Other Eyes [Short Fiction]

A man and his manuscript in a cafe in Barcelona. A vacation sometime now several years ago. His mother is still alive, will be for at least another fourteen months when she will expire on his birthday, or so it will have been figured by the neurologist, just what dead is he will have no desire to investigate at that time, will be having had [is that even a tense?] several weeks of this in his journal by her bedside, hooked up, she will have been, to machines beeping incessantly, red, green yellow blue lights flashing flashing. After the confirmation of brain-dead, he will come to the hospital to have her unhookoed from the machine keeping her breathing. He will hold her hand until her heart stops; he will not recall what he thought as he stood by her bedside holding her hand. The doctor who will have disconnected the tubes, a woman from Pakistan, will the tell  him he has been a good son. He will appreciate having heard what she said he will remember.   The manuscript reads:

Eyes to open, eyes to close.  What eyes do I need to see beyond sight, the transcendental? The evidence of things unseen are all around us. The facts invisible are everywhere, are they not? Look and you shall see? Seek and I will find.

I speak with my eyes, my eyes have a way with words, my words themselves have eyes to see their way. But if the Truth does not need physical eyes, the physiological fact of sight to be seen, then what good are the eyes we cling to out of vanity and misguided hope?

Lear was a fool. I am a fool. I’m always opening my eyes on the world to look. I look and look and I do not find. He was a fool from the start. I am no different in how I start everything I do. His hubris leads to a kind of blindness; there is still a way to see in blindness, the kind of blind seeing that keeps us from seeing what needs to be seen, what we should have focus for, point and shoot eyes no more. What good were Lear’s eyes when he saw no better Oedipus who takes out his eyes when he sees what hecould not see, did not see although he should have—there is justice in Oedipus’s decision? We conclude otherwise because we are weak? We certainly do not have the intelligence to see what Oedipus understood before he took out his eyes. There was courage there.

My terminal blindness leads to my perpetual hubris. I wish I had other eyes to see. I remember Tiresias is blind but he sees; all seers see when we do not, where we do not, what we do not. Arjuna knows before the Battle of Righteousness how all has been clouded by desire, how the soul is blinded by our desires.

Lear had eyes to see but no sight to have seen what he needed to–to see is to understand, to understand, to stand under, to hold up, to feel by touch, by weight pressing down on us, sense transference we might suspect. Suspicions we imagine are another sense we can use to know. Lear’s suspicions blinded him although he did not walk into tables. Lear’s fool leads him through his self-imposed blindness–not the self imposed blindness of Oedipus, but perhaps he should have. Would it have saved him the loss of Cordelia? Odysseus seeks Tiresias in the underworld, he who sees without eyes. A seer sees without them. What then are my eyes for when I look and see not, but then what about the seeing that happens when I listen . . . ? Lear did not understand what he should have until he stood under Cordelia and held her up in his arms, dead weight the horrible lintel to the post of his post-understanding. I wish I knew moe often what to do with my eyes, but also what to do with the eyes inside my mind.

His mother will not have opened her eyes once in the time she will have been in the hospital. He will come every day by her bed listening to the nurses at Lutheran hospital express opinions to him they had no business expressing but the help of the stupid is always going to be awkward and clumsy.Too many of them were really idiots without any of the redeeming qualities of Myshkin, whose idiocy we know through Dostoevsky was only an ironic idiocy . . . 

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What If You Were Another Kind of Man?

The Minutes Buried

[A Short Story]

 

If I were another kind of man, I might write something completely different from what I have here written, what I had written in the past, about my review, this literary review that had begun as a literary essay review, one I originally called The Literary Essay Review, the literary essay being one of the forms of writing I had had and have had the greatest affinities for, one and another affinity I developed over time, yet at a time, as I will have remembered some time after this, when the essay, as handed down from Montaigne, yes, he did hand down the form, passed it on . . . how we have imitated it (?) in style–what is it about style that remains so difficult to discuss, explicate, what is it in the contents of Montaigne’s essays, his voice . . . Montaigne’s writing was the axis on which all generic activity revolved, turning, turning, turning, the world is always gira, gira, Angelo used to say.

