asher63 (asher63) wrote,
asher63
asher63

El Día



When describing my father to people, I used to like to say, "Picture a cross between Albert Einstein and Captain Kangaroo." The soft-spoken, bookish Ken McLintock was, for most of the years I knew him, on the editorial staff of Choice Magazine. But in another lifetime, he had been a machine gunner in the Second World War. In a memoir written years later (and left unfinished), he recalled his experiences up until (but not including) his unit's arrival at New Georgia.

Dad's career as an editor seems to have begun during the war years; at any rate, he assembled a collection of original writings by his fellow soldiers of the 146th Field Artillery Battalion.
It was pure curiosity which led me to investigate a Japanese who had been killed about eight hours before, during the night. Before I saw the body itself, I saw a heap of clothing - or rather, rags - and I thought to myself: Is it possible that that shapeless object is a man? As I got closer, however, I saw the fallen enemy. After the first brief shock at the sight, I went ahead, dispassionately, coldly looking at him.

He was lying on his back, resembling a piece of wax statuary, with one hand flung across his waist, holding a bloodstained handkerchief (he had been machine-gunned in the stomach), and the other arm was crooked up with the hand resting near his head. His age was certainly under eighteen, and his youthful flesh was firm though colored a strange, waxy, yellow-white hue. His head was turned to one side, revealing a clean, bloodless hole in the neck where he had been shot by one not knowing he was already dead. His eyes were slightly open, and his lips parted. His boyish, beardless face was not entirely expressionless. On it I fancied I could see an expression revealing a boy trying to solve one of the great mysteries of life, a mystery that was beyond his grasp. ...


Dad also left a body of original writing. His remembrance of his mother recounts his memories of her singing career:
Mother's training, though, was not for the opera stage. Instead she sang with New York's Oratorio Society for years, and was soloist in a number of churches in the New York area. She also was a member of at least one church choir and even one synagogue choir (that of the famed Temple Emanu-El). Among the members of one of the choirs was Harry T. Burleigh, composer and arranger of Negro spirituals (as they were then called), including "Deep River". Burleigh was already well on in years when Mother knew him, and as the years went by, he would announce solemnly each year that this would be the last year he would sing "The Palms" at the Palm Sunday service.


In the one extant piece of writing that could be called a diary - dated New Year's Day 1968 - he speaks of feeling a quiet but invincible optimism:
despite having been uprooted a week before Christmas and kept until a week after Christmas in a warm house, somehow it will survive the shock of having been replanted (in a new location) this 15-degree day. And I know that, despite the cold, I will get the tree planted today. This is what I mean by invincible optimism. In other years I should have left the tree in the garage for a day or so -- letting the tree get accustomed to the cold, I would tell the world -- before planting it. Today I don't feel the need for any such evasion: I shall go out there within the hour, not joyfully, perhaps, but but at least without hesitation.


On pondering his qualifications for a certain job, he mused:
The job that I must do some day --
Fill an excavation or fule a flame --
I hope will not be asked of me too soon.
Were it tonight, or, say, tomorrow noon,
The fire would sputter, to my shame,
Or else the hole that's dug would be
So unexpectedly full of space
They'd think they'd buried in that place
Someone already more than half a ghost. ...


I do not know whether he ever got over the feeling of having lived "a life spent on the perimeter". In his later years, he embraced Judaism and became affiliated with a couple of local synagogues. For a too-short period of time, he was able to fulfill his own love of singing (and of Jewish music) in the choir of one of those synagogues.

Alzheimer's robbed him of his faculties quickly and ruthlessly. You know that scene in '2001: A Space Odyssey' where Dave has to disconnect HAL? Kind of like that.

***

My mother survived my father by about two and a half years. Her mother was the only grandparent living when Stephanie and I were growing up; we'd travel from our home in South Windsor, Connecticut to visit her in Bath, Maine every Thanksgiving.

I remember my mother as fiercely idealistic and intellectual, mistrustful of the world but relentless in her efforts to improve the world in spite of itself. She left no written works, but played a critical role in helping several friends - children and adults - to achieve literacy.

Her relationship with her mother was deep and deeply troubled. Long after the old woman was buried, Mom's voice would quiver with hurt and rage over things her mother had said or done to her as a child.

***

Stephanie was with us for twenty-eight years. She was preoccupied with mortality; one of her earliest poems observes:
Man is a fragile being,
Within himself and by himself,
Man is a dream,
An impossible dream,
And thinking he knows everything
Knows nothing
And is lost in the dream.
Imprisoned in him is a heart
That beats and stops, and all is lost.
Man fears death, though it must come ...


And then there is this:
The rain is water
from the sea
to the sky.
These rocks will be fossils,
my heart, thistles.
Only the sun consuming itself
will die.


Stephanie never felt at home in this world, as if she were migrating
through this country and out again
towards a greater desolation
than that from which I came.
Some days I am a gypsy
lying on sweet green grass or yellow fields
under a sky wide and full of sun;
some days I am a ragged dog
barking in alleys
among trash and empty bottles;
and some days I nearly forget -
but I can feel this body planning,
gathering forces,
signing documents;
all my time is borrowed time.


Even now, I find myself reading her poems and stories over and over again, always discovering something new.

Where the Night Water Runs
Once I chased a dream, a bird song,
a peacock feather,
through midnight down to the lapping water
silver crickets like ear-stars singing
all along the fields where fieldmice hide.
There is no place to go
but down to where the night water runs,
and runs black and slow,
slow like feet running in a dream.
Kind water, sweet and black
whispering, "I take nothing back.
I only go on."
The dream was really a beast
covered by night; I did not know,
and I followed the rank smell far,
too far away,
to find it, large
and turning, white clawed and snorting
too awful for fear,
too awful for running,
the song of my living too awful for fear -
and now to go on,
walking;
dawn is near.


Even now, she still visits me from time to time in my dreams.
Stephanie again, for a short time. I think we must have been teens or young adults. We were visiting the home of another family, perhaps relatives. It was getting late at night. I don't know if our parents were there or not. She was ready to drive home. Oh good, I thought, this will give us a chance to catch up; I haven't spoken with her in a long time. Even after I woke up, it was several minutes before I realized just how long it had been, and why.
Tags: life, stephanie, stgm
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