Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Surviving Strangeness

                   My bachelor uncle, actually my mother's uncle, owned a farm, on which I spent every  moment I could from childhood into late adolescence. It has now, alas, been devoured by the great plastic octopus that goes by the name, incongruous to me, of development. Back then, though, it had the woods and fields and critters I craved and still do. 

I was fascinated by the ample cellar under the old man's old house, and especially by an odd sound (an archaic water pump, I now suspect), which emanated from far back in an unlit corner. I was at once scared and intrigued by that noise, and recently decided, some six decades and more later, to recall, as best I can, some of the feelings that came upon me not only on hearing the strange report from Whatever-It-Was but also on doing some of the earliest reading I can recall. 


Some oddities can settle forever
Within a mind– like that noise from within
My bachelor uncle’s cellar,
The unimaginable, deepest part
Where gravel gave way to dirt:

First, an almost inaudible whining,
And then that awful, protracted wheeze,
As of some strange animal fighting
In the gloom to muster its own air.
I’d make myself stand right there

By the steps to listen, every visit.
Not that I ever dared to walk  
Toward that recess, hidden
And dark. No, darker than any dark.
My little flashlight’s arc

Played over the mouth of what seemed a cavern,
The beast inside now a wolverine,
Now something vaguely like a lion
Or a scaly dragon from picture books
That stood by my bed in their nook.

Today I can make my own grim cave
In thought, where hordes of monsters crouch
That could carry my family off.
My ears have tinnitus, constant ringing,
Which almost recalls the breathing

Of the dreadful thing. That gruesome sound.
I can all but see the tight-coiled snake
That waits for someone alone
Like me. The bird flu, SARS, ebola–
All can be bears or bulls or

Outsized scorpions, jackals in packs.
And I doubt I’ll ever fathom why
One Little Golden Book
About a clan of peaceful gorillas
Should with each reading have thrilled me

And frightened me so, above all the mother
Ape’s last words to her infants at evening.
Some oddities live forever.
“Sleep,” she told them. “Don’t suck your thumbs,”
Which meant night was coming on.

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