Amantha, the New Lamb
When Amantha was full of love and magic she would entice me to peer into her wondrous crystal ball to seek out unusual ways of fulfilment, even when the streets were empty or I was flooded by the lingering sweetness of a slumber by her side. Sometimes we developed our sense of hearing to the point where we could anticipate what the other would next say, while other times we searched out new ideas in the back of magazines, sending away for exotic games, perfumed oils, and sexual devices.
In a society that had lost its purpose and direction, we realized that short of leaving it or joining its fruitless meanderings body and soul the most important thing was to love each other in ways that would have seemed impossible or unmentionable even a year before. Daily we enriched our few short moments together with the rapturous exploration of our deepest perfumes.
When I first met Amantha, I was standing near a redwood, pondering its fireproof qualities, when a beautiful young girl came along and introduced herself. Not knowing what to do, I simply looked her in the eyes and occasionally glanced down her dress until we felt comfortable together. We then spent the obligatory time getting to know each other’s quirks, which fortunately turned out to be few and far between, except perhaps for a mutually swift undercurrent of nonchalantness, occasionally swelling into a devastating riptide. But, soon after, a state of almost marital comfort set in, and she suggested we travel to the country-without-taboos while its borders were still permeable.
In this country of long, wide beaches where everyone had plenty of room in which to stretch their legs and gather the full radiance of the sun, no one had to wish for good weather or a park to run in at night, because like everything, these simple features were available to everyone. This country contained the gateway to paradise—or so I believed.
While we lived there I continued to grow happier and happier, hoping that some day Amantha would abandon her preoccupation with such minutiae as who was the first person to memorize the names of all the angels who could fit on the head of a pin, and assault me with all the authority of her dense green eyes.
At times, though, I felt the need to break away and stand alone, not to witness the ordinary banalities of life that most people witness and perpetrate day after day until their sexual lives lose the bric-a-brac quality they had when still new, but to seek out the sights and sounds of the country and in so doing leave behind the entire so-called civilized fabric. Unable to think of what to say or how to say it at these moments, I would pace the corridors on the fourth floor of our home in absolute silence, waiting for an inspiration, or for Amantha to say something.
Thus it came as a surprise when one day Amantha suggested—nonchalantly, of course—we leave the country-without-taboos and move to the real plain-old country. Calling from her mother’s just a few miles away she boldly announced she was ready to return to the earth, where the natural conditions, exemplified by lilacs growing alongside a damp path in a forest, would enable her to let go the accidents she was prone to and smash through the slopes of consciousness to join any one of the clear traditions of the moon.
After we had laid out plans for a new house set in broad, open fields, we successfully managed to abandon the plans and lived in the property’s one existing shack, letting the rows of corn and wheat follow their own course. In the mild winter the snow, deeper than we ever had known, did not melt by itself as it usually did, and the forsythia had to be dusted of its snowy mantle to permit its blooming. Similarly, the cherry trees blossomed so late that Amantha’s mother was upset at missing the traditional sight. This is not to say that the tiny bells Amantha took to wearing while making love were no indication that in June we’d finally have time to see the small local museum’s new exhibit of antique farm implements, but they did appear to indicate that the rescue for which we were hoping from our self-made labyrinth—which had not been forthcoming—seemed likely to come in the near future and we started to spin in bed at night from the sheer weight of our thoughts of the future, though we never went as far as mutual contempt or physical abuse. Sex was still good, but there was an added dimension: a quiet in subtle traces of forgotten words in our simplest conversations. Separated for even a few hours we felt awkward when together again, compelled to take things slowly and as they came, which made what we said and did seem even more inevitable. Anxious to enhance the extremely thin texture our relationship lately had acquired, we sought out unusual turns of speech; loud, extroverted laughter; secretive gestures; interesting sounds, and even more exotic sexual contraptions than we already were using. The exotic became the bizarre, the disdained the commonplace, and when Amantha was asleep I would lie awake, picturing her in a desert, revealing her breasts to a sun bent on burning them until they were excruciatingly painful.
I was, then, utterly confused to learn that the certainties and immensities of tender nights were not isolated from pursuits of wealth, power, and personal gain, a discovery made one day when I came home from the office to find her in an acrobatic reverie, not just flowing with the sexual rhythms of life but also simultaneously reading back issues of Business Week.
Thereafter, desperation began to penetrate everything we did and drown it in its path. A strange fluid spread over the hills, turning the dazzling and diverse colors to a monotone. Gradually we became more and more besieged with troubles that were neither “natural” nor “unnatural.” The cows grew ill; the carrots turned out unusually large and sweet; and the chickens lay just enough eggs for an occasional splurge, though neither of us had the heart to splurge on much, unless it was pain. Suddenly Amantha was overrun by a spell of terrible luck, after which the young girl whose beauty I had so admired and whose ecstasies I had reveled in was left hardly a shadow of her former self.
Today I have moved from despair to a tremendous enthusiasm, though it is not yet noon. Everything seems so acute and heartwrenching as I look back, how our lives became tainted, even an unexpected invitation to spend a year in the south of France with close friends (which regrettably we had to turn down for reasons of “health”), that I begin to wonder if it weren’t all a delusion we had drawn over our eyes those long years fading in and out of fevers together in various lush and sparse habitats, dreaming of buying a boat and sailing the seven seas, inventing new, robust pleasures to ease our desperate pangs, pledging simultaneous insomnia, and so on. But worst of all our dreams drowned in the common reserve of drowned dreams: Davy Jones himself couldn’t have saved them. And thus my current preoccupation, successful or not, is with trying to hold the memory of a meeting with a girl in a secluded forest in early spring whose inner world was built of the very stuff of imagination: wonder, magic, simple desires, intensity.
Today’s call from Amantha has revealed to me the true depth of her disease, and the idea, however difficult to accept, that everything was, as we had wished, inevitable, even the continuous disparity between consecutive moments of time. Yet even had I known the truth about her, what could I have done? Strange are the ways of those who live in the country, and strange is the way Amantha cast off pleasures she at one time had thoughtlessly captured and effortlessly returned a thousandfold more magnificent than they had been. It was all so sudden, when it finally happened, that after the years of surprises we had lived through I was not set off balance in the least. Just this morning she told me, “Music doesn’t always fulfill me, but at times like these, when my closest friends are beyond reach, all I can do is wish for my gentleness to develop into something as substantial as all those obsessions I used to have.”
