Tuesday, August 25, 2009

XXXVI: Clarke VIII, The Way II: The Wrong Way.

I got emotional last night.

"I've got to finish this thing with the Trees," I said to Clarke over a beer. We were sitting in chairs on his backyard lawn, watching the sunset.

"Yeah, you sure do go out there a lot," he said. "But I don't know what you're all upset about." I had my eyes closed in quiet, intellectual anguish. I lifted my face, lit a cigarette, and took a deep breath. He laughed at me, asking "What are you getting so worked up about?"

I laughed too -obligatorily. "Yeah, you're right. But I'm scared I'm wasting my life on something unworthy of my attention."

"Well, I don't know," said Clarke, uncomfortably, watching the light tone of the conversation collapse.

"It's like you divorcing Leonore," I insisted -getting a little too personal. "You look back on that time with her and you've got regrets. Imagine you could talk to your 27 year old self and tell him how to avoid whatever needed to be avoided with that situation. I'm trying to figure out what mistakes not to make, and I'm afraid obsessing over the Trees might be a doozy. Or I'm afraid of failing to act properly on that obsession."

Clarke was looking at me, hard. "But how can you know," he asked, "what's a mistake until you make it?"

I started to ramble. "Clarke, with the Trees," I began, then changed direction. "No." I exhaled and started over. "It's just that we live in a time when you can't do heroic stuff. Y'know? Unless you join the army or something there's no big moment where you get to discover if you're a coward or whatever, and so I've got to look at the way I walk to the grocery store or behave with my friends, and try to discern the same information. Am I doing these things well? Am I living well generally? How do you live well in a quiet world where nothing changes and people are mostly pretty content? Should I be out looking for injustices?" I took a sip of my beer.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Clarke replied. "But whatever it is, I think you're talking about it the wrong way." He refused to be any more specific.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I'm nursing my third Guiness, with two Dabs and a shot of Crown Royal also spinning around down there. Susan came over earlier and said, "why don't you get drunk, and I'll make you supper." She had 4 Guiness in one hand, and a grocery bag and some white wine in the other.

That girl wants to marry me. I'm sure of it.

I'll bet you anything I'm having sex tonight.

I probably shouldn't write that.

Susan put on Veckatimest. "I love this song," she said as 'Ready, Able' came on. Thank God for downloaded music. Album of the summer.

Friday, August 21, 2009

XXXIV: Mrs Scurfield IV

"Sometimes I think I’d like to just pave those Trees over,” I told Mrs. Scurfield as I watched her pull weeds from her garden yesterday. I’d been sitting on a lawn chair most of the afternoon, studying the Shaw essay while she worked.

She looked up alarmed. Like a parent with a child. “Oh no. I don’t think you would. You’ve got to be careful with that.”

“Well, in any case,” I said, “I can’t, ‘cos I don’t own the land they’re on.”

She straightened her shoulders to give me a second of hard attention and a grin, then began pulling out a large root system.

“I think I like hating them,” I offered. The noise of her work stopped again.

She looked at me for a while before saying, “I think you do too.”

“It’s comforting,” I offered.

She waited.

“But it’s not like I can get rid of them. And I don’t know how to stop, y'know, obsessing. So maybe enjoying the hatred is the best option for me.” I felt bad making this admission.

“And yet, here you are -dissatisfied,” Mrs. Scurfield observed, and resumed her selective apocalypse.

“Yeah.” Damn.

I think it really is time to confront my demons.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Woke up to the sound of a bird hitting my window. Put on some bacon, eggs, and Dylan’s Nashville Skyline -real quiet. Clarke came over for coffee before going to work. His eyes were wide and red, like he was forcing them open.

“It’s too early to be alive,” he said, sitting down.

“It’s 8:30.”

He grunted.

I pulled a joint out of my shirt-pocket and laid it on the table, for after breakfast.

“First thing in the morning?” laughed Clarke. “I wish I had your life.”

“You do have my life. You don’t need to work so much. What are these bills you’re rushing to pay?”

“Oh I know. But I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I didn’t work out there.”

“Okay. Fair enough.”

He left at 9. After breakfast I decided against the joint, and wandered over to the dump. Petesabooty met me at the gate. “How’m I supposed to beat the Trees, Pete?” I asked, throwing a broken hockey stick into a pile of ovens and refrigerators. The dog jumped into action. I could see Clarke in his loader across the yard, pushing stuff around. The sun was hot already.

Later, sitting in the lookout shed listening absently to CJNB with Clarke, he eyed me a little steadier than usual. “What are you doing spending all your time with a fifty year old?” he asked.

“I don’t like people my age, generally,” I answered. Which is true.

“That can't be healthy.”



“I dunno. I just see too much of myself in them, and I don’t like that. What’re you doing hanging out with a 27 year old?”

“I’m hoping you’ll bring some young girls around eventually.”

