In my mailbox when I get home–The Photographs of Gordon Parks. On my iphone5, a photo of the sunset I had just driven through, posted on Facebook by the sister of my son’s soon-to-be bride. That’s my sky! I glance to the mouth of my dead-end street–had she been standing there, beneath the stand of ponderosa pine when she took the photo?
But of course not. Her sky is my sky. What sets over the west end of her town sets over my north side. I contemplate this, standing at my mailbox in four inches of slush, ripping open the brown-papered package. The pink pink gold, the gold gold pink sky deepens into shades of winter husk.
Inside each story, poem, photo–there is the hurdle of you, the would-be narrator, trying to ascertain what you truly believe is.*
Yesterday when I left the library, I walked across the parking lot rutted with a combination of thawing ice and slush. I approached Derby, my parked vehicle, just as an elderly man approached from the opposite direction. His ability to negotiate the terrain was worse than mine. He reminded me of my father, refusing a cane, a hand, a sturdy elbow. I heard him moan. Maybe it was a groan. I pretended not to hear him, putting my key in Derby’s lock just as he grabbed onto Derby’s back bumper.
Are you okay? Can I help?
But no. He waves me off, and points to the back bumpers of five more vehicles parked between Derby and the library’s front door. As long as no one moves, I am fine, he says with dignity.
I climb inside my truck and wait. Red truck, silver van, white car, black truck, green.
Which is why I drive the long way back to my office. It’s lunch time at the high school and the campus grass is free of slush. At the corner of 5th and Grand Avenue, I sit through two green traffic lights because the kids are racing across the busy intersection to get $5 pizzas at the corner pizza shop. We drivers are cautious, the students are not. To my right, a sophomore boy is chewing back his grin, hand-in-hand with a lovely young girl. Bandana wrapped around her head, flip-flops on her feet. He tugs at her and I watch them race across the grass, intent on disobeying the Don’t Walk light blinking orange at their cross walk.
We’re gonna die! We’re gonna die! She sings and squeals in delight, so young and vibrant, so sure they’re gonna live.
The man from the mountain sends me this video: Cranes flying over Venice. One hundred seconds of flight. One hundred seconds lifted over life. And so, this from a man who was and is sure I was/am his loon. In the way loons mate for life.
But no. I couldn’t/can’t manage that and instead, he shows up when I am least aware, this time with a video emailed from the other side of his world. I connect the speakers to my computer, turn the volume low. On my computer screen, a mother crane wing-beats above the watery world of Venice. Once a marsh to her ancestors, but now Venice is a point on our planet where she cannot land. The narrator explains in his gorgeous voice this mother crane is teaching her two young children the route they’ll have to take next year on their own.
Outside my office, the lobby is filled with the sort of people who wait. When I hear the patter of little girl shoes, I don’t need to look to know she’s headed to the snack machines banked along one wall. It’s where all the children go.
Gramma, do you have a dollar or some money . . . I pause my video so I can listen, thinking of how she is referencing dollar and money separately. Maybe she’s only five, I think. Coin might not be a word until you turn six.
Wait . . . I mean . . . And now I look out into the lobby. I want to see the studied look on her face as she works this out. Her dark curls tumble in static locks down the back of her hooded winter coat.
I mean, Gramma, do you have a dollar or . . . something else?
* –James Agee, Intro to The Photographs of Gordon Parks.