I know: I entered this world with nothing, and I’ll leave with nothing. But in the middle of the journey, aren’t you supposed to get something, so that you’ll have a reason to complain about being barred from taking your possessions into eternity? But I actually had more at birth than I do at present; for my newborn self owned cravings and hungers unknown to most mortals.
…trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
That’s from part V of Wordsworth’s “Ode”. And below is a bit of dialogue from the movie Gilda (1946); tho, to be clear, I’ve swapped my name for the titular character’s – my own spouse never spoke these words to me:
You’re a child, Bryan; a beautiful greedy child. And it amuses me to feed you beautiful things because you eat with so good an appetite.
But I live like Robinson Crusoe, a castaway on my island, which is an apartment, so I have the worst of both worlds: unbearable solitude, yet with constant noisy distractions of neighbors through the walls, and loud motorcars in the neighborhood—I can hear the street noise through my closed windows—plus they’re doing new construction down the block. So, all in all, it’s like Crusoe on an island which is orbited by hostile alien spacecraft day and night.
That’s why I feel for pets. Imagine how awful that is, to be the only representative of your species among extraterrestrials, who treat you according to their needs not your own; or even if you have the company of a couple of fellow-sufferers, because the squad that trapped you also owns a few other humans, still the conversation is dismal (the odds are against you receiving Oscar Wilde for your kennel-mate); and humans NEED conversation to survive, as much as dogs need adventure, and cats need… actually I don’t know what cats need. Cats need the luxury of total privacy; yet you must remain “on-call” at all hours, in case they feel the whim to shun you. ...But everyone says: “Oh I wish I could experience life as my dog Bannadonna—he has it so easy: we feed him pet chow, and all he has to do all day is sleep.” Well your dog is probably depressed; that’s what I say. Dogs want to run at top speed over rolling hills. Pet chow to us is like prison gruel, or unsweetened oatmeal, thanks a lot; we’re relegated to munching these pellets of sawdust, when our nature is to slay wildfowl with our TEETH—or, as the Book of Job puts it (41:14), with the DOORS OF OUR FACE—and to drink the fresh blood of rodents.
Noticing your interest in our closets,
we exchange the eyes-to-heaven look of parents.
We want you to grow up to be All Dog,
the way they wanted me All Boy. My mother at least
seems reconciled. Last week when your “other Daddy”
manhandled you, planted kisses on your belly,
she laughed, “If there’s a life after this one,
I wouldn’t mind coming back as Peter’s next dog.”
That’s from James Merrill’s poem “Cosmo”, which takes as epigraph the following Howard Moss aphorism:
People who love animals once loved people.
Darn it all, I did it to myself again: I researched that Moss quote, to make sure I was getting it right (Merrill breaks the line after “animals” so I wasn’t sure if I should copy it as verse or prose), and, in the process, I stumbled upon a trove of blogs written by learned people—translators of poetry, professors from colleges—and I spent a great deal of time reading through their entries. They all write so well: much better than Yours Truly, if you prefer the style of a scholar’s preface or typical introduction to a reprinted classic. So now I’m pissed to find that the Internet is crawling with excellent savants. I always think of myself as a passable writer (why would anyone write if they thought they were lousy?), and it’s disturbing to learn that this place, I mean the circuit boards of Computer Land, which I assumed was nearly vacated by the literate, is wholly infested with intellectuals. I just thought it was me and like one or two others. Like a trinity or quaternity: Elohim. Let us make essays in our image.
I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me […] there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. [Isaiah 45:5-6]
So, on one hand, I want to complain about being Crusoe on my island all alone, yet, on the other hand, I want to whine just as loudly about all the other Crusoes that occupy this place. I want to preserve my cake in heaven but also sacrifice my only cake for all earthlings. Let them have cake, let them eat cake, too.
Yes, remaining firmly in line with the Ancient of Days, I refuse to heed my own advice from my Bible of Hell:
The Angriest Sovereign in the Dependency insists: “There is no man else with me; there is none beside me.” Similar statements are given elsewhere by Moses, Jeremiah, and numerous other Jehovahs, who think the best way to prove that one is the world’s only deity is to scream it at the surrounding deities’ faces; whereas a truly solitary spirit yearns for companionship, and the Hidden God does not despise humans but incessantly becomes the highest humans. The problem is that the moment a divinity loses his loneliness he forgets that he ever possessed it and thus wants it back.
So let me say: Those other blogs that I read this morning were trash. I don’t know how anyone could trudge through their stuffy language. College professors and translators of foreign poetry are very smart people, but they’re no FUN. Only stupid people are fun. And I am nothing if not stupid. That’ll be my claim to fame: I must embrace my inner Neanderthal. Let words fail, let thots trip over themselves, explanations be botched... leave paragraphs without their hind legs... countless eyeballs devoid of their wheel...
Take pride in your nothingness. Or don’t be proud of it but embrace it. The whole reason you opt, every time, to enter this broken world, is to take a vacation from the stress of owning everything. Because one actually does own all of otherwhere, and one could explain how matter was invented, if one wanted to remember that; but one came here to forget one’s troubles. Mortal existence: the saloon of the Ineffable.
One day I found myself here, in the bed. Having probably lost consciousness somewhere, I benefit by a hiatus in my recollections, not to be resumed until I recovered my senses, in this bed. As to the events that led up to my fainting and to which I can hardly have been oblivious, at the time, they have left no discernible trace, on my mind. But who has not experienced such lapses? They are common after drunkenness. I have often amused myself with trying to invent them, those same lost events. But without succeeding in amusing myself really.
That’s from Malone Dies, page 183 of my Grove Press copy of Three Novels by Samuel Beckett. But it’s like I said above: once I get my riches, I yearn for poverty; and when I obtain poverty, I want my riches back. I’m like LIGHT, I just can’t COMMIT to being only a WAVE or a PARTICLE. So this oscillation of dissatisfaction now leads me to The Hymn of the Pearl – I conclude with the letter that my parents write to me from the court in our kingdom (Bentley Layton’s translation; in case it’s not obvious, the word “Egypt” here is used as a trope for “this world”—that is, the realm of clocktime and death):
From your father the King of Kings, your mother who rules the East,
And their Brothers, who are second after them:
To our child in Egypt. Peace!
Arise, and become sober out of your sleep.
Listen to the words written in this letter.
Remember that you are a child of kings.
You have fallen under a servile yoke.
Call to mind your garment shot with gold.
Call to mind the pearl for which you were sent on the mission to Egypt.
Your name has been called to the book of life...