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FOLIO is a magazine of strange, comic, and strangely comic words and pictures published from 2006 to 2009. For back issues please contact the_folio@hotmail.com.

Issue No. 7, Wilderness

Issue No. 7, Wilderness - Closing the Distance (Hermit's Curse)

Wherever I live it’ll be some afflicted mix
of character, some soup of unkown stock...
As of now I hear my unknown neighbors
with CD or DVD at some 90 decibel,
the bass cranked to some amphetamine level...

It’s rarely ever quiet here in the so-called sticks.
This citified forest houses, maybe, 5 or 6 each block
(count the mail-boxes as you drive round
and while you’re at it, snoopy boomer,
take down the numbers on the Realtors’ signs).

Once-muffled traffic has grown louder yearly,
every new owner leveling a tree-towered lot,
selling the boles for pulpwood and burning
the stumps uprooted by the same machination
that fuels this yearning for Victorian lawns.

A level un-grassed plot, smooth as a cemetery,
fresh-raked earth, and within its periphery
a house plunked down, dumb as a tombstone
planted too soon in un-fertile ground––
such slack imagination cannot stifle my yawns...

I’ll be moving on soon, so have at it!
Snoopy boomer! Tear down the trees,
mow down the house, and gravel the drive!
Just as if no-one ever lived here while I was live...
By the way, make the driveway circular––

it’ll be easier for the EMT’s (or the coroner)
to snatch you up after another hard day
of digging up the creeping-charley, oxalis,
stinging nettle, curly-dock, wildwood violets
I left especially to retard your way!

Issue No. 7, Wilderness - The Old Man from Winter

Disappointment awaited David’s return from the final day of fifth grade; not a bowl of salsa con queso, not a knock on the door from a good friend, not even a long nap. Mrs. David, determined not to enter summer without spring cleaning, shoved a box of trash bags into his peach-fuzzed arms and barked, “Clean your room or there’ll be no supper!”

David was unfamiliar with the word “supper” but nevertheless took the bags and went upstairs. He pushed against his bedroom door, wedging his way through a mound of paper. A four-foot stratum of work from grades zero to five covered his entire bedroom floor––hay he was now expected to spin into a decent sixth-grader’s bedroom. His backpack, once calmly hanging from his left shoulder, slid off in shock.

David had heard many of his classmates over the last few months, and indeed over the last few months of every school year, describe detailed plans of burning their schoolwork once graduated from the grade. But David was never invited to any such bonfire, never saw smoke rising from the neighborhood or smelt any textbook ash. Though he wishfully searched his pockets for a box of matches, he figured everyone’s work ended up like this, piled in the closet till it was piled in the bedroom.

He picked up a packet of envelopes postmarked Phoenix and return addressed in a boyish hand, “Jonathan.” These David quickly remembered were one half of a pen-pal project launched by his lonely third-grade teacher. David was assigned Jonathan and Jonathan David, alike in age but as far apart in experience as they were miles. David slid out a piece of wide-ruled Arizona loose-leaf and reread:

“I don’t get it. Why didn’t you go to school? Snow here is just paper squares in the mall. What is it there? Why would it stop school? Does snow make everyone sick? If you’re sick, feel better. But you said you spent the day sledding and throwing balls of the square paper at each other. Do you have paper cuts? It makes me sad thinking I had to be at school and you were allowed to have fun.”

David returned the page and dropped the envelopes back on the pile of parchment, or, as Jonathan would have it, the blizzard. He sighed a sigh so deep a corner of wrinkled vellum on the other side of the room raised its head a bit in the breeze. He picked up another page and vowed to chuck it out but he stared at it instead. He found himself in vertigo; teetering at the top of a long, long division problem and watching the answer sway below him.

When he pulled his eyes back up he noticed ten points for “work shown” marked in red at the top of the page. Work shown was time wasted, he lamented. There, beside the meaningless characters of the date “11/17,” he discovered that that “work shown,” so fundamental for the advancement to the next day, had in fact nothing at all to do with the advancement of years. “It’s not because of this I’m eleven years old,” he thought to the paper.

Just as Mrs. David opened her mouth to object, David said, “I’m breaking,” and went outside. What he thought he needed was a really exotic drink, or even just a cup of ice with a curly straw and an umbrella, but he settled for the porch swing.

House painters were packing up for the day and reminded David that grownups don’t have summer breaks, and sadder than never having snow days is never having summer breaks. He rested with the sad thought while rocking the porch swing––as best he could without floor touching toes—and itching what used to be a standard buzz cut, now just a shaggy mess. He was feeling around for lice when he noticed the neighbor’s hedges across the street rustling without wind. He narrowed his eyes. A boot poked out from under the bush and the more David squinted the more he could make out a figure extending up from the boot. It was a lumpy figure, and dark, and while David was trying to find some waist between the top lump and the bottom lump, a face came out from the hedge, its eyes directed at David’s.

