Backward Reading

station

With a blog you read backward, through the archives, so there’s a backward narrative.
I try to be truthful but the farther back I read the more the writing seems fictive, self serving, the more my ignorance of time described embarrasses me; There isn’t much more wisdom in hindsight than in hope I think sometimes. I read back to see what reoccurs, reassuringly or accusingly. I read back as through fever charts for clues in the patterns. I’m holidaying, privileged and absurd, self diagnostic with my blackberry pad synchronized to my phone as a night train north snakes me out of my own province.

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There’s still snow in the now and then gullies below my window where lavish spring streams and rivers cut visual breaks in the grand monotony of spruce forest. Ice thins on the lakes, mere skin over the water of the small ones, or piled, shoved, cataclysmic on the shores of large lakes which show in moonlight no distant shore for the eye’s rest. I glance back through old posts to the beginning.
When I started writing here I was that bleary eyed widower, bored and boring, surprised that my social life was untenable without my spouse. Most of my friends were glad he was gone. He’d been critical of them. His criticism, intelligent and watchful like an old servant’s, had made them interesting to me. I had loved them, as he had done, but they could not see love in his satire, his rages, those anything but servile rages one has about the absurdities of one’s own generation. My friends heaved great sighs of relief and closed around me in my loss, helpful, nurturing. They saw more love in my rueful quiet than they had in his pointed observations. I had been a mediator, never a complete ally on either side. I had my own narrative and my own pair of eyes.
He was a novelist. He saved his compassion for his friends for his written portrayals of them, which, oddly met with their puzzlement and disdain. I could no longer abide the fare without his wink across the dinner table. I wrote or postured here in an obscure blog then about what seemed crucial to me alone and didn’t bear talking about in daily discourse and I wrote about only some of that.
Paintings are just so many skins of paint on cloth and maybe the words give them a little weight, though they shouldn’t need text. Light should suffice. I thought.

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Maybe I write here to circumvent stories others might care to write or tell.
I was just a painter who wrote on the side, to process my personal life. I found my most valid experience was in the intimate physical affair. This felt human, this admission. I didn’t lack identity, or the justification for existence a cultivated talent sometimes accrues. People admired my work. It was collected a bit. I could just about keep up with demand, move things out the door at an affordable price. a gallery would double the price and cost me more in the long run in paying for wine and advertising. I had a yuppy clientele. I was embarrassed by my own poverty. Still I am.
I moved to live in my rural hometown where I at least knew the various narratives made rich among the known, in time and gossip and confession, in deep talk and obfuscation. I took on the local dialect again in no time. I would be alone.
But I I saw a face in a crowd, that old refrain, across a room. love is harder work and greater pleasure than is painting for me. Painting grows out of it, instructed in contemplation by my lover’s elegant haunches, by this face or that. Painting gets its bullheadedness, its slavishness, by its eyesight renewed or for some painters, by the familiar domestic thigh.
Its hope (visionary, or mechanical, genetic imperative) is fuelled by a dare one think something. secured against passion’s fading. foolishness.

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Patterns repeat. He had a keen eye for the absurdities and the beauty of the place. I found it easier to love the town shared. He was loving in his narratives, his stories, but snide sometimes, mocking. Then I again felt I was not an ally. I was an uncertain observer.
I was lucky though currently lonely, The studio had a sort of feral loneliness in it. it was a bore, grimy with strain like an old mattress. My love was on holiday. Internet radio dramas and news, anything might distract my mind from the analysis and calculation in my head while I was painting. I completed commissions. My loneliness was all time and distance, constant jailers. I did not doubt his affection. we knew commitment and sacrifice, footloose greed. pride, embarrassment. poverty and access. I had the wolf too, loping the underground in the city, lithe in black leather in low pin lit back rooms. We are not unfaithful. we contract no a physical fidelity. We recognize perhaps a better one.
We stayed in touch, in excess, tapping into hand-helds at crosswalks, tapping under familiar and foreign bedding, worrying and blessing one another at wireless cafes with chain menus. You would have the oatmeal cookie. I’d break an apple fritter apart and think briefly of a better one years ago in San Francisco. You would have the butter tart. You like a bit of scruff. Meanwhile the other one could do without the muttonchops.

