The onset of summer is divine intervention, the solstice sent by god itself, its very hands clearing clouds to reveal a bruisey-blue sky healing in the lust-light of a sun warm with age. The wrinkles on god’s palms and knuckles (crevices carved by weary waves of work) leave textured traces in the sensitive sands of sky, clouds in long white lines along jet streams whining off into high atmosphere; white into blue, it could be said, the way Chicago succumbed to the great river, the songs of Muddy Waters (or Charley Mussel White “I’ve been out across the country…”); the way the oceans breathe relentlessly; the way a fingerprint reveals little more than that we were here once; the way that truth succumbs to truth and things clear up.
God says very little because it doesn't need to, has always known that behind every long winter, blustery-storm-of-spring, two-weeks-asleep-on-the-couch, there is a sky all blue with itself... it will be big like that. It will be verbose, enigmatic, something to look forward to and watch and think back on; assumption, presence, and end of god. I know this because I think it and because I say it.
The object of our love was sent by god. Sent by god to be slaughtered by the devil (in us), as we all are. Our love sits among the Houris with a pack of camels who are dumb and spit to loosen the water in their backs. Our love sits in the dirtiest places: old dilapidated houses, rat infested tunnels, in the sweaty caves of the employed; our love sits among the desert winds, where life is scant, with the rest of the Houris and those dim-witted camels, somehow unaffected and healthy as a blooming succulent stuck out in the young summer sun soon after stormy spring. Our love is approaching the day of its death; penniless but rich in having possessed the days of a life, a wealth by which our love will feel fortified for telling the devil (in us) that all children are born without debt or burden to a long history of the sort of riches our love will leave behind; moments gathered upon more beautiful moments. Our love explains that all children burden themselves with the fears of the world and such is the debt that they carry. Our love says that this debt will be paid with sought-after truth, that the wealth will only grow; that the days of our lives outnumber the days of our death. Our love does not wait for death, knows it will come. White eyes wide and unbearably beautiful.
It should be said now that I do not believe in god or the idolatry of religion, but I have learned to be less concerned with semantics than with the act of speech itself. I choose to speak and these words are figments of my rotten language, a language which is as foreign to me now as the languages conquered on the remote peninsulas of Eastern Europe. I speak it because it is what I have known know best even though it often fails to accurately carry my sentiments. Words like god and spirit are the phonetic dictators of the Western imagination as it wanders through the territory that lies among the fringes between sentience and eternity. There are few who speak my language and fewer still who understand it deeply; when I say god sent the solstice, I mean that I can not name its origin, though I have the capacity to see and to qualify it, which means, first, that it is something to be seen, and second that it has value. When I say that god sent our love, I mean that our love was here already, in such perfectly random existence as summer, and that I saw it and was compelled to act upon it.
We notice the change in season with more than a sense of survival. We notice great love with more than a sense of carnage. How do we describe things that are greater than common humanity without using words like great, magical, mystical, or god, when description proves necessary and complacence is unbearable?
Happenstance, serendipity, superstition, entropy, fate, a miracle, a powerful scientific anomaly for the betterment of beauty, a phenomena, a coincidence... that the sun circles the globe (or the other way around, whatever it is) and that the planet actively responds to it. That there are an unthinkable number of other places in this universe that this planet could be. That the universe is this way (whatever way it is). That there is music. That there is glass. That there are moments. That there are women and men for whom words like great are not sufficient descriptions. That we recognize the need to describe these things and that we were able to recognize them in the first place.
That life is an anomaly, I have no doubt. I have no doubt that life is a random byproduct of incredible and exceptional physical circumstance; that little else is involved, I have no doubt. I do not blame god. I blame Stephen Hawking and Mark Greene for proliferating my generation with sermons about the codependent nature of chaos and harmony. I blame the anarchic sages of the twentieth century renaissance with which I drew my ages. That I was a child in the Christian stew. That I grew up five miles from the house where Edna Millay died by her own doing with a glass of wine in her hand on the front porch steps in spring; that I have slept on the crest of her Steepletop Mountain for an entire summer of nights. I blame all poets for making powerful arguments in favor of that place that calls upon my intrigue, that existential fringe which harbors drifters of the imagination. I blame myself and the circumstances of my times for my faith in the way things are. And I know no divine power.
So pardon my language, but on my good days I believe in everything and I sometimes use words that I don't necessarily know the meanings to. On my good days, I am a warrior for the cause, at the flanks of the Tambourine Man and Bo Weavil Jackson ("Fight on, Your Time Aint Long"). On my good days, I am at the flanks of Norma Rae and Salinger, spreading the good word ("do it for the fat lady"). On my good days, I am at the flanks of a history that is written and not yet written. On my good days, I am at the flanks of the solstice and of our love. On my good days, I am at the flanks of the decades as they plow on with good intention through eternity.
