Amazing Lows

lunar eclipse

I can remember my bike chain slipping off and, after putting it back on, there was a bit a grease and sand on my fingers and hands I could just not get completely off. And I’d continue biking another eight or nine miles uphill to where the bees were buzzing in their hive. There were two plates of glass between which they had built their comb, and I read a sign as a kid on the outside of the display that told observers that bees can sense danger. From that moment on when I have been afraid I turned it around so I would not get stung, a sort of push-away feeling when I felt the danger of bees and other things. I’d felt a little low as well about the gritty, black grease that was still almost smeared off my hand, but that’s just the way it went. It could not be gotten off; that’s all.

And, I think, as the deer pull at the cucumber vines that have grown to the top of my fence; or when the cat plops on the shiny wood floor a dead bird—worst of all a bluebird; or when the birch trees I planted with my son die off after a few years, these are just the way things go. It is somehow better to feel the ever-fading day all the day than to believe or wish to believe in some hand-picked diamond that you’d really have to be crazy to think would sparkle on forever. Things don’t. You can look at Monet’s haystacks and see that all the beauty and joy in the world was always fading away at every moment. It cannot be really disappointing that way—momentary highs are not sought, breakneck speeds on the highway are not driven again, even something as simple as a daily perfect cup of coffee isn’t brewed time after time.

All exists as if it were flight upon a dragonfly’s wing. It views the water over which it flies, hovers there, and, as if thoughtlessly, curves in design and then flies off elsewhere. And with its big-eyed vision-trackers, its primordial form, its shape and its purpose, they appear almost demonic. But this backwards flying mini-phallus is only another of the many nearly comic earthly reminders that we and it and all of what is this life here are just temporary lookers-on, be it over the river, near the pond, in the mountains, through the woods, beneath the late afternoon, tomato-ripening sun.

Sweeter Than Any Silken Losses

oven birdWhat else could it have been, my little friend, that you had gone away so sweetly? The voyage to Mont Saint-Michel never occurred, and the northern sands of Carthage must, too, be blown away. Instead, some old snow shoes in a rusty shed had had to be returned, and I trekked the hills alone last February without you. I can’t even say that I had shown you even the smallest part of my record collection. Most of the things I grew you ate. Few of these I remember your hands, your fingers, planting beside mine. The cords of wood we stacked together, they were burned more than two winters ago. The chemises, silk camisoles, and dress I once bought for you are crammed on hangers with oddly fashioned jackets from the 80’s in my back closet where every so often I go inside and throw out whatever under plastic has grown any mold. Though I re-did by hand the gravel in my driveway for you and me, I think you pulled up beside my car once. I’ve even switched the side of the bed I sleep on; yours was so much firmer. I’m out of all sorts of things. Almond butter. Fish oil. Sardines. Walnuts. Hair conditioner. The reach up to the shelf to buy them is too high for me alone. And I do without them, do without you.

Jump Here!

cracked wallNow this old piece of lie, so the story goes, so the story went, it went something like this. She’d walk there and he’d walk there and then they’d get to this point on the concourse or the causeway or what have you, and as they were approaching, and this was years back, mind you, he’d go to her: “How many days would you remember me if I jumped off right here?” And she’d go something like 58 days, or a week, or 29 hours, or some such reply. And it was all in good, suicidal fun, you see. It wasn’t expected of him to jump for anything. After all, the one that had been on the brinks, the one that had been in the bin, wasn’t him. The one that loved life, why, everybody you had talked to always knew it was him. Her? Well, enough said there. There was enough medical documentation in the files to keep the Easter Bunny happy till Christmas. Of course nobody’d suspected that he’d had such a deep down mordant sense of humor that went quite that deep. But when you look at the crack in the cement, and you come to realize that through freezing and thawing, through freezing and thawing, expanding and contracting the way water does year after year, season after season, it does things to a story-teller’s own mind. See, they’ve got a mind like no other. What they think is funny, like D. B. Cooper with the made-up middle initial like that, is not as funny as it is to other people to whom story-telling is not an art but just a thing to pass the time with, you know, make a marriage go on with destroying each other in a few years. For most people, stories are just like going to the movies. They’re just entertainment. But to other people, why, they are as earnest as coyote’s eyes glowing in the dark. They’ve got a special kind of intelligence, not like IQ-wise, but another kind a lot more seeing and a lot more important than that. They can see themselves in the hunt of things, just way the coyote slipping past the last cool air of dawn most certainly smells if it cannot exactly see its own natural destiny whilst in the midst of being that very destiny. So, too, is the earnestness of the story-teller. And the way it goes, she had said forty-four days. “I will remember you,” she had said, “forty-four days after you jump.” So it got to thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine, and when it was forty-four, that was pretty much the end of it.

