Tiss Feda

lobster hut

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.

Robin Ames

glassy european river

There had been tiny, little, baby praying mantises clinging to grass in the swamp. I had watched them. Protected by the government, I learned in life later that it had been a crime to kill them, if I had. I did not. At the shop, the chemicals they had used way back when, did babies ever really eat the paint chips off the window sills? Did this ever happen? Today, there are no toxic emissions at all. Beijing became what Detroit had been in America in the 50’s. People die going to work, die breathing in their own apartments. Rock n Roll died. Buddy Holly died. RFK died. And so did the others. The fen and swamp that became St. Petersburg, too, killed thousands and thousands of Russian peasants. People who used to live just like human beings in medieval times who just expected themselves to be used up like stones and that was it for a human lifetime used to live like that. That’s the way it goes. It would seem to be that that’s just the way life goes sometimes, anyway. The codes I follow from the catalog just for the customers: R6 B14 C42 W13. Then shake it up on the mixer, dab a bit on the lid wet for later, blow it dry with a blow dryer, tap it down. And you’ll be good for the next seven to ten years, ma’am, sir, I tell them. And my thumbs which are turned out and are only good for milking, just like my mother’s, were never used that way for milking for thirty years in the field for that now.

 

(read & experience egbertstarr.com)

Malcolm Fremont Duquesne

burning tree

Little known thieves had stolen all my papers. I saw them yesterday, and the day before that. I hadn’t minded so much, not since Munich, not since Lake Placid. All the tiny photographs of me were gone. They had been used once as bookmarks placed in all the books I read which, too, had been tossed in the thieves’ sacks scurrying up along the goat path on which they had planned their escape, toiling with the most precious of my belongings. To this there wasn’t any merit anyway. These items held no further value to anyone, and to me, they were like stamps fluttering away from a long held collection, whose little, hinged gummed tabs holding them there in places on so many album’s pages had given way to the wind and ages. So had flown my many identities: shoemaker, critic, purveyor of bath soaps, scrupulous lover, Thucydides quoting high-rolling banker, plastic goods recycler, snow drifter, cruise boat crooner, elk hunter, paint peeler, bird seed filler, tin soldier melter, English Channel swimmer, North African sun bather, crossword doodler, morphine addict, coffee grinder, hustling dance boy, seafaring stowaway mapmaker, computer flunky renegade matchmaker, sugar frosted cake maker, blood red bugle blower, forest pine cone bagger, catnip planting gardener. I really didn’t mind this. It was a great relief, as I watched them besmirched with time, pulling the heft over the topmost ridge to the other side where they all but disappeared together into the sudden extinction of longing below the brightening winter clouds.

Nelson Jablonski

bubble blowing

I wouldn’t have given her my left but I would have given my right. I never use my right, not unless it’s flipping patties on the barbecue, not unless I’m bowling. So pretty much that side’s useless. So my wife, she could have taken it or left it. It didn’t matter to me anyway. Aruba. St. Croix. We’ve been to all those places with the white sand from all the finely ground up coral. Beaches. It’s nice like that. Snorkeling together underwater in the Bahamas. But I’ve got to say this for myself: it wasn’t like the time when I was in a glass-bottomed boat. I was this kid there and there was a glass square of glass right in the bottom of the boat we were riding in, tourists. I was a kid then, Barbados I think it was. The guide told us all to look. And the feeling of seeing all those colored fish and me being above water in air breathing air while they were breathing in the water I think was the best part of it. I always wanted since then to breathe like a fish. My wife, she thinks I married her on account that I was a maniac, you know, a sex maniac, like you read about, and I can agree part way with her. That’s how these things all begin. If you like them, then that’s how it starts. The juices they are all flowing and everything, and both parties like that. But did I ever tell her about the clownfish I saw, the kind you can see at the National Aquarium in Washington, or any one that’s halfway decent? I’ve got to level with myself there, or God, or whoever, I didn’t communicate with her ever really how much I loved watching the little striped bastards darting in and out of the waving tentacles of the anemones poisonous to everything except these fish picking out all the leftovers in the swaying arms there for their food. I never believed in reincarnation or any of that Buddhist kind of voodoo. If I did, I’d as sure as the tail on Davy Crockett’s coonskin cap, come back as that, just by myself, as close to forever as I could.

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.

This American Life

many dc tourists

When he went to the movies, once it was going and the crowd had pretty much stopped eating snacks and popcorn and slurping their sweetened drinks, he’d turn around in the movie-theater darkness and look at the people. There, they were all still, all the same. They could be old people. They could be Chinese people. They could be kids. They could be men. They could be little or big. They could be white people. They could be Cuban, or Slavic. They could be any people. They all faced the same way, quiet and all together. It was all very peaceful like that. He’d been sitting once on the Fourth of July in the grass outside. A Vermont band was playing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. To get the best seat, he had come early enough to be able to sit in the front row. The cannon went off. It aimed at the Green Mountains. The whole thing was over. When he stood up to leave, he saw the whole crowd of people, half of them with their right hands over their hearts, had been standing. It could have been 200 people, it could have been 500. He was the only person who’d sat through the whole thing and never risen. It had never occurred to him to stand, to salute, to honor the fallen, to commemorate the heroes, to have become part of the sea of patriots on their feet for who knows how long now in the soft country grass. He had not seen them and what they were doing, when they rose together like a sudden tide.

