(text and graphics by A. Leon Miler)
The rain washed away the last of the sidewalk chalk mural from the blacktop surface as the water pooled up into a parking lot playa. Tomorrow, the pool will be filled with tree frog tadpoles. If they are lucky, the pool will be refreshed by another rain so they can mature into yet another generation of tree frogs. Meanwhile, the mural just vanished, washed down the street with all its complexities of line and shade, with all its nuances gone. I don’t know that I’d call it a masterpiece, and I doubt that I’ll weep for its loss. Nevertheless, that one face had a bit of “the Girl With the Pearl Earring” to it, and the horses running wild had their swirling charm. But the rains came on time and now it is all a memory.
You always stood like that, in the doorway, with your hands in your back pockets. I was never quite sure whether you were smiling or smirking, and I guess it really doesn’t matter. You’re just a memory, a black shadow caught up in the box. And I would not have brought the box up either if you hadn’t made such a deal of it. I was buying a birthday present for someone at the bookstore, the sales clerk asked if I needed help, and, for no reason, I asked if he had a box of blackness. It was a joke, for crying out loud, but he reached down below the counter and pulled a box out, said it was the only one he’d ever seen, that no one had ever shown any interest in it before, and I could have it for a good price.
I remember how you opened the box. You looked in with half interest, set it aside and reached for your beer. And, as you sat, the shadows began to stir, shadows layered deeper than you can comprehend, shadows side by side with no seeming context; an ancient chieftain crying out over an apparent betrayal, a garbage collector reaching the end of his route, faceless people troubling the shadows, all in a box of blackness; shadows vague and gossamer, ancient memories, happy times, bad times, looking for paradise times, always seeking; restless shadows like the breeze pushed ripples on the water over hidden currents, over concealed depths.
It did no good to reach into the box to retrieve a fleeting image. All that was to be had in doing so was blackness without substance. You had to wait. Be still. With patience, the shadows would resolve themselves in fleeting, spectral moments; and, maybe inside your heart you could feel laughter or tears.
There, in my hands, were countless dreams, visions, aspirations. They were shadows, once attained, only to be blown away like words shouted into the wind, yet somehow captured,- a box of blackness.
When we were young, you drew hopscotch boxes on the sidewalk, blue chalk, white chalk, red chalk, and you sang: “Three six nine, the goose drink wine / The monkey chewed tobacco on the street car line / The line broke, the monkey got choked / And they all went to heaven in a little row boat….” Then we grew older and drew wild horses and other images in blacktop places and freeway underpasses, but even the colors have turned dark and dirty, blown by hot dry winds into a box of blackness.
Was not Birhtnoth the Earl of Essex when he stood on Blackwater’s shore near to Maldon and called challenge to the enemy? The tide turned, and all turned to blackness as I’ve been told. And so I’m left here with this box of blackness and nowhere to go.
I thought I saw you from the corner of my vision, but when I turned, it was only a fleeting shadow seeking shelter in a box of blackness.
I look back in vain for a glimpse of spring, the smell of dampness in the woods across the road, but its only a fleeing memory seeking shelter in a box of blackness.
The hills beyond the Rio Grande always catch the last light day has to throw its way, showing pinks and purples in the horizontal layers of sedimentary rock, as they have for time out of mind. Not much really happens over there, just a home for owls, coyotes, and wild horses. They aren’t imposing hills, just a slight uplift in the Rio Grande rift, called the Quebradas rather than a name suggesting altitude. We wandered through the bosque on the river’s bank, with the Quebradas a band of black beyond the other shore. We wandered hand in hand into the small hours of the morning, but that too, is just raindrops on the midnight water flowing into a box of blackness.
Tonight you can see the lights on the interstate. The big dipper is low in the north. The moon is awfully bright with mooncast shadows strewn across the desert. Toss cat’s moon in the mix, he’s just playing with me, paw poised to strike, and I’m here thoughtless and worn, holding tight this box of blackness.