Wednesday, January 31, 2007
31 January 2007. Gray on gray. Yellow street lamps before dawn, far end of the block, through branches of camphor trees. Song of a dove. Steady note, then higher, then gently falling. At intervals, again now and again. Last night: the Louvin Brothers. No doves there. Fire and brimstone more likely...at least in Ira's lyrics. Ira Louvin--a man possessed...down to his name. Meant every word, too. Hill country salvation--Sand Mountain--massive plateau in the northwest corner of Georgia--violent and remote... Was it the isolation or the poverty--or simply the starkness of it all... Charlie: "I think my brother was tortured by religion." And yet, not to believe... Cattle and kind. Sheep grazing on a hillside--cows, too. Jazzbo prancing through the fence gate, late late afternoon--leading the ewes down steep meadow path to waiting barn...soft white doves there, too--high on the eves, evening calls...
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
30 January 2007. Jet with upturned wing tips, gleam of sunlight on its nose--veering across whispy bank of clouds. The rest of the sky a milky blue. Dark-haired fellow in gray sweatshirt--a builder--climbs into heavy maroon pickup with incongruous silver panels along the sides... Ralph Stanley...a shy man before his brother--the extrovert--drank his liver away. "A dram drinker," they called it--at least according to Nicholas Dawidoff--who does usually seem to get it right. The way the voice--high and lonesome--corresponds so closely to those hills and hollows. Clinch Mountain country... An unpainted cabin--weathered gray wood--lived in for seventy years. Iron pump handle, sloping porch, tool shed and barn. One cow, a few rows of corn. Hardscrabble... House Carpenter, Barbara Allen, Banks of the Ohio, Omie Wise...
Friday, January 26, 2007
26 January 2007. Solid gray thick-enough-to-cut-like-butter sky. Softened edges. Two crows and one white gull on asphalt of 7-eleven lot. The crows encroach, but the gull pecks them away. An ornithological standoff. John Ford, maybe... Last night--sound lines. Melody of This Land Is Your Land, picked out on the guitar with Carter Family lick--just enough to get the thing going. Stephanie on bass, Angie on washboard. Our Scandinavian trio leaning back and forth... Anthony across the circle, sitting on the floor, plugged in--embellished riffs way up the neck. Joe's can with walnuts--motley of bottle caps applied to the outside. Applied--that's the word. As if the thing had always existed--and we simply grace each new turn. Urs: Is there truth in the wind? Indira--Lonesome Valley--a song opening out into the world...
Thursday, January 25, 2007
25 January 2007. Puffing cloud of white steam against warm gray sky--just over worn mansard shingles of 7-eleven roof. Narrow vertical antenna obscured for a moment--then crisp again against more yellowish patch of sky. Man in shorts on old-style bicycle, baby carriage contraption towed behind--small red pennant, also on vertical. Latina with newspaper bags and a slightly crooked smile--morning stock from grungy gray-green van. Inside--window nearby--woman in sleeveless blouse--the hairdresser's--standing with arms akimbo (all in black), head tilted to the left, inspecting her work. Worried-faced woman in crisp London Fog, just a glimpse of her head as she backs out in late-model dark bronze Honda SUV.
Ollie Gilbert, somewhere in northeastern Arkansas--now fifty years back.
Down in the valley
The valley so low
Hang your head over
Hear the wind blow...
24 January 2007. Mid-morning sun in pale sky. Massive longitudinal soda truck--red, white, black, moored across two parking spaces, a handicap zone, and twenty-some feet of red no-parking curb--projecting a couple of extra yards into 7-eleven driveway for good measure... That's across the street. Next door, Kathmandu--Lena and her husband, seated in doorway alcove, on yet-to-be unwrapped wooden bench--handmade, each leg still in raffia... Their small backs turned to the sidewalk and street, taking in the sun. My guess is that they're drinking tea--pale Assam in small chamfered glasses, mixed with honey and mare's milk. But no, they're sipping from some franchise cups--same soda as in front, no doubt. Meeting us half-way. Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley-- "Will The Circle Be Unbroken"
Monday, January 22, 2007
22 January 2007. Single gull dipping and turning against blue morning sky. Woman of middle years with small dog on leash--who turns his head just now and looks back up at her. They disappear around the corner. Earlier: wind against canvas sheeting over playing field fence--each gust sends giant ripple across the surface. Reading last night: concluding pages of Austerlitz. The Paris library, built on a ridge of pre-historic chalk--and the ruins of German warehouses for storing goods confiscated during the war--rugs, paintings, china, furs--stuff of bourgeois life. "It's a bourgeois town"--Lead Belly, around the same time--but he's talking about D.C. This morning--the Libby jury--hard to select. No one who speaks out against Bush acceptable. Song as weapon? No--just song as song. Reaching back into the past, the arms we most need...
