Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mrs. Robinson, Jesus Loves You

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?

January 1968, Provo, Utah

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know . . .

The Graduate and his girlfriend flee her seductive and wrathful mother to an upbeat soundtrack, and I leave the theater happy for them, free with them, disgusted by "plastics" and convention. But the "Jesus loves you" unsettles me. I wish Jesus and the seduction that had my full attention (Mrs. Robinson’s parting knees!) weren't so snugly intertwined.

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