A Birthday Prayer

frozen gap

Winter is coming, and my tires are very thin. Lincoln’s bushy hairline barely clears the tread when I push a penny in. The cloves I planted on Columbus Day, the scapes they might by springtime’s greening be trimmed back, and grown to bulbs of garlic by July. So much is uncertain, while others are too clear: through ignorance, malice, and folly I lost the woman I love.

Through hours of stacking and tarping down, I ought to have enough wood to last me, to be just warm enough. I know for some there are the famed Snows of Kilimanjaro. But for me, I had just as soon be lost in an Irish public house, drinking and muting myself, guilty as a Christmas ghost. What it were to be a little kinder in my past. We, too, had quarreled though it never made time pass. It only made me brutal, recalcitrant, and increasingly deaf.

It made me care more and more about the fistful of coins I had left in my glove-box, and whichever rows I had of withering corn to get me through it. I became rustic against my own good and yours. O, these things, this blank apostrophe, are far from me now, and just like all the light, carefree change I once had tossed into the great River Danube, today’s lost treasure is become a heavy sunken thing to me.

The golden coy fish I have seen a-swimming in the bluestone opening in the hidden woods, to know their muddy bodies are safe there later on throughout the coldest months ahead is no little human comfort. And if I am graced to make it ‘round the snowy corners for the getting of a loaf of bread and chicken, and you are blessed with enough darkened morning peace without me, may it all to have been plenty.

This Graceful Suspension Of The World

keys and lock

He had a secret wife once whose marriage to they nobody told. Even when her family all journeyed on a five-day ocean cruise together to celebrate her maternal grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary, the husband in name, he stayed at home. That’s how secret she was. Once, another time, she had returned from taking exams upstate. And the exam she took was computerized (not on paper), and while she took it, it learned her learning rate. It gave her very quickly, she told him afterwards, more and more difficult problems to solve, and each ‘one more’ difficult problem submitted on the screen to her, she got right. The testing program recalculated itself, and, with the secret wife’s having rapidly solved correctly such difficult problems as which the program could ever propose, it released her from the testing grounds in twenty minutes with an “800”—a perfect score. Almost ninety minutes had been shaved off her testing time, her sitting time, her being there. That’s how time and testing and the algorithms had worked.

The spatial reasoning his brilliant secret wife could perform with ease at astronomical rates of speed is not the way, in general, anything else works in life. The massive hero Ajax, for instance, that great, lumbering Greek warrior, battles and battles everyday, fighting off the Trojans. And before he rejoins the battle, Achilles sulks in his tent for months, unable to convince Agamemnon to give him back Briseis, his war booty, in all that time. And who can really tell how long, how many decades and years of accident and misfortune, how much lasting grief it will take and all the many dead there will be when spacecraft really do fly and land to colonize the desiccated, lifeless planet Mars.

Today an argument could verily be made that the man who’d had that secret wife long ago, far away, is one day close to his death. His wits are down. His love forsakes him. His cat is gone. His cupboard in nearly bare. His pile of winter wood is wet. For him, all the world’s diseases and sicknesses and misfortunes have fled buzzing like flies into the air. The only saving grace the world has ever known, however, is not “hope”—that miscreant’s negative creed of dissatisfaction, of being against the way reality actually is—but “anticipation”—which, though syllabically awkward, is the better translation of the Greek word “elpis,” of what actually remained in Pandora’s opened picnic basket. It means to simply wait for, and to be able to wait for, the next thing to come. And that, the love-broken man knew, trembling in fear asleep and living in a perfect equation of anxiety awake, by the multitudes of stars which over the span of all eternity shall have opened their eyes at night and closed them during the day, was all there ever was.

Parcheesi Picture Postcard

cactus mountains

She played a game of Parcheesi by a certain set of rules that were her rules but not all of them. And beside the swimming pool, he played with her for years. One day, after he had proposed his taking a little swim, she promptly then decided to fold the board game up. As he had come back dripping and looking for his towel, he was surprised to see their time for playing had been declared over. She wept and told him about the rules he hadn’t played by, and he was loath to say, “My dearest love, but these are not all the rules the game is, in fact, played by.” He could hear that in her mind she was making up her heart. He could see she was creating for herself a Parcheesi picture. He dried himself off completely and refused to disagree. Who was he to decide another’s rules? He was nobody to rule that. And, besides, it would have done no good; it would have neither advanced nor prolonged their poolside game. Still, he was quite disconsolate. Parcheesi, with its little, brightly colored wooden pawns whose tips felt just a little too small for his hands, and the same went for the dice, was certainly his favorite. The sound of luck tumbling in the knocking cardboard shakers was something he would always remember. Swimming laps now back and forth will help forgetfulness.