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if I wasn’t on this train i’d be having one of those custard tarts at the Jamaican’s in the city though, far from my home town. I’d have a phone in my pocket like evolution gone wrong though I suppose it just does as it does with no explanation or apology.
I can’t spend all my time chained up in that dog patch of a hometown. I imagine even old Atticus Finch had him something. A high yaller girl a couple hours drive and a conference on race relations north. They’d hole up in a little bar with a stand up bass waiting. i have a little multicultural neighbourhood in a nearby city. i shunt in on the train at all hours with some cash in my wallet and my keys to a long underground hallway, silent and cool little windows low at the ceiling. ,Each room is simply appointed off that pale tile hall with its interval pot lights set just to the edge of total darkness. I find cool and private like in a  fish aquarium, machinery gently pumping. Sleigh bed. couple of armchairs. bachelor cookery. Lights frame the mirror in the bath for scrutiny of presentation before one hits the streets above which I anticipate with pleasure.
In the closet a little grey tweed suit and a set of leathers, basic black and white underwear and sox in a drawer. Gadgetry whirring music and images and text in the bedroom like where the light is like an under lit home movie gloom, redolent with nostalgia and yearning for a clearer outline. I have a minimal paint kit and a stack of primed stretched canvasses. It is a chilly cave in the big smoke, courtesy of a friend and patron.
We’re a happily badmouthed pair, cynical in a neighbourhood that’s self consciously wholesome with internet and pastry cafes. i hear her move around upstairs in the morning and evening and that gives the day a normal rhythm or i would disappear into the low artificial light of the underground, no sense of the moon or sun traversing overhead, no rural dawn chorus or dusk of finches or lawnmowers, no dusk of crackheads on my small town street at home yelling into backstreet weak signal phones, no night of lumber trucks keening in cartoons of themselves in my dreams at night because of the highway on the other side of the river.
One of the nicest days I ever had was there with the lad, in the underground apartment. You think you won’t love again but you do. You feel like you’ve profaned a past monogamy by reaching for the buckles to undo them but you do not. You sanctify something greater than the past. It hurts the worst of one sometimes. You wish it’d just die. The lad’s young and I don’t want him to be alone as I was alone. None of that.

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Iroll in at all hours from walking. I only drink with one friend anymore and i don’t pine for company so I walk long and a lot. I’ll dandy up a bit in the morning and not set key to lock again until midnight. Sometimes Í’ll visit a friend i call the wolf in my head and here in this blog. but usually I walk around alone . I’ll dress carefully for the day and the  Jamaican place up the street where I’ll have my first coffee and medicate a little.
Oh the vanity of men.
Place ran out of coffee in the fancy new machinethe last time I was in. The owner made me my first daily cup in a sauce pan by hand while he ground more in his big machine for the urns. It had been an unexpectedly busy morning in that little yellow room that always feels ripe for the Dutchman’s irises. There’s an upright piano, stand up bass and an accordion poised for play on stage in the back. The new high tables and stools are still spaced for privacy. There’s a back door out to a garden through quavery old panes of french door glass. It feels private wherever you sit but there’s a lot of sizing and presentation, polite and appreciative. mostly men. Musicians, but there’s one good specimen of everything in the neighbourhood on a good morning. The place is my little oasis of kewl with fraying rattan seats out on the patio under the Christmas lights against a blind of bamboo stalks between me and the street and the elegant, irritating coming and going of streetcars. At the foot of the bamboo hardy dwarf tulips bloomed just a few days ago like punk lipsticks in the spring and look there’s the little runt irises I wanted to see, just the complement for that yellow on the walls inside.

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Up the street a bit and around a corner there’s a little art gallery I like.
Back home I’m told I don’t pursue notice and should seek marketing advice. But I have no backlog of pictures mouldering in stock. things seem to go out the door. my persistence is my artist’s political or spiritual statement, never enough for the curators. I need the sanction of a big time vendor. I need a brand more than these love bites on my throat and side. I need to paint more nudes. I need to paint fewer nudes and more nostalgic streetscapes. I need to get my Indian card and get on the grant chuck-wagon. I need to make posters for worthy causes and edges. I need to charge more and paint less or paint more and charge less.

