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November 08, 1991 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1991-11-08
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e Merely Arrange


by Peggy Lin

tell you my story: On the train, I dream of young men.
Mv mother wanted Peter to becme a pianist, to
iress in black and marry a girl with yellow skin. He lives with a
Cuptor. Wax from midnight candles and jewelry molds scar
the table where he scribbles out equation after equation, term
At er term. I Ic corrects me: the equation is what he seeks, the
balance, but in the meantime he merely juggles the shorthand
,F mentally isolatable elements, lie says that, contrary to public
;pinion, a successful performing musician possesses too little
Cgo, rather than too muich: he threw his scale and arpeggio
boXks into the dumpst-r behind his dormitory the day he
realized he didn't wish io be known for how well he
interpreted other people. He says he speaks for himself.
M mother first made me promise never to become a
mNtuoan. I stopped singing along with the car radio, instead
rwi:ling "ives of the Great Singers" behind my biology book. I
med sixteen, and she began to badger me never to marry a
nmsicin. I spent my allowance on used records and cheap
Wtiions of plays. My f iher threatened to throw them all out if I
lint get an 'A in phvlics. My mother decided it was all right
me tu major in sonr:thing impractical because a smart and
pety girl like me woul be sure to marry a doctor.
Whecn I think of m\ father, I go to the .supermarket and
purchase tabloids. When I remember my mother, I change into
tuseg. \hichever city I'm in, I head to theatres, museums,
, us, looking for movements to enchant and enclose me. I
miyv my lines and my suitcases by myself
Peter wiggles the tip of his pencil against the rims of the
wax Nobs on the kitchen table. 'Ihere are sheets and sheets of
i ping paper fanned out between the hot pot and the lamp,
k( ld blurs of graphite. i wam him that pencil fades. He shrugs.
SIc dcles not need to record the fluttering IBetween his ears,
nnly the shapes of its asorbed, erratic flighits. Ie says that it is
cnungh to record the cruse of flight, beciuse in physics,
xeuyond certain stages, no one expects spxcific landings. "\e
presume that all destin.,tions are merely temporar."
We dance without touching. They go on their routes.
'the actress beside me was Juliet at fourcen, now fleshed at
1\wenty into creamy Rosalind I flush when I see her, and she
;Ilikes at the envy, for Orlando has the full lion's mane, and a
-klen roar. I I makes love with appropriite magnificnce, I
trm told.
I weant him to want me so I can say n.
I would like to be a sister to Orlando, actually. Lovers get
discarded, but sisters get postcards. During conservatory and
Columbia, Peter sent me red-bordered photographs of
buildings, checkered with light, overhead night-shots garlanded
with the paths of moving traffic, the name of the city in a jazzy
flnt. I send him cartoons, sketched on blank index-cards, once
a week. When my eyes hurt, or when I still feel blurred from a
party, I simplify: stick-figures and houses and the speech locked
in bubbles. When I hurt too much, I send only the bubble,
floating in the stiff white space, about to be pricked by the
cminer of the stamp.
Orlando follows Rosalind's smooth, satiny strides across the
stage. She wears leotards. I wear skirts that ripple as I chase,
love, faint, die, climb ladders, and buy new travel duffels. I do
not want a second skin; my scars remind me how to stop
unseemly bleeding. I have reduced my wardrobe to what can
be slept in, to what can lie draped on a cduir without ironing.
In dreams, he will remember the whirl of my skirt; he will
forget he desired cream and satin, and wonder about the
sculpting wind.
I purchase maps and leave them in hotel rooms.
A crossword puzzle sits on my lap. Peter snorts when I pry
{rut another sheet of blank paper from the folder beneath his
i x)ks on the table. He says he condones lists for lab assistants
and theatre propmasters, but they would seem to be non-
functional for someone who reads the endings of novels first.
"I like to know where I'm headed," I answer.

