Friday, June 29, 2012

The Last Public Utterance Of The Man Who Attempted To Baptize Lester B. Morrison

One Sunday near the end of his days the old preacher stood up before his dwindled congregation, and as had been the case so often in recent years he circled and paced in his mind for the familiar words that were still permanently lodged there from long repetition and which were now accessible to him as something almost like muscle memory.

He had been tracking back through his old words for many years now, repeating himself, and repeating the words of the legion of others who had come before him and had found  themselves standing in similar places on Sunday mornings stretching back for centuries.

The few parishioners who still filed into the tiny sanctuary each Sunday were drawn there by numb custom and ancient habit as surely as the preacher was, and had heard his stories repeated so many times by this point that they knew them by heart.

The preacher lived alone in a deteriorating house that sat at the edge of the overgrown cemetery out back of the church, and he had mostly kept to himself since the death of his wife more than a decade earlier. The marriage had been childless, and the preacher's wife had been killed while crawling across the state highway at the end of the long driveway. She had been headed, the preacher felt certain, toward the river, where she had intended to drown herself.

There had also been a succession of dogs that were rumored to be buried among the graves in the old cemetery. The last dog had been blind and, like the preacher's wife, had wandered onto the highway and been struck by a passing car.

After the old preacher had rambled for a time that Sunday morning near the end of his days he had paused for breath and searched the high ceiling of the church.

"I do not believe in Judgment," he told his congregation. "That is finally something I'm afraid I simply cannot believe in. After a long life I have discovered that I can find no place for such a concept in the image of the Creator that I hold in my mind's eye, which is where, truly, the Creator resides in each of us.

"There is no place for Judgment, no room for it, in the solace He has provided me these many years, and so I am forced to conclude that Judgment is wholly the creation of man, and as such is one of the most pernicious behavioral management tools ever dreamt up by human cunning.

"And Judgment, I think you will agree, goes hand in hand with shame, another concept in which I am now unable to believe. I will go to my grave with no shame, and no fear of judgment, despite the fact that I have committed sins too numerous to mention, sins which, I fully understand, God is under absolutely no obligation to forgive.

"All of our lives we strive to fill our lies with enough light that they become truth, or at least come to resemble truth to ourselves and to each other. In dark moments –and  there have been many dark moments of late-- I realize that I have failed miserably at this project, and, in doing so, have failed you as well, for which I beg your forgiveness.

"I would ask you to consider these things as you return to your homes today: Mercy. Grace. Compassion. Forgiveness. Redemption. Peace. Solitude. Generosity of Spirit. Justice --real justice, a justice of equality and basic human decency rather than a justice of revenge and retribution. Tolerance. Faith. Miracles. Faith in miracles. Wonder. Vulnerability and despair. The human community. Light piercing the darkness. The transformative powers of longing and desire.

"All of these things --these ideas, ideals, and values-- are in the Bible in great plenty, and in all of the other Holy Books of the world that I have ever read. So I would ask you: Why is it that so many purportedly religious people, so many of those we now associate as standard bearers for faith and mouthpieces for God, speak so little of these things, which are so consistently --even relentlessly-- present in the primary religious texts?

"Why do they choose intolerance over tolerance? Violence, retribution, and bloody revenge over peace and mercy and justice? One heavily edited and selective version of the same essential, ageless story over another? The conversion of the other over self-transformation? Reaction over reflection? Hatred over love? Why do they traffic in damnation over salvation, and offer curses rather than blessings?

"Is it because all these old words and values are so basic as to seem somehow soft in our hard world? That they are such pure and  simple concepts that they can no longer be grasped in our age of so much complexity? Or is it, perhaps, that they are so utterly fantastic that they can no longer be recognized --if they are recognized at all-- as anything but the tidy dreams of fiction?

"I ask you these questions today because they have been very much on my mind in recent days, and I would ask that you give them what thought you can spare in your busy lives."

The old preacher actually looked up and scanned the faces of his parishioners, but he could not, even after all the years, make comfortable eye contact with any of them. "I am lonely," he said. "I am lonely and disgusted."

And with that he cleared his throat, stepped out from behind the altar, and shuffled off through the side door at the front of the church.

