Half the stuff that I had had had been obliterated. And in order even to see it I had had to put the CD-R into the pop-out side-drive on a machine that had been my own daughter’s from 1999. My thought had been to copy over the back-up folder that had held everything, a folder called “Bane,” which had been at one time the name of an old machine, and then destroy both. But that did not work. Even going folder by folder, copying one folder at a time one folder at a time, did not work. Files got mangled, and I got curious along the way about what had happened to the pictures. I had had to suppose that in a fit of smooth drunkenness I had either a) deleted the whole self-incriminating lot, or, b) stored it in a place so secretly secretive that eighteen or nineteen years after the beginning of the recording and accumulation of these facts, the information was just as good as gone without a trace. The apparent neutrality of this present account notwithstanding, however, belied the uncertain corruption of the words and images that had been, for all intents and purposes, believed to have been destroyed. Like the small bit of pain when biting down on a bagel in the back in between back teeth that promises some sort of eventual root canal in the rotting nerve end’s ineluctable dying history, I had had to face the prospect of biographers pulling out the thousands and thousands of loose digital ends, prying loose the files, searching through extensions, making multiple attempts to pry out rotted bits of biographical gold that would further complicate and baffle any coherent understanding of my otherwise muted character; or, I had had to have destroyed the nearly one dozen machines in my possession already themselves. Though I had been once told by a friend decades ago that even then I had overestimated the ripples of my importance, the willful destruction of as much of my one-time presence on Earth by all means necessary, by anything I could dream up at night, more than anything else, this sort of human self-cleaning had become for twenty years already my lifework. There had been only so much attachment to grief and horror, misery and disappointment, misdirection and recklessness, amidst a vast sea of accomplishment and generally regarded renown, that I had been able to take. In lieu of this, I had opted to turn back to what had become, in retrospect, some of the oldest public technologies, and had had to use these against themselves to erase, step by step, everything as successfully as they had made it possible.
Nobody had seen my raincoat. And nobody had seen my gloves. My adze was missing as well. All the accoutrements of living were long gone. In between the bramble bush of tomorrow I had strolled and wept. I remembered the northeast climate I had had. What was that? A curling vein of smoke from a faraway chimney pipe? A loose cannon of confederate recollection came back to my graveyard destined bone bits. A melancholy after-mint of a weekend once spent sailing upon a glass-smooth lake in Switzerland, landlocked and suffocating. The instrument panel of my once crashing plane had been a twirling in madness, a sort of mechanical failure of an immeasurable human kind. Nostalgia for the homeland was mixed with lost sentimentality for a pretended bluebird’s song that never quite was. My carnival clown conclusion had been several quotation marks away from some offbeat Hobbesian doom. Somewhere in the offing, at the foot of an invisibly seen rainbow, I had felt in the heels of my feet the looming sortie of a great relief.
My mittens were gone. My books were gone. My memories kept once in a thimble by my bedstead, also gone. All the world was gray, below and above. And everything so gray was luminous. There were hands here and there, arms reaching out, and they were moving game pieces, chess players, making half-knight moves just above the board. They neither had faces nor destinies. I had shaved and nicked myself, and in the mirror was an opposite man who made the same wince with the same wrinkles who had the same tiny red line of blood running down his jaw line who did not feel a thing. He only watched. A man like that had known where fell the mittens in the snow, where went the pages fluttered somewhere, where all that knowledge was spent. He had known the contents of my life now dumped and swirling in time’s ocean perhaps where even I knew everything was shining. Though the paper bag full of paper tickets I had won and which had sat a lifetime upon a shelf was useless at the arcade when I went to the arcade to redeem them for my prize, the paper bag of tickets in this faraway mind had been itself also so perfect.
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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By nightfall, the package I had had was lifted from my fingers. I didn’t mind so much. Nor by the following dawn when I had seen my photographs themselves had been by an interloper forged. Even as the footsteps taken in the snow had been replaced by another’s pair of boots, I felt no threat. Like ribbons in the wind I had let these go, let these drift away and fly. What I minded rather was the cobwebbed world of my privacy had been invaded, had been tramped upon. Somebody’s hands had rubbed themselves against the grout and tile of my simple and peaceful morning nakedness. For to be discovered in this world at large is the last thing on Earth I had ever dreamt could be. The mice that scuttle in the walls, the summertime fireflies that flash and yearn, the great open ruthless maw of the Ocean, these are the corners of Existence that had appealed to me. Old Russian women their thick coats unbuttoned and open facing the warm gray light I had been told when I was young was their second winter their eyes closed in the park sunning themselves alone I had believed then to be the only nostalgia in my life I had ever hoped for. Where then is my December? I had wished once to be the milkweed seeds the Monarch on its southward venture would breakfast upon, helping those wings on their voyage afar, perhaps to reach the green wilds of Mexico, or perhaps not. I had wished to be the paint peeling off a barn door in some local farmer’s field abandoned. I had wished only if I wished anything to be, to be but the tiniest pinprick of human light disappearing into the Universe of obscurity, a place where only my namelessness would endure…
I had a little jewel-box and this is what I kept. A single dragon wing. A copper colored penny from 1959. A plastic salt shaker from an airplane ride that was red and the size of any ordinary sewing thimble. In it too were memories. There was not a single object else. A diamond bracelet I had never received. A trip across Ireland in a tinker covered wagon never made. The smell of the hand-carved sandalwood always still reached me. And the smooth feeling of the hinges when the top was opening and closing still pleased me…Below the deck traveling one night alone the half-carved block of Gjetost cheese I heaved from the lower porthole into the mouth of the fjord’s waters this relieved me so much I smiled before the arctic moon probably hiding somewhere else. The splash of it I never heard. The loss of its awful raw milky taste must live in me for miles a while longer.
