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.

Daimon Philips

One hour I had worked in the dirt. And one hour I had worked in the sun. One more in the rain. And the hour that I had liked most was filled with filth and mud. In that were stones, roots, and glass bottles tossed by careless men meandering down drunkenly the backside of the sinuous mountain road away from the police and human desires. And each of these bottles, smashed and whole, I tossed gently into a glass heap. For decades since, the rain had washed the dirt, and the bottles’ broken colors had shone. Now that I had become old, about to die, I had recalled my venal life, uncorrupted by most things most were corrupted by. For me, it was never women, and it was never gold. But the glint of glass, old roadside bottles broken to pieces, all these jewels, all this rubbish had become my Aqaba, my final shipwreck, my Pyrrhic victory against fortune and time.

Mitch Böcklinfeld

dilapidation

The paper wasps’ home was shredded. And my love affair with life had ended, crumpled up in tiny spheres on the ledge of my piano. I did not know where I had put last month’s bills that had not been paid whose fines I had weaseled out of again. Dissolute and empty-bottled, I knew that Spring would greet the morning soon enough. Though cameras strapped in the trees had watched my antics and peccadilloes, I had been innocent as any pauper accused of public hoarding. Rooting through my neighbors’ bins, I had found the twine-bundled news retelling the stories of last century’s politics that really, in the end of days, meant a straw to the passing wind and me. I continued to decline the several invitations I had had—and continued to receive—to play my mandolin, which joy I had once known, and time ago had been well-known for, locally and elsewhere abroad. Who could now subscribe to such vanity? As for my relentless, unrelenting sweet tooth, such a habit I kept almost like a practiced virtue unto myself exclusively, and had chosen not to share the faintest fingertip of my thinking—or any other thought—which I might have had with another living anywhere. My pulse, my blood, it was—it had become—like a private magic that I was holding within, that I could not explain, like a walk I had had to take to the end of my snow-bedusted driveway, having risen from my warmed bed sleeping, just to go there in the middle of the late blackened night, emptied of the heavens’ own eyeless stars.

Vicktor B. Kruharth

dollar bill boy

There is no shame in being poor. One is spared having to make choices all the time. When one has money, one enters shops and stores and is always deciding this or that, or not this or not that. One is constantly making these sorts of decisions, deciding whether or not to buy the many things upon the shelves, things that wait there to be bought by my hands reaching up or by someone else’s. Whether to buy a pair of cashmere gloves or not. Because I like cashmere. Whether to buy a hand-made silk camisole from France for a lover. Because doing so is romantic, soft, and sexy. Whether to buy organic avocados. Because they taste best. In being poor I am free to wander in and out of stores. Hello, Tarik! And spend a half hour talking with him about his school days in North Africa. Hello, Suzy! And in between her holiday customers, I flirt with her only to flatter away the time, and do nothing else before leaving. It is such a relief! Everybody else is so busy with their noses in the classic or the best-seller books in bookstores they are reading and skimming with their noses deep in them for their boyfriends this year who will not be their boyfriends this time next year and they will have to put their noses in another book again the same way (making sure to only themselves—for who else would ever know?—that it is not the same book as last year, or the year or the boyfriend or the book before that) for all these different boyfriends, book after book, year after year. The floral- or fruit-scented bath soaps husbands must buy their wives which they do so out of a perennial symbol of the season’s obligation, whose failure to have done so would become a breach of custom tempting back-turned upon wordlessness at night (and no act of sex to indicate that all is well conjugally as it should be) before going to sleep, I am completely spared of too. If it is a new wife, so much the worse, and all the more difficult. Getting it right. Pleasing her. All is so fraught. I am spared it completely. I will wander on my own to the woods and with a bow saw cut down a small green tree since I cannot afford even to buy one from the local Christmas tree lot this year. And the sense of relief I feel from not having to make any of these choices this year to me is so great, I almost shudder when I remember, when I recall, having had lots of money once and being able to buy, had I wanted to, a fir tree twenty feet tall; had I wished to, buying expensive German designer shirts, and hand-crafted beeswax candles sweetly burning away my lost nights of love and languor. How free I am now that this gone. Gone! To be totally stripped of choice! To be in a position of cannot. All this is gone from me! When I wake, tomorrow I will walk alone across the causeway, my eyes looking across the flat wide open lake the wind has already passed over.

Roger Fernblatt

bar bottles

The cart I had had as a boy was more than enough. And the string of Rolls-Royces I had had as a man was more than enough. If, when I was a boy, there had been Rolls-Royces, the same would also have been true. And if, as a man, all I had known were carts, the same also would be true. Perhaps I needed to have known having had Rolls-Royces to start with and then, over the course of my life, to have lost them all. This is common enough and would be a common enough story of the loss of material wealth, which this is not the story of, if it is a story at all, at all. This is only to say by pointing out how obvious it is that whatever we have or whatever we don’t have is plenty enough already. And it does not matter if that star in one’s pocket is shiny when it is taken out and held before the sun or not. It is just a star in one’s pocket, so leave it at that. But I am really not talking about that at all even. For how odd that I have said all of these things as though my having “had had” were as normal as anything else in this world, as if there were actual road posts which I could hammer into the roadway; or like cards in a deck of cards, placed an individual card with my fingers in the upper or lower half of that deck somewhere in it. But after all, these are just games that people play with language when there is not of course any such ‘roadway’ or ‘deck of cards.’ This is just a great and grand game with reality, nothing more. For really I cannot declare if such events as I have just told them to be are at all. Thus, what is ‘anterior’ or what is ‘posterior’ is just ridiculous to me. What is ‘pocket,’ where is ‘star,’ when is ‘shiny’? When I put things like this, it is only then that I am able to stand back and now realize how foolish I have been.

