Sometimes I don’t know who to be: the editor, speaking for the magazine; the writer, speaking for himself; neither, speaking for my rawness with words that go bump in the night.
The writer keeps notebooks that the editor keeps him from. (It’s a bumpy ride; hang on. — Ed.)
So much schooling. It takes years to shake off, but never completely. The spiritual journey becomes a curriculum, too — life a “test” or a “lesson,” or a problem to be solved. Teachers everywhere, with their idiosyncrasies and demands and harsh grades. Enlightenment a prize.
Ron: “The main spiritual problem is what to do with your cock.”
Dying was healthy. He’d die at least twice a day, more if he could manage it: folding up his senses like a tent, pissing on the flames, leaving no trace of himself. The rest of the time he’d live with minimum effort: scanning headlines, reading minds, walking on air to keep his shoes from wearing out.
Me: What happens to the darkness in the morning?
Mara (5): It goes into the clouds.
Me: What if there’s no clouds?
Sara (3): It goes into the sun.
Wild dogs tear at the heart. The moon is full and the mind empty, unprotected, shining back at me but I don’t want to see. Follow the thought backwards to the hidden source shining in the depths of time: oh no I can’t, too too bright, no sunlight this, no lover’s glee, dreamy luminescence, TV glow. This is the soul’s own unblinking, unthinking truth, my own full moon: my lover, my murderous mother, queen of time, mistress of the night that never leaves me, bandit of sleep. My dreams unwind like bandages, my wounds are wings — or is that a dream of love as distant as the moon? That men have walked there, what is that to me?
Mara: Dad, do some people eat other people?
Me: Yes, some do.
Mara: Are they good for you?
I was a stranger to myself, and knocked at the door of my forgotten longing. The one inside opened it, and though he didn’t recognize me, held out his arms.
Our embrace took us backwards through time, to when we were the same child, in the same body, not yet afraid, wondering now what had changed.
He wrote stories for her, which she read late at night, when he was asleep beside her, turning the pages as quietly as the fluttering of an eye, the gentle rustling of sheets, and she moved her hand to her belly and he moved across the land of dreams, in an old-fashioned train whose seats were made of human skin, and stroked herself between her parted dream, the wetness condensing on the window he pressed his face against, quicker now, the smoke from the engine and the hypnotic swaying of the train making him sleepy, her back arched, the wetness a great river with tributaries spreading everywhere in the dark, her hand unanchored, a life of its own he thought, yawning, his body melting into the seat he realized had always waited for him as she waited now, turning the page.
Old Atlantis talking from the side of her mouth, wiping the ocean from her lips, reminiscing about the past: boring, boring.
Pam: “Courage is reaching for a hand you can’t see.”
He thought about his mother, where she went at night, if ever she flew low over the desert and the cornfields and the delta, faster than light as dreamers do, to find him hovering uncertainly above his body, pulling at the darkness like a sheet.
Why bother with other worlds, orbiting other suns? Science fiction is who we are: the far-flung galaxies live in the mind; there are as many stars as thoughts; and all our journeys are plotted. Is the rocket reaching for the moon more amazing than one hand reaching for another? Is she less alien because her breath mingles with mine somewhere in space? Like plants, we need water, light, and love. Nourished by what is seen and unseen, what improbable creatures we are, swimming in these bodies, mostly water, in orbit around each other, eyes glued to telescopes that aim at distant thoughts and feelings, proudly giving them names, picking out from the blackness something that seems to make sense. Our books explain it and well-paid people talk about it as foolishly as if they lived on another planet, which they do. This is ten, ten thousand, ten million planets and this very thought falls tonight from ten million skies unseen to the damp ground, to ten million intelligent creatures, some asleep, some pretending to be awake, a few really awake. On how many worlds is there intelligent life? In how many lives are there intelligent worlds? Light travels at the speed of light and darkness travels just as fast, for light needs darkness. But the darkness that leads from one thought to the next we seldom welcome. We say we want the light until we get it and then we say it burns too bright. So, space travel is practical, a journey from loneliness to absorption and back again. We are flung out like stars at the Beginning, when God’s face was smooth as the beauty who thought her angel face would save her, and now finds herself with a man who will only pet beauty if it’s tied and tame, her beauty a light his darkness reveals behind closed doors and colored curtains, with the appalling lie that it’s safer to be afraid than alive, as if the light could be kept from coming through, or kept from darkness’ smile. Yet there’s a truth that circles her like a moon, half its face hidden, illuminating his life in phases he doesn’t understand but can sing about in his dream voice, rising and falling on his sleeper’s breath; across three octaves he’s unafraid, inventing new instruments as he goes, of string and bone and time, dark hollows, smooth lacquers in which everything shines.
At the sea, Mara and Sara hold my hands tightly in the pounding surf. We’re only in water up to our knees, but there are strong winds and a powerful undertow, and as the water rushes back out, Sara asks, “Where are we going?”