The Problem

The Problem He was astonished to discover that after he had solved the problem on which he had worked for twenty-seven years, after he had disposed of all the objections to his proof, he missed the problem in its unsolved state. Yes, there had been great satisfaction in completing the proof, even exhilaration.  Yes, there had been an access of inner pride, a sense of validation after long years of wandering in what felt like a succession of deserts.   Yes, he had enjoyed the discomfiture of rivals who had come close to mocking him and his methods over the years,.  All that was true.   He had achieved a new degree of eminence and was treated with new respect. But he missed the problem in its raw state, when it was new and tantalizing, when it seemed like it would defeat him countless times, when it allowed him hints as to how to approach and then showed him that those hints were spurious, perhaps deliberate ruses to throw him off. It was not only that he had no idea what to do with himself, how to invest his heart and mind. He was an empty creature and felt lost in his emptiness. All this was the case, indubitably so. However, the real ache was more intimate, nearer his heart,     He missed the problem the way you might miss a lover, but not just any lover, rather one who had been everything to you, so that that lover had been all that you really knew of yourself over a very long period of time.   While you were so engaged that long...

Help And Hell

If you ask for help and catch hell, you will learn not to ask for help.  The result is solitary confinement.

Henri Michoux

When we lived in Paris in the early fifties of the last century when I was a little boy of six, seven, maybe eight, my father was a mystery.   For me as a child (and perhaps for all the rest of me as well) everything was mystery. It surged before me in sensory immediacy, just as it was, yet always changing, full at once of caprice and the immutability of actually being.   Looking back I see that we lived well as citizens of a conquering/liberating power, even though we had no refrigerator and the furnace worked intermittently.   We were privileged, an anomalous status for people who belonged to a faith whose remnants were just clinging to life and trembling with knowledge of the once and future terror. The Second World War was not truly over.   It raged on in the heads and hearts of so many who were silent, including my father. The dead had met their deaths by combat, by extermination, by accident, by hidden acts of cruelty intimate beyond naming and yet they were not dead because the living clung to them, scrapped desperately to reach them and failed. The living were thrown back on their own minuscule and diminished resources. This was all they had as their dreams in nights of fitful sleep kept reminding them of the radical amputations they had suffered. Three or four times of a Sunday afternoon my father and I walked along the banks of the Seine.   I had no idea what he was thinking nor even did I have an idea of trying to form an idea of what he...

Guanacaste, 2017

I’ve just turned 71. The reversal of the digits from 17 to 71 took 54 long years, 54 short years, 54 inscrutable years.   There is no way to make a map of the way. So many people I’ve loved are dead and gone and yet alive and not gone in my mind. When I was 17 the outer population was greater than the inner population. At 71 it is exactly the reverse – the inner population is greater than the outer population. I don’t have to spill blood libations to court them.   They come in my dreams, looking exactly like themselves from long ago and faraway.   My Great Uncle Manny wears the forty year old blue shoes back again in fashion. He loved them and loved the revolution that brought them back. I loved them because he loved them. That was enough. We get swept up in the currents and eddies of other people’s lives.   That is what love does, also what hate does. But how does the dream machine hold so much – shoes, faces, voices, the banks of the Seine, my father’s pipes and his Latakia tobacco? I appear sometimes as myself with and without a befuddled expression. And women, too, starting with my mother and proceeding from there, I have been listening and listening down the years and down the decades. I have heard voices from outside and voices from inside.   I have heard the voices of some who lived and died before I was born, some long before. Ancients have been my contemporaries. I have tried to make a music of what I have heard...

The Hordes

I understand very little but the hordes coming behind me know so much   I admire them and fear them perhaps a few have kinship to me are baffled as I was, as I am   I count myself fortunate to see the light that I see, to see by my own lights   The illusion of ownership barely lingers in me, I belong to my body, not the reverse   There is tenderness for what is and can be easily abolished. The dark of violence frightens me   The hordes coming behind me know so much, but do not yet know how little it is, we...

One Note

In the night he played the organ of sorrows whose vast pipes spanned continents and whose music was time, the sea in which he swam and dissolved to become a wail sounding the deep where beginning and end are one note...

When Morning Comes

When morning comes, I will not see it. With not even a pang of loneliness the sun will rise without me.   This is the night of my death, for which I have waited all my life, never knowing when it would come, only sure that it would arrive.   This is a night full of pain and terror and wrath and fatigue and just a hint of the tip of the wing of the wild white bird of tenderness, surcease and peace.   I can feel that, too, in the midst of my amazement that I still have a voice with which to try to say goodbye to myself and to my world.   No one is listening and that provides my own version of haphazard and flimsy truth with the thin shelled egg of privacy within which it can struggle to be born as I am dying.   Now I need to pause to catch my inner breath which is running away from me. I can’t stop struggling, but the struggle has changed as the ingredient of hopelessness has been added, not just spoonful by spoonful, but heaping spoonful by heaping spoonful.   I am neither young nor terribly old as I face forever.   If I am more old than young, the core “feel” I have of myself, strangely, has not changed since I first knew myself as a little girl.   I have not been someone who loved or lived an inward life. The interior frightened me in ways I never had much interest in defining. To have undertaken that task would already have been to embark on a voyage of exploration leading...

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...

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...

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, his face totally quiet. 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 of us, we have been thinking the same thing for...