Monday, May 5, 2014

Any Old Business? Ere Mine Errs Wer E'en O'er...

Good lord, it seems another month is now stretching before me like the long mirage scene in Lawrence of Arabia, a scene I recently spent some time fantasizing about recreating in the windy sand dunes of the Florida Panhandle, with my dog playing the Omar Sharif role. It turned out, however, that try as I might I could not get my trusty dog to move slowly enough. I could not get him to trudge. He is a Chilean Dasher, a very rare specimen, a representative of one of only two dog breeds ever to appear on the endangered species list, and such beasts are simply not built for plodding.

I can trudge and plod enough for both of us, though. That's something I try to remind him of on a daily basis, perhaps as a way of trying to get him to slow down.

Another National Poetry Month, as you may or may not know (or care), has recently come and gone, and though I tried to spend some time each evening properly observing the holiday in my own fashion, I should confess that the last poem I read before the month's expiration left a very bad taste in my mouth. I will not name the poet (he is, so far as I can tell, nothing if not insignificant), but I cannot get these lines from one of his poems --which pretty much exemplify everything I hate about so much poetry-- out of my head: "the sun dies once more in the west/the blush and bruise of vanquished light/ creeps slowly across the/troubled American is/children are anesthetized by television before sleep/in the gloaming along the river/the great heron kneels."

That sort of thing isn't deserving of a month, let alone a moment of silence, let alone a moment of silent contemplation. Yet here I am, sharing it with you, for which I beg your pardon. I was going to try to tell you the story of a boy who was turned into a fox by his father for cheating at bridge, but it's a long story I haven't quite worked out in my head. Suffice it to say that in the end the boy --who hated bridge yet was forced to play it each night with his parents-- discovers that he rather enjoys being a fox, and eventually --quite soon, in fact-- recognizes that his father has done him an unintended kindness, which inspires the only actual feeling of affection he will ever feel for his father, the great project of whose life was building a pyramid out of garbage deep in the woods. The garbage, as I imagined it in contemplating the writing of the story, was gathered each day by the mother, who would leave the family's modest cabin each morning at the first light of dawn, outfitted in an orange jumpsuit and toting an armful of burlap bags, and return, exhausted, after darkness had fallen --having traveled great distances and filled as many bags as she could carry with garbage-- just in time to eat an uninspired dinner and play bridge with her husband and son.

There's really no reason now that I'll ever have to tell that story. It's likely no reason ever existed, but I nonetheless have time on my hands and feel compelled to think of something.

Tonight, earlier, I was thinking of some kind of great river metaphor --lame, I know, but I'll generally spend at least a little time mulling whatever comes to me, if anything comes to me at all, and I'm sometimes grateful when something does. Sometimes not so grateful, of course, particularly when I'm feeling all mulled out, which is often.

Anyway, I was thinking of this river, which in my imagination is too big and moves too swiftly, and this size and ferocity combined with the sense I almost always have that the ground is moving beneath my feet, makes it impossible to accurately ascertain what exactly the river is and contains, other than everything. Even so, I like to at least try to discern the constituent parts of things I'm looking at, even imaginary things, and I was --and am-- bothered by my inability to see all the things that are moving --or not moving, either temporarily (because they are stuck), or permanently (also because they are stuck, but in a different way)-- beneath the surface of the river, which I became more and more convinced was everything. Perhaps this business was prompted by the enigmatic phrase uttered to me by a hermit who lived at the edge of a swamp on the Florida Panhandle. In answer to my request for directions to the Apalachicola River he had replied, without a moment of hesitation, "Hell, son, it's all the river."

I should say, regarding part of the above (the phrase "beneath the surface"), that I mean supposing there is a surface and we can agree what it is. Does the notion of a bottom necessitate a surface? Is the surface a starting point, or a sort of platform, the place from which one's fall commences, or commenced?

By this point I'm just going to assume that you have no idea what I'm talking about. Which is fine, but consider this: What is Ike Quebec, whose music is on the stereo as I type, doing right this moment, a moment that has sustained itself and been replaying over and over (if only hypothetically, but, make no mistake, I am hearing a dead man breathing) for fifty years now? What is he doing if not going down a river?

The wonders of recorded sound and all art, all preservation that, in one way or another, moves: You can just keep sending these boats down the river --the same river, yet, in both Heraclitian and literal terms, a different river-- again and again and again. And fifty years from now some poor fool, similarly addled as myself, will still be able to put Ike Quebec's boat in the water and listen to it go. The same fool could also launch any one of the boats from the foxed fleets of, say, Henry James or Henry Adams, William Trevor or William James, and every one of them would still float and still take the fool somewhere else.

And now I'm thinking of all the ghost boats on my shelves, continually going down the river, or waiting to go back down the river. The ghosts don't even have to paddle anymore; long, long ago (or maybe not that long ago) they built their boats out of words and sound, put them in the water, and the river carries them still.

The thing is, I guess, is that I always wanted to build boats that would still be going down that river when I'm gone, even if they spend the rest of forever traveling exclusively under the cover of darkness. Even if they're just docked on some lonely stretch of backwater, a lone lamp burning in the cabin into the wee hours, waiting for one more launch, one more trip back into the dreaming world that is the river.

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