Sunday, 29 October 2017

Squint Test

by CLS Ferguson

I was only visiting for the summer
I had only stacked them next to the old armoire
Hidden from view
One of my faint attempts at sinking into the walls
Until fall swept me back to Louisiana
I thought I had made every attempt for myself and my effects to simply
[Fade away]

Crystal Lane, he called with such authority I was suddenly eight again
Crystal Lane, come in here! 
I have something I want to show you
Though I wanted nothing more than for him to forget my existence
I couldn’t help but obey my father’s command

Even though I was 25 and ABD
Even though I only lived with him for the summers because
            My mother had moved to Tulsa and
Southern California had infected me like
The shingles left over from childhood chicken pox
And I was lucky enough to get a great teaching job at my alma mater
Even though I had discovered we could only have a superficial, civil relationship
Even though I had done everything to simply vanish
Even though I had the power to clearly refuse
[I obeyed]

As I neared his voice I could see that he had taken them
From their polite storage between the old bedroom cabinet and the wall
He had spread them
expressions from my soul
near the freshly painted baseboard
Between each of my ignorantly and unapologetic abstract oils on canvas
He placed one of his precise, photographically accurate watercolors

His, perfectly recognizable as its intended image
Mine, only occasionally intended as anything specific—open to any interpretation
His, each in its perfectly coordinated frame behind thick, beveled glass
Mine, sloppily falling onto the edges, some complete with dust from their earlier storage
His, the work of a master artist
Mine, the work of a girl with her emotions on fire

In every other context of my life
I did what I could to stand out
Wore all black, voted Republican, went to traditional Protestant Christian Church
Pierced every part of my body I could think of, but refused to be tattooed
Always fought to be in charge, on top, beating the boys at their own game
Chose Hanson as my favorite band, planned only to adopt, expressed my feelings
And did nothing to hide any of it

But, with my father, I wore the thickest veil I could
So my evaporation could be interpreted as choice
Rather than force

Only the summer before
I had made what I thought was an attempt at a real connection
A true second chance
We looked through my sketchbook together
He read one of my academic conference papers
He was almost complimentary of both

What I don’t understand is, he stated plainly
Why so many of your sketches have symbols of violence
Specifically violence toward women
And why you write about rape

I took the deepest breath my lungs could handle
Because I was raped, Dad

No you weren’t
And one more piece of me fell to abyss of things my father ignored

It was the same reaction as the one I got when
I came home from school after being sober for a month
C’mon, have a glass of wine
My dad’s wife urged at my dad’s birthday dinner
After about an hour of the ‘peer’ pressure
Coupled with questions as to why I kept refusing
I finally blurted out
Because I’m an alcoholic! 
That’s why I can’t have a drink! 
I’m a month sober and I’d like to keep going! 
At least for today!
My dad’s brilliant response
You are not an alcoholic
Even standing up, loud and clear would never be heard by him

So, now as I stood in front of my works of passion
And my dad’s works of art, he said
I want you to see something
He spoke with such enthusiasm that for a moment
I was hopeful he might say something encouraging
Come over here and squint your eyes
First squint at one of my paintings
Then squint at one of yours
See how when you squint at mine, nothing disappears?
And when you squint at yours, things disappear?
I nodded in vague agreement
Desiring nothing more than to return to the guest room I was staying in
Maybe even clad myself in the ugly curtains
In my artwork, my father finally saw something that he didn’t want to deny
Didn’t want to stuff away
Something that I had created
Yet, through his eyes, he couldn’t hold on to it
That’s because your paintings have no depth

* * * * *

CLS Ferguson, PhD is a communication professor who has published many academic articles and two academic books. Her performance in Silence, which she co-wrote and produced earned best actress and best film awards. Her music video Secrets & Lies also earned accolades. CLS has published poetry in Dirty Chai, Sheepshead Review, Drunk Monkeys, etc. Her poetry collection God Bless Paul is out on Rosedog Books, her chapbook, The Way We Were co-authored with JC Jones is out on Writing Knights Press, and her collection Soup Stories is out on Portage Press.  She and husband Rich are raising their daughter and Bernese Mountain Border Collie Mutt in Alhambra, CA.   

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