On that walk into town from the ranch in the morning for coffee and supplies I sometimes have what seem to me calm and prescient thoughts. I have pretensions to insight, mostly unutterable in company, but personally informative, guiding me, for better or for worse.
Last autumn I was writing about the lad and me stacking firewood and this year there’s another couple full cords and a half to stack. I intended yesterday to get at a little of that when I get home from my walk. Familiar, seasonal rural choring. It was Remembrance day under a blustery,wash water colored sky, cold wind snapping and unfurling the flags of country and regiment. I came past the army navy air force building, That’s a big old-fashioned red barn they’ve turned into a place with a sensible kitchen and the best dance floor in miles. A little clutch of men was ceremoniously assisting a big old veteran in a walker up a ramp in the clapping wind as he grandly, slowly approached a beanpole cadet’s pale earnest salute. They looked to me from the road like they were moving a fragile sculpture. The wind wrapped their dress pants tight around the men’s legs like the flags were wrapped snapping around their poles. The cenotaph was poured concrete, geometric, white, a local granite slab inlaid in it, stark with its engraved local names, There were these autumn colored wreathes and the poppies wired on them looked like drops of blood on a forest floor in hunting season if you were to put them into a painting. We used to sneak up through the long grass in the dark when we were little and peek in the back door at the dancers on summer nights. Some days I’m claustrophobic with memory and its triggers.
I’d actually forgotten that it was Remembrance day. I was poorly dressed for attending any ceremony, though I was urged to do so by a friend, who was driving people to and from their homes to the cenotaph and back again with an open, willing smile and a sense of honor and duty. He wore a very smart black suit whose fabric did not flap around his ankles. I’d a little too much red in my plaid jacket and dressed like a seventies biker under that, I was sartorially inadequate, so I strode by.
My view of the great wars is romantic, mostly literary and costume drama. I admire the impression of stylish valour the writer Collette left of herself as she was in Paris during the german occupation. I had a friend whose lover was drowned with a ship full of refugee children. It was sunk by a sub in the second world war.Another friend, a symphony conductor. lost all his family in the Warsaw ghetto and in the camps afterward. He’d been a violinist but a car accident wrecked his hands so he conducted. The first snow flakes sailed.
Sometimes I walk down the back road and the hounds bark stupidly. My thoughts come in like junk mail. I wrestle with my petty if overriding desires. It’d be about a mile of atv trails connecting dirt roads. Couple places I rest and smoke where there isn’t a house in sight, just trees, standing and leaning. three years and I’ve yet to meet another soul out walking so it’s all internal, the walks are insular, the landscape of fields and yards and dwellings and occasional over hanging forest is cinematic reeling by in my stride, for I still stride. I”m always a little aware of my father walking this road years ago. the hounds bark stupidly. What is bred in the bone.
While you were in Japan we moved from Indian summer here into winter. I had a moderate success with the last show and was slow starting in painting right after, rattled by commissions to paint local landmarks. I should have stuck to painting local old garages perhaps but I wanted to challenge my hand so I’ve worked again on portraits. It still felt safer somehow to paint than it did to write, and closer to myself to paint my human models than to paint the town. I felt gradually, without recognizing it, a bad old-fashioned depression begin and grow in me . Or perhaps I became conscious of something awry, though I could not name it, that had, embarrassingly, been evidently operational to others if malfunctioning in me for some time. There was, as I said to the lad, something wrong with me. I didn’t just turn off and on anymore.
I read long ago that we become depressed when we recognize patterns and that bit of pop psychology has stuck with me. As you said, if we see dots we try to connect them. We see fate and synchronicity and vice and virtue. Every time I flick open the laptop to write a blog post I’m tempted to just flick it shut again. I feel like every sacred cow stops chewing its cud and raises its apathetic head in dull surprise at the snicking sound the mechanism makes. This is due to an inflated sense of self-importance. A half day will pass between one sentence and the next. Who was it wrote “Above all do not make yourself important by doubting”.