The words of the preacher left the remaining members of his congregation feeling disturbed and, in many cases, profoundly sad. For most of them, the preacher's performance that Sunday was the last, conclusive proof that the poor man had finally lost his mind. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Days As A Corporate Hamburger Slave

I was brought to this planet as an infant and locked in a dark house, where I was subjected to Sarah Vaughn's version of "Lost in the Stars," looped over and over for 12 hours a day.
An old woman came to the house each afternoon and prepared  me lunch, usually tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. She also taught me how to read. The only books at my disposal were a handful of paperback novels from which the covers had  been stripped away. For many years these were the only books with which I was familiar: Judith Krantz's Princess Daisy, James Michener's Texas, Arthur Haley's Hotel, Irwin Shaw's Rich Man, Poor Man, Dana Fuller Ross's Montana, and Sammy Davis Jr.'s Yes I Can.

These six titles were the sole foundation of my formative education, and radically colored my perceptions of the country that would be my home.

The man who had stolen  me was the owner of a large number of Burger King franchises, and when I reached early adolescence this man began to groom me to be a regional manager in his hamburger empire. For ten years my entire world was essentially contained between the covers of the thick Burger King operator and employee's manual. A replica of a Burger King kitchen was constructed at considerable cost in the prison that was my home.  At this point the old woman mysteriously disappeared from my life, and I was expected to subsist on a relentless diet of Whoppers, Whopper Juniors, Whalers, BK Broilers, Chicken Tenders, French fries, and milk shakes. My weight ballooned, and a doctor would visit the house every two weeks to check my blood pressure and cholesterol, both of which had to be kept under control through medication.

Very gradually, over a period of many months, I was taken from my home on brief, closely chaperoned visits to the Burger King restaurants that would soon be my domain. Initially I was asked to simply observe as my master made his rounds; I was instructed to take careful note of the operation and environment of each of these restaurants, and to measure them against what I had learned in my education. I listened as my master upbraided managers and addressed quality control, customer service, and procedural compliance issues.

The humans I encountered on these field trips struck me as literally alien, and bore little or no resemblance to the characters in the novels I had by this time committed to memory. I was at the time utterly incapable of entering into anything resembling an actual conversation, but I wasn't there to speak to these people; I was taught to see around them --or through them-- and to concentrate my attention on the "unvariables" of institutional consistency, product preparation and delivery, and customer service.

I learned to scrutinize daily reports, payroll logs, maintenance expenses, and inventory records. I became intimately familiar with protocol at every level of operations. The constellation of Burger King restaurants --all of them virtually identical (and any deviations in procedure, performance, or ‘atmospherics and environment’ were to be noted)-- represented the full extent of my orbit.

The most difficult part of my transition to limited autonomy was learning to drive. Nothing about the process made any sense to me, and I seemed to lack the coordination necessary to operate an automobile. Over three months I went through a half dozen nervous driving instructors, and damaged four company cars in minor mishaps.

Every night over that period I was driven to isolated suburban locations --shopping mall parking lots, mostly-- and put behind the wheel. I made no progress, and my master became increasingly impatient with me. I couldn't take over my regional management responsibilities until I obtained a driver's license.

Initially my failures were blamed on the instructors, and I watched  helplessly as these poor characters were bullied mercilessly by my master and his inner circle of cronies, a small group of menacing white men whose job titles and duties remained unclear to me. I recall one particularly horrifying incident in which one of my instructors --a frail, mild-mannered schoolteacher-- was tied to a light post in a desolate parking lot in the middle of the night and flogged, then abandoned.

Eventually, after the dismissal of my fifth instructor, my master's fierce displeasure was directed at me, and I was subjected to prolonged and regular punishment, often of  a severe and physical nature.

I must say that this proved frighteningly effective, and I made rapid progress that allowed me to pass my driving test on the third try.

Within two years I was presiding over the most successful string of Burger King restaurants in the United States. Profit margins increased incrementally in each of my first two years, and I was rewarded with a new Saturn Coupe and a plaque from the Burger King Operators of America.

Despite this success I was, I now realize, unhappy. I was haunted by those books I had read as a young boy, and the disconnect I sensed between the America of those stories and the small, incredibly controlled Midwestern world I found myself living in. My dream life, such as it was, was filled with vivid images of Sammy Davis Jr.'s Las Vegas and the West of Michener and Fuller Ross. One day, as I was on the highway driving between two of the restaurants that were part of my regional responsibilities, I just kept going, headed almost unconsciously west.