Splendor of Decay

decayed wall

The old things that were, or which had been. The filthy crow’s feather. A cut open bottle of Clorox used to empty a dinghy. A woman’s sex tired or just worn out of love’s continued indifference. A man’s prick shoved up with a catheter from biking a thousand miles crushing all the little bits, the pathways inside. Places rent out used automobile tires to the poor who will miss payments. Reedy-voiced landlords will squeeze money they don’t earn out of Section 8’s who don’t care anymore. A bumpkin takes a bottle of polish and a hand cloth and scrubs away the patina on the old bronze plaque and paints the cement block on which it stands deep, dark green. Even the Perseids are blotted out by rainfall and clouds for three days. A mid-town technician charges for 16 MB for RAM and puts in 8. 15,000 more Clinton emails are found and are as meaningless as a pile of dirt in front of a tank. The kid in Tiananmen Square got bulldozed. iPhones do give everybody brain cancer. Monsanto seeds do not reproduce. Indians starve. Chemicals are squirted so deep into the ground no one can tell for fifty more years. All the coral reefs spit out their bacteria and die. The bluebirds will not eat. Geese don’t bother to migrate. The mother serves her children frozen pizza, baby carrots, sliced apples every night. Nobody minds. Two blond, pony-tailed women in Greenwich wearing fluorescent skin-tight leggings jog in different directions on North Street. Their husbands work on Wall Street and the chimney smoke in the mansions they live in designed by Bob Stern protégés can be smelled by the next door neighbors who live in similar edifices on either side and straight across the street.

Some Beautiful Leftover Debris

pull tiesThe forgotten and leftover things that people do are forgotten and leftover. There are all sorts of untellings of things that nobody will have talked about. Fierce, blood-letting accusations are dropped as if they had never been. Hatreds seem to disappear. Easy betrayals, like jackals crossing the grassy lower backlands with bright yellow eyes at night, go by like northern ghosts. A cobbled together clutch of new-found friends all whispering together they make quickened decisions feel right. How mobs and rabbles work is generally like this too. Jellyfish with their huge poisonous red manes bob and flow in the sea, catching the bare limbs of this and that swimmer swimming unawares. And what later washes up as memory? What comes ashore as truths? It is raked up with seaweed and debris, carted off to a nearby garbage heap, or burned under watchful eye in the sand. As for infidelities, fits, or the other small but aggressive human cruelties? At length, his final handshake with the kind proprietor after the couple’s last meal is over is all that can be left to mind to bear, after his lips have spit out a pinch of mukhwas clearing the palate and very good for digestion on the curb.

Four-way Looking Glass

forest mist slice

To us there is a difference between the fallen and the brave. We may sort out the backs of the dead. We may separate the coats, gray from blue. Time and borders and affiliations sift about and spill over as they do and must. This is all seen in red and white, too. I had, picking strawberries, hunted about the overgrowing vetch which had blown over from afar, from another farmer’s field last season, for something succulent and sweet to eat. So it seems. So it was. So it had been. And even down the low narrow line in the forest, I had witnessed the doe in the mist, her head lowered while the world itself was framed by constant death. The butternut tree had fallen, and the beetles had undone to rough yellow the bark of the standing ash. While for some, all human records of these are deemed memento mori, I had not been able to agree. Not from my standpoint, not from the toss of space where I had landed. For me, all had been some visions of life. Chaff and wheat. Fool and sage. Villain and hero. And so on. The usual dualities never applied. Never were. Never had been. There were just gradual mixtures of dusts in the heavens, in earth, and somewhere in the seas, too.

