The Night Air

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I was middle-aged and didn’t know what was happening to my mind. I wasn’t ill. I was tired, but everyone is tired at that age. I had my aches and pains. More sleep would have always been welcome, any day of the week, even if I’d already slept two days straight. More sleep, yes please, my body would say, and slurp up the hours like a dog by an open hydrant on a hot day, if anyone with the power to offer me gushes of time to sleep had done so.

My friend’s child smiles when she sees me and reaches out her arms. My friend says she likes me. But when her mother extends her arms to hand the little girl to me the girl cries and clings to her. Her mother and I smile as the girl puts her head on her Mom’s shoulder and looks at me. Her Mom tries to laugh at this but anyone can see that the effort to extend the child, who is now over twenty pounds, and suddenly return the child to her chest has caused her some pain she’s trying to ignore. She was hoping for a few minutes of having the child away from her, to not feel her weight, and to imagine days ahead where she can stand on her own, go run and play.

I had been each of these parents and children. Life with and without sleep had taken me closer and further away. The age of time within me was settling, with the denser material settling mostly, but occasionally launched upwards and sent clanging around by the power of deep jets of memory bursting forth. It’s a little hard to explain, of course. If all was well I could see it quite clearly and tell the story with the snap of my fingers, the click of my tongue, a sharp clap of my hands and you’d know instantly what I mean. But exhaustion contorts the path. Maybe no one wants to hear about tiredness. But the story of individual tiredness is interesting. People act crazy while tired. Worlds turn on the decisions of tired people. Wars have been fought, loves have been lost. To sleep like the dead and have the chance to awake again feels like a miraculous thing. Tiredness is so boring, everyone says, everyone’s tired. But tell them you had a sexy dream or a dream you’ll never forget and they’ll listen for a few seconds at least. Dreams feed the living imagination with fruits from the furrows of tiredness. Collective exhaustion is fertile ground.

When my child was still little, only able to walk a few steps at a time, friends would say at times when I looked tired that it wouldn’t be long before he could do more for himself. I would nod and smile and they would try to keep a stiff upper lip as I openly doubted their effort to be sympathetic. To say “it won’t be long” was to try and compress the next year or two between my resolve and my hope that the child would crave independence. The magic spell involves several ingredients to transform time. Every minute will still have to be lived, though, slowly, often in pain, and tired, of course, with fresh despair carefully washed of any pesticides, until it’s ready to be grated over the bowl, and mixed into the next couple of years of parenting thoroughly. Once prepared, the spell takes several months to gain full effectiveness. By that time the friend who gave you the recipe may have moved on to another town or spouse. They wanted to escape seeing you so tired but it has found them or someone they love and now they laugh together with the same song of tiredness. They’ve given in and can’t remember ever resisting. It’s the same with politics and revolutionaries, of course.

Instead of sleep or sex I take walks in the dark in the woods behind our house. Except when I step out the back door I see again that I don’t live anywhere near the woods. I have to make do instead. I stand still and let the night air shape me.

All the jealous fathers

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All the jealous fathers are eating tacos shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar down the street. Each of their hands is feverishly but nonchalantly swiping at strange banal things on their phones while the other helps sips Bloody Marys or cervezas, their ears tuning out the thrash metal on the jukebox, internalizing their ability to both ingest the badassery of thwanging temptation on their own lips and at the fingertips of the row of men extending left and right.

It’s Father’s Day on a day when the sky has lightened and darkened several times. The cycle of hormones is absolutely paramount within their bodies but will never be discussed. It should be worn on t-shirts though, it’s so apparent. Their very beards, or the thin, well-trimmed hint of beards, speak to exactly how little or how much sex they crave or pretend not to crave. Crunch is popped into mouths and crunched with gusto. Skulls inadvertently bop as they dribble one of several fine salsas onto their burritos. Peter ponders his plantains. Herve heaps huevos onto his gluten-free toast.

On the TV it’s sports, which is supposed to represent the opposite of death. (I am miles away helping a young man up who has just been thrown down the stairs by his drunk father. I am in costume looking up from a table at the morgue helping a young man prepare for the day when death will be as this before him, prepared, cold to the touch.) Life life life the colors of the athletes’ bodies scream. We have defeated death. You fathers will live forever.

