Elwyn Leitus McCabe

handsome men walking

The last ship for Parnassus had departed. It had left. Isn’t that a landlocked place? Isn’t it a fabled place? The passengers had ignored me. Some wore scarlet scarves. Some not even sandals. It was all a confusion. A small man touched my shoulder and said, “The best things Man ever did were done before dawn,” and left, carrying straw baskets holding nothing. Half-flirting, I asked a woman holding two children, one under each arm, when there was the departure, the next. “Even though,” she said, “I can see that you’re not looking after my children, there is no other.” I could not understand, besides her admonition, what she had meant. The gangplank was full of people, and I was one of them. It had seemed they were all boarding. There was so much chaos it was almost festive. A man who looked just like the picture in my mind of what a vicar would be, repeated to no one that the times were dreaded, that these were the dreaded times. The bustle of people, the nonstopping commotion, the stink of animals, and the rubbing of clothes, this was all so ordinary. I had wanted to yell, I had wanted to shout that: that it was indeed so plain and so gloriously common. These seething shambles of humanity were indeed quite a place to live among. Inescapable, really. All of us, we all, were being knocked down, pushed, and bent over. Language, and words, and quips fell from our mouths like pieces and bits of straw to the ground would. Nobody minded, and everybody cared. By Zeus, by the nail of Thoth, I thought to myself: I am no one! The relief I had felt for the crushing moment of my life then had been exquisite and I knew that if I should take one more step with the crowd toward the mountain the rough magic spent would become everlasting.

Jean Baptiste Smillen

rainbow gas station

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.

Giving Up On Your Favorite Color

family

Having almost completely displaced the world now, we can look at it, almost like a discarded object at a yard sale for others perhaps to buy. It is like, as a past lover had sealed within an envelope for me to open later in Berlin, enfolded about a piece of her own dental floss, a handwritten note that read, “Like me, a little bit used, though still good!” She had wished me safe return. But the willingness we have to spill the most intimate, the most personal details of ourselves, like a solitary sailor, who spends the facts of his life like small change on strangers, his coins scattered on a bartop, is nevertheless alarming, or, at any rate, to note. For who can remember anymore stubbing her toe on the raised, wooden planks of Fire Island? And who can recall the sweetness of seeing the purple majesty of the Rocky Mountains jutting up immensely and suddenly on that flat road? Before even having felt really a thing at all, before having tasted salty or sour on one’s tongue, before having divided the difference between what is bitter and what is acrid, the possibility of these human moments is automatically transferred elsewhere. Really, little more than the joyful tap of ‘the ability to send this’ is experienced right now.

Perhaps an old, leftover expression itself such as ‘like a hot potato’—which stands for ‘the thing’ to be gotten rid of—does remain. But the chairs, the music, the people? All that delicious randomness, fun, and chaos? Everything that goes with, that went with, the hot potato . . . Gone. They are gone. Fled, like the gods fled to the woods, long ago, according to some. To dwell ever alone in grief? Gone. To live even a lost cotton candy moment by oneself in carnival bliss? Gone. To immerse oneself and to be burned alive in a Blakean fiery pit of anger? To feel these all too human things, things that are ours. They have very nearly, like a mathematical formula underlying it all, become objectified—either in the digitally silenced words we transmit on the fly, or the 2.4 MB pictographic scans of our next or more recent flat tire by the roadside, that tiny deflated cry that does not say, “Help me!” even, but: “Look at me in this position of distress!” Even the exclamation point itself has become just another way to announce the multitude of our many assertions, rather than as a human marker marking our plaintive, lonely cry for succor and much needed assistance, when truly or sorely needed.

Along with our distresses, our glories we have tossed into convenient, easy-to-predict categories to be ‘consumed’ by those we do not know, (and those we do!) We have created, too, the illusion of stumbled-upon, scattered breadcrumbs—digital clues—whose organization is actually very carefully organized and thought out. What had been important once—to feel the bee sting—that is become obsolete, if not soon to be unknown altogether. That unknown moment of terror, that moment of pain, that frightening lasting instance of running into the kitchen to have one’s mother pat down the stinger’s reddening inflamed spot with a poultice of her own homemade wet baking soda, and thus to feel soon better, and thus to be relieved, saved by her, this belonged to another world. I am not arguing that this is a ‘bad’ thing. I am only observing that the ‘human element’ has become nearly irrelevant, and that we have become the almost perfect, inhuman observers of the skies, heavens, and ourselves on this little blue marble, like players at a casino who play the exquisite game well, even perfectly, without caring about winning or losing.