Monday, November 29, 2004

Cold day in the gorge

Very. Autumn has yet to expire and it feels as if it has already given up. The last of the gold leaves have all but fallen from my two boxelder trees and I can now finish binding the rest up for disposal in my neighbor's yard as she makes a tasty mulch of them.

Didn't feel well today, ache behind the eyes, slight body chills, so I allowed my room to enwomb me. My calf muscle is still healing from this lastest tear and it's now almost a month since I played a set of my beloved game of tennis. Hopefully this week. In this time of year when the light lessens and the melatonin levels get shot down, it is paramount to get in some light and exercise to help keep the endorphins firing, the moods elevated, and the backhands blazing.

This past Friday evening I went to my first small hometown parade, which lasted all of half an hour. We walked the few blocks from my house to the little downtown scene ~ Celestina, her daughter Amanda, her niece Carmella, and her wonderful 80 year-old Italian mother who is also named Carmella. Four women and me. Worlds have been conquered without the me. This poem came from that night.

The Dalles Xmas Parade

We went down to The Dalles Xmas Parade to watch the dearly festooned, the tinsel lights arranged on floats so small a goat could barely stand unbalanced. There carriers of hay, of wheat, of things grown in fields tended by folk grown in fields passed and stalled, swooped by in slow sparkled moments that threw magic into the reflected eyes of all who beheld such small wonders. And children and choirs and young women and old boys dressed as animals and angels, elves and elders, helpers and hollyberries, jostled and smiled.

With a full moon streaming through the high clouds above us, the snow fell in light that frosted the tiny noses that breathed in the river that ran mighty and mistletoed to the sea. On the side of a pulltruck I saw the name of my eldest daughter, Sequoya. On the fender of another I saw the red flag of Switzerland sealed with its peace-white cross and a blond girl riding a pony with golden ponytailed hair like a Swiss girl I once knew, loved and still ache for.

There were cups of piping chili and free hot chocolate served by hats that could hold ten gallons of each at the same time. Gloves and wraps and mufflers and scarves, bells on boots and ear lobes with ornaments, the hizzle-ping of snaredrums set to the march and major of a school band, the chinkle of stars strung around turtlenecks and carols muted against the brass throats of coddled horns that buffeted the overcoats and knitted caps of Carmella and Amanda and Carmella and Celestina whose arm interlaced with mine as the push of our bodies matched the stride of our pace and all was well in this Bethlehem by the banks.

And when the quiet came and families dispersed and the streets restored to their midnight cadence of signals that change for nobody waiting and mute stanchions hold the cold light for no one passing,
all that was left were these flurries of recall, images of what had happened but hours earlier, or centuries before when Hannibal passed, and Caesar the Illustrious, Napoleon and Joan, Alexander and Charlemagne, conquerors of all that could not withstand, like memory and measure, but for the bootblack marks left on Alpine pages bereft of blankness and blessings that came from being remembered for who they were, for what they did and what they said, even as this simple starlit passing through a small town parading by a mighty river.

Joseph Gallo
November 27, 2004

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Welcome to the drachenhouse

If you've found your way here, you're very lost. That's alright. Warm your bones and relax a bit; we won't eat you too quickly. It's cold outside tonight. Winter is slithering in through the western mouth of the Columbia River Gorge and my breath finds its ghost in the gathering moonlight.

Celestina just called. She has been weeping. We talked for ten minutes and she told me her stepson is leaving for Iraq the day after tomorrow. She was upset at imagining what might happen to him. I wrote the following poem.
It says it all, I guess. Some of it anyway:

The Nature Of Comfort
For Celestina

Crying is on everyone’s resumé. She calls me because she’s been. Her stepson is shipping out to Iraq in two days. From river to sea to air to sand, all the merry elements will be afforded their due measure, tariffed and extolled by the bootless armies of what we can never know.

Her voice trembles as the hand of fear throttles her words, finds the pulse within her long, pale throat and squeezes the water out. Blood is the absent binder of breath, bone, and the endless believing that boys will become men in the natural order of things, that daughters will be waiting for them to return from places only other boys fall, other names find their incision on stone markers that our bottomless condolences may find the nature of comfort given, not comfort taken, for the losing of one hair of a given son, a brother, a father, one eyelash lost in the duneworn terrors that veil the shame of a nomadic moon.

I am of little comfort, it seems, yet my voice brings hers down to settle in places a swan might see itself passing in midnight pools of pellucid glass. It is enough, sometimes, these shawls of words expressed in the weave of human warmth, that in them there is a sleeve lined with hope for what will bring the morning. We do what we are given to do and give what we are doing to give. These are the small wars of living that dare us do battle with them. Leave the big wars to themselves for they have a way of making reason remembered for being something else.

She will sleep now. I will sleep now. Somewhere in deep sand
we will see the boy trudge, pull heavy bolts of immaterial love halfway across a world so that he might have hiding for his ungirded heart, camouflage for the parts of him that remain invisible even to himself. He will stand in harm’s way and know its true name: animal, man, mother.

Joseph Gallo
November 28, 2004