Eternal life is there on the tip of your tongues. How much of all this behavior is funded by the dead or living fathers? All of it. None of it. Each body is into his own. They would storm the streets together at any sign of injustice. They are as chill as each radish sliced into a pile in the corner of their plastic baskets of food. All is well. ATMs blink awaiting their touch. Somewhere the land of naps is ready to accept their bellied skeletons. That roaring sound is the laughter of young angels cracking up at the entire scene. The workers’ bodies at the cemeteries glisten in the sun.

I avoid the answer

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Credit: M. Jakubowski

I avoid the answer to the question I asked of tomorrow. Avoiding myself, too, as my half-life struggles, revealing itself to others, one hand dipped in the past, the other paddling along in the future.

I don’t know what time is, and I won’t know until it’s over. Having never begun. I can’t capture exactly what I mean, not yet at least. In theory I have it all figured out though. And ideally I don’t rely on puns.

But I am coming to understand in a very simple way that most of the anger and fear we have of others and ourselves, the crushing hatred grinding like the compounded gravity of distant entities light years away, with the weight of a mountain compressed into the size of a grain of sand, all that destructive power tends from hiccups in how we each experience time. Continue reading

A specific disintegration

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Credit: M. Jakubowski

This focus on Else, I am thinking while walking, everything everywhere, cities and towns the world over, what we’ve achieved at the office or the church or the classroom is beautiful of course and nothing to sneeze at. But in the end of the self, whether God’s involved a little or a lot, it’s to something else entirely apart from our memories and accomplishments that we first return.

The flora we call weeds thick and green against the steel poles holding up a fence around a pad of oily concrete. Sparrows abounding in the gutters in cracked building corners, every thorny bush between home an office. Beware resistance to this palace of small places we are headed towards, the bodily noises of the weeds and small birds seem to say. So on days when I am aware in my way feeling what prayerful people call at peace, days without sleep over several nights, the office and the family plans and the past fade into their moment, etched with modest gratitude. Not places of nothingness. The urge isn’t to throw it once and for all away into some other place beyond with the angry force of regret. There’s no regret. Regret is for egoists.

But these things here and now beneath my feet and at eye level that will be here and were here long ago are the next stage we will step onto. This fact will never age, even as sparrows evolve and blades of grass hybridize. It’s enough to make the walk from the bus to the front door something a different kind of person might call miraculous, before they disintegrate into sleep, or the hope of another year that in many cases will not come.

The breath and the way

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Credit: M. Jakubowski

As for this site, I have the urge to get back into the habit of posting regularly. (I’ve decided for better or worse not to edit too much.) Maybe a change is needed, would be fun, we’ll see, in my writing approach/approaches—this thought after reading some of Duras’s essays and articles and fragments that roil and startle with enough ego to power a new sun.

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Paper Monument

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My, oh my, how the months fly by. Last I posted it was winter and now it’s fall again. Three seasons later, I have three things to share.

I’m very pleased to have published two new story-reviews this year. These are my experimental book reviews, or critifictions, as I call them sometimes. (A friend of mine said he thinks I might have invented this form/genre? Hard to say. Who knows?)

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Another Life

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My latest experimental book review is now online at Full Stop. (It originally appeared last year in the Full Stop Quarterly.) It’s part four in an ongoing series of experimental reviews I’m writing about literature in translation. I’ve been publishing them pretty slowly, about once a year. They’re a bit hard to place, being so different from traditional reviews, but I enjoy writing them. Many thanks to Helen Stuhr-Rommereim for believing in this piece and making it happen.

Another Life
On Recitation by Bae Suah, translated by Deborah Smith.

The critic read Suah’s novel, Recitation, on the train to and from a writers conference. At a panel about the art of criticism featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson the discussion turned to writing, the personal process of coming to terms with bias against different sorts of texts, the ways critics develop an approach for each piece. In the audience the critic listened as Jefferson described the nature of critical writing as “giving real coherence to ambiguity,” saying that not unlike a fiction writer a critic must also, “play different parts, very much adjusting your voice,” when interpreting a book’s potential meanings.

Continue reading at Full Stop