Mar 16, 2009

The words she said

At first she didn't say I love you too. Sitting in the park, in the dark with the broken slide and bottles and needles, the park where I said I knew it would never work but was going to say it anyway, was going to say it and did say it -- I love you -- Beth looked at me and she said, Thank you.

She would say it, later, and does say it all the time now. She will say it today ten times: Ten times in English and ten in German and then ten more without words, I love you, I love you, I love you. Ich liebe dich, I love you. She would say it and does, but the words at first wouldn't come complete in a sentence. She had to pull the words together, dragging them in on a long line like lobster traps in an Alaskan sea. It was like the words were linked but only loosely, the words spaced out along the line beneath the water where they were only even connected because they were caught, because they'd been lured in and trapped.

She said love first, putting the word in like THE END at the end of a story, or #30 at the end of press release. She said love and left it there, hanging there ambiguous at the end of e-mails and friendly phone calls. Love was linked to you later, the second word hauled in after weeks of waiting, added because it didn't add anything, because you was the part we already knew. Love you she said, and she was gone without acknowledging any involvement. It was as if the sea had swallowed the word I, as if the line was lost, the personal pronoun lost into an undertow, sucked down and drowned, strangled in seaweed, lost only later to be found floating bloated off the eddy of an island. Then it came, the I, the admission. Then it was added and she said the complete sentence, said I love you. She said it quickly and hung up. I sat there holding the empty phone for forever, amazed.

She said it then and would say it later. She would say it and let it linger, say it and hear it and say it back to me on slow days, long Saturdays and quiet evenings on dates. She would say it in the morning instead of good morning, say it on the phone and in person, in the afternoon and evening and when she was falling asleep. She would say it, and did say it and does, but at the first she didn't say I love you too. She didn't say that, but said instead, Thank you.

She said Thank you on the bench in the dark where we were sitting when I said I have to say this, where I said you don't have to accept this and maybe you can't but I have to say. I'm not making any demands and I'm not asking you to do anything, but I love you. I love you without asking for anything, but I do love you and I love you and I always will whatever you say. And then Beth said thank you. And that was the best thing I ever heard. The thing was, thank you wasn't no thank you and I was only ready for her to say no, I'm sorry, but no, but thank you but no. I expected my heart to be broken like the bottles and graffitied like the slide, expected to prefer being poked with needles or prodded with rusted, busted monkey bars, but I didn't expect to be accepted. I didn't expect to hear her say anything except to let me down and leave, but she said something to accept what I had said, something to accept me and she touched me, just holding my hand in the dark. I was like someone who'd just learned that fire can keep you warm in a cave, wanting to dance some victory dance and sing some song beyond words.
Turning out the lights for the night

Mar 11, 2009

"THE FIRST CONVERSATION began awkwardly, although Espinoza had been expecting Pelletier's call, as if both men found it difficult to say what sooner or later they would have to say. The first twenty minutes were tragic in tone, with the word fate used ten times and the word friendship used twenty-four times. Liz Norton's name was spoken fifty times, nine of them in vain. The word Paris was said seven times, Madrid eight. The word love was spoken twice, once by each man. The word horror was spoken six times and the word happiness once (by Espinoza). The word solution was said twelve times. The word solipsism seven times. The word euphemism ten times. The word category, in the singular and the plural, nine times. The word structuralism once (Pelletier). The term American literature three times. The words dinner or eating or breakfast or sandwich nineteen times. The words eyes or hands or hair fourteen times. Then the conversation proceeded more smoothly. Pelletier told Espinoza a joke in German and Espinoza laughed. In fact, they both laughed, wrapped up in the waves or whatever it was that linked their voices and ears across the dark fields and the wind and the snow of the Pyrenees and the rivers and the lonely roads and the seperate and interminable suburbs surrounding Paris and Madrid."

-- Roberto Bolaño, 2666.
The smell like tears at rotting

Her fiance was found in the trunk, dead after days. His face was eaten away in those days, and the death left nothing but a smell where his eyes and skin had been. It was like something the subconscious would serve up for fear, only it was daytime.

The dress turned black as she stood there, not speaking. It went from white to black, turning splotchy and dark gray, like the sullen color of a burnt and sodden sky. The dress was white and the white was a satin-smooth symbol of love, love and purity and pure love, and then the dream was destroyed by this. She would say she collapsed when she heard, only outwardly she still stood there and was simply silent. This happened and she stood perfectly still but she thought of herself and her dress differently. She thought of it as all turned brittle and black.

This happened, and then in her mind she went right then from bride to widow and the white dress went from white to black.

