7 Death, Angels and the Moon [A Short Story]

I

Hark the herald angels sing–did they not blow their trumpets signaling the re-creation of the universe at the Incarnation of the Son of God who is begotten not made before time and creation; all that nativity stuff that I took more seriously than Macy’s could or would, but I did not go to church, do not go, not now, no longer being able to muster the devotion that real believers have–real believers? Yes, there must be plenty of fake believers. How long has it been since my last confession I do not bother to calculate any more? I do understand the necessity of confession and why it is a sacrament in Catholic orthodoxy. Do I? I don’t like psychological reductions of sacramental acts, which does not mean I oppose providing explications of psychological benefits of sacramental acts, of belief, of devotion in the ways of the devout when we attach that to the religious life.

[. . .]

When a Chimpanzee’s mother dies, he runs into the forest and beats his head against a tree. He bangs his forehead repeatedly against the trunk. I remember Professor James in his Romantic Poets class telling the story of the young Tennyson who wandered all night in a thunder storm, carving Byron is dead in the trees he passed, soaking wet as he was. After hearing of Byron’s death, the Chimp Tennyson did what human chimps do, or a version of it. I carved no names into trees; I did not bang my head against the trees in my neighborhood. I remember listening to Dinah Washington at night after everyone had gone to sleep at my cousin’s in Lowell and crying, sobbing uncontrollably (that’s horribly cliche). And how do we get from Christmas to chimpanzees.

[. . .]

It was a day not so unlike any other day; all days, any day is like any other day and nothing like any other day this any-other other-day is not like. I have used this line before, herein in paraphrase of the former. I am not talking of the weather, the mind has its own atmosphere; what we see as climate and weather in the mind, another reality, no? Can any one ever be certain of what he recollects, recalls, remembers–all re-memory being the mind reformed reforming.

II

. . . and once having read Kerouac’s description of the rising Merrimack River rushing overflowing–I was in Lowell the week my Aunt Anna died in Pittsfield–we made it to Lowell–I made it to Lowell with my cousin–I imagine I could think that I went by the Merrimack looking for Jack’s ghost, I felt better having burst in the dark before the dying embers of the fireplace, listening to Dinah Washington, I forget which ballad, over and over, replaying one song I cannot recall how many times–I used to play songs sometimes to make me sad, el llorono I imagine me saying in Spanish, a dream I had of Garcia Lorca talking to me on the shore of the Mediterranean–staring at the dying embers of the fire, I wish I had a fireplace, under Dinah’s voice, breaking into pieces. I was in the town Ti Jean was born in, after the funeral–I had helped carry the casket, lead blue, I used to say so many things about the funeral I have since forgotten (I swore I heard her voice come from out of the dark of my bedroom one night sitting in the living room in my father’s leather recliner meditating on the hum of my refrigerator about 1-teenage-AM, with Lee.).

[. . .]

The subject of another trial–all about tribulations–every trial an essay–every essay a trial. Another trial and another trial, all of them creeping in petty paces, syllable, after syllable, all of the records of time; time in the mind, time on the clock, time descending with space in a metaphysical parallax. There is a parallax in the mind too.

[. . .]

Her hands were bent, were knotted, twisted by arthritis . . . I see her holding a fork and with that fork beating into Andean peaks of meringue, egg whites in a bowl, someone’s life passing before one’s eyes happens in stages throughout one’s life I presume. It does not happen all at once all of a sudden. I cannot imagine how long the montage would have to be for all of it at once to happen in the minutes or hours before death, whose death, her death, his death, their deaths were different, were the same, were what were when were how–no, their deaths are! That is all. The way we once knew the cosmos was recreated the moment the shofar was blown–eternal return, all religion is a linking again with the One, the True and the Absolute.

[. . .]

III

We watched the moon in the sky above the ocean. We watched the few strands of clouds that passed across its full face. We then looked to the reflection the full moon left on the ocean water, the color of squid ink. We watched the broadening band of full-moon light as it rippled in reflection with the wavelets on the ocean as it was ruffled by the breeze out of the North East. I recollected then having recalled–do I need to re-examine how recollecting and recalling differ, or how neither shares absolute synonymy with remembering. Yes, I recalled a time standing at the shore in Montauk watching the wavelets on the water in the morning and how they looked like aluminum foil caps, these wavelets reflecting the morning sun, tiny ripples on the ocean beyond where the waves rise, curl, turn in on themselves, tumble over and crash into the surf.

