At writing class at UCLA extension, I stare at figures on a table. A clay face figure on this table disturbs me. Its three clear blue eyes gaze out. “Who are we behind our eyes?” I used to ask that of Jeff when we hung out in the UCI cafeteria, Jeff, putting salt and pepper shakers together, taken them apart. Jeff—my first brother of a friend, big blonde, intense blue eyes. Women circled around Jeff with silent crushes.
“Jeff,” I say, after whining about Literary Criticism, telling him my knees locked midway towards genuflect position, asking him who was odiferous in Frank Lentricchia’s class, “do you ever wonder who’s behind the eyes or where your soul is?”
I wish Jeff were here for coffee so we could talk about chiaroscuro faces, like the one in front of me on the table with three eyes. I could tell him the eyes remind me of the three Bradley sisters when we were still sisters and lived on Wren Street.
Which eye made it? Where would Meb’s eye be? What does the eye of a little girl who won a Margaret O’Brien look-alike contest show when it grows up and become alcoholic? And what about twins’ eyes, the ones to the left and right of Meb on a bench after first communion or on the chiaroscuro figure in front of me in the writing class, on the flat table? I could use a sit-down-over-coffee-and-talk-to-Jeff-time. Wall-eyed, maybe that’s it. “We had to be walleyed and sit askew in a face that had more than one mouth and more than one point of view to survive it all.” That’s what Jeff would say. The mask on the table reminds me of the white snake skin and feathered mask Bill and I have, which speaks of other dimensions and shadings and sorrows. It reminds Bill and me that life is never simple.
Tonight, I would like that mask on the table, the mask with earrings in its nose, the mask which gives form to the unexplainable.
Copyright © 2009 Esther Bradley-DeTally
“Charoscuro” is an excerpt from You Carry the Heavy Stuff, which is available at Lulu and Amazon, and directly from the author for $14.95 plus postage. Esther may be contacted via email: estherbill(at)gmail.com.
I teach four six-week classes on writing. My background training is from Oakley Hall, who was majestic novelist and teacher and co-director of Squaw Valley Workshop, and also from Jack Grapes, whose name is whistled in freeway corridors like a slick wind, a pied piper of a writing teacher. Both of these men earn my verbal praise every day. I have traveled from Moscow to Siberia, and to Ukraine, and then returned with my husband to live in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, and Minsk, Belarus. I studied writing methods at UCIrvine, and also took several courses under a superb journalist, Joe Bell.
I teach a class on Tuesdays at The Women’s Room, a place that leaps with great words and giant hearts. The women are either volunteers, homeless or in transition, and it is a great place of support.
On Monday nights, I teach in the basement of Ten Thousand Villages, near California and Lake, from 4:30-6 p.m., for donation. That, plus a few on-line gigs and tutoring gig, plus Baha’i activities and commitment to racial justice, keeps me busy. I have a novel in the second draft process.
Esther has written two books, Without a Net: A Sojourn in Russia and You Carry the Heavy Stuff. Her blog can be found at SorryGnat.wordpress.com.