Friday, December 16, 2011


The shadow of a spectacular sunset seems to be following me. Let us call this apparition a sliced mandarin—a cross section—the fruit of memory—an orange orb whose radial interior segments resemble a star—or—for the purposes of this disjointed memoir—Exhibit A.

From my perspective—my plane of reference—the sunset never occurs. The blade never falls. Although, of course, from where you sit, it does. It must. The frozen moment exists in a rectangular wooden frame, where past and future elide into the present—your decision to continue turning pages—to pull the rope and release the guillotine.

I hope you will continue reading. The end of this book will come as a tremendous relief: even the smallest stars can weigh quite heavily upon the shoulders. But whatever you decide to do, the scene I am describing will remain—for me, anyway—the last lovely thing I see: perpetually visible in July, through the northwest quadrant of a pane of glass (second floor, double-glazed window on the extreme left, mine) at an angle of 20 degrees above the western horizon.

Our source of illumination resides at the center of an obscure planetary system approximately 93 million miles from the world I inhabit—hardly a bunny hop through the void—yet an incalculable distance from the walnut tree lit by those long fingertips of light caressing my face. What I cannot understand is why my green and gold friend should have been marked for execution. What kind of crimes against nature must a tree commit to be cut down—to be turned into poetry: pulp, toilet paper, trash—that worst of all possible worlds—Art?

I imagine that arboreal being produced nuts edible only to squirrels. I assume that the immense crowd of furry creatures which gathered beneath its boughs autumn—hypnotized by hunger—presented a menace to public health. So, in the dead of night, an ordinance was passed: that tree must die. I can only scratch my ass in wonder and move on.

Although I am sure a transcript exists on microfilm somewhere in Erie County—evil decisions are always reached and recorded in excruciating detail by The Authorities—I must confess that I was not privy to the deliberations of our City Fathers in 1970, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, or 78—the last year I occupied the front bedroom I am presently haunting.

In other words, I am 5. I am a shadow of my former self. I am not a reliable witness to subsequent events. I peer at them like Alice—through the looking glass—darkly. I cannot be called to testify in court—either for the prosecution or the defense. I take no sides in the dispute between The Town of North Tonawanda and the squirrels, my mother or my father, their divorce, up and down, forward and back, left and right.

I am sorry to be so evasive, but as you can see, this was an unusually hot summer. I couldn’t help tossing and turning. Since my three-year-old brother was constantly whimpering after his surgery (glittering scalpel, baby-blue eyeball,) I spent most nights perspiring in bed next door, wedged between my grandmother and the moon.

Each morning, the nosy scent of coffee would nudge a door open, and discover me sitting Indian-style in her pastel dressing room, reading random entries aloud to myself from a 10 volume set of books, A Child’s Encyclopedia, that once belonged to my mother.

[Turning back a page.]

The spot of doom handed down by the Aldermen—in this case, Exhibit B—was in reality a dark blue circle spray-painted on thick rough bark. I know the circle was round and that it was blue because it looked like the bumpy steering wheel my grandfather’s soft hands gripped in his Buick while I sat next to him, spitting the pits of sour cherries into a glossy brown paper bag.

I know the bark was rough because it scratched my arms whenever I embraced the trunk as a child, seeing if could comprehend its entire texture. I never could. I was too small. I lacked the reach. Now that I am older—I am 43 as of this writing—I notice that my embrace is wider. I am tempted to try the walnut again today.

Nobody is here now, except us ghosts, so let’s see what happens.

Hold on.

Here goes.

We see from the street view on Google maps that the tree has disappeared. The squirrels have scattered. The new residents of Bryant Street have dipped my delicious chocolate house (there is no more tempting form of cocoa, in my experience, than those last few peeling flakes of lead paint) into a vat of hideous vanilla siding that tastes today—more or less—like total oblivion.

Which is all just my elliptical way of saying—apart from a pair of geographical coordinates—a general shape around the eyes—everything familiar about me is gone.

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