Tomorrow’s task, then, shall be to visit Amantha in her new house and from there go to the farm, now mine, to decide how to run it. Oddly, I can’t believe that after all these years there finally may be the chance of getting what I want without having to demand it. The sexless year has been good for me; my moods have stopped depending on the weather (ever since our honeymoon in the country-without-taboos I secretly had been yearning to return); and my direction is toward a sense of conscience, toward a discovery of ways to heal human pain rather than add to it. Sentiment is creeping into my acts—even a hint of remorse now and then, when no one is looking. If only my memory could be wiped clean and I could return to the redwood grove and meet the beautiful young woman again…. This time I would look her only in the eyes. The temporal head of passion that once graced the brew of my life has gone, replaced by something deeper, adhering to my forehead atop a smile for others to see and appreciate. The rain that today floods the streets will tomorrow flow into the sea and next year fall on some faraway mountain range, or perhaps over the farm. As if in a dream, you bring me tea and quietly chat about the new lamb before going to bed. Your movements, lacking their old arbitrariness, are now smooth and deliberate, as if controlled by a single, well-focused thought.
Dipping my pen into the page, I think: If all endings are the same and come with a flourish, then this one will conform, since that is the way it was, as it was meant to be. Amantha, full of love and magic, could not last the way she was, in such a world. I didn’t have to leave her, when it seemed time—nor she, me. It was all so transient, like a soap bubble. The spaces between objects widened; nonsequitors played their role. Life, by itself, in its own rhythms, spontaneously and nonchalantly ascended its throne.
The big bed, the small bed. The bed for sleeping, the bed for sitting. The bed for talking, the bed for reading and writing, listening to the radio, and lighting incense; the bed for reading novels, talking on the phone; the bed where one can fall asleep again and again over the same paragraph and answer the phone without getting up, from which magazines can be reached, phone books consulted, shoes put on leisurely. The bed for listening to music without turning up the volume. The bed near the lamp table, near the matches, the drawer full of names of Chinese restaurants, maps, broken pencils, bookmarks. The bed underneath which the blue bicycle fenders, curtains, extra rug, and old suitcase, sometimes the tennis shoes, fit neatly. The bed big enough for yoga. The bed soft enough for lovers lying side to side, hands down each other’s pants. The bed for hot kisses, easily grabbing a drink, drinking tea. The bed near the candles, near the library books, the I Ching, three pennies, little slips of paper.
She says she’s starving. Tomorrow I’ll visit. I’d visit now, but the stench is overwhelming. I’m tired of questions, and of the answers Joe would have given. He could always catch the pathos of the moment by drawing his sister posing by the old statue of immortality or by laughing at his sexual assaults on her neighbors while she shouted fruitless answers into his mouth. I’d say it’s really sex that’s on her mind, the way it used to be when he showed his p’s and q’s to the other girls after church. When it finally happened, it wasn’t the famous vacation spot after all. Instead there was a choice of locations, free of charge. But no one asked her.
Chance Music: Prose Poems 1974 to 1982–A collection of poems that look like prose but often read like poetry. Click here for more information about these poems and how to order the book, and a link to the online version.
Country Bumpkins–Click here to view this series of found prose poems.
The Difference You Expect
Theo lives in fabrics. Her newest is an Air Force jump¬suit, which in blue, aqua, or camel is the rage of women living on the verge of the great but troubled Upper East Side. I say troubled because a girl like Theo may be classic, faultless and finicky, but with no affordable alternative to the new wrap-around tunics worn further up her block she may soon just be a classic instead of her usual inspired self. Before the energy crunch put silver beyond her reach her rayons and orlons were the finest. Now, however, a working girl like Theo can no longer afford heat-molded bust cups to elevate her line. But the real question she and her friends must ponder is next summer’s fashions: will women parade around in men’s underwear as Time says, or will they tuck a few scarves into handmade sandals the same way they tucked khakis into boots and camel sweaters into blizzard jackets in winter? Come Spring, of course, and Theo may well be packing her sumptuous side-slit robes off to Bermuda for an Easter of manners. If not, well—there’s always Russian sable.
Encomium to a Teacher
(after Thomas Mann’s Introduction to Demian, by Hermann Hesse)
It is now nearly eighty years since I last shook your hand. Much has happened in that time. First thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions of Jews perished in senseless persecutions and wars. Then, the spiritual center exploded in a torrent of modernity, scattering our people to the corners of the earth.
You were the one, even more than I, who recognized the trend all along. At first, perhaps, no one recognized your prescience, how you warned an entire generation of the downward direction of the lives of our countrymen and -women, and by extension, of the peoples of the world. Then, slowly, as your words began to take root, more and more people saw your wisdom and prepared for the worst, while attempting to do the best they could, for our path has always been one of joy, amid the suffering. Like you, I am not pollyannish but follow a course wherein we separate the good from the bad, see the joy in suffering, and reach for ecstasy whenever possible, even if it comes only in occasional bursts or flashes.
Your voice, coming between wars and disputations, gave an entire generation hope and touched the very fiber of the being of the young people questing for the deepest meaning of life, for the transcendent, for a way to connect with the vastness of eternity in the face of the smallness of temporality.
I recall the last time I saw you. You were sitting relaxed and contemplative on an oriental cushion in your garden, with its brightly colored flowers and flowering trees, some local, some imported from far-off lands. You greeted me with a broad yet contained smile, took both my hands warmly in yours, and beckoned me to a seat facing the setting sun, about to give birth to a sunset I would never forget.
After chatting briefly about our families and friends, you immediately took me to the place that only you are able to take others to, the place that manifests at the center of all your work, that touches the minds and hearts of a generation of seekers, that you found only through hard work of your own, on your own terms, never yielding to popular sentiment, easy explanations, tradition, amelioration, or appeasement.
