When the leaves fall, always, always, that's when I get the blues. Most people I know get this twinge, this body soul spirit wince, in the spring, the time most set out to search for love. I've always found my loves when the world is on the cusp of winter; it is in autumn when I look up and think, Where is my love?
Lately I've been reading Alan Lomax's The Land Where the Blues Began. I've returned to the line in the opening chapter again today, where Lomax writes that Leadbelly once told him, "When you lie down at night, turning from side to side, and you can't be satisfied no way you do, Old Man Blues got you."
I suppose I've got that tossing and turning kind of blues because a week ago my belongings from the house in Houston arrived, and they're now stored in an old mill in Adams, Massachusetts, two small New England towns away from where I live in Williamstown. I had to make an appointment to see my things. When I arrived, I was led in to see a room filled with blanketed hillocks, separate knolls wrapped as if by Christo in gray woolen packing blankets; chair and table legs poked out here and there as if to get air.
Yet I only had eyes for my stuff, as if I had arrived in a neighborhood of houses where the walls were removed. My cluster home was a mound where iron filigreed legs emerged, an old art project of a nineteenth-century wastebasket held antlers and driftwood, beads and pottery offering cups inside--blue jay feathers were stuck in a long banner of old rope. My Houston yard was always full of the blue streaks of jays, the feathers always a surprise, always startlingly beautifully blue.
The guy who'd led me up the stairs to see my space was named Dave, was in his thirties, a tall New Englander in overalls, reminding me very much with his Yep and Nopes of my first love in New England, a man of few words but with a presence similar to this man, all his energy and humor contained behind an unreadable face. He watched as I saw my things for the first time.
I turned to him, the "supervisor" of people who come to bring stuff in, take stuff out, and said, "When you come back I'll have a little living room set up right here."
I pulled out small table, and then a wrought-iron garden chair, arranging them a bit away from the stacked mound.
"We could have a beer," I said.
He laughed. I uncovered a horse made from chips of wood. Oh my God, I shouted, The horse! The horse!
"If I can just take this horse home right now, I'll be ok, " I said--to myself, but Doug stood there.
He said, "Yep, sometimes it only takes one thing to make everything alright." He put his hands in his pockets and smiled, as if he were watching a kid on a carousel, he seemed to get pleasure from my happiness as I held the twenty-pound horse as if I were carrying a dog down the stairs.
I looked back as I started to the door, horse tucked under my arm, and I saw the red metal chair, balanced on top of the whole pile.
In l978 this chair was on the porch of the rented house where a lover, my lover, lived for six months in Shreveport, Louisiana. The consequences, the repercussions of this love affair were godawful. The memories are fraught, full, easily ignited.
The man, my lover, had recently begun to clerk for a Shreveport judge. He would go on to be a criminal defense lawyer, which suited his bad boy sensibility.
During our insane autumn tornado of sex and music and bourbon and dancing in honky-tonks, there was our sorrow running throughout the raging river of our lust, our love.
We were found out, as they say, and then it was over, just like that. The End. His girlfriend and my boyfriend (who was this man's best friend) discovered our betrayal, put the pieces together of what we had done--to them.
Yet still, after the bust-up and break-ups and messiness, I had a memory that, as Patricia Hample, writes, "Had strong arms.
It was October. It had been four, five years? I'm not sure, but it had been a long time since I'd seen the man I'd loved so hard.
I knew he'd moved to Baton Rouge.
On a trip home, I decided to drive by the little duplex where we had been together. And there on the porch was the same red metal chair I'd sat on, he'd sat on--it seemed to be on fire, glowing in the late afternoon light. I had my Canon--I'd been taking a photography course at night at University of St Thomas. I took a picture of the chair and later, in the class, when the photograph was critiqued, the teacher said, It is filled with light but it seems so empty.
Strange how an object holds memory, and holds it out to you, offers it to others. The photograph, which I had framed, moved from room to room in the old Houston house. Along with the actual object, the red chair.
I'd taken the photo, framed the photo. And on a return trip, I stole the chair from the old landlady's porch.
When I'd brought the chair back to my parents' house, my father could not understand why I wanted this old-timey l950's metal yard chair. These chairs had not yet made a come-back, had not become a shabby chic must haves. My chair was a real relic, not a knock off.
And now all these years later there it was: MY RED CHAIR, the cherry on the top of the pile of furniture and boxes and boxes and boxes--of books, of letters, and cards, and photographs.
I walked around the edge of the hillock, reached my hand in to touch the pebbled plastic top of my long deceased grandmother's green suitcase. I had to push a bookshelf to one side to get to where I could stand and open the suitcase.
I want to say like Pandora's box.
Yet it was not evil not bad but, it was a box full of ghosts.
Inside were a mishmash of the oldest of my family photographs. There is my oldest sister Gail, she holds a drink in one hand, a cigarette in another and she is laughing. There she is at Toledo Bend, with a crazy straw hat on her head, her skinny legs, her Gail smile, ear to ear one might say as a cliche, but for Gail, it was so true; the source of her joy? Her arm is draped around Jamie/Dante who holds a fishing pole and a silly grin.
Gail's been dead eight years.
There was Jimmy, my younger brother, holding his Easter basket, to the left of mother, who wears a hilarious straw boater type hat, the only time I've ever seen her in a hat. The Atwood's dogwood seems to bloom from her head. There are flecks of pink in the flower bed, her beloved camellias always fighting some blight or another, the branches sparse. I'm on her right and have a new horrible haircut; I hold the best Easter basket ever. It had light blue lace and ribbon woven throughout the wicker, which was painted silvery blue. It was bigger than my head.
My brother has been dead seven years.
There's me at five years old in Florida, sitting on float in the surf with my father, my mother and two sisters standing around us; no one is smiling. They aren't frowning. They are simply looking directly into the camera. I'm huddled in my father's lap, clearly cold from the lapping waves, from being outside of the water, balanced on the canvas float, navy blue, with yellow rubber on the ends and a yellow fisherman's rope attached to one end.
My father died in l981. My mother died twenty-five years later.
I stopped looking at the photos. My legs went weak. I was curled up on the sofa when my friend came to help me go through the things. I was close to napping on this sofa that was once in the sunroom of the house where I grew up, 3254 Centenary. Later the couch was re-upholstered by my former boyfriend from Louisiana, the one I betrayed, and was in the living room where he lived with his wife and two children, both boys. Later, after the boys had jumped up and down on it hundreds of times, Geoff said, When the boys grow up , when the boys grow up......that he planned to re-upholster. But he got divorced. Then he got a brand new sofa, and thankfully a brand new girlfriend (I say thankfully because I always want Geoff to be happy. That was my goal when I was his girlfriend, but as I confessed, I failed miserably several times). He gave the sofa back to me--after twelve years of jumping boys--and my friend chose the fabric, had it upholstered and then it was in my office at Rice University for ten years. This sofa, the one that replaced the bamboo settee in the sunroom of the old house in Shreveport, was where I napped in my office--the Writer-in-Residence, Dr. Recknagel, someone who felt she'd never see the office, the title, the amazing career. Sometimes when having a conference with a student, I wanted to share a secret--this is the sofa from my childhood, this is where I kissed Tommy Jett; Donnie Baker; Chet Herring; Mark James; Randy Vickery; Geoff Pike.
Now I stretched out on the sofa, which buttressed the "MARSHA" hillock, and closed my eyes.
I'm retired now; living in New England; a painter;
When I woke, I didn't know where I was. Often I don't.