Posted on January 4, 2015January 2, 2015 by Patricia Ann McNair1.4.2015 Journal Prompt Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson January 4, 2015: She couldn’t stop. Share this:ShareClick to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Like this:Like Loading... Related
14 Replies to “1.4.2015 Journal Prompt”
Ima says it is just a wall and it’s just there. Like the sun when we wake in the morning, Ima says. ‘You do not worry about the sun and if it will not come up today as it did yesterday, and so you must not worry about the wall. It is there and it is just a wall.’ Ima’s words are soft as breath and taste of honey.
Lila does not say anything, but I know she is thinking different from Ima. I know Lila is thinking that a wall is not like the sun. That the wall was not there before and now it is and so one day it might be gone again and the sun still there in the sky. I can almost hear Lila’s thoughts they are so loud. Perhaps Ima hears them, too, over the noise of the dishes she is washing in the sink.
‘The sun is hotter than a thousand candles and to touch it would be to burn, your skin so black in a moment, black as chimneys. So it is with the wall. You must not go near it. Not ever. Not without getting burned.’
Lila looks at me over her frishtik. She is saying with her eyes that I am not to tell Ima about touching the wall and not getting burned. It is just stone and brick and mortar. And on the top are metal posts strung with barbed wire sharp as claws that caught in Lila’s dress and tore the cloth; and Ima does not know of that tear yet, either – I think she does not.
‘The wall is not so much about keeping us in,’ Ima says. ‘It is more about keeping them out. That way we are safe from their dogs that have teeth and their boots with metal hobnails. So long as we stay inside the wall, we are safe. Just so long. And so I say again not to worry about the wall and not to go near the wall.’
Then Ima looks at Lila and looks at me, looks from one to the other, her eyes sharp as pins. And she’s trying to see inside to our souls and maybe she does, because she is Ima.
‘To touch the wall now is a sin,’ she says and her voice is shrunk to a rabbi-whisper and she taps the side of her nose with one finger just like Rabbi Meisels sometimes did when he was sharing wisdom.
Lila nods and I nod also and that way Ima is satisfied. Ima maybe thinks Lila will not touch the wall now and she will not tear her dress on the barbed wire fence or have her fingers burned to chimeny-black in a moment. But I think then that Ima does not know Lila like I do.
Ima says it is just a wall and we are not to worry. Then she says it is a sin to touch the wall and sin is about our souls which are more precious than gold and more fragile than glass. That is something to worry about I think. I am a little confused when Lila takes my hand and pulls me down from the table and out into the street.
‘Swear not to tell,’ Lila says.
That’s all she says, but it is enough. I know she is going to the wall again and that she will climb onto the wall like before and look over at the soldiers there with their sharp-nosed dogs and their guns and their thrown scowls – all of them scowling except one who Lila says is pretty and he has a smile for Lila and he blew her a kiss once and for that it is worth the risk to Lila’s soul and the wrath of Ima when she finds out.
Journal Prompt 1-4-2015
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”
With apologies to Robert Frost
It all started out as a game. On our walk home from school. Just a game. I was the oldest so I would start, and the others follow. Edward and I would play hide and seek on the walk home, trying to fool each other. The other two would follow along, trying to hide now and then. But they would then get bored and follow us doing their own little games. Heidi would stop to scratch a chalk line on the sidewalk. Maggie would get into her hop skip jump game that she played at school with her friends. Edward was so good at hiding in odd places. He was hard to find, and sometimes Heidi or Maggie would have to give hints as to where he was hiding. And then once I found him, he would take his turn and find me so quickly, then off on his scooter he would ride.
Our routine was that we would move towards home and get there in time for a snack of cookies and milk. Most days we would walk in the door laughing, excited, telling stories of our latest adventures. But one day we became so involved in our game that we got lost. We realized suddenly that we were a long way from home. And suddenly, turning a street corner running after Edward on his scooter, there we were. The Wall. Right in front of us. We all let out a little gasp. The Wall was so big. There were no crevices to peek through, no gaps or fallen stones to sneak around. Solid, menacing, unforgiving.
I never did understand what it was all about. We all had a sense that it was dangerous. A thing created by grownups. Something that they couldn’t explain very well. We kids were always told stay away from the Wall, like they would say don’t touch the hot stove or don’t cross the street without looking both ways. Our parents would point to it while driving to market, or to grandparents’ house, but never slow down or look too long. Don’t go near the Wall, they would say in dark tones.
