from Brief Under Water
When I first saw the need for a study of
this kind I was living with my brother just
out of sight from the house, in the past;
I suppose we were waiting for Black Monday.
There were comets in the air. It was beautiful
over Libya and beautiful over Chernobyl.
In fact it was so beautiful that you had
to turn away, violently, sometimes only seconds
after liftoff. Our teachers were too stunned
by the direction things had taken to be of
any use. But none of this meant very much
to me or to Mickey. We were taking our meals
on a rope, going through butcher paper like
there was no tomorrow. We drew planes in
profile and bullets in midflight, natural
histories that ended with the baluchithere
and omitted it in alternation. We were still
convinced of a graphical solution. In fact
there was no tomorrow.
It is customary to mention smoke in a letter
from this place, it is customary to exhibit
a curious animal where drink is sold, there
to fall the drunkard deeply in his wine,
to fell the blackbirds smoothly through their
cloud, to flout not nature, character, or
usage, no fact, no law, no circumstance,
in closing to employ formulaic and complimentary
language, in making for the stiller town
to extend the thumb of the left hand, but
custom I must here offend. I’m so sorry.
There seemed no other way. Love, your friend,
the five-legged calf, the floating world.
Yet you were rarely home; instead a succession
of dogs educated him in loss. In the past,
you had me know, there had been a winter
to speak of: the ice held down the bay with
one blue hand. The snow got old, the wind
blew itself all down at heel a-shambling
and a-whistling through the alleyways. He
himself was compelled to frame his breath
into a whistle. Modern times, you see, had
heightened everything. Modern times had largely
done away with the cold. Yet there remained
him a blinding hymeneal expanse, a childhood
of snow days idyllic to beggar description.
Like many men I have inflicted my only serious
injuries. We remained back of the house.
My friend’s Jamaican Pearl was singularly
excellent. When I looked through the bay
window and into the kitchen, in the warm
light that relieved the dusk stealing into
our quarter, I saw men and women mouth words
of little meaning. When I looked out over
the poverty grass waving below the dark band
of the sea I felt time slip unaccountably
forward, or, it seemed, backward. A tremendous
oceanliner stood in the bay. The poverty
grass was like green static. It was going
to have been a beautiful day.
This, after all, is America, where everyone
has been in love two times. A little sadly,
we fondle our keepsakes. Here are the little
stones the wind and sea carved out of stones,
out of bricks and glass: red pebble, clear
pebble, bitten and ground. Formal upright
style, cascade style, windblown style, formal
slanted, clinging-to-rock-style, each shape
bespeaks a long acquaintance with the isometric;
each endows its occupant with impassive beauty.
In music I have always seen figures, the
single packing their things in pale sunlight,
the twice-loved girls coming home from work.
Can we stop for a minute. Wait. Wait.
Space was great. Well, more like ok. The
papaya in the hotel restaurant, Widow, savored
of must. Elephants swayed on the thoroughfare,
their faces sad with the annual rage. At
night the mosquitos drank from the corner
of my eye. I turned in my hammock, thinking
ever of the wife, the heart, the bed, the
table, the saddle, the fireside, the country.
There was an infinite amount of it, but
not for us. I ran badly aft; the ice shimmered
with ether. I was sorry I came. But all this
was like a formal gathering on the grass,
hundreds of yards beneath, from the wicker
of a drifting balloon some summer evening
with the wife, the heart, the bed, the table,
the saddle, the fireside, the country.
When I first saw the need for a study of
this kind we were the last family on our
block without color. The city was full of
good music. The stars were like tiny points
of light in a great void that moved from
us in all directions without ever getting
farther away. I had two years to live.
The manifold phenomena of light by which
the steadily and uniformly illuminated area
may be distinguished from others of identical
size and shape. For example blue, light green,
dark pink. For ‘brilliant’ read ‘light,
strong’: the brilliant feather. For ‘deep’ read ‘dark,
strong’: the deep whiskey. For ‘pale’ read ‘light,
grayish’: the pale cremains. For example
Eddie Carmel, brilliant, pale, and deep,
whom I can no longer resolve against the
drapes, against the lamp, I have stared so