The New Cities

UNITED STATES—First I came for the dream. The dream was the thing, and for the dream I could afford anything. I could sleep on a wooden sidewalk –a sign of civilization then.

Somebody one night offered me a blanket. After that I slept with a blanket and the crook of my elbow was a pillow while the blanket was much more: it was privacy in this boisterous frontier outpost, drunk on gold. There were others who came to share the wooden sidewalk, and they brought wooden pallets. Then a horsehair sofa showed up and some potted ferns. Then partitions were fashioned from scrap lumber, and finally a cardboard roof on top. The people from the town avoided us and their mongrel dogs barked at us. The menageries of improvised dwellings clung tenaciously as vines on the edge of a cliff. We weren’t going anywhere and we prevailed.

Meanwhile, the people from the town drifted off by, to greener pastures and other dreams of boron, radium and oil. They left their cheap town to rot and tumble. It collapsed on itself. And what didn’t collapse was digested by the termites. The original drifters stayed, they had descendants, and after a few generations towers rose high into the sky, built by the descendants. So one could look down from the high balcony with binoculars and sigh, seeing down below on a yellow-brick path alongside the gutter. As the afternoon waned, there was newcomer with a knapsack on his back, and he shook the dust off and lay down with his head on the knapsack.

The Guest
The household in the grip of a sweet fever, prepares for a guest. Nobody has visited in a long time; it is a rare occasion. The silver is polished, the cobwebs brushed away, and the porcelain scrubbed –the tiniest corners with a toothbrush, the floors swept and mopped, the refrigerator filled with mortadella, salami and cheeses and slender-necked bottles of wine. The juiciest grapes and plums, ripe satsumas, and sweet sweet strawberries fill the fruit bowl. The linens are laundered, and spread out taut on the beds, where they release an exhilarating freshness, windows are wide open and blowing out the smell of old steamer trunk. Old garments and things, once needed and now superfluous: gifts given in time and gratefully received have outlived their use, so are shuttled out and on their way to new gratitude.

The fresh, clean house greets it occupants. To walk inside the door fills them with joy. Counters gleam and windows sparkle. What does it matter if the expected gust never arrives? They missed their flight, the trip was postponed, rescheduled, forgot. Many times this happens, and the residents of the house are stirred by the impending visit the rejuvenate their surroundings till the house glows with perpetual love.
The people awaiting the guest are you; the house is the earth.
June 24, 2013

Grady Miller is the author of “The Hostages of Veracruz,” available on Amazon.

A study in contrasts…