Then on my bad days, I am a nihilist. I could sit content to watch the clouds go on unfurling for centuries as my vessels and my vision ferment into sweet and intoxicating liquids of deliverance and poison. Content to watch the world happening, as it does, with or without my consent or intention, my will unworthy of judicial acclaim because I know that when I'm gone, I'll be gone.
I do not believe in god and try as I might want to with the reason of a human mind to believe that my ego is of divine architecture, I know that no rational thought can overcome the strength and power of our chaotic nature, our culmination and our entropy, the unbelievable heights of our living and the inevitable decline into the (dis)order of death.
Nevertheless, I can't deny that some things are remarkably and painstakingly beautiful (the Q train that day, on the way to the spa on coney island with the late winter sunshine flickering like static electricity from the friction of houses, trees, and clouds; the b77 bus; the first sleepover at the Fort in crown heights; Fremont and the lakes of Washington State; greyhound buses; the Sierra Nevadas and their foothills; the Beatles; Jolie Holland; the lovers; my mother; dirty old kitchen; memories of home; jesus christ, the list could go for days).
Likewise, some things are remarkably tragic- unreasonably unjust, awful, and downright sad (I'll spare you the list- I have practices in forgetting).
* * *
I suddenly feel the need to fuck around with the parameters I'd set for myself to be prepared for the circumstances that surround and confront me.
I come home the night before Marina leaves for New Orleans and I start picking shit up off the floor and tacking it to the walls; newspapers, paintings, receipts, napkins, poems, window screens– it snowballs out of control. Soon I've mounted Marina's shoes, socks, and vitamin bottles to the molding near the ceiling. I've mounted her sketchbooks, her magazines, and her soy sauce. I've mounted the old DVD player (along with the entire collection of DVDs), the film camera, the bourbon whiskey, the dirty wine glass, the coffee mug, the chick peas, the salt, the sewing kit, the beer can, the dust pan, and the broom.
In this mess of shit, this beautiful chaotic mess, I have to do something to prove the presence of my intention, my own act of miracle; my acceptance and warm embrace of anomaly. And in the end, when Marina comes home, she laughs and hugs me hard the way she does. I haven’t done anything useful; nothing has changed except the aesthetic of the apartment, which is in constant flux anyways, but I feel better and I feel different. I feel prepared, which is when I understand that that is all I can do, my only true intention.
So today, which is neither a good day nor a bad day, I do not believe in god or anything else really. I have been on the couch for two days, watching the clouds endlessly unfurling. Stony storm clouds gather and the room gets dark before they go again and the mists untangle. The planet turns and I am prepared with plants on my sill, whose reactions perplex me still; I see them climb and bloom. I see the dust gathering on the white paint and the radiator. I see the plaster turn yellow and begin to peel.
Today, which is neither a good day nor a bad day, with these few true friends of mine, I believe in everything. I believe that to be prepared is equal to understanding my lack of preparedness and accepting it and moving on in noble navigation of this life, this anomaly of time and space and matter.
In my dreams, we –these few true friends and me– sprout wings while we peck and spit and shake our heads with dirty feet on the streets of New York City and the streets of America, for we are geese and gulls and we are prepared to deal with the gusts and breezes of eternity.
"Our associations with nature vulgarize it and rob it of its divinity. When we come to see that the celestial and the terrestrial are one, that time and eternity are one, that mind and matter are one, that death and life are one, that there is and can be nothing not inherent in Nature, then we no longer look for or expect a far-off, unknown God."
-excerpt from The Gospel of Nature, John Burroughs
"Sometimes I think there are no more living people in the rest of the world. But there are. Because today, while there was still some daylight, suddenly looking up, I saw that the clear blueness was crossed from side to side by a perfectly straight white streak that stretched out in the sky, traced by an airplane so far away that you couldn't even hear its roar in the vastness of space."
-excerpt from Distant Light, Antonio Moresco
"and do not forgive in truth it is not in your power
to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn
beware however of overweening pride
examine your fool's face in the mirror
repeat: I was called– was there no one better than I
beware of dryness of heart love the morning spring
the bird with an unknown name the winter oak
the light on a wall the splendor of the sky
they do not need your warm breath
they are there to say: no one will console you
Keep watch–when a light on a hill gives a sign–rise and go
as long as the blood is still turning the dark star in your breast
repeat humanity's old incantations fairy tales and legends
for that is how you will attain the good you will not attain
repeat great words repeat them stubbornly
like those who crossed a desert and perished in the sand
for this they will reward you with what they have at hand
with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap
go for only thus will you be admitted to the company of cold skulls
to the company of your forefathers: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
the defenders of the kingdom without bounds and the city of ashes
Be Faithful Go"
-excerpt from The Envoy of Mr. Cogito, Zbigniew Herbert
"The day Alma's body was found, the light behind Sandor was spare. In the Angel Street house, Margit wiped rain from her shoes with her hem. There were birds on the sill though it was too icy for pigeons to land. Outside, a lorry went by from the tungsten refinery plant.