Two Rocks Sitting

two rocks bThere had been times to do nothing at all. Nothing to make. Nothing to mend. Nothing to buy, even if it might have been needed. There really had been no need to polish anything at all. The brass pin that I had worn on my lapel, I could not remember even when I had stuck it in on the left side of my jacket, let alone gotten it. The peeling leather of my watch strap, same kind of thing. What it had been to be reminded of them now, like the weathered wooden pickets to a country fence grown gray and showing their grain splitting over time, is that these alone are the bring-about of death. When looking at an old canvas field coat, or a pair of well-worn boots, that is exactly in step with one’s own working, one’s own walking.

Some things, like gardens, renew themselves each year. And, if they are tended well, each year they grow a little better—only because the gardener has learned perhaps one small thing last season. But the gardener is older. Other things, inanimate, forever lifeless, they, too, have their own sullen beauty—stuck the way they are, almost the perfect emblems of eternity. If any change should ever come to rocks lying about the forest, such would only be through something cataclysmic, or something human and mad the way smashing them up to rocky small bits with a hammer would be mad.

The simple fact is that things wear out—valves to kitchen faucets eventually leak; tomato stakes rot at the ends; bicycle tires will get flats. That is how it goes with tree stumps chucked over the stone wall, with a sweet pile of sunflower seeds sifted through by the careful paws of bears, and with people, too, falling asleep to the back-and-forth sounds of katydids chirping again at night when the middle of summer has passed, the way I had in childhood.

Green Flour Lullaby

green algae

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.

Amour Tunisienne

Before my life’s second half, before the obvious Inferno-rift, which involved my sitting in a dusty armchair on the banks of Lake Champlain after squandering the first half my life, after causing as much suffering and committing, as Saint Paul would have it, enough sin to people a small South American village a couple of times over, before the second half of my life I was asleep. Only when I smelled the cheap dust in a badly upholstered armchair of three homosexual friends who took me under their wing for several months, who fed and housed me in Vermont out of charity and love for me for seven months, maybe it was eight; only then, when I read Dante—and this is the truth—did I wake up from having been an extremely talented waste.

Before inhaling the good filthy dust of an orange-thatched armchair on Lake Chaplain, and being left alone to think and be and masturbate and be, above all, listened to by three men, before I inhaled the filth of Vermont, I was asleep. Over awful pork dinners, over awful pot roasts, over bread-crumb soaked fat-dripping bacon-laid meatloaves that made me sick to have on the tip of my fork, and which, because these male friends were all gay and gallant and generous, who was I in the crapped up shoes I was wearing to have turned down the three gay g’s, even if the last of the triplet is soft? I was in no position to do anything but refuse or submit to their months of dusty love. I could never call them, they called themselves Peter, Paul, and Mary, which was a cute and apt gay joke we kept up for the entirety of my visit; I never called them by their real names, and won’t, out of my love for them. I won’t call them by their real names here in this reckoning. I loved all three and couldn’t criticize their dinner food that was dripping with fat, soaked in animal grease. I can’t even say what they called me. It wasn’t polite. But I won’t say. Some things, even in a perfect reckoning, must remain silent; some things must ever remain silent. That’s the way I am. That’s the way I have always been.

