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From Beyond

I write from beyond the grave. My children will not want to hear what I have to say and they will certainly not be quick to believe me.   I want them to know that I did better than my best. I had to invent from scarce to non-existent resources inside myself the fumes on which I ran. So why am I writing? Why do I trouble the peace of eternity? It is not a matter of self-justification but rather of clarification. While living I was somewhere else. I was held captive in another realm, not precisely against my will, because I was complicit. My fascination made me complicit. To break away for even an instant required heroic effort. I seemed to be a mother in the world. My fascination was with something indefinable, but dynamic, perhaps even non-existent, but nonetheless real to me. When I say that to break away even for an instant required heroic efforts – which I made – I am not flattering myself. It took intense, painful spasms of the will to light my face up with something resembling a smile for even a brief instant. The vast majority of the time my face was not exactly dark, but abstracted, empty. In short it was a face that was not quite a face. Yet not a mask because it lacked that measure of definition. That realm, that other realm, was cruel and subtle. There was, possibly, a split second upon awakening when the light of the world, the remarkable ordinary world, was not affected, but this instant was never prolonged, so it seemed only yet... read more

Old Amos

              OLD AMOS I.­ Old Amos   Old Amos stood in the southeast corner of the garden, the corner closest to Jerusalem, the city of gold.­ The sour cherry tree behind him was in full bloom.­ When the breeze stirred, white petals floated down.­ It was the middle of June, spring going into summer. It had rained for almost three solid days, then turned fair as a high pressure system swept down across the Great Lakes from the northern reaches of Canada, wild country.   Three lazy clouds drifted like lost pieces of cotton in a blue sky. Momentarily, they lined up in a row… Jerusalem was still seven thousand miles away. ­ In all his eighty-one years, Amos had never been there.­ Yet he had not forgotten her.­ He had obeyed faithfully the Biblical injunction, “Jerusalem, if I forget thee, may my right hand lose its cunning.”   ­ He longed to let her clasp him to her bosom. A scruple kept him from taking his longing quite literally.­ Each life was both lucky and unlucky beyond measure.­ When it came to souls, scales failed.­ You knew for sure that you didn’t know what was coming next, wouldn’t quite know what it had been once it was gone.­ Whatever you planned changed in the making.­ If you thought of yourself as its author, you sinned. You might as well lust after the making of graven images.­ Also you were a fool.­ Oblivion was the privilege of fools, an enviable one at that.­ A little bit of vision, no great amount, took a man a... read more

The Spirit Of Old Grimes

I. It started with the generator. Kenneth walked into the office just after lunch one day at the very beginning of the long rains. It was too hot. The air wasn’t stirring at all. Moko, the vice-principal, was yelling at Henry.   “Henry, you can not always be making these silly and frivolous requests. You must plan and anticipate needs. One order every six months or even every year should be quite sufficient, indeed. I must impress upon you that, without foresight, nothing of lasting value can be accomplished.”   Moko turned away from Henry, who sat immobile at his desk, the look of a patient suffering monkey on his face.   Dressed in short-sleeved white shirt frayed at the collar and grayish green slacks, Henry was a slight man in his middle thirties. While Moko was working under his white shirt on a mild rise that would, with a little encouragement, boll out into a full fledged pot belly, Henry’s frame lacked even a hint of fat. The articulation of every muscle was visible.† The skin was a wrapping that revealed their workings more than it cloaked them.† Underneath the desk, Henry’s ankles were crossed. In the drab office with its old wooden furniture, the bright yellow of Henry’s rubber clogs made an accent, like hot mustard sauce.   “Henry, you can not always be getting the idea that you’re indispensable. You know what the President has been saying about all this feather boating held over from colonial times. He say, `Pay for performance and only for performance.’ That’s official now, not just one man’s whim, although some... read more

Tanzania

The strangest thing about Tanzania was how familiar it was to me in February of 2016 after a gap of nearly fifty years. 1. I left Tanzania in 1969. When I was there long ago, I was young and Tanzania was young. Now I am old and Tanzania is still young, very young, with a huge portion of its population under 20. It has an enormous and stunningly diverse youthful population that needs an education, work, a sense of purpose and meaning, pathways to dignity and integrity, pathways not so easy to find in the maze of the modern world in which traditions have been radically disrupted. My very first trip to East Africa took place when I was eight. I travelled through the portal of triangular postage due stamps issued by the Nyassa Company of Mozambique, then a Portuguese colony.   These stamps showed wildlife within their escalloped borders. I remember giraffes and zebras, each with a hint of the savannah behind them. These hints conveyed the vastness of the savannah and so, too, the existence of another world in which I was wholly absorbed. I would have loved to own these stamps, but knew better than to ask because I knew we did not have the money for such luxuries. So they remained in their glass case at Halle’s.   In retrospect this was a stroke of good fortune.   The imaginative experience remained free of the weight of concrete possession.   So it possessed me all the more deeply. I recently looked for these very stamps and found them figured on the internet, even as they still figure in my imagination.... read more

Devotion And Common Sense

I took on the inpatient care of an African-American woman in her later thirties after her previous psychiatrist was banished for misconduct and terrible judgement. I was a resident just about her age and the small extra amount of money I got paid for adding her to my case load made a difference to me.   She was intensely suicidal, but without vegetative signs of a deep depression. She had more children than fingers on one hand. It was her avowed purpose to treat each one as if that child were an only child. She felt that it was her job to give each child everything that child might need or want. These requirements were absolute, as she saw them. It was all too easy to see the shortcomings of such a model for practical child rearing policy.   From the point of view of psychological economy and personal energy it was obviously not viable.   A real effort to implement it could not help but leave a mother in a seriously depleted state. This was a grandiose project that demanded a regime of self-oppression that was virtually unthinkable.   It had no limits. Here she was wanting to end her life, refusing to make concessions to reality, as if any concession would be a source of boundless shame. The degree of harshness against herself, the all-or-nothing features of her thinking were striking. She was beautiful and quite used to being envied because of it, not that she ever avowed either of these. Her beauty was striking. It was something it was literally impossible not to notice.   She was intelligent.   She was quiet,... read more