The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil
My black tie flaps like a dog-tongue in the early morning breeze. I eye the orange tabby through a door-crack; I shut, lock, the door, and descend the steps. It is about eighty-five degrees. Too hot for September 13. Too hot for 7:16. It will reach triple digits today, but I comfort myself. It may be the last.
My black dress shoes make a tap-tap against concrete. A beautiful sound, interrupted by Snoop Dogg. It’s 7:17 AM on a Tuesday. Loudly, he’s singing, or trying to sing, or whatever he does—a sort of nameless garble sifted through a weed-wrapped brain. From a second floor apartment building he descends, and the peace of the morning ceases.
I exit my complex on Rochelle. On the sidewalk, my feet dodge berries the pigeons pick. A large crowd of children and parents huddle together by a large yellow bus. A few homeless sleep outside the circle in the shade and grass. I cross to avoid the crowd. Like the children, my backpack snugs my shoulders. I’m in a buttoned up dress-shirt, and my left-sleeved arm ends in a water bottle. My right arm dangles freely and clutches a lunch box. Like the children, I make my daily commute to school.
And it’s not the first time.
This happens to be the twenty-third consecutive September in which I make the daily commute to school.
The first time, I traveled in a forest-green Ford Aerostar. It took two arms to open the side door, and the bucket seat swallowed me whole. And my father whistled to “Oldies Ninety-five” and my sister sat front seat. And the vehicle looked like a green space ship and roared as loudly to interstate 635. And it rested daily, and it mingled daily, and it fought daily with the early morning traffic. And we listened to a man in a helicopter tell us of safe spaces and construction zones and accidents and deaths before Beethoven rolled over to the sound of Harrison and my father whistling and the crowd of workers like little ants battling for the south-35 exit, rolling on and on and on onto a horizon. But we continued straight to Metcalf, Lamar, Prairie Village.
As I pass the children a man approaches me. He has a dark pony tail and smokes a cigarette. A few parents watch their kids board the bus from the front porch of the apartment complex on my left, Tamarus Park. Domestic disputes are a daily oblation in these homes.
In the street a pair of shoes has been tied together at the laces and left. Up north, at Gary Reese Freedom Park, near my old home, pairs of shoes, tied together in this way, dangle one after another from electric wires. And one sees, in their mind’s eye, crying children returning barefoot home.
At Tamarus I hang a left. Now the sun bears down on me. It sits in that peculiar spot where, like a god, it will not be ignored.
I near University and have to walk in the road as I do. A beat down van has hocked up its inhabits this morning. They sit on the shaded stones, surrounded by stuff. The van’s been there for weeks. The side doors are flung open wide; the tires are warn and poorly inflated; the windows show more stuff—clothes mainly. And the van looks stuffed. The passenger’s side of the windshield is smashed in and forms a spider web of cracks.
On University I cross again and head west. Across the way, Gethsemane Baptist and Tammany Hall. Gethsemane Baptist is a one story stucco style building with bars on the window. Song pours out of it on some evenings. For whatever reason, the gap between this church and Tammany Hall attracts a number of homeless people—pushing their carts, chatting, trying to sleep in the shade, yelling at each other, yelling at their dogs, creeping toward Tammany Hall.
Given its name, Tammany Hall has become a by-word amongst those of us living in the area. The apartment complex consists of four two-story, brown, brick buildings. For quite some time, the four apartments on the top floor, on the west end, hugging Escondido, had no back doors. I know not whether anyone lived in those apartments, but they have recently been boarded up.
The rest of the apartment looks as if on the boarder of losing its doors. On the top of the building rests no fewer than seven ironic satellite dishes.
Trash and dust lines the complex—stuff strewn in all directions, seems to accumulate around it like gnats to a carcass.
The inhabitants spend more time outside than in and are perpetually working on their cars, smoking tobacco, smoking pot, blaring music, grilling burgers, chatting with neighbors.
One must respect that they actually speak to their neighbors.
The vehicles they work on, never the same, typically have problems beyond their ability to fix: missing fenders, missing plates, hubcaps, windows, hoods, or—as the apartments—doors. Each car is required to have at least six or seven dents, cracked windshields, and one flat tire. And so they hover around these cars like men looking at a casket, speaking God knows what.
This morning, in particular, a blue Nissan Sentra actually looks put together. On its window I read, “1500 Firm Run Great.” Next to it there’s a white Pontiac Grand Prix. It’s back door is dented, and in the window above, it reads, “Wow 2600.” A white Ford F250 rounds out the crew. On its window I read “What the F*** 1800” and strain an interpretation.
On my side of University, I pass a maroon Cadillac. Its for-sale sign flaps in the windshield. It’s rusted, front to back, and the maroon fights with the grey like a red sunset the clouds.
After I pass Escondido, the cars’ qualities rise. Many university students park their cars here to avoid the high parking fees on campus. Still, every other car looks as if it recently survived a tornado. I notice one with no hood, leaning to its right, and—as some women on the Strip—baring the its nakedness for all to see.
The Ashton Park apartments on my left are light blue, wood buildings. One of the apartments recently was on lockdown for asbestos. The pot smell typically streams from these homes. It did before it went legal and ever since its been as ritualistic as incense at a pre-Vatican II high mass.
Thankfully, they’re in between services this morning. A man approaches me in black mid-high socks, red shorts, a white beater, and a camo cap. He looks at me as if at an apparition. We exchange “Good mornings.”
I’ve renamed Maryland Parkway Acheron and wonder if I shouldn’t start crossing myself before I cross. I take the chance this morning, lunch box waving by my side. I look sideways as I pass, hoping, praying the cars will stop, that no drivers are high.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas is an oasis of beauty, hope. I walk under a fruitless mulberry tree. On stones, my shoes tap, avoiding desert-dust. I smell green, and wet, and flowers, and life. A coolness descends like a spirit, and joy, utter joy, fills my heart and soul, and I feel as if alive. The purple, yellow, orange flowers bobble and dance in the morning breeze. Birds flutter and sing on the boughs and bees hum by the flowers. Some sprinklers send a mist as if from below. And I walk in this garden, and it is good.
In all this, a newly erected statue, an ugly, formless, white thing has risen amongst the trees. Across the way, our new school logo glares at me from a trashcan. It’s an ugly black blob, splotched with red. I’m tempted to smash something, but the temptation does not overtake me. The sons of the sixties and seventies are growing old, and thin, and dying, I know. Their art, too, grows old and thins and soon will die. My fellow reformers and I have yet to rise, chanting Latin and smashing these idols of ugliness. We have yet to give the world all our beauty.
Composed, in part, during my daily commute,
Las Vegas, Nevada
Painting: “Portrait of a Boy from the Liverpool Blue Coat School”
By William Charles Penn
Oil on canvas, 1953