Saturday, March 21, 2009

Leto's Children

So, last night, I participated in a reading at the Lutecium here in San Francisco. I read a piece that I've been working on for a while, inspired by the lives of siblings William and Caroline Herschel and their imagined similarity to the twin gods Apollo and Artemis. It's an odd little thing, one of those works-in-progress that never seems to get finished, but for some reason it's my favorite piece to read aloud.

This being the internet, I can't read it aloud to you. So the written version will have to do for now.

Leto’s Children

“We’ll live on the moon,” says William, “as soon as we’re able.”

He is holding on to grandmother’s front gate, his feet wedged against the base of the frame and his body bent and then straight like a windshield wiper as he pulls back then thrusts forward, making iron hinge music. It’s almost so dark that we’ll have to go in. William is thinking about this, too, because he says, “On the moon, it is never dark. The ground glows at night. During the day, too.”

From where I’m sitting, in the dark shadow of the hedges, William’s hair stands out against the darkening sky, like clouds in front of the moon. When the light shines pink through the clouds, we say that it’s the fruit trees blooming in heaven, and I wonder what makes William’s hair shine so coldly. Maybe it’s the bones in his skull.

There are thirty-one bones in our heads, but they grow together, binding as we get older. I like to think about William and I, and how we might have super powers. Like maybe we’ll never get old, or if we do, our skulls will stay flexible. We could end up smarter than anyone.

I imagine our skulls opening like water lilies, turning like music boxes. I imagine our skulls flexing, gathering light. I imagine us dead, discovered by archeologists.

“They’re perfect,” they’ll whisper. “Each like the other, the pinnacle of their age.”

Sometimes I wonder if we were even born. Will says he remembers it, that mom cried like a wild thing while she had me, then laughed as he arrived. But I don’t believe him. We’ve been just like now forever.

“On the moon,” says William, “the language is music. This fence right now is speaking Moonish.” He pulls back with gusto. The gate sighs reluctantly.

Grandmother’s house is in the country. When it gets dark here, no streetlights come on. The stars are bright and clear and go on forever. I lie back onto the grass and it looks like they’re just above me, as if there is no sky. There are just lights, an arm’s length above me, set in dark blue corduroy. If I don’t move, they’ll be inches from my eyes forever. But soon it’s dinnertime, and when I get up the sky is far away again.

My bedroom is below William’s, and at night he drops notes and pictures through a hole in his floorboards. I can’t reply, because the knothole is too high for me to reach even if I stand on the dresser. After a while, I just watch out the window, listening to the whisper of papers dropping from the ceiling. There are deer in the meadow.
Just before midnight, I see a tree moving towards me, out of the forest. It’s massive, and moves deliberately, unhurriedly. Its branches are thick and ancient, hung with moss. I’m embarrassed. I don’t want to witness something so strange, so unique. I don’t want to be singled out by the gods, or by magic or whatever. When it pauses at the edge of the meadow, I realize that it was only a moose.

Climbing back into bed, I brush one of William’s letters to the floor. “The earth is round,” it says. “There are stars beneath us, too.”

One winter’s night, our father took me out into the street to show me the stars. The air was sharp and cold inside my nose, and the breath in my chest felt hollow and alive. He named the constellations as I watched, calling the sky into order.

“Our father was made of minerals in the darkness under the earth,” I write, alone in my bedroom, William awake above me. “He never lost his baby teeth. He was created whole.”

Because we are twins, William and I guard each other jealously. Once we had a birthday party, and a man had a balloon for William, but not for me. William handed it to me, and I drove my heel into it until it popped. “Helium,” William says, “was made by the sun god Helios. It wants to return to the sky.” I agree. There’s room enough in the sky, and no need to stay here without reason.

Our father’s father was made of stone, minerals forged deep down inside the earth. He could sand wood smooth against his cheeks. You couldn't get a straight answer out of him, and when he told you things there was a bit of sandpaper hidden inside or maybe a smooth bit of stone, so if you tried to eat it then you had rocks inside you, too.

In the afternoons, we tromp through the forest, setting traps. Once I caught a mink, and kept it as a pet. One morning William and I went to the river, and he dared me to shoot a duck that was far out on the water. I’m known for my sharp eyes, and had no trouble hitting it, even though it was little more than a dark shape. Later that night, my poor mink washed ashore.

Our grandmother is made of smallness. “Grandmother weighs less than nothing,” William says. “Literally.” Her house is in the country, and the sky is set in corduroy. At night, she looks out the window, and is she made of looking.

