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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Friday, May 12, 2006

Present Tense

The day is a drizzle of sky and gray,
so chilly there’s no need
to crack the window as I stay
inside the car to write or read
while the girls shop. I’m staring
presently at a lone seagull
that has lost either his bearing
or his taste, content to cull
the damp debris for who knows what
to eat—anything will do, I’d say,
like the smoldering cigarette butt
a man just flicked his way.
The gull sniffs it like a dog.
Oh, my! He’s got it in his bill
as if to mimic Bogart in the fog
at Casablanca. No one will
believe this! A lady passes by.
She doesn’t see the film-noir bird;
but sees me laughing, so I try
to point and MOUTH the word
“Smoking!” which merely
baffles her to look around
then back at me, still queerly
forming words without a sound.
So I roll down the window and say
“That seagull over there is smoking!”
She looks, but the gull has gone away—
"I don't see him now, but I’m not joking.
He was holding a cigarette...not in his wing...
but in his bill... it wasn’t his.…This guy—
Why would I make up such a thing?”
I stammer. She walks on without reply,
and who can blame her really?
It feels more like March than May.
It’s a damp cold, wet and chilly.
It’s a drizzle of sky and gray.

It's been raining for two days now. Tomorrow is supposed to do the same. It's good writing weather. A friend has observed that I tend to draw more from the past than the present. It’s true that when I reflect on "family," for instance, it's usually a backward glance with plenty of years acting as a buffer. I often go all the way back to my own childhood (or stories from my parents). That way those who share the experience are more likely honored than embarrassed (as my daughters would be if I wrote about our day-to-day shared life—someday maybe... but not now). Some stories can be told right away; others take years to crystallize into something that can be passed along without breaking.

So today I decided to write the above piece very much in the present and, in fact, in present tense. Until now, I missed the double meaning of to those two words. Not only is the present sometimes tense, but its progressive element feels more like on-the-spot reporting with a hand-held recorder than typical writing. If I ever do this again, I'll try not to involve myself in what's happening (since it’s hard to scribble in "real time" while making a fool of myself with perfect strangers).

Because I began writing this in a parked car, I really should tell you a little bit about my Grandpa S. (I know, I know…so much for the present....
He's in the front row

Past Perfect

I first learned to sit in idle cars
by waiting in tavern parking lots
for Grampa. Looking back on it now,
I’m surprised it was somehow
acceptable to stop for a drink
before a road trip (or at the other end),
but that was the case with Grampa.
I say this not to judge or to offend.
(It’s just ironic that at the dawn
of industry-required seat belts,
stopping for a drink to make the drive
with four grandkids more bearable
was not yet a concern.)
Sometimes, if the wait was getting long,
Grandma would send me inside
to get him, and he always introduced me
to the bar tender with pride.
I must say in all those years
I never saw him in the grip of drink—
but I don't think I was looking.

Grampa had Humphrey Bogart's style
when he held a cigarette—
which was almost always.
(Bogart died of cancer in '57; Grampa in '75)
Truth be told, most evenings also found
an open brown bottle near his feet,
but we loved Grampa just the same
in spite of his ways—
especially, it seems, on summer days
when the willow wept clear to the ground.
Like that wonderful night,
he sat on the back porch swing
carving little flutes of willow bark,
and we played them on the grassy slope
between the sidewalk and the house till dark.

At the end of such visits,
I'd kiss his stubbled cheek and smell the scent
of Old Spice, Lucky Strikes, and Black Label—
all part of his film noir charm.
He'd smile and say, "Be a good bad boy,"
and loved the fact that I never quite knew
what he meant. It was Grampa who
also quipped, "It'sa damp cold day,"
(which my siblings and I still cannot say
without smiling). He would have said it
today, no doubt, had he been with me
when that lone seagull vanished
like a ghost.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,
I read this morning. Enjoyable, insightful, and
intriguing -- a treat as usual! I remember seeing a similar seagull
episode in Port Huron. I found a picture - although not nearly as
entertaining as your description- on the web that you could post to enhance the "validity" of your claim -who would make up such a thing?!

17/6/06 8:01 PM  

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