"How does someone who works crosswords in ink end up
in Albuquerque instead of Austin? You even traced the itinerary
in my atlas."
"The best laid plans of misses and men require adjustment.
The clue reads 'conductor."'
"Of train, music, or electricity?"
I start new lists. Uniformed travellers, holepunching tickets.
Black-tailed pianists, breaking pencils, batons, egos. Metal
throwing through more warmth than newsprint, the sword
sparks much more swiftly than paper. Navigating chaos into
source, source to tangibilities.
Peter asks for the other half of the paper, with the comics.
One of his co-workers collects the bubble captions for found
poems. I try it with headlines, one from each section of the
Crossing over
Jordan scores
Hints for
Quotas unmet
"And what is the point of all this?"
"We don't create, we merely arrange. Scientists know this;
poets someday will."
They say you cannot return home again. I have not.
In college, you are to learn how to live the rest of your life. I

She knew all the rules: which veins to open, to immerse cuts in
warm water. She said, however, she'd never go through with it:
regardless of outcome, she would hate the explanations.
I want the wind to bring a man to comb my hair with soft
I changed my phone number the day after my mother had
called, regarding my senior picture. "At least you wore makeup,
but couldn't you i lave curled that dam hair? We aren't so pretty
as Americans, so we have to take exira pains." I hung up and
doused my sponge rollers with cheap wine. The smoke
detector woke mny roommate from h.:r nap. She snuggled
deeper in bed, until she realized the smell wasn't weekend fish.
She went out for fillet sandwiches, and brought home
vodka, candles and incense. We poued the vodka into mixing
buwls and stuck the candles in the VI ttlenecks. The room
smelled of exotic woods and bumt mr ber, mixed with the
damp-leaf scent of wind from the win ,dow.
IHe will ask n," not where I've c ne from, but if I like it
My brother di!n't worry about re .c:hing me. He already
possessed a stack of tear-out postcari books. He had told our
mother that if he was home, he was practicing music, math, or
cooking, none of which would suffer interruption. Our mother
mailed him a telephone anyway; he donated it in her name to
his music fraternity auction. Ihe flutist who bid highest told him
it rings a tritone above the other phone in his apartment.
On hotel telephones one occasi(Inally still notes vermilion
traces on the receiver. Audrey, who also admires Orlando,
ponders the peculiarity of actresses who hated makeup.
I remind her ci re herself preferred store-brand chapstic.k.
"If I powdered behind the stage," she concludes, "I should
not have my ma,'; I need to remind myself I am an eccentric,
an egotist. I might else go mad with empathy."
I am less profound- I do not wear makeup well. I lose
umbrellas; my hair dings messily to hats. I cry often and
profusely. I meet lovers in the daytime without cold cream in
reserve. I can wear my mask on stage, where they come for the
voice and the frilly armor, for just a little while. But masks scar
when you wear tlhiem too long.
A college lover once asked me to play Juliet. I threw my
pillow at him and packed quickly. My stage kit was with me. I
took out "Young Rose" and sought out his bathroom mirror:
I flushed the tube down the toilet. He as always had left the
lid up.
I am visiting, but if you leave me alone, I might stay.
Sophie the sculptor is screaming. Peter draws cubes on a
half-sheet of paper, then tears it methodically into half-inch bits.
Tlhe doctor has said she's pregnant. I have come for the
weekend, to walk Sophie to the clinic. It has been a warm
spring, and the protestors are feverishly active. Also, Sophie
needs someone to carry her suitcase.
Peter asks yet again why this con pulsion to destroy their
Sophie, exhausted, hurls the chair pillow at him. It falls
short, reaching only as far as the tablk, where it scatters the hill
of bits of paper.
"I do not collaborate, and this is not my creation. If a statue
does not approach my standards, I smash it. I do not feel
obligated to martyr myself for creation's sake. I want my hands
free to shape other things."
You can find me, after all, if you know what to ask.
I perform in a major city. A frien! of my mother recognizes

