Excerpts from Chlora’s Book of the Month Club: March, April, May
May 2014, copyright Ginger Henry Geyer
1) The tricycle appears over the three months of spring, beginning in MARCH when Chlora’s little brother, Jerry Pete, receives it on his third birthday...
Once the candles were blown to bits,
it was time for family presents to JP.
He had been pressuring them about his presents.
Finally Dad nodded to Chlora and she ran out to the garage
and with great flourish stumbled back inside
carrying a green garbage bag with a big bow on top.
She sat it down and it honked.
JP’s eyes brightened and he tore through the package.
It was a tricycle, not just any tricycle
but a recycled tricycle, decorated to the nines.
JP would never recognize it as the
pink trike that used to be Chlora’s.
She rode that thing even when she had outgrown it,
with her knees sticking out and ramming the handle bars.
Little JP would stand on the back of it
and hang on for dear life.
He loved doing this, in his dangling diapers, but
for Chlora, it was like having the
devil breathing down her neck.
To remind JP of this debt to her,
she made him a poetic license plate that said
Get behind me Satan!
The trike had been relegated to the attic for awhile,
but as JP’s third birthday approached,
Dad suggested they repaint it as a birthday surprise.
Hold onto what is good, Dad always said.
The trike was certainly energy efficient
and there was no need to reinvent the wheel.
Dad had tightened up the wobbly wheels,
removed Chlora’s battered basket from the handlebars,
and adjusted the horn. He went all out
and even mounted a battery-run light on the front fender,
even though JP’s curfew was sunset.
When that boy starts back-pedaling,
he will need a guiding light, Dad said.
Good things come in threes, according to the Trinity.
Her brother was three.
The trike has three wheels.
It was the third month of the year.
Chlora could write him a birthday poem
in terza rima stanzas, like Dante’s "Divine Comedy".
Instead, she decided to use that as a decoration scheme
because the Divine Comedy is full of threes.
Surely somebody would get the drift of that,
but then who read these classics anymore?
They get recycled every generation and
those who bother to read them are rewarded
with a third thing on the third day by the third world.
Dad had painted shiny blue enamel over the pink trike.
The blue paint wouldn’t stick to the rubber hand grips,
so they’d just have to remain pink.
But they pulled out the pink and white streamers
so it wouldn’t look too girly.
Now the handlebars looked more like boyish antlers.
In one of the Divine Comedy cantos, it says that
"perhaps first you will have a need of sitting down".
The vinyl seat was cracked
so Dad told Chlora to put a big sticker on it.
This was the mercy seat, the seat of power, the mount,
so she gladly pasted a picture from
Purgatory on it. While she was at it, she
added a few more motion pictures all over the trike
in the proper order of Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso.
This would help JP cycle through the afterlife,
up and down mountains, hugging curves.
At the lowest point, on the dangling license plate,
was Satan gobbling up sinners down in the frozen pit.
Hell was supposed to be fiery according to people who’d been there,
so how come all that ice? Thinking back to winter
when she almost froze her toes off, she recalled how they burned
like crazy until they thawed out.
Whatever, that inferno business is concocted to
burn in your memory forever, and somehow that was
supposed to motivate you to love the God who put you there.
Eternal punishment never made any sense to Chlora,
but the art history for it was irresistible,
like rubber-necking at a car wreck.
She trimmed out a portion of Michelangelo’s
outrageous “Last Judgment”
to put on the tricycle’s next level of hell.
That picture was scarier
than any contemporary artist could even imagine,
with Charon and his fiery eyes whipping souls with his oar,
and King Minos wrapped in a snake,
biting him right where it hurts.
That scene appears right above the Sistine altar
in the picture books.
Imagine how those poor celibate priests felt about that,
trying to lift up the host and chalice with all that
nakedness writhing over their heads.
Chlora attempted to explain all this to the birthday boy
but JP was not listening.
He had stripped to his whitey tighteys.
Unlike Michelangelo, he never got scolded for indecency,
even when he exposed his teeny weenie,
which he did as he crawled onto the mercy seat.
He had stepped over the back wheels where
Chlora had glued on the
three beasts that lunged out of the dark woods.
She went to a lot of trouble to find a lion, a leopard,
and a wolf. She was about to resort to chopping up an
Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom painting
when she came across
a bucket of plastic zoo animals that provided the two
fierce cats. Wolves don’t live in zoos, but she found
a figurine that Aunt Poppy brought back from Rome,
a bronze she-wolf with her two little suckers
hanging on. It’d have to do. And it’d remind J.P.
that all those small things we carry along with us
tell people who we are.