My dad and I had looked at the shadows on the face of the moon called seas for how long before we got a telescope when I was a boy of seven, the large cratered areas we once imagined must have been water, and then for how long with the telescope after he had bought it for me . . . the man in the moon is a mask the goddess of the moon wears, I remembered my dad had said . . . Diana wears the mask of a man . . . I see him, I imagine, My Dad, with his hands, the so large of his hands (as I have said before and written after this before)–I see my Dad raising his arm as he pointed them out to me, these seas, and how, as we looked through the telescope he had bought for me, he described where I would find the Sea of Tranquility; and he then said that that’s where we’re going to land . . . my dad and I following NASA’s process to the moon. I watched Alan Shepard take off.

Looking at the seas on the face through the telescope, The Sea of Serenity, I remember, yes, Mare Serentitatis, The Sea of Tranquility, the latter where we were going to land in a couple of years, older . . . what was I again? I was seven, or almost, when he said it, in Latin first, Mare Tranquilitatis, no place for the opera-loving cop’s four years of Latin, I thought–New York Time’s crossword puzzles offered a spot or was it repsite. Then in English, he said what he had said in Latin–we eventually landed when I was nearly eleven, ten that July, 1969, the first words from the surface of the moon were, Houston, the Eagle has landed . . . trivia on something a lot more than trivial.

I remember this–remembered this before how many times, how many times have I said this, all bullshit, this thing we call trivia, what is and is not nonsense–and I broke, I did, not completely as I had predicted before he died, when he died, was I in shock–of course I was, how many days at his feet, the night before sleeping at his feet, my head on his bed, a Viking dog? I really could not feel anything–everything shattered. I have dropped glasses before. I remember a glass I dropped, and I worried about pieces, slivers in my foot for weeks after. What then? I recollect rising tides, rising moons, sun rise at the Point, the lighthouse, the shore at Ditch Plains, at Hither Hills, the Hoo Doos below the cliffs of Shadmoor.

IV

I am sure you imagine that knowing what the weather was like should tell you something else you might need to know to understand–but why do you need to understand? Why do you need to believe you need to understand and that I am obligated in some way to fulfill your irrational desire, and it is a desire, no more reasonable for it being desirous in your mind than if you were to conclude that the poor should eat their babies to alleviate their hunger and the need to further feed babies they cannot feed. I helped carry the casket from the funeral home to the hearse, from the hearse in front of the church down the knave to the altar and then after the mass from the altar down the knave to the hearse that then we took it to the cemetery. I, we, they, them, me myself–who am I to question who I was when I was there at that time–I am not able to step into the same river me twice, you know.

I helped carry it at the cemetery to the grave, open yawning–the grave is the abyss, a representation of the abyss–the abyss must be transcendent–the grave is a physical space–there is metaphysical space, do not get me started. I think I can recollect throwing dirt onto the casket, lead-blue, again, the words, perhaps the only ones I recollect? I remember having said I could not count how many times–who am I today that I was yesterday? When am I again ever what I was, what I had been before was? What am I perpetually I am? Where am I or where am I going? From where have I come? Every one of us is a chimpanfuckinzee.

[. . .]

I have said before how irrelevant it is to know someone’s name. The rose and all that sweetness, I agree with Juliet. I am sure if you called freshly laid dog shit a rose, it would not smell as sweet as Juliet’s rose. Who does not know this? I think I recall the day we buried her, the day I found out here in New York, the phone call, I dropped the phone receiver, my mother wanted to know what the hell I was doing dropping the phone from my hands to floor, the extra long cord we had to walk around talking on the phone before cordless phones. I do know that the world’s a stage, Jacques in As You Like It only paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Queen. Elizabeth’s pomp and circumstances were the greatest show of the age; statecraft is stagecraft.

We princes are put on a stage for all the world to see–what then must we see?

Elizabeth used prince and not princess, not simply a deferment to the custom of usage. Boys played the roles of women characters on the Elizabethan Stage–in the Elizabethan State, Elizabeth must have had to imagine a man playing herself on the stage of State.

V

To see and to understand to look and know to feel what I felt. Everything seems now to be all balled up. How I wanted to express everything, say everything possible, the scopes I could manage, macro and micro and everything in between, around, outside and inside, what was there to say that I have not yet said. Her husband must have known her as a human woman, a human lover, a human friend; her children knew her as a human mother; I knew her as the sun and the moon. I hesitate to say what she looked like when I knew her, when she had gotten old, when she finally succumbed to dementia, when my mother had gone up to Pittsfield to take care of her for a time.

