Sunday, April 19, 2015

Chapter One

It may be that it is Tuesday, December 31, 2013.  It may be that winter is well underway, and that a chill runs through everyone and everything.  It may be that I am sitting on the floor as I type these words, and the tiled floor beneath my legs is very cold.

        It may be that a Chinese lunar probe is on its way to the moon.  It may be that the government of Thailand is in a state of transition.  It may be that the NSA’s surveillance of Americans’ phone records has been declared illegal.  It may be that tensions increase between certain ASEAN nations and China.  It may be that Joaquin Phoenix stars in the movie “Her.”  It may be that the Seattle Seahawks are well on their way to the playoffs.

        It may be.  It may be.

        It may be that through the winter chill, through the imminent New Year, through the nationalism of Chinese nationalists and the insecurity of national security organizations, I am thinking about him.  It may be that I can see him through all of the words.  It may be that I can see him through the present tense.  It may be that I can see him through all of the events he tried so painstakingly to organize, from beginning to end.

        It may be that in the present I see the past, and in the past I see the future.  In the future I see the present and the past reaching an uncomfortable agreement.  Between the points of their intersection I can see his handiwork, and in the present time I can see his past misfortunes, played out just months before the time when all of this was never written.

        It may be that I think about him, and that I feel a sadness over what he’s done.  But then again, it might have been beyond his power to choose from the beginning.  As I sit here in my room, typing or not typing these words into a laptop, I have room enough and time enough to regret him.  I know that he was always doing his best.  I know that he had the best intentions.  But he was handicapped from the start.  Like so many of us, he was doomed before he was old enough to walk.

        It may be that I am wondering where he is.  I am looking for him, in my thoughts.  I feel that if I could turn inward just enough I will see him there, staring back from the other side of the world.  I can feel him in the present moment.  I can feel him in all the hundredfold things that have been witnessed, and all the thousandfold things that have not been witnessed, or written down, or remarked upon afterward.  I will not see him in the future, because that is not where he wants to be.

        It may be that we taught together at the university, the professor and I.  Or it may be that I was his only friend.  It may be that I was the wife who bore him two daughters, or it may be that I was her jealous lover, coveting everything that he thought was his.  It may be that I was male or female, as the scene requires, and that I am both everywhere and nowhere all at once.  It may be that years have now passed between us, and that I sit here in this white room with its flaking paint, and that I am trying to remember what has come before today, which may or may not be Wednesday, July 4, 2007.

        It may be that I knew him.  We struck up a conversation one day, he and I.  I found him in the university one afternoon, and it may be that I came upon him as a stranger; it may be that I was a long lost friend or else the person he saw at the beginning and the ending of every day.  I saw him staring at the cover of the book I was holding, and I ventured to ask him if he’d ever read Poe.

        “Why of course,” he answered in his high, nasal voice, “But I was only a kid then.  I don’t remember much.”

        It may be that the two of us were sitting outside in the springtime, on benches which occupied the quad where the world famous cherry trees blossom.  It felt like the Ivy League, but wasn’t.  We were on the wrong side of the Continental Divide.  We were on the wrong side of the Rockies.  We were just a hair’s breadth from Canada, and the Pacific was only an hour’s drive away.  He was sitting on a bench near the entrance to the Humanities building, while I sat on the next bench over.  As we spoke, students passed us by.  I glanced up and saw seductive girls in denim skirts, and laughing boys bearing a thousand logos.

        It may be that he was wearing brown slacks and a reddish-brown wool sweater.  One could tell that he was inclined to corpulence, but that there was a wife somewhere, trying her best to keep him slim.  He had pale skin, gold-rimmed glasses, and a thin head of auburn hair.  He looked like someone meant for northern climates, where warm rooms are an adequate substitute for outdoor recreation.  One could also tell that the sun rarely burned its way into his solitude, and that he was a man more comfortable with lectures than with conversation, more at home in the midst of books than in the midst of friends.  He was clumsy.  He was shy.

        It may be that we began talking about unimportant things.  We might have talked about our work, if that was something that we shared.  We might have talked about our family life.  We might have talked about the writings and the doings of the great Edgar Allan Poe.  I was immediately struck by his vast command of facts, not only in his area of specialization – the Middle Ages – but in other time periods and subjects as well.  His knowledge ranged from the earliest cultures to the present day.

        It may be that he was a difficult man to talk to, and our conversation struggled, but I found him engaging that day.  I found a warmth in him that I would not see again.  It is often like that with people.  Try as we might, we usually fail to see them as they truly are, until one day – through what combination of circumstances we will never know – we are granted a window into their souls.  We look upon them at that fateful moment and there they are, in all their virtue and frailty.  For just that instant, we see them as even they cannot see themselves.

        It was like talking to a very large, very shy, yet very arrogant encyclopedia, or perhaps like talking to some kind of robot, which has at its disposal certain unconvincing mannerisms, and the entire history of the world.  He evinced a knowledge of the most obscure people, places, and things I could imagine, and his ability to summon up the most esoteric information seemed to occur without any real effort on his part, as if he could remember – really and truly remember – everything that had ever happened to every person that had ever lived.

        It may be that we exchanged phone numbers, and that after that initial conversation he took to calling me at odd intervals, once or twice a semester.  We would also run into one another in other places, at other times.  But when I saw him in the malls and coffee shops and parks of our city, it was as if we were strangers all over again.  I later realized that our first encounter had been an unusual occurrence for the professor, and that he had little meaningful interaction with either his colleagues or his students.  Perhaps it was only the beauty of that spring day that had thawed him.  I can never be certain.  Yet I do know that after meeting him on subsequent occasions he was even more difficult to talk to, even more remote.  He stuttered or mumbled, he looked for excuses to leave, or he pretended not to see me waving at him from afar.

