Monday, January 18, 2016
artist Meg T. Noe “Black Sun”
writer alex Jaros “Southwest Chief ” Part 2
4. Colorado The next morning, we pulled to a stop at the Trinidad station in Colorado. Out the observation car, I could see the old train station surrounded by metal fencing, the windows boarded up with plywood. Men in construction gear walked in and out while a few mingled around a table covered in blueprints, eating donuts and drinking coffee in the early morning light. Behind them, a trailer had been set up as a temporary station. A group stepped out to board the train. They carried suitcases and wore heavy coats, the wind whipping at their faces as they walked towards the train with their heads down, fighting in an invisible, silent battle. A gust ripped one man’s hood from his head and exposed dark, riffled hair and red cheeks. My father turned quickly to me, pointing out the window. What? I asked. He could not answer. I imagined loose thoughts swam in his head like strange fish, unknown and
menacing to him. What do you want to say, Dad? I was frustrated with him, his mouth slightly agape, and the slow way in which he had begun responding to questions lately, long enough that I had started repeating myself with regularity. Dad? Dad. On the phone he would sometimes drift off, mind focusing on a high nest of palm fronds, or just spiraling quietly away before returning, seconds later, to the present. Huh? What are you worried about, Dad? He looked outside again. Your brother. He’s not out there, Dad. That wasn’t him. We’re going to his funeral, remember? His eyes narrowed. God damnit, I know where we’re going, Gabriel. I know who my sons are.
Well quit pointing at people out there, then. He lowered his hand and let his head drop. This was the blind spot Michael could see. The rest of us had nightmares about tornadoes, about abduction. I still woke up on occasion, hidden in the sewers, a towering green dinosaur stalking the city above. No one wrestled in fitful sleep tormented by the subtle loss of memory, by joints absent of cartilage, by murderers brandishing bedpans. Michael grasped the quiet doom that awaited all God’s creatures. Meth was just a way to control his own destruction, a steering wheel in a burning car. The train began moving again, out of the Trinidad station and northeast towards La Junta. The low winter sun bleached out the terrain while curved shadows circled in the open sky. Much of the world looked the same, I decided. Much of it was nothing. Accidental lines, hospitable only by mishap. Out the windows, the land was cut into cliffs, the small offshoots of the Rockies, a billion inches of land I’d never see—and further on, across Kansas, it passed beneath the sun in one flat line, the rails and earth indistinguishable for miles at a time. All morning my father nagged, asking if I wanted things I didn’t need, things he could provide: a pen, a magazine, a wrinkled tissue. Later, he wanted to find a new deck of cards and it became my job to find out where, if at all, they were sold. Then it was time to stretch our knees, so we went to the lower storage sections and did wobbly poses, fighting to stay upright, a flower, then a dog, forming our bodies to shapes of the natural world. He insisted this would help connect us—with what I wasn’t sure. By the afternoon, I had to get away from my father. I left him at our seats during one of his naps. I passed rows and rows of people: large families camped out across multiple seats, kids and babies and toddlers and teenagers, people sleeping or staring into computer screens, old men and women reading books, a multitude of clear eyes. The conductor, who had taken our tickets before, emerged from a staircase in front of me. I grabbed her shoulder. I need to find a bathroom, I said. She spun, surprised, her golden hooped earrings twirling like gyroscopic Christmas ornaments. Okay, first off, sir, what you need is to refrain from making physical contact with train personnel. Her hair was dyed red and done up into a tight bun. She popped a wad of gum while looking me up and down. I glanced over my shoulder. I imagined my father, wandering the rows, searching for me. Do you have a lifeboat, I wanted to ask. You waiting for someone? she asked, following my gaze and crossing her arms. I turned back to her. The bathroom? Her thin, penciled eyebrows arched, her lips pursed as she popped her gum again. Down the stairs to your left, she said, pointing. I slid by her, still worried my father would appear any moment from behind. You’re welcome! she shouted after me. I entered the last stall in the hallway and shut the door behind me. I remembered my father, and locked it for good measure.
