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Paris 1976

Back to the Same Spoke.

Thursday, May 1, 2008
Fayetteville, Arkansas

The old man becomes diaphanous, appears as a pale shadow slipping across the eaves in the early hours after the equinox. He is someone's necessary afterthought.

The few who look his way see through any and all that shows of him — bald like a lie, bewhiskered like thin smoke, blue like points on a spinning milky way.

It is difficult, now that he's stumbled onto a narrowing path without a signpost, now that the walls of the lane are closing-in, now that the painter's strokes on the unsigned mural emerge as twisting snakes, oily convolutions.

Who Knows the Way to Paradise?

On the pollen-sooted glass appears a ghostly, yellow-speckled reflection. It is him. Without knowing why, he becomes one of the non–, a wane dis–, your unfortunate negating prefix.

You peer through what's left of him into a safer space supposedly more sharply defined. Like the rest of us, you are looking for the gateway to Paradise. Can you accept that the old man wants to go there, too, wants to go with you to the resting place? Will you grasp his extended hand, lead him there? Will you?

As for me, I'm on to something. Here in the deepening shadows of the night I've found a way to the contradiction. Allow me, if you please, to kneel beside you, to lift you up, to point you toward the wandering star. It shouldn't matter that all around us is the rip and the roar.

Would you believe me if I told you, you're good enough to become and to be?

You promised me the ending would be clear
You'd let me know when the time was now
Don't let me know when you're opening the door
Stab me in the dark, let me disappear

Don't let me know we're invisible
Don't let me know we're invisible

Snared and Extracted.

Recovery isn't quick. Not near the end of his sixth decade afoot. The surgeon's knives and laparoscope leave their mark in terms of pain and drain. But the old man is mending.

The anesthesiologist's drugs transported the old man into a sparkling field of silvery light, soft on the edges like an image of a nebula. He was drawn into it, and passed through the clouds into a region of NON-ness, of painlessness, of NO-pain. When he awoke, he could hear the nurse, urging him, "Come back!"

The black-haired surgeon with the flattened nose and flippant manner told him the appendix is shaped like a finger, that its function is a matter of dispute, that it may be involved in providing immunity from toxins, and that not long now it would be gone from his body. These are interesting juxtapositions of time and of tense, but it was true that the surgeon snared the appendix and extracted it before it could burst. The old man never saw the surgeon again it was the weekend he had to play golf attend the Derby a tee on the groomed fairway a mint julep in hand.

Paris 1976

On the Other Side.

On the veranda of the Arlington Hotel in the warm sunshine — and in that empty space again, the old man's Will to Power strangely drained away. The same tired themes of the end game, the dry well, the blank wall haunt his visit here.

He is the writer the teacher the hired voice called to a gathering of good people it is early in the wet springtime they are on a working holiday eyes bright and pens eager, and he is drifting past, a shard here a sliver there, and he wonders who joins him, secretly, in the pacific competition, the vaulting and the race.

Everywhere, round about him, are sienna ceramic tiles, cypress and pine window panes, painted tin in geometric patterns, mottled mustard plasters and red-dirt bricks, and the limestones, gathered in stacks — they are older than he is old, some by a generation, some by an eon.

A row of finely pruned magnolias line the city street it is thick with radial wheels and pistons the pump pump pump of commerce, and the lithe one with her nubile form and confident stride, her lime jeans and orange pumps, the silver rings strung like quarter moons in her upper lip, she catches the passing eyes of truck drivers and the gaunt-eyed apprentice who is slouched on the cluttered passenger's seat of the Aschenbach Plumbing Company van.

The leaves are the color of ripening avocadoes, olive pits, the sea in twilight the cameras the high heels, this curve and that angle, thrust forward and back on the boulevard of a dénouement, his private parody, and the bags are like caverns the eyes like swivels the high-noon a haven for conception the white sun so hot it turned the denim of his black jeans into a soothing thermal blanket.

Hidden, Secret, Worn Away.

In his chair on the veranda of the grand old Arlington, the old man sat where other old men had sat, but he was falling into memory, three and four decades ago, Paris London New Orleans. He was the young man then, and he was watching them, looking for the hidden things in them, the supposed secret truths of the worn ones, the gray old men with a countenance of distance that cannot be feigned, eyes freed of the challenge, not who goes there? but here we go again, the wheel back to the same spoke.

The plumed warbler in the magnolia is tireless in his song.

In an instant a swift burst of zephyr a wind like a wild hair rips the backing page from the old man's journal, the black page with the tiny silver stars, and the page flies in ascending swirls to the inner ceiling of the broad veranda, and then the wind stops, the page of stars drifts and dips, and drifts and dips, and lands in repose on the Venetian tiles.

Shall he move from the sunshine to pick it up?

Shall he break away from the vision of becoming the worn one who once ago he saw, impassive high-sky eyes on the breeze-kissed veranda?

Whether he moves,
or not,
whether he sits,
or not,
whether he flies on the wild wind,
or sinks softly into feathers,
or not,
the sun climbs,
and falls,
and passes away into the silver stars.

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The lonely watcher sat, the splendor
of the sun-god shone on him, he closed
his eyes and let the glory kiss his lids. Forgotten feelings, precious pangs of his youth, quenched long since by the stern service that had been his life and now returned so strangely metamorphosed he recognized them with a puzzling, wondering smile. He mused, he dreamed, his lips slowly shaped a name; still smiling, his face turned seawards and his hands lying folded in his lap, he fell asleep once more as he sat.

Thomas Mann
Death in Venice, 1911



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