I am not quick.
The air is cool.
A free-write begins. A list of words shared: quick cool trolley solitaire Paradise . . .. Four women at a table at Third Street Stuff, in Lexington, Kentucky. Concrete trucks outside the plate glass window. A utility ditch being filled. The street loud with its repair.
No more trolleys
move us past the city’s
edge into seas of grass.
And who whitewashes
anything now, as we did
the chicken house that summer?
Paradise long afternoons
of solitaire—three of us
on Grandma’s bed,
cards tilting off columns. Each of us quiet. Only the slip and slap of 8 on 9 or Jack on Queen, and later the cool side porch, its concrete smooth and gray, our paints and brushes laid out, Paint-by-Number making us feel like real artists.
What makes me feel like a real artist now, decades later? The time to lose myself in a page, slow sketching or seeing all at once the way sentences fit into a shapely whole, the possible poem inside a scribble. More than what I’ve published or where I’ve taught, what assures me all is well with my artist self is making something. The never certain motion of pen across the page, picking up speed as I go.
If we weren’t so hard on ourselves, wouldn’t it be easier? Unforced as those hours with the shades drawn, the whir of a fan, turning the cards over and over until something fits. Okay with losing the game – expecting to lose more often than win in the rhythm of our pattern-making, the order art makes, the way a shadow (the darker brown in our paint-by-number horse’s face) lets us see its rounded eye, the angle of the emerging equine cheek.
These summer days gone – 1956, -57, -59, -60 – stay in me somewhere, breathe with the slow exhale of times when the world was in place and I fit there, 7 always landing under an 8. Nothing perfect or even okay much of the time. Everyone, even then, torn by grief. The air in those quiet rooms sometimes caught, sharp as a sob. Uncle Russell, steady, sweet, gone at 42 in 1958. A wound that sank through us that year, day by day, though it sealed over like the surface of Aunt Ella’s lake, like the early 1960’s years took her and her one-year-old grandson, too, both too soon. A breeze riffling the water, a cloud shadow on the yard.
A great big paint-by-number, this living – all light and shadow, splotches of white, greens, slivers of blue. The image, different from the edge of each decade, emerges, even as I sit in this coffee shop writing with women I could not have imagined then. Together we remind each other not to be so hard on ourselves, to write as if we were playing solitaire, for the hush and slip of words, the pattern that sometimes shows through. Because in many ways Paradise is always Now—if we let go and sink into making, into being.