Saturday, March 5, 2011

Early Scenes from "Immortal For Quite Some Time"

March 1950, Farmington, New Mexico
In what eventually will become our hometown, for three days running, good citizens report seeing flying saucers. Between eleven and noon each day, hundreds of the alien craft thrill builders and teachers, cooks and civil servants, farmers and trading-post operators.
I was born seven months before the aliens were reported in Farmington. John was born fourteen months after their coming.
I have never seen a flying saucer. Nor, to my knowledge, did John.

September 1954, Paonia, Colorado
            The little engine keeps leaving the tracks to frolic in meadows. Flowers snagged in his wheels betray him. Pedagogical engineers hide in a meadow and jump up with red flags when he turns their way. He gives up frolicking, stays on the tracks, and grows into a good puller-of-trains.
            I put down my Golden Book to watch flatcars stacked with fruit boxes rattle past our log house. My mother leads me across the street to a warehouse. She knocks at a side door. It slides open. She passes her warm bread and a pot of steaming pinto beans through the opening to a dark-eyed woman holding a brown-skinned baby at her breast.

1956, Montpelier, Idaho
            My friend Bernie shows me the litter of birth-wet puppies under his front porch. Their father, he says . . . my dad said their father was a dead daddy horse.

1957, Montpelier, Lincoln Elementary School
            Pots, rings, or chase. We lay out our games of marbles on the playground. I drop my winnings into a blue-and-white-striped bag Mom made from a leg of a pair of overalls. It grows fat and heavy. I knot the drawstring carefully.
            When I’m not playing marbles, I watch a girl with patent-leather shoes swing so high the chains go slack. Her shoes flash in the sun. Her black hair flies in the wind. She knows I watch her.

1958, Montpelier
            Mrs. Sharp has enrolled us in a reading contest. We write titles and authors’ names on lined paper. I speed through dozens of little paperbacks. My list grows and grows. Mrs. Sharp awards me a round steel medal engraved with my name and the number of books I have read: 129.
1960, Farmington, New Mexico
            If it weren’t for our fierce soccer games on Ladera del Norte’s dirt field, I would gladly skip lunch to sit in class where our teacher reads another chapter of Little Britches. He’s tough. Determined. Good with horses. Ingenious. Saves his wages.

1964, Aztec, New Mexico
            Regional competition between junior-high bands. I carry my clarinet, she hers. We suck our reeds to keep them moist. We hold hands, speak in low tones, wish there were no end to the day.

1966, Farmington, New Mexico
            Late-afternoon light diffuse in the old Mormon chapel. The sacrament meeting is already an hour gone. The man standing at the pulpit intones the word of God. Sixteen-year-old boys and girls sit thigh to thigh in the back row, pass notes, play games on paper, brush hands.

July 1967, Farmington
            DR. GENE SMITH, ORTHOPEDIC SURGEON. I have swept his parking lot, watered his shrubs, cleaned his office, transcribed his tapes, and once almost fainted while I held a basin of warm water into which he squirted fatty yellow fluid drawn from deep inside a man’s knee through an enormous needle.
            Today, I’m working in the red glow of the darkroom, developing a set of x-rays. I pull the film from the chemical bath and hang the sheets to drip dry. I turn on the fluorescent screen behind them.
Gistening reproductions of Claudia Colter’s spine.
The bones curve ever so slightly from the delicate vertebrae of her neck down to the right and then back to the left before disappearing between the bright wings of her hips.
The bright wings of her hips.
            Again I trace the scoliostic curve, ghostly against the black film, deviating so beautifully from the strictly vertical. I study the dim arcs of ribs that frame her spine, the cunningly articulated vertebrae snaking down between the ribs. I picture Claudia in the next room, naked under the examination gown.
The thoughts arouse me, confuse me. I’m feeling what I’ve learned, in church, to distinguish as the fire of the Holy Ghost. I worship these pale images.
The door opens. It’s Dr. Smith: So what have we got? 

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