Chaff

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

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It is useful to look coldly on the bulk of my failures, to keep vigil over it, and listen to it sleep. A failure forgiven slumbers or pretends to sleep, and grows heavy and ripe with time. A peaceful vigil and suggestive of some awesome mystery. Then the nattering thin forms of my unforgiven failures, perched with their whole body tittering on empty bookshelves, numerous.

It is presumptuous, even, to think of having failed. What right, after all, to contemplate other possibilities?

Wisdom is a rock thrown by god. Spare the rod, spoil the child. That lunatics are so rarely blissful is evidence that madness is a kind of knowledge, not its opposite. But I am avoiding autobiography and I have promised myself a cessation of cowardice.

An exchange I cannot forget: in my first year of writing, before my voice had even broken, I was drunk with the--or poisoned by a--or smothered with the pliability of a linguistic world, and in the ecstacy of that dying, thought my relationship with words and ideas was one of ease. A fellow student, I forget all else about the speaker, said this to me after having read a passage I was proud of.

"Wow. Writing must be really difficult for you."

I was stunned. Not at what may have been mere criticism, but at the truth of the insight. There is nothing of ease in me. Language goes begging here.

All save three of these words have added themselves to the sleeping bulk of my failures.
The moments of cowardness, of expediency, or, most hateful of all, cleverness, are centipedes in this cavern of letters.

When fate lifted me up--when I was asked to apply my prayer language to quotidian tasks, to tasks that may have some use, I was fearful. Would my words become thin through use? Would I learn to ape ease? Fears have proven true. I mumble when I should shout. The stress is all wrong. I sound like a foreigner.

But my sins against language, my liturgical lapses, are of no consquence. Another dying, another death. What part does fear play in resignation?

I taught myself fearlessness early on. It's a trick like any other, like juggling. I can tell fortunes with a deck of playing cards. As a five year old I had climbed a neighbor's shed only to be paralyzed by the height. Hours later the neighbor returned, plucked me like a kitten off the roof, and delivered me unto my mother. I was furious. The next day my mother found me atop a fence post, perhaps four feet above the earth, staring the distance down. When asked after my purpose, I replied: "I'm learning not to be scared of heights." Mom laughed and told me it didn't work like that.

But it does. I'd go out like Icarus if I had wings.

The brave pretend that the bullets do not hurt. The bitterness of losing fear must acknowledge the hurt, and a nostaligia for human pretence.

All the failures hurt. Nothing is forgiven. Our worth is less than a single ounce of our strength. What good has come of any of it? Goodness is a word I should not invoke. I am only allowed to speak of knowable things. Bottle. Necklace. Ribbon. Book. Shell. Bowl. Map. Frame. Bowl. Window. Glass. Doornob. Hands and a face. Hands and a face.

1 Comments:

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

hey william,
i don't usually read blogs or internut stuff and certainly never leave comments, no reason for these things being true on any conscious level, they just are i suppose, but here goes. last part of your entry here reminded me of part of a poem i like, and i am always looking for an excuse to share something like that...i hope the connection i made isn't too banal and i am sure you will recognize it:
"For when the traveler returns from the mountain-slopes into the valley,/he brings, not a handful of earth, unsayable to others, but instead/some word he has gained, some pure word, the yellow and blue/gentian. Perhaps we are here in order to say: house,/bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window-/at most: column, tower...But to say them, you must understand,/oh to say them more intensely than the Things themselves/ever dreamed of existing. Isn't the secret intent/of this taciturn earth, when it forces lovers together,/that inside their boundless emotion all things may shudder with joy?"

it's from the Mitchell translation of the ninth elegy.

 

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