Amazing Lows

lunar eclipse

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.

Jump Here!

cracked wallNow this old piece of lie, so the story goes, so the story went, it went something like this. She’d walk there and he’d walk there and then they’d get to this point on the concourse or the causeway or what have you, and as they were approaching, and this was years back, mind you, he’d go to her: “How many days would you remember me if I jumped off right here?” And she’d go something like 58 days, or a week, or 29 hours, or some such reply. And it was all in good, suicidal fun, you see. It wasn’t expected of him to jump for anything. After all, the one that had been on the brinks, the one that had been in the bin, wasn’t him. The one that loved life, why, everybody you had talked to always knew it was him. Her? Well, enough said there. There was enough medical documentation in the files to keep the Easter Bunny happy till Christmas. Of course nobody’d suspected that he’d had such a deep down mordant sense of humor that went quite that deep. But when you look at the crack in the cement, and you come to realize that through freezing and thawing, through freezing and thawing, expanding and contracting the way water does year after year, season after season, it does things to a story-teller’s own mind. See, they’ve got a mind like no other. What they think is funny, like D. B. Cooper with the made-up middle initial like that, is not as funny as it is to other people to whom story-telling is not an art but just a thing to pass the time with, you know, make a marriage go on with destroying each other in a few years. For most people, stories are just like going to the movies. They’re just entertainment. But to other people, why, they are as earnest as coyote’s eyes glowing in the dark. They’ve got a special kind of intelligence, not like IQ-wise, but another kind a lot more seeing and a lot more important than that. They can see themselves in the hunt of things, just way the coyote slipping past the last cool air of dawn most certainly smells if it cannot exactly see its own natural destiny whilst in the midst of being that very destiny. So, too, is the earnestness of the story-teller. And the way it goes, she had said forty-four days. “I will remember you,” she had said, “forty-four days after you jump.” So it got to thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine, and when it was forty-four, that was pretty much the end of it.

Bethany Rose Sherwood

tibetan crystal

My last bout with mild hallucinogenics had been largely ineffective. That wasn’t because of either their lab source or the destination. It had been a chimerical sort of venture to begin with. It had been one step Minotaur, one step Peter Pan. I hadn’t been able to keep pace between monstrosity and fantasy. And the dull end of the uxorious rainbow of experience had once again been caught up with my promiscuous appurtenances. Licorice beans and flax seed concoctions mixed with almond butter syrup had been to me like the Promised Land. And a day behind Adobe Illustrator had also worked as the burden’s ideal distractor. Mention of Velázquez, Goya, and the Prado always a plus. A lift in spirit like a hem line just above the knee. An eyebrow raised. A half-fortuitous glance from afar, coming from across the street anointed. A purposeful roving down the track tracks of the northeastern corridor, the risen daily sun already losing its splendor and its golden color overhead. The pastel shading of memory could not have been more delightful at times than drinking by frozen hand in my palm the cold spring water in the Ozark Mountains where legend had it a lone bandit was time ago shot and had died six or seven generations before, some years before even the invention of the internal combustion engine and the early oil derricks began covering the world’s deserts and plains alike.

