December 2, 2014

ESSAY BY STEPHEN MEAD "IMPRESSIONS FROM THE LAND OF VANISHED BEAUTIFUL THINGS (1)

As a writer and artist publishing for the last three decades, Stephen Mead has finally gotten around to getting links to his poetry still online at various zines available in one place:  http://stephenmead.weebly.com/links-to/poetry-on-the-line-stephen-mead  His latest Amazon release  is entitled "Our Spirit Life”", a poetry/art meditation on family heritage, love,  and the evanescence of time.
http://www.amazon.com/Stephen-Mead/e/B002P5TVQC/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0/178-9316259-8711759


 Impressions from the Land of Vanished Beautiful Things (I)
 In my mind's eye floats a photograph.  The photograph, in turn, is also the memory of an actual door.  This is how the mind can function as both microscope and telescope; moving in, drawing back, knobs turning lenses from blurriness to magnified clarity.  Writing this makes the whole business sound detached.  Would it be too sentimental, but also more accurate, to say that this invisible mechanism exists in my heart, the entire DNA and cells of my being?

Photo of Stephen and his brother in front of the porch.
The door is made of sturdy metal and shimmers as if with an invitation to a magpie or crow.  Due to being connected to a central spring it squeaks with a metallic rubber band sound when opening and closing, but the central spring prevents a slam.  This is the front porch door to the house I grew up in, and the photograph is actually of a shadow of the lower part of the door which creates a cursive M on the white-washed wall adjacent.  The M stands for Mead and I can see it forming as if via filigree and mercury, the intricate scrollwork of soldering creating, against the glass it rests upon, a pleasing design of positive and negative space. 
I am maybe eighteen, nineteen, or in my early twenties, when I take this photograph with a wonderfully compact 110 camera.  I am undergoing some creative stage of unconscious instinct, obsessed with shadows and reflections, their dreamy capacity to create secret, through-the-looking-glass messages; to become worlds unto themselves.  I get lost from moments to hours at a time with this 110 camera which also, here, now, helps me remember other details of the porch.  In another photo from this time period there are flowers my sister got from a then-current beau.  I bring them out to the greenhouse light of the porch and photograph the rose and lily petals of their actuality  with the vase wrapped in the swirl of a mustard-colored wool coat from the 1940s.  Again I also photograph their shadows splayed against the aged white interior of yet another door which leads directly into the kitchen of the house. 
These doors, these memories, are like Russian nesting dolls.  Under the vase is a long moss-emerald green runner with black fuzzy threads marbling the weaving.  I love the earth tones of this runner both against the yellow wool texture of the coat, but also on their own, especially when captured by squares and rectangles of sun.  I love the warmth of those rectangles where the frames of the porch windows are projected.  I would like to be a cat curled in up that buttery warmth.  At the end of the runner is a black rubber welcome mat and on top of that another mat of rubber ribbon coils set in grids to wipe mud off.  Ingeniously, my mother has decided that under this mat is a good place to hide the front door key.
Along the walls by the front door I can picture galoshes and also boots with bread bag-linings set on top of newspapers.  The dryer vents, with a long-ribbed white hose, across the gray poured concrete of this porch and out the propped metal door with the M in its bottom pane. The porch shelters the original white shingled exterior of the house, becoming insulation, though of course, depending on the season, drafts or summer heat still leak past.  This porch is a truncated L-shape, and between the four original windows of the house on the interior and the series of windows which line both sides of the exterior, the radiance housed can be a glorious honey-butterscotch.
Some days I can smell the dust and dryer lint of it which still manages to come across as misty but clean.  Other days we do not use the dryer but make use of the clothesline the length of the front.  Sometimes we use both but in either case the smell of wet fabric drying is comfort. 
On not-too-cold, rainy days, for something to do, go out on the porch with jacks, marbles and a small easily-squeezed, red rubber ball.  It doesn't matter if you don't know the rules.  The game is Pretend; spiral the jacks like miniature ballerinas in pirouette; spin the smooth cat-eyes, watch them become worlds.  Don't forget the "Bowl A Strike!" game; setting up the plastic pins in a perfect triangle and letting the lightweight black plastic ball, complete with indentations for holes, set sail!  Remember, at Christmas, hang that large Santa head, a print glued on cardboard and only flaking off slightly as the years go by. Tack him to the top of the front center window lined up with all those other old little tack holes from Decembers past.  There he is:  beard of curls, red sleeve of fur trim, red gloved hand with index finger to lips as he winks.  On the other interior windows are pinecones painted with glitter, strung with green velvet ribbon.  At night their glitter shimmers with reflections pouring from the Christmas tree lights.
Later you are old enough to help with porch maintenance:  sweeping, mopping the cool gray concrete, chasing out the spiders, vacuuming the occasional cobweb with its mummified flies.  Every few years there is also re-painting, learning how to use a putty knife, scrape away cracked chunks around panes, layer in just-the-right-amount of fresh adhesion with a downward swipe.  Develop a rhythm for this.  Use a ladder and  also help change the windows for screens.  Remember to hose them out front before hooking in place.  Wash the winter windows with vinegar before propping against the wall, your hands puckered with news ink.  What is the antique window glass made of that, though clear, seeing-through it is to notice slightly miniature ripples, a slight bluish greenish tint, as if the material is similar to that of the glass insulators on telephone poles?  Press head or hands against glass or mesh.  It is meditative but also sometimes a symptom of intense boredom.  Take note of the trumpet vine, the wisteria flowering to the far right, its bark twisting thick as grape vines.  Occasionally a humming bird buzzes; a reverie of rarity.
Not a lot of drama occurs on this porch, though occasionally the front door key is not under the mat and a little panic stirs until my brother figures out how to sneak in through a basement window.  Then of course there are the usual calls of hello and goodbye, the family standing along the porch waving at the vehicle crunching up the gravel driveway. 
One late purple afternoon of January winds a hobo huddles on the front porch, stands by the circular silver dryer outlet.  My Mother and I can see the bulk of his shape from the living room and are afraid, but both go out.  "Feel my hands," he keeps saying to my mom, holding out what looks like thickly veined and roughened ham hocks.  "They are so cold."  This is what pain, pity and pathos looks like. 
Mom finds Dad who drives the hobo to the railroad station a few miles off.  Apparently there is something like a canteen there where he can get a hot meal and coffee.  This is the story I am given anyway and also how Dad's Mom, during the Depression, like many a farmer's wife, fed the hobos passing from the trains; how occasionally they would help with a chore or work the fields then be on their way.
On July nights the porch sparkles with fireflies teeming in the meadows.  Peepers and cicada make a racket amid the intermittent squeal and clang of the rails. Moths dance like snowflakes, flutter against screens along with giant grasshoppers climbing.  We are used to this bug life.
 In the winter when the moon is full, reflecting on snows, the porch is polar too, and the house feels far away from everything.  There is a porch light however, under a thick chalk-pale shade that has a gothic acorn shape.  We leave the light on when the whole family is out somewhere, maybe the drive-ins, and also only when one or two of us might not be home.  There is a sense of loneliness or being disowned if that light accidently gets switched off or the bulb burns out, but in my mind's eye I can still see it  now shining through the distant darkness, giving a glow to all the front porch windows; a melancholy balm for homesickness, a beacon which whispers like a lullaby: home safe, safe home.

~Stephen Mead

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