I can’t even stand anymore. My knees, my legs have been hobbled. Who did that, I ask? Was it the limb from the oak that fell in my sleep last night? Was it the fence that caught the thistle growing up through its wire mesh? Was it the truck’s plow waiting to push away the blowing winter, soon to come? The coffee beans I had ground and ground by hand are all wasted, too. Used, but now wasted. That is how things go, I suppose. The sodden discard seems to outweigh the use. The driftwood in the lake so much heavier than the forest from which it all came. When my own breath became short, I had to also look around. There was no lack of air, nor occlusion of space, no crushing infinity closing in on me. What was it, I had asked myself once. What is it, I must ask myself again. The well I had depended on to bring me water still worked. The roof I had counted on still kept me free from rain. The garden I trusted would bear me food, still did. I had only to swallow, once or twice, and accept that a kiss upon a man far greater than I had been, had betrayed me, exposed me as being rather soft, and rather gentle. It was especially hard because this had occurred just as my good arm had been reaching out again, and the blow came from a fallen angel, and she struck without grace and without mercy.
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.
Little known thieves had stolen all my papers. I saw them yesterday, and the day before that. I hadn’t minded so much, not since Munich, not since Lake Placid. All the tiny photographs of me were gone. They had been used once as bookmarks placed in all the books I read which, too, had been tossed in the thieves’ sacks scurrying up along the goat path on which they had planned their escape, toiling with the most precious of my belongings. To this there wasn’t any merit anyway. These items held no further value to anyone, and to me, they were like stamps fluttering away from a long held collection, whose little, hinged gummed tabs holding them there in places on so many album’s pages had given way to the wind and ages. So had flown my many identities: shoemaker, critic, purveyor of bath soaps, scrupulous lover, Thucydides quoting high-rolling banker, plastic goods recycler, snow drifter, cruise boat crooner, elk hunter, paint peeler, bird seed filler, tin soldier melter, English Channel swimmer, North African sun bather, crossword doodler, morphine addict, coffee grinder, hustling dance boy, seafaring stowaway mapmaker, computer flunky renegade matchmaker, sugar frosted cake maker, blood red bugle blower, forest pine cone bagger, catnip planting gardener. I really didn’t mind this. It was a great relief, as I watched them besmirched with time, pulling the heft over the topmost ridge to the other side where they all but disappeared together into the sudden extinction of longing below the brightening winter clouds.
I had told this boy the same thing that I tell everybody else. He came by, stopped over, and was looking at all the tables. I told him the prices were marked: on this table $15, on this table $12, on this table $10. The prices were for all the crystals accordingly. And he was with his son, a little one, and they were looking at all the specimens. All the crystals, every one of them had been from here, from Mr. Ida, and they are nowhere like this anyplace else in the world. “God,” I told him, just like I told everybody, “made you perfect just the way you are. Ugly or beautiful, just the way you are, God makes everything in this world already perfect.” I wrapped his up in newspaper while the little boy of his had wandered off to the cleaning station where we had hoses and chemicals. I had warned him, the father, to keep his boy clear from that, where we had my husband and I five gallon buckets full of water and oxalic acid sitting in the sunshine to clean up the rocks before selling them. You don’t want to fool around at all with that stuff. 5 grams of it will kill your kidneys and that will be the end of you. The police that came by said he was one of the most wanted men in America. They hadn’t said why that was, nor had I told them that he seemed like a perfectly good father to me which I reckoned wasn’t any of their business.
The cart I had had as a boy was more than enough. And the string of Rolls-Royces I had had as a man was more than enough. If, when I was a boy, there had been Rolls-Royces, the same would also have been true. And if, as a man, all I had known were carts, the same also would be true. Perhaps I needed to have known having had Rolls-Royces to start with and then, over the course of my life, to have lost them all. This is common enough and would be a common enough story of the loss of material wealth, which this is not the story of, if it is a story at all, at all. This is only to say by pointing out how obvious it is that whatever we have or whatever we don’t have is plenty enough already. And it does not matter if that star in one’s pocket is shiny when it is taken out and held before the sun or not. It is just a star in one’s pocket, so leave it at that. But I am really not talking about that at all even. For how odd that I have said all of these things as though my having “had had” were as normal as anything else in this world, as if there were actual road posts which I could hammer into the roadway; or like cards in a deck of cards, placed an individual card with my fingers in the upper or lower half of that deck somewhere in it. But after all, these are just games that people play with language when there is not of course any such ‘roadway’ or ‘deck of cards.’ This is just a great and grand game with reality, nothing more. For really I cannot declare if such events as I have just told them to be are at all. Thus, what is ‘anterior’ or what is ‘posterior’ is just ridiculous to me. What is ‘pocket,’ where is ‘star,’ when is ‘shiny’? When I put things like this, it is only then that I am able to stand back and now realize how foolish I have been.