Elsa Alyse Roquefort

baker dancer

My other occupations had been less salubrious. I had meant to say ‘salutary,’ but memory device had already been in play, so that was what what had become recorded. There. Then. It had been once a taxidermist’s workplace time ago, as the phrase is wrought. Like cast iron. Sheet metal. Silversmith. Filigree of horses mated with each other over great green meadows tromping about until the penned in moment with such stallion blind to his own mandated purpose. Anyway, (effective enough segue into the next non-related segment due to similarity of sounds but not perhaps necessarily meaning or meanings) I had not been aware, or made, or made to be aware, that my little log cabin office’s pedigree had been in the recent or in the distant even faraway past ever been used to disembowel and stitch up hunted animals, hunted for their to-be on plaque mounted heads, or whole body’s glass-eyed standing in some mock in situ pose. Fair place to offer my own journeying services of soul, of psyche, of etymological butterfly dreams of the nonce. Like starlight I suppose stuffed inside Cassiopeia, a real-life constellation of another’s myth, and myth-making, co-opted to be our own. Like Heidegger’s Third Reich, if he had ever had one…even yet encore autrefois, etc., I had slightly suspected his little Bavarian shack on the hillside had not been dreamed of like that, when pondering van Gogh’s boots. And a day’s bricklayer. And even a supermarket cashier. Once. And only once. “Ein Mal jedes, nur ein Mal.” And so forth, beaded and threaded. Here. Now. And of all I had preferred ditch-diggers at the foothills of these sedimentary precipitously slung mountains for planting small trees, butternuts, doomed ashes, hemlock which had once, alongside the great Eastern Pines, populated the Earth. Where, spaciously, I had best been, O Best Beloved: woodcutter, steadfast and sure, trim and full of the day’s finely drawn muscle, hewn, with the fine sinew of slack-limbed Prince Achilles.

Jacobson Malloy

sea spray 2

All the beauties of the lake had passed me by. The mothers with their children. The strong men with their lovers. I had had an incandescent longing once, but that had been time ago. Time ago it was, and it was not, my laces, too, had been tight. The thickest ice where skaters skate belied the little fire that I had built along the shore. And from my little hut where I would retreat, once the sun had vanished, I could still watch my dwindling fire burning out there. From the high Indian village of Mt. Hope, you could see the leftover trash in the Canada woods: the old, blue frayed tarps, the unneeded shoes, even discarded diapers. To me it had been a mess; to them it had been no longer needed. There had been no nostalgia for that, and no heartfelt feeling for any place except where our fingertips had once ago been raised to the middle of the chest. No place else, anywhere but here, would be ever called home. That word itself had become in me, like kindling, sail boat, or float, some kind of shibboleth, some kind of awkward curse. To know, besides the flotsam of these, that there is no yesterday pinching up against tomorrow, nothing really language can do anymore, is a sudden and calm thing. What I had ever known was fine, and what I had not akin to another season of falling leaves that had seemed even yellower than another. It may not have been true, but my recurrence of memory had made it that way. All the recurring beauties of time had passed me now, and I was glad enough not to frighten anybody anymore with my questions. Nobody went near the dirty and straw-filled mounds where beavers had built up their dwellings for fear of falling in water, where indeed winter’s ice had been thin. Had somebody ever had the temerity, or the pluck, to have come over and sat beside my warmed boots, I would have discussed the Old Flemish master. ‘Like skaters have been painted,’ I would have said, ‘upon a frozen ocean.’

An American Hero Foresees His Life

mountain outlook

Somewhere even from himself he hid all his past scribbled books. In their calendars perhaps were lists of goods to buy and a moment’s revelation. In them were his dreams of dreams, the sentimental schmaltz of his ventures near the mountaintops of Wyoming, and the calumny of his darkest human betrayals.

Like unseen glyphs, these had all been rubber-banded and put aside. Unimportant now, living behind the picture screen of a wall-sized TV, he lay stymied by the day, and frozen by the night. He lived by the wintry solace of the Sun, and was mesmerized by the cycles of the Moon whose cutlass grew until it punched a solid hole through the black pall of night, once more.

A collection of shirt sleeve buttons fallen off cuffs, and assorted hair pins could hardly console him. Camisoles leftover from elsewhere would not wash his own dishes. He tore off his pillowcase half-way each night he slept anyway. The gray light of dawn illuminated the pale trunk of the butternut who’d lost all its bark back winters ago.

A one room house without a door, only a doorway, drew him inside. Its bare earthen floor, its rough hewn walls let in just barely some light between the siding. A woman dead and yellowed lying on a bed alone inside for days made him scream and scream and scream. And he woke to the midnight torture of his mind amok to that.