It is a place, really, that defies description and definition, a place we can only feel and in feeling know intuitively of its rightness and trueness. It is this place you went to, that you could take others to–that is what I remember most about you and what has affected and influenced me most in my own life, for although we took separate and different paths in the beginning, those paths also diverged, converged, and paralleled on occasion in mysterious and sudden ways as if, even in their differentness, were one and the same path, only appearing different.
Fourth Pas de Deux
Open window. A woman.
Old hotels, apartments, restaurants. Rooms high on brick and stucco. Eyes and faces in water. Reflections. Eyes attached to bodies sweating. Alone try to sleep, dreaming of lentils, millet, barley, bison, condors, tar, flint, jade, cinnamon.
July. One small candle flickers in a room. A shadow on the white ceiling dances. A faint scent of cinnamon floats across the wet air, across wet thighs. The night rings at eight thousand hertz. In a somewhere room a man yawns.
In that somewhere room, dark no candle shadow smell or air. Rustle of sheets, heavy breathing, feet moving. Young, pretty, pretty face, slender hips, hard ass. Heavy breasts swing.
Man. Hairy, open eyes full of light, full of spice, shadows, full to bursting, full of brown curly hair. Ass tight, feet hot, breath hard, ankles pressed, hair in navel wet.
Drinking water, sewage; reflections, lovers’ faces off the Ponte Vecchio. Man and woman in separate rooms. Smell of barley soup, howl of bison, touch of jade.
The House–A long prose poem about a magical house, inspired by a real house. Click here to read the poem online or to find out how to buy the book.
Language of the End
I like to fancy the slow unregarded dawns that cry through the wastes of brick overlooking the lovely London trees. In the hushed noon my beloved breathes and sighs across miles of stony desolation beyond the downs until her fading little smile can barely shake the clouds for one last remembrance of the whole wanly ecstatic struggle. We are exiles with the same yearnings, the same dust in our souls, who together hunger for the silence of distant solitude and manly woods in which to lose the shadows we call our own. I do not know where to bury the leaves that gather on her muted gestures. Somewhere a paradise of unclashing skies is watching over us.
Consoled by a jealous pride I look back to days when the symbol of our garnered emotions was a single, starkly hollow leaf and her simple temper could cast out all the Thoreaus of our souls. This grievous alienation hurts, and though our love no longer blossoms in idolatry’s ebb, no heather will ever bloom again. Still her sharp strokes trouble me, the way her suddenness once sent me reeling into loneliness. As the tern returns to Canada year after year breathlessly will I follow her every manner until, no miracle short of death able to split my hopes, her mouth once again spreads its ephemeral blush on my privacy.
I’m talking. Lately I’m talking a lot. I’m coming home late every night. Alice never talks. Alice is a listener. Alice smells nice. Alice makes several nice mixed drinks. Alice looks fine in bed. Alice plays hearts. Alice cooks up a storm. Alice hates the moon. I’m walking. Lately I’m walking a lot. I’m walking everywhere. I’m walking home, late, every night, with Alice, to Alice, from Alice. We laugh together. We eat lunches. We play dead. We lie down all over the place. We close our eyes to fall asleep. we think about each other. In bed, late at night, every night. we are together, wetly, dryly, passionately, absentmindedly, we touch tongues. We touch tongues. Alice kisses me whenever she sees me, everywhere. Alice and I were meant for each other. I tell her things. Alice looks at me. We love spreading rumors. Such a relationship will never end.
Nine Views of Mount Washington
Unleash the dog. Unlock the doors of your house. Come outside. See the trees, smell the lakes, touch the grass.
Watch the dog, running through streams, splashing its face in the water. Look up at the sun, stretch your arms, feel your feet, under you.
Run into the forest; follow the path, rubbing your eyes in delight. Tell the dog to follow, into the shade, to the top of the hill, near the sun.
On the Trail of Borges
Who is Jorge Luis Borges, and what is he doing in Argentina?
To a dreamscape signed everywhere by this man Borges, where, like quantum neutrinos, nons fly back and forth between fiction and nonfiction, I fly from the other end of the planet, to see whether I can tell north from south. Like one of those beach toys that rights itself when hit, I am hoping I can right myself when hit broadside by Microcentro, Buenos Aires, whose central artery, Florida street, runs like a vein full of cheap heroin in the arm of the city, with endless peddlers selling baseball caps, mate cups, T-shirts, and all the usual paraphernalia of city life. In a corner of an upscale shopping mall on Florida a window displays the following:
;Centro Cultural Borges
For two days I pass uncuriously by. Finally I enter. Here are photographs and paintings of Borges, tango shows, writing workshops, art books and posters. Upstairs are Escher staircases, leading up one side, up another, up again on one side, and so on, finally disappearing. A bookstore in the ;Centro sells books by Borges, of what appears to be short fiction, although perhaps it is nonfiction; no matter, since I read little Spanish. I buy a ticket to a show and contemplate the meaning of the semicolon. Is it a reference to one of Borges’ stories? Does it have graphical, symbolic meaning? Or, is it just an avant-garde trick of the trade?
Each time I leave from or return to my hotel—however many times I do the route—I have to consult my map, perpetually disoriented. The familiar homing device in my brain is malfunctioning or just confused. In a Chinese buffet I meet the Colombian author of a novel called The Man Destined to Lie. We go to the big museum and look at modern art, then head to the Cemeterio de la Recoleta, housing the tomb of Adolpho Bioy Casares, author of The Invention of More, a fabulist novella about a man who has projected himself onto a large wall in an attempt to replay for all eternity the highest point in his life. Casares apparently was a friend and collaborator of Borges.
We cross the park and eat an overpriced lunch at a spot next to Munich Recoleta, a favorite of the man Borges but closed for the month. My friend buys a microskirt for his much-younger girlfriend and visits Evita’s tomb while I sit motionless in the heat. On the way back to my hotel I visit rare-book stores in search of folhetos by the Brazilian writer and artist José Francisco Borges but strike out. Two stores are run by relatives of Casares; a third is owned by a woman who tells me—and here I quote—“Buenos Aires has more bookstores than readers.” All of them, I do not tell her, display titles by Señor Borges in their windows. Clearly he is someone to be reckoned with.