The Moon Will Break Your Heart

moonpath over water

Everyone loves a sunset. The ribbons of lavender, peach, orange, and purple in the eyes. It could be off the coast of Costa Rica. It could be seen across the Promenade of Brooklyn Heights. It could be remembered caught along a little, pleasant street in Hammam-Lif. It could have been St. Petersberg, Tallinn, Brno, New Delhi, or Kalamazoo. It doesn’t matter where, or from what mountaintop we have seen them. Over chemical wastelands or the most poetic climes of England, sunsets are beautiful. They restore the daylong soul and bring the tiring body a welcome touch of sightful peace. As for the moon, the moon, I’m afraid, is full of heartbreak. Its borrowed rays scatter across the darkened water like frightened fish. The fuller the face the deeper the woe. In the middle of night, like the saddest dream I ever dreamt, I wandered out upon an empty golf course one time to see the shining full moon myself. I was with a lovely young lady who did not love me an inch back. But to have been with her there this once, stranded in the middle of those acres of softly groomed grass, I could only imagine that—were we seen from afar standing so close in the sweet radiant vacancy of Earth by that all-seeing midnight moon herself—she would have exclaimed, “Look! A human treasure to behold!”

Morning Waves Swell Again

morning waves swell

It had been a danger to look at, and read, the words of a lost love so early in the morning. After all, they usually began—mornings—still black so early. Then, at that time, before time even felt counted, the window was as black as night, and even the fog could not be seen, which was often the first thing visible. Ideas and feelings all loose and unformed and inchoate stirred from his bedside, and really only the whisk of his beloved cat’s tail passing his foot was a little reminder of being quite alive. He’d begin there. To hear the yearning and longing and sorrow and even the gratitude of another decent human being, like seeing a bright, starry pinprick in a lightless universe before the universe itself had become awake, before the heavens were stretched open before the coming brightening day, the sudden human influence upon another human being cannot be underrated. It made him miss things he did not want to any longer miss any longer, love what he could not bear himself anymore to love anymore, and to tend to another he had wished in his darkened little world to be loath to tend to again, as he once did love and tend to her before.

Diamond Engagement Ring

diamond ring

When her friends had asked her when she was getting married she told them she wasn’t. Then of course they asked her why she wore an engagement ring if not. The answer to that was a bit more complicated. Her fiancé had not exactly given her the ring. It was very expensive and she wanted the nicest diamond possible. Since the time that he was quitting his job and her wanting this beautiful ring coincided, she had had her to-be fiancé give the ring jeweler 14K in cash. 3K of that was his own money. The rest had been hers. This then put the ring in his possession.

When he gave the diamond engagement ring to her on their vacation, as they had planned, he had just left it on the windowsill beside their bed for her to discover in the early morning sunlight. That was his idea of a romantic idea. But all morning she had overlooked it even though, glistening there, it was obvious it was there. Even when he put his big toe right next to it she wouldn’t acknowledge it or pick it up. She told him eventually that she couldn’t just take it herself off the windowsill; he had to actually give it to her. This made him make his proposal.

Turning Points

darkened room view

Between him and her there weren’t the usual things that derailed people, uncoupled a couple. There weren’t infidelities or nasty, name-calling arguments. There were other issues. There was, foremost, her illness which, like an outbreak of poison ivy, or some skin disease, kept coming back. And no matter what, no matter what she did: yoga, eating well, some exercise, meditation, weekend spiritual retreats—her need for support from him, through recurring morning bouts of tears, or frightful attacks of utter panic, did not abate. And there was his own need for secrecy, privacy. His walled off world of emotions and ideas, why, these he had stopped sharing with her some time ago. Some time, ago, yes: for both of them. At one point, he recalled, later on, that one day he had brought home a blue-glazed Moroccan dish, a beautiful object just for her to hang upon the kitchen wall. As he unwrapped the newspaper around it and lay it at her place at the dinner table, she barely noticed, barely acknowledged it. That was a turning point.

Maybe two years later, he came home and she was lying in the backyard grass half-drunk listening to something, music or some spiritual recording, on her phone and earbuds. She hadn’t noticed him pulling in. They went out, as she had planned, and she told him about the time the block of cheese being grated was dropped onto her plate by the waiter when she had been to this restaurant before, some other time. Yes, it was an earnest but misguided effort on her part to appear perky and lively for him, though he witnessed that evening that she could well have been with anybody else. That was another turning point.

He did not, for his part, ever mention to her that prior the end, while they had gone on a weekend vacation together, that he had seen a woman—middle-aged and light on her feet—jogging on a dirt road near their hotel. She had, having finished her jog, reached into a weathered tin mailbox, smiled, and even said to him a simple, friendly ‘hello’. That unknown woman and her address from the mailbox he had kept in his mind for two years now and had wanted to write her a letter declaring how lovely and alive and fresh and especially kind she had appeared. But nobody really ever does such things. Only mad people. Wrong people. Disturbed people who do inappropriate things. So, he didn’t.