By here I mean–what do I mean when I say, ‘here.’ Where is here? Here is wherever you are. And tat means now what? I am here, not there, concentric circles of here-ness displacing there-ness. But what I mean by what is held in my hand, a copy of the About Us entry I have written, the hard-copy text of it I have in my hand . . . to read or not to read has been my to be or not, I could say, I might have said as well. What would he have said if he knew I was reading this to you? Another me would ask. I cannot say, will not be able to, actually, this not yet having happened . . . past, present and future in writing merely illusions.

Third-person I . . .

What he wrote at a time when we were together in Graduate school–I cannot say where or when exactly to the minutes, the moment that either pen touched page, paper, usually of some good quality, or his finger tips touched the keys of his laptops keypad. You too have these questions, or questions related to, perhaps stemming from, general inquiries into these topics, subjects, themes, what else do I have in words to say what I have been trying to say about this man and his writing experiences, past and present and future writing, or simply what he was trying to say–always an is, isn’t it, this was that is. The past is not past, is it, William? This in itself another essaying, to essay about the essay? He asks, has asked, once asked me directly. He has written a lot about what it means to write expository prose, narrative, anti-narrative–is lyric fiction actually anti-narrative or simply a-narrative?

I do know, more or less, what he was disposed to writing at a time back at university, further back when we were undergraduates together; and that was one or another kind of literary essay, to try or not to try; to put on trial–every essay is a trial of an idea as court trials that try the accused–I recall the devil’s advocate of Canon Jurisprudence. And it was then that he kept a journal, all journal writing being a form of the essay, particularly literary in his sense of it, how to keep a journal, what a journal was to be or not to be, he had even edited a number of college club reviews where the essay was the principle form exposed–

All essays themselves expository, thus a kind of exhibitionism, no? To expose one’s self in the exposition of the subject. There was one he recalls (as he had recalled, had recalled or recollected from time to time . . . shells on the beach, stones on his path, twigs with leaves still attached, perhaps in his walks after a thunderstorm . . . and then, with fondness, he remembers The Language and Linguistics Quarterly, which he had intended to publish on the equinoxes and solstices, but only one made it into print, and that was the spring issue–in fact, as with his current review, which has now changed its focus and has become a review of literary short fiction, flash fiction in particular, as well as short-short stories, as he likes to say when he recognizes that the length of a piece might exceed the limit that others have put on flash fiction, a limit he himself adheres to, somewhere in the vicinity of a thousand words? Why does he worry about these trivialities, you might think? I do not ask this question. Everything that goes on, goes on by way of indirection.

The linguistics quarterly and other reviews he has edited for hard copy and on line publication were mostly in the market of publishing essays, most of which–I should say, all of which–were written by him. He is everything for his currently published literary review–and it is this that takes precedence, the literariness of the texts, of the collection or collecting.  He has been the entire staff of other literary reviews too, he has been publishing on line for more than a decade, now, or so he recollects through my recollection . . . and now again he is the Publishing Editor and chief contributor as well as managing editor–all the tasks taken upon each of these roles have been subsumed by him here, and now he takes the opportunity, in the About Us section that houses a number of letters from him describing intent, to explain purpose or to define terms, or to put limits on the magazine, the journal, the review, the whatever you want to call it so long as what you call it is relevant and appropriate, and there is something we used to like calling appropriate that is still valid to qualify. Just what the other literary genres are that he publishes–what a literary review could be, should be, must be, even has been taken up in several places in the review . . . what more could be said by him, should be said by him–a habit here of questioning that I have picked up from him, have adopted or adapted as my own . . . how is adoption not adaptation? What should I be saying? What shouldI have already said that you might have wanted me to say to you about him, about his writing, about his review? Herein he says what he says about writing and publishing his review (to see again . . . what we would not give to see our lost loved ones again, to see our youth again, to see again the calamities that have befallen us before they happened, they did happen without our having seen, no? At least what we should have seen, “Why does Oedipus blind himself?” I remember a student in my classics class asked, and the answer that Tomasz gives in Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being that I will not repeat here [for some immediate sense of brevity, whether misplaced or not]):

