Epithet

  1. Just to set out to write arbitrary impressions of the day for a week should keep one watching for the opportunities for impressions offered by the day, and the little birds, which might have been juncos and were almost chickadees coming to mind appeared when the wind subsided that had earlier been bending the tops of trees westward only to release and then crush them again. That was around the time I put up the beige burlap curtains that cast an earthy or maybe woodsy, mossy leafy smell and after awhile the hems frayed and the fabric got brittle, turning powerlessness into an aesthetic principle. I don’t deny I had a childhood, a period of powerlessness I didn’t recognize as powerless. I know I screamed and I would have been rigid in the event, that was a trick I learned through imitation whose results bear only a scant resemblance to similes, if we refer to them at all, fizzling and tumbling in the skull, ghosts in the voice of a wintry consternation that I might try later to enunciate as the inscrutable background to misrepresentation, misunderstanding. History can make even the happiest person miserable. But I’m testing my freedom by strolling from stem to stern and back to stem again, through the weeds and over the sea at the end of an old fantasy, the start of a new. This is the familiar tale called An Argument or Argonaut, the moment just ahead now anxiously awaiting its turn. I was sitting over on the side of the room on the third floor watching and listening to the window amazed at the wind and the shaking of the glass. I didn’t notice myself much, there wasn’t much time for reflection. If having set out one continued for more than a week, there’s a possibility that watching out would become habitual. Attentiveness is a writer’s obligation. Something to avoid would be surveillance, putting oneself at a spy’s distance from other things. History can make even the happiest person terrible. We were in a yellow Mercury convertible, top down, sweeping over falling eucalyptus leaves so as to feel the breeze. This was my father’s idea, a message I’m sure we understood, coded as it was in the Cold War vernacular, clearly defiant, an open message but to interpretation. Interpretation is yet to get it. But I just don’t get a proper sense of being out in the world when sitting down to write, the world’s a blank. The only realistic chronicle is the record of one’s thoughts, memories, ideas in the order one has them, including sensations, awareness of right foot, tone in ears, pleasant sunny hue to the paint on the walls, messages taken cum grano salis. And all this between breakfast and lunch, but perhaps better at night. There are few predators that would kill a sleeping beast—the dog in its sleep, the dreaming cat, the bird with its head hidden under its wing. I had foodstuffs—that’s the word: little containers—jars, plastic cups, plastic-wrapped half-sandwiches or quarter-sandwiches in styrofoam trays—caviar, yogurts, snack-paks—but security wouldn’t let them through, they were confiscated, and I found myself with an empty, sky-blue canvas satchel, cleared to travel. Sand in the hand. Trucks lifted. Derelict barn with a pony painted on its side. Snow on peaks. Wind lifting dust and dusky sheep the color of dust. Blackbirds circling a bare oak near a yawning young cow. Should this have been puzzling? We’ve cleaned out the barn, moving scrap lumber to the side, putting down fresh straw as bedding for the rabbits. Midas the bull and the unnamed cows didn’t come in from the field as the boys sewed outfits for the smaller animals in an extended epithet. I remember the time of departure since we’d set it in advance. No appointments, no errands scheduled. My plan? Against this form of rationality, a family gathering is no less an event than the bloody slaughter of children fleeing across a field. History will still have been the bearer of destruction rather than knowledge. We are on a ridge—an escarpment—desperately making our way, either in flight or to accomplish a rescue. I pause on a patch of ground, but it’s a “vivitar,” a thin layer of dirt and leaves over a chasm, and it gives way. I reach upward as I begin to fall and am pulled to safety. Despair to me is not like rain. I bend my left leg, always the left, and raise my foot, slip it onto the pedal, then lean onto the ball of my foot and step, swinging my right leg back and then up and around, in a single smooth motion. The whole perch slides forward under the trees. Today, a not very subtle force, I have enjoyed myself more physically than mentally, particularly when outdoors. Solitude is not like a blank wall nor like an orderly desk or windswept field. Human money is in an international phase, human thought is not.