I dunno. I get all hot under the collar and just go about it my same old way, making decorative wall pictures as love and the occasional commission move me and I write about the life those pictures come from, to dispel romancing or at least to supply my own and to complicate pigeonholing if it comes on its tireless clucking round.

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The train rolls forward across north Ontario. When I got on the midnight train I settled against a scratch on my back. I tasted the wolf on my moustache. I longed for the lad. I pictured him, I pictured them, sitting across from me one after another, as I travelled backward. The conductor roared at all the smokers for us to raise our hands and she tagged our luggage racks with blue ribbon. She said she was gonna wake us up before dawn for a brief stop and we then we could step out for a smoke. We weren’t to punch at her when she shook us awake at night and we were not to go out of her eyesight by day while we were off the train. I await the next stop. a surreal little gaggle of the addicted standing by the tracks in some side track or ghost town platform.

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Sometimes the wireless kicks in in those places, in my pocket on my tablet it vibrates a message alert. Sometimes the dogs are let out of the baggage car on taut leashes. There’s a tall french girl about twenty, never smokes but disembarks. just to run to the edge of the forest clearing we’re stopped in and she’ll peer into the dark under canopy all still herself like precipitately revelated. or shell find the last of the snow in a pile or a hard expanse and reach down to take a handful. This is a mythological landscape after a life in Paris. She dresses in pyjamas at night, white flowered flannels. She is tallest of us and the most childlike in her wonder. Like the lad. She doesn’t seem to feel the cold. The rest of us watch her against the landscape in her flowered print, a couple of rasta boys, men bound for oil sands work, a Lebanese man I’ve befriended. As a joke he told me I slept through the last smoke stop, joked that he’d tried to wake me and failed to do so, he said I was swearing loud and something awful. We are both travelling to lovers. He is svelte with technology strung like I like.

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There’s an Indian woman and her baby. I keep her in smokes and she poses for a portrait shot. She is very beautiful and stone cold seroius, as am I, about the pictures with that old worry of soul stealing. We never smile in our contract or even exchange banter. No names. No narratives. There’ll be shy discrete smokers I won’t notice to describe, plain folk, scenery in the narrative. those who roll a little dope in the end of a smoke and become friendly and animated, become storytellers or bemusedly, intimate in pose, who cock their ears in the exchange of brief tales told to indicate strength and character. They become central in the train side scenario briefly. They may become friends inside the train itself. that snaking journeyer, silver metal in moonlight against a fir forest. It can feel like a second world war movie when you stand in the snow by the train and the tracks. You look for straining German shepherd dogs on interrogative leads. You imagine you sense something sinister. You’ve seen a lot of movies and you picture box cars.

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The French girl in her bedroom slippers stands on her toes moonlit, out a ways from us. She is central too. We are all aware of her out there, just in view of the smoking conductor, elated a little away from us. You’d think we’d mock her for her strangeness, that there’d be a eye roll or a joke at her expense, but there never is, we never do.
I am scruffy in the glass. The shaver blade is a danger in the rocking cold water cubicle of this class.
The train rolls forward and I read backward.

second station

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2 responses to “Backward Reading

  1. It’s always good to read your words Rock…I’ve taken this trip more than a few times, the silver serpent gobbling track a continent wide…it’s one of my favourite ways to travel actually…don’t li

  2. Shit..hit reply before I meant to…was going to say only that I don’t much like travelling backwards (in any vehicle; get some weird mode of travel-sickness)…tried Amtrak a couple of years ago in and around New York and would do more of that in a heartbeat…took the train the terrorists tried to blow up, I learned later…not impressed. Anyhow, am rambling. Like I say…you write a mean entry/posting/item…I’m not sure what you want to call it but I do enjoy reading what you have to say…your prose reads like poetry and that’s a rare thing in my experience. Be well.

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