Jane Ouveille Gilbert

dc tourist hodge podge

The rumors I had had in mind were no different. The Sun rose. The Moon sank. The day’s decoys continued to deceive and to elude. By afternoon, no further change to the cycle of time was possible. Still, what lies I had believed in, I still believed in. The stew I had made with dried figs, turmeric, and other unguents had satisfied a hundred, possibly more, hungry guests. The hillside was filled with children, some of them mine, sledding, crashing happily down the slope. Candles before a sidewalk church I lit in privacy to mourners marching towards the nave, as yet unseen. Cloves of garlic by the dozen I had planted, also on my own. Once, decades prior, I was told: by fifty, you will have planted your head in the sand, you have so much to give the world. And I am seventy now, and for over twenty full years already I have defied this childhood prophecy I neither kept nor inflicted upon another. Naturally, too, as I take either a handful of cash, working as I have for many years at Comme d’Habitude, or watch a stranger’s hand swiping a plastic card for payment, none but me, none but myself, need ever know a grain of this. None but I need ever, like the seed of truth, burning alive, hidden as I have hidden mine within the tiniest fennel stalk, know a thing of this at all.

Charlotte Emmanuel McEvoy

hay wagon

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.



An American Hero Foresees His Life

mountain outlook

Somewhere even from himself he hid all his past scribbled books. In their calendars perhaps were lists of goods to buy and a moment’s revelation. In them were his dreams of dreams, the sentimental schmaltz of his ventures near the mountaintops of Wyoming, and the calumny of his darkest human betrayals.

Like unseen glyphs, these had all been rubber-banded and put aside. Unimportant now, living behind the picture screen of a wall-sized TV, he lay stymied by the day, and frozen by the night. He lived by the wintry solace of the Sun, and was mesmerized by the cycles of the Moon whose cutlass grew until it punched a solid hole through the black pall of night, once more.

A collection of shirt sleeve buttons fallen off cuffs, and assorted hair pins could hardly console him. Camisoles leftover from elsewhere would not wash his own dishes. He tore off his pillowcase half-way each night he slept anyway. The gray light of dawn illuminated the pale trunk of the butternut who’d lost all its bark back winters ago.

A one room house without a door, only a doorway, drew him inside. Its bare earthen floor, its rough hewn walls let in just barely some light between the siding. A woman dead and yellowed lying on a bed alone inside for days made him scream and scream and scream. And he woke to the midnight torture of his mind amok to that.

Concupiscent urges had become handfuls of thumbtacks pressing in. Love cries once in his lover’s arms, were today her cries of war, hidden behind a neighbor’s wall. The constant keening ululation mourned his own death, of a thousand Baker Dancers, ten thousand of them, celebrating themselves behind ten thousand beautiful folds, in exchange for his life force, their victory.

From the distant unhewn cliffs there must have been flown a note of this, completely covered with a bottle spilt over it of India ink. It must have tumbled by roadways and shabby towns, it must have bedded itself in a rusty sink whose dried waters smelt of human blood, out into the reddened dusk of South Dakota where animals in shadows grazed not too close to each other.

Red Blaze Is Still The Morning

In my little hut of tomorrow there is a little earth there. My meaning and my message, spent. The scratches of my boot heels in the floor are nearly constant. I am restless and uneasy. Songs no longer come easily to me. The thrush’s voice, once heard, a woodland memory. Other things, I remember entirely. So, I make nothing at all at my table today. Shut within, shut inside, I know the wind is blowing, and the light grows more at my single glass window. Outside the abounding world must prevail. And this here had once impelled me. Feeding the fire of my stove, warming my hands, touching my cheeks with their palms, I felt human enough.

Time ago it was, and it also was not, that my days of solitude, like mourning, were sufficient. They had fed me alone like zsir spread on toast. In fact, I needed these to hear the trumpets red cry blaring. From these, two years were spent like the snap of my finger and thumb. And I had felt the angels of history. They were nearly the perfect company, and, besides my wife, I scarcely was in want for any other.

This sentimental heartbeat, this picturesque illustration of days recalled passed, had been sacrificed for almost the entirety of my life. And I go there, farther and farther back, it seems, to some illusory, originary moment I seem to hold onto like a lugubrious locket of my beloved’s hair. I enter another man’s life and poetry as though ‘twere my own. And I am suddenly vacated, absented, traumatized by the death of Peter Sellers, dead when I was ten, and he merely fifty-four, a man, I read, with no personality at all, just, I thought then, like me.

