The first time I passed the wild turkey feather lying on the ground I had wanted to pick it up. Its tell-tale stripes, its white and brown bands, make them easy to tell apart from any other. Any little kid would, and so would I. Now I have passed this same soft feather many times since then, and it has lain there all the while. It looks bedraggled now, having gone through dozens of rains. I myself grew old. The darkness of night had passed over me and my hair woke up gray. Seasons, too, went by and more creases formed along my face. Somewhere, far beyond these forests I have wandered all my life, I remember the stilly murmur of the distant Sea still murmurs there, and I am even a little bit older this dark new morning.
Every day I make a pot. I put the pot on the shelf. The next day I make another pot. And I put another pot on the shelf. I make pots every day. I do not stop making pots. I don’t see anybody who takes a pot, not one of mine. Maybe another’s. It is no matter, at least not a great one. I make pots for everybody. Some see them, some do not. I am certain that if somebody saw a pot and bought my pot, perhaps somebody would like it. But I cannot be sure of who, even the one who bought it might not. I just keep making them day after day. At night, when I am exhausted, I do not even think that tomorrow I will make another pot. I do not know beforehand if I can. I just do. I may even doubt it, doubt that I have the hands in me to make another pot the next day, tomorrow. Somehow, by the grace of God, I can, I do. I can hope only in this way, that tomorrow, inshallah, may I make another. And that when my hands are through altogether, though I cannot say how many there will be, that my shelves will be full and empty of all the pots I will have made.
There’s a rainstorm over the mountaintop faraway. The dark gray sky shows the shower pouring down. Were I there, I would be soaking, for sure. Perhaps, if I stood here forever, or a long long time, it would reach me. Of even that I’m unsure of. I can’t tell which way it’s moving; I can’t even feel the wind blowing any direction. Still, I carry on as I have without dread or warning over anything at all, mostly. At times, I must confess, I do wonder and worry some. These anxious moments pass as I watch the orange spots glowing on the sunny morning ground here, or hear the evening insects chanting songs whose names I’ll never know, and look over my own solitary heart right where I am. If anything really terrifies me, it would be the warm rain showers down atop me, and I to be above a mountain now looking down. Until that time may one day come, I roam still among the foothills, half-claiming to myself to be barely a goat-herder with goat songs to sing but not so many goats.
When he went to the movies, once it was going and the crowd had pretty much stopped eating snacks and popcorn and slurping their sweetened drinks, he’d turn around in the movie-theater darkness and look at the people. There, they were all still, all the same. They could be old people. They could be Chinese people. They could be kids. They could be men. They could be little or big. They could be white people. They could be Cuban, or Slavic. They could be any people. They all faced the same way, quiet and all together. It was all very peaceful like that. He’d been sitting once on the Fourth of July in the grass outside. A Vermont band was playing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. To get the best seat, he had come early enough to be able to sit in the front row. The cannon went off. It aimed at the Green Mountains. The whole thing was over. When he stood up to leave, he saw the whole crowd of people, half of them with their right hands over their hearts, had been standing. It could have been 200 people, it could have been 500. He was the only person who’d sat through the whole thing and never risen. It had never occurred to him to stand, to salute, to honor the fallen, to commemorate the heroes, to have become part of the sea of patriots on their feet for who knows how long now in the soft country grass. He had not seen them and what they were doing, when they rose together like a sudden tide.
She had been more interested in his son than his art. And he had been more interested in her art than in her son. It was hard for him to imagine that she even had one, a son, and one that was a bit younger than his own. “How’s your son?” she would ask when the met. “He’s great,” he would say. After some more of this chit-chat like that about her son and his son, they would talk about art, his art; for, in this situation her art was already established as art, and his art was just becoming or just about to become established as that. And she leaned over his work on the picnic table they were seated at and talked about it. While she did so, while she was leaning in, getting closer and closer to the paper lying on the wooden picnic table, he found it harder to imagine that she had a son, and even stranger that she and her husband had named their child, when translated into English, what means the word “God” from “Isten” in Hungarian, which was his name: Isten. That was strange. But it wasn’t just that.
