(The truth was he loved everything in parentheses.) Different aspects of life (the multitudinous ways of being) and different walks of being were just the way he was, and the very way he liked to be. If there were manila folders and in each folder a little of something crumpled or crisp were tucked away inside it, and that folder were put together with others like or similar to it in one bin, and other folders and ones like it were put in another, and these bins were placed on a shelf, and on hundreds of half-remembered shelves there were different bins filled with different sets and different stacks of some folders whose edges were crisp and some whose edges were crumpled, well, that was just the way he was. He wasn’t like a banker living in Boston driven by goals and his beautiful wife to create a unified, whole, and wholly integrated on all levels sort of life, a life by which one could hold a mallet and whack a croquet ball down the green field of grass from one end of where the wickets were to another. It didn’t include a buffet tent, and an awning off the side of the house with a fold-up bar on wheels, and guests all of whom were both social and business contacts, and three (3) children to be spaced out eighteen months apiece for a total of his wife’s being pregnant over an entire birthing cycle of forty-five months by the time he reached thirty-eight years of age such that the actuarial of his death between his having reached seventy-five and seventy-eight years of age would arrive upon even the youngest of his progeny’s having become fully established and wholly and safely ensconced in life’s ineluctable reality. No, he liked to flirt with the caddy near the green, even though he didn’t play golf. He liked to schmooze with the big shots watching the Oscars on TV. He liked to have tea in San Francisco with his old roommate’s wife when the harbor seals were dancing somewhere in the waves. He liked to collect sunstones in the dirt of Oregon by himself. He liked to shave his head and shoot 22’s at the local NRA shooting range and smell the smell of gunpowder there stuck in the air. He liked to listen to Janet Baker singing Mahler alone with his grown daughter on his ancient, vacuum tube-amplified music system in a heartbroken shack along the coast of Maine. He liked to engineer a bear-proof, pulley-and-rope apparatus by which he hung his bird-feeder filled with sunflower seeds for the birds (and the few squirrels who had the desire and temerity to reach it) to feed. He liked to walk along the graveyard path with a bright young lady who was at home and listen to her speak of life. He liked to make and lose scads of money at race car events, betting with strangers in the bleachers, getting his teeth filled with brown dust and fuel fumes from the screaming cars going around the track. He liked to write poems that rhymed ABABCDCD…, and throw them into the lit fireplace. He liked to think about making flies for fly-fishing, and that’s all. Having what others would call a ‘big life’—a full, entirely visible life under the gaze of some all-perceiving, or all-perceived totality of completeness—well, that never held an iota of appeal or any desire to even the tiniest and very best parts of him. (He was, he had to admit to himself, sotto voce, filled with a deep, reverent loneliness, that even the distant ocean could hear.)
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.
Already, my wood stove is burning. I stacked the cords myself. I fear six cords of wood may not be enough. Winter is long and full of deep snow. I had once had another pair of hands to help me. But they are gone. That was a time I do not regret, and have not seen that in a while, a life like that when the tandem knocking of each piece of wood laid against the growing long stack our wordless work kept the coldness of winter out. And I get on, je me débrouille, because I now must. That is the way with things, with spiders nested in the corners of bathroom shower stalls, soldiers stationed on a foreign front, or men and women somewhere listening to an easy-going book as they commute back and forth between their city office buildings and glass-lit evening houses lit up and down the streets. In any case, I’m not sure there’s enough wood to sustain me before the tubers in the ground have all grown (or rotted). I had better scour the deadfall with my saw and ax soon. The meager fronds of the ferns are already yellowing. The bears are circling wider and wider in these searching final days before they disappear until May. Cries of geese overhead, these are common. How with my jolly heart and glad-eyed ways I became myself here to be living at the foothills of the Rockies, it is no mystery to tell at all. It is only to be remarked upon, I think, that unexpectedly I made myself saddened by all the passing of everything that I had known and all there was standing once before such great purple majesty.
There was some Western, some movie on last night. But he didn’t know what it was. Something hanging by a noose or a noose with somebody’s name on it pinned to a tree. At any rate, he didn’t know. He just woke up in the same clothes he’d gone to sleep in. And he didn’t know it. He didn’t know that. He just woke up turned ninety degrees body around in bed in the same black morning darkness he always woke up in. Except that he was all dressed already. And they were nice clothes. Nice pants, nice shirt, and a nice moleskin jacket. He didn’t know how’d it happened. It just did. That’s all there was to it. Now he knew and remembered that he’d been discouraged that night before. Everything was pretty much shipwreck. But that’d never stopped him, not from watching some old Western where men mete out either death or life according to some ad hoc game among the tumbleweed and dirt they play by and by, each man and each gun according to each man and each gun’s rules. And he kind of liked that a lot. No, he damn well liked that. A world where life itself isn’t ever held to be the summum bonum. Heck, no. It was how a man lived was how a man died. Which was always for good watching when he was feeling low and pretty ruined, which could have been that that did it, even to him. But he’d always felt some notice before. Some clanging and whooping some doomed submarine’s hollering wail or the fatal sounds of Comanche warriors swarming down the silhouetted embankments that meant one thing. The night before? That was just a silent night. Sleeping into the ether death or sleep or whatever spent dreams there were during those lost hours. Well, hell, he just got up as though it had been a regular night and didn’t bother to shower or shave. He was too finely dressed to change out, and the clothes were warm. He just got going with a fresh pot of coffee, a good, solid breakfast, and headed out to walk the day as he walked every and any day, past the garden, past the newly fallen dead white birch at the back, and straight up his own mountain, up the steep pitch where the sun and the ferns and the old brown leaves and the chips of half-broken bluestone and the old farmers’ low stone walls belonging to nobody always were when he went there that time of day.
