Home Again, Home Again
by Ron Loewinsohn
To Market, to market, to buy a fat pig–
Home again, home again, Jiggety-Jig.
To market, to market, to buy a fat hog–
Home again, home again, Jiggety-jog.
- In the thirty-five years between 1970 and 2005 I had one employer, the English Department of the University of California at Berkeley, and seventeen different addresses.
- When I was three years old, living in the Philippines, my father died, and the next year the country was invaded by the Japanese army, which occupied it till 1945, when I was seven, yet throughout that entire time—without a father, surrounded by an occupying army that killed and brutalized people at will, every day confronting family and friends who’d been wounded or made homeless by the occupation, I felt absolutely no fear, terror or anxiety about the war.
- Up until I was ten years old I lived almost always in a succession of other people’s houses or apartments.
- When I hear the phrase “The face of evil” the faces that come to my mind are not the faces of the Japanese soldiers who “requisitioned” our food every month and imprisoned my grandfather for three years, or the faces of Hitler or Mao or Saddam or Bin-Laden or Charlie Manson, but the faces of the people who called themselves my parents—Carmen Baugh, her first husband, Louis Loewinsohn, and the man Carmen married when I was eight, Joaquin Gutierrez.
- From those evils, from nihilism, from religion, from a life of gang-banging, from a life of quiet desperation, from all these, art saved me.
This book is an attempt to figure out just how these six sentences are related to each other. That figuring-out won’t be done chronologically: the memory is not a Faulknerian thread wound and unwound on a Faulknerian spool. It’s much more like a field of force in which connections are made and remade the way they occur in a quantum atom, across directions and across dimensions. Besides, nobody’s going to tell me how to figure out my life, least of all the calendar.
And the first step I want to take in this figuring-out process is to listen to the nursery rhyme that gives my book its title. I can’t remember ever having learned this rhyme: as far back as I go into the memory of my childhood, it’s always already there, known the way I know my name.
Being a nursery rhyme, it evokes the world of the child, in this case a child upon whom fortune beams her sunniest smiles, a child surrounded by abundance, a child for whom a trip to the market is a really fun outing, a child surrounded by homes and by pigs and by hogs that will soon turn up on the family table as pork chops and hams and bacon and ribs dripping with dark, sweet smoky barbecue sauce. For this child, coming home from those markets is just as much of a really fun trip as going there—more fun: because it’s coming home! If going off “to market, to market” is an adventure, complete with its own prize—a fat hog—then coming “home again, home again, jiggety jog” is the resolution of that adventure. Going off “to market, to market” is all about forward-leaning, seeking, pursuing, acquiring, while coming “home again, home again, jiggety jog” is all about coming to rest, reassured in the abundance of that home, where the dining room table is set and the living room is already beginning to fill up with the odors of the pork roast wafting in from the kitchen.
The rhythms of my opening nursery rhyme are evocative also: they evoke a horsey-back ride. The first line of each couplet is essentially anapestic—“To market, to market, to buy a fat pig!” This is the rhythm of a trotting horse—Da-dum da-da-dum da-da-dum da-da-dum. The second line of each couplet is essentially dactylic—“Home again, home again, jiggety jog!” The rhythm of the second line of each couplet reverses the rhythm of the first. The first line of each couplet takes the child to the market, the second line brings the child back home.
But this is a very small child. Any child who would be taken up by a nursery rhyme like this is by definition a child who lives in a nursery. How could such a small child maintain control of the horse he’s riding to market and back? Because this horse is this child’s father’s knee. The father sits in a chair in the living room that’s slowly filling up with relatives and with the scent of the pork loin that’s roasting in the oven. The child straddles his father’s knee, while they both hold hands. The father uses his hands to maintain his child’s balance as he bounces his knee in a rhythm that allows the child to imagine himself on horseback, making the trip to the market, and then returning home, full-handed and triumphant. The child laughs gleefully as he gives himself up to the rhythm that his father is maintaining, holding his father’s hands, unaware of the depth of his surrender to his father’s control and his father’s care. Together, the two of them create the fantasy: they create the horse, they create the journey, they create the adventure, they create the market and the hog and the celebratory trip home.
Eventually the father’s horsey-knee slows down to a stop, and even though the child makes a desultory plea to continue the ride, he accepts the end of the rhyme, and, hand in hand with his father, walks with the other family members into the dining room, where the table is still being filled up with platters and serving bowls and tureens of food, all of their odors mixing with the easy chatter of the family as the aunts and brothers and uncles and grandparents make casual jokes about who will sit where. The abundance of food in this child’s home is matched by the abundance of people here who know him and who would, in a moment, give him a horsey-back ride on their knee. All he would need to do is ask.
The child has been to the market, with its jostle and its movement and its haggling, and it was a fun trip. He has had his horsey-back ride in both directions, and now, among people he has known as long as he can remember, among people who stroke his hair and hug him and stroke his arm, he still feels in his upper thighs the rhythms of the horsey-back ride, as his soup bowl is ladled full of stew and a cousin offers him a basket heaped high with bread, and he knows now, in the way his shoulders and the back of his neck feel, and in the way his spine recognizes the curve of the back of his chair, that he’s home.
Chapter One: Learning How to Read