A literary web journal dedicated to the literary essay, he says, has said, did say, could not have avoided saying, will certainly say again at another time and in another place, another journal, his own journal, the one he carries with him everywhere he goes with pen in his bag; yes, another essay published elsewhere, what he has to say, thinks he must, What means this? He asks in imitation of someone he has forgotten whom. What could I be saying here, he adds; now in the hour of my discontent over what I see as the current state of literacy, and he does lament the degradation in the attention to letters in our schools; or how myopic we have become, yes, he adds, and iconoclastic–yes, iconoclastic with our traditions, he says, which I have never accepted without question as much and as often as too many today denounce it, deny it, refuse it without question or inquiry. Who of any kind of intelligence accepts his tradition in such a way that many students of students of students of Post-post Structuralist lament or critique assume say insist, all of it or most of it being the old setting up of straw dogs, never a reality, only an a fiction made to suit their pursuit of hegemony.

Words, words and more words come from me, have come from  him I recall, with an ease, and effortlessness, not so much from me as from him this way, long streams of words, a gift for gab, one bartender in Brooklyn had said to him how long ago now? Who remembers?

Writing is everything for him; it has been everything for me as well . . . writing is all, the text is all? Any writing dedicated to the proposition that all of humanity is created equal would be one thing, he has said in the past in the About Us section of the review on line–he publishes on line . . . but certainly not all literature or literatures or literacies are equal–they have never been and could never be, he has insisted. That our differences do not outweigh our similarities or our sameness, even if they do out number them in persons is easy enough for any man or woman from anywhere to see. Asking questions in this culture often means something else other than looking for an answer, he said, just the other day, in fact, over a pint of a farmhouse saison at the bar at The Red House Restaurant in Cambridge . . . [.] Why were we in Cambridge, I do not have to answer, do I?

We have become too practiced in the art of diverting answers with questions, with avoiding having to learn by perpetually asking them. What am I trying to say? He would not wonder if some might ask. That would be too condescending. How is this proposition managed in this world, one where all people are equal?

Am I crazy to think that a literary review, whether dedicated principally to the literary essay or to flash fiction, can even take off–I am reminded of why Led Zeppelin called themselves Led Zeppelin. Can such a review have an audience?  Can it reach an audience larger than two handfuls? He asks his readers. Anything literary in this culture is in jeopardy of becoming extinct soon.

He pauses. I pause. I am poised to listen to him, as I usually am poised to listen to him, as many are so poised to listen to him; he has always held great audiences when he spoke, particularly in bars with pints and noisy aberrant chatter and laughter. How do you read? What do you read? What do you like to read? What do you think you should read, or equally importantly, what do you think everyone should read?

I am not going to pretend that there is an editorial staff other than me, he says to his readers, you the reader being one of his readers, although he is talking to you in abstentia, at least in an absence that is not the same as when he is talking to you directly from his review. Absence is presence was an essay topic he broached once more than a decade ago, when he considered the absence of the Twin Towers and just what that could mean, did mean, had meant for as long as it was relevant for it to mean, words never do say what they mean at, do they?

To be me or not to be me in the writing is not the essence of what I intend with voice–there are more voices than those that can mimic mine in its deepest interiority. How deep can anyone go inside himself he tries has made the effort, it is the selves if the Self one has to touch, relate to, talk with and not just to and at . . . dig down in there; get behind the masks of your selves buried alive inside you.

What can I say about the Review–what do you say about it after having read it. That’s what is important. What do I–should I say other than it has shifted focus from literary and non-fictional political to fictionally political, or is it politically fictional? And here he is addressing another kind of fictionality, yet one related to what fiction is, what it was , has been . . . but, but, and but again. Philosophy is a branch of fiction, no? 

This is still a literary endeavor; it is literary in what it produces, as in literary fiction, flash fiction particularly, literary flash fiction–there was once a question that by its very formative nature flash fiction could not be anything but literary, but I forget who brought up this point one night at the acfe we had been frequenting back in Graduate School, what the points were specifically, I cannot say, but literary fiction of any length was/is what is has been published. The Review is a review of fiction. 

