Sport 14: Autumn 1995
P. Michael Campbell
Otherwise, he had an aversion
To projects of beautification,
Preferring the rugged or jagged
Sawed-off ends of pipe and chain,
Cemented post holes and black clods
Of soil, to the finer, delicate world
Of lace drapery and placemats,
The surgical accuracies of cooking
And cleaning he left to my mother
And sister. But, after the doctors
Pronounced his death sentence,
One year, maybe more if his luck
And kidneys held out, he improbably
Planted rose bushes, dozens of
Them, along the fence and driveway,
And spent hours tending them, clipping,
Pruning and pampering them. He
Preferred the deep reds and soft white
Buds lined with delicate veins and would
Sit in a folding deck chair under the
Umbrella tree in the back yard, chain
Smoking and surveying the progress
Of his garden. The medication he was
Taking made him susceptible to cuts
And he often bled from his fingers or
Cheeks, from thorn scratches or
Razor nicks, his blood failing to clot,
Dripping in thin lines down his wrists
Or face. ‘It’s nothing,’ he would say
When I pointed to this or that cut, and
It was only at my insistence that he
Would wipe away the lines with
An old wash cloth or wet paper towel.
The plaid curtains, green and red, and the branches
of the tree, and the leaves of the plants, and the grey
sky that was everywhere, and the plaid curtains
moving almost imperceptibly or possibly not moving
at all, the two pound bag of tortilla chips, the red
countertop and the red and green curtains, the grey sky
that is everywhere and the grey shadows of the curtains
moving, the thin line of light wavering, the light coming
from the overlap of the curtains on the adjoining wall
which are not moving now, the red shopping bag on the
floor beside the white and brown box, the white walls
and grey shadows, the green tile floor with patterns
of leaves and the darker green shadows, a single yellow
banana sits curled on a red counter, and a loaf of bread
still wrapped in plastic lounges atop the refrigerator.
Rather after ‘ever after’ remember …
I have a friend (more an acquaintance
Really, a short guy, well muscled,
Married to the sister of a friend) who,
By the bad graces of contingency and
Chaos, lost everything to an aneurysm
Of the intercranial persuasion, a power
Surge at an inopportune moment, forgot,
I guess, to save, as they say, and he
Literally, cell by cell, had to remember
A new world of sounds and images,
Self portrait of the honorable Baron von
Frankenstein, betrayed only by a tendency
To slur certain phrases and a slight
Twitch, told all this to us over dinner
One evening last summer, matter-of-factly,
As if bending to drink from the fountain
At some inconsequential shopping mall or
Elementary school, found suddenly
Water to be everywhere. All is ocean
Says the sailor. All is emptiness says
The neural surgeon. The space within
Us echoes, he says, with every surging
Breath. Every heartbeat. All is song
Says the electrician, tapping his fingers
To some imagined melody. Happily.
I grew up in an unincorporated area between Loma Linda,
San Bernardino, and Redlands, in Southern California.
Last year, when there was a ‘hostage situation’ on Gould Street,
One block over from my parents’ house, Dan Rather referred
To it as ‘a working class neighborhood.’ When I was young,
Before this sliver of fields and houses was annexed last year
By the city of San Bernardino, before an influx of Mexicans
And Asians forever altered the area’s ethnic composition,
Before the yuppies came in the seventies to take advantage
Of cheap housing and the sixty-mile commute to Los Angeles
And left in the late eighties when the bottom fell out
Of the real estate market, before my dad died last September
And my mother sold the house and moved in with my sister
In Idaho, before the world as we knew it then became the world
As we know it now, the area east of Tippecanoe, south of
The dry Santa Ana River bed, west of Lugonia Avenue,
and north of Devoll’s Market was known, to the locals, as Okieville.
It was a community populated by those who had headed west
During the Dust Bowl and thereafter, had migrated to Salinas
To pick lettuce and to Redlands to pick oranges and to pack
Oranges at the packing houses adjacent to the railroad tracks.
One of my grandfathers came west with the railroad and retired,
Disabled, in Okieville, after falling from a moving train car.
My other grandfather came to build houses and later built and
Operated a store, Campbell’s Shade Tree Market, a half block
From my old house on Hardt Street. The store is still there,
Or rather, the building is still there, a faded green now, an oddly
Rectangular edifice, long and green with a tall, thin intersecting
Rectangle of green on the right side that serves as a sign. My mom
Many years ago had painted a shade tree on both sides of the
Sign and carefully lettered the name of the market. There are still
Trees in the cracked blacktop parking lot, casting shadows, but
There are only weeds and an old tractor parked there under them.
The city has lopped off a section of the blacktop to make a crude
page 153 Drainage ditch, and the entire property is fenced off. Still,
Since my grandfather died and my grandmother moved north
To be taken care of by my cousin, the fence has been scaled
Several times, the back store door kicked in, and the store looted.
There is a trail of wet cardboard boxes and assorted wrappers
Leading from the store door to the fence, trailing off at the ditch.
