Thoughts On the Music My Father Used to Listen to When He Was Once My Age, or Thereabouts.

Give up on that 70’s and 80’s music , like giving up on your weekend plans. Listening to words is something not typically associated with your miscellaneous habits, of which have existed since Shaker Heights and the jumping off the water fall and the mob bombings in your hometown.

Cleveland Ohio, where the suicidal men in station wagons are discovered by you and your friends parked late at night nestled with a 12 gauge, and children have been known to shoot out the windows of their neighbors garage. House of your stepfather, House of the golden child, and smiling 35mm film snapshots. You left quite a paper trail on the outskirts of your youthful rebellion. I’m somewhere up on the fourth floor, in the creaking night with my brother watching television. We called several times, staying up till someone got home, scared to death of burglars and God knows what else.

It was only later, when I’d grown up a little, and you’d left my mother and were living in the next town over, that I thought of your childhood home while sitting on the porch my own- the one we now had to sell. There is no third or forth floor, just the second floor and the basement, my humble monetarist by the sea in the face o your Gothic cathedral. Still, both places are quiet enough now that their children have grown and left. Walking through my empty childhood bedroom is like walking through a crypt on the second floor. I imagine it must be similar for you. What was it then, that drove you to such lengths to run away? I am at the top of the stairwell outside what used to be yours and my mother’s bedroom. Is it wise to linger in places such as these?

The abbey beneath the mountain has a voice all its own. What did the voice of your parents house tell you? Did it recall dreams of your teenage parties, girlfriends, and adventures? Did it make the rift in you that you sought to fill with a new family, new friends, and new children? Or was there something unsaid in the product of the soil, the broken lawn mower in the shed, and the waterlogged firewood by the porch? Maybe it was simply the act of questioning what mystery lay within the locked doors upstairs, where you once lay prone on the roof smoking cigarettes with your brother. They are not evil spirits, certainly, but the poltergeist in us all has an innate longing for the past, and will do anything to make it so.

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H & W Yard Numbers 400 and 401

If you go to Belfast Ireland, a short walk will bring you to the Harland and Wolff shipyards, where the Titanic and Olympic were built and launched in 1911.  They don’t build ships there anymore. The large yellow crane is just for show now. But at the mouth of the harbor is the modern angular building of the Titanic Museum, which stands out against the sea like a metallic iceberg.

The museum costs money, but behind it for no cost, you can wander out onto where the slipway’s once were- now large concrete floors in the earth. The museum has traced the dimensions of the two ships onto the surface, and when I followed it along with my feet, it felt small to me.

I used to trace the outline of the great liners in my notebooks, or on restaurant placemats in crayon when I was little. Running along the smoke funnels to the bridge, down the superstructure from the bow and beneath the waves to the stern to where that first mark on the paper began. Accents of smoke billowing back, waves crashing against the hull in ways that didn’t conform to perfect perspective, and in the distance the faint outlines of nondescript islands to give a sense of scale. I must have drawn hundreds of these when I was a kid. My biggest concern was the quality of my shading, all of which achieved with a number two pencil.   

The ships had originally entered my drawings from now worn out PBS tapes. I think they’re still somewhere in my mother’s house with piles of unwatched home videos from when my brother and I were kids. They are documentaries on the ships and the men who found their wrecks’ hundreds of feet below the surface. Though the tapes are well outdated by now, I remember sitting cross legged in the living room listening to the narrator drone on like the rumble of an engine somewhere below deck. Even name the Titanic still brings back memories of those muffled interviews stored on fading magnetic tape. I re-watched them recently and realized I still knew the sequence of the interviews and the musical interludes perfectly, even twelve years on. I remember my father used to sometimes watch with me.

