Just as I wonder whether it's going to die, the orchid blossoms and I can't explain why it moves my heart, why such pleasure comes from one small bud on a long spindly stem, one blood red gold flower opening at mid-summer, tiny, perfect in its hour. Even to a white- haired craggy poet, it's purely erotic, pistil and stamen, pollen, dew of the world, a spoonful of earth, and water. Erotic because there's death at the heart of birth, drama in those old sunrise prisms in wet cedar boughs, deepest mystery in washing evening dishes or teasing my wife, who grows, yes, more beautiful because one of us will die.
Learning to grow old while staying young-English223
Let us be apart then like the panoptical chambers in IC patient X and patient Y, our names magic markered hurriedly on cardboard and taped pell-mell to the sliding glass doors, "Mary", "Donald", "Tory"; an indication that our presence there would prove beyond temporary, like snow flurry. Our health might be regained if aggressive medical action were taken, or despite these best efforts, lost like missing children in the brambles of poor fortune. The suffering of another's I can only envision through the mimesis of my own, the alarming monitor next door in lieu of a heartbeat signifying cardiac arrest, prompts a scurry of interns and nurses, their urgent footsteps to which I listen, inert and prostrate, as if subject to the ground tremors of a herd of buffalo or horses, just a blur in the parched and post-nuclear distance. I listen, perhaps the way the wounded will listen to the continuing war, so different sounding than before, the assault of noise now deflected against consciousness rather than serving as motivation for patriotism and targets. Like fistfuls of dirt loaded with pebbles and rocks thrown at my front door, I knew that the footsteps would soon be running to me also. The blood pressure cuff swaddled around my arm pumped in its diastolic state independently like an iced organ ready for transplant as I witnessed with one circular rove of my eyes my body now dissected into television sets, like one of those asymmetrical structures that serves as a model for a molecular unity in elementary science classes. And the plastic bags of IV fluids that hung above me, a Miró-like mobile or iconic toy for an infant's amusement, measured the passing of time by virtue of their depletion. Sometimes I could count almost five and then seven swinging vaguely above me at 4 am. I remember the first, hand-held high above me when I arrived via ambulance at the ER, the gurney accelerating as a voice exclaims on the color of my hands "they're blue!". Another voice (deeper) virtually yells out into the chaos that she can't get a pulse. Several pairs of scissors begin simultaneously to cut off my clothes, their shears working their way upward like army ants from pant cuff and shirt-sleeve, a formulaic move for the ER staff which, despite its routine, still retains a sense of impromptu in the hurriedness of the cutting both deft and crude, in the sound of their increased breathing, of their efforts intensified by my blood pressure dropping, the numbers shouted out as if into night fog and ocean. It's not a lack of professionalism but the wager of emotional investment that I feel. One attendant, losing her aplomb for a moment, can't contain herself from remarking (as if I'm already post-mortem) on what a great bra I have; "Stretch lace demi-cup, Victoria's Secret," I respond politely in my head. In turn, when they put the oxygen tube into my nose I thought immediately of Ali McGraw on her death bed in Love Story and how good she looked in one. And then the catheter where I pissed continually into a bottle like a paraplegic let me in on the male fear of castration my focus centered entirely on that tube, its vulnerable rigging which I held onto tenderly throughout the night like something dying against my thigh or something birthing. I held on though the IV in my forearm overextended with a kind of pleading, the needle hooked deep into a mainstream vein the way in deep sea fishing lines are cast into the darkest water, my body thrashing about in the riverweed of its fluids. The translucent infrastructure of IVs and oxygen tubes superimposed itself upon me like a body double, more virulent and cold, like Leda pinned and broken by her swan, like the abandoned and organ-failed regarding its superior soul ascend. So completely and successfully reconfigured within its technological construct my body proper no longer existed, my vital signs highlighted in neon preceded the spiraling vortex of my interiority, the part of me people will say later that that's what they loved when they roam about in the cramped rare book library of their memory for a couple of minutes and think of "Tory". Movement can only be accounted in shadows, Virilio informs us, the reconciliation of oneself in one's disappearance. An anachronistic sundial, I turn my profile and the fluorescence falls unfractured, unmediated onto the postmodern tenebrism of absence against absence, my quickened inhalations against my backless gown. My love for you, my love, for my friends, untethers and floats, snaps apart and off me like the I.V. tubes and monitor wires the flailed arms of an octopus unfolding without gravity, as I reach up in a Frankensteinian effort to shut off my monitors, the constant alarming of the human prototype my own body keeps rejecting, while death moves closer, a benign presence. It stands respectfully just outside the perimeters of my life and adjusts itself the way the supervising nurse did the monitor perimeters to suit my declining vital signs so I could get some sleep. I felt a relationship with death, a communication, it was more familiar than I ever imagined, what I had always returned to as the sign of me, the self we attribute to the mysterious and perfectly ordered Romantic notion of origin. What I'm trying to say is that it was not foreign. It was not foreign, but it was not a homecoming either. There was no god, no other land, no beyond; no amber, no amethyst, no avatar. But there was a suspension, there was an adieu to recognition to the shoes of those I love, like Van Gogh's, a pair but alone the voices of loved ones, their tones, their intonations, like circulation, closed-circuited but effective. There was a listless but clear-thinking comfort that into my own eyes I would go, although not "into" in the Bachelardian sense which implies diminishment; there was none of that. It was just the opposite: expansion but without a pioneer's vision. What we regard as the "self" extended itself, but I wouldn't say in a winged way, over the Bosch-like landscape of brutal interactions and physical pain and car alarms and the eternal drilling of disappointment the exigent descendence of everyday that everyday you peer down or up its daunting staircase, nauseous with vertigo gathering like straw the rudimentary characteristics of courage, gumption, innovation and faking it to the hilt like a hilarious onslaught of sham orgasms. Transcendence might be the term Emerson would lend it. What I'm trying to say is that it wasn't lonely.
