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.
The small things that I had remembered had been the the small things that I had forgotten. Somewhere in the blandishments of my day to day living, the moanings and the excitements, I must have gone straight into the marketplace to pause. People must have have milling about, looking for something new, something fresh. A baby bear fed the stump end of a broken carrot? A double-terminated crystal, clear and colorless, with one of the tips smacked off? A black typewriter ribbon unspooled to line the inside of a talking doll’s universe? All sorts of events, both minor and major ones, had had some effect on my corn husk broom, the dead cats swept off the dirty midnight streets of Tunis, the speeding trains that slowed up just enough to make perfect time on the dot when arriving in Zurich, like a ballerina en pointe. All that I had overlooked, and all that had overlooked me, it was all mentioned in the waters whose rings had disappeared when the pebble I had tossed again and again sank, where the flashing coy fish swam down away to the murk and corners. Were there to have been a difference in the body politic, the grease anointing a king, or a mottled purple gown for another, surely I had raised my head to watch the geese flying overhead, flying south, or flying north, confused by the weather over which way to travel en masse upon the coming of evening during the approaching winter.
Nobody had asked me what my opinion had been. Nobody had been around to. Though I had snuggled up beside the nearest sandpile, and was reading a note left there by another stranger, before last summer it seemed, I couldn’t imagine ever talking. My boots had become unlaced, too, and filled with several tiny stones apiece, bits of blue I had stumbled upon four miles or so north of the Mexican border, ninety miles south of Tucson. Even there, when I had dined with people, I had been put to their side, served alone outside the purview of ties, dresses, and light but good morning laughter over sausages, eggs, and steaming muffins. Any words, like table crumbs, had been smoothed away and I was forgotten. Now that my heart had been emptied of blood, and my mind had become a near vacuum of human desire, I was as ready as the Rose of Sharon to bloom in Jehovah’s own desert somewhere in a land I had never seen, beside a boulder near the foot of mountain where nothing before had taken root.
There hadn’t been a reason to recant a single thing. Why, my memory had been blown anyway, so the point on it was lost. Tulips had been supposedly planted for the dead. Termite mounds rose out of nowhere. Morning shadows stretched over fallen brown leaves. Jupiter had fled. My incendiary reaction to politics notwithstanding did not undo the fact that I had been time ago a pretty good shot, prone or standing. The acres and acres of corn had stood. Ears had been popped off here and there. Some joke of some kind, someone had guessed. That I had been doing nothing at all, facing southwest on the porch overlooking some fallen paradise, why it made me perfect for it. Everything about it was in my files anyway. I could talk a storm but I had nothing to say about any burn marks on my fingers nor the stubble on my cheeks.
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.
The quiet end of everything just became quiet. The quiet of the snowflake fallen just became quiet. And the quiet crack of the limb cracking in the forest, too, just became quiet. The quiet of the stars elsewhere exploding became quite quiet. The girl who had a single match, she became quiet. And the boy with a single toy was quiet as well. Inside my paper house, it has always been this way. My paper plates and paper bowls, they both have always been so quiet to me. My paper cat and paper robe, washing in paper water, everything is so quiet here! Before even the paper sun had risen and shone its paper light across the valley, I am looking forward with my paper eyes at paper life and death. I cannot imagine what is written there, nor guess what has been perhaps before my time rubbed out. There are some terrible smudges here and there, somewhere far ahead, lost in the horizon of ‘tomorrow.’ Everything had been so very quiet, I was sure that I had begun my end. But I’m afraid right now I can’t replace such paper love with cashmere, poetry, and lace. At last, I am so oppressed by all the paper. The great heaviness of my solitude is like the silence of a gun, or the flexing of a bow, or the latches in an aeroplane cradling a silent bomb. I know the quietness must break up. Quietly, in space there is no papery sound—just space. And the flashes of God’s light spanning the breadth of entire galaxies bursting forth, is no more than a simple campfire ember burning out, after the campers have gone.
Life had been too precious. So, too, death. The former, life, was swum about like a fish in a bowl, never sure either of water, or of its own scales’ golden flash. The latter, death, is the one thing never owned, never possessed, never by my hands’ fingers grasped. I took a tour once in my foreign travels. Beggars, historians, and silent guards at museums revealed the same thing: cups that held coins, pages upon which events had been composed, and gilt frames holding masterpieces could only get so close to the things they held. But the thing itself, the dragonfly of being, had hovered aloof and almost at times indistinct over the surface of the pond, where it thereupon disappeared. Were I not to have been living and dying in my tiny cabin in the Rocky Mountains, I might happily and certainly have shared a glass of icy lemonade with a fellow traveler, with you. I might have clinked the rim of it, and have heard the tinkling of such guarded and discreet humanity. But that was not to be. Instead, I parted by myself one starry-skied night, by the blackened moon deposed, above the mountains’ purple majesty.
I had already not spoken for some time. Even to the cat I was quiet. To go out, I would knock against the back door, and she would slip away. Watching her paws pressing into the mud, I knew she would be back soon. The rain had continued for weeks even. And I was not afraid of running out of any supplies. Even as a child my parents rarely spoke to each other or to me. Supper was candlelit and never impolite. I can’t recall feelings of anything being, or ever having been, incommodious. My riches and fine belongings were locked away in Oregon. Turnips, burdock, and beets made up a great amount of my daily diet. There was a chance that I would see the late sugar frost and tap the maples. Then for days I would light a fire and boil it gently down to syrup. Further needs, if there were any, had been taken up by the sawing and splitting of wood. At night when I washed my skin down with handfuls of snow I could see still how beautiful my body was.