The next day I find the street where Borges was born, which is easy, since it is called Jorge Luis Borges—then amble up to Plazoleta Julio Cortázar, where children are playing hopscotch. Unfortunately, it is too hot to visit the Poets’ Garden, so I head to Museo Xu Solar, which is closed even though it is supposed to be open. Borges championed Xu Solar. The National Library also is closed, even though it should be open; Borges apparently headed this library for many years. I take the Subte to Confitería Ideal, where I watch the aging tango dancers before checking my map and returning to my hotel.
Then it’s on to the famous Café Tortoni, another Borges haunt, which actually is open, where I sit down with a dark beer and a pile of short fiction from The New Yorker. I contemplate my writer’s notebook and snooze under the influence of the beer. Semicolons hover before me. A strange force directs me out the door onto Avenida de Mayo. I check my map, locate Florida, and walk north toward my hotel.
At the hotel I flirt briefly with the attractive young concierge with the impeccably articulated Spanish and English and go to my room. A note is there from my Colombian friend, along with a signed copy of his novel. As I begin to fall asleep in the afternoon heat, a hypnogogic image of an aleph takes shape in my visual consciousness, becoming incredibly sharp, as if focused through an optometrist’s lenses, before I fall asleep and dream I am in Buenos Aires, trying to orient myself in a place where east is west, west is east, and never the twain shall meet. The moon looks like a comma, and with the star below it, the whole apparition resembles a semicolon, dazzling white.
Waking up, I feel inspired to write and begin a little preface to a novel I have been planning a long while:
“Idle reader: you may believe me without any oath. . . .”
In a flash the direction of the book becomes clear, like new glass. I decide the novel will be a sequel to something I wrote and have long since forgotten, making the effort wholly forgettable, which is also what the critics said. This time will be different, however. After all, how many people go to Argentina and end up writing a famous novel about the days of Spanish chivalry?
I never do figure out the identity of the man Borges, though for a moment it crosses my mind that he might be the same Jorge Luis Borges who wrote “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” an interesting story in one of his collections in English that I came across at the ;CentroCulturalBorges.
The Other Richard Baxter: From the Autobiography–An episode in the life of the seventeenth-century English Puritan church leader who overcame an apple addiction and whose adventures with beggars led him to an experience oddly reminiscent of the one described some 200-odd years in the future by Edgar Allan Poe in “The Sphinx.” Here it is:
While still a young man I was addicted to the horrible gluttonous eating of apples. Now, however, though still bewitched with a sense of romance and fables I have regained my sense of time and sport a thin figure.
Boldness and irreverence were never my ways. Hardly. On the contrary, seriousness in religion was my ultimate aim, causing me to see God everywhere, in everyone and everything. Nevertheless a penchant for mystery and adventure led me one day to forsake my monastic ambitions and move from Coventry, where I had been living, to London.
Although while there I quickly fell into a fairly quiet life—as was my way then—occasionally when the prospect of staying in was about to drive me mad I would yield to my social instincts and go to the corner tavern to get riotously drunk and take home the bosomy young local wench.
Several months had gone by in this way when it became my habit to pass a certain corner on which there always stood a beggar who seemed to me not truly a beggar but someone to whom a great misfortune had fallen. One day I asked him how he had arrived at his condition, and the answer he gave, long and full of extraordinary detail, confirmed my suspicions.
Round about four that same afternoon, while going over some rare manuscripts in a library I regularly frequented, I outfitted myself for the rather long walk home when much to my surprise I found I couldn’t remember the way. As I began to worry whether I hadn’t had some sort of amnesia or mild stroke, I started to become aware for the first time in my life of an immense silence in which it seemed I had always been lost.
Hurriedly I crossed myself and asked directions from a stranger. An eddy of wind, passing overhead at that moment, faded like a sigh. Dark clouds sailed across the mountains; the first stars were already becoming visible. I also must have lost track of the passage of time. Approaching the beggar’s corner I suddenly felt anxious to hear more of his story and mention my strange experience. He was, however, nowhere to be seen.
After staying in London about two months more, tidying up my affairs, I returned to Coventry to get my father out of prison and once again turn to matters which for various reasons I had been unable to deal with in London. I took up living in my old habitation and there followed my studies for another year or so.
The following summer, when I had had enough of the wisdom of others, Colonel Mitton and several other Coventry gentlemen were earnest with me to accompany them to London for a fortnight, to help them settle some business matters, feeling it wise to take along someone who knew that city as well as I. Aside from the monetary reward—which I certainly could use but wasn’t too concerned about—I decided that it would be good to go, but for another reason, which I decided to keep to myself.
We went to London by a back way that I knew that meandered through the countryside, and several days later, when almost at our destination, a very unusual thing happened. My companions were taking a nap, having found the winding and climbing country roads rather hard on their not too youthful constitutions. Everything was lovely and wild, with a virginal sweetness, and I couldn’t help running lines from famous poems through my head, as I wandered into the woods to get a taste of nature. At first the landscape, still visible in the approaching dusk, appeared to be a geologic chaos, but as my eyes grew accustomed to the fading twilight I noticed a method at work, method of a fanatic order and perseverance. Then something caught my attention. I thought I could see a cavern through the trees, carved by erosion into an intricate maze of glens, grottoes, fissures, and so on, but then upon closer examination found that what I had imagined to be a cavern was only a dull, very dark spot on a hill, somewhat in the distance.
The following day we arrived in the city, and after helping the gentlemen discharge their duties, I excused myself on some false pretense and set off for the corner. When I arrived, the only beggar in sight was a ragged woman shaking a cup on the end of a stick, singing a monotonous popular song.
