Saturday, November 03, 2007

November 2007 email newsletter, No. 043

In October, someone called me a "Buddha-like figure in East Texas." And an eight-year-old girl asked me to read her short story, and a 10-year-old girl recited a poem to me and told me the things she can't do. I told her I liked the poem, and that she shouldn't say she can't do this or can't do that, but that she should say, "I want to learn how to do this or that." I gave the 10-year-old a copy of one of the poems I read during a performance at Image Warehouse. She said she would tape it to her bedroom wall, which pleased me.

At Image Warehouse, I was one of four people who opened for Still on the Hill in what the duo called the "outer edges" of its own art. Purposely, I chose to begin my portion of the reading with a piece that makes me uncomfortable -- not because of its content but because its form forces me to pause and to be a little bit forceful in the delivery. Image Warehouse is in Athens. There's also a Paris in East Texas, of course, and a Moscow. And Styx. And Fate, with its House of Pain. Yes, there is a House of Pain in Fate; it's a store that sells workout gear.

A few days later, as I drove on Highway 80 toward home from taking photos at one of those rural downtown festivals that seem to be everywhere in the fall, I saw a sign for "Providence" that pointed left down a two-lane blacktop road. I wanted to get home to watch a football game on TV, but couldn't resist going where the sign led me.

Providence turned out to be a mostly empty place about 15 miles northeast of home.

I stopped and photographed the green "city limits" sign, and was about to leave when a small movement caught my eye. In the trees to my right stood a little girl in a dirty white T-shirt and green shorts. She was four or maybe five, and she was barefoot and stared at me.

"Hi," I said.

She hesitated, then, "Hi."

"How are you," I said.

"I’m hungry," she said, and turned to walk away.

I walked with her into the woods. Soon, we came to an old frame house badly in need of paint and repairs. The front door and windows were open. The little girl went inside and I stood on the porch.

"Hello," I said into the late-afternoon darkness of the living room.

A young woman, who turned out to be the child's mother, came to the door. She was thin, and moved slowly, and obviously wary.


"Your little girl told me she is hungry. Are you all right? Is she all right?"

"Yes," the woman said. Then, hesitating, "No."

She told me she and her daughter had been in the house for a month or so, and that they were alone. She had running water, but no electricity. There was no food in the house. I told her I would buy them some groceries, and asked if she wanted to go into town with me. She thanked me and accepted the offer for the groceries, but said she couldn't go to town. So. I drove to the Brookshire's in Grand Saline and bought some basic fresh and canned food and some bread and soap, and drove back to Providence. When I got there, the woman and her daughter were gone. The house was gone, too. None of it was real, of course, except in my imagination.

"Oh, well," I said. And I drove home and put the groceries in my own cabinet and, for the next week or so, sat two extra plates on the dinner table.

In my creative writing class, I paraphrase someone whose name I cannot, at the moment, recall, who says that the more fully we inhabit the world, the closer we come to the truth. The closer we come to truth, I believe, the closer we come to touching moments of grace. My grace is, I suppose, in some of the people I encounter, including some of you on this list: what I may in some cases take from you, and what I give to you, and what we share. My grace is in this, and my grace is, sometimes, in the writing.