Does it matter if she were tall or short, legs gorgeous or average or hideously disproportionate. What does it mean to say a woman was beautiful, or that she was pretty, or that her eyes were magnificent–is that what we say about eyes? About whom–who do we say such things about? Does anyone say she had magnificent eyes? I am talking about she and she and yet another she. Whoever she is–gorgeous eyes? Wonderful eyes? Deep and brooding eyes? Sad eyes? Sorrowful eyes? The world enough.

What could I have said then, and what do I say now. My mother’s eyes were the world full of sorrow for me; I still hear her voice how long now after she has been gone, my mother. In the end she lost her sense of humor, but I repeat myself from a poem or a journal or an essay or a short story, or some anecdote I have told in one or another bar or bistro.

What is there left to say about Pittsfield, about the Berkshires, about my Aunt Anna Mae, my mother’s mother’s older sister; or about childhood, or about being a boy, or about being out of Brooklyn, or in Brooklyn, or from Brooklyn? I could ask many, many questions–we multiply questions so as never to get answers. But I do not–I will not–what?

I will let the words flow where they will, water around the rocks, I recall a girl I knew who used to say that we should all strive to be more like water, the streams we’d cross and follow through the woods in the hills by my Aunt’s house at the top of the hill that was Yorkshire Drive, ascending from the butt of the hill that was Dalton Avenue in perpendicular. Saying is always so much less than being, to be or not to be; being was everything when I was boy in the Berkshires. Everything was immediate, perpetually is is true. And she was who she was when she was where she was with whomever she was. She made a point of saying this, of repeating it as if it were a mantra–a very long mantra. How could a mantra be so long and remain effective? I was never sure how it was supposed to turn out, the mantra saying, that is. How we were supposed to turn out–there are no supposed to(s). She reminded me one day of something I had said months before to her: all supposed to(s) are suppositions, and all suppositions are suppositories. Yes, shove them up your ass.

VI

When she was young she looked a lot like Katherine Hepburn when Kathrine Hepburn was young–did you ever see photos or films of Katherine Hepburn when she was young . . . they were practically the same age I think I recall having learned, but maybe not. How could I have expressed it all right down to the threads in every fabric, the atoms, what is there on the atomic level I could say? Could she have been the bastard sister of Kate–I have imagined that my mother’s father, born in Paris, I think I have been told, Montmatre, the year Picasso arrived, and I imagine my great grandmother, born in Geneva, had had an affair with the wild Catalan who never really learned to spell well in French, and that my mother’s father was in fact of imagination the bastard child of Pablo.

I have said much in the past about memory and remembering, how one or the other functions, not nearing why it functions at all. I know animals are not supposed to remember as we Homo Sapiens do, although I cannot say how differently we as humans remember. I do know that recollection is supposedly a human endeavor, although I wonder how recollecting would function for our primitive fore bearers. I don’t exactly recall what I have said as of late of my time in the Berkshires, the same cord as that of Vermont’s Green Mountains, the same mountains I would later spy across the waters of Lake Champlain from the window of my seat on a car on the train I’d be taking to Montreal, how many times I don’t recall and probably won’t bother to recollect until after I have finished this essay. The last several or more years, and especially since my mother and father’s death have been oddly unreflective, except when directly applied to the writing of a poem, a journal entry or a short story or an essay (the latter of the variety herein exposed; but then what is reflection?

We imagine it a kind of looking back, but the word infers a kind of mirroring. What exactly do we mirror when we reflect? What we feel, how we feel, what we think, itself a kind of personal seeming of things and persons and places. It seems to me is the reflective pose. I do not know what I think until I write–I’m still trying to know. A dog has dreams, no? Chimpanzees, though, make tools and fuck face-to-face. But do they write poetry? And if they do or could–I do remember a group of chimps with infinite time and as many typewriters as their numbers and how after an infinity of passing time they typed the script of Hamlet. I see monkeys with their index pushing keys at random?

VII

[. . .]

