Daytime elegy

by dschapman

Today I cut class. The sky was too much and my thoughts were too viscous to listen, to speak, to engage myself in small affairs. But that isn’t why. I do not know why, just that I regretted it. I almost felt guilty. Because I do like to learn. And I do like to do decently. But then I felt glad. Because under the open sky, alone, was decency. The most decent way about it was my own, and I was doing it; I was doing right, whatever I do. I walked past my pupils as they walked on towards class, I nodded, and I smiled politely. I offered no excuses, I had none, nor would I care to have them. I got in my car to go to the store for a compass so I could draw circles whenever I wanted, because I found myself in awe of a circle, circles of perfect circles forming like moisture in the sky, but once I was sitting in my car, with the windows all rolled down, with my sleeves all rolled up to my elbows, with a crooner and a horn-blower playing over the radio, I didn’t feel like going to town. So I went from it, into the countryside, with the white-tails and the big blue herons. I sped along quick over winding country roads, relaxed in the ease of the pleasing curves and straight-aways, steeped in the sun of the still-gelid sky; when I came upon another car going my way, I would pass them, and I would wave to them goodbye, with a wink or a gesture, and I would disappear into the foreground. The movements of fluid totality brushed its soft and cemented self against me. The force in its howl took pride in my hair and tousled it, tears whipped fittingly from my eyes, streaking through my crow’s feet and over my scars; wind everywhere, tree limbs swaying, herons taking flight; once more, for the sake of it, too fast around the corner, too fast over the hill for the thrill of it. When my friends drive like this I decry it. I scold them and tell them they are behaving indecently, acting like fools. Because they are; that way is too dangerous. It is a very dangerous way to go about it and no one ever should. Not one of us should, though every one of us do it. And if we don’t, it is not because we’re pleased to do so. And the wildest drivers drive the most. And the great men can’t bear to be without it. And I! It has already taken me my legs. It has already said to me, yea, power! At this point it is something fundamental. I speak of it highly – it is as great as the great James Byron Dean, it is as tragic as James Agee’s father. There is a great, tragic way about it, any which way it goes. It is the greatest machination of human experience, the most intelligible instrument for awe – and self destruction. So for my own sake, I indulge in it. It is good that I do; without it, I might never find delight. And here at least for a minute I’ve found it. It is delightful and it is harmless. And when all goes wrong, it will be the end. And that will be the end of it; as great as the greatest actor, as tragic as the saddest man, the sole irreparable truth of the man, the single inimitable breadth of existence; strong, insistent, romantic and crude. And until then, there will be being, and it will be marvelous. And I could hope for nothing better.

I come to a stop. I am by the water’s edge. The water, long and lossless, up the river. My grandmother died and a generation fell back to dust, a reality fell by the wayside, preserved (if that) in memory. She left me her books, because I like to read books. The nicest is the volume of Ralph Waldo Emerson, it is a first-edition and in a state of utter beauty. He has been changing my life again. He has me drawing circles, thinking in terms of the eternal. I’m beginning to think I believe in God. Why wouldn’t I? There is obviously nothing else. There is obviously nothing other. It is time to get serious – and godlessness is nonsense. If godlessness makes sense, then you misunderstand it. A light goes off in my head. I missed an exam today in class. That will make me look bad in my grades. They are too bad, grades. They only contribute to the general misunderstanding. They only perpetuate fraud and misconception. In perpetuity, meaninglessness. I haven’t always been this way. I haven’t always felt enlightened. I used to feel embarrassed. I used to see value in things, I used to think things mattered. And it made a mess of things. I acted like the child I was. I arrested my development in the bud. I indulged in drugs that you barely even read about. I committed sins you would never even think about – and as for my thoughts, not ever! Strange and uncongenial manipulations. Translucency of the still-beating heart. The writhing bag of organs. They were the thoughts of a healthy, level-headed mind as it descended, willingly and with skill, into the wasted, dangerous mind of reality. Haughtiness gave way to humility. Happiness to horror. Peaks and furrows and after it all, the flatlands. Fields that grow and fields that are harvested. Thoughts intelligent and insightful. Thoughts imaginative and desultory. I lit fires in the middle of forests, I caught fire to a cupola and burned down a barn. Barnburner! I was – I am! – a barnburner! What a magnificent title to bear! Princely. And easy, too, with only the will to do it. The metallic taste of non-repentance etches its cross in the back of my throat. I tongue an open sore in the side of my mouth; I have been chewing up the insides of my cheeks again. I wonder if I have been bleeding. A classmate crushed my toe under her heel earlier and I wondered if I was spilling blood into my new leather shoes. I couldn’t tell; it was my bad toe, without a toe-nail, a clump of crumbled nerves. I thought I felt something wet between my toes, my healthy toes. I refused to check, though, because I knew I wasn’t bleeding. Unless, of course, I was. And it was entirely possible that I was. Barnburner! I should never have done all those drugs. It really isn’t worth it. And not because they’re so bad – but because they’re not so good. Everything’s a mess already! I am already plenty muddled. I imagine a crab the size of the schoolbus, standing over me in the middle of a field, snapping its claws and tumbling sideways towards me; I have been imagining it since I was three. I imagine a stork, stark white and taller than my father, standing at the window. I have been imagining it since I was eight. I imagine all sorts of things. It does me no good to describe them. Nothing in the world is describable. Every last word is a malformation. Every last breath a senseless consumption. Blades of grass grow up around me, kissing my skin, tickling my nose. I am bound to them. I am blissful in my bindings.

