(And way up north they’re starting to recover
in Maine the undeniable remains
of a settlement you might be interested in seeing
you’re into that whole hushed-up-history thing….
—postcard from Tennessee
You’ll pull off the main road, Route 209, south of Phippsburg, where Google Maps tells you. It won’t be long until the pavement’s gone, dirt road bleeding off into thinner dirt road, the coastal woods around you more and more secluded, untouched, the stillness and silence cut only by the rattle-and-pop of your tires and undercarriage. Summer foison is in the woods and the thick roadside overgrowth oppressive. It leaps out urchin-fashion to snag your fenders and doors. Occasional capillaries, also dirt, appear from nowhere and feed into your passage; as you wind slowly deeper, you keep one eye to the rearview, making note which way you’ll steer to make it out. Time’s a lost thing, memory a maze. How long have you been puttering now? Trouble out here, nobody’s going to find you. Google Maps shows only a faint gray line extending vaguely westward through a cyberphoto block of green.
The Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater is on a stretch of East Lake Street lined with Latino and African businesses. The South Minneapolis theater is committed to the Powderhorn Park neighborhood, to social and environmental justice, to creating community through puppet theater. Every year for a decade, I’d watched the theater’s May Day parade. The first Sunday in May, the parade ran down Bloomington Avenue to Powderhorn Park, where the theater held a Tree of Life Ceremony, and afterwards hosted a festival. The giant puppets were strange and beautiful, the political statements loud and unequivocal. It was an event that wouldn’t happen in Saint Paul, with its quiet streets and big houses. Every April, HOBT had open workshops. Anyone could learn to make a mask or puppet, and be in the parade.
Bomolluck: not a thing in the night, but what you fear in the night.
It can sit on your chest
The train was pointed toward a hill town in Tuscany. From my seat on the exhausted maroon upholstery, I watched the bustle on the sooted platform: the hop-skip of those running late, the toe-to-toe and clutch of goodbye.
At night I open all the shades so the dark comes in. This summer, I like the wide expanse of night. The full moon is high, and I see individual strands of onion grass in the shallow spot between the shores. Tomorrow we will learn that tonight’s moon is “blue,” a rare extra full in the cycle of moons. Truly, it is orange, and hovers low over the trees.
On Nantucket, eighty-year-old Connie Congdon and I sat in her dim living room looking at the 120-year-old plaster dildo that a mason had found in her chimney. It now rested in a pink dress box on her lap. At my feet, three sweet-faced Australian shepherd dogs snapped at houseflies. A catbird sang in the street. Her house is an old colonial buried deep in a nest of lanes in the historic downtown.
Connie said she usually kept the box in the pantry, near the urn of her daughter’s cat, Spanky. In the box were the other antiques the mason had found with the dildo: six charred envelopes from the 1890s addressed to Captain James B. Coffin; letters from the same James B. Coffin to Grover Cleveland and Assistant Secretary of State Edwin Dehl; a dirty and frayed shirt collar; a pipe that still smelled of tobacco when I fit my nose in the bowl; and a green glass laudanum bottle. These items must have been hidden in the chimney by James’s wife, Martha “Mattie” Coffin, sometime between when the letters were dated and when she died in 1928. The fireplace was later sealed up, and a closet was built in front of it. With these valuables, Connie kept a CD recording of her late husband, Tom, being interviewed about the dildo for Nantucket Public Radio. “It’s the only recording I have of his voice,” she said.