Purgatory was beginning to sound like a fine idea
to Chlora. You get seven P’s on your forehead
that represent those pre-packaged sins
and one by one they get purged away.
Second chances are a good thing.
However, getting through all those levels of Purgatory
would be a tough upward climb
when you’ve got William Blake’s lust wrapped around your leg
along with other such sins that Chlora didn’t know about yet.
She was sure that JP would discover all of them.
Love took the lead on the handlebars
with the Queen of Heaven on the golden horn.
It looked quite festive, that recycled tricycle.
Jerry Pete could care less about Chlora’s symbolic efforts,
but the redeemed trike was a big hit—
he was ready to roll.
He rode it around and around in circles,
proving that the human desire to be mobile
does indeed hit early.
2) APRIL—on Palm Sunday, when Jerry Pete destroys Chlora’s sidewalk display of the aftermath of the Entry into Jerusalem:
The Divine Comedy and Holy Week
both begin without knowing how they’ll end
and in Chlora’s world they were on a collision course.
Holy week’s daisy chain of events
all began on Palm Sunday, that day of ambiguity,
of ignorant celebration that led straight to disaster.
Palm Sunday was a happy day
as long as you ignored its final outcome.
She wondered if Jesus really knew
what he was in for.
She especially liked the part about him riding
a slow donkey into town instead of a
fancy strutting stallion like the Roman Emperor would have.
The Emperor in his royal armor would proudly
pass under his triumphal arch
to wash off the blood of his vanquished enemies,
his steed swishing its bejeweled tail to the rhythm of
the marching soldiers.
But there came Jesus bobbing on a donkey
underneath the palm trees.
Maybe it was the same donkey that took Mary
to Bethlehem, that old gray mare she ain’t what she used to be.
Or maybe it was a descendent of Balaam’s ass,
who later became Mr. Ed, the talking horse on TV.
Chlora was inspired to create the aftermath
of the entry into Jerusalem once they got
home from church. She had collected lots of leftover
palm branches from the sanctuary once
they were through with the Hosanna Suzannas.
She had paraded down the aisle waving a palm branch,
whacking her brother in the face with it every so often.
Most people in the congregation didn’t know what to do
with those palms. Some twirled them, others half-heartedly
swayed them by their sides, while a few waved them wildly
like football banners. Chlora took a nice stash of palms
and spread them in a neat pattern on the front sidewalk
under the overarching maple trees.
The neighbor’s huge dog, a Great Dame who had no shame,
contributed a big steaming pile of holy shit
smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk.
This could have been an absolute disaster
but Chlora realized it would suffice
for a deposit from Jesus’ donkey.
Parades were always laden with crap, and
unpleasant as it was, installation art requires such sacrifice.
Chlora held her breath. She next raided the laundry basket
and flattened out several towels
and shirts to look like people’s garments
had been spread on the path before Jesus.
This would be a smelly event, but then,
it probably was back then.
Alongside the palms she artfully arranged
a few clippings from the big fern on the porch.
The hard part was making donkey footprints
with a horseshoe dipped in mud.
At the far end of the sidewalk she re-invented
the cleansing of the temple, represented by a
turned over card table, some scattered poker chips,
playing cards and coins.
Her sister’s precious canary made a pretty good dove,
except he was green and went bonkers
when she turned the cage on its side.
Thankfully Jesus did not set him loose,
but he had every reason to be furious at those moneychanger
who were defiling the house of God.
Anybody who thought Jesus was a wimpy nice guy
never read this story.
The preacher this morning
said that salvation was like putting your trash out at the curb,
and then lo and behold… it’s gone!
This explanation seemed to work for lots of people, why not Chlora?
So Chlora tried it. She turned over the neighbor’s
gigantic trash can in the temple area.
Stinky, soppy sins like banana peels, coffee grinds,
cigarette butts, paper plates, cans, church bulletins,
newspapers, wadded up Kleenex, lightbulbs and bathroom trash
made the temple scene more realistic, but
it’d take a street sweeper to bring salvation to this mess.
Chlora paused to admire her creation.
The linear story from point A to point B was set.
Just then Hell on Wheels came barreling down the sidewalk.
It was her devilish little brother, out to
destroy Chlora’s perfect tableaux.
Like Dennis the Menace going straight from zero to sixty,
Jerry Pete was hell-bent over the longhorn handlebars
and pumping the pedals as hard as he could,
his knobby knees sticking out, as was his chin.
He was not casually comin’ round the mountain when he comes,
but was riding gung-ho straight up through Purgatory.
his yellow T-shirt for the Tour de France,
flapping in the wind.
He had hung his Easter basket on his handlebars
and it wobbled and out popped several
smelly dyed eggs to add to the trash heap.
