Monday, April 23, 2007

mercy street

House on Hughes Street, 1939.

In the winter of ’39 there was a terrible ice storm on Hughes Street. The erratic frames of the film snap and leap as I watch my grandmother, starkly beautiful at eighteen, leap across the snow to hurl a snowball at my grandfather. All of us lurked somewhere in the ether of that icy air--she was already dreaming us into being as she slept beneath the quilts as the snow fell heavily throughout the moonless night.

When they woke, the trees were encased in ice like vases of crystal. It was so quiet. They wandered the glittering, frozen streets beneath the smooth arcs of glassy branches of the giant American Elms. I watch, holding my breath, the rarefied beauty of a wintry dream. The film leaps and whirs. How much time had elapsed, maybe an afternoon, a day? The spell is broken. The trees stand dark and amputated against the dimming light. Piles of branches lie on the street, people wander among the ruins, the same ones who hours before had been leaping across snow mounds, awed into silence.

Fifty years later they were resplendent again, but my grandfather was already gone. He had nursed the trees back like infirm children. I remember him applying salves to their wounds, administering to their mute needs, at rare times carefully removing the cast off shell of one of the cicadas that sang us through the lazy summer heat. Tonight I walked beneath the mangled boughs of another American Elm neglected by its owners. It struck a melancholy chord that remains. I want to think that we could save anything through love, through the persistent application of mercy, all of us patiently tending the garden that is the world we inhabit.

...and the street is unfindable for an
entire lifetime
. --Anne Sexton, 45 Mercy Street