        It may be, however, that when he called me it was like talking to another person, and on the phone I found it possible to talk to that remarkable man from the quad yet again.  On the phone we talked for hours, and on the phone I learned much of what follows here.  It was on the phone that he told me the story of his life, not so much in bare details as in casual remarks, in his choice of topics, or in the questions that he asked me.  He told me the story of his life, without meaning to do so.

        It may be that in the telling of his story you will come to see my professor as an immoral man, if not an evil man.  Let me only say that he lived his life for a purpose, and that purpose was to prove the world wrong.  When it came to most other people – all of their feelings, and motivations, and dispositions – he was entirely at a loss.  He never claimed to know the human heart, least of all his own, and for this reason guilt, and the moral sense that guilt implies, were for the most part outside of his experience.  He lacked a compass, yes, but I don’t think that he was evil.

        I call him the Tail, for this is a name that he sometimes gave himself.  He wrote to me that the tail is the hindmost part, carried far behind the seat of consciousness, carried far behind any sense of right or wrong or good or bad.  In this he saw himself as a rearward action, as an aftereffect, with all of his motives and reasons and second guesses removed into both the past and the future.  He saw himself suspended somewhere beyond these things, fearful and uncertain, unwilling to contemplate all those accidents that had culminated in both his being and in the tragedy that struck his family.  He was the Tail because he was a stranger to himself.  He was his own extremity.

        Reflecting on the emails he sent me – these, few, ephemeral documents that form his personal history – I am continually surprised at what a remarkably lonely man he was.  He was, as far as I can ascertain, the only man I have ever known who truly lacked a single friend.  My recounting our correspondence in this manner might imply some kind of contradiction, but in this respect I feel that I was more an outlet for his despair, a kind of confessional.  He felt safe telling me the stories of his life, because he knew that I was too far away to hurt him.  No, I was not his friend, and if his messages to me were true, he had none.

        It may be that much later I also learned about his troubles from a shared acquaintance, a man who I later learned was very close to my professor.  This man’s narrative also forms much of what follows, for reasons which will become obvious later.  I have of course also changed his name to protect his identity.  Not that it matters much now.  Some secrets must be kept however, even beyond their dates of expiration.

        But it may be that I have digressed too far from my original intentions, and that I should instead explain what the Tail was searching for, in the wake of his tragedy.  Perhaps I should begin at the beginning, with the Book.

        This book was is and will not be like other books.  This book is was and will not be secret.  None of the other scholars in the Tail’s field knew where this book reposed, though some had theories.  It was a mystery, this book.  It was an adventure that he chose to embark upon.

        It may be that he had only ever seen this book described in the writings of others, and that most of those privileged – or perhaps cursed – to know of its existence had died hundreds, if not thousands of years before the Tail’s birth.  Almost every scholar in his field considered this book to be a myth, something not unlike Noah’s Ark, or like Cibola, the city of gold.  It was, however, a myth that he chose to believe in, and as both science and history are ever ready to teach us, myths can often be proven true.

        It may be that after leaving behind everything he knew, the Tail set out on his search for this book.  Perhaps it was a sense of panic which led him to do this.  Perhaps it was an unsatisfied desire for revenge.  Whatever it was that led him, it led him to the very ends of the Earth.  He walked, or drove, or flew over the globe, and his thoughts were every moment upon his goal.

        His book, which had been written to bring about the end of the world.  His book, which is being written to bring about the beginning of the next.  His book, which will be written for another, idealized age that never should have been.  His book which I am remembering.  His book, which remembers.

        The Words of Trismegistus, also known as The Three Days.  It may be that these were but two names for the same book; a book copied, transcribed, or transliterated into a language that all men can understand.  A book written, some say, before the days of Homer, before the pyramids of Egypt, and before the baths of Harappa.  It was once a scroll kept within the Library of Alexandria, perhaps given to one of our ancestors from the hand of another race, or else handed down to us by a god.  It was a scroll before it was a book, and then it was carefully divided into sheets, and these sheets were bound into a single volume.  This book, once rendered, was then placed within a jeweled case that sparkles with strange gems, and it is in this case that the book still resides, somewhere, waiting to be found.

        It may be that the Tail had learned of this book long before his tragedy, while ensconced in the recesses of a library, pouring over the history of the world.  It may be that he told me as much himself.  One of the more ancient, more obscure authors had made mention of it.  In Arabic, in Greek, in Aramaic, and in Sanskrit he found hints of it, enticements.  He followed the clues through centuries of books, and along the way he discovered some of the secrets that would make him a famous man, a celebrated man, and a noted man within his chosen discipline.

        It may be that it took him a while to put all of the clues together.  It was certainly not until after his misfortunes took hold that he could connect all of the dots, and see the larger picture.  By then he was well away from his university and from the life he had known.  By then he was ranging through the world, and the home he had left behind was only a memory that singed the corners of his heart.

        It might be that if you had seen him in the midst of his search, if you had seen him in a library somewhere, you would have wondered at this solemn, feverish man with the shock of wild white hair, this man who appeared to belong to nowhere, and to nothing, save to an unspeakable future that even he dared not utter aloud.  You would have wondered who he was, and how he could go about unwashed and in such filthy clothes.  “A professor,” someone would have said, “He must be a visiting professor.”