Heidi was the first to cry out: “Maria I want to go home. I’m scared.” Maggie looked worried and stopped her hopping and skipping. But Edward laid his scooter up against the Wall and started poking around at some stones. I was scared but didn’t want to show it with my little sisters there. “It’ll be all right” I could hear the words come out in a different voice. “We’re not that far from home, and I know how to get us back,” I lied. I hoped that I could figure it out before they knew. By this time Edward was really working over the stones with his shoes, and Maggie got back to her hopping and skipping, and with a sigh Heidi settled down again with her chalk to mark on the sidewalk.
That left me and the Wall. The Wall stood there in my way. As far as I could see it kept me from going further. The old rusted barbed wire along the top threatened to hurt anyone who tried to cross. The sounds of barking dogs and men yelling at them warned of danger. But I couldn’t stop thinking about seeing what was on the other side. There must be other kids on the other side, other games to play, more adventures. It seemed so unnatural, not right, to just have to stop. What if there were people on the street on the other side who wanted to see me, who had kids who could play with us? What if the streets had a market full of happy faces that we never knew? But the Wall stopped all that, kept us from answering those questions.
I thought again about the grownups talking about the Wall when they thought we weren’t listening. Always in low tones almost whispers. About friends or family who had been hurt trying to get by around it. How there were police and dogs and how others had died trying to get over. How we had family and friends who we hadn’t seen since the Wall went up. So here it stood, telling me that I could go no further, and no one over there could come out to play. It didn’t seem right, so unfair, that something, someone would put this in our way. So I decided to at least have a look over the top. What harm would that do, I thought. No one would ever know. Edward was still looking at the stones, and my sisters were back in their games.
So I put my foot up against the Wall to try to hoist myself up to the top. I wasn’t going to do much. I was going to stay clear of the barbed wire and just peek over. The first couple tries I didn’t push hard enough. I lost my grip with my fingers at the ridge. It looked so easy but the Wall offered no help. The surface was smooth against my shoes and the top of the Wall was wet and slippery. I almost fell over once trying to push up with my feet. I think I might have scraped my knee. My fingers quickly got tired and my legs were aching. But I couldn’t stop. Eventually I got myself pushed up just enough. By gripping the Wall tightly with my fingers I could push myself up just enough to see without getting tangled in the wire.
I was so surprised at what I saw that I had to bounce up one more time to make sure. There was nothing. Absolutely nothing. Yes I saw a policeman with a dog, and the dog started barking right away when the top of my head cleared the Wall. There was shouting from the other side. The dog barked until it was yelled at again. But what was so amazing in that quick glimpse was that the streets were empty. Just a policeman and a dog. No busy markets. No people bustling in the street. No kids playing. No smiles. Nothing. It was as if there were no happiness. No kids playing. A place where life had been taken away.
With the chorus of dogs now barking and men shouting I got scared again. I grabbed my brother and called to my sisters and we ran away from the Wall towards town. Grownups on the street watched us with what seemed to be frowns of disapproval as we ran headlong towards the next main street. I stopped a street vendor and asked for directions and we quickly moved towards home. Milk and cookies were waiting for us. But our parents were both anxious: “Where have you been?” Heidi blurted out “The Wall.” I expected the worst, but my mother could only cry and give us all hugs. “Please don’t ever do that again,” she pleaded. “It’s much safer over here.” Father started to raise his voice, but then got quiet. Finally he spoke: “I know it ‘s hard for you to stop yourself, Maria. But sometimes there is danger on the other side of a wall.” Then he too embraced me. In his strong arms the fears of the other side melted away.
Great atmosphere to this piece and the wall does become a menace to be feared and a mystery to wondered at. I love the line: ‘It looked so easy but the wall offered no help.’ Nice work. You should polish this and develop it and get it out there.
Sweet. Thanks Lindsay
The photo haunted me for three days and when I saw your post I thought I’d better “give it a go.” There is something animate about that wall. Will do as you suggest and work on it some more. Getting there…
(Inspired by your quotation from Frost)
A wall ain’t something so simple as a line. There’s two sides to a wall, for there’s ‘over there’ and ‘over here’, and if the wall’s big enough then ‘over there’ does not know what’s what ‘over here’.
They came when we was sleeping, rough cast men with few words, sneaking like thieves, only they was wearing hobnailed boots and their trousers tucked into their socks, and they broke the ground with hard hammers called Jack, and they started with the wall, putting brick and stone and mortar together any old how.
Da says walls can be pretty. He remembers the sheep on the green and roll-away hills, and stones the colour of silver when it has lost its shine set in balance with each other, and weather softening the sharp and shard, and grey and grim dabbed with lichen and moss in golden yellows and browns that glinted in the sunlight. And da would walk the lie of those pretty walls, looking for gap-toothed grins or broken crooked scowls, and he’d pick up the stones that sheep or boys had toppled and set them back in smiling place – like doing a jig-saw but doing it a little different every time. That’s the walls da remembers.
