This is the apple I ate two weeks ago. A Jonagold from the Wegmans on East Ave in Rochester. I was trying to write on a couch. The thrift store of my youth was closing, and I didn’t find anything I liked enough to remember it by. I wanted routine, comfort, home. My teeth felt like spinach from breakfast. I was balancing my checkbook instead of writing.
Pen and checkbook hung out on the shelf in the fridge while I worked the knot my friend had made on the bag of apples. It took two hands with the fridge door open. I didn’t cap the pen. I noticed there was salami from Wegmans, too. Her grandfather pronounced it Wedgemans.
I write about ordinary things. They go flat if they aren’t particular ordinary things. Sometimes they go flat anyway. People start using the word banal and convincing other people. After that first day, that first apple, I got going and the week was productive. One productive week this year felt enormous. I am sure there were other weeks like this, but it all moves forward pretty quickly.
My parents traveled. We traveled. We wrote a lot of notes. Left them for each other to find in suitcases, pillowcases. My dad is writing about an ancestor who sailed from Boston to China. Mom is writing fiction. Brother is freelancing for news publications. I’m figuring how to grow a whole story.
Songs. Mountains. Then there are animals. Other origin stories. Bees, rats, birds, bears, dogs. I try not to write about cats since I don’t usually have questions about them. Lately I’ve been reading about captive apes and writing about cattle. Captive apes we try a lot of things with. Start with a dart gun and some disease, move on to sign language. Watch
your back. Offer your back. What can we learn from them? From ourselves with them?
Compare humans to chimps. There’s a lot to look at. One of them has something up her sleeve, likes to play. Apparently we do, too. We’ll argue about empathy, too. Think about bonobos, too. We say or refuse to say crazy things to each other. Stand with our weight in such odd places. Corollary. Sounds like carotid artery, too. Makes my head light with all the accuracy.
That kind of person, that kind of steady. Cheerful in a way I imagine my grandfather was encouraged to be cheerful by band leaders when he successfully snuck in to a hotel ballroom as a kid with his date in Los Angeles. That kind of aged, earnest force mixing sometimes with clever company.
A wide barge, too. Plow through, make walls. Move around. Breathe a little. Not much to argue with. If there’s anything sinister (brick thrown to harm, body stowed in barge), it’s certainly not the tool’s fault. Or the band leader. The kid’s not starting anything, he just wants to dance with these people, impress his date. There is a river by my house. There is a canal across my state. In college, I found a friend from the Bay Area who’d also learned the Erie Canal song in elementary school.
I watched men make grey bricks in Conakry, Guinea this past winter, watched them stack. Kids were playing soccer in the lot next door. They yelled fote (white), we yelled fore (black), they giggled; more bricks, more yelling. We came back a few days later. As the stacks became walls, we noticed that someone (bricklayer? kid from the game? fisherman who had wandered by?) had pooped in the bathroom. How did they know it was the bathroom? All it had was walls at that point. Now they’re raising money for the roof.
I think first, though, of red. Of that color. The outer wings of the beach at Kingston Point littered with water chestnut casings and old bricks. What to pick up in your hands first. Fresh water chestnuts with a knife eaten on a seat in a canoe. Pulling chalk lines on a roof for shingling. Stacking. When I make things, it’s one piece at a time. Pieces in a pile. Then I move them around. See how they sit next to each other, see what takes. Heineken bottles once built for making glass houses. It didn’t take. It doesn’t always.
I wish I had learned sign language, wish to learn sign language. You have to use your face a lot more than hearing people do. My parents would sign to each other over our heads when we were short enough to sign over and young enough to be on opposite teams. Then we went to Germany. Now we all speak German.
I think about anthropomorphism. Personification. We trick each other. I read fairy tales. I’ve been making my way through Herodotus. Essays about science and nature. People end up feeling tricked. How we all relate to each other and what remains have to do with that. I lived in Bosnia for two months when I was eighteen. Everything was under ground. Salt mines. Land mines. Their brothers and fathers. Someone invited me along to a mass grave exhumation.
She said college would be the best years of my life. Men on lead mats were slipping instruments just below the earth to see about explosives. Other men with less metal pushed their cows across the fields first, testing too.
Compare humans to cows. Why? Or maybe just what it is to be clever. Strategy and tactics. A fox, not a cow, right?
I love October. Thank you for October. There is no better month. Thanks for all these great words. For making Defeffable. This. Things with wood. Things with paper. Images. I love that we ran that reading series together. After every reading, I wanted to run home and write. Such smart curious people in those rooms/bunkers/halls.
I was in northeastern Wyoming this spring and worried I would miss the spring peepers back east. I loved that I thought of it as back east, the way my uncle does when he speaks of where he went to high school in Massachusetts from where he lives in California. I don’t know if it’s that I like the way spring peepers sound, or I like that their sound is part of my understanding of home. I am worried about bats. Some frogs are disappearing too, but spring peepers seem okay so far. This fall, I am enjoying the way Elizabeth Kolbert writes.
O my. Yes. Definitely. But sometimes later, or slowly, or on our own. It doesn’t always have to be an intervention, a declaration. Forgiveness, yes. But also ablution, which is, to me, a sort of stepping away from or out from, and a thing not always witnessed.
Not usually related to resolution, but necessary for every next step. There can be so much loss involved. It bears repetition and practice, for the sake of it and for the sake of hope. I think this is quite hard, but have seen people do it with ease.
hausfrau (sound file in German and English)
Ich wollte sagen, Ich habe genug Besteck, aber das Besteck steht in einigen Kisten, und die Kisten stehen seit Januar im Schrank. Also, benutze Ich das Besteck von einer anderen Frau. Wir sind Mitbewohner. Keiner von uns ist Hausfrau. Keine richtige Hausfrau, obwohl wir kochen können. Und obwohl Ich das Schrieben anfangen kann, nur wenn das Geschirr abgewaschen ist.
Is there a clever way of getting around the thing? I hate trying to have a conversation with someone wearing sunglasses. I’m not sure why I’m trying. I try so hard. We do. We do need to protect our eyes.
I am looking for something, but I’m often more effective if I don’t know what. Finding can be such a let down. I thought about this while writing for my friend Deb Baxter’s collection Wanting is Easier Than Having this year. I play solitaire, or think of it, most nights before bed. The looking ought to stretch out and yawn between all the nose-to-the-ground ear-to-the-wall actions.
You know it. It’s been good for me. Can I just agree? Keep an eye on your selves. Touch a frog. Collect a brick. Take a nap. Yes.
Dorothy Albertini is writing fictions in Poughkeepsie this October. She collaborated with sculptor Debra Baxter on Wanting is Easier Than Having in the spring, and is currently collaborating with a group of visual artists and writers to make a poem. Recent work appears in Drunken Boat, H _ngm_n, and on WHLV. Visit dorothyalbertini.com for more details.