I sit by the window and watch a great mythological bird go down in flames. In fact, it’s a kite the neighborhood troublemaker has set on fire. Twenty-one and still living at home, deciding when to cut through a screen and chop us into little pieces. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” his mother would say, as they packed our parts into black antiseptic body bags. I explain this possibility to the garbage men. I’m trying to make friends with them, unable to understand why they leave our empty cans in the middle of the driveway, then laugh as they walk away. One says, “Another name for moving air is wind, and shade is just a very large shadow”—perhaps a nice way to make me feel less eclipsed. It’s not working, it’s not working. I’m scared for children yet to be abducted, scared for the pregnant woman raped at knife point on the New Jersey Turnpike, scared for what violence does to one’s life, how it squats inside the hollow heart like a dead cricket. My son and his friends found a dead cricket, coffined it in a plastic Easter egg and buried it in the backyard. It was a kind of time capsule, they explained—a surprise for some future boy archeologist, someone much happier than us, who will live during a time when trees don’t look so depressed, and birds and dogs don’t chatter and growl like the chorus in an undiscovered Greek tragedy.
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond any experience,your eyes have their silence: in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me, or which i cannot touch because they are too near your slightest look easily will unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers, you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens (touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose or if your wish be to close me,i and my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly, as when the heart of this flower imagines the snow carefully everywhere descending; nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility:whose texture compels me with the colour of its countries, rendering death and forever with each breathing (i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens;only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses) nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
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"somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond"
by E. E. Cummings
One of their picture books would no doubt show The two lost children wandering in a maze Of anthropomorphic tree limbs: the familiar crow Swoops down upon the trail they leave of corn, Tolerant of the error of their ways. Hand in hand they stumble onto the story, Brighteyed with beginnings of fever, scared Half to death, yet never for a moment Doubting the outcome that had been prepared Long in advance: Girl saves brother from oven, Appalling witch dies in appropriate torment; Her hoarded treasure buys them their parents' love. * * * "As happy an ending as any fable Can provide," squawks the crow, who had expected more: Delicate morsels from the witch's table. It's an old story—in the modern version The random children fall to random terror. You see it nightly on the television: Cameras focus on the lopeared bear Beside the plastic ukulele, shattered In a fit of rage—the lost children are Found in the first place we now think to look: Under the fallen leaves, under the scattered Pages of a lost children's picture book. * * * But if we leave terror waiting in the rain For the wrong bus, or if we have terror find, At the very last moment the right train, Only to get off at the wrong station— If we for once imagine a happy ending, Which is, as always, a continuation, It's because the happy ending's a necessity, It isn't just a sentimental ploy" Without the happy ending there would be No one to tell the story to but the witch, And the story is clearly meant for the girl and boy Just now about to step into her kitchen.
