Drowned ocean

The first thing I remember, when I was terribly young and not the same person I am now, is dawn in the woods, looking out from the window, sitting on the staircase of my parents’ house. It must not have been summer, since the summer leaves weren’t yet keeping out the light. The sun rose over a long bluegray valley whose bottom was lost in the blurry feet of the hills, and whose top was the flat line of a long ridge to our east, bordering Chaplin, which was almost totally covered with a featureless, nameless, deciduous forest, whose canopies were only broken very occasionally by small clearings, or possibly hints of a few roofs. By night, a radio tower farther north on this horizon blinked like a red lighthouse on a black shore. At dawn, the view was more abstract. The sun came in like a nail in a jumbled board. The sky like a drowned ocean pouring out from a pitcher. The arched branches like a wreath of shaved tails.

The land where I grew up, in New England, was a wild space, mostly post-agricultural, rearing up beneath you, rolling over on itself, or lying down in fits of sleepiness, leaping in tresses of trees, picketing itself with sly trough indentations like teethmarks, folding itself over like curtains, stuffing the light down into dark pockets, in caves of the leaves or crackled hemlocks, days so easily getting bent and unhitched from their colors. I would not be so arrogant as to call this land “ours”; my family had only moved there in the 1950s, for my grandfather’s job. But we got so attached to it anyway, that land, a land where the past refused to vanish and instead lived happily among its ruins, its overgrown orchards still growing their fruit, its overgrown fields keeping up their brambled fur and roughening, its streams bundling up together like dried veins coming together on a hand. Some piece of the land still has a hold on you, like a trickling duct you don’t know how to trace through your body. You adore your history of barely dissolved fantasies, the image of one layer of summer and then another and another stretching out over your body, letting you get mesmerized and then leaving you glum.

You’re nothing, you realize, except through the claws of your memories, and even then, you have to wonder, why does your skin have this particular pattern of scars, and not another? That first house I remember is the same house where, after the divorce, my father kept getting drunk.

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