Missive the Fifty-Eighth
A Hard, Flat Finality.
DATELINE: Saturday, February 17, 2001, at 0115 hours CDT.
Conway, Arkansas, USA
By D. Ebenezer Baldwin Bowles
CornDancer & Company
In-your-face works of uncivil art, displayed in space kept open by public funds — I wanted to rage about it, in a reasoned way, but the mistress of the hacienda counseled, every so gently, to go elsewhere tonight.
The one-drop law of racial identity, an especially explosive concept that absolutely no one of a right mind wants to discuss — I would go there, but I'm marginalized enough as it is. Maybe I've got a sliver of right mind left. Yes, the laws are on the books, but who wants to admit it?
One option is to go nowhere too deeply, anywhere on the skimming skip of the surface stone. Why make waves when weak ripples are the catch of the day. The waves can crash later.
I've realized with hard, flat finality that I won't do all I set out to do, this day or any other before it. I've flown the coop of one kind of profound expectation.
I Hide My Eyes
And Listen for Her Secret Arrival.
It's not an original realization, my admission of the life's work falling short. It seemed original enough to me when it fell upon my page. As I'm wont to do when the Muse calls, I recline in the big bed with my seven pillows and my tools: the maroon Pentel and the blue Castell mechanical pencils, the Tops jr. Legal Pad in a black vinyl Hazel binder, and one of the five or six books I keep open in my mind's revolving file of reading material. I read a passage or two, then hide my eyes beneath a bandana and listen for the sweet arrival of the writer's voice. When she visits, I respond. Dutiful, I am presented with the raw material for many of my Letters from Cricket Song. Passages that don't surface here are deposited in corndancer's salt mine against my possible confinement in the Valley of Dry Bones.
I captured the thought about the life-fallen-short a few weeks past, then saw it confirmed Thursday night on the television melodrama, E.R. (Emergency Room for my European and Asian readers, and those few U.S. Americans who don't pay attention to television — nine p.m. Central Standard Time on Thursdays, NBC Television Network). One recurring guest character, a well-known Bishop of a Chicago diocese, who was trapped in the downward spiral of a fatal disease, told his physician, an E.R. star player, that he had not accomplished nearly enough, that his life at its end appeared as a failure, and that he was afraid to die.
I'm not ready to proclaim that my end is near because I lack the diagnosis. Afraid of it? At times, I suppose, but only in certain venues. The one time I raced to the edge of death, I was too busy trying to stay alive and didn't take time to embrace the fear. When I finally realized what had happened to my fragile body, it was flooded with morphine and my mind could care less.
Whatever stands before me today I approach, I engage, and I complete. After necessity is satisfied, I choose. Too often the choices are limited by necessity. I am the failed man, committed to redemption.
I Recall the Bite of the Malt,
The Burn and the Surge.
I think of the sweet sting of whisky on my lips at five p.m. of the workday, the burn and surge. I think of it with the fondness of skewed nostalgia; I recall the bite of the malt at the drunk's beginning, and lean toward renewal of my acquaintance with John Walker — not today, however, but tomorrow. Every time I think I've reached the morrow, I look out a window and realize it's today.
I labour as long and hard as my constitution allows, but I drift from necessity to whim because I can. I have blown strategic bridges behind me and don't want to face the consequences, don't want to knock on the door of the cold call. In past seasons of exile, allies and associates telephoned with offers. This time the old man, I suppose, has rolled his blackball onto the lawn. I cross over to an uncharted land where talent is relative to.... where ability is secondary to.... where all that I've known is suddenly suspect.
I am an old dog. My sweet hound Holly was an old dog, too, when she learned the new trick.
The Wrong Rainmakers.
I'll tell you, when you're out in the cold and become fifty, then fifty-one in a rainstorm seeded by the wrong rainmakers.... when the passionate rush of your life force smashes headlong into the net of uncivil societal norms.... when this merciless pairing of professional old age and practiced eccentricity occurs in a land that worships youth and conformity.... when your style of hardball breaks the glass houses of the milquetoast inheritors of someone else's wealth.... All that and other untold insults merge to raise one huge mountain to climb if you want to escape the valley of exile and not go gray.
I'm not complaining, mind you — at least, I don't think I am. I'm simply stating the facts of the moment. I'm gathering my climbing gear.
Now I'll switch the metaphor and tell you, too, that I'm an accomplished enough mason and carpenter to raise a new foundation. Life can be long enough.
I think of the greedy girl child who slipped the stiletto 'tween my ribs, through the curving bones encasing my back. I think of the embittered, jealous boy child who gave it to her and the vacant-eyed wife of the scion of capitalism who purchased the sharp blade at the bazaar of her emptiness. None had courage enough, or honor enough to face me.
I Bled, I Lay in Agony, I Recovered.
I bled, at first profusely. I lay in agony on the sick bed all too long, victim of my self-indulgence. I recovered. Soon I shall be fully healed. The greedy girl child was fond of saying, in whispers: "Don't get mad, get even." I wonder if I have a black-enough heart to do it. Most likely not. I'll leave the vengeance to a power greater than self. Most likely.
My spiritual master Gerald told me I couldn't possess the luxury of resentment. John Adams, second president of these United States, wrote: "Resentment is a Passion, implanted by Nature for the Preservation of the Individual. Injury is the Object which excites it. A Man may have the Faculty of concealing his Resentment, or Suppressing it, but he must and ought to feel it. Nay he ought to indulge it, and to cultivate it. It is a Duty."
Regardless of how my resentment plays out, I am dutiful and bound to honor it.
I proclaim, too, that the new foundation I'm patiently building, the foundation of my next and penultimate endeavour, shall support an edifice that will withstand the assaults of the marketplace and the Agents of Status Quo. I believe it. Even when I participate in the revolution that shall surely topple them, the foundation and the edifice will stand.
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