On Sundays, my father wakes up before light, lets the dog outside, and lays down on the floor to stretch out his aching, aging back. He reads the newspaper as he stretches, twisting and holding a position, grunting in discomfort inches from the words. He takes a walk under the dawning light and rehearses the sermon he’s prepared. Because he recites so much while walking, when he gives the actual sermon, he paces the stage, appearing unable to stop, powerless to contain this energy that has been building in him.
I recall debating Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale in a Monday morning class in undergrad. I listened quietly as my classmates argued whether Hermione was brought back to life. She waits in the wings the whole play―presumed dead, frozen in granite―until a master sculptor carves out her warm, blinking shape, and she steps forward to hold her long-lost daughter. But most of the class seemed to think she had been alive all along, simply hiding under the sculptor’s white sheet, still as stone. My suspicion was that Shakespeare had decided suddenly, halfway through, to make his tragedy into a comedy. So he put away the props he had planned— the blood-stained cloaks, the rusting daggers, the wines laced with poison. Then he invented the Oracle to be God, able to resurrect those long dead. It didn’t matter to me whether or not Hermione had been hiding. I only cared that in the story Shakespeare had started, Hermione would have been dead, would have stayed dead.
My dad used to walk me and my sister to the playground every Tuesday. One time I fell off a balancing bar. I don’t remember the drop or seeing the wound that would become scar. I only remember my father pulling me home in my rusting wagon. When I wrote about it years later, I omitted my sister’s presence because it required more work to fit her in. The shame of that decision has spilled over to the memory itself. Remorse still pricks me at the thought of that little red wagon when it is not trailed by my sister picking me dandelions to stop me crying.
I spoke with my father last Wednesday, and I talked about how hard it was to teach composition and write at the same time. He talked to me about writing sermons, explaining how his methods have changed over time. He told me how he had always loved to write for the page, to write work that stands up to intense scrutiny. But he said he couldn’t do that anymore. “I have to write for performance,” he said with something close to shame in his voice. “So now, if you read it silently, it’s childish.”
Once, I took a film class where we discussed the use of soundtrack. My professor showed a scene of Jaws and explained how the music enhanced the fear of that unseen threat. She then began showing that menacing fin over and over while mismatched songs played. It reminded me of when I ran the soundboard for Thursday night worship practices at church. I would listen intently through the headphones, push and pull the dials, and turn up the reverb on the less skilled singers. I would take what I could from their raw, competing voices and meld them together so anyone listening would believe that they were in harmony with one another.
My dad doesn’t go in to work on Fridays. He types his sermon on the dining room table, a fan whirring up into his decade-old laptop. One time, when he was done working on his sermon, he charged out to the backyard and began mowing from one side to the other, going over the same spots time and again. I remember him sitting down after with a glass of ice water, and looking out back through the kitchen window, surveying his work. It was just a mowed lawn, but he made it his metaphor.
On Saturday I wrote. I pulled out all the notebook scribbles from the week and I trimmed them or tossed them. I tore down my words and dissected them, examined the trunk, searching for scars. I read the same lines: once loud, once soft, once staring hard at the language, once with my eyes closed. I listened closely, trying to find a way to make it all sound like harmony when it was really nothing more than a childish outline, a regret, a carefully scripted deception.
Jacob Little is a writer of poetry, CNF, and screenplays. He is a second year MFA student at Minnesota State University. He teaches a freshman composition class and is managing editor of the Blue Earth Review. He also conducts weekly interviews with published authors on KMSU 89.7′s The Weekly Reader.
See Jacob’s list of 5 Things tomorrow in our ongoing contributors’ series.