When I was out at the ranch I was happy, and when I was in town I took the usual sustenance I take in the coffee shops I like, just being part of human ebb and flow, of civil normalcy. I bought new long black underwear, I visited family briefly, listening more than talking, like in the coffee shops. I did a little business, I was commissioned. I let cnn wash over me for an evening, visiting my mother. It’d be a lot different visiting people if they didn’t each have a large supposedly informative and entertaining head narrating filmed disasters and tracking celebrity and wars looming near . Different. One would be more tempted to visit. I bought a Claiborne black wool pea-jacket at the second-hand store for eight dollars.
I didn’t clean up the garden in town for winter, I hardly wed it this past summer, let it run wild, as I let myself run. An old garden. It was my grandmother’s on the family place in town. I never minded. Mostly perennials anyway now. I felt an immense relief just letting things run their course, letting things for once fight out their territories, strangle one another for soil and sun, go to seed, die back, if not entirely die. lush, rampant. it’ll do it all good, I thought to myself and also of myself.
When I visited my mother last I wandered down into the back yard by the river under a hysteria of young crows lolling in the high rolling tops of the pines above me. They were the new generation, they didn’t recognize me. They stopped clamoring after a bit, noticing their elders were not alarmed. They remember and pass on information. They connect dots.
At the ranch the gardens are new, practical, root crops, peppers, garlic. squash, kale. The young lad put in a pretty little orchard a couple of years ago. He lost three trees to that first brutal winter. He planted some glads for some reason, and they thrived in the long sweet grass under the trees, lavish, old-fashioned, unlikely. He has a hand for growing. There’s an ongoing tease about his pumpkins, a joke so bad it always makes me laugh.
There isn’t so much sentiment at the ranch, there aren’t four generations of horticultural recollections and bickering, not so much grief as in my old family garden. A little pre grieving but not even much of that old habit of mine. I shed things and I find relief. As you know that has been my pattern these past years, holding only to the lad, to work, to you, I see that, now that I look back. As I said to you at dinner the night before you flew out… I turned my head away from you at the oversize banquette, and I said don’t be scared off by it but that’s the way it is.
At the ranch I followed your posts on facebook , from the autumn in Toronto to a Hong Kong boutique hotel. A room that looked like it was made of paper and glass. Saw you soaking in a wooden hot spring’s tub half way up fuji in a forest shelter, expensive, primitive. Ease for the lingering pain of your rib cage surgery. I have an xray showing your heart in my files.
Around me in the cafe I could hear the accent of the place, I always long for that, if not for what is said. Remember I joked a little cruelly about the village idiot here in a post last year? This year they put up banners to appreciate this village’s one hundred and fiftieth year, hung them from the old-fashioned wired telephone poles I love to draw along the street. They put up simple homely stuff like old photos of young toughs sprawling outside the long gone pool hall. There among them is the ancient face on the town fool, smiling kindly. It is no easy matter to live out any human archetype. And perhaps impossible entirely.
I remember thinking about this as I waited for your return from a Tokyo shopping trip you’d planned, for shoes, for under things, for jewelery at a store you’d hunted down on-line. You posted pictures of your breakfast, the elegant presentation of notions of western sandwiches, The coffee in a can we’d joke about later,in a facebook thread, when you got to Hiroshima and couldn’t find a turkey dinner on thanks giving day. I said no north American thanksgiving in Hiroshima babe, funny old world, poor lad, have another can of coffee drink’ and the chatters laughed out loud in abbreviated type.
You in your lithe, dog-like body wearing a kimono and a wolf head ring in a paper room in Hiroshima, eye to eye with me on Skype. Better the complexity and hard work of one’s own reasonable ideals than someone else’s, better one’s own hell than another’s heaven. Simple enough.