The Plane of Jars
All beans and grains must go in jars. All spices and herbs, seeds, nuts, fruits, and liquids. Building the proper collection of jars takes time and money. Honey jars for cornmeal, English-marmalade jars for chile powders. Caper jars hold stick cinnamon, or maybe it’s cassia; Sanka jars, juniper berries. Buy with an eye toward the future when you buy food in jars. Some people buy fancy sealed jars for storage. Ignore such types. You need neither their jars nor their friendship, although in a pinch buying such jars is acceptable, even if such friends are not. Just remember to keep the habit under control. It takes years to master this bold art, years to build the collection, fill and empty jars, switch contents, experiment. When the five-pound honey jar is half full of Indian red lentils, do you move the lentils to the one-quart mayonnaise jar, keep them where they are, or buy more lentils? What happens to the lentils that won’t fit in the five-pound jar? Leave them in the sack or plastic bag? Put them into a smaller jar? A real screwtop or a one-screw top? Hey—maybe just cook them: the lentils, that is, not the Indians. Should your menus revolve around the jar situation? My advice is: Don’t be rigid. Find your own path but develop a hatred of bags, or of sacks, if that’s your term. Still, to be perfectly honest, I sometimes will plan a menu around a jar if I really want to free up a particular jar. Jar shape should influence to some extent your choice of products at the supermarket. However, don’t buy for the jar only. If you just want a jar, you can always give in and buy a drugstore or department-store jar, especially since those decorated jars sure are nice, you might think, or the canister-type jars, or the hermetically sealed jars. But do these really keep the freshness in? Perhaps for a while, but sooner or later—and usually sooner, mind you—these jars do just the opposite: seal in the steadily increasing rancidity of the contents. Well, if you do happen to inherit such jars from a relative, no one will tell if you keep some of them—maybe even all of them—since they are a pretty sight. Recycled jars can be excellent—hang out at the recycling center long enough and you are bound to score. And what about jars with labels that don’t come off except with special solvents? Here’s a little secret: The labels will never, ever come off, so don’t bother: Toss those jars and don’t look back, at least not too much. The same goes for plastic, although if you absolutely must, having a few plastic jars is not the end of the world. Still, with the various health warnings floating around these days, glass is best. What about colored jars? Some are so alluring—green, transparent green, brown. You know the ones I’m talking about—those square pale- or dark-green flavored-vinegar bottles, opaquely green Cointreau bottles, and various other old booze bottles, often in stunningly interesting shapes. Unfortunately, when the going gets tough, the tough-to-find-a-use-for must get going. How many round brown pill bottles does even the most serious collector need, or attractive but uselessly opaque (or is it opaquely useless?) white Dundee-marmalade jars? Your spouse, roommate, or lover will want to throw out extra jars. Oh, how he or she will be tempted and may even make the fatal mistake of doing so at some point in your relationship. Usually, however, if the person is smart, he or she will adjust to your harmless habits, but if, as often happens, you do separate, you will need those jars, you will want those jars, since building a collection from scratch is hard–much harder than building a new relationship–especially as you may have additional expenses after the breakup and most definitely will be unable to afford to buy for the jar and either ignore the food or toss it. By the way, God help the ex-friend, lover, roommate, spouse, partner, spousal equivalent, or whatever the hell they are, who, knowing your noble habit, seeks revenge for past wrongs by breaking even one jar or small brown pill bottle (even if you had one or two or more too many); of course, you will have considered this and discussed it with your lawyer before anything so terrible happens, nipping temptation in the bud. Occasionally, thin your collection, but only if divorce is not in sight and you obviously have a surplus or are planning together to move across the country to a place where canned food is all the rage and the only jars are broken in people’s yards or holding nails and screws in garages. Yes, jars are handy for inedible items like nails and screws, nuts and bolts, rubber bands, buffalo nickels, paper clips, moonstones, and your sand collection, but never allow yourself to be distracted by such essentially frivolous uses. Of course, if you are truly hungry . . . Do your thinning in plain sight of the loved one, but always make a bigger show than your actual cleaning ritual. Put the extra jars into a brown paper grocery bag (or “sack,” if you prefer) and place it carefully next to the trash. Maybe someone will want them. Notice that I said “bag” and not “bags”; the cardinal rule is to thin conservatively, to avoid discarder’s lament: The very jar you tossed today might be exactly the one you need tomorrow (or in five or ten years), perhaps even the evening of the terrible deed. Better yet—put the bag out the night before trash day, to give you a crack at retrieving the poor, discarded bottle (yes, bottles and jars have feelings) and thereby redeeming yourself, or at least to maximize the chances of a fellow collector’s clandestine or not-so-clandestine pickup, which is better than losing the bag to the garbage truck, or worse yet, the recycling truck, since trash is trashed, while recyclables are recycled, unless you are lucky enough to live in Massachusetts, where quite possibly, depending on the economy, your valuables will go straight to the dump instead of being recycled. Of course, the spurned jars might be lucky or unlucky enough to come around a second time: Yes, my friend, in the world of jars reincarnation is very much alive. But, that’s another story. Still, never dwell on jars once they’re gone—at least not too long. This is excessively morbid. If your lover or spouse leaves you because of the jars, don’t dwell on him or her either. It is easier to find a new mate, as I said before, than to build that fabulous jar collection. Take my word for it, although in my case exactly the opposite is true: I have quite an outstanding collection of jars but have never married. The other day, in fact, a female dinner guest commented on a beautiful cinnamon jar, in all possibility a cassia jar (but of course on the plane of jars this does not really matter). I was delirious. I felt like a wealthy art collector showing the prize painting in his collection. Alas, though, or maybe thank God, I never saw her again: Perhaps the experience was too jarring for her so she canned the potential relationship.
Round of the Goblins
Sandpaper. I move. We look around: edges, standing out, like corners, they . . . they turn. It is night. It’s light. The way they move, turning around the edges. We. I look around, yawning. You. They talk a little, about themselves. Sand. I return to bed: they are quiet. You, following the line of the room, remember I am sleeping. Paper.
I eat. You, they, move toward one another. I finish. You. They are watching you, carefully, as I leave the room and go to the patio to get some sun. You move, just a little, and they stop looking, begin to yawn. Sandpaper. You go outdoors, to the patio, to watch me mow the lawn. One. I have a beer. Together, all together, they are asleep on the bed. One can. One can see the lawn take shape, how it gets its shape: you smile, we talk. She. One of them turns. It is light again. We move together, and the outline of the house stands out, against the blue sky.
