The Family Album, excerpted from Issue 21
These album pages are as lightless as oblivion. Feel the soft absorbent darkness? I hated pasting the pale faces of my photographs on such a surface. It was like lowering them away. So here is the gravespace of the painfully remembered. When I was a child I would stretch a blanket up over the headboard of my bed and pretend its darkness protected me from every other darkness: closets, drawers, pockets, purses, forests, basements, night sky, caves. Now I’ve drawn these sheets around me as if fearful of the boogie. Trapped with me in this tent, they catch your tantalizing whiff. Here I make my movie of your body, breath by breath.
This is no possum play. It’s true, I used to cuddle you and now I cuddle my covers, but I am not pretending this blanket is your body or that these pages turn of my accord. The light that arrives through that little pin hole in the iris, the words and images that leave, do so indifferent to anyone’s permission. I am as helpless here as you are. The dead do not die, but, as we know, dance to the rattle of their own bones. Red Sails in the Sunset. When the Deep Purple falls. Satchmo on the last trumpet.
Darkness is made of disgraced light, and the deepest fell on the first day, even as the sound of Lu-ci-fer — the first word — faded.
Chaos could have been a camera cloth, the space God faced a coated paper, and creation simply, click.
Click. I feel the photo of my last face has been taken.
Ah. Yes…I remember that one: of my mother at the farm during her final free days. Which of her carefully skinny cousins took it? Was it Art? I can’t be sure. Was it Art after all? He usually left his shadow in the shot.
In a sense she seems quite at home, standing rather stolidly there among the weeds, rusting at the same rate as the rest of the world. Well, the color became her, rising within like a blush. It wasn’t my father’s favorite though. He always said she looked lovelier in yellow. I don’t remember if she did.
The roof of the little out-building beside her… It was always showing off its run of red metal — that, the camera’s caught — but my mother has more of a bronze tone to her torso in this picture than she normally had, although her head looks as translucent as ever, so open to the world that in a way it wasn’t there.
Not more torso than she normally had. Her toes showed through those shoes she wore. Normally. For my mother, what a word. When she was sent to join the loonies, they washed all the old make-up off her face with rubbing alcohol — a bitter joke when you think how alcohol had emptyied her head like some slop jar in the first place — to find nearly nothing underneath the thick cake of cosmetic, just as I imagine those Kabuki faces are erased, when the actors quit the stage, to leave only ovals for eyes and the heavy hooked line of each nose in the mirror of their dressing room.
It has its merits — this photograph of my mother — because it shows pretty well what my father had done to her head over the years. Screwed it up, as the kids say. The little dot of white that’s showing at the top is an old bow. From time to time my mother would draw it out of a colorfully embossed bonbon box like an eager secret and hold the frayed length of ribbon up in front of her nose, eyeing it with one eye closed as though aiming to thread a needle, before fastening it in her hair in memory of a dance, I think it was, a dance my father denied had ever taken place, a dance at which she was much sought after and wildly admired. I had beaus once, she would say, quite unconscious of the pun. After my father released his customary steaming sigh of exasperation, she would calmly repeat her claim. More beaus than a bonfire. More boughs than a bonfire, my father would helplessly insist. His protest was an involuntary as the yelp of a kicked dog.