To make a long story short: I ended up in Las Vegas, where I spent two weeks and lost $50,000 in Burger King receipts. I quickly realized that --naive as I was-- I was ill suited for a life as a big city playboy and gambler, so from there I drove to Montana, where I traded the Saturn for a job as a ranch hand. For reasons of personal security I can't disclose my exact location, but I can tell you that the work ethic and obsessive attention to detail that were instilled in me during my formative years have made me a valuable asset to my current employer.

I've lost almost 70 pounds, and I discovered that I apparently have an innate understanding of horse psychology, and a natural affinity with the animals. I'm a cowboy now, and out here nobody seems to ask any questions, which is of course just fine with me. I recognize that I don't really have a whole lot to say.

I have made inquiries, and I have been told that you could drive 100 miles in any direction and not find a single Burger King.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


What is the theme? he shouted at me.

I'm sorry? I said.

Your point! he bellowed. What is your point?

Things are slippery? I offered.

Ah, yes, he said, nodding his head, calming down. Meaning is elusive. Meanings are. Answers. Are.

I mean things, literally, I said, stammering, starting to wave my arms around like I always did. I mean objects. I try to pick things up and they fall right through my hands. I lose my footing; all the surfaces seem so slick and shiny.

He sat nodding his head and stroking his beard. That might at least make a decent enough metaphoric entry to your theme, he said. Please go on.

But that's all there is, I told him. It's not a theme; it's the way things are.

I left the inquisitor's office and wandered the streets for hours. I was puzzled by the way the world looked, and had to admit that I sort of liked it that way. I liked losing my way, enjoyed the feeling of being wholly lost in a big city, stunned by an odd angle or a furtive, impressionistic detail in the ceaseless shadow tide of the peripheries, noticing the things that never moved absorbing the things that did. Also, big things, slowly, almost imperceptibly, absorbing the darkness, just as in the morning the light would rise in all of them again.

The faces of the people I passed were slack with preoccupation; they'd pulled down their shadows around  themselves, and looked right through me in a sort of empirical blackout. I didn't mind feeling invisible. It made it easier to stare into things.

I didn't want anyone to give anything away, to show me the way into a single idea. Poets, writers, artists, musicians: I liked them best when they were at their most mysterious, when they drove me deep into the unexplored scrub country of my skull. The really great ones would kick all sorts of stuff loose in my head --images, luminous dust, sparks, bursts of static electricity, a fragment by which a story, a secret, even an entire lost civilization might be inferred. Words would suddenly explode from dark pockets in my head like startled birds fleeing a bush.

I'd ultimately fall down flight after flight of stairs, a bass line beating in my head like hail on a tin roof, or, a moment later, quieter, like rain at the windows.

Just open the door a crack, that's all I ask, or allow me a brief glimpse of the whole howling universe in the sliver of moonlight where the curtains flutter momentarily free of the window frame.

Put it in my reach, not in my lap, as someone (I think Wendell Berry) once said.

Let me imagine my own world, my own poem, my own story, inside and outside yours.

Just let me imagine.

Just let me make believe.

That's all I'm asking.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What The Dying Do: From A Series Of Conversations With M.L., Who Died

They either avoid music or turn it up so loud that it drowns out the ticking of the clock.

They regard old calendars like maps, or as they once regarded maps, exploring them with their fingers, memories, and imaginations.

They spend long days and nights on a bridge, walking back and forth across a dark and swift river, one bank to the other, waiting for the moment when they know they will turn around to find both the bridge and the river gone.

They listen for familiar voices, make lists, and run their fingers up and down the spines on their bookshelves.

They increasingly find themselves talking over their shoulders.

They take long drives alone, sometimes driving very carefully; other times they drive fast and recklessly.

They are keenly aware of the sound of closing doors.

They dream of old lovers, old dogs, and cities they will never see again.

They sit for long stretches of time trying to remember the laughter of everyone they ever loved.

They avoid eye contact with strangers.

They count: Steps. The cans in the cupboard. The shoes in the closet. Cotton swabs. Vitamins. Unwritten checks. Coins on the bed stand. Pills.

They wake up crying.

They keep track.

They hear the night breathing.

They regret, and apologize to photographs.

They are aware when the sun goes down.

They turn off their computers.

Late at night, when they can't sleep, they sometimes put an old baseball mitt on their hand and pound it over and over with their fist.

They wonder if they have eaten their last steak, had their last mug of root beer, or listened to "Exile On Main Street" for the last time.