VIII

The sun’s gravity is about 27.9 times the earth’s gravity. The sun’s temperature is about 15,000,000 degrees Kelvin at its core, about 5770 degrees Kelvin at its surface. The sun’s eminence in human culture is unrivaled. Virtually every culture in its archaic period had some form of solar deity. The light from the sun takes about 8 minutes to reach the earth, which means what we see when we look obliquely at the sun, or through appropriate lenses at the sun, is the past; we are seeing eight minutes ago. Every second the sun converts about 5 million tons of matter into energy. The density of the sun’s core is more than 8 times greater than that of gold; yet, the material at the core is still gaseous because of the extremely high temperatures at the core. In fact, the sun’s core is actually plasma, ionized gas.

Never stare at the sun with the naked eye.

[. . .]

I once imagined having those eye contraptions that Alex had on his eyes in A Clockwork Orange to keep his eyes from closing while watching the movies that were supposed to help reform him and make him sick to his stomach at the thought of or incitement to violence, only instead of film to watch with these clamps to keep the eyes opened, my face was pointed at the noon time sun whereby by corneas were seared inside my eyeballs. I then proceeded to close my eyes and walk around my apartment as if I were blind as I would be if I had had my eyes kept opened and pointed at the sun as my imagination allowed for this what-if of blindness . . .

I wish there was something to say about my Great Aunt Mae who lived in Pittsfield in the heart of the Berkshires of western Massachusetts about seven miles North east of Lenox where Hawthorne lived when Melville would visit him while writing part of Moby Dick on a farm just at the outskirts of the former, my mother’s hometown of Pittsfield. Others have said what they have about memory, about their memories of her, of me with her, in her care during the summers I’d spend there, in Pittsfield, away from the grime and the sweat and the litter of the city, New York much hazier in the sixties when I was a boy, cars still the gas guzzlers we learned to despise by the mid seventies.

Fuel and engines changed as the Federal government and the EPA decided to force industry in America to produce more cleanly as they had already in New England for decades. The federal government is still behind New England when it comes to environmental protection, New England States were the prototype for clean green industry for several generations before the rest of the country. There is more in the heaven and earth of anyone’s story than could told by anyone’s narrative, how much exposition is necessary is something Tolstoy should have considered. You know that Anna Karenina is a short story except for the expositions. Excuse me, but I digress; in fact, I do nothing but begin and end in digression, that is, as far as what you get to glimpse, to hear, are you listening–what do you see?

IX

In memory alive or in memory dead. What is that I would like to know? I do not have to say it to you, that I know keeping him alive as I do day in and day out is far and above what marking the date on the calendar proves or disproves. This is a fact I assert most pronouncedly: I did think of him that day as I do and have done every day since the day he died, a date whose numerals I play when buying Mega Millions or Powerball tickets. I do not think of his dying except as but one of many images of my dad when recollecting him. The calendar is not part of the remembrance; it is not necessarily so that I must mark the date every year to appropriately remember him, pay homage to him, pay my respects to my Dad. I wish I could convince you otherwise, if in fact you disagree with me, but then that wish is just what it is and remains where it belongs, in the realm of wishing. All wishing is a past tense assertion for a present time lack, and in the end remains as useless as wishing for water from the moon.

Remembering happens when it happens–recollecting is something that helps remembering or is the result and thus the after effect of having remembered. That I did recall at all is what matters. The pedantry of counting days or of marking them is not where my heart beats for my father. Notions of time, of infinity and of eternity must be handled appropriately and not within the narrow constraints of contemporary semi-literacy that is passing for literate enough. I do not watch calendars or clocks–I pay more attention to the sun, the moon and constellations passing across the night sky in what I like to call the con stellar clock. Keeping my father alive in memory is not the same as keeping his death or dying or having died alive, none of these latter variations on the theme of being dead the same as the former, keeping the memories of his living alive. He does live in me as he does still talk to me. I hear his voice as I hear mine now as I write. I really do not need anyone around me telling me what and where and when or how I should remember . . . but what do I remember, recall, recollect, re-memory functions in mysterious ways, does it not? Of course it does.

[. . .]

I was working that day–the anniversary. I do not recall what else had transpired that day or any of the days leading to this day I should have remembered . . . I do not–cannot–recollect what else significantly transpired. I think perhaps I had gotten sushi take-out to bring home that afternoon–or was it evening–I don;t even recall now if it were my Saturday afternoon class or my weeknight class, which site I cannot recall either. There is one place we take-out from that is on the way home from one site I teach at in the evening. I do not know what this says, and I am not asking this because I need to ask it, nor am I asking this question because I must know the answer–knowing in this pedantic way, this way that is necessary only by being pedantic.