Nevertheless! Life is good enough. Certainly a miracle, whether meaningful or not, whether accidental or purposeful or not even at all. Certainly a vitamin for an ailing parallel, the overlapping geometric consistencies, the tether and pull, the inner extensions. Everything is as it is, and there is no other! Whatever that may be. It is not for me to say – I wouldn’t if I could, I wouldn’t need to, it’s here, before our eyes, insensible, too real for analysis. Explication is a fiction. Distinction is a fiction. Strings form ropes and ropes form our memories. Pulled along on a mental tide over eel-infested waters. Flowers bloom and the beehives re-awaken. The core of the earth is on fire. The shell will soon be too. Whether or not it ever burns. Pyres. Ropes wrapped round pyres. Clouds wrapped round tunnels of heat and cold. Guillotines fly.

Nevertheless! Even the weak will persevere. Weak or strong, there is nothing to think about it. So keep on thinking. Enjoy the thoughts while you have them. They are the first gift. The grand gift of life. The cardinal sin and the everlasting pleasure. Take pleasure in the profundity of angst and misery, the fact of causality, the interminable silence of humankind’s struggle, unyielding, petty iambics. Better would take a swim; they would dive into the water. It is fine water. It flows atop a bed of mud, good Southern mud,  it houses snakes and catfish. Tires and corpses and copperheads, larval sacks and snapping turtles. I do not mean to decry it! It is an image of perfection. It is sweet and harmonious. The river rustles on before me. Something stings in the air, a hoarse compulsion of the atmosphere; I stand on my own two feet and surrender. There is nothing to fight for me here. I am here in the middle of existence. I have come this far and it owes me nothing, I owe it everything I have. It gave to me, whether I accepted or rejected its gifts. I woke up sighing. I slept on a bed of spiderwebs. I walked and I ran and I broke my back on a pear tree. Gentle, beautiful pear tree, where have you been all along? What kind of persistence is this to indulge in? Or these thoughts, or are they revelations – are we alive, or yet-dying? Southern songs are on my mind. Southern women in my heart. I load my gun with a bullet and I fire it off over my head like a celebrant. Would it would come back down where I stood – and strike me! I would stand, so smitten, defeated. Better to stand defeated than to walk and talk and act defeated. The first step towards absolute morality is the basic admittance that there can be no absolute morality. Otherwise, live long in virtue, live right and die peacefully. And be good, for goodness’ sake.

Where is the copper to power these lines? Where is the linen to cover these sheets? Cotton prices are soaring. The potted plants are dying. I cut an apple into fifths and dip them into cinnamon. I sleep and I rise and I sleep and I rise and so does the sun, which is something.

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