The influence of gaslight or electric light on the growth of paraheliotropic trees

bonebrushing the edges of the res interna (upper transcend)

“Is Tom Wolfe dead?”

I stand at my kitchen island, eating granola and reading the New York Review of Books’ article on Susan Sontag, and the author of the article is writing about her striking looks, and her photograph, and her death, and I think about how I once saw her speak at the Writers House, many years ago, and about how life becomes history through the operation of death.

And I think about the first writer I saw at the Writers House that really thrilled me, Tom Wolfe, my first year there, and I ask the Echo sitting on the island next to me whether Tom Wolfe is dead.

“Tom Wolfe died on May 14, 2018, in New York, USA,” it says, calm, feminine. “He was 88 years old.”

More wishes.

Cruel like January

Old Tom Eliot, what a joker. April is the cruelest month? Never went through a climate change January, then, first 5 degrees, then 60, then 27–broken up, after years of trying–yeah, Tom was just being rhetorical–January–after New Years–heart of winter–alone with yourself, and the nights so endless–that’s the cruelest. April? I’d give a toe to Rumpelstiltskin for April.

Darby and Joan

In my last will and testament, unwritten, whispered to women with wit and charm in late autumn evenings, I explain that when I die, if die I must, I want to be buried in a forest, with an acorn in my mouth, so that all of me might become not wormfood but treefood, that my matter might mingle with treematter, that life will go to life, and that that tree, that oak, should be protected by a conservation easement such that it shall never be cut down, but, should it one day die of natural causes, be given to my descendants–should I have any–so that they can make fine oaken furniture out-of-it–a chair, a chest, a wardrobe.

I have been inhabiting this body for near on 13,000 days. I have loved a handful of women, but today, I am alone. My parents, married as children, nearly forty years ago, smile-wide with the joy of my sister’s children–

And I suppose, I think, that while it would be sweet and beautiful to die and become a tree, there is room in that one-day clearing for two, and to be one of two trees, oak and linden, limbs entwined, sleeping softly, gentled covered, side-by-side, always the same–Jack and Jill, Darby and Joan, the folks on the hill–

Matthew Shepard

You know, you’re a sixteen year old kid, living in Philadelphia, and you hear about some daily horror in the news, and you hear “tied to a fence” and “left to die” and you just think, so it goes, that’s Humanity–but you can’t picture it–

And then, maybe five years later, your sister is in the Laramie Project, the play they made about Shepard’s death, and you’re moved by the pathos, the unique horror and reality of it, those brute facts that say: *you* could be tied to a fence, and left to die, your brother, or your sister, or your son, could be tied to a fence, and left to die, and you learn a little more about it.

And then, ten years have passed, and the country seems to start to shift, and you’re in law school, to get a job, and you learn again about justice, as if for the first time, and you learn about fairness, and you learn about civil rights, and you read judicial opinions that make crystal clear that the Constitution *requires* marriage equality–And another five years pass, and you’re a civil rights attorney, and you’re defending a couple who were fired because they were a couple, and they were both men–

And then its been 20 years, and who knows who Matthew Shepard would have been, or what he would have done, or who he would have loved, the children he might have had, and you measure that against your own life, and you think good, goodness, is so fragile, and evil, pure evil, darkest evil, is so simple, easy, senseless, it is a wonder there is any good at all in this world we live in together–but there it is–

There is good. There’s the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose not letting anybody forget Matthew Shepard or what was done to him or why he was killed. There’s police officers and paramedics who ran into gunfire to help save lives at a risk to their own. There’s protesters and activists who refused to stay home when Nazis and White Supremacists marched through the streets of Charlottesville. There’s football players and owners who locked arms with each other to respect the right of their colleagues to protest. There are teachers, and doctors, and mechanics, who earn their daily bread by helping others. There are truck drivers who leave their families and drive for weeks at a time to make sure our supermarkets have food in them. There are engineers who keep our lights on, and our hospitals running.

So it’s been reported recently, what with these tragedies, that when Fred Roger was a child, and he saw or heard about scary news, or tragedies, his mother would tell him to look for the helpers, that he would always find people who were helping.

No one helped Matthew Shepard on the night he was left to die.

It was the next morning. It was Aaron Kreifels, the cyclist who found him. It was Reggie Fluty, the first police officer to arrive at the scene, who used her bare hands to clear the airway in Shepard’s mouth. It is the doctors and nurses who treated him.

And against that, we have the two empty souls who killed him, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. An A and an R helped, and an A and an R killed.

