I had traveled long ago to lose myself. I went from land to land and scattered my days like ashes for the dead. I spent my years in one regime and another. I had wanted to disappear and with texts in Attic Greek, I read myself into the hinterland of near oblivion and ruin. None of my compatriots had meant a thing to me. And I spoke my mother tongue afar as though it were a foreign language. Conversation became a rough draft; I spent years and years revising that. “My bones and everything was expanded,” I had heard her say behind my booth in a diner back in New York. I had come home, and knew that this is where my oar was pitched to stay. Masters in Tibet wake up when they are home there. And some in monasteries, too. The farther flung, the less likely, the more impossible. The deep sleep of voyaging had once been mine. But that is not home. That is why sailors are restless. The seafaring life is a life between solid ground below your feet and the ever-shifting foam of the ocean. It is never quite one and it is never quite the other. After twenty years in one spot, it occurred to me that only when one’s home is no longer foreground and is no longer background, only when I had seen myself in my own passing painting, or my own film unrecorded, of my own so-called life, putting the dark blue bear-torn plastic lid on the light blue garbage can filled with pine cones from the woods to help me start a fire, could I even begin to have the chance to see. Only then does the ordinary become extra-ordinary, and then even that goes away: the difference between ‘ordinary’ and ‘extra-ordinary,’ like a place holder, a visible bookmark in an invisible book; only then, when that had become what it had been while it was, was anything possible. And after a while, for a while, I watched myself doing my most ordinary daily chores between my tool shed and my house, just after the twinkling of dawn, just when the grass had been frozen still with the night’s white iciness on every blade of it beneath my boots, just then for a little while, when I had disappeared entirely while my eyes like two bright sister stars were completely open, as though I had been God’s true monk sitting atop the world’s tallest mountain.
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.
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!”
There are just so many things that get laid to the side. And later on, these things are sometimes seen. Sometimes, they are nothing besides an old toothbrush stashed in a closet, or a drawer, or a little forgotten travel bag that was used by a guest once or twice. Sometimes they are eighth grade papers that were written for a science teacher in a white lab coat. (The handwriting when such things turn up is mostly remembered.) Sometimes they are packets of photographs—remembered like all the mis-direction in life shot off like a handful of bottle rockets. A tiny, and now crusty brass dish from North Africa. A root carved into a limbless human form from Jamaica. A World War II vet’s wallet found on the sidewalk and never returned.
Later on still, these things that were laid to the side turn out to be more like lengths of trees whose trunks were half-sawn through in eight or nine cuts for future firewood, but were abandoned forever in the woods when the chain grew dull. Sometimes, a letter written with good intent, dated, but never sent sitting on a shelf under spent cartridges of toner, unused color photocopy paper, and obsolete technical gear that seemed useful at the time. Overall, these things can acquire their own unmistaken beauty the way a wooden fence does after its unstained pickets have been weathered for more than a dozen years somewhere along the roadside.