They pick up and put down the telephone dozens of times a day.

They pick up other things, put them down, and then pick them up again and hold them so tight that they notice their hands are cramping.

Eventually, one by one, they let things go.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Foolish Indulgence

The day had been hot, and it was apparent that the night would bring little relief. There was no wind, nothing but the humidity and the stillness and the swelling sleigh bells of the insect world jangling from somewhere in the trees and bushes. Up and down the block people were sitting out on the stoops of the apartment houses and duplexes, murmuring quietly and waiting for the darkness.

He was sweating profusely, and he was not a man who liked to sweat. It was a clammy sweat, sticky, persistent, difficult to make peace with. He knew he should find something to eat, but he had no appetite. He did not feel like eating.

It seemed to him that men had had no business blasting themselves into space time and again when there was so much puzzling emptiness yet to be explored on the planet that was their home.

He lived with the regular intrusion of sirens, erupting at all hours. They mostly bored him, even as they served as a constant reminder of the seemingly limitless ways in which human behavior, and the human body, could be tragic and disappointing.

His wife now lived in the country.

His mother had come to look after his two daughters, who were spending a few days with him. He loved his daughters very much, he supposed, but they were better off in the country with their mother.

He was in the half-finished attic bedroom over the second-floor apartment that he had rented many years ago with his wife. It was hot up there, but his mother and the girls had taken over the bedrooms downstairs.

The attic room had a window that allowed him to stare out into the street while he listened to the radio. His mother had given him some money, and he was drinking a beer imported from Germany, a foolish indulgence. The beer would be warm before he could get halfway through a bottle, and he was trying to drink fast.

Outside the window he saw his youngest daughter struggling along the sidewalk with a strange cat dangling from her arms. She had the cat by the underarms (if cats can be said to have underarms) and it was hanging almost to the little girl's feet.

Someplace out in the neighborhood an ice cream truck crawled tinkling through the dusk and the unmoving shadows of the condemned elms that were splayed in the streets. The sky to the west looked like it was bringing in some rain. That would be fine with him.

He was trying to think seriously about a photograph he had looked at many times in a book his wife had left behind. The photograph showed a Vietnamese monk seated calmly on a sidewalk, ablaze. There were other people in the photo as well, spectators, watching the monk burn. There were two men and a young girl. They all appeared to be leaning slightly away, as if they could feel the heat from the fire or were afraid the monk would explode.

The girl was holding a purse --or perhaps it was a book bag-- and it was this girl he was trying to think about. He was wondering about the girl, as he had before from time to time, wondering what she was thinking and feeling there as she watched that man burn for some apparent principle she was likely too young to understand. He was wondering what had become of the girl, frozen there for all time, trapped in that image, and he was curious about what effect that moment had on her as she grew older and went out into the world on her own. He wondered what had happened in her life since that day.

He also, of course, wondered about his daughters.

And then he thought about the monk.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Mission

Everybody get in line and listen up. I want you fellas to get some shut-eye so we can all be up and ready to hump it at first light. We'll be traveling seven miles to the east over rugged terrain. Word has it we might be in for some heavy weather as well, so pack accordingly.

We'll have six men to a piano, and each of these pianos is worth more than $50,000, so I want to make good and damn sure that everyone in this room understands the importance of taking all the care and precaution necessary to insure the safe delivery of every single piano in our possession.

I don't need to tell you that nobody has ever carried a piano --let alone nine pianos-- over this mountain, and I'm not about to stand  here and sugarcoat the serious dangers and risks involved in this operation. Every one of you has endured months of grueling training, and I wouldn't send you out there if I didn't have absolute confidence in your ability to bring this difficult mission to a successful conclusion.

Our most recent intelligence suggests that we can expect fierce if sporadic resistance from the local guerrillas. These people resent the incursion of very expensive pianos into their territory; most of them have never seen a piano in their lives, and the value of these instruments is more than most of these folks will make in their lifetimes. We can expect them to give us everything they have. I don't want anyone going into this with a false sense of security just because these local characters don't have much more than rocks and sticks and old surplus Daisy rifles to defend themselves with.

I'll remind you that when the British tried to bring a piano over this mountain back in the 1950s --and this was one piano, mind you-- they were badly routed and the piano was destroyed and burned by the natives.

I expect nothing less than one hundred percent success from this mission. I want you to defend these pianos with everything at your disposal, and remember what they say about making an omelet. Be vigilant out there, and expect a tough battle.