Friday, January 19, 2007
19 January 2007. Sun, just now over the hills, pouring light. Early: Javed in 7-eleven. Back after Mecca, Karachi--I can only guess. "Mucho trabajo, poco dinero," he says, two or three times, more as a mantra than anything else. Photograph at top of New York Times--waves pounding the sea wall of an old European town. Cover of New Yorker: Bush as Nero--playing a lyre, by self-appointment. Last night: Down in the Valley. After a good shot of Polish vodka. Told story of Robert and Gabryela--driving with them from Amsterdam east, across Germany to the Oder...small town where family of the school principal welcomed us. Friends of Gabryela's family from the time of the war. Feather beds, cucumbers with dill, mushrooms gathered from nearby woods. A school building, their apartment one of the rooms--a shelter. Having lived like this always. Song.
18 January 2007. Gentle sun this morning--why is that? Sometimes harsh and raking, today an infusion of golden light. Cold again in the night--white frost across the field, shapely figure in the dark, her agile scraping at a car window. Last night: Lonesome Valley. Not just a voice, but an entire being from the past--emerging almost miraculously from the screen of laptop...Mississippi John Hurt--his taut skin, lively eyes--many emotions, the subtlety of them all. A kind of rolling motion, too, as if he played from the shoulder, rolling into each note, each phrase. "I learned one number all the way through." In the dark of night, his mother's musician boyfriends asleep in the other room--always the sounds--breathing, light snoring. He takes up the guitar--very quiet. First notes--fingers follow what the heart must know.
One could weep.
"You've got to walk that lonesome valley..."
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
17 January 2007. Rain yesterday evening--glossy steps outside fourth floor door. First day back at school, cold classroom, grungy desks--yet enthusiasm of new group... Po Chü-i, ancient poem: The Hundred-Fire Mirror. We read each line. Can you convince us of the meaning. "Was he a court poet?" The meaning of mirror...red-jade powder, golden oil, polished bronze... This morning: sun everywhere, now glinting off metal pocket clip on my pencil. Also a mirror. Last night, late: Austerlitz. His disturbing, detailed reiteration of the camp at Terezin. Nothing left to chance. Returning to London, he watches a film made there at that time, now in slow motion. Kinds of distance, layers of remove. And then: Agata's face. His mother's. A mirror as well.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
16 January 2007. Layers of white frost on dark car windows...grass playing field white as well. Steam billowing from over the roof of the pool--white against black dawn sky. Steam inside, as well--from blue-green water. Sylvia Plachy's photographs--many years ago. The baths in Budapest--muted green tile, figures half-appearing in the mist. Yet sense of home. Like Blind Willie McTell, his version of Amazing Grace. Not singing--just his slide guitar, erie and haunting--as if the notes appeared of themselves. A choral group, too--sound of the reverend's voice, introducing--then a run of moaning incantation--melody lost in the harmony of their insistent, rhythmic chant--voices adding in, more for presence than for song.
"Do Lord, oh do Lord, do remember me..."
Monday, January 15, 2007
15 January 2007. Haloed sun in blue winter sky. Yesterday, early: large woman in layers of coats, small shopping cart, slumped back asleep in Starbuck's lounge chair--undisturbed. Images of the South: cotton field, plantation house, the river. Parchman Farms and Sugarland--the names pretty much covering the spread. A google search shows they've been turned into bands--strange phenomenon, this willful inversion. "From prison farm to play list," something like that. Midnight Special, for instance. Paul's outrage, years ago, at its neutralization as a cityboy song--whitened up, middle class. As opposed to the moaning trials of the run from Memphis to Chicago. And even more: lone window against nighttime sky, a few stars, train whistle somewhere in the distance...
"...shine her light on me."
Thursday, January 11, 2007
11 January 2007. Curling column of white steam against pale blue sky. Cold. "Maybe we'll get that snow they're talkin' about." White panel truck in 7 eleven lot, pulled in at an angle just under the eave. Figure in dark hooded sweatshirt making his way towards double glass doors. Orange-red numeral on wall above, smaller green eleven cutting through. Poverty of invention? A contradiction, in any case--where the claims of immediacy can offer so very little. And yet, and yet, we make this our world. Anthony and Steph at City Lights--from that time. Dharma Bums. What he remembers. Sugar, was it? A Buddhist dream? Mountain top somewhere northwest--a source, point of origin. The initial vision...held and held...