I went back for probably the last time in December. My mother
Sold the house to a nice Vietnamese couple with one kid and
Another on the way. They agreed to keep our dog, an Australian
Shepherd, which was a relief to all of us. My niece had named
The dog Cutie, which seemed inappropriate for a male but which
Stuck nonetheless. However, when my dad took Cutie for shots
Sometime later and the vets asked for the dog’s name, my dad
Hesitated and then, apparently embarrassed, responded ‘Sheriff’;
Thereby, renaming him. We had a yard sale to make some money
And to get rid of a lifetime’s accumulation of tools and utensils,
books, wood scraps, fishing gear, weights, bags of fertilizer and
Cement, furniture, the broken lawn mower. The neighbors and
Collectors began gathering almost before dawn. Sheriff ran up
And down the front fence barking at them to no avail. They stood
Their guard, studying their watches and newspapers, waiting
For the moment we would open for business. I felt besieged and
Compared them to Penelope’s suitors in The Odyssey. My mom,
Better schooled in such matters, simply called them vultures and
Went about her business. The sky was overcast and a light drizzle
Was forecast. At seven a.m., I carried some last-second additions
Out to the patio. There I found an older Indian woman rummaging
Through a box. ‘Is 8 o’clock,’ she said, pointing to her watch.
‘Is not,’ I replied as I escorted her to the gate. All day long, they
Came, folks by the hundreds, friends, neighbors, acquaintances,
Collectors. My mom and my sister dealt good naturedly with the
Insistent bargaining. ‘A quarter,’ said a Cambodian woman from
Across the street. ‘No,’ my sister said, ‘It’s marked a dollar.’
Later, the same woman approached my mom, holding the same
Used telephone before her. ‘A quarter,’ she said. My mom shook
Her head no and continued talking to the Mexican couple from
Up the street. I stood at the gate totalling prices and collecting
page 154 Money, watching the swarms of buyers rummaging through the
Boxes of odds and ends that lined the driveway from where I
Stood all the way to the garage. Finally, almost a half hour later,
The Cambodian woman approached me, the telephone still
Clutched before her. ‘A quarter,’ she said. ‘Is only worth a quarter.’
I bit my lip and continued collecting money in a weathered manilla envelope.
Today on television a man described his own castration, how his girlfriend’s ex-lover beat him severely with a blunt object and cut off his penis with a knife. He told this with a certain clinical distance, as if it had happened to someone else—in the scientific tone one would expect of a doctor, or a paid guest on a morning talk show.
I turned off the television. I felt sick, but then I was feeling sick before the program. The flu, as they say. A fever. Vomiting. Etc.
And I picked up a book on Baudelaire, a very academic book. —a book using words like valorize, simulacrum and signifier. —a book citing sources like Blanchot, Bersani, and Benjamin. —a book about castration. —about castration in some figurative sense. Something or other about absence, Lacan and the phallus as a mask. —about the false security of the phallus. —about the phallus as the absence of the phallus. —about the absence of the phallus as the presence of the phallus. —etc.
I put down the book. I no longer felt sick, but then I was feeling better as the day wore on, anyway. The sun came out and lit the white facade of the apartment complex across the street. I took a shower and went out for lunch.
I was reading this book the other day They Love and Kill when she walked in—her hair in curlers.
Not tonight she said. Another time would be better.
Another night I agreed.
I was reading this book They Love and Kill about animals and their sex lives when she walked in—her face red, her hair backlit.
Not tonight she said. Another night.
Another night I agreed would be better.
The chapter about the walrus was particularly interesting. I read part of it to her:
The weight of the male walrus can crush the female walrus during copulation.
She was not amused.
It was Wednesday. I was writing a poem. She sat on the couch opposite me also writing a poem.
I finished first and waited.
I was sitting on the couch writing a poem when she walked in—her face tired. She hadn’t been sleeping well and the bags under her eyes were dark and puffy.
Not tonight she said.
The way she looks has a lot to do with it. If she thought she looked better …
She was sitting on the couch reading a novel by Ann Beattie when I walked in.
Another time she said would be better.
It was Saturday. My face was red from the sun. She was sitting on the couch reading.
Another time? I asked.
She looked up. The sun through the window fell on her face. The light was harsh but she looked attractive—her eyes were bright, she was smiling.
Another time she said would be better.
I am sitting on the couch reading the Sunday paper—the weekly TV supplement—when she walks in, her hair in a loose bun, her red t-shirt falling comfortably, seductively from her shoulders.
What are you reading? she asks.
I read her the synopses of several movies—including a series of Blondie pictures:
Blondie Plays Cupid, Blondie Goes Latin, Blondie’s Anniversary, Blondie Goes to College, Blondie’s Big Deal, Blondie Has Servant Trouble, Blondie’s Big Moment, Blondie Knows Best, Blondie’s Blessed Event, Blondie Meets the Boss.
You’re kidding she says.
Blondie, Dagwood and Mr Dithers head for Latin America on business.
The Bumsteads conceal their marriage when they go back to college, but the plan backfires when they both find romance with others.
Dagwood decides to fireproof his boss’s house with disastrous results. Blondie and Dagwood find the mansion they’re staying in is haunted.
We fool him—we no go to the ballgame.
Dagwood accidentally smears jelly on his new boss.
It is Saturday. She is sleeping on the couch when I walk in. My face is red.
I sit on the chair opposite the sofa. The sun shines through the window onto her shoulders.