5. Kansas A few times, people knocked, but it was never my father. Older women, mostly, hands made of bird bone and bladders the size of small pebbles. I wanted to shout, OCCUPIED. I’m hiding from my FATHER. Now GO AWAY. The hours passed and my knees cramped in the small space. I got used to the piss smell. I drank water from the faucet. I played basketball with toilet paper wads. Kobe would have been proud. I thought about Mike, about my father, about the absurdity of hiding in a bathroom on a train. My brother would have found it funny, at least. Would have joined me, made light of the situation. He called our father ‘Pops,’ something I imagined he picked up from some late night movie. He would have had a joint, too, and we could have camped out like two renegades, Tom and Huck, getting blazed on the way to someone else’s funeral, some other family’s tragedy. The problem was I could stop, while Mike would have wanted more. Would have stayed in the bathroom, would have pulled out a pipe and something more dangerous. I tried things indiscriminately, but never needed to go back. I had always assumed it would be the same for Mike. Later, the door shook violently with a heavy knock and I slid into the sink, pressing the handle and spraying water on my pants. HEY, a voice called. It was a woman’s voice, loud and demanding. After a moment, she shouted again. HEY, YOU. I saw my father choking on a candy bar, or falling down one of the thin sets of stairs. Something had happened. I unlocked the latch and opened the door. The conductor who had pointed me to the bathroom stood outside. Aw, hell no. What is all this? she said, losing her composure. I looked down. The wet spot had bloomed across the front of my pants. Water, I offered. She seemed unconvinced. I know you, she said. Is my father okay? Your father? Yeah, did something happen? I don’t think so, she said, glancing back down the hallway. She looked confused. Do you need him? No, I said, realizing this was not father related—he was not lost, not in peril, he had not come wandering after me. She put a hand on one hip. What have you been doing in there? Nothing. Mhmmm, she said, rolling her eyes. She sniffed the air. I won’t stand for any smoking on my train, she said, popping her gum loudly once more. Smoking? Yeah, smoking. Huffing. Whipping. She sniffed again. Don’t think I don’t know what people do these days. I have a TV. She poked her head in the restroom and sniffed again. After a moment, she seemed satisfied. Please return to your seat and only use the restroom
if needed—and for an appropriate amount of time, sir. My break was over. 6. Missouri It was evening again and the train was heading through Missouri. Soon we’d be into Illinois and to our transfer in Chicago. I felt my body pulled on a string, guided back across the flyover states to Ohio. Outside in the dusk, giant white towers rose from the dry corn fields, blades turning against the turquoise shades of night, the turbines like magnanimous sentries built up to fend off giant beasts stalking across the ancient, glacial plains. Small flakes of wispy snow had begun falling, a champagne powder drifting in miraculous patterns like glitter cast into the dark. Dad, I said. He looked up from his book. What? Nothing. My father didn’t ask where I had been, and if he had even noticed my absence, he didn’t say. I was hiding from a man who didn’t care. He went back to reading. It was the Bhagavad Gita. Why are you reading that? He put a finger in a page and closed the book. It came recommended from my church, he said. You’re religious now? It’s a place of of congregation. So, what, Hinduism? It’s nondenominational, he said. We meditate and read from many holy texts. I think you might really enjoy it. I sighed. Sounds dumb. I watched his face unravel, his body sink back into the chair. He had offered me up some part of his new life, and I had shot it down. Maybe to you, he said. I think Michael would have found it rewarding. I laughed. Michael? He would have hated it more than me. Why do you think all those meetings never worked, all that therapy never clicked? He was smarter than that, Dad. It was as if I could see myself from above. There, look, a boy hurts his father. He huffed and took off his reading glasses and pointed a finger at me. We did everything for Michael. Obviously. And what about me? And for you, too— He tried to say my name, but like a white rabbit, it had disappeared. Say it, I said. Who am I? I waited and my father’s lips curled and stuttered as he grappled for the name, a blank puzzle piece among so many others. His frustration only made it worse, the cavern expanding in his brain, widening to the size of a thousand names, of which he could not choose the right one, the one that belonged to his son. You can’t even remember, I said. Tears came down his face and he grabbed a pen and paper. I knew this was supposed to help him recall names or words if he could not remember. Writing them built connections in the brain. He held the pen above the page and waited, the tip hovering, ready to scratch out the answer to his