Oh, she already knew, she could tell by the way Sandor stood, as if ashamed, ashen-faced. If he'd worn a hat, it would have been clutched in his fists. Margit thought about Alma's fingertips splayed on the pane and their dewey rosettes. About how when the war was still young, there was lace on the arms of the chairs, decorative plates on the wall just like in any decent Magyar house. Then, Alma still had a small job, earning tips from the lift. When rent became due, she stacked coins on the scarred tabletop by the light from the window that never properly shut.
Always, it seemed, it was winter outside, or just passed, almost winter again.
'What happened?' she asked.
Sandor's hair fell over his brow, his shoes, too, had gotten wet. 'Alma went out into the snow, they found her frozen,' he said.
He enfolded her arms. Though she didn't want to be touched, she desperately needed it. She smelled ink from the press, she wasn't crying yet. Margit looked over his shoulder, bewildered that people could simply walk by on the street while her mother was dead. 'But it's not even snowing,' she said."
-excerpt from No Stopping Train (pp. 49-50), Les Plesko
"'So this is how adults fuck,' Margit said. She shifted her hips under his. Happy now, sadness next. With a new sober grace she surrendered to citizenship."
-excerpt from No Stopping Train (p. 263), Les Plesko
"Margit lights a fresh cigarette from the butt of her last, climbs her train's iron rungs.
Smoking's not allowed but everyone's puffing up storms, even the conductor guazed in a private tiara of gray. He touches his cap. Now there is only her will and necessity's sudden demand. No one needs a ticket tonight.
She pulls down her window and leans out to look at where nothing begins. God save me from what I'm doing, she begs, but God must be off once again with his friend the east wind. Ahead is more snow and cold fields. I could leave you, she'd said to him once. She walks the length of the car for the hollow clang of her steps. She wants him to push through the door, jam it open with his fist, but all she has now is her hand on her face, and she must learn to like it. A newspaper blows down the aisle: Everything can break your heart."
-excerpt from No Stopping Train (p. 318), Les Plesko
"The lid is on. Loose Lips Sink Ships. Don't say anything that might aid The Enemy."
-excerpt from Fear and Loathing in America, Hunter S. Thompson for ESPN.com
"The bullet is already in the brain; it won't be outrun forever, or charmed to a halt. In the end it will do its work and leave the troubled skull behind, dragging its comet's tail of memory and hope and talent and love into the marble hall of commerce. That can't be helped. But for now Anders can still make time. Time for the shadows to lengthen on the grass, time for the tethered dog to bark at the flying ball, time for the boy in right field to smack his sweat-blackened mitt and softly chant, They is, they is, they is."
-excerpt from Bullet in the Brain, Tobias Wolff
"I'm writing to you today out of sentimental necessity– I have an anguished, painful need to speak with you."
-Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
"Except where specifically defined herein, all words used in this chapter shall carry their customary meanings. Words used in the present tense include the future and the plural the singular. The word 'shall' is intended to be mandatory, while 'should' is not; and 'occupied' or 'used' shall be considered as though followed by the words 'or intended, arranged, or designed to be used or occupied.' In general, this chapter uses the word 'permitted' to describe an action that requires a permit and 'allowed' when a permit is not required."
-Code of Ordinances of the City of Newburgh, NY Chapter 300, Article II; 300-6.A
"Do you remember how the night sky of Ischia horrified me? You all said how beautiful it is, but I couldn't. I smelled an odor of rotten eggs, eggs with a greenish-yellow yolk inside the white and inside the shell, a hard-boiled egg cracked open. I had in my mouth poisoned egg stars, their light had a white, gummy consistency, it stuck to your teeth, along with the gelatinous black of the sky, I crushed it with disgust, I tasted a crackling of grit. Am I clear? Am I making myself clear?"
"Everything was moving: the sea of fire under the crust of the earth, and the furnaces of the stars, and the planets, and the universes, and the light within the darkness and the silence in the cold. But, even now, as I pondered the wave of Lila's distraught words, I felt that in me fear could not put down roots, and even in the lava, the fiery stream of melting matter that I imagined inside the earthly globe, and the fear it provoked in me, settled in my mind in orderly sentences, in harmonious images, became a pavement of black stones like the streets of Naples, a pavement where I was always and no matter what the center."
-excerpts from The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante
"How long is the life of a man? From one wink to another of the lightning. From the fuller swelling of the drop to its fall. So long is the life of man. From move to check-mate. And heads were shaken and hands were wrung – yes, so long is life. And the young tree was chopped down, and the voyage was short and the boat capsized and sank, and the mourners piously got through with all such nonsense as befitted the occasion."
-excerpt from The Expedition to the Baobab Tree, Wilma Stockenström