Thursday, December 24, 2009

Like Infants

Artwork by Tom Kryss

—Tom Kryss

A converted trawler out of the east and bound, as some said,

for the Canaries, foundered on the rocks beyond the shore

outside our village. I was five, you understand, and didn’t want

to leave the tree and the presents my father had made me — he

pulled me away, saying “we’re going down to the sea — a wreck

is tottering on the point.” He dressed me in my warm scarf

and mittens, not bothering to put on something warm for himself,

and away we dashed out the door, him pulling me, scrambling like

some kind of madman. The other villagers had gotten there before

us and were standing in the wind, looking out at the wreck. Little

specks of gold were washing around in the brine, I decided they

were oranges which is, indeed, what they were. Crates and barrels

were smashing apart in the waves, embroidered fabrics and heads

of cheese rolling out everywhere. My father lifted me on his

shoulders to get a good look — Hans, my friend down the lane,

asked me why I should receive such special treatment, ha, Hans,

and leave me alone I have things to see. The ship rocked and

swayed and, to everyone’s amazement, with a deep groan of lumber

and nails worked itself free, its single tattered sail dragged by the

wind out past the rocks and over the horizon as we stood there

and congratulated ourselves on apprehending a phantom. These

were not the words of a child seeing it for the first time —

that child had no such words to make things sensible. The other

night I went up to my father’s bed in the hospital at Reykjavik

to set up the little tree I had brought him. I put my hand on his

stubbly cheek and asked him whether he remembered the wreck

from the years we lived in the village. What wreck, he said,
you must be mistaken.


—Tom Kryss

This year I put up the tree I once thought
was unnecessary. It’s only us now, and
the tree itself has grown progressively
smaller. I used to help; or linger around
and admire how she brought a cheap version
to life with an effulgence of lights: the room
dark, a potential black hole, before plugging
them in. Yes, this

year: those hands are no longer able
to make the connections or hang so much
as a ball. She sleeps nearby and when she
awakens, the thing is already up: fifteen
minutes, not bad, and this time it’s me
saying, “come look at the tree.”

More than the tree, I locate the manger
at the top of the shelf in the closet, pushed
back against the wall. You think I had
problems with the tree? Jeez, I hope
I got them just right, in the positions
she used to award them — the angel,

clearly not part of the original set,
facing us; although I considered
availing it of perspectives shared
by wisemen, shepherds, walk-ons,
and other members of that extraordinary
extended family. I even unstuck Mylar
snowflakes and arranged them on
the glass door.

I can’t really say what she’s thinking,
yes, no, maybe, as she looks at it all:
me and my drum.


—Tom Kryss

Dave Ledbetter places holiday lights in position
on a tree on Public Square. The branches of the
tree are silhouetted against the sky, as is Dave
reaching from the top of the platform. In the
distance is a well-known local landmark, no longer
the center of attention, at least not right now.
I think Dave has been doing this for only a few years —
the last guy to attempt it before him up and
retired — but already Dave seems to have mastered
the fine points of leaning forward from the cherry
picker with a strand of lights grasped in his hands;
it almost looks as though he’s trying to tear them
apart — that could be my silly take on it— more
accurately, he’s conducting a form of micro surgery
on the limbs of the tree. Does one volunteer
for this type of work, or is it simply assigned?

From where I stand I can’t see his face, I presume
it’s not smiling — very few would find levity
in this workaday world — but a sense of calmness
obtains, a resignation even, from a job that doesn’t
exactly need to be done. What he does in other
months, after reversing the process and removing
the lights, I haven’t for now the faintest idea. And
he may not even care to return when trees twinkle
with colors like some new kind of leaves they have
grown. Don’t bet on it, it was Dave that put them
in the positions they’re in. This is the way I want
to remember him: not quite Michelangelo, but as
someone dedicated to an unlikely proposition, even
for just the better part of a day so fleeting we have
to keep reminding ourselves it exists.


Today's LittleNip:

Vulnerable we are, like an infant.
We need each other's
care or we will

—St. Catherine of Siena