Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Four

As Jeb began waking up in his sleeping bag, he was already murmuring words to himself, taking all the disordered remnants of a night full of dreams and trying to tie them together with rhymes. What came first? What came next? Was he describing what he’d seen accurately? What did it have to do with his experience in waking life? Just moments after waking, he was already exchanging what he’d dreamed with memories of past experiences. Had the coat actually been green, or did it just become green as he whispered the word to himself there in the dark? Never mind the color of the coat, what was the name of that hotel? It had been in the Berkshires, seven, eight years ago by now …

He curled up and rolled himself up into a sitting position with his back up against the wall. After pulling the legal pad out of his book bag, he let his head fall back against the wall and settled for thinking up rhymes in the dark.

“Berkshires… fires, tires…”; she was waiting in the car, after all, so that made a certain amount of sense. He turned on the flashlight and began writing the words down. Beginning was always the most difficult part – the important thing was just to get something down on paper. Like climbing a cliff, you just have to begin by putting your hand on the wall and feeling for a way to pull yourself up.

Now that was certainly worthy of a poem. That was another summer; a summer in the Southwest after all the trouble back in Boston. That marked the difference right there: the Berkshires and all that he remembered about them signified everything that was wrong in his life, none of it really his choice. Arizona was bigger, cleaner … not exactly his choice either, but a new life anyway. It had certainly been better than jail, the other option he’d been offered at the time. Odd that it was the exact sort of thing he’d been dreaming of at the time – a way out, a way to start over again, or die trying. He thrived in all the sunlight and dry air. He’d been a drinker back in Boston, but not much of a drug user, except for the pot he’d been offered from time to time. He considered himself lucky that he hadn’t gotten into it any deeper – it seemed to him now that he could easily have done so. He had the desert to thank for this, and ultimately the police, as difficult as he’d found them both at the time. He smiled at this thought and vowed to write more about it.

He thought about the dream again. It was straight out of his early teen-age years, which had been terrible. He’d had to negotiate a fairly complex set of familial relations, being the love child of his mother and an unnamed father before two half siblings came along after his mother married a man she’d met at the Kingdom Hall.

Worst… cursed, but I’ve already used that. Thirst, but thirst had nothing to do with anything… well-versed,’ this last he said despairingly, feeling that he wasn’t. He began again at the beginning of the alphabet, ‘burst, cursed, dursed (not even a word), first… first is good, go with that.’ He started scrawling lines.

My teenage years were the worst.
Trying to find my father, the first …

Did he really want to write about that? Writing this down was making a bad dream worse, and it felt a little like the proverbial bad dream of undressing in public. Or airing out one’s dirty laundrey; there must be other cliches as well. Everybody has a family, and everybody is sick about hearing about everyone else’s. But how can one get out of it? Maybe a little distance would help.

That hotel in the Berkshires
was hell, I could feel the fires…

His thoughts grew more and more scattered. ‘.. patently ridiculous .. no fires .. fires .. past summer .. not eight years .. not hell .. far from .. not the point .. .. real point .. packing .. missed overcoat .. .. confusing .. embarrassing .. .. Mom just sat there .. stayed in the car .. made me take care .. .. no real reason .. getting ridiculous .. thinking about sex too much .. these poems .. overkill .. work to do .. real .. finish Euripides .. Calahan .. mucking around .. poems .. not even long .. I really want to write .. need .. chapbook .. finish .. that and I’m done .. forty .. enough .. first collection .. website ..’

He gathered his things together, if not his thoughts, and headed out in the widening light of dawn. Everything was brown, green and grey under the freeway as he walked up the short trail underneath the bridge to the main road, some fifty yards from the shack. Out from under the overpass it was sprinkling lightly enough that a mist stretching from clod to cloud caught the light just right, so that the entire sky seemed to billow like a flag in the wind. He opened up his umbrella as he walked out from under the giant concrete roof, noting with pleasure the cars and trucks shwerring overhead. He saw the same as a car was driven past him, and he took even greater pleasure in the little rooster tails thrown up by the tires, rounding down into a smaller wave as the car slowed down to take the arterial curve. Was that a flash of blue and pink he saw in the water? The entire process, this motion of a diminishing wave, was probably better described with mathematics, without the other-worldly ordering of meter, rhyme and metaphor, but he had a go at it anyway.

