Monday, February 07, 2011


Episodes: 3

Palm trees in the triangle of green space outside Eastwood Public Library, literally hundreds of red/green streaks of sound--rainbow lorikeets--darting among the fronds, curved shrieking paths testament to the otherwise hidden profusion of life tucked up under those thick green leaves. Inside the library free internet access, thirty minutes a day, reservations necessary unless you're willing to brave the queue, first come, first served. A corner to the left of the lobby door houses two electric typewriters--in ten short years, & in spite of memory enough to house five double-spaced pages, acquiring nearly the same patina as an Underwood--where the queue is shorter. Cross the threshold of the inner doors & one is plunged into a world separated from that outside in three immediately notable aspects: the unrelenting light damped behind tinted glass, a fifteen-degree Celsius drop in temperature, & the sudden silencing of what cannot possibly be less than a thousand rainbow lorikeets infesting each of the thousands of palm trees outside. Change enough to make a bibliophile out of the most entrenched illiterate.

Lorikeets everywhere. Also everywhere: Acacia longifolia--widely cultivated in subtropical regions, useful in preventing soil erosion, yellow and green dyes, as foodstuff, for wood. Bark of limited utility in tanning sheepskin. Referred to as "wattle," a sprig is traditionally worn on the first day of spring in Australia. It is widely believed to trigger allergies--common belief cites up to fifty percent of the population being adversely affected. Medical literature cites a far lower percentage--five percent--far lower than allergies caused by grasses.

Whatever the cause, after a full year's toughing it out here, I've fallen into a dangerous space in which the lorikeet is defined less by its plumage than by its voice. Pleasure is no longer pleasure, but the far more dubious form of pleasure defined, primarily, by the cessation of pain. The pleasure of dropping a heavy backpack after a long hike. Of elevating your feet after standing for a full eight-hour shift. Coupled with hope, itself an intense form of pleasure--the rich blue of the sky as seen by a prisoner upon release--but rendered far less vivid should the element of hope be absent. The certain knowledge that one must return to one's cell squelches that vibrant blue into the dullest of grays.

The word godforsaken is a bitter word that suffers in its utility for being both superstitious & lacking in charity, but in a land where over half of my energy is spent attempting to battle back headaches that are barely less than crippling, I find myself swallowing this word as regularly as I do ibuprofen. It goes down less smoothly, and its rough surface is prone to catching on the walls of my intestines--it does not pass easily, would, perhaps, serve me better if spoken. It defines the cycle I'm trying to break, in which the context I work in determines the shades of the world around me, which in turn determine the context in which I work. Impossible to extricate: are these headaches symptomatic of my unhappiness, or my unhappiness the result of my headaches? The two are locked in an embrace as intractable and unrelenting as time itself, and no amount of theorizing about the elasticity of perception serves to unbind them from each other.

I am not, today, within the confines of the library, but in the brief triangle of green just outside. My daughter, now in her third year of existence, is busily traversing the jungle gym there provided for citizens going about their daily chores. Making her careful way up the ladder, waiting at the top of a plastic slide for my hands, hands she trusts implicitly, to position themselves near the bottom to be ready to catch her should she falter in her joyous descent, or perched on one of two wooden ledges the height of my chest, bending clumsily at her knees, still slightly dimpled with baby fat, laughing & calling me to help her across the chasm between the two ledges. She grips a small triangular bar affixed to a sliding track, &, holding her around her recently undiapered waist, I pull her across, where she turns & awaits my aid once more. Her eyes suggest nothing of tediousness in this exercise, nor does she evince the least annoyance at the birds that screech & squawk above.

We attract attention for our oddity: our accents indistinguishable to the local ear from those promulgated by Hollywood fare, our identities careening off the contours of Americans before us, myself wedged into that sliver of the male population that might be found, midday on a work day, trusted aid to a toddler's regular odyssey through & around the local park. I cannot say I lack for human contact: on the contrary, there are days I find it difficult to handle the groceries precisely b/c I fear that contact. But the contact is brief, general, unquestioning. There is no Chris, no one person who would commit to those late-night, drunken, heady explorations of the central language we use to describe our minds, our selves, perhaps even our souls. All social, no intimacy. I could not even imagine explaining, much less actually explain, to any of these neighbors how, in my worst moments, even as I am handling my daughter, the phrase "murderous fathers", culled years before from some volume by Kerouac, reverberates within the confines of my uncertain mind. How each time I catch my infant daughter at the bottom of the slide, my primal & civilized selves wrestle with each other. How, each time I walk her back to the ladder to repeat this exercise, I have to both nod to the civilized & deeply question the validity of that nod. I believe I am a good father because I have more restraint than a supplicant to those bestial forefathers who, we imagined, would devour their children on a whim. The dizzying thinness of my self-esteem enough to send another pulse of pain ratcheting through my skull. If I'd birthed the child myself, if I'd been physically subjected to that set of chemicals, I'd feel less indulgent in my trolls through medical literature about the matter. As it is, I've spoken to no one, vaguely fearing ridicule, & daily weighing that fear against much less present, much more menacing concerns.

Those eyes. How to even begin to communicate those adoring eyes, the god-worship there, the startling absence of any question of my reliability I encounter there. How to begin to communicate to anyone, much less this one, where I've arrived from, what my own journey to the foot of my gods revealed. How to nurture that first essential question without shattering that trust. How to direct the point of that question towards myself at a time when I do not trust my strength enough to withstand its barb. Here, the din of Lorikeets, bright plumage rendered the brown of vermin in my pain-dulled mind, punctuating the blinding air that surrounds my daughter as she reaches the top of the slide's ladder, turns her head slightly to look at me over her left shoulder, and says, "Papa, catch me."

In the course of one day, how many times does the average human swallow? I swallow now, walk the ten feet to the foot of the slide, & wait, there, for my daughter to come hurtling down.

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