Brickwork

Laying bricks is honest work. Hard, straight forward work.
It is repetitive. You do one thing and then the next and so on.
It can almost rely on muscle memory. Almost like a rosary
or working prayer beads. That’s honest work too.
Thoughtful work. Your mind can be exploring other things.

Brick, mortar, brick, mortar, brick, mortar, repeat…
Or – mortar, mortar, mortar, brick, brick, brick…
Thoughts and ideas come and go. Worries, too.
Some are considered and rejected like misbegotten bricks
too broken or misshaped to fit the allotted place.

II

I once lived in an old brick house in an old brick city.
Almost everything was laid brick as far as you could see.
Think of all the thoughts and worries sealed up in the mortar
and the brickwork. Plans made or discarded. Acres, no, miles
of bricks and thoughts and worries all laid out in rows.

My brick house was over 100 years old. It was an honest
house built to last. A lot of thought went into that house.
It could easily stand for 100 years more on Main Street.
Built for a German family in 1904. It was solid, no frills.
Modern for its day with a cistern, wood stoves. No fireplace.

III

This was the trolley man’s family. He drove the trolley
up Main Street, many times a day. First horse drawn and
later motorized (Wonder of wonders!) He probably glanced
at his house at each passing – thinking, in German, no doubt,
of the future and the past. His wife. His kids His good fortune.

The family spoke German much of the time at home. On Sunday
they went to the German Evangelical Church and worshipped,
also, in German. The school was four doors down the street
where the kids spoke English. They were a bit rambunctious.
Their initials are still carved on the cellar joists. Ah, immortality!

The old man stayed with the trolley company. He liked doing
some mechanic work when needed. He bought an automobile,
a "machine", and built a sturdy garage for it off the back alley.
His wife made room for it among the sweet peas and the grapes.
It was a good life. He smoked his cigars, had some wine, read books.

IV

My tenure in the house came much later. Even those kids had likely
turned to dust. In all those years there were only three owners.
I moved on so now another young family lives there, with a baby.
Living alone, I can remember on quiet nights, reading in the old parlor,
I would sometimes be aware of a faint hint of the trolley man’s cigar.

The trolley man might still be there - bound up somehow in the
old bricks and mortar. If he's a happy spirit I would not be surprised.
He has a new family. Somethings change but somethings never do.
Some months before I moved away, a city crew was digging in the
street by the house and found relics of the old trolley line.

JC Trolley

 

 

 

 

     *     *     *

 

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Queuing Outside la Comédie Française

Night is slowly permeating the evening sky in Place André Malraux.  The rain has eased into a steady drizzle and the yellow street lamps have come on.  The air is imbued with car exhaust fumes and roast chestnuts.  A smell of autumn in Paris.  The sound of traffic plays against the background of a gurgling fountain in the middle of the square and the wind rustling the brown leaves on the trees.  

Comédie FrançaiseThe queue under the colonnade of the Comédie Française is stretching all to the theatre shop.  We are all waiting for the box office on the side of the building to open and release the €5 tickets for the restricted view seats an hour before the show.   Molière's Les Fourberies de Scapin.  €5 for a performance by one of the top theatre companies in the country.  Like hell would you get this in London, no matter what the view or the altitude.

In front of us, stand two children.  The boy must be about ten, his sister a couple of years younger.  Their mother is standing a few feet away, leaning against a pillar, smoking a cigarette.  She expels the smoke into the square, and darts regular, vigilant glances at her offspring.  The boy is reading aloud from a dog-eared, folded back copy of Les Fourberies de Scapin while his little sister listens intently.  He tells her the names of the characters before reading their lines, and occasionally pushes his blue-frames glasses back on his nose.  Occasionally, he trips over a word and goes back to it, re-reading it until he gets it right.  Every so often, his sister asks for an explanation.  Why does he say that? What does it mean? Her blue eyes are filled with admiration but her tone is that of a challenge.  Her brother explains.  A mixture of patience and irritation.  

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He comes across a series of difficult words. Too many in a row.  He tries to tackle them but it's hard work.  He knows he's done very well up to now and there's no shame to walk to the pillar and ask his mother.  She throws down her cigarette butt, blows out the last of the smoke and takes the book from his hand.  She reads the sentence and explains it.  She comes back to stand in the queue and takes over the reading shift.  All three sit on the pavement by the wall and she slowly reads aloud.  Her son listens but his attention occasionally wanders as his eyes follow cars and passers-by.  His sister has huddled against their mother, head on her shoulder, staring at the printed page.  Every so often she smooths her pony tail.  Three ash-blonde heads close together, reading and listening to Molière.

