Palimpsest

‘They locked the doors to the Augusta House in 1973.
Home to transients, broken widowed men, old ladies and their cats.
They swept out those nearly destitute remainders,
padlocked the doors, and demolished it.’

It’s like this.
Everything bleeds.

They locked the doors to the Augusta House in 1973.
Home to transients, broken widowed men, old ladies and their cats.
They swept out those nearly destitute remainders,
padlocked the doors, and demolished it.
The baroque columns replaced with the concrete brutalism of another faceless bank.
Yet as I make the turn onto Memorial Circle and past Rotary Cleaners, I can
smell the sweet tobacco and my eyes see the old Fat Cats
of Maine’s Gilded Age, with top hats and gold pocket watches,
engaged in discussion before they trek down State Street to the Blaine House.
Clouds of pipe smoke mingle with the wax of handlebar moustaches
as they shout about mill rates and transportation bonds
quaffing bourbon and beer.
This sepia-toned daguerreotype. This transmission from 1873.
I can see all of it.
Because everything bleeds.

It’s like this.
She is approaching the Augusta Airport in her yellow Piper Cub.
The runway guarded by a tank from Camp Keyes, turret pointed at the sky.
Her father sits in the co-pilot seat.
This is her first landing. She is taking the Cub down alone. The wind is intense.
The puny metal of the wings begin to buck on the descent. The engine sputters.
The Piper begins to shudder in this instant gale and as the engine finally stalls,
her final cough transforms into a chickadee’s call.
The gale transforms into a hurricane and the summit of Winthrop Hill returns.
The airport is gone, the tower replaced with an elegant hillcrest.
Low, rounded slopes sprinkled with the stately homes of Augusta’s wealthy Fathers,
who look out at the Capital Dome and Gannet’s Woods, and talk of the possibilities
of air travel as their horse-whipped stagecoaches approach Winthrop Street.
The whip crack is the backfire of the Plymouth Fury that now descends Winthrop Street.
I am parked next to the tower watching the Piper Cub land.
It sits safely on the tarmac.
She stands close to her father as they walk away.
I can see all of it.
Because everything bleeds.

It’s like this.
They call it the Calumet Bridge now. Then it was the Father Curran Bridge.
The Father Curran Bridge bleeds through as I cross the oily water.
Upriver, the bleak-Blake-Satanic mills of the Edwards Dam harvest the hydropower
of the Kennebec for simple pedestrian paper.
For that we have a river that rots of sulphur in the summer.
For that we have mercury fish.
My grandfather’s Industrial Harvester is idling outside the entrance.
It is the cold dark of December. The exhaust is clouding. He is going home.
From the AM radio I can hear a cresting flute and The Marshall Tucker Band’s
“Heard It In A Love Song”. The twang of Doug Gray’s vocal mixes with the earth loop
drone of the AM signal; the final flute note fades into the chime
of St. Augustine’s bells as they strike six.
He puts the Harvester into gear and roars away.
His exhaust envelopes me and the Calumet Bridge bleeds through.
The Edwards Dam is gone.
The fall line of the Kennebec has returned to smoke water vapor.
The smell is intoxicating and fresh. I inhale that gorgeous smoke.
I can see the salmon jump.
I can see all of it.
Because everything bleeds.

I remember the first time.
Summer, 1978.
Dust motes swim in the tobacco smoke while Pablo Cruise’s “Love Will Find A Way”
plays on WABK.
I run out into the sun to my mountain.
The one I saw on TV.
The one where mountain grown Folgers comes from.
The one where I ran away.
Always running.
Up the wide path to the crest the sky opens. Out in front of me is our whole neighborhood;
laid out on the green grass of suburbia.
But it was more.
It was what was, there and not there.
It was and wasn’t all at once.
Right there.
I saw the future and the past bleeding out of our little red house.
I saw the neighbor’s pond evaporate and then rise.
I saw Charles Kelly’s general store on Dirigo Road empty out,
dust settling on the bodega shelves packed with Shur-Fine
vegetables and Chef Boyardee cans.
I saw 20 years pass in the space of a moment.
I saw futures that never came to pass. I saw pasts that never were.
I saw all the timelines, the dark and the light, sweating out in blood
all around me, pouring into the present, a time palimpsest,
hiding in plain sight behind everything I see.

It’s like this.
Sometimes I’m here. Sometimes I’m not.
Because I bleed, too.
Time is a permeable membrane and I am osmosis.
I flow through the membranes to places I am not.
I thought the blood was only the past,
but the blood is everything all at once.
The future and past are both open to me,
but in all this time what I’ve never seen is myself.
I am never there.
I flow to places I am not.
I can see my parents with other children. I see houses they lived in that never were.
I see my wives with other husbands. I see their children. I feel their joy.
I see my brothers at Christmas with someone else. He looks like them.
They give gifts to him in a house I do not know.
I flow to places I am not.
My friends are playing “Dungeons and Dragons” in the basement. I know the group.
But this party has a different druid. I see my echo in his face, but it is only an echo.
I see a headstone with another name.
The choir of my life stands apart on the grass in the rain as he is interred.
I flow to places I am not.
Nature has found an aberration she wishes to correct.
Nature abhors a vacuum.
I flow to places I am not. I am osmosis.
I can see all of it.
Because everything bleeds.

“Palimpsest” originally appeared in Volume 41 of The Northern New England Review.

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