Tab Gallenbeck, Public Works

I wish that I could know how much salt to order each season. I know that some folks have a joint that twitches or head that aches when a storm’s brewing, the pressure dropping, the wind coming about. I’m going to need 250 cubic yards of rock salt, 575 cubic yards. It is better to have too much than too little I always say. Don’t you think the drifts of salt look like, could be drifts of snow? In the year of little snow, of no snow, these salt mounds will have to stand in for snow. As the storm approaches, the temperature falls, I load up the pick-up, shovel in the salt on the rusting bed in back. Daughter Wendy drives. I get into a rhythm in the back, scooping up a heap of salt, fanning it out on the road, rolling aft of the tailgate. I like the way the crystals bounce and scrabble, how they sow themselves into windrows, waiting for the snow to come. The streets of Winesburg are silent. Folks burrowing in. I feel the ache in my arms, my back. The pressure falling. We go back and forth through the stains of light and shadow that the streetlights cast. It smells like snow. It smells like snow and salt.

The Snow Fences of Winesburg

I miss the wooden snow fences, red cedar slats. They have disappeared, replaced by these orange plastic nets. I don’t know who does this, puts up the snow fences here and there all over Winesburg every fall. They work, knocking the snow out of the gale, the gale itself generated, I guess, by a kind of fence, the barrier between the great lake and land that dumps the snow out of the rolling clouds of the deep gray sky. I joke with my wife that if they just don’t put up the snow fences it won’t snow as if the fences tempt the snow. It’s a joke, you see. I am mixing up the effect and cause. But still after the long winter and all that howling snow-choked wind, I keep saying to myself, “Take them down. Take them down. Take them down.” That will stop the snow. The snow fences are the trigger. The lure. It makes me think of those south sea islands where the cults built decoys of airplanes to attract the cargo. The fences bring on the snow, and it snows. And what little sun is left throws that corrugated shadow on the bleached drifted ground–nets of nets the new fences cast. Better than the prison bars of the old fences, I guess.

Bud’s Komet’s Puck

I grew up in Fort Wayne on Wells Street at St. Vincent Villa, a Catholic orphanage in those old days. Out back there was a three-story cement statue of the Blessed Mother us kids would climb. I have no idea if it is still there. The place has been turned into a Y I think. I don’t know what it is now. I don’t get back there much at all. This puck’s all that’s left of my adventures back then. Back then, high school kids in do-gooder clubs would troop a whole bunch of us out to events, score points, I guess, with whoever keeps track of such things. Basketball, lots of basketball games. Legion baseball. And Komet hockey at the Memorial Coliseum. It was okay to get out from time to time, blow the stink off of us, but we never stopped being orphans. And those high school kids just when they were starting to feel good about the good deeds they were doing finally couldn’t make out hides or tails of us urchins. “Get me a puck,” I’d say to one of them, his eyebrows all arched up. “Tell ’em we’re orphans. They’ll give you a puck if they know we’re orphans.” And they would. Everybody feeling bad all around wanted to feel good. That was the situation back then. Now, here I sit in Winesburg, deep in hockey season. That’s the Komets playing, broadcast on WOWO. Icing, I never understood icing. I bet there is snow all caught up in the cement folds of Mother Mary’s veil. This puck, I pretended, was some perverse communion wafer I lodged in her icy mouth. It never melted, of course, like the real thing did, but glowed there like the lost frozen hunk of dust it was.

Bobbi Bodinka’s Rubbings

My mother used to take in ironing, and I grew up watching her iron in the living room so she could watch the soaps on the TV while she did it. She let me sprinkle the wrinkled shirts, the crumpled slacks. We used an old empty 7-UP bottle stoppled with a holey nozzle I’d shake the water out through. I liked to watch the way the wrinkles and creases disappeared as Mother bore down on the iron and turn the water into steam, a steam that sizzled and sang. Outside, through the window over the television, the world in winter Winesburg had been ironed flat. White snowy fields folded into snowy field after snowy field. There were times as she fluffed and arranged the shirts on the board she would forget to set the iron on its edge and the hot plate would singe and stain the pad, the shadow adding a kind of depth to all that flatness. I think of that now, years later, when I take the patterns off the manhole covers with my artistic rubbings. I sell the results at the farmers markets in Fort Wayne. The first impression I took was off my mother’s gravestone, a slab, flat against the grass. As I pressed and scrubbed the white paper back and forth back and forth, the words and picture–the anvil shape of hands folded in prayer–emerging, I found I remembered more and more of those afternoons with my mother, the snow outside sifting over the sheets of snow, the sighs of steam, the smoldering smell of the stalled iron on the singeing top of the ironing board on top of those tottering scissored legs.

Thursday

I am pretty sure that it is Thursday out there. That looks like a Thursday sky doesn’t it? It does doesn’t it? They call this window a picture window and the picture it is picturing is “Thursday.” I am pretty sure that it is Thursday. I have trained myself to notice the way Thursday looks in Winesburg. I don’t look at the calendars or the clocks. I’ve trained myself to pay attention to the Thursday-ness of the day. The sky especially, the way the clouds maneuver in the latter half of the week, the way the blue is steeped. It’s tricky, Thursdays. Thursdays, I have found, can last a long time out there. Days can go by. But all those days are Thursdays too, Thursdays auditioning for Friday, trying Friday on for size.

The Lamar Sign on the Old Lincoln Highway

We can’t remember the last time the sign on the outskirts of Winesburg last advertised anything. We don’t really understand why the sign company itself doesn’t use the sign to advertise there is this sign to use to advertise. The emptiness is mesmerizing. There are times that the whiteness of the billboard seems luminous. Some nights it gives off a light, we swear, more than reflection, a kind of glow that appears to emanate from deep within, a chemical reaction perhaps, a glaze of phosphorescent moss perhaps, symbiotic with the lime in the whitewash maybe. Maybe. It is a kind of camouflage, mimicking the exact shade of atmospheric exhaustion that envelopes us, evaporating everywhere hereabouts, where the blue has been leeched out of the sky, a perpetual not sky sky, that the sign is a sign of and for. We all go by it daily, back and forth, and we have all glossed it, think we know each etched wrinkle of the crazed bleached surface floating there as if it mirrors the crimped creases ironed into our own cortexes, a no brainer. One day, we may gather there, promote the structure, a festival maybe, celebrating the sign as our sign, the sign that has come to represent that something something about us all.

Sandor Reeves’s Extension Cord

There must be a way, mathematically, to describe the coiling of these cords and the algebra of the knots and kinks that spring up in the endless looping I go through storing them, but I was (am) bad at math, especially the finite kind that is all about permutations and probabilities and odds and ends, odds and ends, yes, I socket together in the Butler Building out back through the long winter where I braid and loop and lasso these extending extensions, all insulated in shades of orange, yellow, neon greens, while it snows and snows outside, coating the general vicinity of Winesburg, Indiana, a skin of snow that extends in lake effected bands all the way to Fort Wayne, there, off in the arching distance where I see its lights electroplating the lowering clouds, creating this other effect that warps the distance into arches, dull glowing domes as I wrap another length of wire round my elbow and into the crook my palm creates and back to the bend of the elbow; miles, I have miles and miles now of these candy-colored tangles that, one day, I will fit together, length by length, letting it find its way east, to the source, to some solution, to the light at the end of the light.

 

 

 


Michael Martone lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His most recent books are Winesburg, Indiana and Racing in Place.