It may be that good will not triumph over evil in this world. It may be only, that if good fights, if good gives everything it has, it may balance the evil, it may prevent evil from triumphing. Evil cannot be defeated, because it precedes good, it grounds good, it is the absence of good, it is a lack, not a presence, and a lack is always more common than a presence–so–evil cannot be defeated. But it can be fought. One must choose to do so, for one’s own reasons. I cannot force you to choose good, I cannot explain why you should choose the good, I cannot defend myself for choosing the good, and I cannot judge you for not choosing good.

But for me, I choose the good. I choose to fight for the good. I will not always succeed. But one must choose, and that is my choice. I choose to help.

The Storm and the Pathetic Fallacy

I stepped out on my balcony, for a moment, and thought about the static and distress I’ve been feeling for the last week or so, since I saw her last, and thought about how the sun and warmth had come to Philadelphia at her heels, and now, she’s gone, and I’m gone, and winter’s back with a vengeance, and wondered, momentarily, whether I was causing this (or maybe she was causing this), and as I opened the glass, and the wind barrelled past, a force, a great force, shaking me–it was large, and I was small–I laughed at the pathetic hubris of a man, who seeing the storm, thinks:

Maybe this is me. 

The Act and the Gesture

Act, the real act; instead of all these little gestures;

150,000,000 breaths.

12,544 days.

I realize that Microsoft Excel’s sequential index for dates is, essentially, a record similar to my own recording of life-days, and thus, any time I wish to ponder the way the time we live in is segmented like a centipede by the circling of our planet around its axis every 5000 breaths or so, I need simply translate a date in Excel into that strange five digit number I have always found so inscrutable.

Today is, for instance, 42,688. I was born on day 30,124, which is about 150,620,000 breaths since January 1, 1900.

I have taken 63,000,000 breaths, give or take, and my heart has beat somewhere between 1,000,000,000 and 1,500,000,000 times.

There are 100,000,000,000 stars in the galaxy, and there are 100,000,000,000 humans who have ever lived, and that is the same as all the heartbeats of the entire lives of 33 men or women who lived to 100.

Indian Summer Moon, with Music, Recapitulated

Never miss a Sunday show, they say, and sitting on my couch, as the Summer Sun waned to an early dusk that hints at the longer nights of Autumn, I struggled to raise myself, and when did, went ranging for caffeine to give me courage, only to find both bodegas on my block closed early–

So, arrive there I did, to the wooden amphitheater, and an empty lawn, that had been the place of earlier revelries when our planet was a bit further back in its path around the sun, and returned to the scene of the crime, where my momentary abandonment of Miss M. Gardener lead to confusions and aggravations and loss of cool and property–

But look not to the past, but to the present now, or rather, the present that gives rise to the greater past, and I went down to the right side of the amphitheater, which is open on the side so that at the edges, you can look out past the wooden roof and see the cool night-sky and I think back to when I was either two or three years old, and went with my parents and my aunt and my poor dead uncle (I think) to go see James Taylor at the Mann, and liked it so much I was dancing in the aisle, even then, even then, and remember still, vividly, looking out and seeing the great big moon low in the sky—

And the tragedy and pain of being able to remember a night so well when I was mere hundreds of days old —

it breaks my heart, as this world does, it breaks my heart.

and yet that is now how I felt, sitting there, alone, in the great empty amphitheater, master of space and time, listening to the music, looking at the moon—

I did not feel broken-hearted; I felt safe, and content, and rooted in my self and past and place;

I felt like I was where I was supposed to be.

and the voice of the present

“Hello?” he says, peering into the mouth of a dark hole in the ground, perfectly round and fringed with tufts of wet green grass, slick from this morning’s storm.

He hears the faintness of his voice’s echo reverberating softly on.

“Anyone in there?”

No answer.

The Donkey-Eared One, satisfied that he is alone, that the hole is just a hole, that, while there is no explanation for it, it is, nevertheless, safe, proceeds to sit down next to it and begin to tell his tale and secrets to the lonely field.

“Once, I was afraid. I was petrified.”

He stops. He pauses. He starts again.

“No. That is something else.”

He pauses.

–Once, I was the King. And before I was the King, I was the prince, and I went to a school for princes, where I was taught the Quadrivium and then the Trivium, and I was taught the tongue of Angles, and of Jutes, and I was taught the Holy Bible, and the Holy Charter, and the Virginia Compromise, and the Names of the Days, and the Orders of the Animals, and the Numbers of the Elements, and I was learned in rhetoric, argument, and logic, and between studies, we were given leave to play, outside, on great large green fields, with a playground at the top of a hill, next to an empty field where a house had once stood and where one could make out the remnants of cellar stairs and foundations. And below the playground, a hill wound down, and to the left, a dark, black, brick building, and in its shadow, a great tree, and then, at the foot of a hill, a great ball field, larger than a soccer pitch, larger than a football field, in which children would play great and enormous games of tag.