He had crawled on his belly in the dirty gravel below the joists with an air filter mask strapped to his head all morning long. He had a spray bottle of poison, a little flashlight, a long-handled hammer, and a steel chisel. These were to chip out spots where ants had eaten into the wood, and to poison any he saw. Down there below the house in the crawl space, he closed the vents by hand and stuffed the closed vent openings in the foundation with leftover pink fiberglass wads of wool that were lying on the ground since he’d pulled the wool out last spring. The whole job was dirty and hard and he had done it ever since he was a very young man for nearly thirty years. He hit his head against the same pipes he always hit his head against. It hurt the same way it always felt stupid to get hurt. He sprayed the poison along the cinderblock joints the same way he always did, lots of squirts to be sure, twice a year, spring and fall. For extra, he’d brought along a staple gun this time and stapled up some of the falling paper he’d noticed had fallen that he’d tacked years back below the rolls of insulation stuffed between the joists. It was a dirty job. It was a dirty and gritty job.
When he closed the vents underneath the house, it grew darker and darker. The only light was his little flashlight. Its batteries were pretty bad to begin with and the glow from it just grew worse and yellow. He turned off, while he was down there, the underground water line with a twist to the handle inside that fed the line to the outside garden faucet. It was a dirty job. But if he didn’t do it, the outside pipe would freeze, and he’d have to replace the outside pipe, the outside faucet, and the outside fittings. He’d have to remember when he got out of the crawl space to open the outside faucet now that it was turned off from underneath. Otherwise, the water already in the pipe would freeze during winter, and when it did that, trapped at both ends of the line, it would expand and bust open the whole brass apparatus, and he’d have to replace everything just the same as if he had never turned it off from underneath to begin with. That had happened once or twice, and that was an all around mess and a waste of time.
Once he got outside off his belly, he unclipped, and then ripped off the dirty mask that had covered his nose and mouth and through which he been breathing in and out with labored filtered breaths air the whole time. Once he had smelled the fresh smell of autumn again, he realized that he had left his good, long-handled hammer next to the three joists where he was hacking away the pulpy wood to stop the carpenter ants’ damage in the dark. That hammer, even though it was his good solid one, could stay where it was. What did it matter? He had his short, light, cheap hammer if he really needed it. His good hammer could stay in the gravel until spring.
Even the blackened green leaves were picked. I had left them crumpled on their stalks last week, dismayed. Again, half the basil I had left to wither. That was years since I’d made such a lapse. But many plants in a brighter, sunnier patch were fine and rich and quickly plucked. These leaves filled my large yellow glass bowls, and I tipped them into my kitchen sink. Last evening I had returned since I heard the night would be even colder. A small stack of some wood I had left unchopped for a friend to practice on I’d promised to save it for to split last year still stands a year later. And soon I’ll be splitting another cord myself. In pesto, there really is no great difference between the batches I’ve found in taste, unless the one that’s made from autumn’s leaves is a bit more grassy and slightly bitter. Aside from cobwebs growing on the plants, it really would be rather wasteful not to use them all. And, besides, I am the only one looking on the basil growing now. With olive oil and garlic and sea salt and finely chopped hot cayenne peppers grown from my garden, too, plus pine nuts and a touch of parsley, it’s very, very tasty. And how sweet the smell when all the garden plucking is on my fingertips. Still, when I make it all, I’ll separate the neglected leaves from the fresher ones, and be myself comparing the two, eating from carefully enough labeled containers marked with scribbled-upon masking tape taped to the lids, when I thaw the many portions I will have again from the freezer for meals and company when I have some all winter long until next summer comes.
