Here is a photo of stamped messages on the edge of a closed book’s pages, and a pencil that is dull at both ends.
Say that you live on the rim of an active volcano. How do you get to sleep at night? You must learn to accept the fact that you might be awakened not by the alarm clock but by your flesh singeing, when lava engulfs your home. It’s hard to breathe under lava.
But we who live in apartments elsewhere in the world do not have it much easier. For, any instant, a meteoroid could land in our kitchen. And the planet Saturn might crash into Earth tomorrow. Plus the sun keeps flickering on & off, because the universe’s wiring is faulty.
I hate the word universe. But I also hate the word multiverse. So I use the former term only for lack of a better one; my choice should not be construed as an endorsement of the premise that there are no other travesties simmering.
Seriously, though: we who live in cities, in the suburbs, and in the country – we are all safe from harm. The worst that will ever happen to us is that a moose might peek inside of our bedroom window. And this creature is barely interested in us: it’s only looking for candy.
Actually, moose prefer salt licks over confectioneries. And yet, more honestly, I’ve no idea what they eat. Now I piqued my own curiosity, so, before writing this sentence, I did a little research and found that the moose’s diet includes, among other elements, “fresh shoots from trees such as willow and birch.”
That remark was only supposed to be a throwaway; I didn’t mean for it to dominate this entry – if you want more moose-talk, see the paragraph somewhere in the midst of my post from long ago, which tells of my dad’s encounter with a member of that species (tho it’s nearly the same as what I said above, because I stole it from myself).
As I’ve explained before, I was born in Wisconsin but we moved to Minnesota when I was a tot. We lived in a house on a hill – not at the top or the bottom, but right at mid-hill; meaning that if you step out our front door and look to your right, you see a sharp decline, and if you look to your left, you see a majestic incline. That’s Troy’s house near the peak, and John’s house is down at the base. But now look straight ahead: See that sky-blue house across the street? That’s my other neighbor, Shane. Now here’s a riveting set of coincidences: John of the lower, yellow house is one year younger than me; and Troy of the red, upper house is a single year older; but Shane and I live in equally positioned houses, relative to our shared hill, and we’re the exact same age. My house is green, by the way.
All these years later, the only thing I remember about Shane is that he was from Vermont. This sticks in my mind because his east-coast accent challenged my prepubescent prejudices: I was slow to accept that words could be enunciated so comically while their speaker was dead serious. For instance: Thursday would be Shane’s birthday, but instead of saying “Come to my party,” he said “Come to my potty.” It wasn’t a joke then, and it’s not a joke now. It’s stunning, how people play fast and loose with their ‘R’s.
And just think of how the French talk. It’s unconscionable. My verdict is that Spanish has the best sounding ‘R’s. Minnesota ‘R’s are overplayed: the critics are right, we’re too nasal. But Spanish does it admirably: their ‘R’ sounds almost as hard as an English ‘D’; plus there’s nothing better than two ‘R’s together, then you can roll them: ¡Burro, arrive! (At least that’s my understanding – maybe there are exceptions.) In high school I took a few years of Spanish – today I’ve forgotten it all, except the phrase “con pollo.” I pronounce that as “cone POY-oh,” which means “with chicken,” I think. Also “con carne” (“cone CAR-nay”) means “with meat.” Burro, ven a traernos regalos de carne y pollo. In Spanish class, we students were each given a Spanish name to replace our English name. I was christened “Victor,” which sounded similar to “BEAK-tod.”
The only other thing that I can remember about my neighbor Shane is that he styled his hair like Chantal Goya from Godard’s film Masculin Féminin (1966).
If you live in the country, you probably don’t have running water; so you bathe outdoors in a lake, pond, or river. I’ve heard this fact reported from two separate sources: one is Franz Kafka, who was speaking about his uncle (now that I think of it, I might be wrong about that – please take my words cum grano salis, which is Latin for “with a grain of salt”); and the other is Bernie Sanders – I’m reading his new book, Our Revolution, because I love underdogs and democratic socialism and populism and grassroots movements and people with east-coast accents who are the same age as me.
Deborah and I bought eighty-five acres of woodland in Middlesex, Vermont, for $2,500. We worked hard to convert an old maple sugar house on the property to a livable cabin. There was no electricity or running water, but we did build a nice outhouse. We bathed in a cold stream in the middle of the woods.
I have more to say on this topic, but I must pause here to announce some breaking news: Two fine books arrived in the mail just now! My sweetheart and I ordered them as self-gifts, to celebrate the birth of… I was going to say the Son of God, our savior born in Bethlehem, because of the holiday (Dec. 25), but that’d be a fib. No, we’re not celebrating any divine overthrow. And I can’t tell whether the child is Jehovah’s or not. We need a paternity test. The disadvantage of asexual (as opposed to sexual) reproduction is that you lack genetic diversity; at least that’s how I understand it: you leave yourself more vulnerable to environmental enemies. …Anyway, the books are the latest publications from my two favorite living poets: John Ashbery’s Commotion of the Birds; and Anne Carson’s Float. Carson’s title is actually a set of 20+ chapbooks that come stored in a transparent, codex-shaped holder. So it’s unconventional. We just started reading them last night. I love them all. We also recently bought a copy of Geoffrey Hill’s collected volumes (I can’t recall if I told you that yet) – it’s called Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012. Fiery material.
One last item on the topic of bathing; I happened to run across this yesterday, while reading aloud to my sweetheart. It’s in the section called “The Feast,” from Ahmed Ali’s contemporary translation of Al Qur’ān. These lines follow an explanation of how believers should wash with water before praying:
If you are in a state of seminal pollution,
Then bathe and purify yourself well.
But in case you are ill or are travelling,
Or you have satisfied the call of nature,
Or have slept with a woman,
And you cannot find water,
Then take wholesome dust
And pass it over your face and your hands,
For God does not wish to impose any hardship on you.
This mercy, I imagine, will prove helpful to anyone who lives in the woods, in subzero climate, without running water; for if your stream freezes, you can just use wholesome dust. I hope I don’t sound jokey: this proposal truly did strike my mind as a boon.
Ah! I was going to end there, but now I want to give one last verse from the King James Bible (2nd Samuel 11:2), because I’ve always loved the event that it depicts – it led to much future trouble, as you know; but I prefer to hover over and luxuriate in the moment, as if time stood still:
And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king‘s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.