Monday, November 19, 2012

The Telestial Kingdom

The nights are without intention or event
and as a result are like most nights,
and as long as nights generally are.
Sometimes the moon is big.
Sometimes it is nowhere to be seen.

You have lived a long time and still
do not understand how the moon works.
There are golf balls up there, unless you
are mistaken, and a flag that once meant
you had to stagger to your feet every
morning and mumble some nonsense,
which now seems like something
from a movie where everything is
about to go very, very wrong.

You can no longer read your own handwriting,
so how are you supposed to make sense
of the strange fragmented notes you
keep finding hidden among cans of soup?

Eventually it is inevitable that your cell phone
will fall in the toilet. Or, if necessary,
you will toss it in there yourself
and feel liberated for maybe ten minutes
before you become certain that
now you are going to miss the one
call you've been waiting for your entire life.

You are one who has been waiting
for that one call your entire life.
Everything you ever tried was invested
with hope, and that hope can be
generally summarized by an expectation
that you would receive the one call
you've been waiting for your entire life.

And now your phone is in the toilet.
Sometimes you suspect that you spent
your whole life praying to the wrong god.
Or that your prayers were all wrong.
Or that there is no God.

If you're lucky you won't spend too much
time on such nonsense and you'll fall asleep
and dream that you are riding a bus
though the slums of heaven, and the slums
of heaven, it turns out, are populated
by the souls of cartoon dogs who have been
stripped of their clothing, forced to walk
on all fours, and eat luggage, lingerie, jewelry,
and all the other things people try to bring
with them to heaven but no longer need.

From the slum bus in heaven you watch
a naked Huckleberry Hound eat a camera
and a wedding ring and a copy of The Thorn Birds.
Your camera and your wedding ring,
you suspect. Somebody else's copy of
The Thorn Birds, you're pretty sure.

And when an old man in the back
of the bus shouts out, "How is this
heaven?" the bus driver tells him to
shut up or he'll have to get out and walk.
"Walk where?" the old man asks,
and the driver slams on the brakes
and two gaunt attendants wrestle
the old man down the steps of the bus.
You wouldn't think someone could look
so forlorn in heaven, but you'd be wrong.
You wouldn't think angels would be gaunt,
or forced to work as bus attendants,
but once again you'd be wrong.

"For this I was a good man?"
the evicted passenger cries,
and the bus driver nods his head.
"For this you were a good man," he says,
and eases the bus down the desolate street.
Everyone else on board, of course, has made
the trip alone, and no one says a word
in defense of either the old man or the
pitiful dogs.You all just sit there, grim-faced
but still expectant that there must surely be
better neighborhoods in heaven, and that
you are eventually going to end up exactly
where you belong, in a place where
all those you ever loved and lost
will be waiting for you and calling out
your name, which you've already forgotten.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Conversation About Stories

A monk came to my door this afternoon and tried to talk me into being different. Actually, what he wanted was to offer me an opportunity for "radical change." He seemed like a fellow who would habitually use the word "enlightenment," but if he did I don't recall it.

The monk had a small saucer filled with what he said was honey, and he asked me to put a finger into the saucer and taste the honey, an offer that may have been harmless but which I nonetheless declined.

I am fine with strangers when I encounter them out in the world, but I am wary of them when they knock on my door. Without question, a stranger in the humble robe of a monk is an unusual sight in my neighborhood. I mean, this wasn't a domestic monk, no Jesuit or Dominican or whatever other types of monks might be somewhat historically entrenched in the U.S.

No, this was a man who looked like he was from someplace far away, perhaps Tibet. He had a sort of Dalai Lama look.

The monk asked me if I believed an ape could fly an airplane.

An ape? I asked.

Yes, he said. A gorilla.

I asked the monk where he was going with this line of questioning and he smiled at me as if I were a simpleton.

A gorilla, he said. Might it be possible for a gorilla to pilot an aircraft?

I told the monk I was not much interested in speculating on such a notion. With my right hand I indicated my mailbox, which was stuffed with at least a week's worth of medical bills and worthless advertisements.

The monk gave me that smile again.

In the home of one of your neighbors a young boy showed me a storybook he was reading, he said. A number of the pictures in this book depicted a gorilla at the controls of an aircraft. Perhaps the pilot was a chimpanzee. At any rate, should I necessarily conclude that this story, which clearly gave the young boy so much pleasure, was untrue?

I said that I did not much care what he concluded about the story.

But, the monk said, does not our happiness in this world depend to a great extent on determining which stories we choose to to regard as embracing the truth, if not necessarily reality?

I admitted that I saw very little distinction between truth and reality.

The monk told me that I would be lost until I recognized this distinction. He said, Your life and future happiness could very well depend on whether you are willing to believe that an ape could fly an airplane.

I excused myself at that point and shut the door, but I will confess that I have been troubled by this conversation all evening.

Monday, November 12, 2012

In Spite of Everything, Yes

Any fool with a roof over his head, food (however shitty) in his cupboard and refrigerator, ears that can hear music and voices, and eyes that can see faces and beauty and suffering; who has a sense of responsibility, a feeling of belonging, of having a family or a community or a tribe that depends on him and perhaps even loves him; who cannot afford a dog or a cat but is blessed with one anyway; who has even a metaphorical leg to stand on, shoes on his feet, a warm bed, clean underwear, running water, a toilet that flushes, books to read, a spoon, a fork, a reasonably sharp knife, a handful of dishes and pans, a chair to sit on, a window that looks out at the world, hands and feet and arms and legs that still (somewhat) function, the occasional opportunity to do something that feels like meaningful work; a cracked and compassionate heart, a brain that is still capable of manufacturing sense (even if only occasionally) and that cooperates, however gracelessly, with his tongue and dispatches words to his fingers; any fool whose fingers can still grip a pen, who still has access to blank sheets or scraps of paper and who continues to feel compelled to say something; anybody, in other words, who has lived a good, long while on the planet and feels things ever stirring in his head and heart, who is still capable of experiencing the regular surge of desire, and who has ever felt moved or obliged or even sick at heart, any such person should spend at least half of whatever time he has left in this merciless and stunning world sitting still in a dark, quiet place and saying nothing but thank you.