Thursday, May 8, 2008

Look Up

This is what I think. I think the universe made kites so that every now and then, if only for a few, brief minutes, we have to look up.

I'd completely forgotten about them until a few months ago when I stood on the edge of the park on a cold and windy afternoon watching a child gaze up at the kite, dancing in the wind and tethered to him by a long line. It was a magical moment for me, like discovering a new photograph of a loved one long since gone. A piece of my childhood re-opened to me that night and I've stood transfixed by the kites at the park nearly every afternoon since. Some of them are enormous and cut the sky like a boat leaving a wake behind it. They sizzle as the air catches them and jerks them back and forth. But it's not just the big ones; the little ones, the cheap Wal-Mart variety, are just as magical. Last week Duncan and I stood near the playground watching a toddler, maybe two, hold a line attached to what appeared to be a green plastic Burger King bag which darted and jerked only seven or eight feet above her head.

This afternoon we sat in the soft clover at the top of the park watching a single flier ballet dance his kite above us. For long moments it sat motionless and silent in the air, like a strange jellyfish which has ceased to throb and swim and sits, floating in silence, contemplating nothing. But then he would pull on one of the thick lines and send it careening straight at us, only to veer away a few feet above our heads. I gaped and actually clapped when he finally let it come to a rest on the ground fifty feet away.

"Can I ask you a question?" I asked, climbing to my feet and walking across the field toward him. "What is it about flying kites, about coming out here every afternoon, that you love so much?"

He smiled the kind of smile that told me he'd been asked this question a thousand times and yet, when he answered it didn't seem rehearsed or as though it had been his response on a thousand previous sunny afternoons. It seemed to come from his heart and after he told me, "Because every time is like the first time," I wanted to ask him again and again to see why else he stood at the top of the park each day as the sun drew down close to the mountains, painting them bluer than the sky. Because it's like dancing with my first love. Because it's like fishing for the wind. Because it makes me feel like I don't need to dream about or wish I could fly. Any one of them would've fed me but it was, "Because every time is like the first time," that made me smile.

"I'm Mark," he said, holding out a weather hand.

"Curt," I said. "This is Duncan."

Mark scratched Duncan's head and stared at him a long moment, like he was reading. "Good dog," he finally said. "I see the two of you here every day." And then he handed me the reins. "Would you like to try it?" Before I could even respond he took Duncan's leash. "Don't worry," he told me. "He'll be safe."

I'd barely sputtered before I found myself getting a crash course in power kite flying. "Back is go, forward is the brakes. Pull hard left to go left, right to go right. Make it do lazy infinities," he said and I knew that somewhere in him lurked a poet, someone who sees the world simultaneously for what it is and what it isn't but could be.

And then there I was, fastened to four thick heavy lines, pulling back hard and watching the kite fill with air and rise above me. Almost immediately I felt the tremendous tug, then power of the wind and it rose and rose, then turned on its side. I was pulled forward and had to jog to keep up. My arms trembled and I realized I was holding my breath. With a grin I took a gulp of air and yanked the cord in my left hand, spinning the kite in the other direction, sweeping it down low to the ground, then wrenching the right cord, almost behind me. My elbows were back, my chest forward like some super hero proudly displaying the symbol on his chest. The kite whipped up, turned sharply and headed in the opposite direction. Mark was encouraging me, calling out instructions and I heard Duncan bark as I was pulled sharply to the side. Mark had let go of his leash and Duncan was running circles around me then darting away, chasing the kite's huge shadow in lazy infinities across the grass. Mark laughed and patted me on the shoulder. I don't know how long I stood there guiding the kite back and forth across the sun, the rush of it filling my ears, cutting through my body. It was like fishing with Grandma. It was like dancing to my favorite song. It was like hugging an old friend I haven't seen in a very long time, receiving a note from a secret admirer, climbing the driveway at my mother's house and seeing the Christmas lights up, waking up to sunshine and kisses. It was like the taste of lemon sherbet on a hot day, the feeling of leaning your arm out the car window and undulating your hand up and down in the wind. It was like when Phil Simmons, one of my college writing mentors, compared my junior writing project to Faulkner. It was like the first time I walked the streets of Chicago and looked up at the John Hancock Building and the Sears Tower. It was like being in the fourth grade and standing next to Paul Hunt, my best friend, and watching our two very small and very cheap kites climb into the sky behind Edahow Elementary. I tasted my childhood and could not believe how long it had been since I'd driven a needle into the vein of the sky and rushed its currents.

It was a marvelous thing. I can still feel the shake and throttle and the ground, no longer quite as permanent under my feet. This walk, this day, was good. I'm still flying.

"Throw your dreams into space like a kite,
and you do not know what it will bring back,
a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country." (Anais Nin)


Lori said...

How lovely! I'm so glad you got to have this joyful experience... and you always find the perfect quotes to go with your posts.

Curt Rogers said...

I've collected quotes for years. There are notebooks I've filled with them scattered across my office. I've often said that if you really want to know me, skip my journal and read my quote collections instead.

lizh said...

Great writing! I could experience the 'fun' you were having!

Greg said...

That was great--like we were right there in the park, tangled up in the guide lines ourselves! Thanks for the thrill...

Charity Childs-Gevero said...

Oh my, somebody who thinks like me! And I thought there was no such a person out there! ha ha!

And so I can see you have added the music player already! Great song too! I'm totally going to steal it and put it in my playlist!

I'd like to subscribe to your feed, but I don't see any way to do that? Anyway, I'll just bookmark you in the meantime and check back often.

By the way, I replied to your comment on my blog! :-)

You have a wonderful day, too!