Concupiscent urges had become handfuls of thumbtacks pressing in. Love cries once in his lover’s arms, were today her cries of war, hidden behind a neighbor’s wall. The constant keening ululation mourned his own death, of a thousand Baker Dancers, ten thousand of them, celebrating themselves behind ten thousand beautiful folds, in exchange for his life force, their victory.

From the distant unhewn cliffs there must have been flown a note of this, completely covered with a bottle spilt over it of India ink. It must have tumbled by roadways and shabby towns, it must have bedded itself in a rusty sink whose dried waters smelt of human blood, out into the reddened dusk of South Dakota where animals in shadows grazed not too close to each other.

Life During Tea Time

latch

Even his cheap old tea was gone. The old, paper-wrapped bags of black English Breakfast, sitting in the back of the cabinet for years, a long papery row of hardly ever used sacks of really dry, and really common stuff packed in a flimsy cardboard box. Ripped into. There were others, too, that’d been used up, of a far more fancy kind. Finely woven sachets that opened up like tetrahedronal parachutes when into steaming water poured from a kettle they were plopped. Once, he recalled, he’d known an older woman, whose net worth was in the tens of millions, to have served him this rather ridiculously in a half-filled Styrofoam cup.

Yes, she had pointed out to him and his mad wife at the time the giant nest where the bald eagles dove to kill prey at the corner of her flowing Hudson River property. She had, since then, sold that mansion for another entrenched upon some paradisiacal edifice built into the escarpment of Maine for tens of millions more. Ah, that was a time, and such teas did the rich like that drink.

Later, he had indeed been happy. The grassy sencha caught his taste at the back of his throat. The silver needle, so delicate and so fine, whose fresh flushes were picked during just two weeks time alone, would match for many years his evenly kept balance. But most of all, of any love affair he had ever had of such kind, was gyokuro. This shy and subtle tea, shaded for weeks before its shoots are plucked, was his heart’s once. Steeped for many long minutes in water that, for some, would barely measure to them as hot, he had warmed both the pot and cup beforehand when it had been made.

Today, all that luxury was gone. And he scrounged around like a mouse looking, rather than for a spare kernel of popcorn, or a bit of grain, for anything to steep lying about in leftover, empty wooden Clementine boxes. Little and large metal tins among empty glass Mason jars, once casually filled with oolongs and other less favorable fruity experiments, clanged and banged about like bunches of noisy wind chimes one could only wish the neighbors or a hurricane would take down.

It was all gone. The fragrances of love spent. The allure and yearning for romance, gone. The flavorful infusions of flavor, reduced to now a small lemon wedge squeezed into boiling hot water. The fact remained that he had not run his life profitably like a tea shop on the village corner, or, for that matter, like any other. Instead, he could already claim, like Brecht, that he had left this life “without regret, or with only slight regret,” if one should choose to be almost perfectly honest, and almost smiling publicly.

Suburban Diving Bell

sledgehammer and wedges

I had been looking in an old book of Rilke’s writings which I’d read first in my earliest twenties—which is the perfect time to first read Rilke—for a line about how in an adultery the third person is insignificant, which struck me as very odd and very important back then. But I couldn’t find it, and came across another passage that seems much more important to me today:

Now the position of the lover is this, that he feels himself unexpectedly placed in the centre of the circle, that is to say, at the point where the known and incomprehensible, coming forcibly together at one single point, become complete and simply a possession, losing thereby, it is true, all individual character. This position would not serve the poet, for individual variety must be constantly present for him, he is compelled to use the sense sectors to their full extent, as it must also be his aim to extend each of them as far as possible, so that his lively delight, girt for attempt, may be able to pass through the five gardens in one leap.