        Yes, he was a visiting professor, and in the midst of those libraries I had friends, who later mentioned seeing him hunched over a table somewhere, his concentration bent upon piles of dusty books.  They would have remembered his face from the jacket of one of his own books, or perhaps from a lecture he gave, and they would have remembered the talk of how he had disappeared, only to be seen in that particular library later on, with his eyes peering into the depths of yellowed pages.

        And it may be that from such beginnings he widened his search, crossing the oceans and seeking out forgotten places.  It may be that news of his travels reached me, secondhand.  It may be that I was seeking him out in some fashion, and that as he searched for his book, I searched for him – one shadow chasing another.

        It may be that where texts ended he found both stories and hearsay, where books failed to illuminate he found markers in stone, and pictures chiseled into ruins.  Where archaeology ended he deciphered clues in the workings of nature, and in the alignments of the stars.  He became a true alchemist, my professor, and who better to discover that great work, lost for so many thousands of human years, than an alchemist?

        It may be that he wandered, at times he wept, but at crucial moments there were always signs to point the way.

        It may be.  It may be.

        When the Tail was a boy, his father told him a story about stories.  To his father, everything was a story, right back to the beginning of the world.  The Tail had once disagreed with this point of view, mostly out of youthful rebelliousness, but as he grew older he saw the rightness of it.  He began to see all the little stories that made up his own life, and also how these stories – both his own stories and those of others – made up the larger story of the world.

        And every story had a moral.  Every story had a hero or a heroine.  Every story had a villain, even if that villain was often flawed with a good character.  Aristotle’s rules of drama could be applied, depending on where one drew the line between one story and the next.

        “When I was younger my father told me many stories,” the Tail wrote to me one day, “And then he died.

        “He told me stories about how it all began.  He told me stories about how all stories end, if only to begin anew.  He told me stories about all of the things that people think and feel.  But he never let me forget that they were just stories, and as such were easily contradicted and contraindicated by other stories, or what you might call other versions of the truth.

        “Stories, my father said, were all that people really had.  Everything that people thought, or wanted, or felt, or believed could be traced back to a story, and this story could be traced back to other stories, without end.  Everything, he said, was reducible to a story.

        “My father taught me to love stories.  Even the sad ones.  And when he died, he became a story himself.  This was a story I carried within my person, no different from any other heirloom.

        “And it never seemed to me that by making my father into a story that I was diminishing him, because as he himself said, even the living are stories, and their status as such in no way alters the objective truth of who they are.  Even where and when we are wrong.  That too is a story, and that is our truth.

        “Stories grow and grow, and after my father’s death I grew into other stories.  In a few of these stories I was the hero, while in others I was only a supporting character.  In some of these stories I was the villain, while in others I played a more ambiguous role.  Sometimes I never knew what role I was playing until the end of a story, which is always only the beginning of another story.  Or so my father would have said.

        “I grew up in Seattle, my city, and a few other places besides.  I moved away from my father’s house and went to college.  I studied history, for this was a discipline ripe for story-making and storytelling.  I learned.  I loved.  I tried to live.  Then I was a teacher, a professor even, and I saw in my profession nothing less than the fulfillment of what my father had told me about stories, all those years before.  I, like him, was enmeshed in stories.  And because I knew them to be stories, I came to feel like a spider at the center of my web.  I knew, somehow, that my story was the story of all stories, and that everything in my past stories had combined to make my present.  Everything in my present combined to spell out the future.

        “But one evening I came home, and my world ended.  It didn’t matter what had been obvious to others before that point.  It didn’t matter that I myself had been deluded.  Whether the past embodied a collective falsehood or a collective truth was not the issue.  What mattered was the shift in my perspective, and the fact that after this shift in perspective I could no longer continue on as I had been doing.  I could no longer persevere in the old conceits.  I could no longer hide within my ambitions, within my family, or within my fragile world – all pieced together from a forest of misunderstandings.  I had to make an ending that evening, and that ending was only the beginning.

        “That was a moment when stories almost stopped being stories, and when I realized that life is often so much more and so much less than an amusement.  All of my stories fell apart that day, and I was left on the verge of something else, something foreign.  I floated in the middle of a void.

        “I cannot tell you what I thought after that evening.  I cannot tell you what motives guided my actions.  I was outside of myself from that point onward.  I was outside of all my stories.  I was also the hand of much larger things.”

Yes, he was a hand and a tail both.  He was a cause and an effect, an object viewed and the viewer.  Within him lay the entirety of the world, as the world lies within every man, and every woman.  He could see right back to the origins of the cosmos, and from these origins he could view himself as the product of so many certain improbabilities, so many happenings and failures to happen.  Yet within this acknowledgment of his true scale lay a sense of destiny, and beside this sense of destiny lay an unavoidable purpose.  He knew that he was the large within the small.  He knew that a storm begins with a single drop of water, and that actions at any distance are never distant, but rather close, impenetrable, and inseparable from oneself.

        He had to find the book.

        He vanished into the world.  He became everywhere.  He took up strange passports and learned new languages.  He walked into places where men such as himself were more often than not murdered, or held for ransom.  Even so he was not touched, for the purpose gleaming in his eyes put him beyond such molestations.  They saw him, and were afraid.  So it was that he went into the most lawless of lands, untouched for all his storied value.

        He walked, he drove, and he flew across the oceans, until a certain day when he finally found his book, lying in the ruins of a house that overlooked a lake, a house removed from almost everywhere.  He lifted the jeweled case from the midst of other, ordinary books.  He opened the worded leaves, and he began to read about the end of everything human.

        He knew that this was the one book to end the world.  He knew that this was the book he had been searching for.  This was the book to end all stories.  This was the book that was the story of the world yet unwritten.  His story was a part of that old world’s story, to be unraveled along with all the others.