And let's all keep in mind what we're up to here: these are poor, backwards people, and they've been drumming on rocks since the stone ages. They can't even begin to imagine the gift we're bringing them. We're gonna give these miserable savages music, and you can be damn sure that even if we have to shove it down their throats they're going to thank us for it one day.

Lights out, boys. Tomorrow morning let's make the folks back home proud.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Insurmountable, The Uselessness Of Words

I close my eyes, whistle, and send the dogs off into the brush to see if they can scare up any words. I'm not sure how long I sit here --it varies, I suppose, from night to night. When it gets quiet like this, though, and I can't even hear the rustling or baying of the dogs, I get a little bit spooked.

Some nights --more and more often  lately-- they're out there a long time, traveling great distances across the barren fields. Darkness seems to drive the words underground. I'm too old and tired to run with the dogs, and there are too many slippery patches, so I just sit here quietly with my eyes closed, waiting.

I no longer expect the dogs to bring back any stories or even paragraphs, and a sentence of any length would frankly be a surprise at this point. One night, I've no doubt, the dogs will finally disappear for good, but for now I'm grateful for whatever random, useless words they manage to drag back and drop at my feet. A 'why' or two, a 'what,' maybe a 'mule,' 'moon,' 'river,' or 'road.' A good night might net me a handful of multi-syllabic words: 'casket,' 'donkey,' 'scapegoat,' or 'steeple.'

At the end of the night, usually when the sun is casting its first bruise across the eastern horizon, I'll gather up whatever words the dogs rustle up on their rambles and tote them back home across the fields. I'll then brew up a pot of coffee, spread the words out on the kitchen table, and spend a couple hours moving them around, trying with little success to make them say something.

In the morning I'll burn them in an ashtray and then toss the ashes out in the backyard.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

King Bitterman And The Ghosts Of Dead Snails

Come on, give a rat's ass, would you? Give it the old college try.

Take a good look around and tell me what you see.

Don't lie to me.

My kingdom is a laughingstock. I've let myself go, grown fat on the sautéed kidneys of disc jockeys and dickweeds whose gross ambition offended my eroding sense of decency. I've eaten other things I'm not proud of. So-called professionals.

What I wouldn't give for a second chance.

What I wouldn't give, you fuckers, but it's too late for that and I have nothing left to give.

This confusion of dialects, poverty, and heat. I can't get any more naked, have no more grease left to sweat.

From my window I can see the laborers dragging bodies across the dirt courtyard and stacking them on a flatbed truck. It's not a pretty picture, but I am incapable of painting a prettier one. Near as I can tell the engineers have cobbled together some sort of crematorium in the laundry room of the Super 8 across the courtyard. Three tin smokestacks that weren't there yesterday are belching out clouds of thick black soot, an additional layer of grime that is trapped beneath the over-gloom.

Mine is now a kingdom of branded cattle swilling 3.2 beer, feral dogs in shopping malls, brain-damaged lab rats shuffling along in flip-flops and ridiculous sunglasses, and genetic monsters with perfect teeth. Dime-store dollhouses and teetering castles made of recycled plastic sand. The bones of dead roses. Fields of loud pastel crows, screaming for attention. Almost trees. Burned-out rocket ships that never left the launch pad. All our dreams, dreams written in invisible ink and nightmares etched in the more permanent kind.

When night falls I draw the shades and listen to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings over and over as I imagine --or cannot imagine-- the next crippling blow, the next wave of sorrow, the inevitable endlessly repeated slow-motion montage of flag-waving catastrophe. You can bet, by God, that when again this world begins to fall down around me they'll once more dust off the old reliable Barber.

Didn't any of you remember to bring a flashlight? Did it not occur to a single one of you that it would be dark in the belly of a whale?

You tricked me into this covenant, but I have no one to blame but myself.

These words --the last I have left-- are the ghosts of dead snails. I give you my word: you haven't been haunted until you've been haunted by the ghosts of dead snails.

Come on, let me have it. I'm ready for my medicine. Give me my bitter pill.

I am waiting, my little sparrows, to hear from you.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Take Your Time

The summer is settling in. The moon is easing down to sleep in the trees, even as the stars step back into the dark country of space. They look like a small cluster of island villages in the North Sea, seen from an airplane at night.