riddle. I crossed my arms. He tried writing a few letters, at random, waiting for it to click, but the name only faded, buried a thousand memories deep, the synapses rusted over and unresponsive. He gave up and put the cap back on the pen. I know who my sons are, he said through tears, though this time less convincing. He opened his book and pretended to read. We sat in silence and the train lumbered on, the snow outside inches deep as we headed north. Only a few minutes later, without reason, the name rose from the depths of his mind, freed like some wreckage long submerged upon the ocean floor, brought forth and spit out by the tide. Gabriel, he whispered. Don’t forget you were Michael’s older brother. You should have known. My father had cut back. It had gone unsaid for years, and now, quietly, the words had slipped out, filling the space between us. Here was the chasm of blame. The pointed finger. God’s judgment. Touché, Dad, I wanted to say, a clean knockout. But hadn’t the day been normal? I was back from my first semester of college on winter break. It was the first time my brother and I had been away from each other for more than a few days. He couldn’t wait to ask me about it. I remember his face, rounder than mine then, and his long dark coils of hair. He wanted to know everything. Let’s get out of here, I told him. So we left our home behind, out into a dim afternoon. We were brothers again, tramping into the woods, trekking towards something less definite than fate. Fog, vaporous, and snow, a wet white blanket, cleaved to the forest behind our house. Had it always been this way, crystalized in absolute beauty? Or had my memory morphed, blurred, the forest itself changing as we walked through lost brooks and the forgotten coppices of my recollection? I heard the swishing of slick coats, arms rushing back and forth. We rambled through pines, young spruce and the gangly arms of low junipers hanging with pale, frost-tipped berries that we picked each winter, our fingers aching and stained and our buckets full, the round gems taken home and washed in copper kettles, bottled and infused, the clear liquid smelling of Christmas, of the gin it would become. But then silence. Just my brother and I, two boys standing, red cheeks and soaked boots stark against a cove of pea green needles. I brought you something, I told him, and I reached down through layers of wool and cotton to get it, digging somehow past ribs, weaving my fingers through bone and sinew and blue blood, deeper than any breathing, rippling, convulsing organ, deeper still than any arm could ever reach, into a place like love, soft and supple and largely unknown to me, a place that, if I had to give it a name, was my soul. And from there I pulled a tiny bag. My brother’s eyes reflected the sharp edges of a crystal, white like the world around us. It’s fun, I told him, and I watched Mike do what I had done that past semester, inhaling and exhaling the smoke, strange and new, my brother’s eyes going wide and then up and up and lost to me altogether, until our bodies were laid out on the bed of needles below, two boys half-dead, an odd thing in a forest so lively and crisp. 7. Illinois We slept through the night, huddled in our seats while the train plodded onwards. Sometime in the early morning hours, the train stopped in Galesburg to retrieve passengers. The storm outside had become a blizzard, and the doors opened, cold air rushed onto the train, a manic wolf that woke me in the night. The jet stream had dipped low into the central United States that week, pulling down frozen air from the arctic. Immense cold fronts charged with moisture fueled catastrophic storms
throughout the Midwest. Cleveland had already dug itself out of the first snow when the second, larger storm hit. In the dark, before the train had reached Princeton, the wind had piled ice and snow on the tracks thick enough to stall the two, eight-thousand horsepower engines. Quietly, we came to a stop. The next morning, the train transformed into a shipwreck. My father and I weren’t speaking, and I roamed the cars while the announcements poured in. We would soon be on our way, they said, once the train could push through the snow. The rumors started, information pipelined from conductors, or calls made to the outside. This wasn’t normal. Trains don’t get stuck in the snow. They tried backing the train up, gunning the engines, a seven hundred ton battering ram. But the drifts persisted and the train beached itself like a confused whale. Looks like Chicago’s going to get hit hard, a woman told her daughter in the domed observation car. She was scrolling through her phone. There’s already a foot or more on the ground, she said. I smiled and sat down, watching the glass get plastered in white sludge. The light outside stayed a continuous dark gray, the sun blotted out by oppressive clouds. I found the blurred vision of the world pleasant— no more features, landscapes, just a white background and a low hum. I wanted a blank slate, a TV channel with nothing. Presto! My eyes lost focus and the world outside devoured