Like polished surfaces the corners stand out. One can never see them clearly enough. You are falling asleep on my arm as they are moving around, together. It is cool outside; it is necessary to look for a design. You are dreaming. We keep each other warm. One is alive when one is awake. One of them is moving around; they are inside. You wake up. They make noises. Another of them moves around. They are inside. You wake up. They are making noises.
Another of them moves. The females stir on the white sheets. The lawn collects dew. They stir again. You open your eyes. The dew is collecting on the flowers behind the lawn, where you smile at me, blinking your eyes sleepily, trying to say something. They turn around and see the sandpaper walls; it may be frightening—to them. One may tell the others, warn them, show his fear. Another looks sleepy. You walk around the edge of the lawn. The stars are there, in their designs, in our designs. They come outside and pull weeds from wherever the lawn isn’t, go inside. One sees the way the women go about their work, their orderly manner, their tirelessness, as they move here and there, turning whenever necessary, around the fountain on the lawn. The lawn is waiting to be cut again. The women waiting.
You join the sleeping men. One turns over, on the white-sheeted bed. One can never be too certain why. The women move around, hungry. In a group, all the men turn, except the one who has already turned, who is blinking. You touch him. They move around, except the one in the patio, looking up. One of them is smiling as I stand up. Another begins to smile. It is morning. One can clearly see the lawn, the dew, the women picking flowers. I turn and move around, move inside, turn around, sit down. You stretch and lie down on the empty bed. The men move outside to join the women and the first man. I look out the window; one woman sees me. One can always be more careful. You are asleep, on the bed. The sun is at the zenith. The men cut the grass, trim the edges, pick up bits of fallen flowers. The men are sitting around after lunch, in the patio. They turn in their seats, you turn in your sleep. We are at a distance. The kitchen is light brown and yellow.
It is necessary to look around; one can always turn. The men and women smile at one another. It is already evening. On the white bedspread you move around. One looks this way, then that way. They stand around, laughing at one another. It is getting late. Cooling off. In the room you move around. They move around, in semicircles, turning to one another. The lawn is done. I move into the bedroom, to you, moving on the bed, moving around, go to you, turning slowly. The fountain is running. The lawn looks neat. They are moving around the lawn, the men and the women, arms raised. It is night.
We are together, alone, turning on the bed, late at night. One should turn slowly, so late. They are outside, watching the stars, turning slowly, nearly asleep, so late at night. It is very cold, perhaps almost winter. We are asleep. They move across the lawn like small birds, like worn-out dervishes. One can always turn away.
Sand paper. Edges stand out, thin surfaces. Corners turn, slowly, in the worn-out moonlight. The bed is sagging slightly. The chairs in the kitchen, slowly regaining their shape, slowly move. The lawn is growing, the fountain off for the night. The natural sounds of objects fill the air. It is almost morning. One must eat. Another must shave. Still another must drive far today. Another ought to walk to work, another recollect her dreams, another look at the walls, the way one does, as one must, on such occasions.
At the moment before takeoff the windows of my apartment are locked and the refrigerator sings in perfect fourths with the clock radio. The plane grows fat with human life. We wear sandals, thin pants, T-shirts. We are hatless. At the moving sidewalk I am in Naples on the way to Pompeii. Terminal 43.
The apartment is empty. You leave your rubbers, your diaphragm, six black hairpins on the white counter. Two boxes of bric-a-brac, two plastic plates, three silver-plated teaspoons, an eight-ounce measuring cup. A can of Cadbury’s chocolate, a half-full tin of Bird’s Instant Custard Powder. One hair hangs from the spice rack. Brown with a touch of silver. Yours.
Friday night I explode. Greasy-haired, itching like crazy, my arms wiping sweat from under red eyes. The 707 picks up passengers from my dream, one at a time until finally I am left alone in Los Angeles. I build a hairpin skyscraper for the cockroaches, blow up the rubbers, fill them with water, then put them on the stove.
I pick at the scab until it peels off and examine it under the bathroom bulb. I examine the hair, tap the spoons, play house with the boxes. Finally I fill the diaphragm with chocolate, the measuring cup with Bird’s, and wait for the water to boil.
St Paul’s Court
The curtains on the windows stand parted. I like to look through them, into your room, where every night on all fours you pace back and forth on the white bed. I like the sounds you make in the morning, too, when the curtains slowly wave in the breeze. Your naked body scatters everywhere, your hair nearly touches the ceiling, so I adjust my eyes to the change of light when you leave and the curtains, lightly touching together their frilly edges, wait for the slightest breeze to make them stir.
A Style of Our Own
If one cannot bend over backwards then one cannot see oneself. That is, if one cannot bend over and see oneself looking over one’s own shoulder then one is stuck in a particular mode of disintegration. Since those who seek the opposite usually have rather tenuous bones and like to hang their anger out to dry in the sun, the perfect fruition of futility is the only vapor that can hang about them.
Of course, there are those astral vapors that people are talking about these days, but I for one don’t trust the vision of those without visions. Some people try to tell us that a lack of vision is not blindness but a vision in itself,
I myself am forbidden from speaking otherwise than I am now speaking and thus lose out on transmitting a lot of useless but interesting information. For example, the reason violin notes can cause ordinary dinner plates (nothing being said about crystal, Limoges, ironstone, etc.) to levitate; or the reason the coldest day of the year just never seems as cold as one wishes or would like to think and do you know how the sheer contact with a more romantic time one gets through funny old books is able to press one more and more into the present?
Yet I daresay as well as sometimes dread to think what the world would be like if knowledge came in the form of a verdict; as if the various ways in which we speak are anything other than all the little things we’ve plagiarized since birth. After all, can we know any roads better or even as well as those we knew as children?