        A tired tapestry, the threads pulled from the weave.  No death could ever be so complete.  For after one’s death there is the memory of others, still living, passing their memories of the dead forward through time in words, in pictures, and in books unlike this one.

        But here, here was a book to unmake all other books, and to strike silence into the mouths of the speakers and the keepers of tradition.  Here was a book to reinvent the past by erasing it.  Here was a book to wipe away his sadness, and every wrong idea he had ever pursued and magnified.  Here was a book to end the story of the world.  He took it up with trembling hands, and began to read it.

        He takes it up with trembling hands, and begins to read it.  He will take it up with trembling hands, and he will begin to read it.

        As he read, he knew that this was the Third Day: the day that never comes.

It may be that when I think about him I feel free.  But then again he held all of the cards from the beginning.  As I sit here in my room, typing or not typing these words into a laptop, I have no space nor any moments left to regret him.  I know that he was a failure.  I know that he often wished me ill.  But he was given his opportunities.  Like so many others, he was free to choose or not to choose.  Even if he wasn’t.

        It may be that in the past I see the future, and in the present I see the present tension.  In the presence of tension I see the past and the future reaching an ultimate understanding.  Between the points of their intersection I can see our collective futility, and in the future I can see nothing, nothing at all.  He has undone all of that.

        And it may be that through the winter chill, through this first day of the last year, I would that he was thinking about me.  I would that he could see me through the words of his fabled book.  I can see him through the passing of tenses.  He ought to see me through the events he has succeeded in erasing.

        It is Saturday, March, and it is the last first day of the first last year.  Winter has always been underway, and the passage of time has been halted by the opening of a single book, on the other side of the world.  I am sitting on a chair as I type these words, and I can feel the weight of what he will do.

        He did it from the beginning.

Chapter Two

Better to begin briefly with a time for History, for the wheeled chairman has already willed it thus.  Better to begin with slide rules over vanished empires, with monsoonlike reigns and dynastic retrocession.  Better to begin with eons and ages, with clocks ticking and calendrical stone pages ripped apart.  

There is this thing that we call Yesterday.  There is this thing that we call Before.  But we cannot grasp it.  We cannot find it out.  We know that it was once there, but that it will once be and now is not forevermore.  We read its outlines in the perpetual persuasion of the continual phenomenology of Now.  

Now: another thing not found out.  Like Yesterday.  Unlike Tomorrow, which we do not attempt to comprehend.  

Yes, better to begin with a time for History, but he will not see it thus.  Not a man of philosophy, our professor.  Rather a man for facts and dates.  Rather a man for happenings.  A man, and outside of him a few limited partnerships, and beyond that the city where he lives, and within the city the Library, and within the Library the city where he lives.  Better to begin to make an ending.  Better to begin outside of time.  Better to begin outside of History.

        History, written down or spoken out.  It is all the same to him.  It all exists or comes to exist inside of books.  It all comes to be housed within his sanctuary, his Library.  It has all been.  It all comes to be.

“We are not there yet,” said Himself (or Herself), “We need to go back further.  Downward, I think.”

Down, down into the depths of the Library.  Older by far than the oldest of sayings.  It might have been a Monday, or a Sunday, or a Tuesday.  It might have been a sunny day or cloudy.  No way to know, in the depths of the stacks.  No way out for some, who toil for the sake of future gain.  And if one were to map out the moments of interest in a single life, which is itself no more than a single world, one might as well begin here, with this descent into the depths of the Library.  If not into History itself.

        It is said that there is a city not far from the sea, or else not far from salt water and the romance of the sea, and that in this city there are institutions of higher learning, wherein men and women labor for the benefit of future generations.  Within these institutions are vast hordes of books, and these books commemorate the deaths of notable individuals.  These books are so large that they cannot be housed within any single building, and their number is unknown even to those whose job it is to catalog them.  Some say that these books are really just protrusions from the Earth’s crust, caused by geological forces, and that a venture down through the deepest stacks would take one close to the Earth’s fiery core.  Some others say that these books are extraterrestrial in origin, and that mankind never had the free will necessary to write them or bind them or haul them forth.

        Whatever the case, the true origins of the Library matter not, for it is here just the same.  Its presence is a fact in itself.  It need not matter whether or not libraries serve any useful purpose in an age of social networking and Wikipedia, for the reality of their having been is enough.  Professors and those posing as such demand their use, so here they are.

       So, proceeding downward from the highest level, descending below the perpendicular, we find shelf upon shelf, row upon row, section upon section, each book with a number.  But wait.  We are going too fast.

        I was talking about a city by the sea, or rather you were.  That was what he said, and there was something there about salt water and the romance thereof.  Sometimes it is necessary to back the car up to move forward, but that metaphor fails.  The sea, back to the 1800s, and before that Indians smoking salmon and leading along token economies.  Something with shells, or beads, or else something one might pour into a slot machine.  Desperation.

        And then here are the white men.  There are always white men somewhere, even if they turn out not to be white.  They sail boats into harbors and fire useless phallic cannons at a hill, hoping to scare the natives into submission.  They are greedy and civilized like all white men, and the people that they displace are shiningly innocent, free from all cruelties and cannibalism.  Neither would these tribes engage in gambling.  Neither would they engage in senseless whale hunts.  We have apologized for everything and everyone already.