Mar 10, 2009

Professor Thompson's cello

He played the cello in pantomime. Eyes closed, he ran his hand through his white-white hair and then marked the beat, pointing there and there and there. Leaning forward for emphasis, he grabbed the imaginary instrument up high on the neck, a strong chord, and he came down sweeping with the bow. He scraped and swept, changed chords and swept, leaning into the invisible cello and shaking with the music, shaking from his knees to his jowls and shaking his hair down into his eyes, shaking and quivering with the emotion of the music in his mind. He imagined it running up and down the strings, each of the four like filaments for the sound, the sound like light to light the world. He imagined the music coming through the f-notes, shivering up the neck and out across the hard wood with the perfect polish, the instrument humming with what only he heard, vibrating with what he thought was the magic of meaningfulness.

That's how Thompson started every class of freshman composition at the community college.

It was a weird performance, this pantomime. When he finished he would say "cello." Just "cello." "Cello," with the hard "ch" like Chekov not Chandrasekhar. "Cello" like "yellow," like "jello," and like it explained something. He said it like he was explaing the word he was acting out at a party for his friends, friends who presumably knew what "chamber music" meant and went to parties where middle aged men acted out odd words. But the word could have been "enraptured." It captured something, Thompson thought, and maybe, actually, captured everything. This pantomime, it was what Thompson meant when he tried to talk about teaching and writing and a life of art and giving these students something of a sense of what he meant when he said life was meaningful.

Everyone just thought he was odd. Maybe harmless. Maybe eccentric in a nice way. But you know, still strange, still stretching for something silly, searching for something that didn't exist, some special power that could be performed or, anyway, found in a moment of magic in a class. If they didn't understand it, didn't get the cello, then Thompson would turn to Annie Dilliard and birds, flying in circles in the sky, or Seamus Heaney digging, his shovel metaphoric for a pen. And if he still didn't see rapture in the faces, didn't see the break in the series of sleep-sloppy faces of bored boys and girls, then Thompson would turn to Dylan Thomas, seamlessly suddenly into recitation, standing up and shouting: Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight! And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way! Do not! Go gentle! Into that good night!

But then at the end, as Christmas came and the semester squandered out, as he stuttered around the sentence he'd been trying to say since that first act, that first day, Thompson returned to the cello. He played it, his invisible instrument, the instrument he couldn't play because of his ear, and he leaned into it. He leaned into this, his imaginary music sacrament, eyes closed to the emotion as he prayed for the coming of art, the moment of clarity and the partaking of the power to make meaning. He closed his eyes, quaked in his seat beneath the dull yellow lights, and played.

Mar 6, 2009

Evening walk when we first walked together

On the first walk, we walked around the block. It was evening and quiet and it wasn't our block but we walked around it, stepping over the cracks where the sidewalk was heaved up and broken. It was obvious, but only later, and we said nothing of feelings and nothing of us, careful to avoid even the appearance of speaking in plural. My hands were in my pockets. She wished she'd brought the dog.

We talked about the houses and the different types of houses and bricks and yards. We talked about the porches we liked, and house colors and gardens. We walked slow, talked slow, leaving steps between our sentences and space between us. We walked down the empty street in the evening and we were together and I loved her, but didn't want to. She was leaving and loving wasn't a part of her eight-year plan. She was leaving and I only wanted to speak of loss and lostness. Only knew how to. I knew how to say how light leaked out of the world, how to articulate longing thrashed and lashed to impossible professions, but not how to hear "I love you."

So we walked, that first walk, talking of other things, separate and independent things, but we walked together. We turned right, into the sun as it tipped down, and right again, around the block, walking back to where we started. We turned past a long hedge, passed little houses where we might one day live, houses like the houses where we will live together, with yards where we might dig in the dirt and porches where we might sit together content, happy, saying good morning, good morning, good life, good day.

We walked past a tree and I plucked a twig, twiddling it and looking down. She watched the sidewalk where it cracked and I walked into a spider's web, the long strands of spider silk stretching sticky and stuck to my face. I stopped, taking off my glasses and, embarrassed -- a clutz - an oaf - an idiot! -- wiped it away. When I put my glasses back on she was looking at me, and it was obvious, but only later.

Mar 5, 2009

Last days of a street preacher

He died in a nursing home in North Carolina, blind and alone. All his charisma, all his strength and aggression were drained away and he was just an old man dying, sapped and withered at the end. He was toothless from the time a motorcycle gang stomped his face. He was scarred from the stabbings, the shootings, and all the times when “heckling” meant more than words. He was still covered in the splotchy freckles that seemed to grow stronger as he faded, but his hair was white now, and wispy. He was still talking of God, still the street preacher as he passed away. He was still as sane as he ever was, or as crazy, if you want to see it that way, and he was still talking about God when they put him in the nursing home and left him there alone.