The leitmotifs of metaphor
There are images that stay fresh and immediate years after they first occur to you. These are the images that tell you how you see the world.
They are words but they are so real that we don’t recognize them as words. Our wiring fires and takes us out of the time Now.
We don’t know what Time we go into.
* * *
Smokey late summer afternoon. I am typing on the old portable typewriter.
The rains skulked off when morning broke. The worms left rust-colored outlines where they were baked in the sun on the asphalt .
My window is shaded by an old oak tree. Its leaves are broad and thick. The sun makes the veins stand out. When the wind blows, the leaf wrinkles and folds.
At night the trees whisper. I think that if I relax I will be able to understand them.
* * *
A few months ago, I wanted to find the exact words that I used when I was 15 to describe the way the worms looked dried up on the walkway. The memory of those words was perfect.
The loose pages from that summer were tucked away in a manila folder. The paperclip was rusted. The paper was yellowed.
The words that I typed weren’t what I remembered.
I tried to remember what they were.
* * *
The worms were always there in the summer. Twisted up on the pavement, dried out.
The dirt was grainy and flat. We’d brush off the mounds that the ants pushed up. When it was hot and there was nothing to do, I’d pound the ant holes flat with a hammer. I’d squash the ants that tried to run away.
The grass was knotty and buoyant. We cut it with an old power motor and the loose blades made your calves itch.
* * *
Driving along the back roads near our house, I slow the car down. It’s still early in the morning and the sun is slipping into the hollow, lighting the trees up from below.
–Look at how the leaves are light on the bottom and dark on top, I tell the boy.
He’s always game. He’ll give me a chance. He looks.
–I love the way the blues get dark, and the yellow comes out in the light part. You don’t see green anywhere, but it’s all green. I love how the colors change and move.
We keep driving. He’s looking out his side of the car.
When my dad drove me, I imagined that the car jumped over the cracks in the old country roads around our house. I pushed my hand out the window and let the wind make it jump up. We listened to the radio. He would talk. He would tell me the things that made him frustrated. I couldn’t make them real. They frightened me.
* * *
What’s real when you’ve spent your life chasing images that jump off the page as soon as you get them down?
The first time you hold things that you love is real.
One day I met T. for a drink and she jumped into my arms. I feel that whenever I think about it.
When our son was born, she was strapped down on the operating table for a c-section. The doctors were working on her. I was holding her hand. They said that our baby was a boy. T. was bewildered with pain, about to drift off, and then the baby cried out.
His cry cleaved our hearts and bound them together with his. We clutched each other’s hand. We looked directly into each other’s eyes. We were new.
That image will always be new.
* * *
The marriage of a moment and a deep internal image creates synchronicity. It is thread that makes the warp and woof of who we are.
Our mystery is that in those moments of knowing who we are, the knowing slips away and we are left looking at something fresh, rediscovered and surprising: Us in the world.