Forgive me that I am sweet and lonely by myself. And all your treasures forsaken. The boots I got were perfect. And their silver buckles shine brightly. I am filled with many thanks. For now I am living in the meadow. My distractions here are few. And alone I am become a burbling brook almost. Once an uncle showed me an ice cold spring into which a bandit was shot and died. “Right there,” said Uncle John pointing with the handle of his pipe smoking, at the head of it where the clear spring water came up out of the ground. And as a small boy I thought with some disgust and wonder, since this water was the source of all our drinking, had I drunk this bandit’s blood? When tempted by my uncle (and my own boyish desires), I had stuck my hand into the clear spring water, which looked so pure I saw the sandy bottom seven or eight feet down as though it were only inches, and just as fast pulled my burning fingers and palm out in terrible pain. It was that icy, that cold. I know now better that I drank the blood of that bandit, and of the Christ, and of the Buddha, and of another never-to-be-named one, too, along with the drinking water. We eat their dust. We breathe and drink and eat them all. That is just the way it is here on Earth, where everything in time is so commingled, not completely unlike a misty cloud of playfully dancing gnats which seem to be such a bother to us but really are not so terrible. If one day you are passing by this sunny valley on your journey, and can see from afar my smoke curling away from the rooftop of my little cabin, please remember that you are welcome to sleep and rest yourself warmly here overnight.
For so many years he had been a bachelor. And for so many more years he would be. He had heard of monks who go into the forest for ten or fourteen years, who, when they have done so and have taken such vows of silence, later come back to the world as it is. He recalled one monk especially who, upon completing his vow, when it was over, he stated, when he returned, that not speaking for that duration of time had been pointless. Well, he thought, that was one experiment, one trial less for him to have to experience. He did not have to obey the Law. He did not have to abide the Gatekeeper keeping the gate (and that being the least fearsome Gatekeeper at the least fearsome of the three more gates and Gatekeepers he would, it was rumored, have had to have faced). Not at all. And as for other bachelors in history, such as Henry David Thoreau, who had completely muted his desire for women by owning the myth of his own personal ugliness, that sort of self-mythologizing, and thereby cauterizing both want and need, that was indeed another way to go about it. To rid, to banish desires so as to have none, yes, he supposed a man might do that. But to do as Gandhi had, (however controversial his practice in some circles of thought) and sleep beside the bodies of two perfumed young naked women and to not touch them, that was indeed something else. Such is the sort of law to which this bachelor in his heart of hearts wished to belong. However, he was moved by the most earthly things of all. He might overhear people chatting about birds flying far above overhead. They might say, “Are those the eagles?” And one of the party would then ask, “Do eagles fly together, though?” Quite possibly the wide-winged birds circling a-high were in fact vultures. But this bachelor of men loved so much to hear the people talking, people themselves, and the innocent moments of human genius, that his life alone was like a coin dropped in a well, a matter of deep question however insignificant it might in the end turn out.
Nothing had prepared her for the break of day. This is when dawn comes. The darkness of night is broken by the sun coming over the rooftops of neighboring houses. That is how people live. And she herself lived in a house over whose roof the sun must always break. She turned to her side but nothing but a row of pillows, one two three, lined up together, was there. This effigy. “Well,” she would have said this morning, “I am relieved to be without you.” After all, she knew that her nocturnal troubles, the ones that stirred her awake at 2 or 3 in the morning when he had been sleeping beside her, they had to have troubled him, in return. And his being troubled troubled her mind more. This day, however, she could stretch in her bed alone as she pleased. Had she wished, she could have kicked the line of pillows. Anywhere. Even that felt good. And another thing she had noticed: she wasn’t wearing earplugs. The birds outside hiding in the ivy and bricks were making their usual break of day racket. I don’t have to block you out anymore, all your easy restfulness, she thought to herself lying in her soft bed on her back. So, the plugs weren’t about the birds singing, after all, not exactly, or not completely, at any rate. Peggy knew she was feeling good about herself. She even had the temerity to wonder why Leonardo da Vinci had inscribed an outstretched man within a circle rather than a perfect woman.
The weed that was supposed to have been smoked ages ago, like two years, was still probably hanging around in the rosewood armoire somewhere. Back awhile, Shep had had somebody to smoke it with, but not any longer. There was one he would, and she’d just basically feel a hypersensitive physical acuity to all things involving the sense of touch that made her laugh. She’d get high and do repetitive motions with little sense of, it seemed, how many times she had already circled like a slow motion boxer her two fists in slo-mo replay mode. The stuff was lying around, unused, untouched, and he lit up. No, it’s not a passage to a higher realm of consciousness; it’s not acid. It was a verbal cerebral thing with him, depending, too, on what brand you had in your pipe.
They do all sorts of different things. But mainly it made him think in words which he would, if it were possible, write down. Or even audio record it, he’d done that, too. Now he was thinking about some girl he’d known a few crazy nights who’d had all these abstract esoteric ideas that he could actually go along with, but when she got to her Jesus stuff, he just as soon crossed his legs. The self-amusement of his loneliness made him think of her anyway. These were old shenanigans. They were all just old performances in old theaters he’d just be pretty much be going though the motions of, if he had. Worn out plays. They didn’t have the oomph. It’s just better to get just a bit mellow, scoop out a handful of Hägaan-Daz scoops of chocolate ice cream into a pretty-looking, red-checkered bowl from France, and lie back to watch a movie like Lawrence of Arabia which he’d just found out the day before became available to stream.