Mannequin Monday – After the Light Cracks the Sky
This week on Mannequin Monday we dress the naked form with words of poetry. The work of Maria Hummel, novelist and poet, and the poems of Naomi Nye. Both pen words that can comfort us in these days of fear and quarantine. And to cap the week, I include an excerpt from my novel Apart.
This Week’s Reading and Discussion
I enjoyed reading some of the poetry of Maria Hummel this past week. Thanks to Narrative magazine for posting it. Narrative’s website is a goldmine of excellent fiction, poetry and non-fiction.
Here’s one of Hummel’s poems that kind of fits what we’re all going through right now.
WITHIN each storm there is a cave
a quiet place
of shattering light
When you see the storm
bulging across the sky fierce
fisting its rain
you don’t see a cave
don’t hear it
don’t even know it’s there
Those hard tappings on windows
slanting dashes on sidewalks
groans in the pines
and scents of metal
are not deep or close
are not low-within
Only after the last
flashes of water and breeze
after the light
cracks the sky
will you know
the cave was
all that time
all that time
All that time
Hummel’s poem rings true for what so many of us are experiencing now: A storm bulging across the sky, fierce, purpled, fisting its rain. The uncertainty, fear, the massive scope of what the quarantine represents. And there is a cave. Hummel says we may not see it, realize it’s there, until “the light cracks the sky.”
The “cave” could be as direct as the shelter of our own homes. Or more of a metaphor. The love of family. The strength of loved ones. The comfort of pets. The wonderful view out our window.
Perhaps the cave is an activity of ours. Exercise. Hiking. Cooking. Writing. Knitting. Crafting. Drawing.
And when we all come through this storm, when the light cracks the sky, then we’ll know where the cave was all that time. We’ll know what is important. What is life-saving.
This Week’s Podcast/Interview
This is not so much an interview as another poetry reading. I thoroughly enjoy the poetry of Naomi Nye. This one, The Art of Disappearing, is my favorite. It speaks of priorities, of doing what is most important.
The Art of Disappearing
When they say Don’t I know you?
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
Someone is telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say We should get together
It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.
When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.
I first discovered Nye’s poetry through Bill Moyers, in his book, The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets. Nye’s The Art of Disappearing always brings me back to focusing on what is important: decide what to do with your time. I am reminded of Parker Palmer’s book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old. While not admitting to aging, I will say that Palmer gets it right when he says that so many older people focus on lightening the load, clearing out the nest. What can I get rid of? He says we should be centered on: what will I give my life to now? For all of us, regardless of age, it’s a key question: what will I give my life to? As we pass through these dark days of quarantine and disease, as we begin to see light cracking the sky, we will ask: now what will I give myself to?
My Current Writing
This is an excerpt form my novel Apart. A business salesman, Cabe Wray, abruptly quits his job to re-focus on his decades-long search for his missing sister. Enjoy.
Almost ninety days had passed since Jackson McCabe Wray walked out on his sales job and his career. Now sixty-one, and no longer resolving technology problems for retail businesses, he retreated to his condo tucked into the shadow of the Simi Mountains in Southern California.
Only one thing sustained him now—the search for his missing twin sister, Gail.
“Call me Cabe.”
Cabe extended his hand to a young man who looked late twenties. An inch or so taller than Cabe’s five ten, black hair pulled back in a long, tight ponytail, dark stubble, cargo shorts and a black sweatshirt. A canvas messenger bag hung over the young man’s shoulder.
He met Cabe’s handshake. “I am Turo Fonseca.”
Cabe and Turo stood outside an always-busy coffee shop in Cabe’s neighborhood. A gray morning, too early for the sun to break through the typical SoCal “June gloom.” At a patio table six young moms clustered in conversation, their infants’ power strollers tucked in around them.
Inside, moms who had just dropped off their kids at school lined up for drinks. Local lawyers and accountants in slacks and ties grabbed coffees on their way to work. A couple of independent business people with rolling briefcases met with clients.
“Can you find us a table?” Cabe said. “I’ll get coffees.”
“Iced tea would be fine for me, man. Nothing tropical or sweetened.”
Cabe got in line for the drinks. Looking around, he saw Turo cutting off a guy balancing a coffee and a laptop to score a corner table. Good hustle. Barely audible over the din of coffee machines and clanking utensils, a familiar tenor sax jazz track played in the background. Sonny Rollins was Cabe’s guess. He felt the tension in his shoulders ease. Maybe this will work.
