We don’t live on the rise of an ancient volcano. Has somebody told you that? One might as well say that downtown Wausau, below, is a spacecraft glowing in the night. A myth for our bedtimes! By light of morning, though, we face a test of honesty. One and a half billion years ago, prior to the advent of what we call life, the pinkish stone you’ve likely spied on shoulders of roads in this county was made by intrusions of molten rock which gradually cooled, becoming granite. Elsewhere, by a similar process, syenite was formed. Try and see this: viscous magma, spinning brew of protosyenite. And held in its swirl, around present-day Nine-Mile Swamp: these quartzite xenoliths—Upper and Lower Mosinee Hill, Hardwood Hill, and us. Quartzite is hard. We’re standing on quartzite. It has survived the erosions of time. I tell my students, every year, I say: The facts, in the end, will plead for imagination.
Nothing, she says, is exactly straight. Nothing is evenly covered. Four times he circles the apartment with her, ending up always at the windows. The agent doesn’t bother. She has artificial hair of some kind, a dark raincoat whose sleeve turns color when she bends her arm to glance at her watch. Her wrist: thin and haired. And the watch: gleaming, fine. What do you think? his girlfriend asks. He thinks, before he understands that thoughts like these are possible, that he’d take her—the agent. Here on the floor. In the small room spun with fog. He says, I don’t know. But the agent has noticed him. He scowls. He tries to make it pertain to the closets, the lack of space.
Age is a costume that’s forced on a man. It fits poorly, but few people see. I have been freed. My son in Portugal. My Elsa, twenty years gone. The streets in pinprick drizzle have as a locus my closing hand, my tuberous knuckles, and I can sit by the lake and be fine for a sweep of the clock. Later I stand. Across Monroe Street from here, the orchestra holds a rehearsal. You can hold in your mind—in pattern and form, and even in many particulars—a thing like Finlandia, by Jean Sibelius. To hear it again, however. To be in its space. To have your cells collude with its magisterial rise.
I work in a shop on Brownsboro Road. I purchased a car two years ago, with savings from sitting for kids, and now it is loud, not as nice on the eye as others in this part of town. But that is my secret. I enter the shop, most days, between 9:25 and 9:30, and anyone watching would probably not think of the car, or one like it, as being attached to me, because I am not strictly myself. I’m clean. I’m better. Gwen is pleased with herself for choosing correctly in hiring me. I’ve learned more than she can provide in straight words: the skirts I wear, for instance—how they should be good, but more simple than what we sell, a part of the quality atmosphere. Which I am. I am part. If I think of my outer life, it’s not in the usual way. Like remembering my Dad. Remembering us being together. I think two things at times like these (maybe I’m leaving, just locking up). I think that my Dad would both recognize me and not, that he’d like it both ways.
She found some rich chick’s credit card. If not rich, unaware—or unconcerned about keeping people’s thumbs off the magic braille of its never-thought digits. She has: a new hair style. Plus things not physical. Who cares, anyway, what she bought? The point is: potential. Just look at the skin of this town, the lighted pores of its breathing. She’s got the last room in the only hotel with windows that actually open. She drinks, she makes calls. “You should see what I’m seeing,” she says, and whispers a note of vanishing smoke, long and low, while everything waits.
I knew a person who lived beneath the Wabash River Bridge. By Dresser Park. I can’t remember her name. Bridge and park are now gone. My grandfather on my mother’s side worked for the Brewing Company. I have an old can, a cone top: Champagne Velvet: Million-Dollar Taste. What does this mark? Something, but I am not sure. But something. It can be felt. That grandfather on my mother’s side shares a name with my son, my youngest boy, of the dreaming footfall—a sound that is his just as sure as his voice. Tonight when he fell asleep on my lap I slid him onto his bed and went out back, to the hum of condensing units, a sudden lushness of heat. In the darkness I peed. I suppose you could fairly call this a gesture. Black clouds passed over the moon, heading west—southwest—toward the river. I stood in my yard, which seemed firm and square and even. I watched them go.