Day beyond day, I hold back. I refuse to compose another Requiem. Non serviam. Another crime, another criminal, another transgression, another man with loopholes for an ax inside his longcoat, perhaps. But I am certain the killer inside me is another pair of legs that steps beside a patch of violets, who heard the music when the voices were gone, who, boarded up in his icy rusticity, almost comic for the late nineteenth century, had dwelt a while, and for another yet there lingered.

Alive Man Walking Fall

stone in leaves b

Apart from people—I love. Nothing pushing against the self. Pornography’s left hand absent. Morality’s right gone. Antiquity’s Roman columns are become unimagined. The divide itself between “I” and “am” not there at all. Adrift walking. Crackles. Stumps. Spectrum of colors, hardly close to the bumble-bee’s. Yellows. Oranges. Reds. Browns. But enough. Rot decay mild oozings of decomposed living. It is enough. Perhaps the stilly murmur of the distant sea occurs and then it goes. But that, after all, is more fabric now of being itself than trumped up literary memory. At this point. And besides he, Coleridge, was a special man. The quiet of earthly love. Crows noisy blue jays fighting in the new pines unseen but overheard. Fluffs of bird’s death on a green mossy log. Where belonging is. Where human footsteps mark the sound they leave with almost, close to their own nothing. Emptiness. Silence that isn’t silence. Noises without the chatter of human language shaking out its ink blots always going, “There! there! there!” as it happens. Like a chance to walk with God who lets me come back—unlike Enoch heard from no more the beloved—to the little world as I step over the low stone wall back into my leaf-covered yard I love a little less than this but live in.

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A Gnomic Warrior Foresees His Death

I confess: there was nothing left to do in the world, but jump. I had given away all my meager understandings to blue hyperlinks anyone in the world with a forefinger or a thumb may follow.

I had given away my bed to women surrounded by an ocean of warmth to console their lonely and broken and weary hearts. (And meanwhile tucked my body inside a shoebox properly sized and constructed for the dimensions of a dwarf.)

I had chatted with strangers who opened themselves up before me like cuckoo clocks (who otherwise kept and were keeping time with atomic precision, from the day the minute hand struck adulthood ‘til the moment the short hand had hit the final hour of their death.)

Before scores if not hundreds of children, born with as little hope as a rose planted in a desert, I gave them songs of sand, songs of sea, and songs of land to sing by. And of this I am most happy. I can’t say a word more there.

Before the rising sun atop a mountain’s ledge I opened my eyes until they hurt a little bit, and before its setting, closed them until I saw no more. And I admired that all, however much and however little my mind was placed in history’s little thimbleful of time which my single human life had already filled.

I gave away my lovers, my bed sheets, my time, and all my possessions—even my tiny ivory elephants who fit inside a little red bean, a whole herd of them. All remembrances of me, even a hand-carved, wooden plaque bearing my name were given away, burned, laid by the roadside somewhere, or gone.

And I remembered thinking: this is how Jean Sibelius must have lived and how he must have been during the last thirty years of his life when he had composed nothing, not even a note on paper bearing even one sound of a song. Songless sparrow, depart!

And when I had died, I realized that none of this, in truth, was any suffering at all. The entirety of it was mourning. The loves, the cuckoo clocks, the contraband knick-knacks stolen out of Africa, the weary human heart—it was all, all of it, from our beginning to our end, a period of mourning.

A Birthday Prayer

frozen gap

Winter is coming, and my tires are very thin. Lincoln’s bushy hairline barely clears the tread when I push a penny in. The cloves I planted on Columbus Day, the scapes they might by springtime’s greening be trimmed back, and grown to bulbs of garlic by July. So much is uncertain, while others are too clear: through ignorance, malice, and folly I lost the woman I love.

Through hours of stacking and tarping down, I ought to have enough wood to last me, to be just warm enough. I know for some there are the famed Snows of Kilimanjaro. But for me, I had just as soon be lost in an Irish public house, drinking and muting myself, guilty as a Christmas ghost. What it were to be a little kinder in my past. We, too, had quarreled though it never made time pass. It only made me brutal, recalcitrant, and increasingly deaf.

It made me care more and more about the fistful of coins I had left in my glove-box, and whichever rows I had of withering corn to get me through it. I became rustic against my own good and yours. O, these things, this blank apostrophe, are far from me now, and just like all the light, carefree change I once had tossed into the great River Danube, today’s lost treasure is become a heavy sunken thing to me.

