Nobody had seen my raincoat. And nobody had seen my gloves. My adze was missing as well. All the accoutrements of living were long gone. In between the bramble bush of tomorrow I had strolled and wept. I remembered the northeast climate I had had. What was that? A curling vein of smoke from a faraway chimney pipe? A loose cannon of confederate recollection came back to my graveyard destined bone bits. A melancholy after-mint of a weekend once spent sailing upon a glass-smooth lake in Switzerland, landlocked and suffocating. The instrument panel of my once crashing plane had been a twirling in madness, a sort of mechanical failure of an immeasurable human kind. Nostalgia for the homeland was mixed with lost sentimentality for a pretended bluebird’s song that never quite was. My carnival clown conclusion had been several quotation marks away from some offbeat Hobbesian doom. Somewhere in the offing, at the foot of an invisibly seen rainbow, I had felt in the heels of my feet the looming sortie of a great relief.
Half my life had been spent in the plus-que-parfait. Half in the subjunctive. Nor would I have argued that the two must be mutually exclusive. In one I had groused food, pills, and women. Always at loose ends. Somewhere beside the train tracks in Tornio or Haparanda I’d be smoking. Interviewed, interrogated, chased. It was very tough and very fun. The flip side were to have been more awakened. The one who rose long before dawn, who looked out and saw the blackness of night, and greeted each morning with a line of poetry remembered in the eye. At any rate, if what I were to have had had been an iota different, I can’t imagine ever having made my little cottage this my home. Nothing was parallel. Everything seemed to have been at odds, on a crash course with each other. But who will watch the squirrels building high nests in the empty trees with long threads of blue tarpaulin? And the bean seeds by miracle itself in their dirt garden rows first sprouting then growing to plants in the spring, bearing themselves for us to eat by summer? And the littlest of children who just on their own as high as my knees just out of their minds beginning to talk just on their own? That all these things had been normal, it had made me take a seat back the many days I had spent alone when I had wished I were with a wife, a friend, or a lover. Then, toward the end, when I had stepped into my hot air balloon to sail away, I had known at once as I was peeling towards the thin bluish heavens that anybody who looked up could see I was becoming smaller and smaller and smaller.
Everything that I had done they said was bunched to the middle. When I played softball, it was bunched to the middle. When I gardened turnips, flowers, and cucumbers, it was bunched to the middle. I was never too much to the left or was too much to the right. If you wanted an opinion, people would go to the middle to see, and I’d give the word on that. In between a carnival and a circus what was the answer? For me it was never so hard. Anybody could see the differences between things, between war and peace, and between love and hate, but where did that get anything? If I’d have had a stopover flight into LAX, I’d go to the beach for an hour just to watch the trick kites diving and swerving down to the sand, close to the water. If there was a better charm, or a better bracelet to be had, it was nothing to mind to me. There were just as many of both worse. Of course I had my own opinions of things, but these got lost along the way like so many acorns by squirrels just get forgotten in the ground where they probably belong. What came out of me wasn’t necessarily that wise, and it just wasn’t so smart, no more so than I was, or could claim to be either. It was just less. I just wasn’t like two radio sportscasters filling up time on the airwaves, which is a sort of genius that they have pitch after pitch, strike after strike, foul after foul, hit after hit, game after game. What got left to say was about the cluster over dry milkweed stalks the butterflies going to Mexico must have missed by the roadside. Or if you had the Indianapolis 500 that that meant going around the track at 250 mph for two hours without accidents. Or only people watching them turn clownfish into something that’s funny. It’s actually the middle 2/3 of the pile of sand that makes the mountain. And all the crazies and tough lucks are like the grains brushed away the farther you go to the ends. I know that some people had considered me an Atlas, and some people just behind my back would have called me a donkey. There might have been a cart, a load of apples, and an apple vendor. He’d cry out all day, “Apples! Apples for sale!” And he’d sell enough to live. Some would get swiped by hooligans. And some would fall away while he rolled it down the cobblestones. And some were just rotten. Most of them that got sold will be good enough, and eaten by all the people who bought them.