A fox, interloper here in the middle of a city not yet overrun by the swelling chorus of cicadas singing summer's requiem, does its solitary, long-legged Mardi Gras dance down an empty street.

These are, I suppose, precious days in the middle of a man's life. If you're going to find yourself at the crossroads it's nice to have such pleasant diversions while you mull your options, nice to still have options, to still sense the road forking off in so many directions wherever you happen to find yourself.

Take your time, the night says, it's yours, even if there's less of it now than there was yesterday, than there was last summer. Take your sweet fucking time.

It's hard to imagine, on an evening like this, that there's a single thing out there to be afraid of, or that all your failures add up to anything but a series of minor follies. It's all frankly hard to imagine: this life, this world, the world stretching to the horizon in the darkness and out into space beyond even the most distant stars.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Ragged Angels, The Burning Bridge

These angels do not look like angels. They look like old people, stooped and weary, clothed  in the rags they have been wearing for centuries.

From a distance it almost appears that they are hanging their heads, but in actuality they are looking down, as they so often do, situated as they are at such a lofty remove from  the old torments and joys of the earth.

They are standing together, huddled and peering down over the lip of a cloud, watching a bridge burning far below them.

A burning bridge is one of the half dozen earthly occurrences (along with the suffering of children, cruelty to animals, neglect of the elderly, joylessness, and acts of religious bigotry and intolerance) that are capable of breaking even the hearts of angels.

A bridge --all bridges-- are essential symbols of the mission of angels, and the destruction of bridges is a tragedy that reverberates through the most distant and  rarefied reaches of Heaven.  

A burning bridge is even more tragic and lamented than a bridge obliterated  through mere destruction or disaster. It is also, sadly, one of the few acts of human willfulness in which the angels are not allowed to intercede. The burning of bridges is an act of terrorism against hope, and reduces even the oldest angels to a pack of numb and speechless spectators at the scene of a crime.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Drain

I have a drain where my brain ought to be. Everything that gets into my head  runs straight down into my stomach, where it gets churned into mulch. The drain is a rickety thing. When I shake my head I can hear the drain rattling around in my skull. If I sleep on my side I can feel it fluttering up against my ear whenever I snore.

The drain puts me in a bit of pickle, particularly as I have urgent work to do, work that requires some careful thought.

The problem is this: I built a duck, and now I need to create some sort of pond in a hurry or I fear the duck will die. I've been keeping it in the kitchen sink for the time being, as I already have a redheaded mermaid living in my bathtub and she's threatened to eat the duck if it tries to encroach on her space.

The mermaid's been living in the tub for almost a month  now, after escaping from a shampoo bottle that I dropped while taking a shower. I guess I'd have to describe the mermaid as malevolent, or at the very least ill tempered and ornery as all get out. It's possible, I've decided, that she has a bit of dragon or sea serpent in her, based on her generally aggressive manner and the amount of time she spends thrashing around in there and roaring imprecations. She creates so much steam  that some days it feels like I'm living in the clouds, and I've grown so afraid of her that I've taken to pissing in the sink down in the laundry room.

I've thought about killing the mermaid somehow, but every time the idea starts to take shape in my head it gets gurgled straight away down the drain.

Your Heart At Rest

You can't just plop your heart on the table every day, prod it with a fork, and expect it to give up its secrets. It can't be shoved or bullied, and has never stood for interrogations.

It speaks when it's good and ready, and when it has something to say. There's no small talk in it, and when it does finally speak –and  it speaks less and less often-- you can be certain it will tell you the truth, and that truth may either move or bruise you. It is also capable --and you fear this-- of shattering you.

Your heart's stock in trade has always been simple, declarative sentences, but it is also capable, from time to time, of really carrying on, of railing, of delivering the occasional surprising and stirring exhortation, harangue, or passionate monologue. It is not afraid of giving you a good dressing down whenever it feels like it's required.

Whatever it says, though, it is always clear that the sentences have been a long time building, word by word, each word carefully mulled and weighed.

One night, you recall, after your heart had been for many days entirely silent, it spoke quietly from its ochre velvet cushion next to the alarm clock on the bed stand. Your heart and the alarm clock have a touching and clearly affectionate relationship.

It was very late, after three a.m., and you had inserted earplugs and the fan was blowing. You were reading a collection of E.B. White's essays.

When your heart spoke it spasmed almost imperceptibly in place, and the lamplight that had settled on its moist, lacquered-looking surface trembled. You took out your earplugs and asked your heart to repeat itself.