        The white men take naught of a bay within a particular part of the wilderness, and begin a city in that very spot.  They name the city after one of the natives they have raped, and commerce begins to flow in that direction.  Somewhere in-between there is a great fire, and wooden buildings fronted by wooden walkways perish in the flames, to be extinguished by the Second World War, when black men bussed in sulked from the back of buses and were sent to make munitions or some such things.  But they were not quiet, those black men, and so we have another half of our city, where the oppressed folk huddle.  Racism never existed in this city.  The natives were never displaced.

Forward and backward halting starting stopping years ago there waits a man in his memory.  He is was will not be a man to look after books.  He is was will not be a man to murder.  He is was will be another man, and I you he she it will call him The Remedy.  If the truth of this story is in truth a giant that bestrides the earth, then in his tail which he bites with rage lies the remedy.

        The Remedy, so many years.  Images scrolled across the smeared walls, of auditoriums where eyeballs glazed down at a little man likened to a great man, a wizened man likened to a fool by some.  And he was outside of the game.  An initiate.  Paraded before the mysteries of young girls not so mysterious to him.  Eyeballs glancing downward, but a few curious to look in his direction.

        Images only images still.  Not moving and never changing.  A mentality cast backward in that direction.  The memory still stinging, and he is not inside that auditorium now.  He is no longer invited to the party.  Initiations come and gone.  But he is somewhere else.  He is someone else.  He is a young boy trying to be a young boy man.  He is still young.  Brown locks and an easy smile.  Clothes culled from local thrift stores.  He is a sunrise casting a shadow over the rest of his life.  He is a thing that will not yet be.

        Leather-backed chair against his back and ahead of him lies a tube turned off.  He is staring at the likeness of himself.  He is not likened to a great man.  He is not likened to a fool just yet.  All the lights off and the inside is dark, doubly dark for all the night outside his windows.  He wants to spring into action, this tiger.  He waits for a call, or else he waits for a reason to join the hunt.  However solitary this animal, yet game for adventure, grinding teeth against the futility that threatens.  Grinding teeth this sad handsome man tonight, alone, and around the couch an entirety of vacant furniture.  A home for no one, least of all himself.

        In the city that is always sleeping.  An ocean precipitous upon the shelf-life lived upon the Earth, with great Asia beyond, lurking, and the familiar abodes of cowboys and Indians on the nearer side.  No more horses for the dollar, but within a niche around which are curled the solemn pines, and around several islands.  I think I see the city upon a hill, with twilight lights for those downtown, and distant squares of yellowed lamplight for those like him, those near the lake that is called green.  Triangular wood clamp board slapped together with nail upon nail upon nail, assembled each from pieces of the true cross.  While a less authentic cross towers above, in a brick church where none venture, least likely those game enough for tigers such as he.

        Ring goes the phone.  Handed fingers reach out to enclose the receiver.  A voice sprouts into being from the wires carried back along Ravenna, and from there a simple sound of solace.  He is mouthing into the phone not yet.  He is attenuating his words.  But first the intonations of another adulant, another half-glimpsed friend who lies on the other side of night and sleep.  Somewhere in the night, waiting for a pretended friendship or a beer.

        “Words slip me up,” quotes the speaker, quotes his own voice.  “On what trajectory are you to be found, this night?”

        “None,” he answers.  Neurons fire behind his eyes, photoreceptors replay an image from not so far back at all.  The lithe limbs of a girl not yet his yet.  Where is she in the night tonight?  He reconstructs her doings from the picture play of nights previous, and fails to account for her doings.  This woman he wants, so much more than the voice on the line.  This woman he is remembering.

        Sound sideways, but before him there is the mirrored glass, wherein he espies his own loneliness, and lack of motivation.  His is not a reversed smile at the thought.  A body in a sofa reflected twofold, for once is the glass illuminated, and then again the photons are sent spinning, burrowed into the back alley eyeballs within his own.  A reflection of a reflection not unlike a copy of a copy, growing less distinct.

And again that image of the woman who will not be his woman.  That image of the woman on the other side of town.  What price peace he thinks.  Moaning arms and whispered sighs to echo through the claustrophobic confines of his apartment.  The memory of a lovely one who only ever aspired to memorihood.  She is not revealed to me at the moment.  She was outside of the conversation.

        “Well we will go and float unquietly,” says the phone line friend, “We will press ourselves between aqueous mirrors.  And outside of that is the cool evening, so why not pass a while with us?  Why not stay?”

        She will not recollect your collected call, he tells himself.  She is outside a-whoring.  To love like love in seclusion, while she is out in the midst of amiable crowds, out in the midst of friend and foe alike.  And she is drinking her glass full.  Her teeth are shining in the warm ambience of liquor bottles.  Another man with his muscled arms around her waist, her white teeth smile, she ejaculates confidences into this other man’s ear.

        Regretful now but vigilant.  He knew what he wanted and even if he could not want more than that he was shallow enough and retiring enough to admit defeat.  Only temporary time with those like her.  And as he places his replies into the phone he knows the sum of what he is to her: a story told to fat and less attractive friends.  An anecdote for them to cackle over, while she spreads her thighs all over the world, and while men wipe her juices from their mouths.  No thirsts are quenched, just as her womb is never filled beyond filling.

        Reliant upon the passing confidence of friends in the similitude of phone friends, he is erect to his own posture, and over the shoulders of the late hour he pastes a flannel shroud.  There is an athleticism in his movement that speaks of tiring jobs and crushing burdens, but he is free for the night if he can just remember how to forget her.  If he can just retrieve another set of keepsakes from a limited set of options.  He will go to where the mirrors press together.  He will try to unremember in the doings of friends.

Gone against the grain.  Not found.  Nor found out.