All I have left, for example, from my amour Tunisienne is a little brass plate, an ashtray really, and a single photograph, which, since I never take pictures, I have no pictures of my loves, is exceptional. For me it is taboo. I will say as little as possible about my amour Tunisienne, not out of shyness, not out of shame, not out of guilt, not out of pride. I will not name her. People I have loved I never name. The only external reminder I have of my amour Tunisienne is a small brass ashtray, a souvenir plate, with her name’s meaning, along with other arabesque designs, banged into the side, banged into the lip. Her name means star. I may point to every constellation I know of in the heavens; with my etymological wand I may point to her name itself; I may indicate it with the index of translation; but I will never say it. Somewhere in my lifelong heap of junk I have this plate with her name hammered into the side of it in English capital letters, in, I should say, a Roman alphabet, a small gift she passed to me sometime before our clandestine love affair was discovered by her older brother.

I have been mad about women all my life; for me, as others bend their knee to the Cross, I lower myself to women. As others seek spiritual salvation through Christ, my life has been a Golgotha of women. Everywhere on this hill of skulls, my loves are crucified. Everywhere on this bloody hill of women there is another lover. My journey to the divine heart has been through women, from my earliest teens, when I was a doubtful American thrown on the white coral beaches of Carthage, where along the promenade at vespers young girls walked their light-brown arms wrapped around each other’s waists, down and up the red-tiled promenade above the Mediterranean Sea, their unheard voices drowned out by the skulk and shuffle of matchstick-striking boys leering here and there, like me. All my life I have lit matches, and struck them before the faces of illuminated women. In Carthage and elsewhere, much of my life has been a discovery of the divine through an ongoing and endless crucifixion of feminines. It is the only way I seem to learn. Through loss I have learned and through loss gained everything.

Just last year I traveled to a local film screening and, seeing a seat free beside a young woman, asked her if she minded my sitting beside her. Shortly after welcoming me to the seat, she put out her hand and greeted me with her name. Establishing within the several minutes before the screening room darkened about us an intimacy of names and places, more than just her raw beauty itself, to which I am and always have been irrevocably attracted, the shaded salience of a cheekbone, the knobbed attenuated wrist bared at the cuff, the smell of beauty, that sweet unguent of salt and water and grease, it is a smell itself that draws me in like the word itself love uttered by another before me, more than just the similar social accents exchanged between us, I was lost to my now perpetual silence. While I later, the next day in fact, sent to this lovely young woman, whose surname and town in which she lived she had given to me, a copy of the extant text of the great poet-lover Sappho, marking the spot with a yellow autumn leaf where on the right-hand page the English reads the English, and on the left-hand page reads the Greek, I will never hear from her again, I will never in daylight see her.

That it was my desire to do so, though it was my desire to see her again, though in her beauty and youth was awakened in me the rapture of Carthage, though my heart could recall the scandaled bliss of placing my hand on my amour Tunisenne’s right knee seated on the filthy curb of an urban street, in Tunis itself, where we had conspired to create our lovers’ tryst, though next to my own smell of my own nose crammed into my own armpit, though besides my own the salted aromas of this movie girl’s body filling up my lips with blood puffed they were the best ever I smelled once in my life, though I felt the urges of a lifetime to compose a thousand poems and shred them to papered fragments to be mulched by the promiscuous woods and pulped by the greasy and slimy estuaries besides which we all live, I could guess even then, when I know nothing of propriety, when I go through the mere motions of manner and propriety, when the coattails of my upright social upbringing are grabbed onto; when, if, for example, to note an entering female I turn the entirety of my albeit squat, foreshortened torso about, rather than cranking around the hairy uncouth knob of my flustered head to view the entrant; when my true barbaric self behind a knoll lies half-hidden and I pretend that outwardly I am the handsome JFK, when this collision happens, when I am neither half the one nor half the other, when both exterminate the other, when I mentioned to this great young beauty whose oily breasts were a button away the poet-goddess Sappho just before the darkness of the movie theatre descended and she knew nothing of Sappho, the name itself was foreign, unheard of, even then I knew in my shivers that I should never meet her again. Throughout the dark screening, my left hand cupping the armrest, I felt her breath exhaled on my warmed fingers. Being placed on the face pointing downwards the nose is such a funny thing, I thought: made to send messages of love even the sender may not comprehend, understand, or even know of. Phoenician thrown from a cliff my love is fallen down to a nameless purple sea.