Little Orange Coffee Cup

orange coffee cup

She had wished him to find her a little nearby cottage in the woods. And she would send him a note with a little picture of this one and that one every now and then. And she trusted his judgment, and she trusted the people that he knew. For, after all, he had been a woodsman these many years already, and if he did not know it himself, he would certainly ask someone else who did. In this, she knew he would never fail her. She had never supposed, ever since they had long ago drifted apart—she in the city and he in the country—that they would ever again be together. Quite certainly not! In that regard, the cottages she sought were cottages for one person alone. And in this regard, too, so had his always been. She fancied that should he find her one, that, by her invitation, he would come to her table every now and then. And, too, that when a thing or two went wrong with her little cottage in the woods, that she could call on him. And in this, she would not have been entirely mistaken. But they were in touch with each other so very little that she could not possibly have known he was already looking quite faraway seaward, away from the woods themselves, where he would find himself someday a little cottage overlooking the rocks and waves crashing there.

Giving Up On Your Favorite Color

family

Having almost completely displaced the world now, we can look at it, almost like a discarded object at a yard sale for others perhaps to buy. It is like, as a past lover had sealed within an envelope for me to open later in Berlin, enfolded about a piece of her own dental floss, a handwritten note that read, “Like me, a little bit used, though still good!” She had wished me safe return. But the willingness we have to spill the most intimate, the most personal details of ourselves, like a solitary sailor, who spends the facts of his life like small change on strangers, his coins scattered on a bartop, is nevertheless alarming, or, at any rate, to note. For who can remember anymore stubbing her toe on the raised, wooden planks of Fire Island? And who can recall the sweetness of seeing the purple majesty of the Rocky Mountains jutting up immensely and suddenly on that flat road? Before even having felt really a thing at all, before having tasted salty or sour on one’s tongue, before having divided the difference between what is bitter and what is acrid, the possibility of these human moments is automatically transferred elsewhere. Really, little more than the joyful tap of ‘the ability to send this’ is experienced right now.

Perhaps an old, leftover expression itself such as ‘like a hot potato’—which stands for ‘the thing’ to be gotten rid of—does remain. But the chairs, the music, the people? All that delicious randomness, fun, and chaos? Everything that goes with, that went with, the hot potato . . . Gone. They are gone. Fled, like the gods fled to the woods, long ago, according to some. To dwell ever alone in grief? Gone. To live even a lost cotton candy moment by oneself in carnival bliss? Gone. To immerse oneself and to be burned alive in a Blakean fiery pit of anger? To feel these all too human things, things that are ours. They have very nearly, like a mathematical formula underlying it all, become objectified—either in the digitally silenced words we transmit on the fly, or the 2.4 MB pictographic scans of our next or more recent flat tire by the roadside, that tiny deflated cry that does not say, “Help me!” even, but: “Look at me in this position of distress!” Even the exclamation point itself has become just another way to announce the multitude of our many assertions, rather than as a human marker marking our plaintive, lonely cry for succor and much needed assistance, when truly or sorely needed.

Along with our distresses, our glories we have tossed into convenient, easy-to-predict categories to be ‘consumed’ by those we do not know, (and those we do!) We have created, too, the illusion of stumbled-upon, scattered breadcrumbs—digital clues—whose organization is actually very carefully organized and thought out. What had been important once—to feel the bee sting—that is become obsolete, if not soon to be unknown altogether. That unknown moment of terror, that moment of pain, that frightening lasting instance of running into the kitchen to have one’s mother pat down the stinger’s reddening inflamed spot with a poultice of her own homemade wet baking soda, and thus to feel soon better, and thus to be relieved, saved by her, this belonged to another world. I am not arguing that this is a ‘bad’ thing. I am only observing that the ‘human element’ has become nearly irrelevant, and that we have become the almost perfect, inhuman observers of the skies, heavens, and ourselves on this little blue marble, like players at a casino who play the exquisite game well, even perfectly, without caring about winning or losing.

The American Landscape

slide

There is something to say about a photograph that can be lost. For if it can be lost, it can also be found. And those who know about negatives, know, too, that these negatives are generally scattered here and there. These are about as good as gone, though, as a last resort—a very last resort, they were sometimes resorted to. One would hope, shifting packets, sifting through the pile of debris, to find reddish-tinted strips of plastic, or the gray-and-black and clear-to-clearish ones, to find the missing picture—or, rather, the negative from which the picture was special ordered-up, or just peered at in its tiny rectangle and, through the light it was held up to, remembered. But today, with today’s “cameras,” which are really not cameras at all (they are merely scanning machines), there is never any real sense of finding and losing anything. Yes, there can be locating (and re-locating), as well as mis-filing a ‘picture’, but without anything to be held in the hands, there is really nothing to behold. And so, too, does it go with the passing loves of our lives that have passed by the “lens” of our DSLR-cameras. At best they reside in some skeuomorphic folder on our skeuomorphic desktop; at worst, they are deleted. Nothing. But a picture, a paper picture! One that was taken with a 35mm camera! One does not have to have the face or the body or the smile or the smell or the garnet necklace given to our loves in these real pictures to feel them body & soul, to feel a lifetime later the loves that we have all forsaken and blown and destroyed. All of them. In piles and stacks in shoeboxes in cartons in plastic bins we keep them. We keep them all. And some, though they are there (they must be!) we can never find again. In the multitudinous past, they elude us all of our lives. Still: there is something gorgeous about these post-card romances even if immediately afterwards, in the break-up, one had had an unaffected scorn for them all.