Dry cool air stirred through the carpeted confines.  He moves straight.  A door opens outward into the silence of the benightened hallspace.  His feet are padding.  And bones straighten themselves down as gravity pushed up wells of feeling.  The aluminized key turns with the lock, breath drawn in down towards the pit of his stomach.  Breath exhalation up through the mouth nostrils as the portal clicks into place.  He is seeking now.  He has not found yet.  I think I can espy him around the corner.  I think I have seen him and heard his shoed feet press down the carpet between the spackled wallways.  Where is this one going?  What purpose might it have?  It is on its father’s business?  And on through the straightway defile to the horizon ninety-degreed downgoing levers.  Foot out once.  Foot back again.  Foot pointing down.  Foot balanced behind.  Three strides to gain the rectilinear obscurity of the night outside, with a tree arm glinting green beyond the silicon.  Tree arm glinting silver green with ruptured flesh.  And then turning to face the most removed escape.  Three more strides, and the outside is gained, with all of the encompassed black willed nocturne pressing upon every angle of the construction, with more green glinting silvered trees, and with stone poured within the furrows of the Earth, leading one down to the car that is a car along a street which is just a nighttime residential street without wooden townhouses and other extraneous objects.  Fissure this sky winding up.  Fissure this sky.  He is wistful.

        You struggled a bit while they poured all of this concrete into your head, all of these thoughts that go nowhere.  Wondering after that faithless woman and her doings.  Another key for another door, and the slam of metal against metal in the night.  Rumblings from the forward part and a beep as the tires surge against the pavement.  He is going out into the dark quietude and then there is the thought of what she might be doing in forbidden quarters weighed against the dismissed doings of fallback friends.  The world only glimpsed through the periphery, rotating around his complicated stare.  This stare which looks and does not see.  This stare which never sees the city at night around him, but is rather looking towards the doings of peremptory peoples in other places and into the future and into the past but never at the simple realizations that accompany the present.

        No other cars to bar the way.  No other drivers out of misadventure.  And he blesses them each and every one for their lack of being there, for in their absence they are blessed, and they do not worry after other faithful faithless lovers who are not lovers but rather borrowed bodies, and they do not worry after her, after Rose, because they are content to sleep the sleep of the well served or at least the sleep of the illusioned yet unawakened from interludes in domesticity.  How could I ever think of her?  He thought.  How could I have ever intented myself into such an abiding sense of shame?

        Street lights rowed this way and that.  The car creaks around the corners.  He drives up.  He drives down.  One side of our city where the oppressed folk huddle.  Another side of our city where most are fat and pale and privileged.  Indians might have made their fires here once, but she was not present in their councils.  Now there is only sidewalk where prehistoric birds once passed through the foliage.  Now there are only houses upon houses and within each house some reticent reserved family that reinvents the wheel every day.  He drives up and over the bridge but wait that is the opposite direction.  In his mind he writhes back the other way, and then goes down 45th where the warmth of restaurant fronts beckon from the curbs and then down down funneled into the apathy of long gone industry.  Not thinking of her in her bars with her men.  Not thinking of the forceful way that they pull her close.  Not thinking of her need for variety.

Where once pines dominated the skyline.  Now too composed business sectored off from shingled abodes that leer from a hill.  The spillage has been cut from the onetime smooth roll of this hill, and the car is carrying him down into the cradled bay which is not a bay but a lake.  Window upon window removed from the silent street.  The life of the city out there, somewhere, but elusive.  The bridge that passes over Fremont.  Still no cars on the road.  Still nothing moving save his rubbersouled mechanized feet.  These feet that all Americans have.  These feet that they prefer to use, because walking about is shameful.  It is not the proper ordination for those birthed and raised in the shadows of outmoded proportions and clouds that roil behind steel propelled warbirds.

        Where is she?  What is she?  Why?  Always wanting?  And if she were to call me, I could answer.  But she will not call me.  I want to believe that she will not call me.  Because then I could make an end to it in my mind.  Then I could decide to be alone, and if I really truly decided to be alone then I would not speculate after her doings.  I could retreat into my aloneness, and find a satisfaction therein.

        The car parks.  The car is parked with the squeal of wellworn brakepads.  To the left is a long likelihood of weathered wood, and below that the lake, and below the surface of the lake there is murky water and then fish and then the bottom of the lake which everyone knows is filthy because of all the boats and their comings and goings but at night it’s very scenic because of the houseboat lights that paint their images upon the fluid anxiety of this lake that is not a lake but perhaps rather a topographical map of his friendships with men he doesn’t care much for.  And here they are coming out now with all their supposed admiration.  And this is not admiration as much as suppressed lust because both of them are gay and they think he doesn’t know but really he has known for a long time about how they meet here of a night and in the creaky silence of their sailboat they probably suck each other off and then grow guilty after.  And one of the suppressed homosexualphobes is ushering him down to the wooden walkway behind the metal fence and yet a third key is turned in the lock and they are walking toward the aforementioned boat and speaking of innocuous things and the hour is cool and quiet and one would have thought that he could calm himself if he could just stop thinking about her tattooed goings-on in other places far removed from him.

        “Come on,” Brad was saying.  “Let’s get out of here, man!  It’s a great night for sailing!”

        Again with friends that he is pretended to.  They cannot see the city for the trees.  Something nautical pulled back.  A sail unfurled.  They wobble out into the waters and he drinks some spiced rum.  The ruminations of the past are to no effect and to no advantage.  The friends act very butch, but this is a show for themselves.  Not a show for him.  His eyeballs roll around the marching city.  His stare is nowhere.  Oh, that girl that he will not have.  They cannot see how he has failed to secure his rights, for he is a handsome man not too distantly removed in time, he is getting older yes with his CDs from ten years ago but he is still very vital for all his age.  They wonder how he has failed to secure her, but there are the mysteries of women, and how they refuse to be bottled.  No one thing to equal another.  Just an endlessness of gaming.

