"The stars are threshed, and the souls are threshed from their husks."

Monday, June 26, 2006

Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters

This is a retreat. That must be squarely faced. In spring, I have been busy as spring, it is true, but summer has cruelly called and the question must be answered. Whither the fruits? Have I grown wilder, hopped cloven feet to the mountain top to rain my rank goat-piss over hill and dale, or have I become as unbodied as steam from life’s kettle?

My prose then, at present, in issue and intent, is autobiographical. I am near the end of my first full day at the farm. The cicadas are well into night’s warning. The day’s labor has been the easy construction of a consciously flimsy (and therefore mobile) electric fence, so that the horses may graze our vineyard’s edges. Mom is playing Florence Nightingale tearing up sheets into thin strips outside. The thin strips will then be tied at intervals between the electric fence posts. It is a persistent but necessary warning to our horses. Pause-- while I join her.

She is using the chore as an instructional activity for her two autistic wards, Reece and Tony, and so I may continue this resigned explication of my circumstances, fears, ideas, and doubts, limited, thankfully, by geography (2046 E. Farrelley Rd) and time (today).

This morning I set to work (as one sets to work on dessert, workmanlike but with distinct pleasure) on one story and one novella, bound together between two tattered covers the shade of yellow that so wishes it were brown, by J.D. Salinger, both from the narrative perspective of Buddy Glass, and both concerning his elder brother, Seymour Glass, a character possessed since childhood with the kind of effortless spiritual and poetic gifts that ensure that his premature suicide and spoonful of mature work become more important to his heirs than their own shamefully long-lived and long-winded lives. Seymour Glass is, second hand, that type of child whose gifts are so immediate and irreconcilable, and whose sensitivity is so complete, that he is less a human being than a lesson in fate. But what is to be learned from fate? And so goes on the relentless scab picking that inspires so much of human thought. I set the completed book down an hour ago, and it is responsible for this brief tongue loosening.

The careful reader will detect, even in the reader’s own invocation, that this missive relies heavily on Salinger for its measured, self-examining tone. Reading is so essential to me because I can borrow the voice of another when I (so frequently) lose my own.

On every blank page a bush burns but is not consumed by its burning. My impulse to write has always been, and is now confessedly, religious.—But just now, in my attempt to face the bush boldly and quit the manners of stuttering Moses, I take my stumped tongue and run blue-faced through the desert, stuttering Moses, defeated, triumphant, again. The burlesque slavery-house of Egypt is extant on every page as well.

The Salinger belongs to Dalyn, and was tossed in with my effects (three pairs of boxer shorts, five pairs of socks, three shirts, two undershirts, the usual hygene items, the collected short storied of Isaac Bashevis Singer-whose last name, I just now realized, has always, until now, called to mind the sewing machine, and never the verb-, Melville’s Israel Potter, and a collection of translated songs from the Baul, an ecstatic tradition of mystics in rural India. “Poison and ambrosia/of the immortal life/are one and the same/ thing to him./He is dead/while wholly living.” Familiar, but nourishing material. Also, two erratically filled and quite mangled notebooks, the favorite of which suffered the ignoble fate of being left to drown in an ice chest, rescued only after sever disfigurement by my wife.) because the night before I left, we had a lengthy (drawn out somewhat taffy-like owing to the quantity of wine consumed) argument over it. Absurd, you might say, that I argued so strenuously about a book I had not yet read (absurd, yet familiar to those truly close to me) but in this case, I, even after reading the book in question, am certain I was correct. The argument? I suggested that Salinger’s writing could be understood and appreciated as literature. Dalyn, perceiving some unnamed but probably existent slight in my application of the word literature, became incensed, and insisted, although without the metaphysical precision, that Salinger’s words were inscribed in fire on the throne of creation, before creation, and were revealed in their perfection, beyond time and human reason, to her at a moment of divine choosing in her youth. Well, Salinger is certainly literature, and what is more, is literary, which is to say, engaged very knowingly and transparently in a process of story and truth-telling that is bound and freed by its conventions.

Who among us do not grow fond of our chains?

Apparently, me. I ought to shut up and give in to my jailer.


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