On the slipway in Belfast I pictured the outlines drawn into the concrete suddenly rise into the grey sky. From beneath my feet seemed to spring riveters and scaffolding and the skeleton of the great ship not yet built, long before she would sink. I had escaped again to 1911. But now I was there, before the doomed vessel at dry dock, growing in the air of that pre-war optimism. Unmistakable and unsinkable. I felt like I was intruding on someone else’s childhood dream, not my own. It was a past I was so far removed from it almost seemed like fiction, and yet we now shared the same physical ground, the ship and I. A group of school kids wandered past, and it was a chilly spring day in Northern Ireland. I hoped none of them saw my eyes start to water, when I realized the ground was as much a grave as the childhood home of anyone is a grave of their younger self, piled high with VHS tapes and half filled sketchbooks. There are crayon drawings on placemats like blueprints of outdated designs. My mother didn’t have the heart to throw them away I think. The ice warnings were posted and were written. Sent across by wireless. Twin signals. They’d raised us and bathed us and kept us warm. In my twenties I could see where it’d gone wrong, but like yelling murder in sleep paralysis, my arms would not move, and my chest was filled with ice water. The time would not again return to me.

I Waterlogged the Electric Kettle

Board games on the coffee table with the dual innocence where we once were as children,

but now soiled skin.

There’s too much baggage in our collective bedrooms. So start anew at six and seven. Benefits of skipping the younger years, maybe fashion someone that will share in your condition.

Throw open the sash after Christmas, a spring cleaning of sons. I should have noticed sooner,

but you covered your bases, assured me of the unchanging nature of things. I remember your embrace when I left for Ireland at the airport.

But of course it’s changing. And you knew that even then, since November or before. You delayed me- got to me first. Before I was standing at the sink, holding the electric kettle under the tap, when I noticed and forgot the water running cool over my hands.

The thought came then.

Replaced.

Replaced.

Replaced.

Arthur Kill Ship Graveyard

Take to your holds, your windswept hovels and your ships quarters. Below deck, down the old oak folding ladder with speed, and nearly run right into the center table where we ate dinner, built by my grandfather, suspended on a clever balance, like the stove, and the lanterns dry of oil. Take to your headaches and your rage that casts light onto the water from the salt crusted windows. Tarnish grows on the metal casting around the glass with each voyage from waters rushing with speed. Motion in life personified by the act of sailing for those who can no longer stand on the mainland. Help the old man into the small boat and haul him up to the deck, his legs at this point in his life, have failed him. Yet even in skiffs do we lose our minds- I remember breakfasts in the morning on the ancient dining room table. I don’t know who in my family squirreled it away or sold it. My grandmother says she’ll never go back to that ruined house now. Empty bedroom, apparitions in the stovepipe- the windows overlooking Pocha Pond. I would take to that place were it still ours, were it not sold but were instead rotting- The greenhouse was filled with mildew and dead birds last I visited, and a harmonica echoed in the empty rooms that once held furniture. The old man struggled to breathe through the reeds in his age, no longer able to die in the house he himself built. I would like to sit cross legged on the well loved floorboards, and look out over the collapsing deck. Perhaps the osprey pole is still standing in the marsh. You told me once in a bout of chemically induced adolescence, that you and your friends got drunk and carried the pole there years ago, and in the mud you found deer bones. The sun still shines on that place as it did before. The light taken to our holds when our bodies fail us. When we are angry. When we are powerless and we break the walls in retaliation, and still refuse amputation. These days, I find myself digging through storerooms. Dust covered sewing supplies, old outdoorsman clothes, and cracked VHS tapes with TV recorded movies. Could such relics be found, I’d sit and smoke the pipe that nearly gave you cancer though the collecting fluid in its place damn well finished the job. The fog of smoke would rise as it did from the office when you practiced law amongst empty bookshelves and a light spot on the floor in the corner that the grand piano once occupied. I stood in its usual place, and felt I was trespassing. The rooms where we stayed are still painted morning yellow and a gentile blue- though the corners now grey with webs, and the bodies of spiders. You called it Avalon, the island where everybody knew your name, and it passes from us now like storm clouds over the marsh. Near the end we took to rocking waters sinking ships across the harbor. The deck of your vessel has rotted through. You motioned to me to sit up front in the old skiff as we left the mainland for the last time- away from ruined kingdoms and legends of deer bones. In those final days you refused the amputation of your legs, though you were no longer able to stand on them. You called me “my boy” back then. When my life feels like a gale- I think of you. I think of avalon and the sails of little ships making their way out from the beach head. I think of sunscreen, and I think of the way my hair felt filled with salt. I want to make the trip again to the land just beyond the marsh, and see who lives there now. I don’t know if they’ve done away with the house. Still, I will tell them of you, And from such stories of Avalon, I will make them know they are trespassing on the graveyard of Arthur.