"I hope you realize," it said in its odd and familiar baritone croak, "that I am capable of doing just as much damage at rest as in motion."

"And are you now at rest or in motion?" you asked.

"What the fuck does it look like?" your heart said. "What does it feel like to you?"

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sweet Soul Music: Playing Metaphysical Ping Pong With Soren Kierkegaard And Van Morrison

The forest. The sea. The garden. The grindstone. The long and winding road. The moon. The stars. Sunrise. Sunset. Ecstasy. Exhaustion. The heart as metaphor. The heart as living, beating thing. Myths. Dreams. Reality. Then. Now. Here. There. Beyond either here or there. 'This pining meat.' The ticking clock. The second hand. The hours. The days. The years. The biding of time. Time passing. Time was. Abiding. Abrasion. Erosion. Confusion. Clarity. Grace. Restlessness. Contentment. Hope. Happiness. Hopelessness. The middle passage. The middle of the night. The muddle. The crowded room. The missing thing(s). The mask. The mystery. Longing. Loss. The questions. The answers. The search. The journey. Discovery. Joy. Despair. The embrace. The surrender. The defeat. Losing your mind. Coming to your senses. Stasis. Change. Waking from a dream. Waking from a nightmare. A false start. A fresh start. A new beginning. The end. Resolve. Resignation. Acceptance. Rejection. Denial. Renunciation. Annunciation. Redemption. Resurrection. Crawling. Walking. Running. Jumping. Standing still. Love. Hate. Truth. Lies. Good. Evil. Pain. Pleasure. Passion. Sickness. Health. Torpor. Ambivalence. Indifference. Laughter. Tears. Grief. Glory. Gratitude. Keening. Lamentations. Lullabies. Fate. Destiny. Cruelty. Compassion. Empathy. Energy. Enervation. Fatigue. Emasculation. Entreaty. Imprecation. The thresher. The threshold. Silence. Dawn. Eternity. Imploring.  Pleading. Begging.




Monday, June 4, 2012

In Another Lifetime, And In This One

Long, long ago, engulfed by the sweltering twilight of a summer night and the vacuum hum of a small town in retreat from the heat and the falling darkness, the yards and sidewalks abandoned for living rooms and television sets (the wobbling blue screens of which we could see through the dark, otherwise blank window frames and the gauzy, fluttering filter of curtains), I bucked you across town through the empty streets on my stingray bike.

We were hunched together on my sparkling blue banana seat; I was peddling furiously and you were clinging to the sissy bar. I wished you had been clinging to me, wished you would put your arms around my chest, but it was nice to feel you there behind me all the same, nice to hear your laughter (all the wonderful variations of your wonderful laugh) ringing out over the silent neighborhoods and your voice at my ear and your breath in my hair.

I don't know, can't remember, where we were going. We weren't, though, going to the Dairy Queen, where the moths were in full swirling frenzy around the streetlamps in the parking lot. We were headed, I'm sure, elsewhere.

We had darkness in mind, I think, the place where the futile over-light of that grimy little town gave way suddenly to a great stretch of emptiness, where the pavement turned to gravel, where there were fields rolling away into the distance, and where there was a muddy creek and there were railroad tracks and trains (which sounded, you said, like iron waterfalls, and which I've always said sound like something heavy being carried away) crawling off into the night, out into an America we could only then imagine.

But which we did imagine, together, breathlessly, with ridiculous hope and optimism. That place was where we knew we would eventually have to go to make our escape, to complete the process of becoming, to find ourselves even as we lost each other.

That was also the place, the place beyond our close little world whose secrets and sadnesses we felt certain we had already divined, where we would one day, through exactly the sort of occasional miracle this world is still capable of delivering, find each other again.

I am still, every day, my sometime sister, my old friend, stunned by this miracle, still grateful for and puzzled by my bounty of blessings entirely undeserved. And now it always seems to be that same magic dusk I remember, and I find myself once again in the position of trying to talk you onto the back of my stingray bike, trying to convince you to ride with me out beyond the false, feeble light of that low town, away from and out from under the people we have allowed ourselves to become; trying to get you to slow down and to listen again to the roaring silence and the moving water and the watch-winding racket of insects throbbing from the ditches, and to lie on your back with me marveling at the stars and the heat lightning trembling down the dark sky across the fields.

Friday, June 1, 2012