He continues, but what good would it do for you, my hypocrite readers–and do not be offended–to read every word of what he has said thought put down in the About Us section, I cannot say. I do not see this as bearing much fruit, for you to continue to read on what he has said. You could just go to The Falling Leaf Review yourself and see. To see or not to see–I am The Review, he says has said did say will say again and again for as long as he publishes and he does not see this ending anytime soon. What more would anyone need him to say at this juncture–this place, a place; to place or not place, where to be placed, this place, that place, every place no place any place, agin, which place . . . also in place of reading the review, you would have nothing. There is no in place of anything like reading the text itself. Only the text itself is the text itself. And the natural hypocrisy that runs through human nature–we are hypocrites either by nature in the sense of ourselves as a species or human nature which would be habit so long endured or engaged that it masquerades perfectly as nature?

If the review is him, and he has said that the review, it is I, only in French, Louis’s French, it was said, c’est moi, which can translate, it’s me. Yes, it is not, c’est je, but c’est moiWhat then? Read the review? Doesn’t everything a writer writes tell you something and possibly everything you need to know about him? What happens here happens for you to know; what is, is–what if I were Hamlet? you should ask, not What of Hamlet were I? You disagree? I hate biography as a mode of criticism–I would not care if Dostoevsky fucked goats in Siberia. No, really, it is useless as criticism, biography; although really well written critical biographies have been extraordinary. I do not want to malign biographical criticism or critical biographies because these can be handled differently than the insipid way most biographical data is meant to supplant critique. Let me let this go for now or until something better comes to mind about what I am trying to say about the place of biography in criticism.

Usually, though, biographies of writers tell you nothing of the literary and everything of human neuroses. What am I saying? Why do I need to say what I have thus far said? Is it necessary to try to establish this polemical position–all polemics are distempers of a kind for the polemicist, as much as they are for their targets. Foolish enterprise; but then, the polemicist would probably do better if he did follow folly all the way and not as half-heartedly as he seems to, more serious, too serious, very,very serious.

Anecdotes are anecdotes; a truth, once more, in tautology.

 

Down Palace Walls [A Short Story]

He lives by the principles of universal democratic humanistic co-existence because he is not in a position to live as arbitrarily as his hypocritical self is inclined to do. If he had the means, he would join the hierarchically arranged social structure of economic and power elites, as so many with money or positions of power do, he has said; as anyone in this excruciatingly decadent Totalitarian Bourgeois Capitalist America can be.

Those without real power exert influence, he has said, even if it is only to masquerade as opponents to power so all aligned or allied subversions can be controlled by Power, as so many of the influence mongers of Hollywood do. There is no one on earth more contemptible in his or her prostitution of Self–of his or her role as one of the People–he thinks, than any Hollywood actor or actress, not unless you’re talking about baseball or basketball players, he says, I remember. And I have not forgotten the NFL or tennis stars.

If he were really inclined to support the People against power, he would probably align himself, as he as said in the past, both in earnest and in satirical pose, even his in earnest positions have been tinged with satire–no one but the stupid, the semi-literate or the systematically under educated could take anything he says literally . . . where then has this gone,where then have we come to . . . aligning himself with the more Jacobinistic of the People–We the People . . . 

He has imagined that We should let the new impure blood flow by chopping off one after another actor’s head, if not just shooting a circumscribed number of them one after another on film, creating  short ten minute newsreels of their executions, he has imagined, to be shown on TV or in the movie theaters, he has insisted would be necessary.

The list of basketball or baseball players whose heads he would like to see roll is too long to list here, he would say, as he has in other words at other times–and after the performance of million-dollar hockey players on the New York Rangers not showing up to play hockey against the XXXX XXXX in 20–, not taking anything away from the XXXX, but no one can tell me or him that there were not too many players on the Rangers who were absent shift after shift on the ice game after game. Heads should roll beginning with the coach.

When we talk about machine politics, he wonders why no one discusses the guillotine. Tammany Hall had nothing on the guillotine for democratic maneuvering with power, he thinks as he has had for how long now he will not count. One of the great advances in democracy was the reign of terror, he has said. Who on Wall Street remembers, or is even literate enough today to connect with the history of that time? He asks. Who among them has any fear, an appropriate amorphous fear lurking about in them at least masquerading as a conscience?

