Had I had an eye on my nostalgic marble, I would have parlayed my objections to the other fellow. But I forgot the shimmering tiger’s eye tucked safely in my left, front pocket. Oh, it had been there a year, eight, decades before. It had watched Juan go tumbling off over the bump on my second-hand bicycle flying with his hands spread out about to crash over the low wall into the garden below. It had cooked his hot spicy, Harlem beans for years without him, it appears. And where had the north star of Tunisia gotten us? The lost Arab Spring. The army of tanks stopped by a single man in Beijing. The stem of a white daisy stuck in the long thin barrel of a gun by a peaceful young woman. The glass marbles of the past, these have all rolled away, been swept away by a blind, invisible hand. The coarse, spent, gritty thing called democracy in America was rooted out of the world the way pigs’ snouts dig through the easy dirt looking for a dead man’s finger, a dead man’s hand, and the lost golden ring upon it ingested, too, anything at all there to mounch and mounch and mounch, to eat, to consume, to use up as though the good earth were only their own. Since Bobby died in ’68 it had been gone.
The small things that I had remembered had been the the small things that I had forgotten. Somewhere in the blandishments of my day to day living, the moanings and the excitements, I must have gone straight into the marketplace to pause. People must have have milling about, looking for something new, something fresh. A baby bear fed the stump end of a broken carrot? A double-terminated crystal, clear and colorless, with one of the tips smacked off? A black typewriter ribbon unspooled to line the inside of a talking doll’s universe? All sorts of events, both minor and major ones, had had some effect on my corn husk broom, the dead cats swept off the dirty midnight streets of Tunis, the speeding trains that slowed up just enough to make perfect time on the dot when arriving in Zurich, like a ballerina en pointe. All that I had overlooked, and all that had overlooked me, it was all mentioned in the waters whose rings had disappeared when the pebble I had tossed again and again sank, where the flashing coy fish swam down away to the murk and corners. Were there to have been a difference in the body politic, the grease anointing a king, or a mottled purple gown for another, surely I had raised my head to watch the geese flying overhead, flying south, or flying north, confused by the weather over which way to travel en masse upon the coming of evening during the approaching winter.
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.
Half my life had been spent in the plus-que-parfait. Half in the subjunctive. Nor would I have argued that the two must be mutually exclusive. In one I had groused food, pills, and women. Always at loose ends. Somewhere beside the train tracks in Tornio or Haparanda I’d be smoking. Interviewed, interrogated, chased. It was very tough and very fun. The flip side were to have been more awakened. The one who rose long before dawn, who looked out and saw the blackness of night, and greeted each morning with a line of poetry remembered in the eye. At any rate, if what I were to have had had been an iota different, I can’t imagine ever having made my little cottage this my home. Nothing was parallel. Everything seemed to have been at odds, on a crash course with each other. But who will watch the squirrels building high nests in the empty trees with long threads of blue tarpaulin? And the bean seeds by miracle itself in their dirt garden rows first sprouting then growing to plants in the spring, bearing themselves for us to eat by summer? And the littlest of children who just on their own as high as my knees just out of their minds beginning to talk just on their own? That all these things had been normal, it had made me take a seat back the many days I had spent alone when I had wished I were with a wife, a friend, or a lover. Then, toward the end, when I had stepped into my hot air balloon to sail away, I had known at once as I was peeling towards the thin bluish heavens that anybody who looked up could see I was becoming smaller and smaller and smaller.
I hadn’t been prevented to perform my sacred duties. The cotton candy I spun. The jet craft’s nose screen I polished. Children were happy. Bomber pilots saw clearly. When winning prizes, I tore up tickets. When in the pillory, I grinned the fool. In the middle of the woods, I peeled the bark off fallen birches. And when the fires had close to burnt out overnight, with these snow-white curlings, I began them again. My hut remained warm but lonely. I read almost nothing. A chess clock, a small hour glass with blue sand, and a pair of walkie-talkies from the ‘70s I put by the roadside for others passing by to take. I had remembered, too, passing by Dwarestaat and being by Pieter invited in. He had a thousand antiques for sale which are a thousand times more precious now. And I am sure he is dead. I still had loved the carnivals as much as ever. And I don’t mind working, when I have, performing dangerous feats for the purposes of deadliest destruction. Somewhere in my collection of everything I have lost, I indeed have had, a childhood bag of marbles, a small suede sack with at least half the Indian beads sewn on falling off. To lose even the memory of this was promised when before daylight I had faced the east for hours, and at nighttime when I lay down again, my head had slumbered toward the west.
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I had listened to the waltzes of Chopin. I had listened to the preludes and études. And in all the world seldom had I heard a show off who had so much to show off. Having so much fun, such a little man with such a wild esprit. I could not forget laughing and kicking up dust when we were flâneurs lounging in Szentendre. When you had visited me last night, I was not confounded nor was I surprised to see you again just as young. Nor, I old. You called me your “faithful friend” and made me worry not a moment again. You’ve died a thousand deaths since then long ago, not one death dying a coward, each time falling in my dreams. Last night I lay wide awake and you had simply urged me to carry on. So Satie, Brahms, and B. B. King I’ll play today. These records, LPs, like books, had been piled up on your couch in Tudor City. Thirty years ago, you had reminded me once in New York, both of us leaving a service for the late Joe Turner, that Duke Ellington of Louis Armstrong had said, “He was born poor. He died rich. And he never hurt anybody.” You reminded me of a million million great things, things I never knew, and never would otherwise have ever in my life known, exclaiming with your arms held wide open to the great city streets of our youth love for all this seething humanity.
