Hear and Release

(All frags reported herein are genuine, heard in Oak Bluffs, a town on an island off the coast of Massachusetts, USA, captured here for this publication only)

Nothing like a good long walk, exercise and meditation in one. Two birds with one stone, though I hate that image. Who throws stones at birds? Cavemen and nasty ten year olds. When I have errands, I cluster them and walk into town the long way to the post office, the market, hardware store and packy. A long walk, on curvy one-way streets, past big old Victorians, little Gothic cottages. People on porches. Wind chimes. Gardens neat and not. Ocean here and there. Serene.

Then around a sudden sharp corner into raucous. Cars and bikes, outdoor bars, racks of tee shirts and pink rubber beach shoes. Families of six clogging the sidewalks, ice cream, fried clams, chowder. All of it perfect frag collecting territory.

Frag is short for fragment, of course. A small chunk of overheard conversation, an incomplete sentence or two caught as you intersect someone else’s orbit on a stroll. A few words broken off in passing, truncated by a boat whistle, interrupted by seagulls, wind or waves.

“…would that be normal for me……?”

“…my boyfriend’s favorite price point…”

“…price of a bacon doughnut…”

They fall out windows of passing cars, drop off bikes. Ellipses on one end or the other or both.

“…how about fishing college?…”

“…abandoned house or not….”

“… make it a national agenda…”

Elusive and intriguing. Like a dragonfly at the edge of your vision, a whiff of charred steak next street over. Sparking a chuckle, a wise nod, total bewilderment.

“…no extra seat in the bathroom…”

“…time to notify our people…”

“…found it in dystopian history…”

I don’t actually collect frags. Hear and release. Trying to hang on to them closes your ears, changes the experience so I rarely write them down. Once in a while a phrase pops up in a notebook margin when I’m looking for something else. The other day I came across

“…a legend so reductive…” from July 2012 on the fishing pier. No wonder I wrote that one down. I also admit I sometimes call my sister to report a great frag and we’ll imagine a story, speculate on a context, analyze the speaker. An old family game. “… all shaped by iniquity,” the most recent.

I used to be a collector. Cardigans, white rocks, Ferris Wheels. According to the dictionary, a collector is:

  1. a person who collects things, professionally or as a hobby, as in art collector, stamp collector, coin collector
  2. a person who collects something in their job, as in garbage collector.

I fell somewhere in the middle. The dictionary then told me to “see hoarder.”

I appreciate the urge to collect. The families who rent our house in the summer leave shells and dead crabs lined up on the porch railing, having forbidden the children, I imagine, to take them home in their little backpacks. Collecting is fun at first. To love something, search for it, make space for it. Arrange and re-arrange the objects of your obsession until there’s no place to put any of it. Friends and family, happy to give the perfect gift, give you more. Clutter ensues.

Frags take up no space and they’re everywhere. Hear and release. My route today was around the corner and through the park,

“…an insignificant branch of the family…”

“……ants dropping from the sky….”

across the park to the water side,

When you first begin to hear frags on a walk it’s tempting to categorize, mentally order and file them–domestic, metaphysical, illuminating. Let that go. It’s just serendipity to get two fishing frags in the same afternoon, we’re surrounded by water after all.

“…first time in my life I’m tired of taking pictures…”

north toward the harbor,

“ …you go over there girl and you drive that Mercedes….”

along endless ocean and endless horizon,

“…not an actual bed with an actual mattress…, “

past the ferry dock, a flood of arrivals,

“…where’s the sea serpent at?”

“I heard that on a Garfield episode…”

along the boardwalk and down to the tie-ups.

“…wouldn’t let me go fishing so I ran away from home…”

When you first begin to hear frags on a walk it’s tempting to categorize, mentally order and file them—domestic, metaphysical, illuminating. Let that go. It’s just serendipity to get two fishing frags in the same afternoon, we’re surrounded by water after all. No organizing is one of my rules. You can make your own. No lurking is another. The more you hear of a conversation, the more it makes sense, therefore not a frag. Too much attention and focus, too much grasping turns it ordinary. Ears open, never searching. No changing direction either, no following just to listen, that’s eavesdropping. That’s creepy.

Past the bars along the harbor,

“…amazing to get it done without standing…”

“…so stupid they don’t know how ignorant they are.”

where a tour group waits for the boat to Nantucket.

“….the kids just blew up…”

“…sombre et orageux…”

Up the side street, sounds but no words. A young woman on her porch strums a ukulele. A boy on a skateboard whizzes past, arms outstretched, followed by, I realize, not an origami bird but a small, humming drone, three feet above and right behind him.

Through the musical din of the carousel,

“…more than once is boring…”

up to the crowded post office.

“ …peculiar scouting mission…”

“I choose to be not alone ever since…”

I head home with the water bill in my pocket, past the brew pub and the house with the sail boat trim, across the park to the water again and turn right.

“My nose is not that big and my butt’s not that small…”

“…one Lexus dealer in a hundred miles has that color…”

Along the sandy beach,

“…vodka smells nothing like kombucha…”

“…they don’t want you to know where you’re going…”

then home through curvy one-way streets with people on porches where I hear my last frag of the day.

“ … pickled in his own mess..”

Frag season is winding down. Porches empty, tour groups gone. Dead leaves in the gardens. Frags forgotten. When orbits intersect off-season you usually know the other person and stop. Conversations are real and complete and meaningful, springing from a bedrock of shared time and space. Still counts as a walk but you can meditate at home in front of the fire.

 

Wendy Palmer is an ex-social worker who lives on an island. Her work has appeared in Rosebud, New Millennium Writings, Nimrod, Confluence, and Martha’s Vineyard Magazine. She is shopping a novel about Ferris Wheels and working on a novel about Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 19th century radical feminist, described at the time as hysterical and overly absorbed by the woman question.

Photo Credit: Susan Helgeson