The face, hauntingly expressive of some unnamed anxiety, further saddened rather than shocked David and he returned the face’s stare. From face the lump became chest and legs as the figure moved out to the driveway. The boots David could see now were snow boots and the pants were snow pants, the top a thick, grey jacket. The man wore mittens, earmuffs, and a big, black woolen hat. He stepped onto the road and walked slowly across, seemingly propelled by the vibrations running from coat to boot. He was old, weathered, and wrinkled. His lips were blue and cracked where they weren’t chapped. He appeared even stranger in the middle of the street, like an astronaut who, rather than playfully leaping, suffered from extreme gravity.

The man came right up to the foot of David’s porch.

“Are you looking for something?” David asked.

The man only shook.

“Back in that bush, what were you looking for?”

The old man sunk his hands further into his armpits and pulled down his hat. “Kindling.”

“What’s that?”

“Little ones,” said the old man.

“Little what?”

“Kindle. I want to kindle.”

“Where are you from?”

“I…” The man stopped.

“Aren’t you from somewhere?”

David got a little scared and thought back on his What To Do With Strangers lessons from kindergarten, probably listed on a worksheet somewhere upstairs.

“I think I hear my mom calling me.” David stood up and put his hand against the screen door. He would have gone through had the man not shaken out a stream of words from his mouth, of which David could only piece together: “I chop wood, most of the day. I use it at night. Keeps the bills down. My daughter’ll call me. She needs money. I have to get to the bank but I can’t get out. They plowed me in. But I can keep chopping if I have to. I have to keep chopping. I can go through piles of wood, my whole backyard covered in piles of wood.”

The old man jerked his head to the side and set his eyes off down the street to an even older man with a long, white beard. David looked, too.

“The crossing guard?” he asked.

The man down the street did indeed wear an orange reflective vest under his beard and helped usher a stream of children beneath him.

“What about him?”

“Piles of wood, piles and piles of wood.” The man’s gaze softened and his head sunk back to his chest.

“You know,” said David, touched by the man’s gaze, “I actually have some piles of my own that need chopping.”

“Can’t stop moving. Too cold. Stop moving and I’ll be my pipes.”

David let out his hand. “We don’t want that,” he said.

The old man took a step towards the porch but shot his eyes up quick to the crossing guard again.

“Come on in.”

Mrs. David was falling asleep on a pile of warm laundry when her son and an old man in winter clothing woke her up.

“What is that?” she said, half asleep, at the figure in the woolen cap.

“He’ll be helping me with my bedroom,” David said. “For a third of my allowance I think we can get it in tip top shape.”

“That’s really weird, David,” said Mrs. David, falling back into her towels.

David went to the kitchen. “Hi-C? Capri-Sun? Sierra Mist?”

“Hot chocolate,” the man garbled.

“OK, hot chocolate…”

The old man looked around a little at the decoration while David drank and went on about the injustice of his mother sleeping. The man saw paintings of watermelons, little wooden lighthouses, refrigerator magnets in the shape of crabs. He held his hot chocolate up to his face as if to barricade himself from these strange surrounding objects. It seemed the only relief to his confused eyes was the constant, agitated shaking of his body.

David threw his cup into the sink. “Ready to work?”

A few stacks had to be toppled for David to open the door of his room again, but he managed. He scaled to the top of his bed and stood up, looking out over the room.

“All this,” he said, “is elementary school. Get rid of it.”

The old man was not sufficiently impressed in David’s opinion; maybe he wasn’t lying about all those piles of wood. The man bent over and began stuffing his first bag. He wasn’t quick about it, but he did indeed keep moving. He mumbled as he worked, and again David picked up words like “daughter” and “bills.” The nervous energy with which the man spoke seemed to go directly into his cleaning, as if the room would move towards cleanliness with all the slow force of his life moving towards despair. As a corner of carpet became reacquainted with the sun, David noticed that the old man never once stopped to look at any of the papers he was disposing. David couldn’t have picked up two sheets without reading everything on them, being reminded of the dim, dank, winter days he scribed them and then being transported to that same dim, dank mood. But then, the old man had no reason to explore such days and moods––he was already in them. He knew, or sensed, that the papers were filled with meaningless toil and, being no stranger to the concept himself, he meaninglessly toiled through them. He seemed at home.

Saddened by this, David slid off his bed and made an exit. “God’s speed,” he said.

Downstairs, Mrs. David was nowhere nearer to folding the laundry but was instead having a very pleasant dream about falling asleep on the laundry.

“You gotta get yourself your own weirdo, Mom,” David said to her on his way out. He returned to the porch swing but this time without the dread of cleaning up the past five years’ refuse. It had taken care of itself. He finally felt that classic summer freedom. The earth had reached the part of the solar system where the air smells better and there aren’t any problems; problems were piled on the opposite side where poor Mercury was probably trudging through right then. His feet didn’t make it when he tried to kick them up onto the railing but he didn’t mind, they swung back under him, swinging him into a wonderful slumber.

“Mr. Walter!” Mrs. David screamed, waking David outside. “Thank you so much!”

David rubbed his eyes and brought his feet back down to the porch. Inside he found the old man still dressed for a blizzard and shaking to boot. His mother was clapping and smiling. The laundry on the couch was no longer on the couch but folded into neat piles and placed in the basket.