I have more in the way of a response than can be dreamed of by most people’s philosophy–everything comes back to Hamlet in the graveyard. We make graveyards out of so many things, so many places–even so many people. We do not people our graveyards as much as we graveyard the people in out lives. I contemplate Death, being dead, what an angel of death would be, would look like, could . . . .

X

I see the portrait of Magdalene at the Met in her Memento Mori pose, Georges de La Tour, with the skull in her lap as she sits at her vanity table with candle and mirror and baubles and circumambient darkness around the edges into black . . . what more; that is, what more in the matter of intellectual and emotional weight or the weight of the matter of what I think, say and know, can I bring to this experience with a painting, one from the age of the Baroque? The philosophy of doubt has not overtaken me as it has subsumed so many of us who imagine we are thinking when what we are actually doing is randomly passing images or words-not even sentences or paragraphs–in the mind. We do play hop-scotch with words. No, doubt has not become the highest wisdom in me, and the daily affairs of living do take precedence over remembrance.

The anniversary of my father’s death passed recently without anyone in my home realizing it until nearly a week after. It was I who noticed we had missed it, but I did not say anything to anyone in the home. Our kid was home from college. It was among the last days he was home before he would return to school for the spring semester. The needs of the living have always taken precedence over the mandates of attention to the dead. My dad would have understood, I think, said to myself then. What should I have said–I really do not need to know, but ask as if I should because I want to see how it might feel to think that I should think of this, ask this, imagine that it is important for me, for everyone to think and speak and write and say this way.

Again the saying and the telling and the knowing and the understanding how much more is there and how much of any of them do I do we do when we attempt to say something when we tell a story, the whole entire everything everywhere history of it, this or these, they and them here and there and what is it that lies between here and there, mutually, reciprocally as I like to say and repeat many, many times.

Taps were played by the Marines at his funeral signaling the end of a universe and the opening of another . . . what do I know about trumpet sounds, trumpet hailing, heralding, Ave Maria Plena Gratia, Gabriel says to Mary . . . the womb is the universe; the universe a womb. Gabriel the herald angel, the trumpeter angel. He must have blown his horn to announce to Mary–yes, Gabriel, the Angel of the Annunciation–and?

[. . .]

I heard nothing but cacophony in my father’s hospital room the morning he died, the sun through the window almost on his face. It broke, the sun, through the clouds, just before he expired; the clouds that had hung around all morning as he lay dying, clouds from the night before when flurries all night left a couple of inches of snow, too much snow for the pig priest of the church in the parish where Maimonides Hospital is located in Brooklyn (scum bag piece of shit–maybe too busy fucking boys to come and give last rights to my Dad, or so I said to myself in anger. The Pope owes me an apology, I imagined. And fuck the Church if I don’t get it, I also imagined saying. [How can you say that? I hear her ask, she asks so many questions in that impossible to bear annoying fucking way she has of asking questions rhetorically, making me only want to hit her over the fucking head with a blunt object–I never will–but I do imagine it, or, at least I might, if I let myself think that good people are the one’s who are content to day dream what wicked people practice.

But I cannot get there always having had the fortune or misfortune of having had Catechism at Saint Therese’s before Holy Communion and again before Confirmation. Yes, the Gospels and Jesus were a big reformation of Plato. But let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone, of course, I am supposed to think this believe this know this act this but I do not and instead I want to–never mind what I want to do, have wanted to do because I do not any longer think about doing it]. The way he was treated in the hospital he died in, the culture of death is upon us, [and particularly if you are Catholic in an Orthodox Jewish hospital I know one Puerto Rican woman said to me as her husband got second class treatment, she insisted, from a hospital only a few blocks from where she lived among all these people as she said in what was apparent disgust.]. I was going to say more, I was going to lay claims, but I have decided not to.)

Another song sung in a tone deaf world–at least for my inflections, the color of them. I will sing alone–no one in this world would listen even if I did sing loud and clear with perfect diction. But then this is my disappointment, my discouragement–and who am I to have these? I should know better? I should be stronger? I still do not know what that means, at least not all the time, and only sometimes to imagine that I do, think that I can–can is knowing how to or being able to or being allowed to, and they do not share absolute synonymy, any one of the three with any one of the others.

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