by Bodwyn Wook
I Will never go to Davenport, in Iowa, and Isidoro says to me that already on my shelves there are books now I shall not reach down and open again. Just as there are worn thresholds which my Grandfather trod, and which I shall never step over one more time in the 1880 house on the high ground above Eagle Lake there, in old LeRay Township in southern Minnesota. And, certain streets I recall in old Mankato down which I shall not walk anymore in Fes in old Morocco. But I can see the particular books he means, know which ones they are and smell the lingering newness of their bindings, still read aloud to myself the notes I made in their margins thirty years ago. And the white wood of the threshold from the kitchen into the parlor, I can see it clearly in the shadowy August afternoon dim light of 1982 when the blinds are drawn and the doors shut against the ninety-degrees heat outside. It is twenty-five degrees cooler and stuffy indoors where a spidery damp earthworm-odor seeps upward from the potato-cellar through worn linoleum, and the bare wood where the coats of varnish were gone before I was born, it gleams. Forth and back through that same doorway Grandpa walked half way around the world behind his horses and plow North and South through his farm, riding part of the way on his new John Deere 70 diesel tractor up and down the field-rows to death, at eighty-three in 1968. When I go into the parlor then and lie upon the Davenport now in there and close my eyes, the figures of the friends and enemies every child has turn and grin at me. I see now their faces as they laugh and we turn away then from the sandy playground in south Minneapolis with sand-burrs in our knees in 1957, to go back South down the long dim hallways into the classroom after recess. Overhead a high patroling B36 bomber flying North with atom bombs inside — Pop who flew four-engined Lancasters in the War told me — makes contrails. The remote great thrash of its eight engines reaches after me as I step into the passage smelling of bomber-diesel sweeping-compound and cleanser, and the year 1928 when Minnehaha Elementary was built. It was twenty-one years before I was born and Mom just ten years old (Pop was twelve, I think). In the South the black remote figure of the janitor, Mr Cameron, is blurred by the light from beveled windows above the far doorway as he wields an oily wide mop around. From the West in the classroom windows the October Sun reaches in the afternoon while I remember my kindergarten teacher from three years ago, Miss Wilmert, who is afraid of the communists. Now she tells us all about it and a faraway war in Korea as we clap sticks and learn patriotic songs in a previous red October around the upright piano. She picks on me and a boy called Kevin Schwarzbauer because we “want to go somewhere else where the children come home after school and find their parents have been taken away.” We think it is about a picnic or a scuffling walk together through afternoon leaves down to Minnehaha Falls when she first asks “‘who wants to be anywhere else?” Now Kevin cries when we are made to remain seated in the middle of the closed circle of our standing classmates, and I do not look into their eyes but straight away between their knees past them into the shadowy cool cobwebby spaces between the still-shut-off brass radiators at bronze Hiawatha carrying Nokomis across Minnehaha Creek, in Minnehaha Park above the Falls while Miss Wilmert scolds us about the secret police which we don’t have here. I know that Miss Wilmert is “crazy as Hell” just as Mrs Schwarzbauer said to Mom afterward in a rage because in 1969 my first lover Nancy, she will say to me at one AM on a walk through the froggy June night on Nokomis Avenue to my house on 40th that her neighbor, “your old kindergarten teacher, Emmett, Miss Wilmert” had just been taken away from retirement into an alcohol-ward by the police. Nancy says that they actually had their guns out when finally they surrounded the house in their obvious uniforms on Nokomis Avenue to get that old woman out of there and laughs at the ridiculousness of a broken world at war faraway in Vietnam. When I kiss Nancy later that night for the first time in my life I feel as though anything now will be possible. And then back there in the October afternoon of third grade I wonder why Mrs Foss said to my Mom in the kitchen over coffee after school yesterday about my teacher, Mrs Landstrom (who is married to “my husband Lyle, who is an architect”), “that Landstrom female is a doxy bitch” and then laughed in a hoarse way about Mr Berge, the fifth-grade teacher. “That female” I know means something rude about women because they are all mad at each other except for temporary alliances, but Mr Berge is really a kind man, I like him and will be in his class in two years. In three years in sixth grade, in Miss Simon’s class there will be a girl named Elaine. Miss Simon is gracious and tall and has quiet dark hair like Mom’s. I know precociously that she is not beautiful with an undershot chin, but her eyes are and she has a slow nice smile like Elaine’s. I will draw horse-pictures for her because I can draw better than anybody and so will get to walk her home to 35th Avenue after school before going home on 40th each night in the spring when I am twelve in 1961, to make another picture for Elaine. These pictures are just for her. Then Elaine will come on the first of May with her gawky friend at that time in tow, Suzanne, and break my heart by telling me to make a picture — for that same Suzanne who lives on 39th Avenue. In 1968 in the Spring at a party at the U of M with Nancy who is still a senior at Roosevelt, I will see Elaine for the last time when she tells me that she is in art-school at the Minneapolis Institute. I will be confirmed somehow in some conviction or other when Elaine says she hasn’t seen the ineligible lanky Suzanne for years. In another year Nancy will throw me over and a number of others I didn’t know of before, all for an organist called Richard who gets drunk and smashes things. I will discover to myself the solitary strangeness of marijuana for awhile. Then in 1979 in East remote Morocco of the Muslims, in the old city of Fes there Nejmi MuHammad is going to tell me about the odd peace of mind that comes when you know that you carry inside yourself all the living people and creatures and things you have ever known. When I say that means you can carry them right with you right out of here when you die, Nejmi, who is sunniya and not a heretic and holds his diwan for students every week with mint tea, honey, almonds and raisins, he just smiles to himself and says shhh: “It is between you and your God, Emmett.” Mainly it is all now, and then too, just a lot of private work, remembrance. Anyway for now as long as remembering everyone from time to time gets done at least once in awhile, and everything, this all goes on. Elaine? She’s still around. I know this because “I” am still here too on the threshold of the strangeness of old age — still somehow I too am being remembered at work in the World by someone. And now it is August and October comes where I must go now inside where there is a Davenport on which I shall lie down in my thoughts then to remember other dreams, former walks in old Mankato under new maples to Fes in April and back, when Miss Simon was angry with me for taking books while bluejays sang impossible songs of love, all the other books I am sorry I did not buy lifelong to write around in during lilac-time — other Davenports.
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 10 August 2006]