I will never say to the world the name of my amour Tunisienne or the name of the young movie girl. The one I knew in my teens, the other in my fifties. It is all the same to me, and I have never let a truth in my heart be corrupted by naming it. The particular province of men, to name, is one I have steered away from in my life. To have records of my life runs counter to everything I believe in. Only were I sure that a lover were to be a lover for life would I take her picture. That is why my amour Tunisienne is such an exception. Her picture, which I snapped at a careless moment, I don’t have the impulse to destroy, nor do I wish to keep it. I would never snap the picture of a woman unless I knew I were to spend my entire life with her. That has, except for this one exceptional picture, been my lifelong credo. I have, except for this one picture, been faithful to it. I have no pictures of any of my lovers, not one of them, except of course for the amour Tunisienne.

In the picture, it is actually a picture of her and me, we are standing next to each other, I with my arm hung atop her shoulder, and she with her arm held loose around my waist. Her older sister, Jemullah, which means beautiful, took it. We are smiling. I cannot bear to look at it. Even my memory of it makes me sad. When I look at that picture in my memory, I am saddened forever by how happy I am. I cannot bear to have dozens of pictures like this. So, I have none. Pictures of happiness would be impossible to live by. So, I have none. The idea of pictures of happiness reminds me of the life they represent as no longer being so. So, these pictures represent a life that is false. Pictures represent falsehood. So, I cannot bear any of them. This is especially true for the dozens of pictures of women I have loved. I cannot bear to see any of them. It would be suicidal for me to have kept pictures of my loves. They would have made me feel false, and, therefore, suicidal. So, except for the amour Tunisienne, whose existence has been a silent curse throughout my life, and which I never will destroy, I have not taken any pictures of women and therefore have not been faced again ever with keeping or not keeping some. I have made it perfidious to take and therefore keep any. I have made it sacrilege. I have paid homage to all the women I have loved by not taking and not keeping their pictures.

This, really, is my only religion, it is my only constant lifelong practise. In everything else, I have lived in violation, a sort of violation that at times has been steadfast and at others not. But, in any case, I have lived a life continuously filled with violations, and every violation is a violation of love. The one aspect of my life which I have not violated is the taking of pictures, except for my amour Tunisienne. Excepting her, I have all my life been steadfast and true to this one reigning principle: never to take the picture of a woman whom I did not doubt I would know forever. In this, except for the Tunisienne, a plague to me, I have been true. To me, naming women I have loved is identical to taking their pictures. Their names spoken are identical to the images taken. To me, it doesn’t matter if that name is one from decades and decades back, or if that name is one from the week prior. The divine must never be profaned. To me, naming and creating the image of the divine profanes it. It is taking what is divine and soiling it, chewing up what is real and meaningful to what is rendered mere amusement and sport. I have never named or created an image of any of my life’s loves, besides the one already detailed, and I never will.

(Novel excerpt, 2004—click here for other current works)

Geewhiz! (And it’s free!)

bluestone

Hey, Geewhiz,

You’re just the kind of trouble I like. Behind your sado-masochistic array of words, I know you’re just a romantic angel falling headlong first into the lap of love. You can’t feel or fool me for a second. But, you’re really wrong about the dating bit. Are you kidding? This place is a paradise for successful daters. Even Stephen Hawking could make girls pine and yearn here. And that, basically, is the lost art of romancing, isn’t it? Some dude with the right amount of DNA to thrill your shot glass with, who’s witty and smart enough to make that little rictal smile of yours appear and wander off into the desert the same way that that poor great fool Enoch with God did. I am looking, prowling, a big Virginia Woolf-sized lighthouse on the lookout for an “adjective whore” just like you. Come on; come to Papa, and crash your vessel upon my rocks.

Egbert

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