The young barista handed the drinks to Cabe. “Have a good day.”
“Thank you, sir.” Cabe said.
The barista looked at Cabe. “They call my father sir.”
Cabe turned away. They must call you asshole.
Sitting down, Cabe said, “I appreciate you meeting me here. You found the place okay?”
“Yeah, man. Your directions were good.” Turo leaned back in the chair. Pulled the paper off his straw. Stuck it into the cup lid.
“My friend Mark Field suggested I talk to you. He’s a film director and knows your work, apparently.”
“Yes, I met Mark eight years ago when he spoke to one of my film classes. I kept in touch with him and sent him my work for his comments.”
“Where did you do film school?”
“At NYU. The Tisch program. Do you know it?”
Cabe shook his head. “No, I don’t. A good one?”
Turo nodded. “One of the best.”
Cabe passed his business card across the table to Turo.
Turo fingered the card. “Your card says Jackson Wray. Where does Cabe come from?”
“Old story. My middle name is McCabe. Everyone has called me Cabe since I was a little kid. No idea who started it.”
“Cool. I like it.” Turo flashed a thumbs up.
“What about you? Where’d Turo come from?”
“Got it. So… Mark said you make documentaries.”
Turo swirled the straw around in his drink cup. “I do, right.”
“What are you working on now?”
Turo grinned. “Between films, looking for a new project.”
Cabe squinted. “Do I detect a slight New York accent?”
“Born and bred.”
“What brings you out here to LA?”
Turo paused to sip his iced tea. His face scrunched up. “This tastes like panther piss.” He put the cup down.
How bad could iced tea be?
He went on. “I came out for a project on street artists. The funding dried up, but I decided to stay for a while. See if I can find a challenging documentary subject.”
“Isn’t New York thriving as a film and television center?”
“It is… but I would like to clear my head and explore something new.”
Cabe sipped his black decaf. “What’s new about LA?”
“Nothing, if you look in the same old places. You have to have a fresh set of eyes.”
A bit unfocused, Cabe thought.
“Why your interest in documentaries?”
“For their truth, man. I see them as portals into souls… portraits of real people, gritty situations. I want to broaden our collective horizons by making a difference.”
Sounds like bullshit?
Turo must have read Cabe’s face. “I made several documentaries back in New York. I like digging into what makes people tick.”
Cabe took another sip of his coffee. Hoisted the cup in Turo’s direction.
“Tell me something, from your experience in film and TV. Why don’t they put liquid in these paper coffee cups all the actors carry around in their scenes? It drives me crazy; it’s so obvious the cups are empty.”
“I never noticed.”
“Sure. Take an office scene, for example. One character walks in holding four cups in one hand with one of those cardboard carriers. He sets it down like it weighs an ounce or two. Not like it’s actually heavy with four hot drinks.”
Turo stared at him.
He wasn’t getting it. “Okay, just a pet peeve.”
“So,” Turo said, pointing at Cabe, “tell me what you need.”
Cabe paused. From the serving counter came the sound of someone singing. He turned. The serving line was momentarily empty. A tall barista with short blond hair, half hidden behind the dessert case, was singing Christine’s song from The Phantom of the Opera. The other baristas stopped their work to listen.
“See,” Turo said, “everybody’s in the business.”
Cabe turned back to Turo. “I want to talk to you about making a video for the Internet. A video about my missing sister.”
Last month, after a brief conversation with his friend and neighbor Mark Field, Cabe had shot and edited his own video about his sister’s disappearance. He avoided mentioning this to Turo. Mark had thought the video was a piece of crap. A director in both film and television, Mark knew good from crap.
“Cabe, you can’t do this alone,” Mark had told him.
“Seriously, Cabe. This won’t work. Do you really want to find your sister?”
“Yes… It’s that bad?”
“For one thing, it’s too long. YouTube may accommodate more than ten minutes, but with today’s attention spans, shorter is better.”
“I put in everything I thought was important.”
“You can’t do a data dump. This has to pop if you want people to take notice.”
“Okay, I surrender. How do I make it pop?”
“Hire a director.”
“Let’s talk about that,” Turo said. “Mark told me your sister went missing. He said you’d fill in the details.”
Cabe shifted in his chair. Okay, here goes. He looked Turo in the eye. “I have a sister. A twin sister. She’s been missing for a long time. I now have more time to give to searching for her. Mark suggested a short video about her would help my search. Someone who knows her might see it.”
“How long has she been gone?”
This is where Cabe loses him. “Forty years.”