Sunday, June 29, 2014

Dispatch: Fields of Stone

Bond Angel, the old cemetery, Sewanee, TN
(photo: D.P. Snyder)
June 27, 2014, Sewanee, TN -- “The fortified ego is the cause of immense suffering.” This thought is tickling my brain when I catch sight of the perpetually half-open, black iron gate of the old cemetery. There are no fortifications here. The walls of the cemetery are low, lichen-covered and tumble-down, as if the stones had arrived there by accident. The open gate is a sign. Come on in, it says.
The people that lie beneath my feet suffer no more. Their egos were removed at the moment of death, or so they say. The colors in this graveyard are all gray, no matter what color they are.
The central path is gravel overgrown by grass and weeds. I walk down it, and am drawn to a tall, stone angel.  It stands nine feet high, and its stone wings form a symmetrical arc over its head. Its stone feathers are uniform and stiff as the scales of a fish. My gaze travels from the androgynous face to the lichen-coated toes. Below them is a name: Bond, my mother’s maiden name. I raise my gaze to the angel’s face just as a beam of white light illuminates it, forming a halo around the head that is impossibly bright given the heavy cover of hemlock branches. The edges of the angel’s wings glow, ultraviolet. I raise my phone and snap a picture.
I wait. There is no clap of thunder. No one speaks. Within a minute more or less, the intense light recedes. Then it’s just me, alone again, staring at stones.
This is my condition: a wanderer, walking through fields of stone, believing in miracles.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dispatches from Sewanee

Here at the School of Letters at Sewanee, I have the good fortune to be in Neil Shea's creative non-fiction writing workshop. One of the exercises we do for this class is a daily writing called a Dispatch. In Dispatches, we experiment on the page every day in short form, setting down our experiences as they happen. I will share some of my Dispatches here.

June 26, 2014, Sewanee, TN -- “Oh-oh! The smell’s gettin’ into my eye-yuhs,” the tiny girl in the yellow and pink flowered smock yells happily, extending the word "eyes" into two syllables. She holds her tiny white fingers over her face, and peeks. She’s just calling attention to herself. It’s not her birthday party, and she’s too little to light rockets and roman candles. But she dances on the periphery of the action, flirting with danger, while the boys yell and shout urgent directions to each other. “Run!” “Get back!” “Don’t touch it!” 

The man and woman oversee the action, but not too closely. They’re the ones who brought the Jr. Pyro Backpack from Black Cat, the largest fireworks supplier in the South. The birthday girl, twelve years old today, watches the action carefully, but stays apart. She stands close to the woman, twirling a glossy, brown sausage curl around her finger, observing with interest. 

The oldest boy is thin, tall and in charge of the serious rockets. His face is tanned and angular, his hair many shades of natural blonde. He does the lighting the way the man showed him to. He crouches over a rocket on the sidewalk. His faded red t-shirt drapes perilously close to the fuse while he snaps the Bic lighter, once, twice, three times. He lights it and leaps backwards gracefully and dramatically. The rocket shoots into the sky, sputtering blue fire. This boy’s starting to show himself as a teenager. He’s learning how to be the popular boy. He’ll set off many more mortars and rockets in high school and college. He’ll get into trouble a few times, too, and maybe he'll burn something down. Girls will fall for him like dominoes. 

The tiniest boys have snappers, poppers, and sparklers. They dance like happy demons in the road, dashing the poppers to the cement with a pop-pop-pop. The little children laugh and swoop like swallows, playing with danger, and their laughter rises and falls with the cicadas’ song into the damp, primeval Tennessee night. 

The grown-ups stand back, smile and remember.