I had traveled long ago to lose myself. I went from land to land and scattered my days like ashes for the dead. I spent my years in one regime and another. I had wanted to disappear and with texts in Attic Greek, I read myself into the hinterland of near oblivion and ruin. None of my compatriots had meant a thing to me. And I spoke my mother tongue afar as though it were a foreign language. Conversation became a rough draft; I spent years and years revising that. “My bones and everything was expanded,” I had heard her say behind my booth in a diner back in New York. I had come home, and knew that this is where my oar was pitched to stay. Masters in Tibet wake up when they are home there. And some in monasteries, too. The farther flung, the less likely, the more impossible. The deep sleep of voyaging had once been mine. But that is not home. That is why sailors are restless. The seafaring life is a life between solid ground below your feet and the ever-shifting foam of the ocean. It is never quite one and it is never quite the other. After twenty years in one spot, it occurred to me that only when one’s home is no longer foreground and is no longer background, only when I had seen myself in my own passing painting, or my own film unrecorded, of my own so-called life, putting the dark blue bear-torn plastic lid on the light blue garbage can filled with pine cones from the woods to help me start a fire, could I even begin to have the chance to see. Only then does the ordinary become extra-ordinary, and then even that goes away: the difference between ‘ordinary’ and ‘extra-ordinary,’ like a place holder, a visible bookmark in an invisible book; only then, when that had become what it had been while it was, was anything possible. And after a while, for a while, I watched myself doing my most ordinary daily chores between my tool shed and my house, just after the twinkling of dawn, just when the grass had been frozen still with the night’s white iciness on every blade of it beneath my boots, just then for a little while, when I had disappeared entirely while my eyes like two bright sister stars were completely open, as though I had been God’s true monk sitting atop the world’s tallest mountain.
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.
I hadn’t been prevented to perform my sacred duties. The cotton candy I spun. The jet craft’s nose screen I polished. Children were happy. Bomber pilots saw clearly. When winning prizes, I tore up tickets. When in the pillory, I grinned the fool. In the middle of the woods, I peeled the bark off fallen birches. And when the fires had close to burnt out overnight, with these snow-white curlings, I began them again. My hut remained warm but lonely. I read almost nothing. A chess clock, a small hour glass with blue sand, and a pair of walkie-talkies from the ‘70s I put by the roadside for others passing by to take. I had remembered, too, passing by Dwarestaat and being by Pieter invited in. He had a thousand antiques for sale which are a thousand times more precious now. And I am sure he is dead. I still had loved the carnivals as much as ever. And I don’t mind working, when I have, performing dangerous feats for the purposes of deadliest destruction. Somewhere in my collection of everything I have lost, I indeed have had, a childhood bag of marbles, a small suede sack with at least half the Indian beads sewn on falling off. To lose even the memory of this was promised when before daylight I had faced the east for hours, and at nighttime when I lay down again, my head had slumbered toward the west.
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I had listened to the waltzes of Chopin. I had listened to the preludes and études. And in all the world seldom had I heard a show off who had so much to show off. Having so much fun, such a little man with such a wild esprit. I could not forget laughing and kicking up dust when we were flâneurs lounging in Szentendre. When you had visited me last night, I was not confounded nor was I surprised to see you again just as young. Nor, I old. You called me your “faithful friend” and made me worry not a moment again. You’ve died a thousand deaths since then long ago, not one death dying a coward, each time falling in my dreams. Last night I lay wide awake and you had simply urged me to carry on. So Satie, Brahms, and B. B. King I’ll play today. These records, LPs, like books, had been piled up on your couch in Tudor City. Thirty years ago, you had reminded me once in New York, both of us leaving a service for the late Joe Turner, that Duke Ellington of Louis Armstrong had said, “He was born poor. He died rich. And he never hurt anybody.” You reminded me of a million million great things, things I never knew, and never would otherwise have ever in my life known, exclaiming with your arms held wide open to the great city streets of our youth love for all this seething humanity.
