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.
Everything I had known, and everything I had held dear had deserted me. And, unlike Yeats’ circus animals whom he claimed had deserted him, what remained for me was an incandescent flame, a vivid, hand-held torch with which I had always and will always hold aloft. And it is by this light of God that I will see the paintings on the wall where for fifty thousand years people haven’t since traveled before. By this I will even view the perfect moment John Wilkes Booth saw like a red maple leaf fluttering down while shooting and killing Lincoln in his theater box. The crimes and sacred moments of humanity, life, and sometimes glimmers of my own death, I have caught these like melting snowflakes falling into my autumn fingers.
To me, I have felt the sorrow of being the common cook whose food had accidentally poisoned the great Buddha. But I have also felt the rope breaking the neck of a bewildered Saddam Hussein. That I have no friends to turn to, nor scarcely any possessions, even an empty dresser drawer to slide in and out, I don’t even have that simple enough human pride of such wooden ownership to stand beside and claim as “mine.” My destiny had become to be a shipwrecked sailor to be cast upon another sea, to drift without craft, and to all my life wander from land to land in search of a numberless people who do not exist, whereupon, like the curse of Odysseus, giver and receiver of pain, my oath was to plant my alien oar.
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.
I would have imparted to him secrets in whose keeping was a burden. And so I ran and ran. I ran for miles. Next, when I saw him, I said to him, “When’s the fire?” He put up his arms, held out his hands and asked me, “Where?” I ran away again. He wandered the countryside slowly, portly and gnomish, gazing at the underside of brooks and the backside of knolls where he could. And me, I just ran by it all. I kept my breath and myself away from him, as much as I could. Our paths kept crossing. “Hello, again!” I said to him running over a hillock one day. “Hello!” he said, “I like your shoes.” True, they were bright orange, as bright as the sun’s orange spots at dawn, but I was embarrassed by this. “I’ve got a fire pit,” I told him. “You do?” he said. “I do,” I replied. “Well, ok.” he said, “You’ve got a fire pit.” “We could build the fire this weekend,” I said. He told me that he couldn’t that weekend, that he was busy that weekend, but that he could the next.
I knew I would have told him that I had four, maybe five more pairs of these same orange shoes he had admired, all the same, stored in boxes. I knew that I would have told him this and everything. I would have told him everything else, more important things about myself that he must never know. And I knew that were he to come over, and were we to sit by the fire for hours, that secret things would come out, not the way dust is beaten out of an old rug, but lightly and effortlessly, just as the smoke and flames would rise and disappear in the nighttime sky. I knew that there were things this near stranger, this queer little man was apt to understand. Even though I knew this man might himself know the heart of things, I had to run, and keep running, lest he and I build a little campfire.
There are just so many things that get laid to the side. And later on, these things are sometimes seen. Sometimes, they are nothing besides an old toothbrush stashed in a closet, or a drawer, or a little forgotten travel bag that was used by a guest once or twice. Sometimes they are eighth grade papers that were written for a science teacher in a white lab coat. (The handwriting when such things turn up is mostly remembered.) Sometimes they are packets of photographs—remembered like all the mis-direction in life shot off like a handful of bottle rockets. A tiny, and now crusty brass dish from North Africa. A root carved into a limbless human form from Jamaica. A World War II vet’s wallet found on the sidewalk and never returned.
Later on still, these things that were laid to the side turn out to be more like lengths of trees whose trunks were half-sawn through in eight or nine cuts for future firewood, but were abandoned forever in the woods when the chain grew dull. Sometimes, a letter written with good intent, dated, but never sent sitting on a shelf under spent cartridges of toner, unused color photocopy paper, and obsolete technical gear that seemed useful at the time. Overall, these things can acquire their own unmistaken beauty the way a wooden fence does after its unstained pickets have been weathered for more than a dozen years somewhere along the roadside.