What (then) if the very beautiful prospect of continuing life by the side of a lady in total darkness suddenly climbed the quarter mile from the city to that quaint little apartment on the plantation being held specially in reserve for such eventualities and we found ourselves no longer working separate plots near the lake, but instead collecting moss with which to drape the stuffed foxes protruding everywhere? Probably we would not follow contemporary convention but would use lots of fresh nouns and simple sentences and chant our conversation at one pitch until tedium itself began changing colors to become a new autumn in the dead of winters
Our style will be our own. We will have mock furniture, wooden bookstand dungeon-like passages everywhere. The windows will overlook cornfields, and sex will be slow and not altogether real. That will be the effect of a good perspective on tradition as well as of a long climb into the world of archaic pacesetters, that new breed of lover whose language is akin to the “shreds of sound” present in the “ghostly and mournful” music of Webern, as one critic has put it.
In thus bending over backwards to adapt to the cascade at the end of the room and the gentle grey eminence at the end of the water we’ve had to wind through long tracts of hills that were most pleasing in springtime (and to forgo the mannered surprise of Cassoulet for supper time and time again in favor of a more early-American regime the cook learned from her Irish-German parents). But there is a uniformity in trying to maintain our ornamentation throughout summer, and so in coping with certain tiresome aspects of life—a poor harvests promontories impossible to circumambulate with anything but our customary inbred grace; total darkness (and so on)—we’ve had to be more useful than most people in establishing our likes and dislikes, and our happiest style is smooth and rounded—the result of careful research.
All in all, the difficulty at the beginning has given way to a new beauty, but only after a dangerous rain was successfully avoided and the bind of hesitation that early announced itself and then assumed the status of an obstacle was overcome with a clarity derived from the upward movement of horses from a wagon and a certain by no means mean amount of metaphysical persistence and resistance. Luckily, force was not needed, nor was it forthcoming. You simply drew the proper thread from the tangle and opened for once and for all the remarkable era of spatial harmony we now dwell in. The sheer contact with our former weaknesses and with the richness of fanaticism seems to have done us no harm, and though the sense of the ballet “Agon” is the shape of movement rather than a story, the story of these scenes from our lives is the shape of their movement. Abstraction for the purpose of living apart from the body is the terrible lion in the apocalyptic murals in some old castle library, instead of the way we locked up the prospect of a metaphorical relationship in the leather-backed plot of some turning point in time. I went to the stream and wandered away from a clock. Misfortune, with joy, was conducted to distant lands, and the prolonged resistance of the physical condition lost weight and evaporated in a roll of dice on a dust-covered piece of felt.
The Taste of Veal
The lemon broke the glass in a gentle curve. Black glass, color of calico. In the booth an old woman whose smile is all self-¬pity reads English translations of umbrella. Her nose is garlic shaped.
Towers of Pain
In the early morning my thoughts twist and turn like worms in a bucket of dirt. There is no escaping their presence. I try opening my eyes to see if they will untangle and fall aspeep, so that I too can fall asleep. Dawn is brightening the room. The sky is a deepending blue. Outside, the squirrel and the blue jays wait for me to throw them some squirrels.
What if I had no house to live in and had to sleep on the streets or in my car? The cold is numbing. It is easy to get close to someone shrouded in fantasy. What does this gesture mean? the way you seem to make a face. Are you criticizing, trying to digest, just making a face, wondering if we have anything in common?
I watch you drink your twelve-dollar cocktail and try to force me to eat the raspberry at the bottom. What does this mean?
Come and see. On a night when the moon is visibly waxing, when a woman takes your arm to help keep her from falling because she is wearing the wrong shoes—well, this is something to consider, to ponder, at a deeper level. There are seven streams flowing into the lake. Each has a different color, taste, texture, index of refraction, speed, temperature, and depth. When you explore each river individually, you have some hope of penetrating its secrets. Together, is perhaps impossible. One cannot keep so much in mind at once. It is like the new IBM computer playing chess—we do not function the way it does.
Upstream at the source things might be different. But, how to get there? All day the spires are encased in clouds and rain. They peek through from time to time if you are lucky, and so you then see the total physique of the mountain. this is like the ox-herding picture. Where am I in those pictures? Nowhere to be seen.
All I know is that I want to be with other people, but when I am, I don’t want to be. What does this mean?
Come and see. Watch yourself float down those rivers. Sense the water, feel the cold, test the bottom if you can feel it, allow the water to pass across your lips, flow into and out of your nostrils, listen to the eddies form and dissolve, grab a handful of sand and gravel, sense the presence of any fish, allow your body to float downstream or hover in pools, looking up at the moon, opening and closing your eyes, breathing, breathing, breathing. Soon the water will change, or you will be in a different stream or river.
I just want to sit on a couch in silence holding hands. I want to lie down and sleep next to you. I do not want to discuss Plato or garam masala or plan meals together or excursions to markets or buy concert tickets. And yet this is what I have wanted done.
Come and see. Sit solidly on a boulder midstream and let the water move around you. Notice the ripples, the birds i nthe trees, water spiders, trout along the banks. Glide along in the flow wherever it takes you. comment occasionally. What are you feeling?
Why have you never married? I fear losing myself. I want to lose myself but cannot. I want to flow along but struggle. You have a certain depth. Many interests. Abilities. Mother, over a thousand miles away, is dying slowly, moment by moment; father, over a thousand miles away in the other direction, is doing the same. I reach out in both directions and have no arms left to hold on to someone here to help keep me from sinking into the rushing rivers.
He was born faded. They met in the hospital, she working the laser, he going blind. Near his house she used to skate when young. He felt cold: his sickness was spreading. Soon his legs would be icicles—literally. At times he thought he was water, or a dog. All day long she chanted in strange languages to help him get better, though she felt foreign to him, to the hospital, to disease.
Her blandness was unforgivable and drove him mad. Her father was a colonel in the air force, his mother a nurse in the next town. When he was a student he had dated Turkish women; they called him doctor. The sun never set, and fortune stepped with him, briskly. But their love was only pretense, for he worked long hours and would make a lot of money. She had to tear them away, to tear him away, to blot the sun to get his attention She became a whore, for him, to help him finish school. He lost himself in her kindness. She didn’t know what to say. He had been this way once before. His mother had loved him very much. His nurse took his tempera-ture. His woman kissed his mouth and wiped his brow. It was drenched with sweat. Yet he was cold, very cold; his tongue wouldn’t move. He tried to smile, his tongue clacking faintly in appreciation. But she wasn’t looking. She was looking out the window, at the parking lot, at a car. He had never owned a car, nor had she.