This wasn’t no pretty wall. This wall did not run away from you but was a brute and a bully of a wall with its flat grey chest pressed up against you so close it was hard to breathe. And it said, ‘Don’t fucking mess with me, see.’ And, ‘Don’t fucking dare.’ And in case ever you did dare, they strung tangles of barbed wire in the sky above the wall.
It was then that there came into being ‘over there’ and ‘over here’, like two different places. Leastways we imagined there was ‘over there’. It was so quiet that the wall might have marked the edge of the world and not anything beyond ‘cept air and fall – like stepping off a high cliff and stepping into nothing. We put our ears against the wall, pressed so hard it hurt and we was red down one side, and we heard only the thuggish silence of stone. And that was the start.
Annie it was and she said they was different on the other side of the wall. She said they was old and slow and slippered and that’s why they could not be heard. And she said they had lost all their words and so they spoke with their hands like the deaf do, talking in birdwing flaps and flutters. And she said they was pale as ghosts and invisible in the glare of daylight if ever we pulled ourselves so high we could snatch-see over.
When we lost things on this side of the wall, we took to blaming them on the other side. We said they had come in the night and they’d taken our socks as treasure, the missing one, or the pennies we was saving, or our milk-teeth when we put them under the pillow for faerie silver. We took to spitting over the wall, or throwing our worst swear words, and we called them bastards and fuckers and cunts. And we hated them, sight unseen, and we swore we always would.
Like I said, a wall is different from a line and some there are who do not like a wall – ‘less it’s one of da’s pretty walls. A wall, if it’s big and ugly enough, it separates and divides. It creates a ‘them’ and a ‘us’. And I wonder sometimes, what stories they say about us on the other side of out wall and I wonder if there’s boy there sometimes with his ear pressed red against the stone listening to me and Annie and all the rest.
Lindsay: you managed to sneak Frost’s line in there at the end: “some there are who do not like a wall!” And you made the wall a living thing, a “brute and a bully of a wall…” I like the way you worked on Frost’s image of the wall in the countryside, as opposed to the immovable city wall. The idea of ‘Over here” as opposed to “over there,” the them/us dichotomy.
I think if I were to take this further I would like to take your image of the line and work with it, from a chalk like drawn by a couple men in hard hats to a brute grey bully that kept neighbors apart. Who knows where this will go!
Thanks for your post.
David, thanks for reading and for commenting. Not sure I am inclined to take this one further – was just having fun playing with the language and the voice… nevertheless, I do appreciate your thoughts on the piece and where it could be taken.
Yes I agree it’s time to move on. However I learned a lot and it was truly fun. Will continue to check your blog and will post again here soon. Thanks
Move on? Why, David, why? It seems like such good practice for you! I love the chances you are taking with it. I hope you know that even if I don’t comment all the time. xo
I’m not really done with this in my head. Just finished with the dialogue with Lindsay over this one. It feels like I am back in graduate school, turning in papers every week or so! Not a bad thing at all. I appreciate all your comments both written and imagined.
If I were to take on another voice here it would be that of the wall:
“It seemed like such a busy noisy place when the workers in their yellow hard hats first laid down the chalk like to mark where I was to spend the rest of my days…”
Could be fun
Hey, David. Glad to hear you are not gone from here. You said it best before when you said that this work is “not really fun but certainly pleasurable.” Sort of like a job well done, exhausting and a little overwhelming at times, hard to know why it matters. But it does, I think. And I am so glad that you are keeping at it. Interlochen this summer?
February 1, 2015
Journal Prompt January 4, 2015 revisited
View from the Wall
The public square where I was to be built was a noisy splash of color and smells not seen anywhere else in the world. People would gather at the public market to exchange goods, barter for the best price, each trying to outdo the other. Barter for the best price each trying to outdo the other. Laughing and cursing at the end of each transaction.
And tell stories. Stories about their children, their ancestors, their gods who could give them riches one day and tragedy the next. Stories that live to this day in the legends we have taken on as our own. This market halfway between London and Istanbul heard every language and saw every culture, every habit and belief. Most of those who gathered there did not share much in common. Except that they knew that getting together in this remote market place could help them survive in an unpredictable world.
Passersby could hear voices raised in fervent arguments which could just a quickly die down to quiet agreement and conversation. A camaraderie borne of the wish to survive. They say that in the midst of a forest fire even natural enemies in the animal kingdom will lay down next to each other by a body of water, just trying to get through the searing flames. So it is in this marketplace, Voices from places that would never sing together otherwise here became a dissonant kind of harmony, a Tower of Babel with grace. A turbulent yet peaceful place.
