Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Game You're Playing Against Yourself

I once knew two people who were best friends -- both the girl and guy looked alike, dressed alike, and seemed for all intents and purposes like siblings though they were not, nor were they romantically involved. When I saw them together on campus, I thought of the Carson McCuller's line about the two mutes who went everywhere in town together. The couple seldom spoke and when they did, it was in a language that I could not entirely crack. I worked as a desk clerk for their dorm and they'd sometimes come down into the lobby and play solitaire, each bringing their own card deck, sitting side by side, the only sound the occasional curse from losing a game that you're playing against yourself. The guy left for a week in the middle of the semester, and the girl spent a lot of time by my desk, talking more than she ever had. I asked her what she liked best about her friend, and she said, We can be silent together. We never have to talk and it's perfect. All that quiet scared me, but I understood her point. To be understood without speaking, the luxury of it! They had a falling out eventually, and I'd often see them alone. The quality of that silence had an entirely different tenor, a sad stretch of quiet that seemed to speak of brokenness.
Years ago I had a student bring in a framed picture of herself, one that had a big oval in the center for a senior picture and was surrounded with eleven circles for school pictures from each year beginning with first grade. She pointed to herself as a third grader and said, This is when my stepfather started abusing me and every picture marks a year that I had to keep my secret, she said, tracing the frame as if it were a clock, a clock in hell that is, and everyone looked at it with a respectful, awed silence before she started reading her essay about the experience. Despite a pretty decent long-term memory, I don't recall all that much about the essay except that it followed the pattern of these things -- trauma, secret, revelation, and aftermath. She could have chosen to read anything, but she chose to read her best paper, the most difficult one. The silence after was like that of a church, a deep abiding one in which anything could happen.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Thalia was a place were the dust seldom entirely settled." Larry McMurtry
Cocktail Hour
Drinking novel suggestion: When The Light Goes Larry McMurty (the final installment of The Last Picture Show series)
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday! Go Pistons!


e said...

Insecure Poem, an

I am a bad poem.
but I'd like to be good--

filled with the strongest
sentiments backed by words
metaphors and symbols of might
that are universal to their
recognition as such
by the milieu of assholes
who arbitrate Good and Bad;
the bitter critics who know
that their wives and husbands
sex the mail carriers after
lustily burning all the good
news they were ever due.

Instead, I am a bad poem
filled with words many
discriminate against:
Concussed, Arrhythmia,
Terminal, Fetid,
Cockless, Schizophrenia,
Excrement, Dildo, Cunt,
Jackhole, Analingus,
Genocide, Inquisitions
Torture, Damnation,
Lobotomize, Aggrandize,
Penalize and Sodomize.

For these words and
structure of superior
vs. inferior, heaven’s chosen
vs hell’s misshapen children
mark me as limited,
like the one who created me—
something to be judged
when no judgment is sought
but that from the divine

Tell me how I could be more
than all that I am one more time
and I will try to fit this image
of perfection that you
tell me of, but never show.

Pope Benedict XVI said...

I'm trying to return the fold to the deep abiding silence of the Latin Mass, in which, for long periods of time, nobody knows what's going on! Including the priest!

Jon said...

I'll bet that in every picture in that circle, the girl was smiling. And isn't that smile the greatest hell she went through? I applaud anyone who can smile like that in the face of hell, and come out the other side of the circle redeemed.

e-bag said...

off to work, m. Your post is sweet once again and I've had a crazy morning writing, too. Hope you enjoy this weather now that it's here. Off to feed the world their high glutens and grease.

Charles Gramlich said...

It would take more guts than I have to read such a thing in public.

the walking man said...

There are times when simply cursing a losing hand of solitaire is not enough noise.

The bravest essay, the most heart wrenching one I have ever heard was from the older woman (younger than me) who never spoke in the comp 1 class, Josh and I almost ruined for you, She cried as she read about her torment at home and the beatings her husband gave her. I had never before heard such honesty and truth revealed.

That is your talent in the classroom Michelle, making even the silent ones need to talk.


Tim said...

I sometimes wonder, when I see a particularly pretty or interesting looking person who doesn't talk much, what secrets they hide behind the silence. Even people I've known for years sometimes surprise me by revealing something they've kept hidden that I would never have guessed.

Michelle, I do hope your Pistons bring their "A" game tonight. It will be a hollow victory for the Cavs otherwise. :)

Eric said...

It's a tough game to remove one's self from, m. Great post. Goodnight. I'd write more but I'm emotionally and physically exhausted.

e said...

Like these cars
swimming upstream
on the eastside
of Royal Detroit
are the salmon
who mate and die
like we all swim
mate and die forever
by the Thursday night
river of summer lights
and the bars
and the women
someone keeps trying
to find the secret
of this death ritual's
enchanting movements
looking for the
tragic mistakes
unaware that this
has nothing to do
with competition
until he has beaten
himself and floats
finding in death
a graceful aspect

eric said...

Before she is lost to me tomorrow
as the fire consumes everything
she loved about me
And I become a fiction
or crude joke once more
I write one last time

It only needs to be
good enough to withstand
the heat of walking blindly
into a sunset--
I'll handle the rest
but then again
I thought I
could fight the fire
until I burned alive
playing with a match
made of flesh and blood and
the names of beautiful stories
--memories and ashes on the wind

Susan Miller said...

"a sad stretch of quiet that seemed to speak of brokenness"

Like a broken record I will keep repeating that there are sentences you use that speak volumes.

And it would be fitting, I think, to consider volume when discussing the paper written by that student. It is those secrets within that carry the most decibels.