What Remains of Mark

by | Nov 13, 2020 | November 2020 Writing | 8 comments

What remains of Mark sits upstairs in storage.

 

Lying immobile on the floor with a black cloth covering his eyes, breath control engages. The mathematician struggles to arrest a persistent repetitive ankle flexion, only to find it quickly kicks back in after the shortest halt.

On a good day the math-man steps into a cold October dusk to forget his obsessions. He strolls slower than normal, startling himself. ‘When did I age?’ The enclosing wetland squeezes other worlds out, for here the creek, grasses, petrichor, birdsong, empty homeless camp, all exist without the intrusion of artificial light, exposing a celestial sky.

Lost in this cosmos, and with Hercules on the horizon signaling a pending departure into the Southern Sky, the mathematician resolves to retrieve Mark.

Mark resides along the math-man’s wall as an unfinished charcoal and oil on canvas, still staring over his shoulder.

 

The two first meet in a life drawing session. Making use of his remarkably formed stone-still figure, Mark immediately commands attention. That he is an experienced ballet dancer explains a lot. Scanning the circle, Mark’s gaze remains steady and off to his side. There is a super angulation and fascinating control, a hyper vigilance, even, in his pose. The math-man thinks as he flips his black mirror and red-cellophane grid about alternately, noetically examining the model while marking relative placements and proportions.

The stiff-lipped mathematician senses that the model may represent a mirror persona, and caves when a slow dance sequence of gestures transitioning one to another, communicates something more – engagement, even communality, directly to him. Mark’s urbane ballet identity pushes his muscling through a journey about personal collision with modernity, convenience, artificiality, and family constraint.

 

In that first studio they quickly connect, nod heads at break, toss about essential limits, reference triggers, and exchange contact. Mark whispers his travel plans north to an outdoor woods craft school and this teacher, mentor. Like Call of the wild, swift strokes slice across heavily toothed paper as a bird might swoop in to snatch essence. Control of the wild follows with fine delicate lines detailing intimacies and expression.

 

The dancer’s head lowers to scan his own sunken abdominal tapestry, then with clenched hands and torso in strain, he allegorically rips open his chest as if in cardiac surgery or a bear encounter, spilling his heart and gut below, and as mask transforms into grimace, a silent cry rings from the separating lips, followed only by a tear.

The math-man is astonished at the depth of this performance. He nods a sort of devotion and appreciation, admiring how Mark maneuvers his veil. Intimacy is so rare from the figure studio platform. The typical glance is oblique, and worse, drifting toward sleep. Witnessing such skill, the mathematician’s neural networks explode and feeling saturates. His mouth dry and swallow halted, he is briefly unable to draw. Interestingly, in following private sessions, Mark proposes that belief creates the world.

 

Son, brother. Parallel queries. Face-to-face, cross-legged. Passion kept at bay. Boundaries hide a livid side, and for good reasons. Tracks may make erratic paths. The math-man slowly loses composure, for he fears unknowns…and possibilities. Composure floods out and he mumbles this warning: ‘Don’t become the follower.’

‘Why caution me?’ Mark retorts, downcast and surprised. The Math-man stiffens. He is jealous of this…teacher. Mark’s trust freezes and crackles across the floor. Youth perceives possession. The Math-man’s gut knots. He oversteps and he knows it. The session ends shortly. Mark adjusts, advances plans, and departs. Twenty years go by.

 

From that storage room, the mathematician retrieves the canvas and remounts Mark onto easel to honor and complete.

8 Comments

  1. Rogan

    John, what a wonderful play off of Robert’s prompt. Brought forth a different kind of prose from you. This feels romantic and poetic effortlessly. I especially loved, “like Call of the wild, swift strokes slice across heavily toothed paper as a bird might swoop in to snatch essence. Control of the wild follows with fine delicate lines detailing intimacies and expression.” I would watch all the ing ending words in the opening paragraph. But beautiful work.

  2. Robert Vaughan

    Hi John, this is sharply creative and dazzling in its poetic prose. Many fantastic lines and I love the interplay between the speaker and Mark, the painted subject, and Mark as figure/ ballet dancer/ persona. How the painted comes “alive,” and the drama between the two. As Rogan suggests, there are some ways to tighten (-ing words!) and perhaps consider adding another element of tension, so that we “up the ante” as we like to say! Still, I feel as if you are departing from your ‘usual’ with each month’s piece and for that, I am very impressed! Keep taking risks!!!

  3. jennifer vanderheyden

    First of all, I love the title! And the poetic images that mirror a ballet. I especially like this line: “Mark’s urbane ballet identity pushes his muscling through a journey about personal collision with modernity, convenience, artificiality, and family constraint.” I would agree with Rogan that you could change the “ing” words, and also re-write some of the “to be” expressions. For example, “That he is an experienced ballet dancer explains a lot. ” could read “His experience as a ballet dancer explains a lot.” I, too, like your risk-taking! Thank you,

  4. David O'Connor

    Love the first line, and the details throughout ring deep and true (phrases like this really grab me: creek, grasses, petrichor, birdsong, empty homeless camp…) If re-writing, I’d explore the mathman vs the dancer (Mark) and why distance is used at some points and not at others, this pulling of the f-stop, is good and dramatic, but so dramatic perhaps it needs to be used to snip, for that one and final shot, There is much to admire here and I think with a shave and shellack you got a winner.

  5. Sara Comito

    Hi John, this is seductive. It evokes something of Pygmalion in a much more modern setting. I love your opening one-sentence paragraph. What would happen if, after that, you play with shuffling the sequence of paragraphs/sections a little bit? On first read, I didn’t quite catch on to who was who, but that could be me! Keep on with this.

  6. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    John, your work is almost always so rich, crammed with details, and this piece is no exception. I love this line in the second paragraph: “The enclosing wetland squeezes other worlds out, for here the creek, grasses, petrichor, birdsong, empty homeless camp, all exist without the intrusion of artificial light, exposing a celestial sky.” It feels to me that each paragraph could be a separate piece, further developing the narrative. Right now, for me, it is so dense with descriptive detail that I have trouble following the narrative line. What if you tried to tell this story in a way that is ridiculously simple– person A meets person B— what happens– what concludes, and then look at the details here and decide which ones further this narrative, and which ones might best serve another narrative? I know from your work that your imagination is so rich, it’s feels hard to write with a linear sensibility. Perhaps this is just me. Your work seems to be gaining in strength with each post.

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