The Drunkenness of Noah
By Kathleen Graber
(After Jean-Louis Chrétien)
Most afternoons Margaret Boone's father threw his crumpled Pabst cans
into their cold fireplace, took off all of his clothes & passed out
in the living room's recliner. And when my mother became too ill
to bathe herself, she sat on a plastic stool in the tub
as I worked my way around her with a sponge. No one is shocked:
nearly none of it is too painful or too foul. Routine even,
after a time, for all the kids in the neighborhood
to grab a towel from the laundry & spread it across her father's lap.
And how common to dream, like Tristan Bernard, that our parents
are still with us: to dream them being so cruel that we wake
almost happy to find them gone. How very fortunate, he writes.
In Bellini's oil painting of Noah, drunk & sleeping, the good sons—
having already tucked the edge of their rosy cloth from hip
to hip—continue to avert their eyes while Ham mocks from above
his luminous father's frail exposure. And so the story goes
that for his shameless gaze Ham was cursed & the sons of Ham
became the slaves of slaves to the children of their father's brothers.
When I was twelve, I returned from school to find my mother
had been taken to the hospital. I wondered why no one had come
to get me out of class. Soon, though, it was clear: it wasn't
the kind of hospital people die in; it was, instead, the kind of place
someone very tired goes to rest. Just now, I stopped everything,
going to the closet & putting on this worn red wool undershirt,
even though it is summer & when I opened the door
& pushed the hangers to one side I had actually been looking
for something else. Perhaps this is as close as we ever come
to stumbling into understanding, if understanding is the familiar
weight of a heavy sleeve against the arm inside it & madness
is its opposite, a soul caught out in the open not wearing
anything at all. My father brought me only once to visit her
there & no one spoke of it later, whatever it was that had passed.
The truth is I often laugh when I don't know what else to do.
The room was blue & very small & she seemed small & blue
inside it. Sometimes we find a way to say what cannot be said.
And sometimes we never speak that for which we could
only too easily find the sounds. Noah lived 350 years
beyond the flood & became a man of the earth, intoxicated
in old age on the vines he'd raised. Even in our silence,
we are told, we carry the Word. This morning in the shower,
I looked down & saw my mother's bare body asleep in mine.
Noah's nakedness fills the canvas, making it impossible
not to look. As though simply to recall the tale is a sin
whose penance is to live knowing you have somehow
made it happen again. The memory flickers, almost
without detail, shorter than a dream & threatens to go out—
illuminated not by an orange flame but by a brutal whiteness.
The snowy blast from a television screen. Or a fluorescent light
with a faulty ballast which hums & winks all night in an empty hall.
Another from this week's New Yorker.
My Friday was entirely taken up with writing a review of Next Gen's not-very-good "Starship Mine" and getting ready for Daniel's final chorus concert -- certainly of the year, but possibly ever, since he doesn't have room for chorus in his schedule next year and the teacher who has directed the chamber choir throughout Daniel's high school years (and for many years previously) is retiring from public school teaching to work in a church. So it was very nice, but bittersweet -- we went with my parents, my mother having given up attending a service at temple honoring long-time teachers so she could hear Daniel sing.
A massive thunderstorm with hail and high winds hit right as we arrived at the high school, though that part of the county was spared the worst. The school is having a fine arts festival which has included concerts by the orchestra, bands, and other musical groups, plus an art show that was open in the media center when we arrived, with the award-winning entries around the auditorium. We got to hear the guitar ensemble and a cappella singing groups in addition to the choir -- some Bach, some Spanish guitar, some Michael Jackson, some Gwen Stefani. They gave roses to all the seniors and a big bunch of flowers to the retiring teacher. Here are a few photos of the concert:
Daniel singing with the full chamber choir...
...and with just the boys on the somewhat naughty "Fair Phyllis I Saw" by John Farmer (1570-1601).
Some of the guitar students played solos and duets, like these students who sang along with their instruments.
The student-run group InToneNation performed Madonna's "Material Girl."
The choir also performed a song, "The Tortoise and the Hare," which retold the legend about staying slow and steady...
...complete with props passed through the rows of singers to reenact the race.
The chorus teacher received flowers from three graduating seniors who have been in the chamber choir all four years of high school.