I’d had been on the whole right pleased to see the whole shebang gone down like an old steamship sunk in the Mississippi. Why, with all the screaming and all the hollering and all the old sexpots of Egypt doing what they all had been doing, it was the devil’s due. If old Ben Franklin, he’d had had his way like he wanted it, it wouldn’t be any useless eagle taking up more than a hundred acres of good fertile land to be the bird of the country, but the other one. And that ingenious Jefferson himself who wanted the folks to talk in Greek, though it’d be hard to believe he’d have wanted that for his roughly three hundred and fifty or something slaves he kept downstairs working in the kitchen, while he wined the folks visiting upstairs quoting Cervantes. Anyhow, more than two hundred and forty years later with all that nonsense of the two or three royal families of America turning the Lazy Susan by themselves now, without any help besides a few hundred millions of dollars on either side pushing in first the one, and then pushing in the other, trading off being in charge of the supper table, now four years this king, now four years that queen, and so on again, the system couldn’t have been made any smoother than butter left out in the summer sun an hour in July. And now all those November folks lined up like stiff ants crossing the river to die for themselves like it all mattered to them. But it wasn’t any different either when Diomedes eventually lost his sword and shield, and all excellence was cast away like a dead body in the river nobody, neither party, could then claim as their own anymore.
The idea of making false statement had never been new to me. I had, long ago in the past, made false statements aplenty. I had lied to counsel about the serfs I had beaten, I had lied to my children about their mother’s indelicacies, I had lied to the pontiff about my faith. Such were the customs, and such were the times. Such time and such customs had relied upon those lying to lie as an expected matter of due and common course. If teleology had demanded it, I could do no better, and indeed, did not. Later on, in the face of justices, judges, juries, in the common court of daily posts, such ways of being, such presentations of self in everyday life were deemed anathema if not wholly illegal. Subjects were placed in psychological prisons, pensions were revoked, and all but the deafest sycophants became deserters. In this fallen time, in which most of us living north of the Earth’s equator presently live, there is an impetus—however—to eke away somewhere, somewhere else, where one can exist and rejoice in being less than half of nothing. To that end, I had tied both of my laces, fastening tightly beneath their crisscrossing the two tongues of my leather boots and headed alone thither.
Most of my colleagues had urged me on. They had had belief in me. Others who knew me intimately had sometimes said, upon parting, “You’re a great person, but I felt I was deceived.” That was a silly thing to have said, since I myself could not have known. The great Titanic sank. Machu Picchu is an empty ruin. The Twin Towers have fallen. Busily builders build, climbers climb, workers work, farmers farm. Canoe. Kayak. Row. A, B, C. Alpha, beta, gamma. Blessed by the great guru, I had become at peace with myself. For a minute if not for a day. My spirit I would cast across the lake as rose petals had blown in the wind. My sparkle is eternal, my shine radiant, my mother home.
After all, what had there been left to say. People say things, tell stories, construe narratives where there is just blunder, accident, mishaps, and old fingers of the past reaching in the honey-pot. So maybe Alexander the Great caught himself on a nail. Or the Buddha sipped a sour bowl of soup. Was Kant run over by an ox cart? And Barthes a laundry truck? Most people pick up exactly where they left off. It’s not even a story, or worthy of one. Just another moving truck full of moving in, and a different body to lie beside, and get off on. Same game. No pause. No direction. No home. No essence. No ground. No space. Same old being beaten against the same old rubber doorstep. The same moment stretched out like a huge wad of greenish-red taffy between the four arms of two people stretching it out and getting all tangled up in it. They could be planted roses. They could be gold teeth. They could be torn Lotto tickets unclaimed. They called it sweet. And was it? It was not. They said it tasted good. And it did not. They had seen some image, some nostalgic contract with childhood they had wished had not been broken, had wished had been true. All the colors they dreamed! They hadn’t even known what red, yellow, and blue were.
I can’t have said who the people were, who they had been. They had separated themselves, distinguished themselves, naming themselves that before all others and all other things. There had been traces, remnants or remains—it can be hard, difficult, sorting out broken pieces of stones, shards, the rubble of earthenware—just as sometimes war and nature precede the overlapping moments when the future’s eye turns backwards upon the sands of Egypt, and so on. Walls that seemed to have been forever were in fact only erected a short time ago, not even two hundred years. A hundred fifty, perhaps. And before that, who knows! Who knows what plains, and deserts, and oceans had been before all this.
