notes from a clean young man

“the mystery of life is not something to be solved but rather embraced”

laying very still in his large bed pressed to the corner of the room, below the window out of which the endless similar white homes stretched beyond his vision or imagination, mr. grieves felt as if he had made a startling, profound discovery. he moved his arm up and down starting at the fingers, closing his eyes, feeling the weight of it move, a smile creeping onto his face. he felt that if someone from a far distant land saw him moving as such and knew nothing of him or man or movement, that this being would still have to conclude that here, this thing that moved this part of itself, was a great machine invented for this purpose explicitly, by design. thinking this, jonathan dared not suspect the possibility of telling such a man anything, thereby showing he could speak – what would the man think then?! were would this feeble mind wander. after the arm had been lifted several times and dropped several times he drank his stiff tea and got up on to the old hairball of a couch – dusty, gray, neglected – and rolled himself a cigarette, smelling the sticky, musky tobacco, staring at the weaves of brown hairs that made it up. smoking, he looked out at the clear fall day, the crisp air cutting up the clouds, the sun not seen but yet lighting up the whole picture. he looked at the blue of the sky. what is it that makes it blue, he thought. the gentle ease of wonder overcame him in its easy swell, the comfortable nostalgia of having felt, of feeling now, of the sky that was there, that had been there as long as he could remember, that he expected to see forever. and what had the blue sky done to him when he was 5? 20? 30? 50? sadness – a tickle in the wrinkled corner of his left eye, a unsteady palpitation, a roughness in the throat, a feeling as if giving way like the old roof boards of a house in the air when a heavy man steps in – comes over him: why had he never stopped to feel it then, to write it down, to take notes? but all one can do is be here now, be here now, and, as the kettle whistled, and he got up to make instant oatmeal, that is what he would do. for the rest of the day jonathan sat on the couch, feeling the sun, wondering with the blue of the sky.

around 4 pm the next day, jonathan had not moved. he was now hungry and could no longer sleep it off, but getting up to go to the kitchen seemed impossibly difficult. the hallway to the kitchen, the shiny parquet that he had painstakingly installed 15 years before, on his hands and knees covered in glue, swearing; the hammers and screw drivers – anything to make the pieces fit – all that had grown dim. it was dark, dusty, far-off. he fell back asleep.

dreaming now, jonathan remembered a phone call of 40 years prior:

“alright johnny, you asked for it: Bangladesh, tomorrow. see ya at 5……AM that is!” he heard the click of the phone, felt it ring, the spirals of bright high sound rippling throughout the room. he looked at his muscles in the mirror, his light stubble, his big grin. what was that? he thought. holy sh–! that was dan! he paced in circles smoking, drinking from his pot of afternoon coffee, drank straight from the pot. what would he tell his job? but how silly to think of work at this time – he was going to a foreign land, to Bangladesh. where was that? asia? he bounced up and down, the kitchen bright in the afternoon. he danced, really: arms flailing, the reflection of his shirt buttons skipping on the wall, the light taking up all the space where other people kept plates, pots, pans, little plastic oregano shakers and cutting boards, milk – food other than condiments, utensils made of shiny steel.

although he had not seen dan for years he was not nervous to see him.

going to the plane in the cab he thought they would never get there. the sun was not up, the hills were barely discernable, the buildings were all boarded up, iron gates, locks, fences, and a car passed every few minutes.

on the plane he ate the peanuts and tried to make out Massachusetts as it disapeared, becoming little squares of matter, brown for homes, blue for ocean, green for grass, or hills, or football fields. he thought of dragons, of gongs, of pointing people speaking incomprehensibly, waving chickens that hung from poles; crowded buses, smelly streets. strange fruit. did Bangladesh have chickens?

and it is my first thought that these people, whose skin is different, whose height is so much less, who somehow are like me, that these people have a different language. the high-pitched calls of neighbor to neighbor, stores selling coca-cola besides products with the strange, flowery language on it – so plain, obvious. but yet what does it mean? it is the language: in our language it is as if we can say nothing new. women in modest dress, many torn but all smiling and laughing and, yes, pointing. these must be beautiful things they sell, as if every word, so precious in its appearance, like gold appearing suddenly, written by nature like the vine of a tree suddenly growing, as if these letters must correlate to a very sweet canned beet, or turnip, or peach. listen to them speak – how unlike us, chained, we can only bring out words that have a meaning attached to them, but this language is different and in schools they study great writers who are unheard of to us – writers unlike anything we know, like dragons or dinosaurs in the flesh towering over our cities, appearing out of the water beneath out little bridges. they are different – these women, and i have loved two women and one beautiful, emerald eyes, a virtual sculpture of beauty, and one less so but so intriguing, smart, illuminating the stars on those midnight walks with her passion, her mind, so that the night would hold us warmly. and inside every can a beautiful, strange fruit. these women are different and perhaps their love did not give the drippings of immortality to the eager tongue, like sticky honey, or bitter lemon, but gave the whole pie – bang, there you go – love, life, sex and what else can you ask for. never, never would they leave, perhaps.

he woke to the thick latin voice, the black drapes making the room blue in the afternoon. what a beautiful thing to listen to a song so pretty, wafting, full of life, both joy and sorrow, in a language one does not know a word of, the voice like a spoon meandering in honey, the nylon-strung Spanish guitar, the tapas tapping, the piano, the old standup bass all light as air, plucked, tapped, by the wind, the song sung outside, for pennies, perhaps stopping any second, fragile. the smoke of the cigarette in the black drapes. that is where it says. forever. with every thick, gray puff, like honey, the black made darker, the room a heavier blue. and the curtains themselves? rosy, magenta, thinned by the light. filtering it. the curtains lifted, the pale blue returns. the room bathed, transparent, light, the walls return to a bright white – the day returns. when i lift my hand day returns.

outside it is chilling cold. the buildings hunch over there faded colors, ashamed, the brown paint peeling, the roofs whitened by the sun. year after year. the rats are scurrying away, huddling the trash, the rotten cheese, the soggy bread. people walk by arm in arm, having come out of a play, a movie, huddled close, perhaps off to have sex, to watch a movie, to play. there are trees planted every so many slabs of concrete. there are fresh leaves on the ground and bare branches. flocks of birds fly over head, leave, another flock comes. the barbershop door across the street is opened for a customer, an old man who takes off his hat, for whom the seat is wiped, for whom a smiling lady motions to please sit down: a haircut received, a payment rendered, a smile, the hat goes back on, the door is opened. it is five pm. in europe the bells resound off the ancient walls, the walls cracki
ng, revealing dirt, watermarks. going up unnoticed as people smoke, drink coffee in cafes, the rivers flow, banked in stone, the birds chipping at feed from tourists, the bells resounding, time continues. goes forth.

upon waking up, he realized that he had not eaten or drank anything for several days. for that matter, he had not moved.

upon waking up he could not make it to the stroller beside the couch which could help him to the cupboard where he could open it and get the cup that could be filled with water that he could drink, and it didn’t matter because he just wanted to watch the world and so he watched and eventually he just kind of kicked over looking at the blue sky, smiling.