But the People will squander or abdicate their responsibility as the People, he believes, and they will do so, he says, for the role more greatly supported by Power or the State, and that is the one of the Public, the Public always the People in service of the State and/or the Elite. What more do you need? He would wonder if he would actually bother to phrase what he thinks, for you or for anyone.

What more should I have to say for you to get what I am saying? He asks, has asked, will ask again and again. How long will the People squander their responsibilities to themselves as the People, taking on the more subservient role as a Public, always the People in service of the state, no longer with the weight and density of the People to counterbalance the State.

Cracked Conch [Flash Fiction]

The conch he had found on the shore in Rockaway he thinks he can remember, having had it for years on his dresser, always present on his dresser, the whole in its side a reminder of the tumult of life he tried to mean one day he also thinks he can recollect, remembering what he wants to, he imagines on yet another day, each day creeping in its petty paces, another ad another and an another, until the last tolling of the bell, he has used before, as an allusion to say something he thinks he wants to say, imagining again himself someone for whom saying things as he choses to has chosen to in the places he would in writing especially is important. Where it is now he cannot say, has forgotten how he could have forgotten it, forgotten having lost it or gotten rid of it, why?

Another day with his family for lunch surprisingly uncomplicated. The assumption of pity in others does not take into account the level of stupidity in humans. Humans. That’s right. That’s the word for us. The level of stupidity in his family makes him uncomfortable, or so he told me once over pints at Saint Dymphna’s. Who doesn’t love and revile his family? Sane man locked in the nut house; how many shells must he crack? He wonders to himself. I wonder about wondering to myself, I mean saying that I do when I write–but he does wonder this, even if it is only an affectation. What is not? He would ask.

He who never dies cannot count himself happy, right? He asks himself under breath.I still do not step on lines or on cracks; I do not want to break either one’s back or spine. He says the same, I think, to no one himself alone in himself. I love my family as I do myself, which is always sometimes the problem, he says. Among the many other problems he has, I have, who does not have the like, he numbers love, the way he does, as one of the foremost.

Saint Dymphna, he told me at the bar as we stood–he always stood when he drank, and he used to say that men should stand when they drink because if they ever had to sit down, it was time to go home. Anyway, Saint Dymphna was the daughter of a pagan Irish King and a Christian mother, and Dymphna was murdered by her father, of course, for her beliefs . . . what else would she have been murdered for if she were to become a saint?

He paused in the telling to take a sip from his pint.

Anyway, the story was first recorded in the 13th century–she lived in the 7th, perhaps a full two hundred years after Patrick, but what does that have to do with anything . . . nothing, really. The author of the first account ever recorded in writing, or so we assume, at least from what we can say with any certainty, had come to him from what he said was a long standing oral tradition, the folklore of the saints, any saint’s legendary material thus coming to the literary this way, no? There was a long tradition of knowing her to have healed many mentally ill. Miracles were attributed to her, and she passed the prosecution of the Devil’s Advocate. It’s fitting, don’t you think, that Saint Dymphna healed the mentally ill, I mean the name of a bar for her is fitting, no?

Buttercups, a Pen and a Lunch Special not for Dinner [Flash Fiction]

Sunset behind the Verrazano Bridge is beautiful today he imagines she might think, seen as it would be from a standing vantage by the benches where she sits:

She says she sees a little blonde girl in a blue dress with buttercups in her hand for mama “who sits on the bench,” an offering, she adds in suggestion,watching as she does, as she has time and again here in the park by her building where she lives near the bay that opens out from Bath Beach Brooklyn and looks out on Sea Gate, New Jersey and Staten Island, the fore mentioned bridge . . .  a screech, she hears, another screech, a baby’s whine, more cacophony, all heard amid a whistle, a bicycle bell, a horn from a car in the distance. All intrude obliquely on her writing these lines about the girl with the buttercups in her hand for her mama on the bench in the park, “a girl with buttercups in her hand for Mama on the bench; the girl in an adorable blue dress with white fringe and a white bow in front–a bicycle passes in a blur, a boy on a scooter whizzes by her as she stands steadfast on two legs. Her mother accepts the flowers in her hand as the girl smiles of course from ear to ear and claps lightly it seems from the distance I have on this vantage, and turns, she does and runs as little girls run in parks with others around her in cacophony.”