me. Hours went by, the day passed, and the train dissolved into chaos. When the train first stopped, people were calm. I’m a reasonable person, they told themselves. People are dying in places around the world. But then it didn’t get fixed. People got antsy, a little worried maybe. Then the water ran out and the staff announced they’d be handing out bottles of water. It was the beginning of the end. The classic signal shit has hit the fan. Bottled water was made for starving countries, for cities leveled by earthquakes, for victims of tsunamis, for people not like me, not here, not now! The word ration started making its way through the train like a plague. People stopped walking around. They retreated to their seats, became hoarders. Cell reception waned and the outside world became as distant as the moon. Soon the toilets failed, followed by food, and eventually power was lost altogether. The backup generators were on, but wouldn’t last long. The train was slowly returning to the Stone Age, and soon I sat alone in the observation car. The lights were lowered to save power, and the heat turned low. Promises of rescue came over the intercoms, but nothing seemed certain anymore. Eventually, I made my way back to my seat. The train was in chaos. People were fighting over bottles of water, food, snacks, and everything else. Passengers had taken out extra clothing from their suitcases and were bundling themselves in layers. I passed a young woman wrapped up like a babushka, stuffing her hands into socks like they were puppets. She had strapped plastic bags over her shoes. I stopped and asked what she was doing. She scrunched up her face and glanced around, as if she had a secret. I heard we’re going to have to make a run for it, she said. A run for it? Ya, this train is done. Tanked. Kaboshed. She slapped two sock hands together. Fin. I get it. They’re going to make us walk to some vans or something, she whispered. Better get ready. She shook her head and turned back to her prepping. I found my father bent over his book, reading as if the world around him had not collapsed into postapocalyptic madness. Hey, Dad. He kept reading. So we’re still not talking? I asked. His eyes stayed on the page. It was early evening now, but the world outside had gone completely dark. I leaned over my father, cupping my hands against the glass to see out the window. The snow fell in gusts like giant white ghosts rushing across the earth. The wind was driving into the train from the west, forming a single, smooth arc that climbed towards the top of the train. We were being buried by the storm. Holy shit, I said, have you seen this? My father stayed silent. Let’s get some clothes on, I told him. I heard we’re going to have to leave the train. The news had seemed to spread, as people began putting on coats, jackets, sweaters, wrapping themselves in whatever they had brought. I took our bags down from above our seats and began searching for the heaviest clothes we had. Did you bring a coat, Dad? He shrugged. You’re not making this any easier. I found a few sweaters and a windbreaker and placed them on his lap. Put these on. Neither of us had prepared for weather like this. We had a few spare items and two suits for the funeral. Might as well throw the jackets on, I thought. An hour later, the news came over the intercom. Vans waited a short walk from the tracks on a nearby road, waiting to take us to buses, which would deliver us, frozen but alive to Chicago, where we would disperse, companions on a doomed train ride. A chorus rose from the seats, complaints, shock, threats of litigation— and yet each man and woman tied laces, donned caps and readied to depart. The train held nothing and the passengers, though angry, knew it had come time to leave. I helped my father up, and we stood, a matching pair in dress coats, ready to leave. My father was an old man now. His face had changed—thick creases converged to form canyons and rivers, entire valleys cutting across his cheeks, and above them, caves pitted deep into his skull, his eyes like two bright birds lost among the shadows. We’re going to be okay, I told him. We stepped off the train and into the winters of my childhood. The world was dark and white, the snow careening in every direction, the wind flying at us, a mad, screeching hawk. The people formed a loose line and began following the flashlights beaming in the night. They would lead us on the quarter mile journey to the nearest road. I turned to see the train behind me, a single black streak being swallowed by the storm. We had ridden it half-way across the country to a desolate spot in Illinois. And now, somewhere a short distance away, buses waited to take us onward, the journey still incomplete. After a few feet, my father paused and looked off into the storm. People gave no notice and the line continued around us, diverted a few feet, but otherwise uncaring. The conductors had spread out, guiding the line, but two men pausing in the night was no reason for concern—there were places to be, warm vans ahead. What is it? I asked. Michael, he said.
