Teach Me to Live
What is happening not quite in front of my eyes? Petoskey stone, you surface of the moon, is it so far-fetched to believe you possess the quality of detachment? Lightweight thing I can hold in one hand like a concrete word: whatever you are, wherever I am on the continuum of my life, you never say. I could dip you in water and watch your seas emerge, changing nothing. "In the Middle Devonian a warm shallow sea covered much of the region"--why does that sentence fill me with tears? Is it that I feel you holding still while I go on slipping backwards? Coral is a living tissue; it secretes a communal skeleton in which to live. That was 350 million years ago. You outlived life; you are something else. Oh you before the invention of sadness, picked up and carried, left here by a glacier, tell me of forwardness.
Pages of Noise and Light
And might it not be . . . that we also have appointments to keep in the past . . . ?
—W. G. Sebald
When I go to look something up on the computer today I must start with a photograph of Mladic in a baseball cap, looking up like a man surprised by the sound of someone speaking his name after hours of silence. He is being taken to the Hague to be put on trial. The story was posted thirty-five minutes ago. How will the present ever keep up with itself? The crime is old by some standards. It didn't happen overnight and involved many living souls; now it includes eight thousand deaths migrating home again like flocks of birds crossing the water from Whitefish Point to Canada. Later I will have to page backwards from some other present to get to this one, jiffy, iffy, untwinkle in the eye, the flash—until time slows again and there I am on a page I won't even remember.
Ten minutes later. The photograph is gone. Now it's Egypt's Next Crisis, and a different photograph shows a man from the Muslim Brotherhood sitting in a coffee shop in front of a wall of photographs of men killed in Tahrir Square. Almost all of them smiling sweetly. Several are wearing glasses. It turns out "2011 Egyptian Revolution" is already an entry on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. On Wikipedia's entry for "page or pages," the definition of page as (paper)—one side of a leaf of paper, as in a book appears near the bottom of the page (page?) after the categories Position or Occupation, Technology, Music, People, Fictional Characters, and Places, under Other Uses. To turn a page is to turn over an old leaf.
In Empire, Michigan, a truck is roaring now, right now, exactly now. Long and dull and low as if it's trying to drag that house-and-lawn right out of its lot . . . . But roar, is that exactly right?
a loud deep sound.
the roar of surf.
to make a loud noise in breathing
as a horse.
to laugh boisterously.
to roar oneself hoarse.
A laugh the surf a horse a truck. There is work going on. And a tinge of gladness
like something moving far away over the water.
Light (l-eye-t), noun. A source of light, especially a lamp, a lantern, an electric lighting fixture. Illumination derived from a source of light. A Petscan stains the cancer cells so they light up like neon—a Christmas tree—the moon—. Vandals have broken off the great dead tree that used to loom out over Empire Bluff; now it is half a thought. The rest of the thought now lying below, on the slope. Exerts no pull at all. They must have worked by the light of the moon. The Sleeping Bear Dunes newsletter called it "purposeful damage."
Empire is a town so small that when a truck goes by you can hear it everywhere, it is in the blood. Clanking noises, now, from the meadow. I came here to work. WORK AHEAD says an orange, diamond-shaped sign that wasn't there yesterday. A tractor is parked in the meadow and someone has planted little red and blue flags at the edges of yards and spray-painted bright red circles and arrows on sidewalks and in the grass. They are laying pipe on LaRue Street. The ruckus gets into my heart and I can't sit still, I keep going to one of the windows as if the house were about to take off. Tractor, dogs, a man on his cellphone walking back and forth in front of my house. I will pay you four hundred dollars a month. In Morgantown, West Virginia, my dear old friend will be seeing another doctor today to talk about gamma knife surgery. No blade or blood. A halo they screw onto the head and the rays that search and search the brain. Each day the trucks are ancient stones bearing noise on their backs.
And yet that silence was not to be trusted. Out of trunks, chests, and wardrobes, some with their lids, drawers and doors half open, all conceivable kinds of utensils and garments were bursting forth. It was easy to imagine that this entire assemblage of the most diverse objects had been moving, in some sort of secret evolution, until the moment we entered, and that it was only because of our presence that these things now held their breath as if nothing had happened.
—W. G. Sebald, Vertigo
On the radio, from a small town in Japan, a man is weeping over the death of his mother. His house has been destroyed by the tsunami and with it all his possessions. Not a single photograph of his mother survived.
Lost winter day. When I look at the falling snow, look away, and then look back again, it's like having lost my place in a story.
if I had the nerve I would walk out into the dunes at 3 am to see what the moon looks like
on the leaves the blades the friends no fronds
the stems of grass
no friends that is the point to be alone out there
not to say the loneliness of a house isn't wave-like if you turn your head too suddenly
I think there's a kind of waiting out there patient actual not a friend
not thoughts of stone or grass
not even waiting
something going out ahead yet motionless like one of those rickety sand fences
under the moon
Politics, history. Ever getting away from us. Saudi Arabia Struggles to Limit Region's Upheaval. No, not Struggles. Scrambles. This means things are happening fast. In ten or twenty minutes another headline to be shrugged off to the bottom left or right of the page. I think of history as a schoolbook I am opening now so long ago. Politics used to be one kind of tickertape, now it's another. Like trying to hold a moonbeam in your hand.
Downstairs a man from the Geek Squad is calibrating the new TV. He must tone down the blue, modulate the other colors, tinker with qualities and shades too fine for us to see. It is so silent down there. He must be rapt.
Caryopsis, culm and lamina: town grass. The roots take hold of yards and won't let go. But this, beach grass a half-mile south of town—somewhere between stem and root the quiet is literal. Light is shallow. The roots hang on. And the wind goes on shaping the dune in a blind, geological time while back in Empire a woman's voice calls out like the blowing outward of kitchen curtains in a time we can sometimes actually see.
From: Auburn, West Virginia
Wish you were here right now, this moment, to see the cows up on the hillsides and the soft-green trees and the buttercups thick in the meadows. On the way to the post office I saw May flowers in bloom. They're among those spring ephemerals, and, though they line a long section of Riddle Hill Road, I don't always catch their brief blooming.
What then is the present? Current is a flow of electrical charge carriers. My mother in Arizona is three hours early. A woman I know in Jordan is seven hours late. I am grieved to have missed our appointment but there was not a soul in the coffee shop, for it went out of business eons ago. I waited around in the parking lot: if quarter after five was the present, should I have waited a few minutes longer? Sometimes a parking lot is a broken watch.
Psalm in the Moonlight
More than watchmen wait for the morning
the beach grass waits,
there's a bottle of Budweiser tucked in—
not tucked, that's just how it looks,
it must have been tossed there,
flung off, like a shirt of glass.
But the grass—
nestlike, it received the bottle.
It's wound around it almost like a bale of hay.
The grass isn't waiting, it is simply here,
which feels companionable.
A pause. A nod too low
to be humanly uttered,
just try to say this grass,
leaf by leaf, shone whitely on,
half shine, the rest so soft a yellow-green
it robbed a bottle
even before it arrived.
Among a million other things in the Empire Museum, a slipper chair, rose velvet and in perfect shape. A silver calling card tray. This sentence: Active dunes generally advance over time, sometimes burying trees and telephone poles.
Today it's A Year of War. And underneath the headline a ghostly picture. I think I am seeing the wing of a plane in the background, marked with a star inside a circle so the star can't shine. In the foreground, helmets, round like planets made of stone. From their tilt it seems the wearers are looking at something, alert to it, but what could it be? The wedge of sky? When I touch the screen the figures move, and a voice is saying, Some days I feel as if and I take my finger off the screen. Then touch it again. Men in helmets and backpacks begin to move again, walking forwards. Some days. They are in formation, walking towards something. It seems they had an object after all. Some days I feel. I start and stop and start and stop their walking along in a year of war. Some days. Some days. Some days.