He was near his all. He gave her all. He gave her a snake for her birthday. She felt very old for thirty-one. He told her his dreams, that he knew who he had been before he was who he was at present. She, too, remembered past lives. He told her he was cold. He swam to her; he stunted his growth for her; he offset his daily routine for her; he would build her a hospi¬tal. She wanted a hospital.
Winter came early; the sun was eager to fade each night. Winter was heartless, but the worst was over. It gave her cravings, made her go on binges, rampage. She began craving lemons as she had never craved anything. He couldn’t get them for her. She wanted blue snow but was concerned about his health, still precarious. One day he stayed home from work after he had been well for some time. She reminded him he was breaking everything in sight, and she held out her hand to him. He didn’t know where to find her. With her face she touched his. It was snowing again. It would always be dark for him. She knew she too was going blind. They would move. In the South, one can always see better, she said, trying to comfort him, but he knew, being a doctor, that he would never be able to see better, nor would she, even in the South, where the weather is at least warm and often hot. Instead he would buy her a lemon orchard, a mountain, even if he had to sell the stocks. In his delirium he tried to hold her, hold her hands, reach out and grasp her face gently, as he had always done when they first had met, but she pushed him away, got up and paced back and forth, trembling, craving blue snow. Whenever he couldn’t satisfy her whims, she would go off and hide, sometimes for days at a time, in the woods, at a friend’s, at a hotel, some place, any place, not near him, who was depriving her, though he tried his best to please her.
She fell into the river near their cabin. He tried saving her, he cried out to her, she held her breath, trying to hide from his blindly, wildly grasping hands, reaching everywhere in the murky water for her. He let himself go, knowing it no longer mattered.
The snow let up, chunks of blue ice smashing against his useless body. He began to dream; she told him to dream with her. She let him find her, and they climbed out of the water, holding hands. He held her tight, to keep her from leaving him again, from drowning. Their faces blue with cold, she forgot herself and made love to him. Forgetting her, he dreamed of his hospital, of his work, of again saving lives and of taking them too, of talking to his wife as a nurse, who once had loved him for his warmth and manners, his perseverance against all odds.
They returned to the cabin, out of breath, almost frozen. Yet soon she began wandering about again, unsettled, looking for some¬thing to do, somewhere to go, something to distract her from the river of automatic distasteful thoughts coursing through her mind, always heard and felt, so close; from his blindness and her fated blindness; from her job; from sex and love and everything human beings were supposed to feel and think and do.
He fell asleep. She fed the fire and took care of him even while he slept, checking his temperature, putting compresses on his forehead, kissing him on the chest when he was having bad dreams, all the time looking out the window at stars she had never before seen.
Diving into the river, he swam to the bridge he knew was just a short way downstream, grabbing what he thought was a woman, his wife, his nurse. Then he collapsed. She was hunting for a beach and fell asleep. Later they found him, biting his arms, staring into himself, muttering. She identified him by his blurry eyes. Once again they tried to settle down, but their legs were cold, their arms, their feet numb. They tried to understand their situation, each other. They tried to fade away from each other, but there was no end; the stars went on shining, and the hospital carried on its usual business.
He was hunting, but for what? She talked to herself constantly. He would remember something, then forget it. He was no longer himself. She fixed their dinners silently, watching him eat as he watched her. She asked him about his day, after he had gone back to work. They listened to a little music every evening, while she was cleaning up and he was falling asleep.
He tried to end his life again, what was left of it. She saved him, unthinkingly, but didn’t really know whom she was saving. She wanted oak barrels for storing sherry, but she didn’t drink sherry. He wanted peace. He said no. She insisted. He left once again. She tried to find him. She hated the long, dark winters.
We disturb the silence Light begins to fall from a lamp
heavens open up and embrace us
There is a wedding, and the bride is the bridegroom’s other, older self. Daily her eyes grow larger and more devastating as easily in their power to unearth the splendor in a shade of red as in a chapel or the Holy Grail, where, room the dimensions of the altar, she can sense the inner compulsions of the masons. He, in turn, by writing on paper already written on, can re¬lease the incongruities stored since childhood, thus allowing the various legends to filter through his senses and all that lives within him as passion to unite with a quiet wisdom.
Entering her room he comments on the sunlight. With mobile, famished eyes, he asks her to gather his meditations: a thousand horses try to lead them away from the imminence or a perfect relationship.
The fruit, though, has formed. Unlocking our internal comedies we leap from bodies onto the astral sphere. We would end our anarchistic wanderings and settle into a tranquil and occasion¬ally ingenious consistency could we learn to fear and hate.
Longing for absorption into the predawn light we once again—after three thousand years of abstractions—begin to see the fields made fertile by the wholeness of the body.
Four streams lead to these fields
The stars rain down.
We see each other and nod. You raise your arms and wave. The existence possible alights on your left arm and. for a moment. flutters preciously, before flying into a corner of the room to await an answer. The excitement of someone asking me to go with them draws my hands out of my pockets one last time. I wave. I let myself smile. The unreality of a life trapped in the spell of possible incest dissipated when you turn the far side of your delicate neck into the sun and I unhook everything I am carrying, strip naked, and run to you. also naked. waiting for the tide to recede before you go diving off a long beach north of Santa Barbara. Clapping our hands over our heads. for one infinite moment we look at the shore, before looking up, over the tall cliffs, into the rising height of the sun.
Wings of Comfort
I step into the candlelight, toward the Chinese man moving about the center of the world. I shout into the audience, stand up and watch the walls of the century lift off the stage. The man passes through a succession of rituals, transforming the space through which he moves into the shape of his traditions. Unable to dissolve my wings of comfort I watch him sail into the clouds. He waves to the audience. He waves his arms above his head like a bird struggling against the wind. I shout into the crowd, Unfold your wings and fly after him. The stone floor grips my toes. All through my legs I feel the cool touch of marble. I dash through columns of people, shielding my eyes from the sun. Tired, I slip into my seat, invisible to the empty seats about me. A car takes me along endless white lines.