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.
That it had been a little step away from where I had been and what I had seen was obvious and clear. There had been no steel girder pulled up from a cable from a crane’s boom in Portland overhanging a dry poured cement pad. There hadn’t been a nuclear waste zone clean up gang either somewhere in Central Asia that had never been reported, too small to have been picked up by sensors anywhere anyway. Nor a contributor to gut bacteria research and the effect of human health overall on the biome. No, I had side-stepped, side-swept it all. Had emptied my front pockets left and right of this week’s lint and last year’s recollections and memories and just gone out. Had gone out for a while, over last year’s leaves, last fall’s crash out. There was a little bit of bright fluttering divinity out there, too, as usual. And these angels, if rather poisonous, I had also skipped past.
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.
I had had no visible means of support. No web extended from corner to corner holding in place itself where I was crouching waiting for a kill. Not a bunch of leaves packed high up in a tree with all sorts of gathered autumnal debris between forked branches to keep my fur warm during the cold winter. Not a pyramid of gold on which to lay my body nightly and dream. Not even a mountaintop on which to rest my fog. Mine had been entirely invisible. It had been kept there deep inside my mind. It was a place that nobody saw, and nobody had ever seen. The blackness of space of holds itself forever there. And in between there nothing falls and nothing rises all the same. The closest I had felt this once before had been sitting in a yellow wooden chair in a room quietly by myself alone. My arms had been crossed, resting on my thighs. Even my shoulders had been slumped rolled forward just a bit. And my eyes had floated down. For some while of uncertainty all had been so easy. Like the rains of November, it had passed me by like sleep.
The paper wasps’ home was shredded. And my love affair with life had ended, crumpled up in tiny spheres on the ledge of my piano. I did not know where I had put last month’s bills that had not been paid whose fines I had weaseled out of again. Dissolute and empty-bottled, I knew that Spring would greet the morning soon enough. Though cameras strapped in the trees had watched my antics and peccadilloes, I had been innocent as any pauper accused of public hoarding. Rooting through my neighbors’ bins, I had found the twine-bundled news retelling the stories of last century’s politics that really, in the end of days, meant a straw to the passing wind and me. I continued to decline the several invitations I had had—and continued to receive—to play my mandolin, which joy I had once known, and time ago had been well-known for, locally and elsewhere abroad. Who could now subscribe to such vanity? As for my relentless, unrelenting sweet tooth, such a habit I kept almost like a practiced virtue unto myself exclusively, and had chosen not to share the faintest fingertip of my thinking—or any other thought—which I might have had with another living anywhere. My pulse, my blood, it was—it had become—like a private magic that I was holding within, that I could not explain, like a walk I had had to take to the end of my snow-bedusted driveway, having risen from my warmed bed sleeping, just to go there in the middle of the late blackened night, emptied of the heavens’ own eyeless stars.
The small time apprehensions I had had were never sated. If there had been the falling of a bough from a thunderous tree, I would look only to the open sky. And when a stream had over-flooded, my eye fell on the brightened pebble, once the mud had cleared days, or weeks later on. In another age I might have been deemed ‘delicate’ and in another ‘tender-hearted’ and even in a third perhaps a bit ‘melancholic.’ In this one, I am afraid, no just appellation fits, and there just isn’t a glass slipper, even if in the bottom of a lake, frozen over by a star-cracked sheet of crystal ice, there had drowned there indeed a noble and youthful prince. There are only whispers ever had, and other whisperings which have come before even that. When looking afar across mountains, from one mountainside to another, beyond the valley that lies between the two, you can see the banded snow clouds about to drift from the south to the north, and you know the needles of trees high up near the summit will next soon be covered with the white dust of winter. But, and this is the important thing, I had never—but once or twice in my life—been within that distant forest. I may not have lived inside the snow. Still, there had been in my life a spell of enchantment. I carried it with me everywhere. It was like a calendar without numbers or dates but many pages, all blank, to turn. Or like a faceless watch to be worn on my wrist—without either figures or hands marking its empty surface, yet housing within itself a beautiful jeweled mechanism, bound finely with little rubies and other precious stones from Switzerland allowing it to run always perfectly. For these reasons, when I had been upon the Mediterranean I threw handfuls of sand back into the sea. And when I was in the Alps, soft mittensful of snow into the clear icy air. And at other times, I reached into my raincoat and tossed away all the sunshine and raindrops, too, still hiding plentifully in my pockets.
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.
Garbage trucks had carried garbage, and school buses carried children. If it had been the other way around: if school buses had carried garbage and garbage trucks had carried children, we’d have had a different problem. But, thanks be to the dog of Egypt, they didn’t. They sounded, however, carrying the metal luggage of themselves up the hills, almost exactly the same before sunlight on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday morning. On Wednesday not: there were no garbage trucks running. The companies did not compete. Only buses. Which was strange for my little village. All the crows around there battled for scraps of road meat. Me, I never ate the stuff, didn’t touch any such carnage. The birds about they carried tufts of blue tarp strings to mend and to make their springtime nests. They didn’t care if it was synthetic plastic or organic twine, and neither did I. The lofty squirrels jumping from high tree limbs with their mouths full of last autumn’s leaves built their insulated empires expecting in their simple genes dearth and snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Any job I ever had had was lifting bales of trash from the roadside and heaving them into the back end of a truck, if I ever passed the test, which I did not. Too heavy. I wasn’t strong enough. But the gusto of anonymity, of nobody knowing me, it had appealed to me. As a former A+ student, with a traceable name, and higher degrees, I was not taken seriously enough, and subsequently by the short-arm of the government was fined by the courts 100,000 forints which I naturally refused to pay. In time, after many years, after strewing my trash out in the cobblestones along the curbside, I was ordered to be hanged by the feet until dead, against all reason, logic, and common sense—not on account of that per se, but on my perennial failure to ever have paid my taxes & flouting local ordinances.
I do not especially like having to remove their little bodies from the trap. Nor do I like anymore tossing the soft-furred carcasses into the shriveled patch of pachysandra where I imagine over time their tiniest bones disappear in the dirt and become that. But I hadn’t really any other choice than this: a mouse had built itself a small place to live behind the white front plastic cover of my clothes washer and, from urine, shorted out the fragile circuit board. Repairing this cost me nearly three hundred seventy-five dollars and for one week I washed my undergarments by hand in the bathroom sink in warm water. Plus it meant having a strange man, who was nearly mute, in my own house with his shoes on; and I nearly never have anybody over, speaking to me or not. It is an awful business having to put a dab of almond butter back on the copper or brass lever that, when the spring is sprung, becomes the spot against which their innocent skulls are crushed, again. I really can’t stand it. For the rest of the day I can’t use my hands for anything. Once off the frozen coast of Denmark I had seen the white and snowy ocean there within which were several hundred swans swimming in a patch of water right off the shoreline. They paddled about without, it seemed, any effort at all. There was nowhere else for them to go. I could see that for white swans there was nothing else for them to do, too, but do that. Whiter than the ocean itself I watched them swimming away, it looked like, into infinity.