Further, in the far north corner of the field, stood a grove of pine trees, and a clearing in it, where sometimes, children would gather, and pretend to marry each other.

And I ran with the best of them, and, befitting my Princely status, and my precocious cleverness and wisdom, gathered around me a band of children.

Much is not remembered, of course, the mind sets aside childish things as it works and winds its way through the world, but I remember one boy chasing a girl, the girl I loved in my secret youth, and I remember trying to stop him, and him kicking me between the legs and me bending over in great pain. The girl got away, and I got no thanks.

And I remember another time, ranging with my band of youthful hooligans, and hearing tell of these child-marriages happening in the pine grove, and vowing to disrupt it, for in Heaven there is no Marriage, ranged over there like Pan’s Lost Boys and Indians, and whooping and wailing, beat the bounds and—

The coming to it, the crisis, the great moment of conflict–that I forget–but something occurred. And then, then all ways forgiven.

As years went on, I grew a little taller, and our school, in some cruel twist of arcane real estate law above both head and spirit of my young Princely self, banished us from our child’s fields, and pinned us in across the way, on another field, that was large, but thinner, and with fewer landmarks, and a lesser grove, and was the loss of magic which came with that year a loss of the land or was it simply a loss of my youth —

Here, ten thousand days later, I say, truly, I have never lost my youth, it was the land that was magic, the land, and the children in it, and we were banished, and that banishment, that exile, that reenactment of our Great Exile, was the secret heartbreak of my childhood–

I know not where my gift comes from, no more than I know why, or where, or when I came to wear these Donkey Ears that I cover with a hat and hide in shame and tell to no one except you, sweet grass, sweet field, but I do know that since I was a Princeling, I could change all I touched to gold, nay, not even touch, all I saw, gilded, transmuted, as if I were the master of the Philosopher’s Stone and could turn lump to lamp, as if I were the Long-Named Imp who knew the secret of spinning straw to gold, as if I were the Goose, the Famed Spruce Goose, whose every expression was priceless.

And so as  child, then as boy, then as man, I have steadfastly stood and spun my gold, and have grown rich in my own mind, and have even found way to hide my riches, to cover them back with lead and dross and sackcloth, and only take them out in secret times like these.

Why hide the gold, you say? Well, the Cossacks, for one, the Cossacks are always coming, the Cats, the Great Cats, lurking in shadows, hunting us poor Humes.

Anyway, that is how it went, for many years, growing into my own, and yet, one day, I know not when, I woke, and on that day found myself Donkey-Eared. And I found a cap and put it on, and have worn that cap ever since.

And I have told no one. Until now. No lovers. No doctors. No mothers. No fathers. No brothers, or sisters, or friends. My ears are my secret. And in the dark of night, I worry myself with fright, that maybe, maybe, the Donkey Ears are spreading, coming, eating at me, that maybe, one day, they will spread and spread and spread until all I am are Donkey Ears, and then, what then?

Aye, the world is hard, and full of dark magic, and witches, and curses, and I seem to have fallen under one, though I know not how or why.

And the ears itch, and I can hear everything, every little thing that anyone ever says about me, and they fill up with thick wax which smells of slightly rotten food, and, of course, it goes without saying, my love life has suffered.

But mostly, mostly, mostly, the worst worst worst part is the secret, the secret, the keeping of the secret. Oh it burns me, it is like an itch that can’t be scratched, that beneath this cap, I am this, but no one sees it, no one knows, that they might know, but don’t, and won’t, as long as I keep it that way.

In the beginning, the secret literally drove me mad, like a sharp and painful fire that never ceased. But here’s the way of pain — eventually, one gets used to it. One learns how to inhale deeper. And longer. And the pain comes, and it goes, and goes again, and eventually, it simply becomes a part of you. And that’s that.

That’s how the pain is now. Dull, managed, constant, in the back.

And that’s why I come here, every now and then, to whisper in holes, to speak the truth to empty fields, to scream my secrets to the sky.”

The speaker paused, and looked again down the hole. He thought he had heard something, and that thinking had sharpened every sense, including, most critically, that sense of pain that was always with him, at the edge of his perceptions.

No. It was nothing. Only his own voice, echoing off the walls of the earthen hole, coming back to him once more.