Here in a video clip, merrily drunk, you reel against a wall of slot machines in a cavern lined full of them. I can only just hear your swearing above the machine racket. I See the wolf head ring in the phone camera… I’m the only person I think at that moment who knows what makes that canine blur at the bottom of the video screen. I guess it would be to the south the cracked reactor hisses in relief.
I spent thanks giving on a farm alone, the last heat of the Indian summer loosening my hips. What a long warm autumn we’ve had here. I do feel at a loss on public holidays still. My solitude surprises me. There were little finger bowls of bud here and there about the elegant rooms. There were hippie Buddhas carved in soft glassy cheap jade smiling inwardly, blandly, in niches and on the deep window sills. In accordance with eastern practices most of the seating was at floor level and my ankles hurt so badly when I stood up from the low computer table that I felt old after just a little time on facebook, with its turkey jokes and digital touches, so totally grade six.
I played a bit, was taking some video for a music video and I got carried away on the heat and desire and the fire colored trees. I went out to the barn in the heat in just my t-shirt and jeans and undressed slowly before my laptop camera, slung myself from a chain for a fantasy. The sky was a blue gas flame color. The light through the barn boards striped my back. The stuff people don’t want to hear about when they ask me what informs my painting. As luckily, lately, they do.
Who are the men in the portraits? Ah the origins, the antecedents, the preferred narrative, the false confession. The petty and often fatal holding on, perfectly understandable, to what one knows is fleeting, to the accord and mutuality of desire one sometimes finds. The marks, brush made or on the back with fingernails. the friction, the ignition, the deep sleep of sleep’s connoisseurs, what used to be called the little death, though it is nothing of the kind, the damp sleep, the half drowse happy, solitary at some late night place, a bit of a chill at a corner table with the smell of another on one’s fingers. Sneaking a cigarette.
I’m a painter, the sort of painter who is interested in catching a likeness.
Familiarity with another body once it inspires me, or challenges my ability to commemorate it adequately, never moves into over-familiarity. I mistook this for a monogamous tendency for some time, or fit into monogamous romantic frameworks because of it. I liked feeling crucial to the course of an admirable day, thinking my own day as a painter throughly inadmissible.
One sheds things using the power of reason, considering all things, not quickly. The heart lags behind, kicking at its own heels in indecision and if it isn’t the heart, then a memory lingers of the pleasures in one’s lost belief or nurture. Things seemed simpler though they were not. The head knows though, that it is better to have the complexities of freedom than the complexities of…not.
I was more or less married for a long time. I had him wither up and die in my arms and I found him beautiful.I wrapped him up in a blanket and sat across the room, sometimes looking at him, sometimes looking fixedly away, as if at the future, with his cat on my lap . I sat until the men came and took him away, the black vehicle gee-hawed at an angle where it had skidded to a stop on the ice in the drive below the window in which .I remained a while. I was looking out. I pass that place in town, that upper room where I sat, and don’t feel much,
Someone came, people arrived, a quiet Indian woman tucked me into our, my bed. I worked on a little portrait of him. While things were fresh. Being needed, necessary for too long, is a peril in the sickroom, and after. I finished off the cancer’s morphine, bit by bit, over a few months, It made me able to work at the bar down the street and at the easel, and when I figured I’d withdrawn from him, from our life, I withdrew from the drug, knowing the drug would be the easier wrench. For all his violence, for all his tenderness. I was wise in my way. I was alone, it didn’t matter how I managed that. I booked a show.
I was no longer necessary to anyone in particular. I painted a few self portraits, desperate for a likeness to myself but mostly I stuck to salable subject matter . That was a long time ago. I shouldn’t haul up those times. I read back and this public journal is too much a fever chart of that grief. My luck in love is good. In time I found erotic, breathtaking, familiarity again. familiarity. endless stranger-hood. I try to have a light touch, but I lose my temper sometimes in rural accents. I said I’ve never felt this and it was true. Up all night looking over our fever charts.
