Essay

I and Thou [a Short Story]

 

ONE

I pray before a triptych at the Met, Ave Maria Plena Gratia, genuflecting as Gabriel before the Queen of Heaven. I remember having been told that Protestants and Jews were too materialistic–I had family who said as much at the tables we’d sit around for holiday dinners, most of them religious holidays turned into secular events. I do not want to imagine what Protestants or Jews thought or said about Catholics, which is not to say most or many or even any had to have said something derogatory about Catholics. I cannot even say that most or many or however few Catholics said anything about Protestants and Jews that Jews and Protestants would not like.

I know my immigrant friends from the Soviet Union are more materialistic than they would ever admit, ever be able to admit. Humans are not beings of spirit, but beings of material, only material, therefore relationships have a habit of becoming means to ends. This is always present in every communist philosophy–materialism, right? Communism is a materialist philosophy. You know what I am saying, so do not pretend that you do not. That is for any Soviet formed objector who refuses to understand that Communism is as materialistic–perhaps even more so, in its metaphysical constructs, a seeming contradiction, than Capitalism.

What is it that I am saying–to say or not to say in spite of objections. Do I think the same as I did then, about Protestants, about Jews, about any of the others–everyone is other to every other person in the world, and that is true in spite of categorical arrangements. What did I think then when I was a boy around the table at home, at my friends’s families’s tables? Are questions actual or are they pretense when we ask them about ourselves, why do I always retreat into this we, we, we, when it is only ever I, I, I acting out what I perform on the stages of my life? How could I think the same as I had years and years ago? And not even about the things I agree with–I still love Hamlet, but it is not the same play it was when I first read it, it could not even be the same play today, if I were to re-read it, that it was last month when I finished it for a seventh time, I keep track. The things I imagines I think the same about years and years later could not really be the same way, with the same conviction.

I think as would the monks of the middle ages, or as a hermit, perhaps in a cave in the mountains. I remember a portrait of Jerome by Da Vinci, the former who was the first comprehensive translator of the Canonical biblical texts into Latin and a friend of Augustine. Jerome is in anguish in the wilderness with a lion ready and waiting nearby, and with his candle and book and quill also nearby outside of his cave. A city is seen in proportion to its distance, Da Vinci one of the first to introduce perspective and the relativity of distance into his painting. I remember a print of this when I was boy. I felt for him, bad for him, related to him in my onliness, sometimes in my room as he was in his cave, or so I like to tell it, knowing the sympathy it might evoke.

I had a dream the other day about Jerome in the wilderness; there’s always someone in the wilderness. I recall a Sister in Catechism class telling us the life of the Baptist. I liked the Baptist when I was a boy. The Baptist spent a lot of time in the wilderness with the Essenes, a radical monastic group of celibate Jews in the desert. I never forgot that Jesus was a Jew, as also the Church did not forget, how Holy Thursday was the commemoration of the Last Supper and how the nuns in Catechism class had told us that this was a seder meal and that it was Passover,as we said in English, and that it was a commemoration of the Angel of Death passing over the homes anointed with the sacrificial blood of a ram at their thresholds, and how this precipitated the Exodus out of bondage from Egypt at close of the plagues that God head sent to beset Pharaoh in his arrogance and stubbornness . . .

In His own time, he moves, he acts, and the Hebrews endured for how many generations we were taught, I forget, Let My People Go, Moses said. One young nun I had in my classroom at Saint Therese’s had even made the connection as had many in the Civil Rights movement, between the Hebrews and, as many still said, the Negroes, or as many others still said, the Coloreds . . . Negro has an antiquarian ring in common with saying, the Hebrews.

Black was in currency, to be black and proud, to assert black power, to have black ideas, to act on black political aspirations within the collection or coalition of black voters, the black vote, we said when black people became black numbers to count; we had always had black music? Black actors, black actresses (we still feminized the noun) . . . I used to say, and have not in many years, that Sidney Poitier had done as much to form, in-form, my ideas and sentiments about black people as anyone ever had or could, I think I thought, or at least imagine now that I did, and so I say. More than Martin Luther King? Of course.