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When restlessness disrupts the reading, and the siblings clearly need some physical exercise after the mental culture, horseplay starts.  There is some kicking and shouting.  Stop that now.  You're disturbing everybody.  The mother hands them paper and pen and sends them on a mission: to write down the names of all the playwrights whose profiles are displayed in medallions on the walls of the Comédie Française building.  They are excited by this new venture and set off immediately, arguing about who is going to write the names down.  

A few minutes later, they're back with a list.  Their mother asks them to read it out.  Jean Racine.  Pierre Corneille.  JBP – Molière.

So what does JBP stand for?

Jean? 

Yes. Jean and what else?

Jean-Baptiste!

And the P?

Pierre.

Patrick!

Paul.

No, no, it's Patrick!

Poquelin.  Molière's real name was Jean-Baptiste Poquelin.

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There is not much appetite for running around anymore, and the box office is about to open.  The mother opens the dog-eared book again.

Scribe Doll

 

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Mending

Kintsugi (金継ぎ) is the Japanese art of repairing broken items with gold. The gold highlights the area of the breakage, with the idea that the history of the object is part of its beauty. My father practiced his own version of Kintsugi, though not with gold. Exactly.

My mother owned a small porcelain statue of a girl and a puppy, a Hummel or something like. It is an endearing image, or it was originally. With four boys and a continuing series of dogs in the house, that poor little girl endured many accidents during the fifty or so years she has graced our presence. The puppy somehow escaped mostly unscathed.

My mother loved the statue. So every time it was broken, my father brought out the Elmer’s glue and painstakingly tried to put her back together. I can’t begin to count the number of times, or ever forget the image of my 6’ 4’’ (and a half he would insist, just like John Wayne) father hunched over the table with his calloused hands tracing the delicate porcelain pieces with a toothpick, painstakingly applying the white adhesive.

The result was never perfect, or even close. Seams are visible everywhere. Some parts never fit back together right. Some are gone completely. But it is still Kintsugi to me–the mending preserves their history together. The gold is in the memory.

The statue now sits on the top shelf of my china cabinet, safely keeping company with other vestiges of that era. I think sometimes of giving her away. But I haven’t. I can’t. Who but me will see the decades of love melded in the mending? Who but me?

Yet now, we.

And that is mending too.

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Time to Sing

So there’s this cricket.

He comes to visit every August, and he stays in the wall of my bedroom.  His living room seems to be the window frame by my bed, I think because it is the best place to sing. It is long and slender, almost like an echo chamber.

 

He likes to sing.

Especially at night.

My hearing is pretty sensitive. And I find I am unable to fall asleep while he (or she – we’ve never actually met in person) is serenading me.

So if I have been a little grump lately I apologize. I am not getting as much sleep as usual.

Not to be un-neighborly, but I have tried to convince him to move. I drop essential oils in a small hole in the window frame, which are supposedly too aromatic for the species. I shoot compressed air down the chamber, hoping to convince him a hurricane is approaching and he should take (other) shelter.  I put in an ultrasonic device.

None of these have worked. But I refuse to take more drastic measures. I don’t want to hurt him; I just want him to find another place to sing.

I have also tried ways to co-exist. Noise generators. Ear plugs. These help, but not enough.

I thought perhaps he might be insulted at the lengths I would go to avoid his song. If someone did that while I was singing, I think I would get the hint. But he keeps on singing, even knowing that he is singing to himself.

But it occurred to me this morning that we are the same in this way. He keeps on singing whether anyone is listening. I keep on writing whether anyone is reading.

I’m luckier than he. Once his song is done, it is gone. My words will last a bit. I can’t say how long. But longer than I will, likely. And that is one of the things that keeps me writing.

He is singing now as I write this. And as I am singing in my own way here, I think: “keep singing little one”.

Everyone needs their time to sing.

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Finally Landed!

Yes!  I am ready.

Finally cut the cord.

Made that leap of faith.

 

When it’s right it will feel right.

No explanation necessary.

Walk away from the confining four walls.

 

What’s next?

The ocean is wide!

Dive in and explore.

 

Finally.

There is no holding me back.

I’ve procrastinated long enough.

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Latest Comments

Ken Hartke Brickwork
05 November 2019
It caught me by surprise the first time I noticed it. After the trolley man, the house was owned by...
Katherine Gregor Queuing Outside la Comédie Française
03 November 2019
I wish British mothers did, too. Although I suspect that in Paris, too, this is a relatively rare o...
Katherine Gregor Queuing Outside la Comédie Française
03 November 2019
I don't know Congreve well enough to compare. I'm afraid Restauration theatre somewhat escapes me. ...
Stephen Evans Brickwork
03 November 2019
The trolley man’s cigar - wonderful image.
Stephen Evans Queuing Outside la Comédie Française
03 November 2019
So evocative - I wish American mothers would take their children to Moliere.