On the news last week I heard that the submarine commander who’d sunk my old friend’s lover and all those children had, in his long-awaited turn, died, the last of those commanders, whatever you call them. The tv was preparing us for the veteran’s day sales. My other friend, the one whose family died in Warsaw, fighting. After the war he was booted out of the country because he wouldn’t cast as ingénue a singer he called old, fat , ugly, and untalented in some forgotten role. Some power’s girlfriend. So he packed his baton, came to Canada and lived in a rural church basement, minding the choir. He ran an extension cord into his basement room so he could run a television and learn the language. In time he was conducting orchestra here. I used to drink with him, no real help to him climbing into his tuxedo before performances. He took a Canadian orchestra with him back to Poland in the end, for a tour, played the halls of his youth. The chandeliers glittered on his progress, his regress. He took the orchestra on a walk through Auschwitz. His ambitious little wife found it boring, morbid. He came home to his couch in Canada, and closed his eyes then, finally, on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Remembrance day.
Remember how I used to have those strange dogs appear on the road when I walked to town? I used to write to you about them… it isn’t unusual to run into loose dogs in the country of course, but these appearances always spooked me, you and I were always talking about lone wolves, urban, rural. me . you. Totem animals, affectation. Yesterday the lad called me wolf-like in my hungers in a note he left when he went off.
There was that time I heard rattling behind me on the crusted snow and turned and there was that big black dog dragging a chain thick as my arm. He stopped and stared at me when I turned to him and stared back. I tried to catch him so he wouldn’t string himself up but he took off up the road. I’d been having dreams about visits with Anubis at his country retreat, he was treating me with tinctures and he was often impatient with me. He’d have the head of a dog one minute and a man’s head the next. I’d have tea. So I was looking at dogs closely, I did a couple of paintings of dogs, bad, garbaged things, from photographs, of my father’s hunting hounds. I used to spend all my time, by choice, in the pen with them.
I come home, back, I grab a smoke, I’m alone. I’m free till later in the evening. For a while I pile some firewood. I’m standing in the dim light after dark in the garage, my forearms sore, staring off into the night, staring off into schedules and stars. I’m painting in my head.
The sky, full moon. made me nervous. I was wanting to run under the hunter’s moon one last time. Not on the to do list tonight. I was sad for a lot of reasons and I had no right to any of them. Fortune’s son. You slough off things using the power of reason, considering all things, not quickly.
I’d emptied my wheelbarrow of firewood, I’d stacked another row on the pile, and I stood looking out into the night. There was a bit of a gliding blackness in my peripheral vision and I turned around. A big black husky with white eyes was standing behind me, just looking. He lifted his head and looked at me eye to eye for about thirty quiet seconds, and then he turned and eased away. Never saw that dog before. There’s always a lost hunting dog this time of year but he was no hound. I went out to watch him disappear down the drive, but he veered off across the little orchard and threaded his lone black ass straight through the raspberry patch and into the bush. I thought a regular dog would have stuck to the road.
Who knows when wisdom appears as a stray, insubstantial as a thought. You don’t want to project any magical status on the entirely animal. You don’t want to admit to magical thinking, but a lot of your thinking is simply that. Half-breed and maybe given to it genetically, but you don’t want to make hay about it. More given to the vintage black Armani than the buckskin really. While we’re talking about skins, about clothing for the urban wolf.
In Japan you tracked down that purveyor of men’s gear with the wolf logos. You bought a ring at the jewelery counter. You had to leave the euro zone to find it, you felt like the only Caucasian for miles, out in some industrial park and you couldn’t get over how rude we white urban people are. Things were wiped with a soft clean cloth and wrapped for you, and wrapped again in layers of smooth tissue..