We play music every night after dinner. William conducts, and I sing, or he plays on the piano while I polish the mirrors that hang at the bottom of the stairs. “On the moon,” William calls to me, “beauty is prized above all things.” The piano soars up, up, up, like city lights on a hillside. I look in the mirror, and the sky falls open behind me.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Great God! I'd rather be a Pagan.

Twelve years ago, I was living in Santa Fe and learning Homeric Greek from Clyde Pharr's Homeric Greek: A Book for Beginners. It's funny what sticks with you. I can still recite the opening lines of the Iliad, and have used it to scare away telemarketers:

("Can I speak to the lady of the house?"

"Menin aeide, thea."

"Um... is Ms Sawyer there?"

"Peleiadeo Achileos/ oulomenen, he muri' Achaiois alge' etheken/ pollas d' iphthimous psuchas Aidi proiapsen/ heroon, autous de heloria teuche kunessin/ oionoisi te pasi, Dios d' eteleieto boule!"

"I'll call back").

But really, not all that much has survived the intervening decade plus. This morning, however, I was jolted by a comment on my last post into a half-remembered footnote in Pharr's Lesson XXIII (the subjunctive mode of verbs). The note refers to line 45 in Book One of the Iliad, in which Apollo strides down from mount Olympus, "and his coming was like the night." Pharr writes,

"It is none less than the mighty god himself who is now before unto the night, both in swiftness of coming and in the awful gloom and dread which night brings to primitive peoples who have no adequate lighting facilities."

I'm not sure why I have to cross my fingers before I can fall asleep. Lying in bed at night, the shadow of a tree cast sharp against the wall by the neighbor's security lights, I know that I have nothing to fear from what little dark surrounds me. But something of that "awful gloom and dread" lingers in the real and irrational fears that crowd around my sleepless head.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Things I Might Never Tell You Otherwise

1. I tend to move through the blogs I read regularly in alphabetical order. This means that Dykes to Watch Out For follows Dawn Eden in my daily cycle, and those odd companions are forever twinned in my mind.

2. Every night, I brush my teeth, wash my face, and murmur, "Well, that's something," at my reflection in the mirror.

3. Before I board a plane, I pull out a strand of hair to leave behind. I feel better knowing some piece of me is still on the ground.

4. I have to cross my fingers before I can fall asleep.

5. I love the smell of dirt, basements, and motor oil.

Friday, March 06, 2009

This I Believe

1. You really should tip for take-out. I mean, sure, they don't have to clean up after you, but they went to the trouble of putting your food safely into a container and then maybe a plastic bag, didn't they? Never mind not losing your order in the first place.

2. Tips on beverages should be a dollar per. This is an extremely good deal for baristas, and a slightly less awesome one for bartenders. Which isn't really fair, come to think of it, because belligerent drunks are probably far more annoying than the insufficiently caffeinated. But drunks are also far more likely to be jolly, generous, and bad at math.

3. People who speak disparagingly of others in public should be subject to a mandatory time out, accompanied by a 'this is your life'-style montage hosted by Jon Stewart.

4. Only those who receive paid sick leave from their jobs should ever be subject to cold and flu viruses.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Thoughts While Listening to Hail Stones Falling on a Tin Roof

When we first moved to San Francisco, six years ago this past Sunday, Brian and I were completely befuddled by how green it was, when it never seemed to rain. We'd come from just outside Boston, leaving behind two feet of snow and freezing rain that seemed to blow in horizontally from underneath the railroad bridge two blocks from our house. Green was a revelation. Sunny was another.

By the time we'd lived here a full year, we had figured out San Francisco's secret: nonstop rain from November to February, leaving green hills that slowly turn to gold as the summer extends dryly into fall once again. This year, the rain's been lingering into March, with blue-sky sunny days that suddenly turn into hailstorms, and long cold days like this one, when the sun only makes the briefest appearance.

I've been doing very little lately. Freelance work has dried up, and I've somehow forgotten how to do all the things I wanted to do back when I was working a job and a half while New College was crumbling around me. Every night I fall asleep with schedules running through my head: I'll get up at eight, start writing at nine, and not stop until I've found my groove. I'll walk to the library and research Turing, or Steinmetz, or some one else who will get me excited about ideas again, get me thinking and working and doing, and not just staring at puppies and daydreaming the day away.

It's been a year since I left my job. I've forgotten what it's like to be busy, to fall asleep with a head full of ideas and to wake up scrambling madly to get them all accomplished. Is this just a part of a natural cycle of fertility and fallow-ness? Or do I need to get off my ass and start getting shit done?

At the very least, I should probably clean my room.