Nobody had been less sure of changing from ash to aluminum than I was myself. There was a feel that I’d known, and there was a sound too. Anyway, that was done and what’s done in baseball could be done better in other ways. Cars themselves today are faster. Kids learn quicker and more. Gamma rays halfway shooting from across the universe arrive overnight now. I keep opening the same Swiss blades I’d been given as a gift, an old army knife, fat as a mushroom from a woman who was about as terrible as I had ever seen or known one. She’d had her belly button, lost after earlier operations under the flesh of her stomach, found there in her gut after another. And replaced to where it belongs, right in the center. This was in her forties actually. When I was just a kid she showed me that, her tits and everything. That she was my step-parent only made what was already terrible worse. I’d have given her the bat right back then if I could have. Imagine that. Imagine what a mess that would have caused. Anyhow, it’s got nothing to do with the sky above, always blue somewhere else. And it’s got even less to do with the ground below. You can take a lifetime, any one of them, and put everything that ever happened in one of them and put all of them, every small incident that ever happened, into a small yellow-colored envelope, a small enough one with a brass clasp on it, and close it, folding back the wings of the clasp to close it like that—and without even licking the gum seal of it. Put them all away, all the envelopes. All bats they were made of wood once, solid ash. Now that’s all gone. Beetles. Invasive species. Killed them all. All the ash. Gone. Under the bark. Killed all the ash tress that ever grew. So what? Now the core is different. Different sound, different feel. The balls go themselves farther in some cases. The kids growing up have fun. That’s only the point of it for them.
Once before I had had a lover. And I used to send her notes by the only carrier pigeons left alive on Earth. And she used to write me notes back herself, flown across the river dividing us. At times my language had been haughty and grim. Mostly, however, it was pleasant and nimble and full of grace. For I am mostly pleasant, nimble, and full of grace. The river over which these precious birds once flew was fast-flowing and dangerous, especially during the storms of late summer. To this end, I flew her a note that said, “Let us write each other no more, lest our meaning drown.” And by this I meant that until the whitecaps and the tall waves upon the raging river abated, we should cease our correspondence. This last missive of mine, I learned, once the river was calm and smooth again, was understood quite differently by her. The bird whose note from her I read delivered this: she took me and my meaning quite abruptly and altogether harshly. In short, her note revealed she pictured me to be a hard and dark and embittered man. For some time after this, the pigeons flew across the river back and forth. All our meaning, whatever it had been, was completely wasted now. The last carrier pigeon alive has drowned. My final note I’ve got, I’m rolling that back and forth between my fingertips now. As there is no way ever to send it, to ever get across my sorrow and my love for her, my words are just as soon drawn upon the blowing sands of Arabia as one whose name is writ upon water.
She had been more interested in his son than his art. And he had been more interested in her art than in her son. It was hard for him to imagine that she even had one, a son, and one that was a bit younger than his own. “How’s your son?” she would ask when the met. “He’s great,” he would say. After some more of this chit-chat like that about her son and his son, they would talk about art, his art; for, in this situation her art was already established as art, and his art was just becoming or just about to become established as that. And she leaned over his work on the picnic table they were seated at and talked about it. While she did so, while she was leaning in, getting closer and closer to the paper lying on the wooden picnic table, he found it harder to imagine that she had a son, and even stranger that she and her husband had named their child, when translated into English, what means the word “God” from “Isten” in Hungarian, which was his name: Isten. That was strange. But it wasn’t just that.
