I wrote this almost exactly a year ago today. Some feelings just keep going around.
You open your eyes to the sound of a motor. There is sun enough today, you think, that my neighbor is mowing his lawn. You shuffle to the window and you greet the cold, slick rain. Across the street, a generator forces air and paint through the nozzle of a power spray-gun.
You put on your Sunday best.
You must wash it away—you tell yourself—the stink of all your unfinished work. A reminder: be sure to get under the nails, for it lingers there, sickly and brown. But be quick about it, now—it’s already five of one and she’s due back at two.
Round the corner with a bright red umbrella. Mind the puddles for it will not do for your boots to be wet until dinner.
Sit on a stage. The patrons are around you, with their coffee and their books. They open their books and they open their ears and they await your performance with the stiffness of those words. Be a little nimble with your chatter and your wit; extol the virtue of this gay and profane little world of ours—so flippantly grave, so exuberantly serious. Do it with a little craft. They are listening, after all.
And then, good-bye! —She is gone to the street with the cold and the rush and sting of the traffic going by. Try to remember the warmth of red booths, of the coffee and the patrons and the chatter. Red can be warm but it does not last. The last warm things in life can all be found, abandoned at the bottom of empty cups.
You hum a little; it gives you strength. Strength can be real but it does not last.
You walk out into the rain and make something out of nothing. Nothing is what there is until you’ve poured some something into it. The universe is closed. In from where; out from what? You walk into the rain. You wonder about nothing.
Here is a full stop. There is the road. Here are the vines and there are the envelopes, full once with words but now empty of rain. The river is swollen and it bears no regard. Departed; left no addresses.
You think with your eyes. They are tired.
—Your hands are scrubbed raw but you still see the stains; the flowers have all gone to seed.
You try to work but you sleep instead; fall asleep to the sound of a motor.
Dream a dream where the sun is shining—and your neighbor is mowing his lawn.
But we got lost in the shape
Of arms tangled wild
In brave indecision
When they come
With their dark collars
And their heavy boots;
With their warrants and their statutes and their holy charge;
When they come
To wrap us
And bear us away
To anonmyous night;
When they come
To censure us
And to make us feel ashamed;
To wrest sweetness from the morning
And reprove it on the page;
When they come to demand
For these hot, unseemly crimes;
For a penalty to be paid
To all those that we tresspass against…
Won’t you tell them
All we’ve bought and what we’ve sold?
Tell them this is how we came to know music:
Your laughter on a streetcar
Or broken glass chipped on the night
The rumble and whine of plane engines in the dark
And the lungs in my chest the bass register.
Tell them this is how we came to know silence:
The agony of unspoken questions
Traced across unparted lips
Or the timber of uncertain times
The cacophany of life lived in the seams.
Tell them this is how we came to know mountains:
Bone against bone
Arching, slowly, for the sky;
A plateau of bodies
Thrust together from below.
Tell them this is how we came to know acid:
The smallest drop
A hungry fire
Eating and aching through buckets of sand
Heart stopped with blood
Blood steeped with poison.
Tell them this is how we came to know god:
The audience of the angels
Around a hollow crystal tomb
A stage where we poor marionettes
Have danced for their display
And bled and wept and loved and prayed
That they might bless us when we fade.
And tell, last of all, how we came to know man
In the alley to the back
How he hunted and he kicked us
How he battered our poor joy
‘Til it collapsed under his cruelty
But keep for me secret,
On that day the soldiers come,
How the bruises grow like flowers
On our skin as we grow cold
And in that purple, I, your fingers
Though your body’s far away,
Feel across me and inside me:
That, please do not ever say.
“I don’t know how to do this,” Ferdinand said. The books looked up at him from the floor, gruesome and gawking. He wanted more than anything to shut them.
“Approach me with joy,” Jordan said, looking pale on the bed, “Or not at all.”
“Is it that simple?” Ferdinand asked.
“Then I envy you,” Ferdinand continued. He took off his shirt and set it down on the divan.
“Life isn’t simple,” Jordan told him. “But this is.”
Ferdinand sat down beside her and put his hands on her bare shoulders. He thought about her elbows and her collar bones and the arch of her ribs. He thought of them in blue silk; he thought of them in charcoal tweed. She was always the same, underneath. It occurred to him then that he had only ever seen her naked.
“It isn’t simple,” he said at last. ”I am not simple. I will approach you with my anger and cowardice and fear and awe because they are mine. But I have never known a thing like joy and I won’t offer an imitation. Joy is yours. I won’t touch it.”
“You’re cleverer than I am,” Jordan said, looking up at him. ”Truer and more steadfast. Which of us will prevail?”
“I’ve already lost,” Ferdinand told her. ”Consider me an offering of supplication.”
“I won’t accept a concession,” she insisted.
He kissed her. Her lips were cool. They tasted more of questions than answers.
“We’re both conceding,” he said at last.
“Yes,” Jordan agreed. ”Those of us who are about to die salute you.”
“It’s madness,” Ferdinand said, seeing the way her eyes laughed at their own joke, “How beauty survives in a world like this.”
He kissed her again, then: her neck, her collar bones, the flat space between her breasts. Each motion of his lips was like a breath. He took her in through his nostrils, felt her go red in his lungs, pumped her out into his fingers and through the folds of his wrinkled brain. A feeling followed the wave in its wake. It was a rounded sensation, warm and wet and mild and pleasant.
Perhaps this was happiness. Perhaps this was joy.
“It’s difficult,” Paul told her. “I don’t want the ugliness anymore. Words are a great responsibility. There’s a kind of war in putting them down. You’ve seen that. When I’m writing a book, part of me will always be there, on the battlefield.”
“But book or no, the stories are there, in my head. It’s hard to imagine a time when at least a part of me isn’t caught up in them. There are just so many people inside a person, so many inviting places. If I don’t force them into the open, I have this fear of being consumed by them. I’m afraid of falling out of love with the real world, my own breath and only body.”
What kings were these
Who speak to me, though
Sunken now in half-formed graves
Scuttled neatly on the lawn
Drowning in the summer
Those alabaster lips and tongues
Ashen in the morning sun
Mouthing riddles loud
Seducing me with
They moan in
“Ten thousand nights, adieu!”
“For we who’ve drunk
As wise as you.”
They were the always the same dream, more or less. He was in the high-rise building, with the dark of the room and the murmuring voices, the screams and the rolling thunder in the weird yellow sky outside the window. There were people, he could tell, moving in the shadows, but they could not be seen. Sometimes, a snippet of their conversations would crystallize out of the white noise.
“Where is the sun?”
“They swallowed it up.”
“O god, the interminable grey!”
“Tell me, where is the sun?”
“Do you hear the copters?”
“The readings say it will be any day now.”
“Any day and it will be over.”
“My god, when will it be over?”
The sirens would sound. Orange and piercing knives like wailing Furies stabbing at his temples and cutting short his breath. They shuffled for the stairwell. Down and down, the lone bulb blazing, not enough light to make out the shapes rustling in the shadows; every night on the same black tide, sinking deep into the belly of Hell itself.