It was his Easter basket on wheels,
gaining momentum for the upcoming egg hunt.
JP mowed over all the laundry and palms
and scattered trash hither and yon.
He honked the devil’s horn, and showed all those
Baroque artists what pandemonium looked like.
His best work was definitely behind him,
those three wild beasts, like the Fauve painters,
clinging to rear of the tricycle.
Chlora shouted STOP right before he
plowed into the donkey dung.
Now he was on the horns of a dilemma.
It was the definition of nasty, those
spinning wheels in the swirling underworld—
the trike spiraled backwards through
the entire geography of hell,
splattering disgust in circles
until it slid off the sidewalk
and got stuck on the curb.
Location, location, location.
This did not have curb appeal.
Nor did it obey Dante’s curb of art,
which called for nuance.
The tricycle terrorism
looked like a tornado had ripped down the sidewalk.
and it smelled perfectly awful
and brought out the neighborhood.
Jesus was a whirlwind, didn’t they get it?
Chlora and JP both wailed and gnashed their teeth.
They claimed the devil made them do it
but their parents made them immediately
clean up the defiled sidewalk.
JP got out the garden hose, created the River Styx
and merrily splashed through it on his way to Achelon.
Chlora had to scoop up what she could of the poop and trash
and hose down the rest. JP did not help much
as he tracked it all around, laughing.
Jesus may love you the way you are,
but that doesn’t mean everybody does.
He was obnoxious enough to make God pull his hair out,
resort to a comb-over, and finally go bald.
3) MAY : At the end of the last story, in May, Chlora is meditating in her treehouse Paradise, confused about the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, when she has a revelation and sees marvelous things… Dante’s vision was the afterlife. Her’s was right there in a tree.
Chlora shut her eyes and tried to imagine heaven.
Afterlife stuff was not easy for her.
She didn’t have any beautiful Beatrice
like Dante did for his happy ending.
He was so smitten with her that he could’ve
rewritten the Beatitudes themselves in her honor.
But then she was the only way he’d let go of Virgil,
and to her credit, Beatrice did point to Mary,
the Queen of Heaven, in her stead, so poor
Dante could reach Paradiso.
Turned out Paradise was gigantic white rose,
cosmic and expanding all the time.
Don’t you know that smelled good?
Chlora made a mental note to tie a bouquet of
white roses onto JP’s tricycle.
Dante reached the end of his journey,
but it felt like Chlora was just beginning hers.
What if her journey had a dead end?
What if she stretched herself too far, too early
and burned out like a rocket entering the space of the sun?
A gentle swirl of breeze circled her small body.
Jesus talked about the Kingdom a lot.
In was in those parables about mustard seeds
and all that, and it is within us and without.
Maybe it was the fourth dimension,
which only poets and physicists seem capable of imagining.
Chlora was not concerned about getting there
or not getting there, if it was unimaginable.
But she did kinda want to know what she was
headed toward. Like Aunt Poppy’s
promised trip to Italy… Chlora had already checked
out all the books in the library that had anything to do
with Italian art and architecture.
Anticipation was almost as fun as the trip itself.
However, she also expected that some surprise
encounter would be the best part,
something she never planned.
Even so, her mind reeled with possibilities.
What if she could anticipate every little thing that would happen?
Would there be anything fun leftover?
There was no sense in reinventing the wheel,
but Heaven as the New Jerusalem with golden streets
just sounded sort of boring, like some
ostentatious millionaire’s latest way to spend excess cash.
Was the kingdom of heaven like outer space or inner space?
Like Dante, she expected it would be personal and particular,
a real place where what everybody needed most
– whatever in the world it was –
was provided without asking.
Sort of like grace in 3D.
The swish of leaves swatted her in the face
and she gripped the tree branch.
A swirly scene came in and out of focus
all at once like a smoothly turning wheel
that came full circle. It paused and took off
and Chlora swore she saw God
doing wheelies, pedaling confidently
from the endless energy of love,
on a round trip, not just one way.
The One with no pronoun
soared through the blue sky
like ET on a bike, beckoning her to look farther.
God was nothing like the green witch in the Wizard of Oz,
madly pedal-pushing without gears, screeching
and careening her bike through a fake tornado.
No, this was a calm and lovely vision,
with few answers but lots of reassurance.
Words that were not words took shape
slowly and one at a time announced themselves:
Go there but BE here.
Unconditional love will have the last word,
not that license plate you put on the tricycle.
Graduate from the tricycle to training wheels,
then when you feel safe, take them off.
Wheels are for for going places, like on the grand tour,
but be sure to wear your helmet.