I had come from a family of ironists. I was the only three-leaf clover in it. The rest of them were off on some exploration, either to find or to lose themselves. They would travel. To Madagascar. To South Korea. To Denmark. To California. To Alberta. To the Galapagos. To Lhasa. To Nova Scotia. To the Yucatan. It was all some sort of clover-pulling, a worldwide hunt for something a little different, a little vain, a little less known. It was some sort of pretend game of Marco Polo that I never bought into. So I was never the same. I was, as they said, “born without shoes,” which meant that I did not go, I did not travel, I was not fit to travel or go anywhere because, as the idiom goes, I had no leather shoes upon my feet to protect them and to be able to do so. So I stayed at home and was considered by my immediate kind unworldly and provincial. I had been the kind of person who marked time by an ax. By this I had meant only that I followed the natural course of the seasons. There were seasons to chop wood. There were seasons to chop down a tree. There were seasons to lay the blade into a stump. There were seasons to lay it in the corner of the shed. That’s what I meant. The way it worked—irony—was to pretend either in person or in letter that you were just a bit dumber or a bit more stupid than you were in actual life; or, if nobody around could guess it, then just you yourself in your inner, personal life would do it. Only you would know. And most of the time that’s how they were. Once, after a minor operation, when I went to visit my own father in the hospital, he lay with his hands clasped together around a rose in the middle of his chest with his eyes closed in his bed. Then opened them and spoke to me. Like that. I had always been the “I can go on, I must go on” type; they were the “I can’t go on, I’ll go on type.” I was as dumb or as smart as my thumbprint on a Coke bottle. My breath was the fog blown on a bathroom mirror. My very first metaphor was seeing my own image of myself looking back up at me in a clear lake. My last inhalation in life will be the word Allah, and the last exhalation in life will be the word Love.
Infidelities had not been my thing, not my strong point. Nor polyamorous détente posing as an acceptable spin-about, two-way mirror. My beloved and I, we’d hang out a spell in the local commuter lot sucking down a rum-laced smoothie and watch the parking meters there go to zilch, to zero. This was before the armistice, when public appearances as such were not frowned upon. What keeps the peace makes the peace, the newbies from the inland landlubbers used to say. And I hopped in the passenger seats of some. Fine leather seats. Doe skin floor mats. Skunk pelt shoulder rests. Chip-enhanced hi-def resolution video display on the dash and visor. Putting such spousal considerations in the glove box. Making out like an Aston Martin in spoon time. The fistful of quarters went for a while, and shining the light with my lithium battery torch over the small asphalt plain looking for love again when the high rollers bailed out at 7 pm, it wasn’t so skeezy but it wasn’t exactly not either. It was the crank crank crank near coming into the rush to come on the upcurve slope of the soon to crash downward rollercoaster cliché. So it became a thing. Doing it my way, or doing it your way. Downing that all with wheat ale at 11 pm back with my true love was some time had off 45 NE. Then we’d kick it and rub all night like it was second heaven till dawn.
Garbage trucks had carried garbage, and school buses carried children. If it had been the other way around: if school buses had carried garbage and garbage trucks had carried children, we’d have had a different problem. But, thanks be to the dog of Egypt, they didn’t. They sounded, however, carrying the metal luggage of themselves up the hills, almost exactly the same before sunlight on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday morning. On Wednesday not: there were no garbage trucks running. The companies did not compete. Only buses. Which was strange for my little village. All the crows around there battled for scraps of road meat. Me, I never ate the stuff, didn’t touch any such carnage. The birds about they carried tufts of blue tarp strings to mend and to make their springtime nests. They didn’t care if it was synthetic plastic or organic twine, and neither did I. The lofty squirrels jumping from high tree limbs with their mouths full of last autumn’s leaves built their insulated empires expecting in their simple genes dearth and snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Any job I ever had had was lifting bales of trash from the roadside and heaving them into the back end of a truck, if I ever passed the test, which I did not. Too heavy. I wasn’t strong enough. But the gusto of anonymity, of nobody knowing me, it had appealed to me. As a former A+ student, with a traceable name, and higher degrees, I was not taken seriously enough, and subsequently by the short-arm of the government was fined by the courts 100,000 forints which I naturally refused to pay. In time, after many years, after strewing my trash out in the cobblestones along the curbside, I was ordered to be hanged by the feet until dead, against all reason, logic, and common sense—not on account of that per se, but on my perennial failure to ever have paid my taxes & flouting local ordinances.