It is 12:20 in New York a Friday three days after Bastille day, yes it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner and I don't know the people who will feed me I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun and have a hamburger and a malted and buy an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets in Ghana are doing these days I go on to the bank and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard) doesn't even look up my balance for once in her life and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or Brendan Behan's new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres of Genet, but I don't, I stick with Verlaine after practically going to sleep with quandariness and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT while she whispered a song along the keyboard to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing
One does not turn to the rose for shade, nor the charred song of the redwing for solace. This past I patch with words is a flaw in the silvering, memory seen through to. There I find the shallow autumn waters, the three stolen pears, The horizon edged with chalk, loose where the fabric frayed. Each yesterday glacier-scored, each a dark passage illumined by a honeycomb. * I begin to fathom the brittle intricacy of the window’s scrim of ice. For years, I managed without memory—stalled, unnumbered, abridged— No more alive than a dismembered saint enthroned in two hundred reliquaries. Now, it is hard not to say I remember, hard, in fact, not to remember. Now, I hear the filament’s quiver, its annoying high frequency, light by which I read. * River mist, mudbanks, and rushes mediate the dark matter Between two tomorrows: one an archive of chance effects, The other a necropolis of momentary appearances and sensations. One, a stain of green, where a second wash bleeds into the first. The other time-bound, fecund, slick with early rain. * As if to impose a final hermeneutic, all at once the cicadas wind down. The gooseberry bush looms like a moon: each berry taut, sour, aglow. The creek runs tar in the cloud-light, mercury at dusk. Then the frogs start up. Clay-cold at the marrow. A hollow pulse-tick. And it seems, at last, I’ve shed my scorched and papery husk.
There was a time I could say no one I knew well had died. This is not to suggest no one died. When I was eight my mother became pregnant. She went to the hospital to give birth and returned without the baby. Where's the baby? we asked. Did she shrug? She was the kind of woman who liked to shrug; deep within her was an everlasting shrug. That didn't seem like a death. The years went by and people only died on television—if they weren't Black, they were wearing black or were terminally ill. Then I returned home from school one day and saw my father sitting on the steps of our home. He had a look that was unfamiliar; it was flooded, so leaking. I climbed the steps as far away from him as I could get. He was breaking or broken. Or, to be more precise, he looked to me like someone understanding his aloneness. Loneliness. His mother was dead. I'd never met her. It meant a trip back home for him. When he returned he spoke neither about the airplane nor the funeral.
Every movie I saw while in the third grade compelled me to ask, Is he dead? Is she dead? Because the characters often live against all odds it is the actors whose mortality concerned me. If it were an old, black-and-white film, whoever was around would answer yes. Months later the actor would show up on some latenight talk show to promote his latest efforts. I would turn and say—one always turns to say—You said he was dead. And the misinformed would claim, I never said he was dead. Yes, you did. No, I didn't. Inevitably we get older; whoever is still with us says, Stop asking me that.
Or one begins asking oneself that same question differently. Am I dead? Though this question at no time explicitly translates into Should I be dead, eventually the suicide hotline is called. You are, as usual, watching television, the eight-o'clock movie, when a number flashes on the screen: I-800-SUICIDE. You dial the number. Do you feel like killing yourself? the man on the other end of the receiver asks. You tell him, I feel like I am already dead. When he makes no response you add, I am in death's position. He finally says, Don't believe what you are thinking and feeling. Then he asks, Where do you live?
Fifteen minutes later the doorbell rings. You explain to the ambulance attendant that you had a momentary lapse of happily. The noun, happiness, is a static state of some Platonic ideal you know better than to pursue. Your modifying process had happily or unhappily experienced a momentary pause. This kind of thing happens, perhaps is still happening. He shrugs and in turn explains that you need to come quietly or he will have to restrain you. If he is forced to restrain you, he will have to report that he is forced to restrain you. It is this simple: Resistance will only make matters more difficult. Any resistance will only make matters worse. By law, I will have to restrain you. His tone suggests that you should try to understand the difficulty in which he finds himself. This is further disorienting. I am fine! Can't you see that! You climb into the ambulance unassisted.
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green, The night above the dingle starry, Time let me hail and climb Golden in the heydays of his eyes, And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves Trail with daisies and barley Down the rivers of the windfall light. And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home, In the sun that is young once only, Time let me play and be Golden in the mercy of his means, And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold, And the sabbath rang slowly In the pebbles of the holy streams. All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air And playing, lovely and watery And fire green as grass. And nightly under the simple stars As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away, All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars Flying with the ricks, and the horses Flashing into the dark. And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all Shining, it was Adam and maiden, The sky gathered again And the sun grew round that very day. So it must have been after the birth of the simple light In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm Out of the whinnying green stable On to the fields of praise. And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long, In the sun born over and over, I ran my heedless ways, My wishes raced through the house high hay And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs Before the children green and golden Follow him out of grace, Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand, In the moon that is always rising, Nor that riding to sleep I should hear him fly with the high fields And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land. Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, Time held me green and dying Though I sang in my chains like the sea.