Notes from a Small, Dark Room

In 1961 my mother built a bomb shelter in the cellar of our house and filled it with canned goods and jars of water. One afternoon I went in there after being abused by a neighbor kid who flat out hated me because the world gave him permission—who after all wanted a disabled child next door? And so it was the bomb shelter for me. I lay on cool cement and whispered stories to no one. That’s how storying unfolded, talking in the dark, breathing the odor of Army blankets. Who loves you, who doesn’t, where’s a lucky window, how high the sun, my lips moving. To this day I talk to myself. My wife sees me, says, “what are you saying?” I shrug. How can I say? I’m reciting fragments the way some boys skip pebbles. It might be someone else’s words. Maybe Ezra Pound: “And the days are not full enough/And the nights are not full enough/And life slips by like a field mouse/Not shaking the grass”… Or sometimes it’s just me: “Trace the veins of a barberry leaf, that’s Braille enough…” Talking in sidelong darknesses of broken manners, when the day is insufficient, the minutes not feeding me… Up river go the words, the lonely words. Oh anything will do. Kropotkin I love you. I have small hands. How the kings of France loved tennis.

Have me you birds. Sit for a time in the Agora thinking of Aristotle’s wrists. I believe he looked at them before he spoke. My favorite bird is the Phoebe. I like Miss Dickinson. I’m fond of the late Finnish poet Pentti Saarikoski. He imagined snakes cleaning his ears. Some poets love the snake properly. I like to spread my ten fingers across my face. “Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.” (Werner Heisenberg) Don’t give up. Keep moving. Even in a small dark room.

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