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Notes from open land
by Wendy Lewis

Four Snapshots

Jack flushes out an alarmed hen turkey and pursues beneath her shadow as she flies clumsily into the trees on the southern end of the upper prairie. Romeo, Rocky and I continue east towards the house still under construction to have a look around. The owner has draped all the windows with large plastic tarps so I can't see the progress if any had been made. It appears strangely abandoned. Returning down the road, Jack careens around the corner from the field, charges up to me urgently and drops a turkey egg at my feet. He has never done anything like this before. It cracks when it hits the blacktop.

I scramble into my car with coffee to make the hour long commute to the city for work. I turn on the radio. The headline news is typically unmerciful; three more Iraqi civilians dead in a bombing in Baghdad, the insurance and oil companies raking in record profits while US consumers struggle to keep up with rising prices, more bird flu drama, more corruption in Washington, no property tax relief for the citizens of Minnesota and all this in a matter of 3.7 miles on my odometer. I turn the radio off and drive with only the mid-range whine of tires on the pavement and the purr of my little diesel engine. I gaze at the farm fields stretching out lazily on either side of the highway in various stages of planting and watch small flocks of birds rise from the corduroyed rows, darting erratically. A raven picks at some road kill near the median, sunlight bluing his feathers. There are cars ahead of me and cars behind me for miles and miles. When I drive across the Mendota Bridge, the Mississippi River below releases a single blue heron from its sparkling surface. I float onto the overpass, heading west on the Crosstown, the airport landing strip to the south. I impulsively turn the radio back on and hit the college station. Roxy Music fills the car with that eerie anachronistic AM boxed sound. I was there for the downbeat. A plane descends closely overhead from the north, its landing gear threatening to touch the roof of my car. Now the party's over, I'm so tired. Then I see you coming out of nowhere. Much communication in a motion, without conversation or a notion. Avalon. A hawk opens its wings, crouches and lofts from a lamppost simultaneously, taking off in the opposite direction of the landing plane. A small cloud in front of me looks as if it could be plucked from the shelf of the sky. I am underwater caught up in the midst of a school of flashing metallic fish; not steering, not pushing, not resisting. When the samba takes you out of nowhere, and the background's fading out of focus. Yes, the picture changing every moment, and your destination, you don't know it. Avalon.

I am in a familiar small town bar on a Saturday night. It's crowded with people, conversation and music. Glass is clinking brightly in the sinks, on the bar and along the rail, and smoke trails in murky clouds beneath the high ceiling. We've been introduced to someone's cousin who has arrived after attending a family wedding. He is at first intriguingly comical in his colorful leather dirt bike jacket, his grey, long-banged, swept-over-to-one-side Kinks hairdo. He immediately orders drinks for everyone on our end of the bar, a move I think he likes to make. He is short and looks out from beneath hooded eyes, his head tilted back slightly and to one side self-consciously and sexually authoritative. He's got his game on. I ask questions. He gives answers with a smirk. Those around us vanish into other conversations and all too soon, he reveals that his children are the whole point and their serial, twenty-year old mothers are meaningless other than providing uteruses into which he plants his ignoble seed. The third one is on the way. I don't like this guy. I push. "What would happen if you got involved with a real woman, a grown up, someone who could meet you where you live?" He shakes his head looking down at the bar where his elbows are planted and emphatically states he will never align himself with a relationship and then surprises me by referencing Kant, Nietzsche and Joseph Campbell in defense, before storming off to the bathroom, my voice trailing after him ..... things are just getting interesting, and now you are going to run away? I imagine him in the bathroom, looking at himself in the mirror, hopping like a boxer, throwing jabs, getting pumped up for round two. When he returns, he's armed and dangerous.

"I can be a very violent man..."
"Oh really ..... are you proud of that?"
"Seriously, I could rip your fuckin' throat out."
"No you can't." I light a cigarette dismissively, rotate my bar stool seat around to face him.
"Yes, I can." He stares, grinning.
"No..... you can't....", smiling grimly, I lean into him, he unintentionally rears back a bit. I look steadily into his hateful bedroom eyes and, quietly, ....."I - am not - afraid - of - you."

Stripping the garden of last year's accomplishments, now dried and tangled and meaningless. Fat bumblebees zoom past my head while honeybees hover over bloomless strawberry leaves, looking for something to do. The shovel makes a dry, scraping plunge when I exact its point into the ground, jumping on it. I turn over clods of rich, black earth, pick and toss the rocks, scatter peat moss and mix it in. Rocky sits heavily under the shade of the oak tree, eyes at half-mast, panting. Romeo is stretched on the stoop drenched in the sun, sleeping. Jack is probably somewhere along the river. I hear a mower humming in the distance while I navigate the wheelbarrow through the woods to the brush pile, returning to the top of the yard. The cacophony of wind tossing the branches of oak, maple, cedar and pine alerts me, and I drop the wheelbarrow handles. The scene compresses suddenly; sky too saturated in color, the edges of leaves too sharp, the contrast between tree bark and distance etched too darkly, each blade of grass too distinct, counted and singing. I can hear the quilt flapping on the clothesline. Just behind my eyes, I deliver brief, pointed soliloquies to my dead mother and a friend who thinks she's fat and an old man standing near the fountain in Washington Square who turns to look at me and a chorus of voices that rise and fall. Somewhere someone is laughing. The air around me feels thick and heavy. I squat and sit on the grass - gone, gone, here, gone. Here. I smile and look down over the long slope of yard before me. Tears slide down my cheeks. My fingernails are lined with dirt and my hands are detached, unrecognizable as mine, and I stare at them for a while. Everywhere. Everything. Nothing. I know that what is seen is not as it appears and understanding it doesn't matter. I ball my hands into tight fists and open them quickly and wide, examining the lines crisscrossing my palms. I return to the garden and plant seeds along the stone wall.

©2006 Mental Contagion • Making Space for Visual Artists & Writers