Yes, the girl turns smiles walks away in quick restrained steps, or so I heard she revised when rethinking what she said. She , the woman who ives in the building near the park near the bay that looks out on Sea Gate, New Jersey and Staten Island, puts the cap of the pen that she holds in her hand on the pen that she holds in her hand and puts in her bag. She closes her journal and places it in the bag too. She takes a breath, another one deeper than the former,. another one following this one, each one with its appropriate exhalation. She then breathes in again very slowly and exhales just as slowly as if she wanted to expiate something she knew she needed to get rid of in her. S

he rises. She looks to the leaves on the trees along the back perimeter of the park that faces the parkway you would take to the Verranzano Bridge, the name misspelled from the explorer’s name, Verrazzano, “Americans never getting Italian names right.” She can see the bridge through a gap in the leaves of one of the trees from where she stands in the park in front of a bench in a circle of intermittently placed  benches around the foot path that encloses the great field at the center of the park, a great lawn that has recently been chewed up by Guatemalans playing Mexicans in soccer.

She takes her bag onto her shoulder. She walks away looking at the trees, the birds, the grass, the sky, the thin wisps of clouds high above the line of cumulus clouds, if there were any cumulus clouds to look at, no. Nearly clear skies today, slightly warm with a nearly cool breeze, an occasional chill you might feel, cool and warm simultaneously, she says to herself, to no one other than herself, as at other times she might be talking to someone in her head.

She leaves the park to stop at the Chinese take-out to get a lunch special  for lunch with a hot and sour soup. Sometimes she gets a lunch special to have for dinner.

Running, Laughing, Leading [Flash Fiction]

[All words in quotes herein are verbatim from the lips of their speaker to the ears of this teller.]

“My boy’s running with other boys in the park by our home next to Gravesend Bay,” he said, not out loud, under his breath, to feel the weight of the words on his tongue, he used to say, why he would read poetry out  loud, long passages from novels out loud, move his lips when he read nearly silently, again, under his breath.

“He is running, laughing, leading other boys, not the tallest from among them but heads above every one of them,” he says, has said before in the kitchen, in the living room, in the bedroom or the bathroom, a man, a father, of course like all fathers and yet–need I say, unlike other fathers. What father does not know he is like and unlike every other father?

Children here, running here; children there, running there, everywhere here and there, to and fro, back and forth and forth again before back once more.  All around the children’s playground inside the park.

“I see two pigeons on the top of the back of a bench at a table in the park empty but for these two pigeons,” he says.

He pauses.

“I do not relive my childhood watching the children play in the park,” he says; I add, this after-school afternoon sometime in late March, not too chilly, “will warm up quickly this spring you can tell,” he says. “No, I do not relive my childhood here,” he says, “but I do regret my age,” he says.

 

To Each or not to Each this Spring [Flash Fiction]

A boy and a girl reach out their hands to each other standing in the grass behind the benches in a row along the path outlined by them and the grass behind, as I have said. This grassy place, in the park with the children that play away from the other children who rush and run and jump and leap and bump and tag and pull and push and more and more too much for the littler ones in the grass where their mothers feel safe about them, is fairly wide enough for the children who play there and safe enough without it having been baited for rats because the highway work that will take place in the coming years and that will un-house some of the rat dens by the bay will not have taken place yet when the children stand in the grass facing each other ready to touch hand to hand, finger to finger.

All of this in a park in the city on a day with sun without clouds; Sunday.

The boy and the girl touch finger to finger, one index to the other, other finger tips to finger tips others, then playing itsy-bitsy spider to each other, one after another finger tip to finger tip, each to each, one the same as the other, hand to hand, thumb to thumb and so forth, you see, you have to, just imagine.

A chill breeze blows through the park from the bay that opens out onto the Narrows, kicking me in the ear as it does, March continuing its march into spring.