I do not remember my childhood with fondness.  Of course, it was not all of a piece.  Some pieces were better than the rest and better in different ways.   There were moments of delight, moments of sensory discovery, moments of absorbing mystery even before I discovered books.    I was immersed in it.  In a non-trivial way, too, I have remained immersed in it throughout the course of my  life   It is a puzzle to me why I do not remember my childhood with fondness.   My first thought  is that there was so much fear.   Unspoken fear was part of the atmosphere.    I inhaled it without knowing its name, let alone what it was or why it was.    I do not know if the unspoken becomes unspeakable or if the unspeakable permeates as the unspoken. But these are presences.  I was permeated by the unspoken fearfulness and so became afraid myself.   I was born very shortly after the end of the Second World War into a Jewish family.  I was a new hope and a new hazard,   What language does fear speak?  How does it communicate?  How does it infect?  Fear speaks in the eyes.  It speaks through  the eyes.  It speaks in  a whole range of gazes, some that look penetratingly, some that look away so as not to see what is there to be seen.  It speaks in the throat, in the music that the voice composes.  It speaks in the jaw, in the neck,  in the set of the shoulders, down the arms into the hands and their postures,  imploring  and deploring.   It sneaks... read more

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... read more

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... read more

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
Share This