Turning Points

darkened room view

Between him and her there weren’t the usual things that derailed people, uncoupled a couple. There weren’t infidelities or nasty, name-calling arguments. There were other issues. There was, foremost, her illness which, like an outbreak of poison ivy, or some skin disease, kept coming back. And no matter what, no matter what she did: yoga, eating well, some exercise, meditation, weekend spiritual retreats—her need for support from him, through recurring morning bouts of tears, or frightful attacks of utter panic, did not abate. And there was his own need for secrecy, privacy. His walled off world of emotions and ideas, why, these he had stopped sharing with her some time ago. Some time, ago, yes: for both of them. At one point, he recalled, later on, that one day he had brought home a blue-glazed Moroccan dish, a beautiful object just for her to hang upon the kitchen wall. As he unwrapped the newspaper around it and lay it at her place at the dinner table, she barely noticed, barely acknowledged it. That was a turning point.

Maybe two years later, he came home and she was lying in the backyard grass half-drunk listening to something, music or some spiritual recording, on her phone and earbuds. She hadn’t noticed him pulling in. They went out, as she had planned, and she told him about the time the block of cheese being grated was dropped onto her plate by the waiter when she had been to this restaurant before, some other time. Yes, it was an earnest but misguided effort on her part to appear perky and lively for him, though he witnessed that evening that she could well have been with anybody else. That was another turning point.

He did not, for his part, ever mention to her that prior the end, while they had gone on a weekend vacation together, that he had seen a woman—middle-aged and light on her feet—jogging on a dirt road near their hotel. She had, having finished her jog, reached into a weathered tin mailbox, smiled, and even said to him a simple, friendly ‘hello’. That unknown woman and her address from the mailbox he had kept in his mind for two years now and had wanted to write her a letter declaring how lovely and alive and fresh and especially kind she had appeared. But nobody really ever does such things. Only mad people. Wrong people. Disturbed people who do inappropriate things. So, he didn’t.

Diana ‘Toy’ Film Camera

diana

The poet Marianne Moore defined poetry as an imaginary garden with real toads in it. I’d like to propose something similar here. That if we have a technical garden, there can be real things growing in it. It is not only possible, it was inevitable. The horizon was scanned and there was stuff in it. Moreover, it was possible to put our own stuff in it, stuff that belonged indeed to the technical age right before our own. And that can be very new and fun to do.

So, imagine Perseus without the help of a mirror to ‘not-see’ Medusa. Had he looked at this snake-ridden monster directly, rather than a reflection of her on the back of his shiny shield, then death was instant. Like others before him without the helping hand of technology (not to mention sandals that helped him fly about nimbly, as well as a cap that made him invisible!), another stone statue.

Picture not what we will imagine—regardless of any efforts to squelch or suffocate it or mute it—to be a snake-headed monster, something to fear and loathe and conquer, but something else. Picture it to be not baneful, but perhaps beneficial. I cannot myself yet imagine it. But I do know that it is inescapable because we humans are both biological and technical animals. And at times, if we welcome them, though it is rumored they have fled, we may receive the helping hand of the gods. The news is very old.

By The Beach

beach

There are haunts of things so private they must never be shown. They are not necessarily crimes or criminal. They are the opposite. They are like a little secret spring that bubbles under-leaf in the woods tended to once a year. Cleaned up with a hoe and rake, common hand tools, to keep it running. Private things. Like that. Unknown to any other. A glass of room temperature ginger ale. Folding a piece of paper evenly down the middle. The smell of beeswax up close. Medium tide at the beach. Things that are often simple, plain. Often empty. No persons. No smiles and birthday candle blown-out wishes. Vanished from sight, disappeared from the scene, things we can maybe conjure back from our abolished memories like once forgotten pictures. Sometimes they will tell us everything we ever knew (and needed to know) where we were hidden among a crowd of stars so long ago.

Holding Onto Friendship

selfie iii

For most, long gone are the days when people met like characters in a Henry James novel (and bygone are the ones for most that people read them). In that almost paralyzed world of fiction, young women when traveling met eligible young men with letters of introduction. Everything was set so that everything was just right. And in this world, even on the United States’ side of Atlantic, it is to be believed that persons of one family, at one point in time, were known or were made known to other families of suitable presence and stature. Even as late as the 1980’s, which is beginning to seem like a true period of American history already, class separations were distinct, and even if one met a partner in a bar, it could most likely be assumed that that other person in that particular bar belonged to the same or similar family class background as one’s own—in loose but direct enough accordance to whichever or whatever stratum one seemingly belonged. This means that the sleaziness of ‘hook-ups’ in bars then was often not as unwarranted or as low-down and as truly base as they were afterwards made out (or negatively romanticized) to be, even if they remained promiscuous.

Still, even the most deeply held feelings—even love—that one may have had and experienced in today’s world of digital-dating (the closest contemporary analog to the old world’s ‘bar scene’) simply vanish the way one awaits a car’s electric window to go up or to go down while pushing forward or pulling backwards a small plastic lever, or pressing a button, with one’s index finger: there is a little lag while the window is going back up or going back down (whichever of the two becomes the new default position—as either “0” (aught) or “1” (strike). But neither is anything like the old-fashioned, roundabout hand-cranking handles that one actually turned with one’s hand and felt all the way up through one’s elbow and into one’s arm. There, there was a feeling one felt remembered each time a window was rolled up or down. For even this minor gesture, there was a little thought put into it, and one’s movements, however seemingly mechanical, were deliberate. Now they are not. They are perhaps idle or perfunctory, as if one were oneself really just a part of the car’s overall machinery, getting and spending time, people, or whatever . . . rather than the yearning and sometimes fearful human being who wanted to feel the wind blowing through her hair, or the other one wishing to feel her hand reaching behind his head and tussling his just above the nape, just as, one imagined, any two lovers speeding down the highway would want to do.