It wasn’t just the large difference in age between them, and their both having very young children—toddlers—and the added oddity that it was the much older woman in this case who had the very young son rather than a man with a fifty-year old’s paunch and a two year old after having had a first run at family life that totally burned out starting over again. It wasn’t that, however likely and usual such imaginings go. It was that she was so much farther ahead in her art than he was when, in the distance of time measured forward from the ages of the births of their small children as a zero point, they were about the same. So, from that perspective he was so much behind her, perhaps even hopelessly. “I really like this piece,” she said at the end of their conversation. “It’s got a narrator who seems to be quite sure of himself almost to the point where as the reader I almost feel he can’t be trusted anymore, if that makes any sense. And I always like that very much about your work.” Straightening her back, she put her own notebooks in a canvas bag, looked him briefly but directly in the eye with hers, and, after touching the wooden pin holding the back of her hair in position, got up from the picnic table to pick up her son somewhere else by 3.
None of the heroes that had ever appealed to other boys appealed ever to him. Neither men who walked on the moon nor basketball stars. Neither famously frumpy scientists nor blind-eyed musicians. As far back as the string of his memory went, he loved the lore of robbers—thieves, burglars, bandits. Whether they were popping their heads out of a green pea soup in a children’s story set in France, or blowing the heads off bankers somewhere around the Ozark mountains in the 1860’s, that was the life for him. He read Franz Kafka for his mind’s sharpening, and Kundera for bravado. And as far as smut and licentiousness went, he never went further than “Ten Indians,” penned, as it were, by Ernest Hemingway who probably banged it out on a typewriter. Before he was shot down in cold blood by the police themselves, his wife was recalled to have said, “He was right there a moment ago. He was right there,” though the timing of when she said this exactly and when he was fired upon remains in some doubt. Mistaken for another, he had been mentioned in the newspaper that printed the notice to have been literary.
Something to do with the 7/2/15 Slate article reviewing the film “The End of the Tour” about the life & death of writer David Foster Wallace.
Nobody’s really interested in the long game. It’s the short game that gets us. Even if the rights to the Garden of Eden themselves pass over to your own name, the fruits are never again enjoyed. When you’re alive, you can spit them out if you don’t like the taste of this leaf or that shrub very much, too. Nobody’s going to complain or harass you for it. Had I been able to point out Kafka’s own delight when he saw “he was able to substitute ‘he’ for ‘I’” in the short stories he wrote, I think I could have kept David Foster Wallace here a while longer on our good earth. Nobody’s really interested in careers or money. People are interested in the things these things seem—careers and money—to represent. Such as ‘energy’ or ‘freedom’. But they’re not, or they don’t.
When you look at stubble-faced photos of DFW, he comes off looking like a homeless beggar or a hobo most of the time, like someone who has traded in the magnificent, glorious “I” for a “nobody.” But the sadder irony of this is that that half-grinning hobo became well-enough known, well-enough recognized, that no train conductor would beat this freeloader off his boxcars. Conductor Ernest Borgnine gave this “A” Number One bum a free pass to ride his trains. I think the guy just wanted a boost to Seattle, perhaps, and somebody to join him on the trip there. And on the way, between the clackety-clack sound of train ties, or “sleepers” underneath, and eating dumpster carrot stubs and turnips, to read maybe a couple goods books by a little campfire with a friend in the woods when they’d hopped off the dizzying monotony of the rails to rest their weary bodies for the night.
By now the murderers escaped from prison, whose masterful plan was lauded as extraordinary and as sophisticated from those in high office who must know a thing or two about extraordinary and sophisticated forms of subterfuge and deceit, must have been apprehended. Possibly, though, they are tucked away in some nice Canadian fishing town that packs all its tasteless fish into frozen blocks to be shipped off and sold in the United States as some sort of breaded stick or block of reconstituted, once fresh cod. And the two gentleman, one with a Heart of Mexico forever stamped upon his back, and the other with blue inkings on his right hand knuckles, will live out their days, day in and day out, working in an obscure arctic factory, taking cigarette breaks when they have them, and in between shifts, sometimes with each other, sometimes not, going over the old days in their minds or whispered back and forth in the cold frosty breath of winter.