There is a seam in my skull that marches northward from the inside of my left eyebrow across the expanse of my forehead and dies just into my hairline. I suppose it congealed there in my mother's womb some thirty seven years ago, like tectonic plates forming a rift where they agree to junction. I forget that I have it, that I have always had it, until occasionally, I find my fingers tracing the length of the crack. Like how I rediscover the ridge-backed line of callouses across my palms, my tongue yearly wearing my chipped teeth, or the individual story associated with each unnumbered scar. Part of the song my body carries with it is an anthem to these traumas.
I have no idea what possessed Husker Du to cover Eight Miles High, but they forever transformed it. I tried unsuccessfully one ragged winter at a conference to drag a group of academics across the length of Athens, Georgia to the punk jukebox I had found it in. My intent was to expose the old hippy professor from Maine to it and note his response. About two-thirds of the way through the song the thing deteriorates into merely the chord progression and the drums, Bob Mould stops growling the lyrics and begins to scream, his voice a howl, it is the sound of a body being subjected to incredible pain. It is precisely there that the song is transfigured, it is there it ascends. It is there the body of the song is broken and thusly remade.
In order to graduate I had to hack together one last sculpture for Joe Seipel, the department chairman. I had been working carpentry for about two years. The contractor who hired me got me to build forms for some trapezoidal pier blocks for a house we built. I'd been thinking about angles, and the tapered lines that defined them, so I backed the truck up to the loading dock at sculpture one night and cut up a sheet of OSB plywood on the tailgate. The thing I built was like a ten sided die, constructed in two halves like the geometric version of a plastic easter egg. It was open at each end, and I filled it with cement, the words ANGUISH and ETC. projecting out from the cement faces at either end. I had made a negative for the words from a block of plaster and carved out the letters free-handed with a router. I screwed it all together, it was about three feet square and weighed about two hundred and fifty pounds. I put a 3" eye bolt on the top as I had thoughts about hanging it. OSB or "oriented strand board" is made up of chips or shards of waste lumber. I ruined a trowel by smearing jet-black roofing compound over the entire surface. Joe, who is about six four and every bit two hundred plus told me in the crit-room that while he realized that OSB was the cheapest material, it was a bad choice, and the roofing compound was a sophomoric fix. There was no disagreeing with him. Truth be told, I had chosen the materials because after handling the stuff for months, nailing down literally hundreds of sheets, I'd go to sleep visioning it's fragmented, splintery surface.
I got the idea from a conversation I had with my friend Paula on a trip we took with my wife going up the eastern shore to New York. I can't remember how it went, something about depression, the affliction of it, the banality or something. I made the piece with her in mind, and afterwards asked her if I could install it in her apartment on Lombardy. She allowed this reluctently. I think I hurt her feelings, that I was saying she bitched all the time. The roofing compound never fully dried and it left black marks on her pine floors. After she moved away, it moved to Lisa T's backyard in Church Hill where it deteriorated and was eventually trashed. I don't think I ever got slides of it. It was a mediocre piece anyway.
I think what Paula was getting at was the process of dealing with pain, and in talking about it how you get sick of hearing yourself talk about it. Or that it never stops. I didn't care, I was in love with the word. Anguish is a word that sounds like what it means. It is the image of a body tumbling through space. To know it, fully, is to be crippled by it. Lying awake, it is a word that breaks over you like a wave. I think now that I should have driven the sculpture to the ocean and filmed it rolling in the surf. Anguish for the sadness associated with the sound of the ocean, Etc. for the set of waves lining up to crash.
1. And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 2. And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. 3. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus and suddenly there shined around him a light from heaven 4. And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 5. And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 6. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. 7. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. 8. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man, but they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.
They had us ride in the hearse. No, that's not right, we had our own car, the grandchildren: me, my brother Josh and our cousin, Kandy. He was in the hearse of course, in the casket, we rode in the next car behind him. You always remember the first one close to you to go, it is in this way they give you a gift. I think the service was in Brainerd, out by my Aunt Patsy and Uncle Lloyd's. We wound up coming down by Erlanger hospital, which is where countless Blancetts and Gants have entered into this city. I don't remember what all we talked about on the way to the cemetery, it was on 23rd st. where I noticed two old timers sitting on metal folding chairs in the open bay door of an old brick garage. They both took off their mesh-back baseball hats as our procession passed by. Twenty-third is a big four-lane there and traffic in the opposite lane pulled to a stop. I remarked about it to Kandy, did this always happen? She said she thought so. I asked the guy driving, was it a law to pull over? He said actually no, it was against the law, it was something people just did out of respect. We had been in Virginia about eight years by then, I couldn't remember seeing anything like that happening for a funeral procession in Virginia.
St. Elmo is a working class neighborhood at the foot of Lookout Mountain. It is categorized as being the oldest "bedroom suburb" in the city. My grandfather used to ride the trolley to his foreman's job at Crane Porcelain. In the seventies they built a project directly over the hill behind it. There is a company there that built wooden horses and carriages for carousels. There are horses at the windows, still. The neighborhood holds the lower station for the Incline Railway, a train that goes up Lookout at a maximum grade of 72 %. Forest Hills, the cemetery which holds my grandfather and many others of ours was established in 1880. It is Gothic and serpentine, it's roads winding up hills and falling into hollows. Like the rest of the neighborhood it has been burdened and neglected and revived over decades. We buried him facing northeast, I believe, and years later, my grandmother next to him, at the foot of a hill, across from the train tracks that roll over a bridge separating St. Elmo from the rest of the city. The arched stone bridge there forms a sort of a gate for St. Elmo.
I don't remember feeling much of anything the day we put him in the ground. It would be four years later before the grief fully landed on me. Thus the gift to be carried with you always. I remember most being shaken by the sight of his twin brother grieving openly, sitting graveside in a metal folding chair alongside others of our family now gone. I don't remember his brother's name.
I have no reason for recalling any of this now other than my mind has lately been turbulent with memory. My therapist says is it is due to grief.
My dad used to say he would burn a quart of oil in his GTO to go see my mother in St. Elmo from East Lake. A couple of summers ago me, him, mom and Henry went to Chattanooga for a Harley Davidson rally. Dad and I took the bikes out see Pa-paw's old place and got lost heading back in to town. We wound up coming around the back way to East Lake, to the house he grew up in. The neighborhood wrecked, I remember an engine block hanging by a chain from the lowest branch of a dead oak tree, surrounded by emptied carcasses of other machines. The porch of his mothers house fallen in, the porch I once sat on. The collapsed porch of my fathers story that he is only now beginning to tell me.
The South Mountain Coward Eating sour tomatoes In the shower For an hour. He did not know That he was actually eating Bowls of powder He thought it was chowder, So he spat it out! He went to the sea to drink But before he drank He saw a drowning cow. He saved the cow And taught him how To eat chowder in the shower.
Henry Blancett First Grade Ms. Ford's Class William Fox Elementary