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The first time I passed the wild turkey feather lying on the ground I had wanted to pick it up. Its tell-tale stripes, its white and brown bands, make them easy to tell apart from any other. Any little kid would, and so would I. Now I have passed this same soft feather many times since then, and it has lain there all the while. It looks bedraggled now, having gone through dozens of rains. I myself grew old. The darkness of night had passed over me and my hair woke up gray. Seasons, too, went by and more creases formed along my face. Somewhere, far beyond these forests I have wandered all my life, I remember the stilly murmur of the distant Sea still murmurs there, and I am even a little bit older this dark new morning.
I knew a man once who looked at a painted wall and said, “I see the Peloponnesian War in the cracks.” I knew a man once who looking through a handheld telescope held reversed saw the world of the Ancient Greeks. I knew a woman once who told me, “Modern punctuation is a scourge.” I was told once by a shop clerk in France that the jacket she had slipped over my shoulders was “tres chouette.” And I had heard the old ladies in a beauty parlor long ago gabbing that my hair was so thick. My kindergarten teacher had sent me a note in the mail one time, in perfect light blue script, years after she had cracked up, to “. . .remember me to your family.” And a gay barista in Amsterdam had told me that I wasn’t a beauty but I had something. My mother’s friend, half conked out on vodka, said I was the apple of my mother’s eye. And also, I was told by someone I can’t remember that the Chinese can do subtraction and addition faster on an abacus than on a calculator and watched it happen once in New York, how fast it was, when I was small. This tiny list of memories are almost like dreams now slipping away moments after waking from my sleep. At nighttime’s break, when all the voices who have pronounced these things are gone, I wonder someday in my absence where the violets I once grew will slumber on.
There are spots of time where one has been a thousand thousand times before. And each time is as perfect as the last. Each time is no more perfect than another. And one can sift for that remembrance or this one. And one would never be wrong. One would never be right. And, again, these spaces in memory, in time itself, one must always go to again. So that: when you choose to show them to somebody else, it doesn’t really matter which year, or even which month you had or have been there. There is no real beginning to it, and there is no real end. But if upon a summer’s eve, you should take down this book, if you open the cover to an ancient album, then it may come to pass that you will look into the eyes of another’s gaze and see where, before a word was ever first spoken, someone was stirring about at the beginning, sometime before daybreak.
She would not tell her husband about her other man. He said, “Honey, come to the front here, by the bow.” That sort of thing, that sort of lexical insertion—defining words while using them—was one of the things that could annoy her about him. Not to mention calling her ‘Honey’. Dear, Babe, Sugar Plum, when did these ever become okay to use instead of a woman’s name? As if she did not have one, was not “Linda,” and could be called by any of these terms of generic endearment. “I’m down here,” she shouted back, up the stairwell, to the deck. She wasn’t going. “Okay!” he said. Had she been with the other man, she would have gone. She knew that. He was the sort of guy who had taken her to the Island, lit a match behind the cup of his hand when the ship was chugging along, spread his fingers, and when it was blown out whispered in her ear, “I am not the fire but I am the smoke.” Then let the burnt out match fall. But most men, she knew, will go on telling one story their whole lives. And this story they will apply (and they will repeat) to any woman in it. All of them. Rachel also knew, as the ferry was leaving the mainland, that the fate of women was to accommodate themselves over and over to the different men in their lives. To be the same to them. They kept figuring out and adopting themselves to a man’s script. Different demands. Different beds. Different meals. Same plug-in for the men. Different app for the woman. And these became, like ancient memories, though typically silenced, the stories women kept to themselves, sometimes dozens of them. They could keep a whole boatload of them. If necessary. She braced herself for the short, forty-five minute ferry ride, a ride she missed taking now with her other man, and the things he had said to her.