The almost stylized beauty of that near wolf standing behind me on a warm November evening in a low lit woodshed reminded of your ring . He materialized there, silently, seemingly. Connect the dots. I think I spoke to him, asked some gentle teasing about the weather. More afterthought than an utterance, and there was not a flicker in his eyes of his having heard me. He stood with his body in profile and his face, framed by its short brisk ruff, turned toward me. The ruff made him look slightly Shakespearean, comical. an elegant fur collar on a friend of the young Romeo. A loyal guardsman, smitten with chaste affection.
The blue eyes had nothing to say to me,. Any thing he had to say to me was in his presentation. A sort of comfort with time and gravity. The sort of comfort I was seeking in my skin. Not having to explain. I wondered at that dog’s antecedents and intentions, in my language in my head as he stood there looking at me. I stood in my old skin restless for renewal in a woodshed down a dirt road. in deer season. Winter was killing off everything in the greenhouse, the young lad’s orchard was barren and twisted, a night mare by the one eared Dutchman under the foreign seeming hunting season moon. I hadn’t walked in the bush for two weeks for fear of getting shot at, I felt confined.
This dog that appeared in the garage though was no lost half blue tick, half walker fox-hunting hound, this was pure bred, a tall and lanky wolf like beast. Not one of the scrappy sled dogs you see in these parts, half whatever wandered through the dog yard. He wasn’t dirty or lolling froth in the canine weariness of a chase or obsessive journey. The thick spit of a long haul. No doubt he was built to pull, he was no pup , but he’d do just as well on the picture postcard and calendar as the trail. He’d licked himself clean , I could tell.
He was Mostly black with balanced white tuxedo patches, and emphatic white punctuation marks over each milk blue eye. Rather an elegant creature for these parts. A natural dandy if unconscious of it, which always gives a poignant grace to those rare creatures. Lad’s like that when he hops outa the bathtub. I should have fed the wolf he wrote me in a note this morning, meaning me, joking about my cranky mood the previous evening. My walk increased rather than diminished it.
He was right too, but you are the friend who refers to me as a wolf sometimes, and his use of the word startled me as he hauled me down to the couch and positioned me there to rest his head on my chest. I’d been a little sharp. He wanted comforting. elation in good luck flaring in my chest. There’s the routine, the Armani glasses I tug off his eyes when he falls asleep, the myopic stare he gives me without them that fires me. His blind Nana who he resembles. His quick study of me.
I notice I hardly bat an eye any more moving from the city to the country back and forth. I crave the city, the anonymous impressions. A paucity of ghosts. A thin man in a dandy outfit. I’ll step off the street car and then there’ll be fall leaves under the boot toes, on the doormat inside the Jamaican coffee place. Time to take up the sleek gadgets of global positioning and erotic discourse. The pleasure timed to course through the brain by the time I settle to a table. A little inspiration. I’ll think this over. this page, when I get to the city. I’ll look at marginal notes that tell me to: remember the sub plot, remember the concert tour in the salt mines. mention the restless knuckle cracking in sleep. that dog in the garage. Mention this, mention that.
Try to include Something I found on one of your profiles:
An old Cherokee told his grandson, “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil – It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, & ego. The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, & truth.” The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?” The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”
2 thoughts on “A Regular Dog. A Quick Study”
I love your writing Rocky . It always takes me to a different magical place. Keep doing what you do with your writing and painting . You are an inspiration.– Thank you.
Rock – this was, as the kids are saying now, sick (in a good way) – oddly enough, someone else just sent me the last bit about the two wolves – strange bit of synchronicity that … “some days I’m claustrophobic with memories and its triggers” – ain’t that the truth. Have been eaten with a soul-destroying depression of my own since mid-August (endogenous) – 1st in about 6 yrs so am stymied about how to rid myself of such crap. Anniversary of my brother’s death is coming fast and don’t imagine that’s going to help any. Spending part of last two summer’s in Europe did, esp. Italy, and plan to go again this year. Anyhow, tired of bitching but did enjoy reading your words – with which you have an incredible way – I hope you know that … for a painter who writes and vice-versa, you are one amazing dude. Keep on keepin’ on. S