The house flies I had killed I felt worse over than the people I had hated. The sea urchins whose spines had stabbed my feet, I felt less anger towards than those who’d done me wrong. The zoo camel that spat its disgusting tasting spray into my face once in Central Park, I had forgiven more easily long ago than those who had in their own ignorance hurt me. I think the universe had itself exploded, and I was still playing with a loose sack of glass marbles spilling out somewhere I hadn’t seen, hadn’t imagined, could not believe. The smallness of it all, the dwarfed pettiness of human emotions and human motives—the misdirection, the misguidance, the maledictions that poured forth were, they all were in the end, no less amazing than anybody’s once believing in Peter Pan’s Neverland.
Most of my colleagues had urged me on. They had had belief in me. Others who knew me intimately had sometimes said, upon parting, “You’re a great person, but I felt I was deceived.” That was a silly thing to have said, since I myself could not have known. The great Titanic sank. Machu Picchu is an empty ruin. The Twin Towers have fallen. Busily builders build, climbers climb, workers work, farmers farm. Canoe. Kayak. Row. A, B, C. Alpha, beta, gamma. Blessed by the great guru, I had become at peace with myself. For a minute if not for a day. My spirit I would cast across the lake as rose petals had blown in the wind. My sparkle is eternal, my shine radiant, my mother home.
Ever since reading about making a half-knight move in chess, my mind had been cracked. It is of course something that cannot be imagined except to have imagined that such a thing is possible, when it is not. This strange little world of softly thatched roofs and straw hats a-tumble beside a nameless sea had always been a wonderland full of empty moon snail shells and bright red poppies blooming in the fields for me. And people, well, it had been obvious to them who I was, I suppose. I had been the man with seagulls sitting on his arms flapping and sunning their wings. The only talent I had had was that I tended toward merriment rather than despair, when the latter appeared to be the only rational and boastfully reasonable option left. But why live the obvious? It wasn’t that I disbelieved these; I did not. They were akin to leftover breadcrumbs on the table after eating a fine enough meal to be swept off onto the floor.
After four years she told him that the sparkle she had hoped would happen didn’t. He went to pick up his pajama tops, his bicycle in the garage, and a handful of crystals that did.
Everywhere in hell I looked, I could not find a place tiny enough to fit her heart. I went first to a galvanized bucket full of last winter’s ashes. The burned remains of wood were overflowing from the long season’s cold, so there was no room for her heart there. I went out to the dirt, where I had planted radishes, garlic, and tulips. As it was already springtime, all the green-growing beds were taken, and nothing else could be planted, even her heart. During the summertime when I was chopping wood, I thought to stuff her heart into a crack inside my woodpile for safekeeping. Alas, I had chopped so much wood in my loneliness, the pile was stacked so high, so high above my head, it was impossible to lift any to slip her heart in, it was so heavy. By autumn, when I began to notice overhead geese flying southward, I thought to toss it up to them, up in the air to catch in their honking bills. They were in such a hurry and such a clamor, I could see their fat red tongues and sharp geese-teeth also had no room for it, her heart was so small. Later on, after years, after years of keeping my beloved’s heart on my windowsill, I thought to take it to heaven. But heaven I also know is a place for all the most forsaken, the tiniest of tiny hearts there ever were, and I felt she had deserved better company.
Whatever friends I had had, they are useless. And whatever lovers I had had, they are useless. Whatever children, useless, too. I am an old leather boot: supple, creased, well-worn, well-traveled. The rest of time is to take the steps taken, the places been, momentous arcs that will have had no span. To guide a yellow or a purple thread through the eye of a thin enough needle, and do a little sewing then. It requires what most people don’t: sadness, and solitude, and a sort of lonely patience for the moon. Not in a mythic sense nor in a romantic one. The sort that sees even shadows on the face of the earth as borrowed from somewhere. The sort that has heard the thrush in the woods, that has watched its faded still eye sitting on a low tree branch.
All he did one day is putter around the place. He cleaned out the stovepipe by unscrewing its pieces and shoving down a stiff wire brush. He tied up the tomatoes against the wooden stakes with torn up bedsheets. He swept the kitchen floor, and was surprised at how much dirt and hair there were. He folded the music on the piano. He thumbed the wet bristles of his toothbrush. He sat on the back step and heard the crickets and katydids. He sat on the front slab of stone and cursed the cars speeding by in his heart. He thought of rust. And he thought of the density of hematite, how heavy it was in the palm of his hand. And the smell of the cow’s wet hay at the end of road where he ran just after dawn when it was first light enough to see everywhere.