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
10 January 2007. Morning fog, gentle gray everywhere, golden yellow mixing through just above the hills. Anticipation. Wash of buds on Chinese elm--also golden yellow. Motionless against the gray. First and last words, so often the same--or is it just that it feels right so. River Jordan--not Appalachia, but Burning Spear. Lyrics by the Itals, too. "Meet me at the bank of the beautiful river..." Evocation, no matter what the source. Last night: June Carter, with a lanky, expressively nervous Johnny Cash. Pete Seeger on banjo--but nicely in the background. "Blue Eyes." Steadfast and plaintive. True song. Later--with Ahron. Down in the Valley. The first notes, also true...
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
9 January 2007. Sun through wide window, long morning shadows across Solano. Early crow on street light stanchion, sleek shoulders, flexed, then five raucous caws. Teenager maybe--or a corvidean James Dean? Note from Tom, apropos yesterday. Black Oak is on the block. Do I know a buyer? Nights before, mornings after--as in Flaubert, A Sentimental Education. Waking in the dawn... Rereading Austerlitz. The Antwerp station. Nocturnal zoo...mixtures and inversions--nothing as it seems--questioning the seeming itself. Eyes peer out of the darkness, impossibly open--awareness is all. "The helmsman, inattentive if only for a moment..." Unterjoch, Uberjoch...
Monday, January 08, 2007
8 January 2007. Black sky before dawn, constellations through camphor leaves. Orion the Hunter. Scimitar or sword? Reaching down to lower shelf in Black Oak last night--Evan Connell story of the gypsy man in Santa Cruz, The Fisherman from Chihuahua. "Santa Cruz is at the top of Monterey Bay, which is about a hundred miles below San Francisco, and in the winter there are not many people in Santa Cruz. The boardwalk concessions are shuttered except for one counter-and-booth restaurant, the Ferris-wheel seats are hooded with olive green canvas and the powerhouse padlocked, and the rococo doors of the carousel are boarded over and if one peers through a knothole into its gloom the horses which buck and plunge through summer prosperity seem like animals touched by a magic wand that they may never move again."
Friday, January 05, 2007
5 January 2007. Band of yellow light across obsidian black formica--wooden handle of brush, luminous, varnish chipped away at the end. Clear sky. Tiny stationary bird on power line in the distance, turns now to the east, flies off. Same black car, same spot on 7-eleven lot--now with brilliant sun on trunk panel. Sebald's character, in Riva again--this time as Dr. K. It was the Hunter Gracchus, hinted at in the first pages. Photograph of barque, with "dark, folded sails." Working back from image to story--his modus operendi--except that here the story preceded as well. Retold in scrupulous detail--everywhere evocative--crags of the Dolomites shooting up behind. (Betsy's mother: "Just wait--they shoot up.") The helmsman--inattentive even for a moment, and the ship can never land...
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Gray and rain. Wet black asphalt, parked dark car, glowing sign in cleaners' window: same day service. Like in Oceanside--the pier in winter, fog, sound of waves below, feel of the swells. $5 a Pay Day--that was it. Sales to young marines--Camp Pendleton--arrived from Philly, Iowa, Kankakee--en route to a shaved head and God knows where. Knife fight--just the tip of the blade. "That's all I need," explained a barrel-shouldered sargeant. "That's all you need." Careful stacks of shirts, pinned and folded, plywood counters, worn and varnished... Walters, not even our name. Something received, ad hoc, but serious in its own way. Banks of fluorescent panels above, linoleum floor, long desk at back--the register. Always standing--an unwritten rule. Just $5 a Pay Day...
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
3 January 2007. Gray morning mist, single gull against matte sky. Silhouettes, oak and elm, beginnings of new leaves. Alesia and Michelangelo appear just outside--mother and son--his young face peering up the street, searching for signs of the bus. Hunched slightly in his dark blue parka coat, back pack filled with what must be books--ready to go. Mother alongside, attentive, smiling slightly--hands in her pockets, the very same pose... G bus appears, out of nowehere, he climbs on.
"Hop little rabbit, hop hop hop," Mom, in San Diego, maybe 1949...
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
2 January 2007. Rosy dawn--longs rows of mottled pink cloud over hills to the east...yellow-white of Albany Vets--small fluorescent on dark wall. Last week: Candye Kane--her ample presence. Belting it out, even in the way she held the mic--firm, in one hand, pyramid rings, silver and black, wide smile... voice like old times. Vulnerable, too--standing alongside, weight all on her narrow ankles... Reading Sebald. Time of the Napoleonic Wars--crossing the St. Bernadine into Italy. Antique sketch of gun emplacements--among his fascinations. Receipt from a pizzeria in Verona--the Cadavero brothers. Walled cliffs of Lake Garda--his character, lying on his back in an open boat, staring up at the heavens. Approach to Riva, too. The Hunter Gracchus. A European past...