He moved out into the night away from me. I nearly turned for help, but wasn’t sure who to stop, or what to say. Help me catch my father! It seemed absurd, so I lumbered after him, calling his name into the frozen squall. He became nimble, all of a sudden, his knees finding a burst of energy beneath slack pants, his strange neon shoes flashing through the drifts. Hey, I called, struggling to keep up. Dad! My voice was carried away into nothingness, unheard. The wind shrieked and the whole world became a single veil, white and whistling. My father disappeared in an instant. I wondered who would find us—perhaps not until spring—first, by a grazing cow, then, a farmer, who would alert the police. I found two men frozen in my field, he’d say. Not a coat between them, the fools. I found my father standing, silent, a black pillar amid the storm. I went to his side and squinted into the tempest, searching for what he saw, strung out enough that I half-expected Mike to emerge from behind a nearby drift, snowball in hand. He would have loved this. But there was nothing. My father turned to me, frozen tears forming icy lines down his cheeks. He’s not here, he said. No, he’s not. I took my father’s hand, our bodies leveed against curling wind, suit jackets pulled tight, like two lost processioners paying respects to the void. No eulogy, burial, or flowers, but a funeral nonetheless. Mike and I had laid on the forest floor, invincible, once. And then he lived an entire life without me—had a daughter even, a wife for a while and a handful of jobs. He struggled through sobriety, therapy, relapse, things that were just
words on an answering machine to me. I missed an entire life and I prayed he wouldn’t forgive me, wherever he was, because I wouldn’t forgive him. My father reached down and took a handful of snow. He threw the powder up, where it became indistinguishable from the rest of the world, carried off like ashes over a fire. Let’s go home, I said, guiding my father back towards the faint glow of lights in the distance. When Cleveland got enough snow, school would be canceled and my father would stay home. We would carve igloos into the yard, build walls and turrets and throw snowballs at passing cars. We would hide in our caves, bringing out snacks—jerky and hot chocolate from the house—and tell stories like wild men in the jungle. These were the days my brother and I found thrilling and bright and lively, days etched in memory and worth recounting, ones I would tell my father over and over in the coming years, reminding him of who his sons were, of the names he had given us, waiting for the recognition to surface, quickly and later more slowly, until often it was only a flicker, somewhere deep within him like the smallest candle in the largest room. I picked up my knees and stomped through the waist-high snow, holding onto my father, carving out a trough for him as if the world was made of pillows—as if the whole white madness was just feathers, cotton, and a bit of thread holding it all together. I saw others, hunched and clinging to one another, a crazy line heaving forward, brought together in desperation, and so I thanked desperate moments, thanked the shit wind and the stinging sleet and the whole damn planet.
Megan Taylor Noe (b. Corpus Christi, TX) likes dark things. Her sculptures, photographs and videos express a fascination with morbidity and the material of memorialization and ritual. Through an exploration of the mutability of objects and the transience of time, her works question what death and ritual looks like in contemporary life. The genesis of these works produced her first book, Black Sun, published by Oranbeg Press in early 2014. She anticipates the release of her next book DEATH in October of 2016. Her work has exhibited extensively in Chicago and recently in Mute Annotations at Black Bear Bar in Brooklyn, NY. Meg is also the Director of Exhibitions at Weinberg/ Newton Gallery (Chicago, IL) where she curates exhibitions focused on issues of social justice in partnership with organizations. She currently lives, laughs and loves in Chicago, IL. www.megtnoe.com Alex Jaros recieved his MFA from Columbia College Chicago where he was a recipient of the Follett Fellowship. He earned his BA in English from the University of Missouri in 2011. His work can be found in Goreyesque, Epic, and among varied zines littered across the Midwest. LDOC is a free photography and creative writing publication distributed every first and third Monday at the following Red Line stops: Howard St, Belmont Ave, Lake St, 69th St, and 95th St. LDOC features a new local artist and writer each month, creating an accessible installment-based art experience for the Chicago commuter.
LDOC is currently fully funded by the 2015 Crusade Engagement Grant from Crusade for Art. www.crusadeforart.org
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