(The truth was he loved everything in parentheses.) Different aspects of life (the multitudinous ways of being) and different walks of being were just the way he was, and the very way he liked to be. If there were manila folders and in each folder a little of something crumpled or crisp were tucked away inside it, and that folder were put together with others like or similar to it in one bin, and other folders and ones like it were put in another, and these bins were placed on a shelf, and on hundreds of half-remembered shelves there were different bins filled with different sets and different stacks of some folders whose edges were crisp and some whose edges were crumpled, well, that was just the way he was. He wasn’t like a banker living in Boston driven by goals and his beautiful wife to create a unified, whole, and wholly integrated on all levels sort of life, a life by which one could hold a mallet and whack a croquet ball down the green field of grass from one end of where the wickets were to another. It didn’t include a buffet tent, and an awning off the side of the house with a fold-up bar on wheels, and guests all of whom were both social and business contacts, and three (3) children to be spaced out eighteen months apiece for a total of his wife’s being pregnant over an entire birthing cycle of forty-five months by the time he reached thirty-eight years of age such that the actuarial of his death between his having reached seventy-five and seventy-eight years of age would arrive upon even the youngest of his progeny’s having become fully established and wholly and safely ensconced in life’s ineluctable reality. No, he liked to flirt with the caddy near the green, even though he didn’t play golf. He liked to schmooze with the big shots watching the Oscars on TV. He liked to have tea in San Francisco with his old roommate’s wife when the harbor seals were dancing somewhere in the waves. He liked to collect sunstones in the dirt of Oregon by himself. He liked to shave his head and shoot 22’s at the local NRA shooting range and smell the smell of gunpowder there stuck in the air. He liked to listen to Janet Baker singing Mahler alone with his grown daughter on his ancient, vacuum tube-amplified music system in a heartbroken shack along the coast of Maine. He liked to engineer a bear-proof, pulley-and-rope apparatus by which he hung his bird-feeder filled with sunflower seeds for the birds (and the few squirrels who had the desire and temerity to reach it) to feed. He liked to walk along the graveyard path with a bright young lady who was at home and listen to her speak of life. He liked to make and lose scads of money at race car events, betting with strangers in the bleachers, getting his teeth filled with brown dust and fuel fumes from the screaming cars going around the track. He liked to write poems that rhymed ABABCDCD…, and throw them into the lit fireplace. He liked to think about making flies for fly-fishing, and that’s all. Having what others would call a ‘big life’—a full, entirely visible life under the gaze of some all-perceiving, or all-perceived totality of completeness—well, that never held an iota of appeal or any desire to even the tiniest and very best parts of him. (He was, he had to admit to himself, sotto voce, filled with a deep, reverent loneliness, that even the distant ocean could hear.)
Already, my wood stove is burning. I stacked the cords myself. I fear six cords of wood may not be enough. Winter is long and full of deep snow. I had once had another pair of hands to help me. But they are gone. That was a time I do not regret, and have not seen that in a while, a life like that when the tandem knocking of each piece of wood laid against the growing long stack our wordless work kept the coldness of winter out. And I get on, je me débrouille, because I now must. That is the way with things, with spiders nested in the corners of bathroom shower stalls, soldiers stationed on a foreign front, or men and women somewhere listening to an easy-going book as they commute back and forth between their city office buildings and glass-lit evening houses lit up and down the streets. In any case, I’m not sure there’s enough wood to sustain me before the tubers in the ground have all grown (or rotted). I had better scour the deadfall with my saw and ax soon. The meager fronds of the ferns are already yellowing. The bears are circling wider and wider in these searching final days before they disappear until May. Cries of geese overhead, these are common. How with my jolly heart and glad-eyed ways I became myself here to be living at the foothills of the Rockies, it is no mystery to tell at all. It is only to be remarked upon, I think, that unexpectedly I made myself saddened by all the passing of everything that I had known and all there was standing once before such great purple majesty.
I had nothing left to rely on. A bunch of dog-eared Bob Dylan albums. A decent snow shovel to clear the driveway when winter. Sunblock in the summer. Darkness and full moons came and went as they came and went. The attachments I had had passed through like spider webs in an unseen doorway I never knew I was passing through were stuck to my face and swept away by hand by instinct. The coffee beans I had were ground up and poured into a pot that, steeping, awaited me and a friend I had neglected. Maybe it was possible maybe not. Scatterings of almost forgotten dreams. Remembrances of names and places. A locust shell on a tree trunk as a boy pulling it off, unstuck. A handful of soft coins tossed forever into the Danube. A chicken wire fence put up in ignorance (and innocence) to keep out the animals. A girl he talked to all night instead of conjugating his verbs in Arabic that must have given birth several times by now. The feathering of an oar. The swarming mosquitoes of Nakita. The power out. Just a picture now in his mind of Osip Mandelstam in a shack with his wife for a picture of this.
As a boy, just under the age of seventeen, he had been told many times, as many are, to clean up his bedroom. And it was upon such an occasion as this when his father—an actual scientist living out the days and years of his washed out scientific career in the backrooms of corporate Siberia—had poked his nose into the boy’s bedroom and received from his son this response: “It’s just following the natural law of the Universe of maximum entropy, minimal enthalpy.” Indeed, it was a mess, and the energy level was next to zero.
This hadn’t been the first time he’d stuck it like that to the old man. They’d had a family policy that if a movie was coming out that had a book to it, you had to read the book first before you saw the movie. That was the way it worked in this family. And when the horror movie Carrie came out, his father had slapped it down. After all, movies like that were trash, wastes of time. But to the kid’s surprise, he learned soon afterwards that this movie was based on a book. So, he bought the Stephen King novel and read it. Afterwards, as he had read the book first, he insisted he be granted permission to now see the movie of this poor girl who, drenched in a bucket of pig’s blood, seeks her revenge.
Yes, and once, having dissected a frog in Biology, he had brought the picked over skeleton of it back home. Having seen a gruesomely comic black-and-white zombie movie on TV once called Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, the boy had been struck by a comically gruesome idea which he did not pass by the usual channel of paternal approval. In this movie, a bunch of teenagers half-jokingly conjure up (to their eventual dread and horror) the dead in a graveyard. The first to rise from his shallow grave is a corpse named Orville. He becomes the eventual ring-leader of a ragtag bunch of zombies who kill and zombify everybody before crossing over the water at nighttime on a rickety hand-poled ferry to the mainland. And the boy, at fifteen years old, buried his dead frog beside the front stoop of his house, beneath a piece of slate for a gravestone on which he had chalked in the words, “Orville, R.I.P.,” where it greeted everyone for a good ten or fifteen more years.