Not to decry the comfort and the stability of a person whose life is situated at dead center, who has, in a strange way, given up identity for the sake of things surrounding him or her by which that person thereby becomes identified and known, I could feel how exactly such a life, and such a living, is not for me. It is anathema to my core. It was rather, the life of the poet which Rilke sketches out, which is not to be located at the immutable center point of the ordinary lover’s being (as I understand it in ways that suit my own purposes), with its de-centralized being, a life of constant variety, and constant reaching out that allows the poet or the artist to create true miracles or the magic of being able to “pass through the five gardens in one leap.” This, for the lover, is not even a desire, not even a concept. The lover wishes everything to come to him or her, as though the lover were the very center of existence and the very point of it.

It is hard here not to think about Keats’ thoughts on Negative Capability, and how being able to be, in essence, a restive being, or a creature, or a wandered something that is not your own, it allows you access—because you are not merely standing in your own shoes—to myriad poetical conceits, to be able to evoke and invoke creative worlds of the Imagination versus the mere ordinary world of Fancy, as Coleridge would divide the two.

At any rate, the artist is the one who may, indeed, be the being who leaps in a bound inside many, many circles, hundreds of them, where creative work, and creative worlds are built and where, for some time, the poet or the artist may reside. But just as quickly, the poet leaps, or passes—as is this specular creature’s nature to do and to be, giving no heed whatsoever to the dull, uxorious world in which so many live out rather comfortably their lives and for their mortal existence find themselves even thriving if not trapped there—elsewhere.

For me, it is, as Rilke writes on, a life that lies “in the awareness of the abysses…” and this is, while such a life is the life capable of creating so many glorious things, it is also one that hovers dangerously and constantly right up on so many brinks over which I have all my life continued to exist and overlooking these, peered. It is like believing oneself to be a droll little shepherd among the hills to graze, and strolling there day after day, where in the midst of living one is at times suddenly fraught with the looming oppression that there are no hills and there are no sheep, and instead of a shepherd, one is just a little man resting alone at night with nothing to count on before he goes to sleep.

The other life is all about some invention of selfhood in everyday life, and the gathering up of all things surrounding that invention, the whole collecting of stuff that amounts to a decent enough life of clickety-clackety familial domesticity in the end, all centered around, if all goes well enough, a brick chimney; it is not, I suppose, by any means a bad existence at all per se, but one that for an artist-poet is a dead and deadening one because the center-stabilized centering point does not permit ipso facto the venture to go very far. The “lover’s life,” then, as a sort of human summum bonum is really the end of all human experience. It has its solidity, it has stability, and its virtue is its capacity of self-defined limits. The poet’s life, on the contrary, is a perilous but wonderfully alive life of no securities, or few of any kind, like a man who leaps into a river and wonders to himself if he has gone crazy, or, as in John Cheever’s great story “The Swimmer,” the life of a man who crashes through one suburban hedgerow into the next and “swims” from one neighbor’s swimming pool to another, from one end of each pool to the next, passing from yard to yard throughout the neighborhood, a man gazed upon by poolside people who are caught between being amused, indifferent, and annoyed, because he has.

Empty Morning Pilgrimage

daybreak over trees and umbrella

She never came to the page unless she had a thought or an idea or had had a note. In that way, she never faced a blank page. In other words, it was a page already written upon, if only a little bit. And that little bit became when she did more to the page a little bit more. That’s it. So she never had to face it: the page. But “page,” anyway, is such a funny little thing. Here, in the United States of America, it is measured 8 ½ inches wide by 11 inches long, or tall. Not so in France. Not so in Hungary. The measurements of this page were different. And a pad of paper elsewhere won’t fit into your usual notebook, won’t fit into your usual binder. You’ll have to buy a new one to fit the new page’s new measurements. Anyway, the whole idea of “a page” was sort of silly. For almost no one in his or her right mind uses them anymore: paper pages. Paper pages of any kind of any measurement, long or short, wide or narrow aren’t used much for writing today. So, the idea of having to “face” one is a little bit amusing. The page itself is a sort of skeuomorphic reminder, the way little blue pixilated images of fake blue manila folders on my computer’s “desktop” are other sorts of reminders, too, of that other world, lost and bygone. Most of that world doesn’t feel forlorn to me at all, not anymore than my listening to a gramophone repeating the sounds of a human voice would be shocking.

