New Year’s Day. No television, or newspaper, to remind me of the world outside. No news-of-the year in review. I can tell myself better lies than that. Nineteen seventy-seven. Seven years to 1984. Time enough for our bodies to regenerate themselves, for all our cells to die and be reborn. Thirty-three years to the year 2000. Christ’s age when he was crucified. Time, and its mysterious parallels. Its fist upon the door.
Jimmy Carter is knocking. Do his initials make you nervous? Look at the clock. We have an appointment to keep. The nation no less than the planet, even if, as a nation, we imagined our birthright to be all of time and space, frontier without end, green silks and warm winds —
and as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away and gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailor’s eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder. (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)
For the last time in history? We exaggerate our discoveries, and most beautifully. America is the tallest tale since Atlantis, but hardly man’s last frontier. If we celebrate ourselves that way, we will be brought down. The sound of drums and piccolos deafens us to time’s deep sea roar. But nations, like men, live the consequences of their deeds.
Cancer reminds us; it is the lesson, written in flesh, of partial self-hood, of organs declaring their independence from the whole. When my father lay dying of cancer, I sat vigil beside him, in a hospital room ten stories from the Earth’s warm body, and its harmonies of song. His song, after sixty years, was chill and bitter. He was a failure in his own eyes, who had lost me to a different drummer. Were our rhythms so different, after all? I drink coffee as I write this. What have I learned? To set my veins afire? The struck match of self is the light I write by. The air dances round the flame, I hear musics of traffic and heartbeat and love’s old bones creaking up the stairs. And back of it all, the engines of sleep. And back of that, the furnace of a star, our generous sun, bathing us with light.
Words mirror themselves, forever repeating themselves, and invisible worlds dance between the lines, out to where you hold this page, and touch me, and marry these words to meaning — while scientists plumb the mysteries of telepathy, and presidents the mysteries of power, and America peers at itself in the mirror, one eye jewel and one darkness.
I was asked by a friend last week what the Sixties meant. As we near the end of the Seventies, I’ll hazard an answer. We learned, in the Sixties, how far shouting would take us — our politics were a shout; our drugs a yell piercing the galleries of mind; even love became confused with bodies hollering for union — and it took us far, to where we had not been before. Yet we learn to go farther with a whisper. There is no argument. Nothing to prove. Everywhere, we see ourselves reflected.
This magazine, like our lives, is a dream carved from a dream, and its dream landscape, these pages, is the living symbol of our creative power. It lives, and dies, within you. Kissed by the sun; axed in greed, and necessity; sent through channels; delivered by miracle, a tree takes root. It speaks to your old wound, and to your future. We are angels, in the flush of adolescence. Slightly out of tune. Vaguely beautiful. We are a sheaf of broken mirrors. Leaf through these pages for a glimpse of yourself; what you see reflected is a world dying and another being born. We straddle them, we bridge dimensions — if The New York Times mirrors the third, what shall we call this? — but let no names rise between us. We are not spiritual, or political, or literary. No more than you.
We are journeyers together, ocean faces reflecting our dark and tangled love, our dream of community twisting in the wind. Yet if love and community were watery commandments, and a thousand times we took the shallow for the deep, we’re a thousand disappointments closer to the distant shore, which is no fool’s landing. We shall make it, or go down trying. What’s left, in a world turned to water? The hungry weep; the Earth sobs, too. Every month, we read of another quake. The impossible heat of the planet’s love brings us to our knees in adoration, or terror. We will learn to acknowledge our common bond, or we will perish. It is simple and terrible, like prison and empty bellies. Like flood, and fire. Like crouching in the darkness. Like spreading wings.