Thursday, May 6, 2010
The Impossible Dream
I was admiring used books through the window of a large corner shop in an old downtown district, wishing I could go in. There were some beautiful volumes — ancient encyclopedias and bibles, atlases, literature in different languages, dictionaries, old bindings, and long narrow aisles leading away. But the store wasn’t open. So I crossed the street, and on the opposite corner I found a bookstore almost identical to the one I’d just seen. This one was open. I was greeted by a rather small young man, very thin, who told me that his original plan was to open a market in that space and sell organic foods, but that at the last minute something made him change his mind. “Feel free to look around,” he said, and then he went behind what looked like an ice cream counter, ducked down, and started laughing about something. I assumed he’d found a box of white plastic spoons. His laughter subsided. When he stood up again, he was holding a violin. “It will take me awhile to learn to play this,” he said. “Maybe you can look around on your own?” I told him I understood — and then, to a haunting melody I’d never heard, I started to browse. The first book I picked up was a volume printed in Spanish and published in Chile. It was very heavy and very old. Much to my surprise, just a few pages in, there was a liquid star chart — a shimmering night sky with cold stars of different magnitudes that I could touch with my hands. I picked another spot in the book at random and found a similar page, but on this one the constellations were more pronounced, and above the diagram were the words “For Sailors.” About this time, another customer came in. He said, “That looks like an interesting book.” I told him it was more than interesting, it was a miracle, all the more so since it had been printed in the nineteenth century. But when I tried to show him the liquid charts, I couldn’t find them. The pages were now ordinary pages — beautiful, to be sure, aromatic, yellow-brown at the margins, but no longer liquid. The customer smiled. I thought that in another life he might have been Cervantes, which made me think of the word cerveza. At any rate, he had a black mustache turned up at the ends, and was wearing the hat of a knight errant. The hat was made of meticulously folded newspaper. The man’s eyebrows were headlines. Viva la Revolución.
Note: Not surprisingly, perhaps, I awakened this morning with a stiff neck. But in art there are many such sacrifices, and I bear them willingly. Also, this seems an appropriate time to mention again the recent release of my new chapbook, The Thing About Strawberries: 31 Dreams. Actually, I think it’s a good time to mention all of my books — those titles scattered along the sidebar, winking like demented stars. I think of them as physical evidence of my time here, which, as we all know, could end in a heartbeat or with my very next breath. Maybe that’s not important — the books, I mean — I really don’t know — but it feels important to me — to say that this is my life, and that I’m living it in the best way I can, that I’m setting it down not as an arrogant or self-absorbed lesson to others, but as a conversation we can return to again and again, when the time is right and the message burns brightest. My dear, dear friends. If you only knew how much your observations and your laughter mean to me. Then, perhaps, you would understand. I am a man. A foolish man. A man who sees liquid stars. What I am not is clever. Every calculation I’ve made has gone awry. And so I simply don’t make them anymore.
5.6.2010 #1 (drawing “Minstrel”)