Friday, September 17, 2010


Then I remember. The violence of the boarding school before I pulled my own version of power on the place.

A song from the boarding school time is playing. I have put Willie Nelson on the tape deck. He is from this summer, this time in my aqua Mustang, and he is singing a very old Frankie Laine song. A song that I have not heard since 1950. Nineteen-fifty when I was 15 and the song was everywhere. It was on the juke box in Edgar's Diner in the town. And in the school it was blasted out of dormitory rooms.

That song which was so stupid when my tomentors kept on playing it, and then seemed gential and sad when I heard it again this summer on a Willie Nelson tape. This new time in which all time sometimes seems to be the same time.

I am back shy but bullying them into respecting me by filling up the school's trophy case. I am awkward but causing them to be consumed with envy because my girlfriend is so appealing. Making them see that my new grades prove I am smarter than they are. When I had done all that I had thought nothing more could go wrong. And now I knew how much unfinished business there still was then, just as I have come to see how much unfinished business there still is now. As I remember where am going and how much is still at stake.

Up in the morning, out on the job,
Work like a devil for my pay
But that lucky old sun has got nothing to do,

But roll around heaven all day.

The family in Sugar Hill, so safe seeming with their popovers, Floating Island and Anglophilia. My grandfather with his distinguished walking stick. My grandmother orchestrating formal finger bowl dinners. Their compliant children. And their children’s children.

My generation. The dead or walking dead – suicide, drugs and incest. Me in peril recently, a foreign war zone enemy of my twin in the CIA. Now Cousin Lauryn, the youngest, my favorite, beaten and fucked before puberty, back now, sprung from a battered women’s shelter.

I go for years without seeing those mountains but I know now they are always there in consciousness - even when I am in more honest war zones far away. And in this new time, 1986, I realize that also in consciousness, every day of my life, whatever might be happening, there were and are always songs in my head. Never sung aloud, for I do not sing yet – but always in my head. Songs. A parallel if hidden reality – a world beyond.

Fuss with my woman, toil for my kids,

Sweat till I’m wrinkled and gray.

But that lucky old sun’s, he’s got nothing to do,

But roll around heaven all day.

So fine, this working man’s chant. In the Mustang I feel so fine, though driving into the belly of the beast. I fear for Lauryn, who has returned…

She was going to be a dancer. I drive north to do battle with the ravenous past.

Dear lord above, don’t you know I’m pining,
Tears are in my eyes,
Send down that cloud with a silver lining,
Lift me to paradise.

The night is blacker than I had expected. I reach Franconia Notch, this mountain pass that takes you into those old summer places, as it has since some point in the early 19th century when pioneers found the way through it. I am deep now in the Notch, with Cannon Mountain rising on my left though it is too foggy to see the Old Man of the Mountains rock formation that juts out precariously high above the small, placid Profile Lake. On my right is Mt. Lafayette, taller and harsher. I am actually up here in the mountains, driving on this very dark night between these two landmarks of the Franconia Range, which you can see from a distanced in the center of the panoramic view from Sugar Hill. There is no starlight, no moonlight, no traffic except me. I sense more than I can see of the icy black granite that rises on either side.

In a whirling rush, a fierce early mountain snow storm, like out of the past, it creates a full white-out. Opaque whiteness. I can see nothing in front of the car. I slow to a creeping crawl and pull over to what I hope is a safe shoulder. I stop.

Once again, just the sort of thing so feared by the upright people who were my people in the rich houses – the way they feared lightning strikes on golf courses, and the larceny of poor people and brake failures on ill-kept mountain roads, and hunters’ bullets in the woods, and non-Episcopalians, including cute New Englanders who use the adjective “wicked.”

No way to tell in the white-out if I’ve stopped the Mustang in the middle of the Notch road where something might crash and crush me.

No way to tell if I’m on a shoulder at a ravine with no guard rail.

Am I to die here so near to where I began? Die listening to old music and remembering old scenes. Die in this whiteness just as the past is coming clear?

Show me that river, take me across,

Wash all my troubles away,

Like that lucky old sun, give me nothing to do,

But roll around heaven all day.

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