Cold winter sunlight
Angled through this glass of beer
Wears a new color
My grandfather claimed embarrassment at how a cup of morning coffee took a bleak, unlivable world and filled it with promise. He lived a long day’s drive from my family and died when I was eight years old, so our agreement on this helps me know him. The old boy and I come together, too, on the restorative powers of alcohol. For him, bourbon carried the day (and sometimes, maybe, the morning). That was in an era when men drank until they fell down, and I live in the era of the man-boob, so to stay on my feet and participate in contemporary parenthood, my drink of choice is beer (sometimes with bourbon).
And man, I love the taste and effect of a robust, quality beer—the righteous sense of connection, the door to serenity swinging on its rusty hinges, the tiny bubbles. I’ll arrive at home crumpled from a busy day, and if I can beat Angela and the kids home by fifteen minutes they’ll be greeted by a guy who smiles. The same gray streets outside, the same gray winter sky, gray neighbors. Of course it’s key, I’ve discovered, not to skip dinner for several more beers. The brilliant change in perspective brought on by the first one or two evolves unpredictably after that.
Other than chemically, playing with the way we see things fascinates most of us. Do you see a candle, or two opposing profiles? A beautiful young woman, or an old crone? We love to be tricked by our eyes. Illusion seems to suggest possibility, or at least to alleviate the boredom brought on by all this damn sameness.
The return of linear perspective to western art in the 14th and 15th centuries shocked the people of the early Renaissance in its illusion of reality. Led by Italian painters like Giotto and Masaccio, this new realism represented a cultural shift in perspective on human life and the physical world in general. Freed from the medieval label of profanity, our bodies and the rest of nature slowly became viewed as worthy of artistic reproduction, as reflective of Godliness. And the ability to recreate reality on a two-dimensional surface made an artist famous. I remember being stunned, myself, when I watched a kid in fourth grade use the white of the paper to represent sunlight reflecting off a batting helmet. Stunned and stupid.
While we may have gained some perspective as a culture, it remains sadly easy to lose it as an individual. A close friend of my family once said he had a hard time telling the difference between a bad day and a bad life. I have often failed to make this distinction. Innocuous statements curl into slights, the future dims, the thought of cooking dinner makes me want to go out in the garage and start swinging a shovel at things. Getting older has helped in some ways, despite additional responsibilities—each day is shorter in relation to the life we’ve lived, more containable, more easily left behind. By the same logic, of course, death rushes toward us like a guillotine basket.
Tonight, after I’ve read to him and changed his diaper, put on the pj’s, I’ll lay my son Isaac in his crib. He’ll be in the footy pajamas he hates because they’re calling for temps close to zero. I might think of how the size of his future dwarfs my own, which dwarfs that of my father. Or I might just sing to him and look at the map of the world Angela wall-papered above his crib, where Michigan is just inches from the Caribbean Sea.
Joy Ludin’s richly textured poem, “Moths,” unfolds its slow music in this week’s issue. Ludin deftly moves from the follicle level to the grandly abstract. Notice the last line’s gentle but telling shift in perspective.
In “Lilacs,” a piece of flash fiction by Gina Goldblatt, a young woman searches for perspective on her emotionally abusive father, her passive mother, and her estranged grandmother. Goldblatt’s lyric prose addresses the legacy of unhappiness inherited by many and the choices we make in dealing with it.
Throughout Jenn Blair’s short story, “Needle,” her two main characters offer their differing perspectives on a traveling circus, the nature of being a Christian, their roles as mothers, and more. The voices are skillfully defined, the dialogue sharp. Blair treats readers to the pleasure of well-drawn characters and a gentle but glorious act of rebellion.
Photo by keith.bellvay