Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Up north

My mother had a funny way of saying things

she'd pronounce them a little off,

and when she'd start talking about "going up north"

we knew she meant "up at Bondy"

her name for our paradise.

I don't know if the perceptions of children are
compressed because of their short time on earth,
or infinitely vast, as yet unimpeded by "you can't" and "don't".

"Up at Bondy" meant Nancy and Brian
and a couple of weeks of unlimited freedom
and running around in our bathing suits
jumping off the dock

the magic of July nights
of bullfrogs booming like bassoons

of lying face-up on the swell of the hill
and staring at stars ripped free of all veils,
with the eerie music of loon-flutes quivering.

I can't tell you about the smell of small-mouth bass
in a pail, fishy and sandy
and fried up in butter
and heady smells of bacon
and burnt coffee
and the perpetual barbecue.
Great slabs of meat, porterhouse steaks
and kippers for breakfast
I don't remember eating anything else
but potato chips and brandy snaps.

Bondi was playing horses with Nancy
(we wanted a horse so bad we could die)
we knew it would never happen
so we would BE horses
prance like wild things on the ridge,

not knowing we'd never
be this carefree again

I can't express a summer in my mind,
the smell of lakewater, Noxzema cream
on burnt skin,
and a Camelot built from wet sand.
I can't express a memory
of a red bathing suit
and a baby kingbird
somehow, impossibly sitting
on my outstretched hand

like some Bondi falcon.

I learned lore from Nancy
whose grandfather was an opera singer
and when it rained, we'd
climb up the shelves of the linen closet
into a hole, an attic trove
of old things, dusty costumes
and dried-out makeup kits
from Gilbert and Sullivan productions

a gramophone you had to crank
and impossibly old records:
Keep the Home Fires Burning
My Little Grey Home in the West
(and our favorite)
A Cornfield Medley
which was shockingly racist:
"Some folks say dat a nigger don't steal. . . "
We saw that the record
thick like a slab of slate
had grooves on only one side
No one had thought to record on the other side
and I was later to learn it was made
in the 1800s

when sound in a bottle was still a miracle.

The two weeks "up at Bondy" blew by too fast
Nancy and Brian went back to being
the owner's kids,
and even on this day they own it,
still own Bondi:

it exists in an unchanged form
that seems like time suspended.

Humans hang on to Paradise, to a
place or state of mind eternal
as if it represents the ultimate reward,
finally, finally letting down the burden
of constant change.

I would go back to Bondi,
I will go back to Bondi,
and I know I will find it pristine,
with a few things added, a horse arena here,
an indoor swimming pool there,
so people don't need to rely on the weather;
Nancy and Brian still live there, but they
aren't the Nancy and Brian of old,

nor can they be,

any more than I am that child who dreamed
she was a ridge runner

and held a bird in her hand.