The Staircase Of Noble Wood

deserted mine

There wasn’t enough cash left to get two cans of high temp paint to spray the woodstove black. It’d have to do to let it burn through the winter this time, grimy and rusty in spots. Next year will be better. And the switched out pair of snows had just enough tread hopefully to pass inspection if he did it one or two months earlier than the windshield sticker said to in February when by then making it up the hill would be impossible and down’d be deadly.

Fortunately, the cat wasn’t balking at dry food which per pound per meal was much less change to spend than can after can, even by the case, of wet. She’d gotten used to the dry crackle of kibbles in between her teeth, mushed in with a little wet around sundown when she’d come inside for the last time before nightfall. And the cat purred anyway so long as she was treated kindly stretched out on his chest, or balled up on the colored striped blanket folded on the corner of the bed.

He’d go about his business, felling standing timber, cutting it up, and buying a new chain now and then when the spare broke, as happens from time to time. And then the rest was split by hand which, as work, is a decent way of forgetting everything. Making firewood is a good way to live. It takes only calmness, focus, steady breaths, and enough strength to lift a maul above the head before the grace of Earth’s gravity lends her own hand to travel swiftly down between the seam unseen to the human eye.

Maybe one day his name would be posted in the middle pages of the local newspaper with all the others whose land and homes were in arrears. But that could be some time yet. That could be some time before the sheriff came. Things by then could change, maybe for the better, maybe not. Years back, when he was rich, he’d had a lawyer who’d gibed, “You can’t squeeze blood out of turnip.” So to turn turnip, so to turn rock. There never was shame in being poor.

For gifts, he’d give away a pretty enough feather he’d find (or had found) lying somewhere in the woods. A first edition of The Lives of Cells, by Lewis Thomas, would be nice from his bookshelves. A diamond unearthed from the great days swinging a sledge at Herkimer would please him immensely, too. There were enough rocks and minerals and handfuls of Apache tears to give away to others for years.

Life During Tea Time

latch

Even his cheap old tea was gone. The old, paper-wrapped bags of black English Breakfast, sitting in the back of the cabinet for years, a long papery row of hardly ever used sacks of really dry, and really common stuff packed in a flimsy cardboard box. Ripped into. There were others, too, that’d been used up, of a far more fancy kind. Finely woven sachets that opened up like tetrahedronal parachutes when into steaming water poured from a kettle they were plopped. Once, he recalled, he’d known an older woman, whose net worth was in the tens of millions, to have served him this rather ridiculously in a half-filled Styrofoam cup.

Yes, she had pointed out to him and his mad wife at the time the giant nest where the bald eagles dove to kill prey at the corner of her flowing Hudson River property. She had, since then, sold that mansion for another entrenched upon some paradisiacal edifice built into the escarpment of Maine for tens of millions more. Ah, that was a time, and such teas did the rich like that drink.

Later, he had indeed been happy. The grassy sencha caught his taste at the back of his throat. The silver needle, so delicate and so fine, whose fresh flushes were picked during just two weeks time alone, would match for many years his evenly kept balance. But most of all, of any love affair he had ever had of such kind, was gyokuro. This shy and subtle tea, shaded for weeks before its shoots are plucked, was his heart’s once. Steeped for many long minutes in water that, for some, would barely measure to them as hot, he had warmed both the pot and cup beforehand when it had been made.

Today, all that luxury was gone. And he scrounged around like a mouse looking, rather than for a spare kernel of popcorn, or a bit of grain, for anything to steep lying about in leftover, empty wooden Clementine boxes. Little and large metal tins among empty glass Mason jars, once casually filled with oolongs and other less favorable fruity experiments, clanged and banged about like bunches of noisy wind chimes one could only wish the neighbors or a hurricane would take down.

It was all gone. The fragrances of love spent. The allure and yearning for romance, gone. The flavorful infusions of flavor, reduced to now a small lemon wedge squeezed into boiling hot water. The fact remained that he had not run his life profitably like a tea shop on the village corner, or, for that matter, like any other. Instead, he could already claim, like Brecht, that he had left this life “without regret, or with only slight regret,” if one should choose to be almost perfectly honest, and almost smiling publicly.

Potato Chip Man Yoga Retreat

snow & sign & shed

He’d take a little bit of household garbage, the kind that can’t be recycled or the kind that can’t be composted, and crumple it up. Then he’d take that little bit and a little bit more than that and crumple it up, and when he had crumpled up many small bits of garbage and stuffed all the small bits of crumpled up garbage into a medium-sized, empty potato chip bag, he’d put the stuffed bag of garbage filling the potato chip bag by his front door. Later on, when he had to leave the house to drive to town, he’d push the garbage-filled potato chip bag into the public trash barrel that stood outside the grocery store where he went food shopping. That way, he could reduce by many times the trips he would have had to have made to the local dump to throw out a large, 39 gallon trash bag filled with garbage for 6 dollars a bag. Meanwhile, his ex-girlfriend would take out-of-state trips to Yoga Retreat Centers, big ones with recognizable names in the Northeast. She’d meet wonderful, upper-middle class people there like herself and do poses and stretches and eat high quality vegetarian food and make close new friends, and eligible middle-aged men whose cars were even nicer than hers was. Since she was sterilized, sex was never a problem with people from the get-go, even though it meant everything everybody had it got spread around like a very thin layer of peanut butter that nobody could taste or see but which everybody became infected by. Yes, for sure, no doubt, everybody in her social circles now they were bound to be rich, flexible in body, and totally gung-ho about living life. He, on the other hand, with his beautiful solitary mind, would never again waste a moment. His poverty made him aware of every action; his thinking made him, whenever he talked at all now, which was seldom anymore, aware of his few remaining spoken words.