Slightly Foxed

Hot Lunch USA

the wonder of words
By Suzanne Nixon

when my younger son was 12
just a year before
he had his own toothbrush
at his girlfriend’s house
he came to me
in a state of great agitation
action figures in hand
he dumped them on the kitchen table, and

“my imagination’s broken!”

I pressed him for details
because he was distraught
and because I myself can imagine
little worse than having a broken imagination

he manipulated the moveable joints
on the figure, a GI Joe marine
wearing a flamingo pink flak vest (!)---
marine in the air
a flurry of side kicks
and tumbles;
he lands a solid plant
on the table top.

“always before” my son said
“this was ME!!!! Now it’s just a little
plastic action figure
that I’m putting through the motions.”

I had been privy for some years
to the action figure battles;
planned for days behind the closed door
of his bedroom, with a select few friends;
watched while trips were made out
into the “forever green” woods behind the houses
with figures, firecrackers, charcoal starter
where I was later told
the figures
the Joes, Star Wars, Care Bears, He-Men
were placed
according to the battle plan
in preparation for the enactment.
sometimes the planning and placement took days;
the battles themselves usually over in less than an hour;
then the pick-up of detached limbs, torsos, melted heads
for supergluing into new cannon fodder.

I had listened patiently to complaints
that “the guys” only wanted to reproduce
the latest Saturday morning televised doings
of Joe and compatriots;
rather than dreaming up entirely new story lines
(the recycled creatures screamed out
for new story lines as they were less than, or more than
human, given your perspective)

I recalled the time when I was five
when my mother almost destroyed
my own sense of wonder
and the apparatus that drove it,
when she sat me down to tell me that Alunda
my role model, the girl same age as me
who’d come to me when I was OutBack-In-The-Wilds
to tell me about her adventures while we were apart.
Alunda, among other wondrous talents, could fly.

“Not real.” my mother said, “Only imaginary.”

I sat shocked still in the chair
at such beastly news.

And several days later,
after I had not mentioned her again,
and my mother asked after her,
I replied, casually
“Oh, didn’t I tell you?
She died. Of pneumonia”

brought on, no doubt, by

I had been clever enough not
to tell my mother about all the others,
the “drifters” who floated into my empire
to tell me tales and demonstrate
their superhuman talents.

At least I had never been the cause of death
of any of my sons’ companions’
execution by enforcement of “reality”

“My imagination is broken!”

without the tool of Imagination,
our capacity to experience Wonder suffers;
is weakened, depleted
atrophies so that its primary use
is to wonder what’s for dinner;
and what will be the next
Bad Thing to happen;
and where will the money come from
to install cable TV;
so the poor soul can forget
his/her own loss of Wonder
medicated on public special effects.

beside keeping the Drifters secret
the other essential way I came to retain
and stengthen my imagination,
only a few years down the line
was with the written word

Ooooooooooooooo books!

I progressed rapidly
from poring over the pictures accompanying early texts
to the triumphant state
of sparsely illustrated text
to which I could attach my own illustrations
drawn instantaneously in my mind’s eye
by an invisible hand
and as trhough that was not wonder enough
there was more:

these miraculous productions
walked and felt and talked
while I sat eyes moving
across obscure symbols on a page
continents, dynasties
and fell
storm swept seas raised waves
of great height that rose and fell
ships floundered
adventurers fell overboard

there were giants and jackals
sly wolves and mad hatters;
mountebank wizards, witches (bad and good);
dinosaurs, cave women, vampires
you know --- everthing imaginable
some of whom hadn’t before occurred to me;
but who quickly joined my repertoire

unfortunately my son
with the broken imagination
was not a reader for pleasure;
I’m a player, he told me, not a reader
which did not restrain my efforts:
books for any celebratory occasion
or holiday;
books for no special occasion;
books just purchased an placed on the shelves in his room
for surprise findings

I knew eventually I’d find one
that would open doors for him

and eventually one did:
Carlos Castanedas’ Tales of Don Juan,
as it so happened

I call this Wonder
not the All of Wonder
but a healthy dose of it:

the capacity of words to engender
a moving scenario that can be watched
in the mind’s eyes
and jumped into, as one of the characters.;
or as a companion to the characters
whom one comes to love
(anyone who has hated to see a book
come to an end
out of the desire
to continue in the company of the characters within
knows exactly what I am talking about)

No, my imagination did not break;
nor did my son’s___
they were strengthened
by engagement with
the art of others

and my capacity for Wonder
was also increased,
continues to be increased
by what is labeled,
somewhat fictitiously,
as non-fiction.
through field guides
which enlarge my universe
through the naming of things,
and the narration of their life histories:
field guides of flowers, trees, birds,
rocks and minerals, insects, reptiles,
mammals, mythic beasts, the faeries, stars…

through the arcana of philosophic texts;
through the puzzling, unpuzzling detective stories
commonly called science;
through fabled coffee tabled books of art.

I have shuttled back and forth
through time;
made exotic alien landscapes mine;
coyly lifted my skirts with Gerty MacDowell
on Sandymount Strand;
bodaciously sung to Odysseus
and Ulysses and other heros
from my isle;
joined rank and file,
the sainted and the vile,
in marsh and fen
within my ken and far far

I have babble on’d
in labyrinth and libyrinth;
been beguiling and beguiled
in glittering towers
and soft lit bowers;
held captive by byzantine powers
in musty caves
in rat infested cells;
have escaped the terrors
of the deep
and ocean swells;
triumphed depite the toll
of deathly bells

time and time again
I have been
elated deflated
died, and then been
mystified clarified
but never denied
by these small scratched signs
we call the alphabeds
of sighs and signs

by curious design
exalted catapulted
into a universe of wonder
courtesy of wordworks
displayed and played upon
by writers

if I had my way
they would all
be granted the wishes
of their hearts’ desires____

Suzanne Nixon
4 October 2004

Slightly Foxed is a “revolving” column, intended to let Modern Word writers and readers have a soapbox from which they may speak their minds to an adoring crowd. You are adoring, right?

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