of the wheelchair and, covering her withered legs, is a heavy black afghan quilt decorated in a grid of small colorful squares. Above, covering her wide trunk from the cool air, is a man’s flannel shirt that is just one size too large. Her hair is bright white and short, cut straight just above her ears like a flapper dancer from the 20s. She is covering her mouth with a thin white paper tissue which she holds on her left hand.
The woman and stallion are engaged in a cycle of retreat and curiosity. The woman’s head is cocked slightly to the left side of her body and her right hand is outstretched to the horse. The horse retreats when she raises her hand to it and when she sees its recoil, she puts her hand back in her lap…then, the horse steps forward in curiosity. As the woman reaches up to touch its nose, the stallion retreats slightly once again. She places her hand in her lap and the horse nudges closer once again.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


The chamber is small, just a roughly cut square, six feet long on each side, just spacious enough for a handful of people. The floor is cut from inner earth and nothing disguises its raw nature. There are no rugs or tiles upon it, it is just cool, compacted earth that has the faint smell of decomposing leaves upon a forest floor. The contoured floor is a very deep brown, almost black and somewhat shiny in spots towards the center and more dusty and matte along the perimeter where the ground becomes the wall without any hard angles. There is nothing smooth about it, it moves like a soft miniature landscape with subtle differences in the height of each corner, between walls there are slight valleys and mountains, each one barely perceptible on first glance. Traces of footprints are visible in the dust around the edges and indentations of hard metal tools mingle among them, disguising their origin. The floor is cool at any given moment, made cold by the depths within the earth, hidden from sunlight and the touch of air and wind and light. The walls of the room are carved from the earth as well and they remain gritty, sloping in spots, protruding in others without any thought of geometry.
The space is almost completely dark, illuminated only by a very small fire that burns in the center of the earthen floor. Little bits of coal and small scrapes of wood crackle and cast elongated shapes onto the walls. The colors on the walls dance in shades of black that quickly jump into the realm of pale orange and then quickly move back towards the dark. In the flickering shadows that lick the walls, a couple of tapestries decorate the creased walls. They are semi-large rectangular pieces of geometric art made of colorful thick wool. In the firelight, it is hard to make out any of the colors, but the shapes do not divulge any mythic images, there are no distinct figures or representations, just hard geometric shapes: triangles, lines, squares, rectangles, circles. The shapes overlap and reach outwards, as if trying to be the one closest to the surface of the tapestry. The result is a fusion of lines that has no definitive subject. The triangles and squares and long lines are in sharp contrast to the imperfect square-ness of the floor and walls of the chamber.
In the center of the chamber, the little fire, barely larger than a dinner plate, is contained. Broken pieces of coal and thin logs burn and crackle, sending their smoke up in a long, thin current that voyages up into a ceiling that is completely black with smoke from previous fires. From the soft edges of the walls, the ceiling tapers up into a blackened peak with a thin hole at the very top which ushers the smoke from the room.
There is a vague shadow in the room, a thin man who moves quietly and softly around the perimeter of the chamber. His footsteps make no noise, his movements cast only the faintest glimmer of shadows upon the walls. His gait resides somewhere between anxious pacing and mindful, controlled movement. He is alert and attentive, aware of everything in the small space and watching it like a quiet guardian, waiting for a threat like an outdoor cat on the boundary of its land.
Beside the fire, standing only inches from its grasping flames is a short brown skinned woman. Her thin ankles and skinny legs lead to a very round stomach which has the shape of a large tree stump, lacking any curve. Hiding her legs is a skirt made from thick black wool that still smells of sheep and has little bits of leaves and small branches the size of toothpicks woven within the cloth. She has wrapped the long material around her lower half like thread around a spool and holding it all up is a large colorful sash that is tied around her stomach, in multiple knots.
In the firelight, the color of her skin is like black coffee mixed with milk. Below her beautifully embroidered neckline, her large breasts protrude from her thick white linen shirt like autonomous mothers ready to feed any and all creatures that would hover at her feet. Her thick, chubby shoulders lead to very thin, delicate wrists and to her hands that are clutching each other in a loose embrace as she stares with a fixed gaze into the small fire.
There are scattered gray ashes along the periphery of the fire, but the porous black coals burn bright in the center of the room. Sitting directly upon the burning wood and coals is a medium sized brass bowl which is about a foot high. Its mouth is wide and small flat indentations from a hammer grace the sides of the vessel. Inside the bowl, is a pile of fine gray ashes that fill it halfway. The woman’s smooth face is relaxed, her mouth is slightly open and curved in a small, almost undetectable smile. Her dark eyes, which are lined at the sides with thick crow’s feet are soft and hazy. Her eyelids are slightly drooping. The woman holds her gaze upon the bowl. The man in the shadows roams the periphery of the dark chamber in perpetual vigilance.