There had been some world, long before language. Twelve thousand years. Sixty-eight thousand years. 2.5 million years. All these funny numbers! As if mapping out all human history (and all human pre-history) would make some difference. Instead: when the driving rains come, the black carpenter ants will seek high ground, scurrying and hunting for refuge anywhere they can perhaps find it in your house. And when the driving rains have stopped, the same ants will, too, recede as though they had never been, and find the low ground again somewhere outdoors. All this, like child’s play upon the shoreline of a beach, the wet holes dug in sandbars, cities on the lower cusp of Africa, as well as the tiny village of Kirkenes at the tip of the upmost world, will be washed away and filled in. What the people had known was this, and all their days was a sort of profound and elemental mourning, in full scope, in full knowledge of what had been, who had borne their own witness of it all like eyes within the bubble of a growing but rather thin-skinned universe.
The land itself was some kind of autochthonous lie, treasure of history going back one generation beyond the next. Those who had kept it, worked it, those who had lived on, who had scratched out thin crops from it, these people they were all gone. All of them were dis-remembered. And I had been there once myself, having sorted out the soups, the guarapo, the mountain a-fire. And there in the lagoon I had sunk my own money, harbinger of dreams, troubler of domestic discord, all mixed up in the boondoggled memory of sentimental if not sanctimonious notions of thatch-roofed futurity. For those dozens of years the coy fish swam and had swum, none inscribed nor encumbered by felonious intent. In the wintertime they must have sunk, they sank below the water, mixed and mixing with debris and mud, to live again, offspring of the next season of seasons thereafter. The rocks and trapped rainwater, these might have held onto life like angels must have held their breaths, such as passersby passing by are who may be about to put their own fingerprints on the blank mist, the clouds hanging low, the empty standing air.
The hands that had made the world are long gone. Whatever temples, and ruins of these, and fields long past fallow, these all remain somewhere. Even a simple walk is a reminder of memories that are no more. They are gone, they have fled, like childhood fairies weeping in the forest elsewhere unseen. All this has fled. Small reminders, they are here and they are there. Some wear the placards of nostalgia, and some—like candy necklaces on an elastic thread pulled on by wet sandy teeth near the food stand at the beach—are almost sentimental. Others wear signs for tourists, the lost folk of the planet hoping—with too much grease, salt, and time on their hands—that a real piece of kitchen baked pie can be bought and taken back home with them. Most of the relics that have anything left worth remarking on are completely nameless, outside of the scope of much of human history. Here and there a spent farmer’s hand must be detected, even as the forests have grown over the fields, and his family has completely dissipated itself by now between most of New England and the northern coast of California where the bright anemones are waving their colors in the clear shallow water among the rocks.
One hour I had worked in the dirt. And one hour I had worked in the sun. One more in the rain. And the hour that I had liked most was filled with filth and mud. In that were stones, roots, and glass bottles tossed by careless men meandering down drunkenly the backside of the sinuous mountain road away from the police and human desires. And each of these bottles, smashed and whole, I tossed gently into a glass heap. For decades since, the rain had washed the dirt, and the bottles’ broken colors had shone. Now that I had become old, about to die, I had recalled my venal life, uncorrupted by most things most were corrupted by. For me, it was never women, and it was never gold. But the glint of glass, old roadside bottles broken to pieces, all these jewels, all this rubbish had become my Aqaba, my final shipwreck, my Pyrrhic victory against fortune and time.
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.
My reasons had been plentiful. If these had been any more than they were, I would have been lost among the reds of all the red poppies. I would have been more wings upon the backs of flying monkeys. The ubi sunt nomenclature of my clattering days would have been spent or ignored like bales of rolled hay along the countryside in autumn. And all that, like my namesake and my Latin verse, would have gone unanswered. So I may have been left darning my socks and time. I may have gone to seed and shower. I may, too, have as little sense left to my time as peas to the edge of a knife are falling, falling down. And all my frailties, beyond the wool-spinners of Sulpicia and maidens of Sappho are no less than unforthcoming. It had not been a reason to have been wroth. It had not been a destiny to go to the Aegean any more than to have traveled to New Alaska. And had I ever been asked, had I ever been put to, I would have answered quite the same, dressed in my gunny sack: snap snap snap. Like so, had I been pining by the fieldstone. Like so, had I been awaiting the brim-rock rains atop the bluestone quarry. Verily, I had known just as well that what had never been arrived before my mountaintop gaze had also never, like the barn swallow’s tail beneath its muddied nest below the wooden beams, departed.