Yet, everything herein on black, about black, being black, living black, doing black,I could not . . .and even then to be black in America was not exactly in the forms or frames in the specifics of what had existed peripherally in with by Negritude. This most of us would have considered no never mind–and that us herein included most of the Negro Colored Black African-Americans. But then back in the seventies, I remember that some of us used to say that we were just numbers, that you’re just a number, man. I remember telling a cop my Social Security number when he asked for my name–I purposely did not carry indetification because Man must be Free–yes, Man then was Human. I used to say to cops that they had to tell me why they were asking for my I.D. But very, very politely.

Jeremiah became a friend in reading when I was a teenager. The Lamentations fit my mood, pretty much the zeitgeist too. Yes, I read from the weeping prophet and saw the relevance in the today of my time, my generation–what di we generate for our future, this now of this contemporaneity; or, when I was younger, I imagined I could see prophetically, feel as if I do still . . .  then and now are one time when time is considered prophetically.

We have sold our water for money! Thank you President Trump–DAPPL is right in line with the Lamentations, what to lament, what cry out about, I have published a broadside called The Crier, one political diatribe after another to hand out to people . . . the greatest impediment to social harmony in America are its Monied and Power elites–but this is for another time, another place, another essayer or narrator–I am not telling a story, though, am I? Yet, without plot does not mean without narration, and every narration contains exposition too, does it not?

 

TWO

Jerome stands above my side of the bed in the dream looking down on me watching you (this is to you, your form–all that about Velasquez, you know–we made it to the Prado last summer in Madrid . . . this was written a few years ago in a journal I had been keeping at the time. I see him but do not move my eyes from your form, the line of your torso in the street light lit room, the bed by the window facing the floodlight that bounces off the wall to meet the street light on the bed. I hear him say something in the dream. The lion the lion! The medieval galleries are among my favorites at the Met. I love our day trips to the Cloisters. I find myself sometimes saying a prayer before a triptych on wood . . . the Louvre was the only place in Paris we went to twice.

I wake from a dream where I had been wandering in a desert. I don’t usually dream of deserts or dream of wandering, but in this dream I was doing one in the other . . . I watch you lying naked along the edge of the bed nearest the windows, Velasquez has nothing on my eyes. The light shines on you as well as the wall perpendicular to the windows, a triptych of frames, I imagine an altar panel in wood from the middle ages, I recollect the fragments of medieval sculpture at CLUNY in Paris that February–terminally gray, I recall having said. I remember the room Marie Antoinette was kept in before she was guillotined. I tried to imagine being guillotined–I did not want to continue doing so. I then imagined mobs of American Girondists guillotining Wall Street CEOs in squares in Manahattan. I smiled. I liked it. It pleased me to no end. But Americans are very, very fucking stupid!

La Concierge . . .

I see the gray stones in gray light under gray skies in Paris that February. The sun decided to shine on only our last day, the day she puked in the street in the morning after breakfast on our way back to our room, was it bad snails from the night before, I do not know, it was a cute place, tiny, really, the owner was sweet, the food was good I think I can recollect . . .

Paris was beautiful even if gray for nine days, overcast horizon to horizon, as far as our eyes could see from atop the Arc du Triomphe, from atop Montmartre, just below Sacre Coeur.

Gray, gray and more gray. Terminally gray for days . . . how many days without the sun, without foiliage, no green on the trees, who the fuck goes to Paris in February? We would go to watch the Eiffel Tower shut off when we found out when the City of Paris turns off the lights, and we did stand on the sidewalk along a wall of L’Ecole Militaire, where Napoleon went to school, to watch the light show from the Eifel Tower and wait for it to go dark.

What then do I say, do I do, and why do what I should? I have not determined this should, have I? I do not. No one does, not really. Does anyone have it in him to abdicate all responsibility to the shoulds and the woulds of his life? I have and I haven’t found the courage. There are enough people who try to make out of this special abdication a lack of courage, saying that it is not really courage to refuse to live up to Super-Ego impositions–I am losing my conviction for this argument.

A few more words.

They do say that it is a form of cowardice not to live up to the shoulds of one’s life . . . but who are they and who am I? Who are we in this social responsibility, the responsibility each of us has to another:

I and thou, you and I, this I can take; we is a mistake if it is not I and Thou. The turn was awfully quick here.

The culmination perhaps too rapidly achieved? More questions from readers. From here on this is your text, if you have not already begun to realize that it was this way from the beginning?

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