my'name on a poster. She calls my mother and congratulates
her on my wonderful work. My mother calls my brother and
rants about the review the friend mailed her. She asks Peter
why a nice girl of her race and her blood who missed
valedictorian by three-tenths of a point insists on taking her
clothes off for everyone in Los Angeles.
Peter half-humorously suggests that my breasts aren't so bad
to look at. My mother pauses, then launches a new attack:
"They won't look so good when she starts having children. She
always says she's not interested in having children, but that's
what they all say until they get married. And she won't even get
married, she'll just get pregnant by one of those black men she
runs around with, and I heard that they don't wear condoms
because they WANT you to get pregnant-"
"Mom, enough already, you're just repeating what those
bats in your office say-"
"Young man, they are not bats, they are mature women
with lots of experience, even though they don't sleep around
and live with men before they get married. They don't have
3.97 GPA's but they work hard and they have wonderful
grandchildren and they-"
"Mom, I can't believe you still remember her high school
GPA, and there's someone at the door. I'll call you in a couple
of days, Mom." ie pulls the cord out of the phone jack and
opens his second-from-bottom desk drawer, where the
postcard books are kept. I receive seven cryptograms which I
throw in my satchel; I solve them three months later, as I sit on
the floor of a hotel room, excavating the contents of the purse
in which I tried to stuff one paperback too many. Pennies dot
the carpet; I know I will miss one, and it will either short-circuit
the maid's vacuum or provide her with a day's luck. The
cryptograms all reduce to the same, single message: "Phone me
when you get this." 'the phone has been reconnected, and
Sophie is pregnant.
We will join and yet breathe self-distinct songs.
Sophie has stopped bleeding. To celebrate, she and I walk
laps around the mall. I buy her two scarves, one with an old-
fashioned map print, bordered by ghostly outlines of old sea
clippers; the other is a Frank Lloyd Wright window, with gold,
white and brown-jeweled panes.
We pass a window with Prom gowns. Sophie heaves a sigh.
"Occasionally," she says, "I think I wouldn't mind a son, if I
could only be certain beforehand that he wouldn't be a pig or
an idiot. But even the best of men expect you to iron their
tuxedoes for them, or that you'll naturally have better taste at
arranging flowers and choosing complementary patterns for
wallpaper." She sighs again. "If I had a daughter, I'd be jealous
of her the minute she was born. Peter is already in love with
her, you know. It's easy to love something produced from
imagination and dick." She pulls nail clippers out of her pocket
and clips the plastic thread that connects the price tag to the
silk. She holds the fabric up to the sun. The colors glow, taut
between her hands. She grimaces: "Think of a baby-your big
eyes, soft rosy cheeks-and think of the dear, sweet creature
spitting, puking, smashing and ripping everything else you hold
dear to shreds, and to have to excuse it because of its mere
helplessness. Do you suppose for a minute Da or Mutter would
hesitate to use this scarf for a diaper if I didn't come running to
cuddle the thing the minute it bawled? Do you suppose Peter
would be amused when the thing decided his toothpick towers
were edible? Of course not. The world's most enlightened man
would accuse me of distracting him from his work by not
minding the thing." She pauses, head cocked to one side. "At
which point, I'd tell him to go shove it in the kiln, and his own
head, too."
We arrive at the apartment to find day fragments and ripped
sketchbook pages covering the coffee table. Sophie walks back
to her car, climbs in, and stares ahead I go back in and haul
out her overflowing laundry basket. As I pass the coffee table, I
aim two swift kicks at the weak leg. It shivers, snaps, and the
load it helped to support comes rushing down to bury it
In the beginning, there was not day but a story.
An audition goes badly. I would call up the old boyfriend I
used to depend on for these kind of things, but it's 3:00 a.m.
where he lives, and he advised me last time to "forgive both
them and yourself." Peter claims that I am not a creator but a
vessel, and that I therefore feel abandoned, both un-full and
un-filled, when I have neither stage nor significant others to
provide me with a nicely predestinated function.

The long gowns I wear at thfter festivals do not come fron
my mother's closets: I daim to be self-fashioned. But in limp
moments like these, I look in borrowed mirrors, and I see
features of my mother's face. This drives me, in the middle of
the night in strange towns, to circling around motel lobbies and
24-hour drugstores and street posts, throwing change in square
blue and yellow metal boxes; I cull out the music and drama
classifieds and circle the ones that look legit, using whichever
shade of lipstick I wore to the audition and thus like least at the
Sophie, of the long fingers and lashes, plans to leave to

out to warm the cold floors o tha
sketched yet another new, improv
On stage, I play a siren. I wear
black velvet, red mouth and nails,
At the house where I am boar(
messages in a cedar rack above th
find the Amtrak ticket I ordered fc
and a package from Sophie. Earlic
had come from Peter's university (
of Bach fugues and an unsigned I
Sophie's package contains a tir
chocolate, peanut butter, and van
won't yet again sleep with her, bu
weekend, out to her brother's far
in the middle of a meadow. After
her body down in order to view t
cold in any case, so she went bac
faces out of apples for her nieces.
foot-high totem pole; the margins
of stylized ravens and other mask
I go to the den to share the cc
year-old daughter narrowly misse
science textbook. She points with
with fuzzy blue print, that lists cor
memorize. I head to the drugstore
with toothpicks and miniature ma
construct Cassiopeia's "W" and th
she tums to the pages of the Zodi
and begin a letter to Peter.
Constellations are not created,
I tell you my story: On the trai
dance without touching. They go
maps and leave them in hotel roc
They say you cannot return h(
the wind to bring a man to comb
will ask me not where I've come
am visiting, but if you leave me a
find me, after all, if you know wh
We will join and yet breathe s
beginning, there was not clay but
to themselvesto remember. Cons
merely arranged-yet how it brin