Friday, August 14, 2009

XXXII: Populous Tremuloides Explosion

I drove Birdie into Saskatoon last Sunday. She was catching a flight. I needed weed. Plus, it turned out the U of S had a copy of that Roger Shaw essay I've been looking for. Birdie was in the sky, heading towards Vancouver. I sat in a park reading the freshly photocopied masters thesis. Pretty heady stuff.

For example:

Management of the
Populus tremuloide's agroecosystem has led to an increase in local soil salination. While previous research... cites the diversion of water from atholassohaline water bodies for agricultural purposes as a possible indirect contributor in the morphometry of the crooked bush, recent findings... indicate successful micropropogation [of the crooked trees] is not dependent on soil factors.

My mind wandered. I got nostalghic.

I remembered first seeing the Crooked Trees when I was seven or eight, on a picnic with my family. I began having nightmares soon after. Always some variation of the same thing: the Trees were growing -writhing- in a large hall of mirrors, and I was locked in their roots and branches -which sprawled out over a marble floor. I'd wake up in a sweat.

Dad assuaged my fears by taking me out to the Trees several months later, and letting me watch them for long enough to realize they were harmless.

But when I learned about photosynthesis in school I was horrified all over again. Nature was not as stagnant as I'd hoped. It seethed with energy, like in my dreams, moving invisibly. Science conspired against my tranquility. The earth was breathing, like a sleeping giant -passively swallowing life; and the giant itself floated in hostile waters.

Hope lay in our increasing ability to manipulate the elements. We needed to be in control.

At thirteen years old I made a major discovery.

“The world's nuclear powers,” a teacher informed my class one day in grade seven, “have enough bombs to destroy the planet ten times over.” Something to that effect.

I smiled. Beside me in a notebook a friend drew the globe exploding. I copied his drawing. My notebooks in school were covered in versions of that doodle for years.

I used to lay on our thick carpet at home watching documentaries on the destruction of rain forests in Brazil, with a feeling rising in my belly that maybe, just maybe, everything would be okay.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

XXXI: Clarke VI

“I used to believe that the vast majority of people were, y’know -decent, and relatively intelligent. But I’ve lost that in the past couple years,” I told Clarke in the silence after a film in my living room. Clint Eastwood again. Escape From Alcatraz. Great movie.

“Well, God knows I’m a living genius,” Clarke said in reply, lighting a cigarette.

I laughed.

“You just thought that ‘cos you were young,” he said, as if continuing his previous thought. “And when people’re young they’ve got potential. So you looked around at all your friends in school and thought, ‘they’re just like me.’ And they were, ‘cos you were all going somewhere. But now you‘ve all arrived at the places you were going. And some of those places are better or they’re worse than others.” He cleared his throat and moved his eyes like he was trying to see inside his own head, going over his words. Then he shrugged.

“Think so?” I asked, smiling.

“What the hell do I know?” he said, rising from the couch and walking towards my kitchen. “This is a young person’s conversation. I‘m 56; I just want to watch TV, go fishing, and see some nice scenery for a couple decades. Maybe go to Alaska. Then I can die. The rest, I just don't care about.”

I laughed again. He looked at me from the 'fridge with a melancholy face. “Matthew, I coulda never done this with Leonore.” He reached deep into the top shelf. Two beer bottles emerged, gripped between his knuckles. His head was shaking. "God damn that woman made me miserable."

“I know Clarke. I remember.”

Thursday, August 6, 2009

XXX: The Way

I had a vision.

The sky was blackening in my painted-bright community. I was a man with disproportionately large features. 7 feet tall, but in way that in photographs made me look like a short man enlarged.

I could run so much faster than everyone. I saw above the world, like an emerging airplane. And I was smarter.

No one knew where I was from: Hafford, Hawaii, or Ho Chi Minh.

Finally, Clarke appeared -but looked different. He warned me, “Don’t spread the wisdom. If you’ve wasted your life, at least you can still brush your teeth without looking away. You figured out how to beat them, and you did beat them. And that is the end."

The Trees. I think I've found a way.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

XXIX: Susan II

It got windy yesterday afternoon. A hot wind. Susan and I were sitting beneath the Trees. It began as a long, sleepy gust that grew into hard, thick waves of summer air. We were half-way through a joint. “I feel so comfortable,” she said. “Like chocolate cake.”

I grinned.

The sky got loud and the Trees began to shiver. Our t-shirts whipped around our bodies until even our shoelaces got picked up in the gale. Susan’s hair was pressed like fabric over nose and mouth. We sat motionless in the dry, mounting bluster.

That’s the best I can do to describe it. Or I could just say, ‘The wind was incredible.’ I’d never seen the Trees move like that. It was like watching a lover cry for the first time. Though I acted more casual.

It reminded me of heaven, the way it was described in Sunday school.