It wasn’t just the large difference in age between them, and their both having very young children—toddlers—and the added oddity that it was the much older woman in this case who had the very young son rather than a man with a fifty-year old’s paunch and a two year old after having had a first run at family life that totally burned out starting over again. It wasn’t that, however likely and usual such imaginings go. It was that she was so much farther ahead in her art than he was when, in the distance of time measured forward from the ages of the births of their small children as a zero point, they were about the same. So, from that perspective he was so much behind her, perhaps even hopelessly. “I really like this piece,” she said at the end of their conversation. “It’s got a narrator who seems to be quite sure of himself almost to the point where as the reader I almost feel he can’t be trusted anymore, if that makes any sense. And I always like that very much about your work.” Straightening her back, she put her own notebooks in a canvas bag, looked him briefly but directly in the eye with hers, and, after touching the wooden pin holding the back of her hair in position, got up from the picnic table to pick up her son somewhere else by 3.
A young woman had once told him he was mad “but in a good way” when near midnight he tried to board a wooden ship docked in Stockholm. Aged Tibetan monks being guided by female assistants in the metropolis had more than twice stopped in their tracks and run a finger across his brow. “Good forehead lines,” he had been told slowly and carefully by them, and then they moved along on their way. A local painter he painted houses with one season for 10 dollars an hour as a grown man believed and joked about his being a millionaire and that he was just doing this for a little fun in life. (Little did he know the truth of his gratefulness for this job and his boss’ good humor on the ladder beside him.) One of the brass numerals of an older woman’s street address across the road from him had fallen off and he nailed it back in with a tiny hammer and brass escutcheon pins he got at the local hardware store; they became fast friends ever since. A lady he had dined with remarked, after he was done chatting with the blond waiter about mechanical engineering and how he had been told by the young man that soldiers broke their steps when marching across a bridge, that people seemed to like him. When he saw men driving their chrome yellow Hummers passing him on the road in the opposite direction that he was going, he had ceased to give them the middle finger and, if he could roll down his window fast enough to project in a flash to them the socially shaming Facebook thumbs-down sign with his real hand’s left thumb pointing down, he was happy to do that. He was hardly perfect but he was becoming lighter. He could still hear Pieter crying after him in his memory, after Pieter had dined and wined him night after night for nearly a week in Amsterdam many years ago, “Rudy! Rudy!” but, having already turned his back on the old gentleman and walked away some twenty paces, he never became his lover. Indeed, he had already walked alone and seen so many human things there are to see, he knew that one day soon, he would be forever closing his eyes before the quiet face of God.
It had been an aside in a chemistry lecture. Maybe there had been some sort of presentation about covalent bonds, or spdf orbitals, all of which was forgotten over time. Well, not exactly. The understanding of quantums and the minimal amount of energy necessary for an electron to move from one level to another stuck with him. This meant that when people referred to “quantum leaps” as meaning huge jumps in reasoning, or sudden galactic increases in human understanding or technology, he knew how wrong that was. Really, a quantum leap or ‘jump’ was the least amount of barely anything measurable, or, for that matter, imaginable.
But the real point to Introduction to Chemistry, was Dr. Pearson’s stray comment, the aside mentioned here at the beginning: “Nature doesn’t care an iota for the life of Man.” This was just an objective fact being asserted, just as a chair with three legs that is supposed to have four will fall down. It was a slap in the face to the more palatable, and more acceptable, evolutionists’ notion that Nature cared not about survival of the individual but survival of the species. Well. Who cares? Nature not.
This basically blew apart to smithereens the anthropomorphic conceit that was critically observed by John Ruskin and subsequently referred to as the “pathetic fallacy,” in literary circles. But, without having to go there (just click the link), even crazy android Roy Batty subscribes to this Man-nature-love in his famous, last “Tears in rain” moment during the closing minutes of Blade Runner, which we all have seen, or which we must. Here, the idea of human sadness as represented by wet tears is connected directly with the wet raindrops in Nature. In fact, they have converged. Their confluence makes them indistinguishable. Nature is sad, people are sad. They are both wet and sad. Such is his own technical induction into the world of his own moribund humanity, alas the day. Well, maybe Nature does not, but Do Electric Sheep [Still] Dream at Night?