others her self-portrait-the prints of her thumbs, her breath
preserved in her clay. I want to leave only yearning, the scent
of a beloved phantom: I do not want to gather dust as an
antique doll.
They sang the story to themselves to remember.
In high school art class, we wove thick, fringed rugs during
the unit on textiles. I dreamed, while poking my thumbs with
the blunt loom-threading needles, that I was Penelope, setting

learned I was not the only person who lied to my parents to
save myself explanation. My best friend was Catholic. As a
result, I had more boyfriends in name than in body when we
roomed together. When the parents phoned late at night, the
boyfriend became the cousin.
In our apartment building, a Taiwanese girl moved in with
us during Parents' Weekend I was good at changing quarters
even then; I was already the roommate who was never in. I
became the third roomie who shared the dresser and slept on
the couch. The Fonteyn and Nuryvev poster could have
belonged to anyone's wall; I trimmed the borders of the Bach
tercentenary poster Peter had sent me, and taped it inside my
music locker. She covered the space on the wall with glossy
postcards of the universities she applied to, collected because
her father refused to purchase sweatshirts when they visited.
He said she could easily buy a blank sweatshirt at Wal--mart
and iron-on the letters proclaiming "U of X" and "School of Y,"
and thus save twenty dollars towards visits home.
She never attempted suicide, but she reread the collected
works of Dorothy Parker after Christmas and spring vacations.

"Jazz Messiah" continued
I Ie got up, without really realizing what he was doing, and
as if in a trance hoisted himself into the lower branches of the
tree. I le began to climb.
About halfway up, his shirt snagged on a twig and before
he knew what had happened his sleeve was hanging by a
thread. Annoyed, he removed the offending garment and flung
it a way. It landed right next to a woman in a dress-for-success
suit, who, despite the soft puff and thump of the shirt's arrival,
didn't bother looking up.
Next it was his pants that ripped. Goddamn Brooks
Brothers dress pants - they used to belong to his father. They
nearly landed on a dull-eyed pigeon, who squawked and
dodged them just in time.
It was a beautiful day. The sky was California blue, with just
the right amount of wispy cloud. Above the heat reflected from
the sidewalks, a cool breeze blew in a gentle, steady stream. It
ruffled Miles's hair and slid around his limbs, soft as cat's fur, as
he settled himself in the highest branches and lifted his horn
The fluttery first measures of "Ornithology," coming from
sorme twenty feet off the ground, drew the glances. The sight of
a scruffy young man straddling a branch stark naked and
blowing to the sun like a wild-haired Gabriel - that made the
glances stick.
Miles had brought jazz to the world.
"Indecent exposure, disturbing the peace, destroying public
property." He ticked off the charges on his fingers, speaking
loudly over the snores of the wino. "I broke some branches on
the way down."
"I he transestite nodded sympathetically. His wig was
coaling loose.

"Man, you sure is dumb," saic
Miles didn't refute this charge.
glasses, and began polishing ther
"Where'd you get the clothes?
gesturing towards Miles's fashion
"My friend brought them." HLi
voice sounded as if it were eman
was an awkward pause, followec
transvestite and a snort from the
except for the steady burbling sn
Miles sighed and leaned back
What the hell had he been thinki
the dream; he had just made an
The voice that quietly uttered
voice that seemed to come from
around in bewilderment, seeking
On a sudden whim, he glanc
sitting in the comer. The man's e
nests of wrinkles, were fixed squ
turned up at the comers in a sly :
said the man softly. "Maybe it dic
but there's always next time, righ
Miles stared... and ringing fair
he heard a strain of sweetest harr
improvisation that would have r
have heard it, trash his horn and
business. Miles knew that voice,
him like the deepest note on a b
from his dream.
And, as the words sank in, he
glow, and an absurd smile sprea
Next time...

Peggy Lin is afirst-year Rackham sli lent in English Language
and Literature. This is herfrstpubli ired story, but she has
prey ously published herfpoetry in seiral magazines.

November 8, 1991


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