“That’s so kind of you, Mr. Walter! David, you know Mr. Walter, don’t you?”

“Well…” David said.

“From down the street! How’s Mrs. Walter? I haven’t seen you two in ages! You sure are bundled up. Do you want something to drink?”

“I already gave him some hot chocolate,” said David.

The old man started shaking his way to the door.

“Well, OK, Mr. Walter, thanks so much for stopping by and, and––helping out. And be careful in that sun out there. But you and Mrs. Walter must be used to that, what with you two being from–– you two are from the southwest aren’t you? Where are you from originally?”

David gave his mother a look of hopelessness for the question, but the old man, half out the screen door, gave voice to his first few unmumbled words.

“Four months ago,” he said, and left.

“Odd man,” said Mrs. David. “Helpful.” She lay back down on the sofa and ran her hand over the perfectly level laundry.

David gave his bedroom door another hard push but the door flew open and David landed on his bed––his made bed. He sat up and after blinking a few times saw only wall-to-wall, naked carpet. He dropped down to look under the bed and make sure the old man wasn’t cheating, but David found more carpet. Strange too was the smell in the air, like some apothecary’s stew of tree sap, hot chocolate, and worry. David followed the smell to the trashcan by his desk. Inside were the ashes of his homework, the corner characters “11/17” glowing red and then consumed by black.

He ran to the window. There, down the sidewalk, David saw the old man limping on, probably to another bush, and some twenty paces behind the old man was the crossing guard, running to catch up. The guard did not look quite like an old man, more like a young man with a long, fake beard. He looked as Shakespeare must have looked playing Father Time in A Winter’s Tale – a play that now lay smoldering in David’s trashcan.

Issue No. 7, Wilderness - Ratzingers Wake, More Fiction than Non Dept.

The sound of typing thrills me. I expect it was the sound rather than the Fitzgerald that had Hunter S. Thompson typing The Great Gatsby word for word. Ready to type whatever was at hand, I happened upon The New Oxford Annotated Bible supporting a leg of my desk. I remembered as I watched the book slide back to the floor: a teacher from my wilderness days at a Christian private school once told my classmates and I to underline the word “mountain” every time it appeared in that Bible. He had us do the same in Shane.

A young woman ran up to her priest after the mass. She pulled out a copy of Newsweek from her tote bag. “Did you know the Pope wrote a book?” she asked. “He’s written tons a books,” said the priest. “Am I supposed to read it?” The priest shrugged. “If you want to.”

I began at the beginning of the middle, Matthew, and moved forward from there. Weeks later I had one dry ribbon and four versions of the same story. James Joyce collected the four gospel authors themselves into one primordial writer, Mamalujo. And good thing too Joyce did so without a computer, where pesky red squiggles would have underlined every word.

The young woman found the last copy of Jesus of Nazareth in Barnes and Noble. She turned to the back and read: “About the Author. The author is the Pope.” Convinced, she bought the book. She ordered a sweet tea from the cafĂ© and began to fulfill her Catholic duty.

Mamalujo, repetitive, conflicted, forced his hero to reenact all of human history in the hopes of fulfilling it. Central to Jesus’ play-acting is a troublesome retreat to the wilderness. Troublesome, since this reversion to the private sector takes place just after Jesus’ diluvian plunge with the Baptist, the beginning of his public activity. The Pope himself interrupts this narrative to ask, why did Jesus, hours after throwing his name into the hat of history, withdraw to begin his work in total obscurity? What a strange beginning! he says.

Three pages in and the young woman was having a Finnegans Wake experience with the Pope’s new book. As she felt obligated to read anything her spiritual father had written, so she felt the need to begin with preface and introduction. But these preambles did nothing to inspire a turning page. They were a tangled thicket of academic allusions and the poor young woman could only crawl blindly along the esoterra firma. “What an awful beginning!” she thought.

As we learn from Borges’s Pierre Menard, translator of Don Quixote, literal re-writing does not change questions into answers. In fact, it does not even recognize questions. Soon, your eye sends the shape of a letter to your fingers and your brain is no longer required; questions are no longer asked. As I hammered away mindlessly, troublesome sections seemed to solve themselves and nascent images of wilderness simply floated up in my mind: the desert was really a nursery of pine trees––small, uniform, good for hide and seek with prophets and devils. Jesus the man, full of anger and obscure motivation, becomes Jesus the God, gentle, unquestionable, when retyped.

Tote bag saddled behind her, the young woman again approached her priest. “It’s a bust,” she said, “It’s too hard to understand.” The priest smiled and turned away but the young woman grabbed his shoulder. “Here, I found this helps.” She took from her tote bag a large manuscript, the words “Jesus of Nazareth by the Pope” typed on the front. “My version’s a little clearer,” she said.

Issue No. 7, Wilderness - Deserts and Underwoods

Contributors: Alexa Garvoille, Jim Garvoille, Jill Ostrowski, Jonathan Tuttle
Funding: Nancy Ball