Saturday, October 18, 2014


Web (M.A. Reilly, 2012)

There's this gorgeous moment in a Loren Eiseley essay when the writer touches a pencil to a strand of the web--forcing an intrusion into spider universe. He writes:
...Immediately there was a response. The web, plucked by its menacing occupant, began to vibrate until it was a blur. Anything that had brushed claw or wing against that amazing snare would be thoroughly entrapped. As the vibrations slowed, I could see the owner fingering her guidelines for signs of struggle. A pencil point was an intrusion into this universe for which no precedent existed. Spider was circumscribed by spider ideas; its universe was spider universe. All outside was irrational, extraneous, at best raw material for spider. As I proceeded on my way along the gully, like a vast impossible shadow, I realized that in the world of spider I did not exist. 

I stop, breath closing.
What cannot be named is irrational, extraneous.


My mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Hearing her say it out load was a pencil point inserted into my life.
I was 12.

Like Eiseley's spider, I too fingered the guidelines for signs of struggle--for that something that was bearing down on us,
isolating us


cause from effect.

Does what you cannot name exist?

Shh....It was an irrational time:
my mom closing in on herself,
me learning how to watch, how to grow still,
and as I aged--how to escape out of the house to Brooklyn, to concerts, to parties, to boyfriends.

(Years later my husband would ask: Didn't they notice you were gone each weekend?)

My parents lived an interior life for the next five years.
We lived apart in the same house.
Sat down for dinner several nights each week.
It was a count down of days until the cancer was defeated.

A good war, 

                 even as we broke.


Those days the metaphor of war slipped from our mouths with ease.

There was the war on poverty.
The war on cancer.
The war on drugs.
And there was Vietnam.

When Jack, my oldest brother, turned 18, he was number 2 in the draft lottery.
There was little uncertainty to his future.

My Da talked of Canada.
Jack told me how he and a buddy drank a fifth of Jack the night before they reported for the physical exam.

The average age of U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War was 19.

Jack would be deferred for medical reasons--wire in his jaw.
My mom would be diagnosed a month later.

She told only me about the cancer.  My brothers were not told.


We kept secrets and we aged across those five years.

Jack bought a VW bug.
Both doors were orange.
The hood was red.

My middle brother took to wearing brown leisure suits with wide ties.
He stopped banging out The Battle Hymn of the Republic on the piano at 6 AM each morning.
There were loud silences.

There were things I told no one.

My parents got high in the backyard with the neighbors.
My oldest brother crashed several cars.
My middle brother left home in a pearl-white 1961 Studebaker Lark.
He drove to Richland Center, WI to pay homage to Frank Lloyd Wright.
I got high on my way to school most mornings, some afternoons.
I made photographs.


We were a study in parataxis.

Nothing touching.            

We were flawed,
circumscribed by our ideas, our fears.

This did not mean I was not loved.
I was, perhaps more.

Eiseley, Loren. (2004). “The Hidden Teacher.” The Advanced College Essay: Education and the Professions. 4th ed. Ed. Pat C. Hoy II and Kristin Dombek. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 9-21.

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