An epigraph, apt perhaps only to me:
I'd forgotten. Maybe I'd never known. He sang in that empty packinghouse as I hadn't heard him sing since childhood. Every nub in his sound had been burned away, all impurity purged. He'd found a way at last to transmute baseness back into first essence. Some part of him had already left this earth. My brother, the prizewinner, the lieder recorder, the soloist with symphonies, had found his resounding no. He sang Perotin, someting we'd had in school only as history, the still-misshapen homunculus of things to come. But in Jonah, all stood inverted: more good in the bud than in the full flowering. He'd found he freshness of always, of almost. He made that vast backward step sound like a leap ahead. The whole invention of the diatonic, everything after music's gush of adolesence had been a terrible mistake. He hewed as closely to a tube of wood or brass as the human voice allowed. His Perotin turned the abandoned warehouse into a Romanesque crypt, the sound of a continent still turned in upon itself for another sleeping century before its expansion and ouward contact. His long, modal, slowly turning lines clashed and resolved against no harmony but themselves, pointing the way down a reachable infinity.
The quote is from Richard Powers, deep into the twilight of The Time of Our Singing, page 529 in the Picador trade paperback, far deeper than its poetry should last, but there it is, waiting patiently for each discovery, none so precious as the first, Powers sitting back one afternoon at his computer, rubbing his fingers absently and considering -- Yes, that's it.
At the office this evening, alone after quitting time, I stood from my ineffectual writing, today a labor more Herculean than quotidian, and contemplated the city fallen before me, hundreds of feet down, cars like beads of mercury reasoning in faltering rhythms their ways through constricted grooves attended by insects to absorb into their plump insides, flat roofs graveled over, two rivers made one to run away like the time in every clock I see, whether blinking, ticking, or carving fluid circles in a shallow circular terrarium, metaphors for the ineffable, all of it, of them.
My palms pressed against the glass, I allowed it to resist my falling, a fantasy of weightlessness humming in my core. Unsatisfied, I leaned forward until the full of my chest rested against the glass, which held me with the indifference of one turning to a lesser task. I cannot pen my own story, can neither spin it in gossamer radial rhombuses of words nor fence it in like livestock.
Walking across town, injured shoulder throbbing with a day at the keyboard like a day hammering nails, I gagged on a poem of melancholy. A rejection of blues and grays in the poetry of sadness; a celebration, in its place, of the vividness of solitude, colors knocked off their banal foundations in a shockwave of alienation. Neon neon enough to define neon. The blue border of a posted notice commanding concentration. The atmosphere of sound resolved to order, one conversation to the next, ears like radio telescopes corraling distant messages or tricking static into nonsense facsimile.
Depression is poetry's bad penny. I will not be complicit in its gathering in the bottom of clothes dryers, between cushions, in gutters too valueless to stoop for. I will not stoop. Poetry doesn't need me; it never has.
A backyard, Glenlivet and a cigar, San Luis Rey, sweetish with a mild finish, a hint of something I lack the vocabulary to describe, another language unlearned. But I need no words to enjoy the murky traffic cone luster of its smoldering end, the swirl of smoke eddying around my tongue tingling with tobacco and peat, alive like no other part of me. My Sybaritic essence, distilled.
On my lap I persist in reading a Richard Russo short story I already recognize as an episode from his novel Straight Man, and I try not to feel cheated by the editorial padding, recycling having its place in art . . . and in marketing. And of course a first collection of short stories that emerges long after a novelist has emerged has more to do with marketing than with art.
Upon finishing the story, unfinished when the bus slowed to my stop, I returned to the Powers, and a book I have plodded through for months now, savoring, resisting its inevitable end by reading in sips, as I enjoy the scotch, mulling without haste.
On the street and alley my property connects like the crossbar of a stylized H, someone is always throwing someone else out in a public ritual of shunning alien to my suburban instinct for decorum. Dirty children play unidentifiable contact sports in the untended property two lots over.
An errant ball thudded on the roof of my patio which shed it like water to bounce on the concrete of my neighbor's patio. I eyed its downward trajectory until it came to rest against the low chainlink fence that divides my neighbor's property from mine. I looked up to the children and found one towheaded boy to meet my gaze, daring me to betray my age with an angry injunction. I refused his invitation, determined to remember my own childhood, content that my home, rickety though it often seems, would bear the incursion stoically.
Down the alley, a woman yelled "Get the fuck out then!" with the practiced ease of a leading lady in the third act of a production's final performance, already mindful of her next part, which on paper looks like more of the same.
The grass I have seeded bursts from beneath the overturned clogs of weed and exhausted soil in slim walls of artificial green, the turnedup undersides of the prior yard bare and accusatory. In one patch, the blades number only in the dozens, despite hundreds of seeds. I have probably done something wrong, another task incomplete. I am surrounded with evidence of my impatience. I trail it like a wake behind me.
I live amid mysteries of my own invention for another's gleaning. But whose?