Prologue To A Fiction
The romance of place said both congruous and incongruous events occurred generations apart but seemed overlaid because of where they happened. Said geography meant more to history than time. Said the sod fields of western Wayne County stretched out like a bay at night. Said what we call the soul may not be anything more than tributaries bounding over glacial scars like horses, the broad flats of rivers that pour into basins of ancient lakes, the moraines carved by the violence of compression.
The romance of place said the drive across the Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge, the way the grates of the bridge tugged at the tires of my grandmother’s Ford Escort, and how the lights of the steel factory spangled the black surface of the river were evidence that some minor riparian god had blessed us. Had said a prayer for our cars, those status symbols and sad vessels of utility; said a prayer for cars given away and cars restored, cars kept for posterity, cars that cruised in the bliss of perseverant beauty, cars crossing over rivers. The romance of place said you could get nowhere in this region without one. Said we had been crossing back and forth on that grated county bridge since before any of us were born.
The romance of place said a teenager named Whatley flattened his father in the parking lot of a Belleville honky tonk one autumn night while the father’s mistress looked on. Said years ago when my own father was in graduate school and writing his dissertation about Thomas More’s Utopia he drove his car to Belleville and attended a church service. The romance of place said the homily and the saintly prose swimming around in his head made him fill up with the fervor of a saint and donate the little Honda to a country pastor. It wasn’t much of a car to speak of, a two-door Civic with rust spots in the floor, but it was certainly more than my parents had to give. The romance of place said the next day when my dad seemed to have forgotten where he had been or where he had left the car, my mother borrowed my grandmother’s car to drive out there and offer an awkward explanation about my father internalizing the lives of Catholic saints and explain how this giving was really manic behavior driven by extreme duress. She explained that they were poor people, that she needed the car to drive to her nursing job at Riverside Hospital.
The romance of place said Pembroke’s Arabian Horse Farm was sacred. Said there was a girl in these parts who was born to ride horses and there were horses born to listen to a girl who wore no spurs on her heels and whose fingers were the cradle of a lost and gentle logic. The romance of place was not allied to logic as you or I might know it. It said you can make an acre of memories as you can make a verb of horse, as you can horse any lexicon into beauty. Said although it has two eyes, a memory is a myopic animal with a square head. Said treacle is the honey lathered over time. Just as a big house surrounded by acres of pasture can be made to stand for something more than itself, a horse or car can come in the guise of a gift, that surplus of the giver’s self, while in the ring the stapled ribbons flit and children learn to trot the serpentine, to care for what they can’t afford to own.
The romance of place was my mother tugging on Tasha and Theron Pembroke’s heartstrings by reciting a story about Molly and me as toddlers sitting on a pony named Pumpkin beneath the big oak tree in front of their farmhouse. The romance of place said I asked Pumpkin if she would be my horse when I grew up to be a cowboy. Said Molly told me Pumpkin was a pony, and I couldn’t ride her anyway, I wasn’t good enough, which was both true and mean, and when Molly was at her best she was both true and mean. It was an apocryphal tale, likely based upon a photograph of the Shetland my mother had spotted in the entranceway to the Pembrokes’ house. It was her way of wending us into the family’s memory in hopes that we would stick. My mother’s first theory of posterity was that one must long be remembered with stories false or true.
Yelping Ford Lanes
It’s not clear to the layperson
how a bowling league works,
but yes, there’s a hell
in these peoples’ minds.
Three straight turkeys,
nary a perfect game.
She thought of her mother
frothing at the mouth
the day she died and saying,
Tell them I was a nurse. Nurse.
Not the mother. Not a mother.
Never a mother.
Nary a mother but this creature
with a marsupial’s jaw
sibylline in wasting.
She thought of other things.
Suddenly she was the last woman
in an alley grown terribly quiet.
They were hammering at a chest
thrown into a contrapuntal rhythm,
hammering against dire facts
with a dire procedure
in a dire time of the year.
That’s nine frames of perfection.
Tortuous to get that close.
She would approach the line,
step each heel to each toe four times,
and deliver. It’s hard to clearly
draw the empire of the unborn
she palmed in her black sphere,
but she had the ability
to hear them be not-nothing
before they slipped away.
She could almost remember a time
when pinsetters worked
in that odd penumbra
between the dark and light.
Cal Freeman is the author of the books Fight Songs (Eyewear 2017) and Poolside at the Dearborn Inn (R&R Press 2022). His writing has appeared in many journals including Permafrost, The Poetry Review, Verse Daily, Berfrois, The Moth, Oxford American, River Styx, and Hippocampus. His writing has been anthologized in The Poet's Quest for God (Eyewear 2016), I Wanna Be Loved By You: Poems On Marilyn Monroe (Milk & Cake Press 2021), What Things Cost: An Anthology for the People (University Press Kentucky 2022), and Beyond the Frame (Diode Editions 2023). He is a recipient of the Devine Poetry Fellowship (judged by Terrance Hayes), winner of Passages North's Neutrino Prize, and a finalist for the River Styx International Poetry Prize. Born and raised in Detroit, he teaches at Oakland University and serves as Writer-In-Residence with InsideOut Literary Arts Detroit.