Shillington

D.E. Steward

Walking Shillington, foot by foot along the short-dimension low-perspective sightlines and perceptions of a detail-conscious savvy grade school kid, house corner to porch, house by house along the street, his birthday dogwood tree crowding the porch

Sites and locales hallowed by literary description magically invested with promise of certain notice down the line, preservation in amber

A woman in the strip-mall magazine store with romance novels, how-to, health, New Age, car-truck, porn, three of his titles in paperback, goes on about how she taught him how to dance, that he made it back for every class reunion and always MCed the show

Says she’s only read the book in which he mentions her, says most people around town haven’t read him at all

It’s all exactly like another of his class-reunion New Yorker stories

Pompous, detail-weighted, stuttering, dry, preoccupied

Damask-violet-stiff-vestment-mothball-dry

A woman in the town offices coming out to smoke crossing and uncrossing her legs precisely as in a story about one of his characters in estrus

Whenever he’s back in town people say they all seem to know he’s there

Probably he will haunt this matter-of-fact eastern Pennsylvania highway town for a few decades more

Flat-faced Shillington, a parody of Lady Murasaki’s Kyoto, Steinbeck’s Salinas, Faulkner’s Favorite Street in Charlottesville, Caldwell’s clay-country Georgia, Hemingway’s Key West, Simon’s Alsace, Chekhov’s cottage in the Crimea

Driving southeast for the farm in Plowville, listening to a writer interviewed on NPR who runs consciousness raising writing workshops for corporations, the book, Poetry and the Survival of Soul in Corporate America

New Yorker cartoon of the gates of hell, one marked corporate, the other individual

The fabled expansive awareness from the American experience going defunct

Thomas Wolfe generally unread, The Web and the Rock out of print for years

Maybe it should be for others to come shuffle around our resonant continent for us and wax our floors

The European critic in the passenger seat replies archly that the European perspective necessarily only enhances what’s already laid down

Plowville’s lonely stone farmhouse set there on the slope of its treeless pre-Allegheny hill like a rabbit resting in the grass

In the lonely American way

From which he drove off to high school with his father every morning in their old Buick, where in recent years his grandfather and mother died

The next farm lies on the back slope of that hill by a spring, the writer sold the family house well before he died but kept some land, allowed the neighbor orchard rights on fourteen acres between the two places, used to appear every year to collect the rent

His gorge of memory, back and forth over home ground, again and again

Unremarkable as an old picture of a family dog, recollection from far childhood of a poignant moment or phrase, of an object in hand, a smell, the angle of the light

Madeleines supporting recollection of the ordinary past in hallowed place locale

Like record piles of the past, logs, daybooks, old diskettes, abandoned hard drives, data sheets, photographs, forgotten audio and video tapes

Our narrow little memory banks, private sums of things

Owl pellets under the fir tree

Tiny bones and hairs and bits of moleskin

Banks of myrtle with the tiny folded violet flowers opening soon after the cold is gone to ground-cover green covering buried bits of plaster and lath, sheet metal snips and rain gutter trash

In the southern part of the county, closer to the Turnpike, farmers plant soybeans for growing mash for the company owning the battery-broiler operation nearby

Cycle of weeks, broilers out via technicians in long white coats and hardhats arriving in big rigs, steam clean everything and then fresh chicks back in

Tons of antibiotic-laced food weekly, fetid air for a hundred yards out from the end doors, houseflies in clouds, flies in plague numbers hatched from maggots on the carcasses of broilers dead in the litter

Barn swallows flourish on the flies, swirl nearby

Our ways of raising chickens, calves, hogs and even dogs and cats bode a blank future that partially defines our own

Porky Pennsylvanian plenitude with an indelible plattdeutsch base line across its strangely extended washboard valley countryside

Its old farms by their springhouses

Trees press toward the old cropland Pennsylvania fields in brush-to-cedar-to-maple-to-oak succession, big hardwoods waiting at the edge to take back the fields

Boles, limbs, branches arched, poised, high and close, within, the edge of the dark

Twenty-five miles north of Shillington, as raptors fly it, up the Schuylkill over Reading and then up along Maiden Creek to its top springs above Lenhartsville on the Kittatinny Ridge, the easternmost comb of the Allegheny Front

From the Hawk Mountain knob there at fifteen hundred feet, watch them fly by, as they have in fall migration since at least the early Pleistocene

For two million years they’ve passed across this grandeur of locale that supersedes still another class-reunion story

Peering down on the battery poultry farms as they fly southwestward along the ridges headed for the Gulf of Mexico, the vultures, perhaps the eagles, must pick up the Southern Berks County chicken litter smell

If anybody around Shillington ever looks up at the raptor migration in wonderment, no one knows about it from what he wrote about awareness there

Driving back toward New York, the European critic watched the rump patch of a northern harrier rocking and tacking V-winged off across long meadows and asked if it was what Americans sometimes call a chicken hawk

 

credit: D. E. Steward, “Settembro,” Lynx Eye, 1/9, Winter 2002, Low Osos, CA

 

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About the author:

D.E. Steward: Creeping up on a thousand publications and way beyond what he hoped to accomplish as an independent writer, D.E. Steward has never had a pedestrian job since college, and never published anything he is ashamed of. He has never studied writing, he didn’t even major in English, the only thing he has ever taught is swimming, and he tries to feed respect for the printed and pixelled word.

 

 

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