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.
We were festooned with leis. We were draped in scarves of many colors. We were seated on blankets, on hand-sewn kanthas, on silver-stitched carpets, on birch bark peelings wide enough for lovers, on just plain green grass. We had had our peace pipes and panpipes ready to smoke, and ready to play. We had had our minds all set to hear sacred and holy things. We had all gathered in the open field together to hear the great man speak. And just beyond our lowered heads, a little ways just across the right outfield of the town’s baseball diamond, just over that, just beyond the rusted iron fence, the just smiling Dalai Lama stretched out his robed arm and pointed to the ancient graveyard. “The final destination!” His Holiness said, before he had said a word.
It had been millennia, some said, since there was a blessing worth a shaker of salt. So much had gone by already, what news of yesterday were it not to have been repeated again today in some other, newer vessel. Having watched by the while upon the outposts of the swamp, I kept my steadfast sights on a future that I knew. Where St. Petersburg would once be built. Where the Uffizi would one day be. Where phalanxes of soldiers would march. Where Cato proclaimed again and again his injunction against poor Carthage. I had heard it every time. Where Dresden would be bombed, around 135,000 dead or so (and a half a page in moldered history books). Where Little Boy and Fat Man were and had been. What were Nevada and what were The Housatonic. I watched John Rolfe take his sacred vows and once Pocahontas she, too, was then dispatched, he was soon taken up with a third wife. All this and more, the villainies of Cabeza de Vaca, and many more just like him, all this I have watched go by like fallen sands blown upon the desert. Ave Maria. Urbi et Orbi. Requiescat in Pace. Shantih. Shantih. Shantih.
The weed that was supposed to have been smoked ages ago, like two years, was still probably hanging around in the rosewood armoire somewhere. Back awhile, Shep had had somebody to smoke it with, but not any longer. There was one he would, and she’d just basically feel a hypersensitive physical acuity to all things involving the sense of touch that made her laugh. She’d get high and do repetitive motions with little sense of, it seemed, how many times she had already circled like a slow motion boxer her two fists in slo-mo replay mode. The stuff was lying around, unused, untouched, and he lit up. No, it’s not a passage to a higher realm of consciousness; it’s not acid. It was a verbal cerebral thing with him, depending, too, on what brand you had in your pipe.
They do all sorts of different things. But mainly it made him think in words which he would, if it were possible, write down. Or even audio record it, he’d done that, too. Now he was thinking about some girl he’d known a few crazy nights who’d had all these abstract esoteric ideas that he could actually go along with, but when she got to her Jesus stuff, he just as soon crossed his legs. The self-amusement of his loneliness made him think of her anyway. These were old shenanigans. They were all just old performances in old theaters he’d just be pretty much be going though the motions of, if he had. Worn out plays. They didn’t have the oomph. It’s just better to get just a bit mellow, scoop out a handful of Hägaan-Daz scoops of chocolate ice cream into a pretty-looking, red-checkered bowl from France, and lie back to watch a movie like Lawrence of Arabia which he’d just found out the day before became available to stream.
The man I knew was the man who tied himself to a tree. The other man I knew was the man who tied himself against a post. The first man had cried to all the heavens for his many crimes. They were crimes against the State, crimes against the people of the State, and crimes against the gods of the State. For these he put himself to death. As for the other man, he cried a cry against concupiscence, beauty, and the love of women alike. He wailed night and day; so bad was this, he had plugged up his own ears with wax lest he go entirely mad with his painful ecstasy. Later still, the very people the first man was claimed to have committed his crimes against, they had raised a statue of him lasting close to three thousand years, during which time they themselves committed all the same crimes for which he had punished himself, for no apparent reason among them all for having committed them. Why they committed them, no one could easily say. Some said it was for greed. Some said it was for pleasure. Some said it was for bodily desires. The second man became a legend of fortitude, cunning, perseverance, and strength. Indeed, when he returned to his tiny home near the shore, he was spat upon by his own true wife due to his dog-faced disguise. As for the first, his merciless end seems only to have obviated everlasting punishment, an infliction upon the venal soul of Mankind, so much of whose strange solace seems to be casting all hope into a steaming bucket of tar.
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.