Garbage trucks had carried garbage, and school buses carried children. If it had been the other way around: if school buses had carried garbage and garbage trucks had carried children, we’d have had a different problem. But, thanks be to the dog of Egypt, they didn’t. They sounded, however, carrying the metal luggage of themselves up the hills, almost exactly the same before sunlight on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday morning. On Wednesday not: there were no garbage trucks running. The companies did not compete. Only buses. Which was strange for my little village. All the crows around there battled for scraps of road meat. Me, I never ate the stuff, didn’t touch any such carnage. The birds about they carried tufts of blue tarp strings to mend and to make their springtime nests. They didn’t care if it was synthetic plastic or organic twine, and neither did I. The lofty squirrels jumping from high tree limbs with their mouths full of last autumn’s leaves built their insulated empires expecting in their simple genes dearth and snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Any job I ever had had was lifting bales of trash from the roadside and heaving them into the back end of a truck, if I ever passed the test, which I did not. Too heavy. I wasn’t strong enough. But the gusto of anonymity, of nobody knowing me, it had appealed to me. As a former A+ student, with a traceable name, and higher degrees, I was not taken seriously enough, and subsequently by the short-arm of the government was fined by the courts 100,000 forints which I naturally refused to pay. In time, after many years, after strewing my trash out in the cobblestones along the curbside, I was ordered to be hanged by the feet until dead, against all reason, logic, and common sense—not on account of that per se, but on my perennial failure to ever have paid my taxes & flouting local ordinances.
There had been tiny, little, baby praying mantises clinging to grass in the swamp. I had watched them. Protected by the government, I learned in life later that it had been a crime to kill them, if I had. I did not. At the shop, the chemicals they had used way back when, did babies ever really eat the paint chips off the window sills? Did this ever happen? Today, there are no toxic emissions at all. Beijing became what Detroit had been in America in the 50’s. People die going to work, die breathing in their own apartments. Rock n Roll died. Buddy Holly died. RFK died. And so did the others. The fen and swamp that became St. Petersburg, too, killed thousands and thousands of Russian peasants. People who used to live just like human beings in medieval times who just expected themselves to be used up like stones and that was it for a human lifetime used to live like that. That’s the way it goes. It would seem to be that that’s just the way life goes sometimes, anyway. The codes I follow from the catalog just for the customers: R6 B14 C42 W13. Then shake it up on the mixer, dab a bit on the lid wet for later, blow it dry with a blow dryer, tap it down. And you’ll be good for the next seven to ten years, ma’am, sir, I tell them. And my thumbs which are turned out and are only good for milking, just like my mother’s, were never used that way for milking for thirty years in the field for that now.
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Little known thieves had stolen all my papers. I saw them yesterday, and the day before that. I hadn’t minded so much, not since Munich, not since Lake Placid. All the tiny photographs of me were gone. They had been used once as bookmarks placed in all the books I read which, too, had been tossed in the thieves’ sacks scurrying up along the goat path on which they had planned their escape, toiling with the most precious of my belongings. To this there wasn’t any merit anyway. These items held no further value to anyone, and to me, they were like stamps fluttering away from a long held collection, whose little, hinged gummed tabs holding them there in places on so many album’s pages had given way to the wind and ages. So had flown my many identities: shoemaker, critic, purveyor of bath soaps, scrupulous lover, Thucydides quoting high-rolling banker, plastic goods recycler, snow drifter, cruise boat crooner, elk hunter, paint peeler, bird seed filler, tin soldier melter, English Channel swimmer, North African sun bather, crossword doodler, morphine addict, coffee grinder, hustling dance boy, seafaring stowaway mapmaker, computer flunky renegade matchmaker, sugar frosted cake maker, blood red bugle blower, forest pine cone bagger, catnip planting gardener. I really didn’t mind this. It was a great relief, as I watched them besmirched with time, pulling the heft over the topmost ridge to the other side where they all but disappeared together into the sudden extinction of longing below the brightening winter clouds.
Here and there I had played some false notes. No Papageno always willing, always wanting. No bird a-flute. I did once fancy myself a minstrel troubadour. The ladies they loved my robust beseechings, and granted me this and that mercy, in the old high way of such things. By and by, I had read the paper its pages draped from the wooden pole, from the finest coffee houses in Vienna, my second home by birth. I was always an outcast somehow, having grown up where I was never born, having returned to where I had neither nascent nor natal memory. Young girls on foot were often mad about me; they seemed to think there was something for them residing in my well-groomed moustaches, now peppered with white. Actually, I hid my worry like a cat tucks a field mouse beneath a piece of claw-footed, overlooked furniture in a great, expansive room. As though I had lived in another century, a former one, I wore my watch on a chain, a fob of hand-linked gold it was. And my manner, always, was decent. Such carnivals had existed in my mind from youth. In Liège once I left my truest who had housed me for a week in her garret where she had crept up the steps nightly for my love and arms. In the sunshine of San Mateo, another. In Olympia, a third. Loves and song and dance co-existed, the canciones I hushed down crossing some domestic borders drunkenly when nobody was looking.