        Under the Aurora Bridge, with the cars passing over.  No oars to dip into the water.  The pinpoints twinkle in the firmament, and below each pinpoint is the restive surface of the lake, reflecting the pinpoints back at themselves, reflecting the residences upon the water, reflecting the pinpoints back into his eyes, reflecting the waters back into eternity.  And in all of that eternity his lady love is not to be found.  For she is outside time.  She is elsewhere.

        Chatter over movies seen and then seen no more.  Mundane conversation, but his eyes are upon the narrowed places where the water passes out.  A city might loom up behind, but in one particular houseboat upon the lake she is to be found, just to the rearward of his view.  And she may have been fucking or she may have been fucked by another unlucky man.  And she may have looked out from an unclean window to see him and not see him.  And she might have been laughing, she might have been mocking him.  Or else she might have been lonely, and like him, looking for companionship in the wrong place.

        He did not see her.

        But wait, I forgot about the Great Depression, and maybe the First World War.  Maybe something about the 70s.  You should have put that in, but she forgot.  We failed to remember the logs that rolled down the hills or perhaps they skidded.  We forgot to mention the local beers and the local bands.  They are always doing that, they are, leaving things out.  It is only because they want to create a separate history for themselves.  It is unfortunate that there is only so much backstory to go around, and sooner or later one history is both proven false and proven true by another.

        Bill Cosby talked about this city.  He did so before I was born, and in his so-still voice he talked about the rain and how everyone walked about with umbrellas.  I have heard the recording in the Museum of History and Industry, but by now you know the city whereof you have spoken.  By now you know that I am talking about Seattle, named after one of those naked savages, located on the Puget Sound, half-resplendent in the sight of the Olympics and the Cascades.  This is where the university lies, and if you know where we are you can probably guess half the truth of its location.  Just follow 45th all the way down across the freeway past Wallingford.  You will find it on your right side past the Ave.  The Library is there, if you look.

        And I knew Seattle.  I grew up there, at the tail end of the 70s, and onward into the 80s.  I left there in the 90s, to return in fits and starts.  I knew it before anybody thought to care about that place.  Back when we were just Boeing and little else.  Back before Microsoft and Sleepless in Seattle and Starbucks.  Back when Seattle merely slept, and waited out another rainy winter, hoping for the sun.  There was nothing to live up to in Seattle.  We were free.  

        Saturday mornings spent watching cartoons.  Weekdays spent in school.  Our parents were without ambition then.  They were just trying to survive.  There was no glint of expectation about their lives.  They lived where they lived, and they made their money where they could, and no one dreamed of corporate glory, and no one in Seattle ever thought to be famous, or rich, or discussed on facebooks that had yet to exist.  It was enough to get up in the morning and go to work in some silent, lonely place, and return each day to a grateful family.  It was enough to make a little more than minimum wage.

        And on the weekends we would try to enjoy the rain, and we would smile at our failure to do so.  On occasion the sun would come out, glorious, and we would remember that life is good.  Also on Halloweens past, with children running through the dark streets and greedily snatching after candy.  Also on Christmas, with presents under the tree and parents half drunk.  Also on the first day of summer vacation, when children were glad to pedal bicycles across vast distances, without a hint of parental supervision.  There were the most joyful of days.  Or at least they are so in my memory.  It may be that I was only seven, eight, or older.  It may be that I have forgotten or that I have been shielded from the worst.

        To be certain, there were bad things in that past.  But I remember only the salt air and the solitude of parks.  I remember only friends past and trips to the toy store with my mother.

        But that history is already gone, some would say.  That history has already happened.  That history has been rendered meaningless by Now.  That History is itself and its own reward.  Chronologize not, for there is no time for winding watches or watching time pass by.

        Whiteboard markers.  This is what one thinks of in conjunction with higher education.  Whiteboard markers, and the flakes that they leave in the gutters where they are stored.  Chalk for all the lower orders of Education, and whiteboard markers in red, blue, and green for the collegiate sphere.

        He is holding a blue whiteboard marker as I set my eyes upon him from the back of the class.  He is holding forth.  A half-full lecture hall in the afternoon.  Some few students to hear the Truth as he would have it.  This, his first time before them, and he stutters so much.  He fails to make his case.  He fails to illustrate his points.  His words are a concatenation of dissimilar perspectives.  Pieces of a puzzle.  Pieces of a puzzle that will not fit.  He is embarrassing himself, in this lecture hall.  The instructor sweats in his nervousness, and he fails to convince.

        He was not the man who waited wondered after Rose.  He was another.  He was The Tail.

        Perspectives in Medieval Thought.  Something of that nature.  High 200s, so the students there knew what they were in for.  Near the front, a stunning girl in a white cotton sweater, and I am trying not to imagine what kind of panties she is wearing, what kind of devil’s business she will be about tonight.  The rest of them are men or else manlike women.  I am drawn back to her blonde hair and her restless curves, her gaze inexplicably intent upon him.  The rest of the room is bored.  The remainder of the student body have left their headstrong houses elsewhere.  Whiteboard markers.  The blue is running out of ink.

