And all her Silken Flanks with Garlands Drest

April 10, 2012 § 3 Comments

The park was indescribably beautiful tonight. Or this evening, rather, before the light was gone—when it was going, but not in a blue swoon or the slow filtering in of black ink; no, the light was going green, lima bean green, the green of sick on a face, the green of sage. The green of new life lifted from the walked-upon grass, from the curving branches of the old trees, from the in-bending wire and wooden fences. There was green in all of those things, and that green lifted up like a curtain rising from below to make the evening apparent, to remind us that there is no beauty more terrible than the beauty of endings, though beauty numbs the terror and you only feel it later. The earth knows secrets that are so far beyond our puny human self-importance that all fears of harming the “biosphere” recede as I remember how it harms us by being, by leaving, by making us leave, by taking what we have, little by little.

On the way home, with milk, chocolate cookies and catfood, I look at the absurdly big tulips that are everywhere in the city now, their heads the size of eggs: hard yellow, Easter purple, a clear red edged in delicately curling white. The reds take the light the best; I stare at them for minutes. I want to eat them. I want to fold my body inside those red cups, then roll around like a stoned 15-year-old.

The white fringe, on the other hand, is too easy; it reminds me of Bolo’s white feathers as she incessantly groomed herself or preened, tilting her flirty head. Bolo was my friend John’s cockatoo who sat on his shoulder, who pecked little bird-holes in his arms and torso at night—“I have scars all over my body,” he said cheerfully—who was the love of his life.

John was murdered not long ago by a human being, so now, of course, he’s the one I want to spend the evening with, though we were neighbors more than friends and had a meal alone together maybe three times in 20 years.

But I’m not only thinking of melancholy things (okay, maybe I am. Go Twitter if you’d rather). I’m grateful at how open I was to the beauty, which is not always the case anymore. When I was young, beauty flung itself in my face every day; I had to fend if off; I never imagined a time when it wouldn’t be pursing me with insistent seduction, trying to take me to that invisible barrier it hides behind, rubbing my face in the fact that I couldn’t have it. Now weeks can pass when I don’t see beauty as more than a postcard. It’s a lovely day; wish you were here. Oh, I’ll get there sometime.

That green haze in the park, the escape of evening from the earth, which happens exactly as the sun goes down (but who can really say the sun has anything to do with it?) doesn’t ask me to surrender as beauty used to do. I suppose I’m too old. My vitality is gone; there’s nothing for the otherworldly ones to steal, no lover to vanquish.

Lisa said the other night that we must always remember we’ll die, die and be forgotten. I was trying to enjoy my duck with pears. But she wanted to talk about this—she very often wants to talk about it—so we did. There’s something she can’t explain to me; something I can’t explain to her.

Because I know I’m dying, know it as I know what sunlight feels like. I’m not the 9 year old who stared into the mirror the morning after her brother was killed, seeing for the first time the million million cells ablaze with life, feeling all the tender parts of being and was greedy for it, that dance of life and self. She’s gone, that child; I’m dying. Today, tomorrow. Life is hard; death is easy. Thinking about death is hard; others’ deaths are hard; that’s life.

Lisa said that when she’s in bed she stares at a photograph on the wall of a great aunt, childless, and thinks she’ll be like that and I’ll be like that: no claim to the young crawling up the forked paths in the genealogy forest, saying Great-Great-Grandmother, who were you, what was your world like?

But the famed writers and warriors, explorers, philosophers—the spiritual, the daring, the craven, the mad—have left us their books, letters, diaries, grocery lists; and I don’t think I know what their world was like. They adorn my world. They are mine absolutely, and yours absolutely; they are not themselves.

Once I wanted to be famous, “immortal,” as they say (and the earth laughs, knowing that Shakespeare and Homer are like the black ants on my porch in upstate New York, one evening 20 years ago; do I remember the special ones?) Now, alive, it makes no difference if people are thinking of me; if I imagine they’re thinking of me. I’ve had some practice imagining this, trying to wring pleasure or comfort from it, but it makes no difference. What makes a difference is if someone speaks, if someone touches me.

So I’ll be forgotten. I only mourn that I won’t keep forgetting. This is a poem I once knew by heart.

A slumber did my spirit seal;

I had no human fears:

She seemed a thing that could not feel

The touch of earthly years.

No motion has she now, no force;

She neither hears nor sees;

Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,

With rocks, and stones, and trees.

-William Wordsworth


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