After all, what had there been left to say. People say things, tell stories, construe narratives where there is just blunder, accident, mishaps, and old fingers of the past reaching in the honey-pot. So maybe Alexander the Great caught himself on a nail. Or the Buddha sipped a sour bowl of soup. Was Kant run over by an ox cart? And Barthes a laundry truck? Most people pick up exactly where they left off. It’s not even a story, or worthy of one. Just another moving truck full of moving in, and a different body to lie beside, and get off on. Same game. No pause. No direction. No home. No essence. No ground. No space. Same old being beaten against the same old rubber doorstep. The same moment stretched out like a huge wad of greenish-red taffy between the four arms of two people stretching it out and getting all tangled up in it. They could be planted roses. They could be gold teeth. They could be torn Lotto tickets unclaimed. They called it sweet. And was it? It was not. They said it tasted good. And it did not. They had seen some image, some nostalgic contract with childhood they had wished had not been broken, had wished had been true. All the colors they dreamed! They hadn’t even known what red, yellow, and blue were.
My old friend had driven up on his motorcycle and I really wanted to apologize to him. For almost four years I had barely seen him, besides trading emails about which set of snow tires to buy, and some political impertinences. And, just as he had called me about a week before pretty late at night to thank me for a talk that he and I had had while boiling down around a hundred thirty gallons of sap to make maple syrup when the thaw came this past winter about six months ago, I had in return wanted to say I had been sorry not to have been around much as good friend ought to be. There had been such trauma and turmoil in my life, I just didn’t want him to know, I told him. And, I said, really it must have meant not that I was afraid he would have whispered to himself about me, but what I instead might have been whispering about myself. I gave him lunch, some leftover pasta with pesto made from the basil and garlic grown in my garden, and he looked at my gas grill which I had cobbled together from an old rusted one I’d had that for years I was expecting to blow up in my face, and a nice Weber I’d found discarded along the roadside that some people who were not handy at all had ditched, or were too well off to be bothered with. He remarked that he had been impressed, actually, when at a local diner right across from the tall pine trees close by where we both live, I had declined his wish about four years back to sit down in the booth with me and my breakfast companion. There was, he felt, a sort of integrity in my establishing boundaries of privacy like that. But really, if it had been that, it was also that he would have been about to become privy to the world of danger, peril, and deep personal suffering I was just stepping into, despite the gorgeous vistas of the endless Atlantic ocean, the wild spray flung white up on the jagged rocks, and some ordinary summer vacation snapshots of steady Maine lobster boats motoring into the cove at dawn being flipped through at our table before the eggs and toast came. No, I told him, had it really been good, I would have wanted to share everything not hide it all from him. Come over to the pool anytime, he said, before he rode off, no need to call, an invitation he and his wife had been giving me for many years.
I can remember my bike chain slipping off and, after putting it back on, there was a bit a grease and sand on my fingers and hands I could just not get completely off. And I’d continue biking another eight or nine miles uphill to where the bees were buzzing in their hive. There were two plates of glass between which they had built their comb, and I read a sign as a kid on the outside of the display that told observers that bees can sense danger. From that moment on when I have been afraid I turned it around so I would not get stung, a sort of push-away feeling when I felt the danger of bees and other things. I’d felt a little low as well about the gritty, black grease that was still almost smeared off my hand, but that’s just the way it went. It could not be gotten off; that’s all.
And, I think, as the deer pull at the cucumber vines that have grown to the top of my fence; or when the cat plops on the shiny wood floor a dead bird—worst of all a bluebird; or when the birch trees I planted with my son die off after a few years, these are just the way things go. It is somehow better to feel the ever-fading day all the day than to believe or wish to believe in some hand-picked diamond that you’d really have to be crazy to think would sparkle on forever. Things don’t. You can look at Monet’s haystacks and see that all the beauty and joy in the world was always fading away at every moment. It cannot be really disappointing that way—momentary highs are not sought, breakneck speeds on the highway are not driven again, even something as simple as a daily perfect cup of coffee isn’t brewed time after time.
All exists as if it were flight upon a dragonfly’s wing. It views the water over which it flies, hovers there, and, as if thoughtlessly, curves in design and then flies off elsewhere. And with its big-eyed vision-trackers, its primordial form, its shape and its purpose, they appear almost demonic. But this backwards flying mini-phallus is only another of the many nearly comic earthly reminders that we and it and all of what is this life here are just temporary lookers-on, be it over the river, near the pond, in the mountains, through the woods, beneath the late afternoon, tomato-ripening sun.