Gray smear of a Saturday too wet for yard work, it still seems everyone’s gone since the Fourth. You can hear a car engine coming a way’s away, they cut arcs around the bend and go in and out like the tides, inclining one to nap or drift in a hammock, side by side between two pines. The clouds turned to cotton gauze, some blackened with soot and threatening.
As happens to all glasses at some point, mine got bent. At just the time I needed my image to cast unmistakable confidence, pitching new work and me as uniquely qualified, instead I’m reminded each time I see myself of my flaws: how the stems sit askew behind each ear and make my vision go catawampus, the fact I risk snapping the frames when I try to bend them back, like an action figure with a limb off-kilter exposing the joint I still feel the need to reseat it.
We walk to the new development down the road marked No Outlet, the road now widened and recently ground-down, past signs by a green belt marked Critical Area with idealized herons in silhouette, mountain peaks and trees: now, a former meadow taped off and defined by stakes, spray painted lines on the grass, X’s on trees, the aerial view showing a plan for 39 lots, the land trimmed and cut into sections like a piece of meat, concrete foundations, rebar ribs.
And I think of my first pair of glasses, just 16, now coming into college radio and poetry-writing and the band The Smiths, ripe for a pair of tortoise shell frames and newfound intellect and self-expression, going over the lyrics inside the record in pink font on green stock, goaded-on to my own world of whimpering and self-absorption, amazed by the seeming endlessness of the pain and my capacity to talk about it.
And now a few days without properly washing my hair, only wetting it in the hot tub or Eberhard-style under the sink, I can finally make it look like Morrissey’s, it lies down or stands up on command, I just touch it or snap my fingers and it does what I ask, like that.
And as it continued in those early photos of me in my teens, I went on to have the sides of my head shaved but let the top grow out so that I looked like a white Apache, but with none of the fiery pigmentation or the fearlessness to back it up, attracting only sour remarks and frowns, and never enough love interest.
To take it further I had my ear pierced, the left one, because that sent the right message I was told, and I had it done high through the cartilage rather than low through the lobe to distinguish myself even further: my friend Jerry Dyke, a fraternity brother in the local Sigma Kappa Nu, which broke down as “Skins,” icing my ear and punching the post through, a drinking game we played while watching The Smurfs in his room (you took turns taking a drink each time someone said Smurf, which was often) — and later, when the hole healed over and I had to get it pierced again, it was at one of those mall kiosks with a gun like a tool you’d use to put nails through a roof, and hurt like hell.
Over time the glasses, like personal fashion, went through seasons of self-expression along a scale of conservative/bookish to angular/edgy, with a stop at hippy on the way, a pair of John Lennon specs with yellow lenses that turned a Creamsicle orange under UV and remained that way for quite some time after I re-entered my workspace, how it seemed I was the only one out of a few thousand with that look, and probably for good reason.
And it was at an appointment for a recent job prospect I realized that my present frames, which can best be described as German-looking, or vaguely Sprockets, have that similar effect where the lenses remain dark for a time after returning indoors (which doesn’t make for a good first impression on a job interview), so I put them in my pocket where I hoped they’d lapse back, rang the intercom on the street and got buzzed-in, rode the elevator to the lobby and got out, sat in the waiting room trying to look natural, looking at my phone.
It was at college in Erie, PA with my roommate John Fisher, more athlete than poet, we dissected the lyrics from those Smiths albums and I explained irony, some of the liberties it seemed he was taking with the words, which confounded John, who wanted literal explanations, and wound up betraying me for his friend back home who was sleeping with my girlfriend, who’d been with her first, before I moved to town, had laid some kind of claim to her.
And yet there’s a picture of me with her when she came that first year in October, that stupid Apache haircut and loop through my ear, a cashmere overcoat I got for $10 at the thrift store the day I turned 16, the first time we’d broken up, I’d gotten my first frames, was starting to learn the art of walking and smoking and moping, making crude forms in my journals, recreating myself elsewhere, hiding Horcruxes before I knew what that meant, the feeling of having conceived something when it’s too early to announce it.
Now that my frames are bent I compulsively angle them, my own parallax view phenomenon, the feeling things will always look different to me now for some reason, like something just happened or clicked in me and it feels a bit nuts.