To us there is a difference between the fallen and the brave. We may sort out the backs of the dead. We may separate the coats, gray from blue. Time and borders and affiliations sift about and spill over as they do and must. This is all seen in red and white, too. I had, picking strawberries, hunted about the overgrowing vetch which had blown over from afar, from another farmer’s field last season, for something succulent and sweet to eat. So it seems. So it was. So it had been. And even down the low narrow line in the forest, I had witnessed the doe in the mist, her head lowered while the world itself was framed by constant death. The butternut tree had fallen, and the beetles had undone to rough yellow the bark of the standing ash. While for some, all human records of these are deemed memento mori, I had not been able to agree. Not from my standpoint, not from the toss of space where I had landed. For me, all had been some visions of life. Chaff and wheat. Fool and sage. Villain and hero. And so on. The usual dualities never applied. Never were. Never had been. There were just gradual mixtures of dusts in the heavens, in earth, and somewhere in the seas, too.
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.
While I could not remember who exactly—Anaxagoras, Democritus, Plato, or Aristotle–somebody had claimed that for all things that come into being, there is decay. And me, I had for most of my life, for the eternity of it, held this precept as close to my chest as Roy Batty holds a white dove to his own. For that is not all. No, there are moments of decay’s beautiful impermanence to behold. Seeing the child looking at the sand pouring from between the small fingers of the child’s even smaller hands. The paws of raccoons having left their marks behind the overturned garbage cans in the mud. The smiles on photographs of unknown relatives before they are burnt up behind the closed metal doors of the woodstove forever. The sweetness of the smell of blackberries in a large, glass bowl just picked. The ubiquitous rattling of a brood of cicadas portending my death if not in the next seventeen years, then in the next seventeen years after that. And after summer rainstorms, too, the forest is spotted here and there with the wildest growth of things—mushrooms and fungi of different colors, different shapes. They stand so briefly whose spores will fall out in a day or two like red rubies tumbled from a fallen crown. While alive they have an animation that defies the natural order of things, as if to say they alone have the privilege and the momentary pride to halt time itself, for just as long as they are able to support themselves, and no more.
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.
It really had not been that difficult to forget, so difficult. It really wasn’t. If, when reading the newspaper or paying attention to a plane crash elsewhere, or some presidential wrangling, oh, then it was. Then it was impossible. Then it was like being not much different from a brightly colored gumball, a red or yellow or green or blue or white or purple ball being carried along on a conveyor belt. It was like that, then. Being part of the scrabble and the rabble of the news and the news industry and all the industry’s sundry entailments.
However, had I just wandered off, just a little bit, just off the double-yellow painted road stripes which had insisted no passing everywhere, for as long as they ran, then, when I did, once I had, the world was completely, the world was wholly different. Really, so much of the world is silent, quite silent. And in this silence there really are the velvet points of growing antlers to be shed and shed again, brown leaves from last autumn, and orange mushrooms decaying after rainfall.
All the beauties of the lake had passed me by. The mothers with their children. The strong men with their lovers. I had had an incandescent longing once, but that had been time ago. Time ago it was, and it was not, my laces, too, had been tight. The thickest ice where skaters skate belied the little fire that I had built along the shore. And from my little hut where I would retreat, once the sun had vanished, I could still watch my dwindling fire burning out there. From the high Indian village of Mt. Hope, you could see the leftover trash in the Canada woods: the old, blue frayed tarps, the unneeded shoes, even discarded diapers. To me it had been a mess; to them it had been no longer needed. There had been no nostalgia for that, and no heartfelt feeling for any place except where our fingertips had once ago been raised to the middle of the chest. No place else, anywhere but here, would be ever called home. That word itself had become in me, like kindling, sail boat, or float, some kind of shibboleth, some kind of awkward curse. To know, besides the flotsam of these, that there is no yesterday pinching up against tomorrow, nothing really language can do anymore, is a sudden and calm thing. What I had ever known was fine, and what I had not akin to another season of falling leaves that had seemed even yellower than another. It may not have been true, but my recurrence of memory had made it that way. All the recurring beauties of time had passed me now, and I was glad enough not to frighten anybody anymore with my questions. Nobody went near the dirty and straw-filled mounds where beavers had built up their dwellings for fear of falling in water, where indeed winter’s ice had been thin. Had somebody ever had the temerity, or the pluck, to have come over and sat beside my warmed boots, I would have discussed the Old Flemish master. ‘Like skaters have been painted,’ I would have said, ‘upon a frozen ocean.’