Behind the tire, a gentle wave of water
shines like the rainbow’s transparent daughter…”

All that in one try. Water was feminine, and it rhymed, so she had to be a girl. It was a little sleight, but he liked it. Walking helps writing. Thinking of rainbows, they were all over the street now, his very favorite thing about rain. The asphalt was especially black, soaked with water, and the oil dropped from the cars colored the surface with spots of a many-hued, metallic sheen in all shapes and sizes, sometimes even drifting along the roadside curb with the current, gliding through the gutter like some glorious, slow moving dragon.

Jeb stepped up his pace and crossed the street, thinking more about Diana and what she might make of the poems. Once in a while he would stop off at Queequeg’s for a cup of coffee on his way into school. If he timed it right, they wouldn’t have actually opened yet, Diana wouldn’t have set up her till, and he would get the coffee for free. But he had already started the morning by trying to write a poem, and if he was going to think about Diana he actually wanted to do this from a distance. So he took a slightly different route and bypassed Queequeg’s entirely. Of course there wasn’t much to think about in terms of the poem; he could only give them to Diana and hope for the best. She hadn’t inspired much of them – maybe a thought here and there – but it still seemed the best way to let her know who he really was. That was important. Things then might progress forward. Forward? He wasn’t even sure what he wanted. Perhaps he was just hoping to be carried off in her car instead of the Divorcee’s.

Much as he would have liked to sign the title page of a published book, which perhaps might even have been bought herself and shown to him in deeply appreciative recognition some afternoon as he walked through the door of the Q – not likely, but imaginable, and therefore possible – much as he would have liked this, he just couldn’t seem to get published. Not in a magazine, or a journal, in a review, in print or online, not to mention a book. What could his poems mean to a perfect stranger anyway? Why not privately print one’s own material and circulate it amongst one’s family and friends? He had long considered this method a cop out (he wanted the quality of the poems recognized by other people), but now he was reconsidering this opinion.

While he had always hoped that his poems had some intrinsic, objectively verifiable value, it was worth asking whether this can be found only in an anonymous reading public. To the contrary, he now thought that a personally published chapbook probably was the more responsible route to follow. More honest. His Mom would like it, although she probably wouldn’t bother reading the whole thing through. And of course some of the poems were tied to his experience growing up, which in many ways had been a pretty awful experience, so it would certainly be interesting to see how she received them. He was no longer, actually never had been very close to the siblings. Perhaps this would change, perhaps it would not. Perhaps it would give them all something to rally around, like a ouji board to summon up the ghost of their recently deceased family. Most probably it would not. His brother would most likely transfer it directly from the mail to the bookshelf, wedged in amidst a shelf full of science fiction novels and computer programming books. His sister might thumb through the pages looking for references to her horoscope. And of course the one person to whom he really wished to give his poems knew next to nothing about him at all.

For the remainder of the walk he thought about Diana, not even thinking of poems that he might write about her. He somehow felt that this would be a way of using her, not sexually, of course, but selfishly nevertheless. As if he would be trying to turn a real person into a more ethereal muse. To do this would make him susceptible to distancing her – idealizing, mystifying, and therefore confusing another living being, already the deepest of all possible mysteries. To lock her up in such a gilded cage was the surest way to lose her. She wouldn’t put up with it, anyway. She seemed remarkably free of any and all eccentricity, and this made him somewhat self-conscious about his own quirks. He was convinced that this was what made his part of the conversations so awkward, even as he desired nothing more than to explain himself and all his awkwardness. He felt this was part of the task of winning her over. And he hoped to do this with poetry, which he saw as a way of working towards her.

He was still thinking about all this by the time he made it to school about half an hour later, and therefore turned again to the yellow legal pad when sat down at a table in the library. With only fifteen minutes before class, he pulled out his binder and a copy of Euripides to begin working on his Greek assignment. But he was lucky during class: in a practice that violated the principles of any other professor he’d ever worked with, two or three times a semester the great man would take over for an entire class period and translate 200 lines or more in a swift gallop, sometimes explaining the grammar as he went, but more often inviting the students to throw out questions in the midst of his performance.

Only by marveling at Calahan, and Euripides made accessible by Calahan, was he able to put aside thoughts of Diana and his own poems.


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  2. That wasn't me.

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