        Nervous, so nervous he is.  Long hours of study stretching back to the Hadean Era.  We pad our libraries with boys just like him.  They line the walls within the archives, and their searches after knowledge are not satisfied.  Back and forth between lecture hall and library, between library and dormitory, compiling notes, outlining papers, and questing after favors.  A long line of serious men to set the tone of the inquisition, their opinions absolute, their stares hardened by the passage of so many eager and inadequate younger men.  And then there comes to us one who is more desperate than the others, and we place our mark upon him.  We claim him as our own.  He bears the weight of this mark into the lecture hall, and in turn others will bear his judgment.  Others who are just as nervous as he now is.

        But one wonders how he could have bungled this, this first day, so badly.  After all there was only a syllabus to be passed out.  There were only a few words of introduction wanting.  An outline of an outline, and everyone would have left satisfied at this introduction to obscurity.  Yet it is his presentation that is the problem.  His stuttering.  His high-pitched nasal voice.  His lack of confidence, though there are some who say that he already knows his field better than other, more learned men.  A genius for history, I have heard some say.  A gift, and behind every gift a secret motivation.

But you don’t know him, my friend.  This man who has born up until this date so many scratches upon his name.  He might have ventured out before a crowd of discreet unquiet learners, and he might have attempted to hold back their masses with words and opinions borrowed from others, sometimes borrowed from himself, but you have not tasted the shame of his failures, and known the weight of each, secreted within the deepest recesses of a history that he will never confess.  To send sparks across the heavens like a shooting star.  To shine brilliantly.  Yet for every shooting star one must pay the price in degradation, and he has paid it out beneath the smothered opinions of those higher up.  They have humiliated him.  He has been approved.  So to walk through fire, and to carry on the fight, though the wounds still sting.

        Even this syllabus he has passed out to me.  It is all wrong.  I am leafing through the pages that are leaves, and I see that page numbers do not match, and the required readings that have been required are not required by the syllabus.  What anxiousness must have engendered this analog of misinformation.  I can see here within the document a discouragement.  The reputation of this young lion is cast into doubt.  How could he have failed in this?

        Minutes pass.  Class peters out.  The students are growing confrontational.  A larger smaller man near the sidereal view challenges his knowledge of the subject.  This man before them, this young man posing as an instructor, seems too young all of the sudden, seems inferior to the task at hand.  But I thought that it was this way because of something I read in a book long ago.  But I thought that it was this way because of something seen in a movie.  But I think you are wrong because you are too young to be my master.  You are too young and not attractive enough.  You have not earned the right to stand before me.  Your syllabi are proof of this.

        Trying to end his dire episode, he switches veins to a presentation on Church history.  Fingers manipulate power sources.  Various implements fail to work, and are adjusted, fail to work, and are adjusted a second time.  The screen, and a title that has nearly been misspelled.  Slides out of order, I think, and with a trembling hand he realizes the same.  No method in his madness, if not madness, then anxiety, if not anxiety, then unreasoning overconfidence.  So hard to read his expression.  Is it arrogance, that has brought him to this?  Is it fear?  I know that he has worked so long and so hard to arrive at this moment.  I know that it has always been his dream to stand before a class as he stands before a class now, and this is why I’m tempted to dismiss the failure as nerves, though perhaps I you we are wrong.

        Some Mormon girl at the back of the class.  Too pure to want to fuck, and we all hate Mormons anyway.  It is only that we are too enlightened and too accepting to admit it.  Their sad religion.  Their faith.  Their invincible convictions.  Would that she were not a Scientologist.  And he has offended her, with this Powerpointed presentation.  He has already offended the completion of Mormons, everywhere.  She is asking him what he meant by that last comment, even though it had little to do with her convictions.  She knows that the outside world is against her, simply because she’s a Mormon and she’s too far from desert climates and tabernacle choirs.  She wants him to clarify, but he will not.  He has already passed her by.

        If I am in one location at the back of the class then I am also in another location at the front of it.  If I carry the poison in my head, then in my tail which I bite with rage lies the remedy.  I can look out at them all from the whiteboard where I hold my blue whiteboard marker, and I can also view myself from the vantage of years later wherein I pass judgment on another young man, just as deluded as myself.  I can also pose as a lace bra beneath a cotton shirt, or else the armor of god beneath her clothes.  I am a source of complaints.  I am one who monitors such complaints.  I watch him and he watches me, and I watch from the other side of a turned off television where he is not.  They say that he fucks boys or wants to be fucked by boys.  They say that he is a stranger who does not play the game.  They say that she is his wife, but I do not yet know if they are referring to the Mormon or that pretty sexy girl in the front of the class.  Surely not that lovely one.  Why would she want to be with him?

If a professor was to write one line for each year, and to place each year in sequence all the way back to the beginning of the world, one would only have a moderately-sized book to place on the shelf in the library.  If a lover of ladies was to secret each of his ladies into an alcove between the shelves, all of the ladies within his life would only take up a single floor within this single library, which is comprised of so many floors, each succeeding the next right down to the core of the Earth and right up to the astronomical limits of our collective perception.  

        The Library sits in a city that sits astride its own history.  This history, and the theory of which he has failed to master.  For him the flow of time only flows in one direction: backwards.  Or else it flows toward tomorrow, and he has turned his head in the wrong direction.  A brief time for history.  This is all he wishes for himself.

A still boat glides upon unstill waters, and beneath the city lights which are reflected back up into infinity by the still waters there lies a sedimentary layer of books which are all historical in nature, with a line for each professor and lover and lonely man and failure, with a line for each thought of success and glory, with a line for each breath taken in and out and these are the very lines that compromise the books that fill the library which exists beneath the substratum of the precipice between oneself and the continual ending of the world.  In the lover’s hand a single book that he will not caress.  In the teacher’s hands a single book untaught.  And this book is The Words of Trismegistus, and these words are: