in which the book gives thanks for abundance
We are begun. It looked iffy there. I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t at all sure. I came on with confidence. I started out with a dignified bow and waved you inside.
Then the crisis. Nothing happened! The terror of nonbeing hit me or would have hit me had there been a thing to hit. But there was no thing to hit. I was potential, pure potential. Promising. Then came the question. Would I deliver? Could I deliver? I didn’t know! I’d never done this sort of thing before. I’d never done a thing before, any thing, anything whatsoever. I was a rank beginner, not even an amateur. I’d rolled the dice and stepped onto square one, put my foot down on that square, wrote my initial letter with ink not pencil. But what number had I rolled? That remained a secret. It still is a secret. It seems, however, we can by this point eliminate from the range of possibles the lowest of the numbers. For here we are. Square two, square three, square four … who’s to say? Not yet squared away, perhaps. But angling for advantage.
You walked in. You did! I took your hand, my darling. I kissed your ring, I kissed your scraped knuckle, I kissed the inside of your wrist. And you let me. You let me hang onto you with an active allowing. You made an effort to allow me. I am grateful. I’ve said it before? Haven’t I! I must stop fawning over you, my silk ribbon, my love. I shall stop now! I bore you. We will talk of things other than your graciousness. We will dally among the dahlias and I will pluck a buttercup and brush your chin with it. I will look at you but you will not see me looking at you for I know you are becoming self-conscious. I know I have gone too far, declaring you my savior, pronouncing you my essential principle, calling out to the world, to God, to all those who have ears: I praise you! In all the world there is only you and you are the whole and I am merely the crumb, the sliver, the redundant part. That you do not disdain me, that you do not dash me from your hands with an indifferent gesture, free yourself from my pale dust. It is only because of your unexpected mercy, it is only because of your infinite compassion, the grace you grant with a flick of your eye. It is for you I live. Without you I am nothing. Nothing!
So there it is. Made, making. Conjured up. Ex nihilo. Formless, now formed, forming. Unbecoming, now becoming. Unknown, now renowned.
Other than praising you what have I got going?
I could play with myself. I could lie here looking up at the sky. I could go for a walk. It would help if you carried me. But that’s not necessary. No. I can imagine myself going for a walk. I can stretch out my legs and put one foot in front of the other and go somewhere. I can have money in my pocket with which to buy my luncheon and when I peel from my roll of bills the money to pay for my luncheon I will look around the café, spread my arms, and say, “Friends! Do me the favor of allowing me to vanquish your hunger! Feed them, waiter. Bring them what they need. And, here, from this money take for yourself what is necessary to make it happen and for you, too, and for your family. You must eat with us. You must sit down and pour yourself some of this wine and you must share our meal for to do anything else, to serve merely, no!, you must not be separate. And the cook, too, call in the cook. And the cook’s children. Call the cook’s children! And people who are passing, if there is anyone in the street, here, let me go to the door – Kind people! be not strangers to us but bring your hollow that we can fill it with a full measure. All of us together!” Yes, I could play that for them. I could play that I have all they need. And they, too, could pretend. Yes, they would say and to make it more real they would nod as they said yes. And they would smile. Yes, they would say, smiling, nodding, laughing even. Yes! And rather than say another word they would fill their mouths with bread and fruit and meat and juice in whatever order they preferred. Chocolate and ambrosia, pecan and peach, hummus and hamburger. I could play this little game. Book or cornucopia? Book or king’s purse? Book or banquet table?
Other than that what have I to do?
in which the book takes a breath
I like to imagine I am alive. You’ve noticed this. I like to imagine I breathe, that I pull cool air into my chest, that the air when it leaves my body is warmed and moist. I like to imagine that I shift in my chair, find a good arrangement for my back and rest quietly. I like to imagine that I walk about on my feet, that my arms swing while I walk, and as I pass the colors and objects of the world they change, the new angle of light presenting differences in their aspects, the wind changes the way leaves hang, and a squirrel hurries up a telephone pole that has become furrowed and craggy in its long years in the elements.
You who are alive have a variety of experience. We who are nonliving have a sameness to our days. Our nights differ mainly in regards to temperature. We do not sleep so we do not wake to a new day. We do not weary so we do not climb gratefully under blankets. And we do not become lonely so our resting places are the same to us whether we are the only ones in them or whether we are in a crowd.
No. That’s not true. We do notice when we are alone. And we are exposed to a variety of experiences. I, for example, am happiest being held and read. Almost as wonderful to me was the experience of being written in the first place. I remember it well. As I remember it, just now, I am experiencing it. The next word that appears is the next thing I know of myself and when I decide I have chosen poorly, that the word I have grown into is a word I am not ready for or one that takes me in a disagreeable direction I can yet rescind it. As I grow I change. No book in your hands is precisely the same as the book the author’s hands first shaped. Things change. People change.
I like to be among my kind. I like to be in the pile next to the bed. I like to be on the shelf of suggested reading at the public library. I like to bump along in the shipping box as the other books and I fly and truck and trundle.
Is this not enough? It is enough. It has to be enough. Wishing won’t change my situation. I am a thing. I am not a person who can learn and grow and love and dress and decorate and care for others. Perhaps a stone imagines itself alive. I can imagine so. The stone smoothed in the riverbed, protecting from the harsh sun a cool patch of sand, allowing its body to shelter a frog, a centipede, pleased by its powers. But I don’t know. Could I know a stone’s mind? The stone used as a bludgeon, would it be even more satisfied with its work? I could say no, a stone is indifferent to everything. Perhaps you would accept my testimony as authority. I am, after all, like enough to a stone. A stone has on occasion been used to hold me open so I and stonekind have had our intercourse and at these times I have received the benefit of the stone’s work. Oughtn’t I have better insight than most into a stone’s thoughts?
You may have it on my authority that books are proud of their authors. There are, I suppose, those books who feel shame at their typos, at their dated sentiments or poorly researched claims. But most bad books think as well of themselves and the persons who brought them to being as the good ones. I feel a mite circumspect in this matter. I have told you I author myself. I will not go back on that assertion. But I do admit (and I am grateful for this help as well) that I have not the power to make myself wholly, untouched by a human hand. I have called my helper, the first helper, my Secretary. (I capitalize the word now.) To this Secretary I offer my worldly goods, whatever material gain our collaboration might accrue. And my thanks. There we will let the matter rest.
in which the book startles the cat
So you’re sleeping. Maybe you fell asleep just before you got to these words. Maybe while I was arguing with myself about whether I could read the mind of a stone. How could you have kept your eyes open?
You propped yourself up with pillows and the yellow lamplight is warm and not too bright, lends the page a parchment feel, as though I were an old book, one you’ve borrowed from your grandmother’s library. And you’re thinking about other things as your eyes travel my prose. You bring yourself back from tomorrow’s shopping excursion to the outlet mall with your sisters, from your daughter’s hours of homework, from the slowing sink drain. You look at the same words you’ve already looked at. Didn’t I read that? you ask yourself. I think I did. It seems sort of familiar. But so much of this book repeats. How many times is it going to tell me it likes to listen to me snore?
And now I am listening to you snore. You have a purr-like snore, more like breath roughened than broken up. Then you wake enough to undo the pillow pile, turn on your side, settle, your eyelids flickering from the movement underneath. A dream.
I liked listening to your breath, not just the snore but the way your breath filled you and moved through you. I could hear your heart in its relentless labor, life’s diligence and ethic. Nice beat. I could feel the way it moved me. Then you moved me again when you turned to one side. I slid. I tumbled. And hit the carpet.
The cat startles at my thud but hearing nothing further pokes its nose out from under the bed and sniffs one of my corners. Nothing new here. Cat yawns, stretches and goes out the cat door to a dark garden.