Self and reality. Symbol and language. Myth and image. Memory and consciousness.
Dream and unreality: locus communis.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Bright Blood Moon


With our son turning two last December, and my own half century birth date looming close, I pulled out old photo albums of my childhood for comparison. One of the first few series of pictures builds my earliest memory— myself in the full sun of a south-eastern Texas November, chasing a large, red ball, the toy becoming the sun, becoming the toy—and myself laughing with the arc of descent, the inverse action of a rising, a mirroring of the motions of coastal Gulf waters.

It is not clear which element precludes the other: memory or photo, however, I still sense the room, the halfdark of midday, with small, stray motes of dust caught in sunlight. My father controls the scene, the ebb and flow of the ball between me and himself.

This scene plays out in one of my early poems from Vermont College. Titled “Myths of Anam” it focuses on a fictitious persona and his development—a mask of course for my own history, morphed into something “other”— the poem merges a psychological rambling with stark realism: analyzing the acceptance of self-identity through an imaginary playmate… perhaps I should not admit any personal connection to the text, leave it all vague— as a surreal daydream.

The opening section reads:

I can’t say how I recall East Texas, 1965,
when my father, a meteorologist, brought home from work
a weather balloon, the size almost the twice of me, pale
orange filling my sight, a large October sun; I remember
the dark room, the smell of thick plastic,
the falling and rising.

It was then I recall this memory of a boy being born
with gray eyes, his head already covered in a shock
of black hair, small fists curled against his chest
as he lay next to his mother, asleep with the window slightly
open, seasonal rains falling inside, green tropical water
overflowing sewers in the street;

I do not know where this memory
was made. I do not know the color of the sea
Mare Imbrium, where the people baptize their children
and cut off the small, fleshy tail near the end of the spine,
where the rise and fall of the tides are erratic,—
without warning boats suddenly find themselves
          on the base of the reefs
the lunar surface of the sea bottom exposed to the sun until
a few minutes later, the water returns as suddenly as it left.
The full poem appears in Slant, Summer 1993, issue VII.

In memory the ball is twice my size— almost translucent, a thin layer of plastic. My father recently tells me it was most likely a weather balloon taken from his job at the small airport where he was stationed. The photo shows it as an ordinary red balloon, dad in the background still in his work clothes with a plastic protector in his breast pocket.

Overtime I have made the image a central part of my identity, a bright blood moon rising over my birthday, after the year tilts close to winter.

Somewhere, I have read that all memories are false impressions. They exist as warped copies of an original event that cannot be accurately recorded or perceived. Such ideas trouble me; the lack of a static account for the world seems to reduce past history down to an existential, pointless existence…

At this rate, I can see my son perhaps will have no fears. He seems to welcome change, takes on all risks, falls down, then bounces immediately back up again. This trait does seem equivalent to my father, now that I think of it. He exists as a steady presence in my background, a constancy. A watchful witness for change.

Something I should aim to be for my own child.

139 / new medicine causes violent dreaming; unaware, you sleep beside me— when I startle awake, I hear winter, leaning close


  1. I did just this at the weekend.
    Found old photographs from 1967 onwards. My mother and father, my brother and I. You are right. I looked at the photographs and immediately remembered. The taste of that ice cream in the heat of a summer when the tar melted on the roads and we trailed it into carpets and floors and were shooed by my mother screaming at us to get out. Or nibbling on my father's ear as he carried a 4 month me up the hill and into the small town we lived in (I surely cannot remember this. I know it because it was his favourite story). I read that - about memories. It distressed me too. My closest childhood friend died back in 1990. I drive past her mother's home now and think of all the things Sheena and I did. The secrets we shared, the childish games we played, the books we laughed and cried over. When I read that about memories it struck me that she had died again to me. That I had no memory of the things we did together which could be verified. Then I wondered if we don't take our memories and build upon them. If we don't - year on year - layer meanings over and under them. In my own family we have certain tales we tell that have become motifs or family legends. They become more elaborate every time they are told. Each child or adult highlighting some new remembrance of it. We have a shorthand too for when there is no time to tell - but when we need to feel bonded as a family: the day Mamie forgto she was wearing an all-in-one and wee'd herself; the day Papa said 'thank you' to the automatic petrol machine at the garage; the time Jamie walked into the big glass doors; the time Lewis bit Megan... I've accepted that there is the thing that happened and then there is our own frail remembrance of it and the meaning we derive. I used to be scared that this meant there could be no meaning - if there were no static account. But maybe this is what it is to be human? It's where stories and creativity come from. Where our inability to learn lessons from the past comes from? I don't know.
    You are that steady presence in your own son's life.
    Your post is beautifully written. And I see that you really have been productive in my absence! I have so many riches to read - I'll be back very soon!

    1. You captured the same fear I have: lack of meaning. Today in class we talked briefly about Modernism and WWI and pessimism and Europe— one class in particular leaned forward slightly— a moment of connection for me. "Meaning" existed between me and the students.

      And then as well, in regards to your friend, I think the same experience causes us to want to write in the first place. To leave a record of the memories. We are each a representation of the ancient cities, layers of new generations, new memories building us up, atom by atom, skin layer by new skin layer.

      Your last paragraph made me smile: I made a resolution this year to create a daily entry, if only a brief poem. And as well, pay closer attention to other bloggers. Prove a point to myself.

      Look forward hearing from you!