Everything that I had done they said was bunched to the middle. When I played softball, it was bunched to the middle. When I gardened turnips, flowers, and cucumbers, it was bunched to the middle. I was never too much to the left or was too much to the right. If you wanted an opinion, people would go to the middle to see, and I’d give the word on that. In between a carnival and a circus what was the answer? For me it was never so hard. Anybody could see the differences between things, between war and peace, and between love and hate, but where did that get anything? If I’d have had a stopover flight into LAX, I’d go to the beach for an hour just to watch the trick kites diving and swerving down to the sand, close to the water. If there was a better charm, or a better bracelet to be had, it was nothing to mind to me. There were just as many of both worse. Of course I had my own opinions of things, but these got lost along the way like so many acorns by squirrels just get forgotten in the ground where they probably belong. What came out of me wasn’t necessarily that wise, and it just wasn’t so smart, no more so than I was, or could claim to be either. It was just less. I just wasn’t like two radio sportscasters filling up time on the airwaves, which is a sort of genius that they have pitch after pitch, strike after strike, foul after foul, hit after hit, game after game. What got left to say was about the cluster over dry milkweed stalks the butterflies going to Mexico must have missed by the roadside. Or if you had the Indianapolis 500 that that meant going around the track at 250 mph for two hours without accidents. Or only people watching them turn clownfish into something that’s funny. It’s actually the middle 2/3 of the pile of sand that makes the mountain. And all the crazies and tough lucks are like the grains brushed away the farther you go to the ends. I know that some people had considered me an Atlas, and some people just behind my back would have called me a donkey. There might have been a cart, a load of apples, and an apple vendor. He’d cry out all day, “Apples! Apples for sale!” And he’d sell enough to live. Some would get swiped by hooligans. And some would fall away while he rolled it down the cobblestones. And some were just rotten. Most of them that got sold will be good enough, and eaten by all the people who bought them.
Few things had given me pleasure more pleasurable than to watch all my mercies and all my crimes be in passing or be plowed away. The singularity of my pettiness, the careful slip-off tools of my trade, amused me as much as were I had been both Sultan and Scheherazade. I had been pleased with myself to no end, stashing my gear in a hole so deep and so forlorn I might myself someday be loath to pull it out into our diurnal world ever again. And between the careful stirring of pure black oil sunflower seeds with another mixed sack of wild feed by hand, blending them together in a five gallon bucket for the hungering winter birds, in addition to my woolen apparel befitting the country habits of a simple but comfortable squire, I was as inculpable to all eyes as the blighted Mexican nobleman Archibaldo de la Cruz. Even the thought of sirens at my drive had not increased my resting pulse more than one or at most two beats. No, it had been a great beauty born to watch my footprints become erased by both nature and machine which had otherwise provided the absolute clues to my perfidy, chronic and perennial, those now forever vanished snowy boot marks leading thither and back. The kind hammer’s tapping in of an elderly lady’s postal number having fallen off its little roadside plaque across the way from my home during the past springtime, with a hardware purchase from a package of shining brass escutcheon pins, needing only three, not counting the one I had dropped and lost on the ground, it was the perfect cover, and an exercise in patience, a plotting of neighborly character that had already gone back three years’ time. And galloping lunatic downhill through the white soft woodland powder, I imagined all sorts of terrible things that were to have become my life had the faraway sirens I had overheard in the village’s distance become nearer and nearer. Most anarchists worth their salt are the true aristocrats of the great Earth; I am no exception to this rule. We love to create inexplicable chaos against authorities that would, like a pack of well-trained dogs, hem us in, if caught; and truly love the untouched bounty of the land which nature freely bestows upon us all—all women & men, all lovers & ex-lovers, and all erring children who wander on their own, as is their birthright. At length, my own true protection, my own safeguard against eventual capture, more than my vast caution, had been my steady recollection that beneath my own well-kept fingernails was just ordinary dirt.
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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