Mutual Life

  1. Sometimes there’s a person who pretends to be talking
  2. to another person or maybe he’ll just pretend to be
  3. talking to an idea or object as if it were a person
  4. but in truth he’s not really talking to anyone or
  5. thing—he’s not even talking to himself, he’s only
  6. writing. We pretend not to notice. Sometimes who writes
  7. writes that he hasn’t been able to write much lately
  8. and that it’s only with great difficulty he is able to
  9. write this now. He writes he holds the personification
  10. of his drive or his capacity to write responsible for
  11. all the recent difficulty, addressing his complaint
  12. to the personification directly, asking how could she
  13. be so wanton, cruel, how could she vanish like that
  14. when there was still so much work to do, work he can’t
  15. imagine getting on with without her hand in his.
  16. The personification can’t respond independent of
  17. the writer who in turn can’t articulate her response
  18. unless she lets him. The faint mechanical clicking
  19. that falls between thoughts as if to link them together
  20. only seems to. The tension between the two repels
  21. but magnetizes. This makes things a little awkward
  22. for the rest of us. There must be some tight bungalow
  23. he thinks where the personifications go to smash
  24. against each other, testing out boundaries to come
  25. to know themselves better but then they just get too
  26. ridiculous with it, he can see it now—how they stretch
  27. out so indiscriminately that by the time they’re up
  28. for coming back they’re not what we want anymore.
  29. Or not a bungalow so much as a kind of brown-scented
  30. common area that our figments nest in temporarily
  31. to pursue the material fantasies we hatch for them.
  32. Is that even possible? Either way, the one who writes
  33. pretending to speak to one who isn’t wants to honor
  34. the particular beauty of what is, knowing all the while
  35. beauty fades in tiny increments and sometimes even
  36. great big leaps that in another context might be thought
  37. achievements, noting that to honor in this instance
  38. means to construct a form for far beyond the mutability
  39. dogging every example of terrestrial perfection, up to
  40. and including the unfortunately celebrated diamond
  41. which is itself no less subject to the laws of physics
  42. than the daffodil or macaroon or fennec fox, but for which
  43. infinitely more human examples have been maimed
  44. and killed. Again we approach it: the brink of thinking
  45. about the consequences of our taste for perfection only
  46. to back away from it again fast, almost as if to back away
  47. reflected an authority or some clear wisdom distilled
  48. from our forebears’ raw experience, akin to our obedience
  49. to colonial handrails, or else something else entirely.
  50. We can’t tell for sure. We feel the phantom hand of culture
  51. rest consolingly on our shoulder the minute before it
  52. thwacks us on the ass or undertakes the long invasive
  53. surgery we can feel but were supposed to be asleep for.
  54. But say who writes is sad. And saddened genuinely
  55. not by the fake betrayal of the one he only pretends to
  56. be speaking to and saddened not by the condition of
  57. his tender love which actually also seems at least a little
  58. phony but saddened instead by the condition of what
  59. must be called his life. The inevitable trash of it and all
  60. he might be thought to value. He advocates so loudly
  61. for the transportability of the beauty of the love object
  62. to the eternal realm of art for safekeeping we almost
  63. fail to recall how he kicked things off by accusing his own
  64. personal ambassador from that realm, no less an ideal
  65. version of the temporary, of having not only changed
  66. but of having been debased—of having wanted it, even.
  67. His loudness can only cover up so much. Nothing can
  68. escape decay. He has to know this. He has to know that
  69. his art can only preserve what’s real rhetorically, and yet
  70. he concludes by urging the personification to render
  71. the love object and its all beauty past corruption and up
  72. into fame as she mobilizes the public against the cold
  73. campaign of time. We see the broad snowy battlefield
  74. demarcated from the rote of the world by a parenthesis
  75. of trees, its balance of deciduous and evergreen varieties
  76. suggestive of the American north as well as of death
  77. and immortality, respectively. We see the still profile of
  78. the general training off into the distance as she waits
  79. forever for the arrival of an enemy who is always already
  80. everywhere anyway, her soldiers armed with nothing
  81. more than figures of speech. We think the whole tableau
  82. refers to what’s hanging in the lobby of almost any city’s
  83. life insurance company to distract its clients from the fact
  84. of an impending doom. The mausoleal grandeur of this
  85. revivalist architecture helps too. At some point who writes
  86. separates from the rest of us to test the lobby’s bronze
  87. revolving door designed in 1888 right here in Philadelphia to
  88. unite one’s oneness with one’s mechanical replaceabilty.
  89. Sometimes the final cause of what we make turns out
  90. not to reveal itself until it’s put to use. Sometimes we think
  91. we’re pretending to talk but what we’re really doing is
  92. trying not to die. What words we use are determined by
  93. the fruit plate we ate for lunch, the rustling in the hedges
  94. passed along the way, or the false-fresh urban air in which
  95. one feels the great relief of having just disbanded from
  96. a team whose objective appeared to be the development
  97. of new ways to befuddle through the asking of questions.
  98. We’re befuddled enough already, thanks. But we forgive you.
  99. Who writes, we forgive you. Figures of speech, forbears,
  100. impending doom, we forgive you. Now get out of the way.