The golden coy fish I have seen a-swimming in the bluestone opening in the hidden woods, to know their muddy bodies are safe there later on throughout the coldest months ahead is no little human comfort. And if I am graced to make it ‘round the snowy corners for the getting of a loaf of bread and chicken, and you are blessed with enough darkened morning peace without me, may it all to have been plenty.

This Graceful Suspension Of The World

keys and lock

He had a secret wife once whose marriage to they nobody told. Even when her family all journeyed on a five-day ocean cruise together to celebrate her maternal grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary, the husband in name, he stayed at home. That’s how secret she was. Once, another time, she had returned from taking exams upstate. And the exam she took was computerized (not on paper), and while she took it, it learned her learning rate. It gave her very quickly, she told him afterwards, more and more difficult problems to solve, and each ‘one more’ difficult problem submitted on the screen to her, she got right. The testing program recalculated itself, and, with the secret wife’s having rapidly solved correctly such difficult problems as which the program could ever propose, it released her from the testing grounds in twenty minutes with an “800”—a perfect score. Almost ninety minutes had been shaved off her testing time, her sitting time, her being there. That’s how time and testing and the algorithms had worked.

The spatial reasoning his brilliant secret wife could perform with ease at astronomical rates of speed is not the way, in general, anything else works in life. The massive hero Ajax, for instance, that great, lumbering Greek warrior, battles and battles everyday, fighting off the Trojans. And before he rejoins the battle, Achilles sulks in his tent for months, unable to convince Agamemnon to give him back Briseis, his war booty, in all that time. And who can really tell how long, how many decades and years of accident and misfortune, how much lasting grief it will take and all the many dead there will be when spacecraft really do fly and land to colonize the desiccated, lifeless planet Mars.

Today an argument could verily be made that the man who’d had that secret wife long ago, far away, is one day close to his death. His wits are down. His love forsakes him. His cat is gone. His cupboard in nearly bare. His pile of winter wood is wet. For him, all the world’s diseases and sicknesses and misfortunes have fled buzzing like flies into the air. The only saving grace the world has ever known, however, is not “hope”—that miscreant’s negative creed of dissatisfaction, of being against the way reality actually is—but “anticipation”—which, though syllabically awkward, is the better translation of the Greek word “elpis,” of what actually remained in Pandora’s opened picnic basket. It means to simply wait for, and to be able to wait for, the next thing to come. And that, the love-broken man knew, trembling in fear asleep and living in a perfect equation of anxiety awake, by the multitudes of stars which over the span of all eternity shall have opened their eyes at night and closed them during the day, was all there ever was.

Songs Of The Sea & The Earth

Everything I had known, and everything I had held dear had deserted me. And, unlike Yeats’ circus animals whom he claimed had deserted him, what remained for me was an incandescent flame, a vivid, hand-held torch with which I had always and will always hold aloft. And it is by this light of God that I will see the paintings on the wall where for fifty thousand years people haven’t since traveled before. By this I will even view the perfect moment John Wilkes Booth saw like a red maple leaf fluttering down while shooting and killing Lincoln in his theater box. The crimes and sacred moments of humanity, life, and sometimes glimmers of my own death, I have caught these like melting snowflakes falling into my autumn fingers.

To me, I have felt the sorrow of being the common cook whose food had accidentally poisoned the great Buddha. But I have also felt the rope breaking the neck of a bewildered Saddam Hussein. That I have no friends to turn to, nor scarcely any possessions, even an empty dresser drawer to slide in and out, I don’t even have that simple enough human pride of such wooden ownership to stand beside and claim as “mine.” My destiny had become to be a shipwrecked sailor to be cast upon another sea, to drift without craft, and to all my life wander from land to land in search of a numberless people who do not exist, whereupon, like the curse of Odysseus, giver and receiver of pain, my oath was to plant my alien oar.

Gentle Goes The Day, And Gentle Goes The Night

There are so many things when I am walking that I no longer touch. I may see a leaf or I may see a stone, and these objects in the woods are so lovely I want to take them home. But I have learned to keep my hands still at my side. I have learned to see with my mind better, and look with my eyes. Even dead forked sticks that have fallen from far above, once I had sought to clean them up as I might clean up debris. But these suspended branches are really just hanging there in balance for a time. Nobody could position them as they are. Human hands are really no good for this. Instead, how long will this be so? Instead, what breeze is that? Instead, what life will bring a man at times to walk like this, and what events befallen him just as softly, gently sometimes to his knees?