All this before I was placed there. The Wall. I wasn’t there when the workers first pulled the chalk line across the center of the marketplace. There were soldiers there to make sure that no one disturbed the work laid down in the dark of night with kerosene lamps. For attacks on peace and joy cannot take place in broad daylight else the raised voices of anger and agony from bystanders distract the perpetrators of evil from their appointed task. No, I must have been created in darkness, built with quickly stacked blocks on soft mortar while citizens slept.
I am sure I was not brought into this world without conflict even bloodshed. The soldiers with their tanks and guns were there watching over my rising up from the line in the ground. I remember some tried to get over or around me before I was complete, and never knew what happened to them after they were pulled away. But I was not affected by this agony. My blocks continued to rise. I became an impassioned witness to human folly. As I spread my arms out the length of the city I could see the pulse of life slowly leaving the community. Workers planting the barbed wire to my flat ridge would say “that’ll take care of them” and “no one will dare cross over this one.” So there it was. I was there to keep one side from going to the other, to keep each side separate. I was put up to stop the gatherings, the arguments and bickering, the laughter and the cursing, the bartering and the loud voices. As the blocks built up and my arms stretched out wider to embrace the length of the city there arose a pained stillness like the quiet cry of a wounded animal. And as I grew taller and stronger and the barbed wire crowned my head I felt stronger, more invincible, more brutal perhaps, less concerned about what happened around me. I was the Wall. No one better dare try anything.
Time passed. The market grew silent. No one came from Istanbul or China; no one was travelling to Paris or London. Only soldiers and tanks were left. Even these became scarce, as there was nothing left to guard. The Wall took care of that, you see. Everyone stayed away, leaving behind the quiet streets over which I stood guard. That was what someone must have wanted. I was left to stand there, watching over empty spaces, not caring about what happened around me.
Days and months moved into years. Years into decades. I was left alone to witness an occasional event such as someone trying to break through from one side to the other. Fruitless, always resulting in someone being caught and dragged away. That was my job, after all. To keep one side from the other. To make it clear that we are better than they are, that they can do nothing to stop us.
But then one day something different took place. It seemed so quiet, so innocent. I hardly noticed it, standing there with my big grey chest stuck out proud and resolute. It didn’t seem like such a big thing but looking back now I guess it was. There were these four children who came by me and looked me over. They didn’t seem afraid. The little boy was kicking at the stones at my base as if to challenge me. “You’re not so tough: I can just kick away your foundation” he seemed to say. Two of the others were playing games alongside my shadow as if not to have a care I the world. Not scared of me at all.
But the one who really got to me was the oldest girl. She walked right up to me, planted her foot on my grey side, as if to just walk on over. Just like that without a care in the world. And she wouldn’t stop.
I didn’t know what to do. All my soldiers were on the other side, and when they saw the little girl’s head bob up over the top of the wall for a moment they just laughed. I could see them pointing and laughing. None of them got their guns, or made loud noises like they used to. No dogs barked. The soldiers just waved at the little girl and laughed. No one came over and called the children back from the wall, either. It was as if no one was afraid of me anymore. Something was wrong. Something had changed.
I don’t know how the end began. Maybe it was this day that the four children made their visit. But shortly after that the workmen reappeared. The ones in the yellow hats. Only this time they came in the daylight. And as the soldiers watched they began to knock holes in me. Me; the Wall that had worked so hard for them. Not small ones, either. Giant holes big enough for people to walk through. And they did.
Then the wire came down, the bricks and mortar were slowly pulled away. I was torn apart piece by piece and hauled away in giant trucks. I now lie in pieces in a large yard where they are planning to turn my blocks back into cement. Maybe I will be a highway some day, or the foundation to someone’s home. But it will never be the same. People will not be afraid. They will get back together in the market. The voices from China and Istanbul, London and Paris will be heard again. There will be arguing, and bickering and laughter. And somehow perhaps it will all be back as it was. With the noise and the smells and the different voices singing their dissonant song. And the little children who won’t stop.
Okay so I had to make one last go of it.
David, I have been looking out for your talking/thinking wall. I wasn’t sure I would ‘buy’ it. Good to see you had a go at it. An interesting picture is created here. I like that you return to the opening in your ending – ties it off neatly. And I did sort of feel sorry for the wall at the end… even if it was a terror… perhaps because although it was a terror, it was also vulnerable. Good work.
Thank you Lindsay for reading this and getting even a little caught up in it. There’s something about it that catches me even now after I have put it down, so will have to reflect on that some. You will doubtless see the wall again!
I think that I need to work on endings a little more, expand and elaborate. Not to do this one again, but just a future note. Glad you felt sorry for the wall. That was not how I started out but was led to it somehow. Through this I kept thinking of Isaiah 11:6. Have a look.