I rather in my own life had sought a way, a methodology to be able to get exactly what it was I was hearing in my head down. Dante was apparently lucky to have had a scribe before him (I had once heard) before whom he could pronounce his golden words and they were taken down. In a similar fashion there is the lore of blind Milton having had his obedient daughters do the same. But I could never do that, could never face the rough circumstances of having to hear my own human voice making those sounds. The sounds themselves would barge in and push me off. There never had been anything to face at all. The blackness of dawn begins to change a little bit to light, just a little bit barely gray and the crickets of the night continue their wailful singing for a while. Soon enough the birds will come and cry among the limbs from tree to tree. An occasional car or trudging school bus or labored garbage truck will truck up the hill. This is just how it goes. Just as it is the nature of the black morning sky to soon enough open to become blue or gray or filled with thunderous clouds, that has been my own for as long as I recall. The truth is I had never had a thing in mind before my two hands were magically at work, like the shoemaker’s elves making a pair of boots, doing what they do out of joy and their own holy duty to serve for as long as they remained undiscovered by the poor & honest shoemaker and his poor & honest wife.

Jiminy Cricket Is Always Singing

houses over water

I had been having an online conversation with a guy about a very well-established writer. And prior to this I had sworn to myself to never say a critical word about another writer. It’s just not good grace. It’s just not good politics. I know it is not in anybody’s good interest to utter a bad word about a fellow writer, or another human being for that matter, that aims downward. It can only come back to bite me, too. I know all that. But I must take aim. I must enter the henhouse. And I must play the fox. Now, I’m a half-way educated man, and I can say in French Pascal’s very precious, “When you read too fast or too softly you hear nothing.” And for me, as a writer, the same holds true. Every syllable I’ve ever written, I’ve heard in my own ear. And that’s the way I do it; there’s no other secret. I may be all geared up in bright green shoes and little lightweight shorts to go for a four mile run, and I’ll hear, bouncing out the door, a whole line in my head. And the point is that I’ll go for my run, down the washed-out gravel of my driveway and up the hill, and down the road, and back. I never worry about that line. I hold it there lightly in my head, never hard, never fearing that I’ll lose it, never in a hurry. And while I’m out there, I’ll hear a few more perhaps. Maybe a second. Maybe a third. Other phrases I hear I know they may get lost and that’s no matter at all. You go to the store for milk, chips, and four ears of corn; the rest can be forgotten. And if it comes back to you, it does. It’s no great matter. It’s what really makes me a reader.

A real writer is actually a reader. Everything is heard, just as if you are actually reading it. That’s all. And my job is to get what I’m reading down, to be able to keep it there a little while for another person perhaps to read, too. That’s all. But so many people who make novels, and there are so many of them, they don’t seem to me to hear a word at all. In fact, there’s nothing in their writing to be heard there. They are not even the shells of cicadas that ever buzzed, nor the brown crusty ones of locusts that burred away the summer’s night. There’s just no sound to them at all. They’re just truly writing, and they are just truly writers, when that means that the words themselves put down on paper or on a computer screen are themselves the bearers of ‘meaning’ connected to some lobe of understanding in the human brain. Something like that, although it’s hard for me to articulate.

If you pick up a copy of the The Pale King by the sadly late David Foster Wallace, you will hear immediately what I mean. In it are the ghosts of Jack Kerouac, Thomas Wolfe (the Look Homeward, Angel one), Gatsby’s Fitzgerald, Salinger’s Catcher, and all those true writers who really are engaged in reading the world because they are listening to what they hear. The rest, I have no time for them, for their gross, and self-satisfied, and maladroit, and pompous, and smug-multitudinous and often fancy (to show all this to be true) superimpositions of unheard worlds that never were, never are, and never will be, however well-schooled and intelligent these prove themselves they are to us as they come across my drowsy eyes in their arduous making and vast laborious undertaking.