The Shadows of the Bare Branches of the Tree on the Wall [A Short Story]

I

What is it that anyone can say about what he sees? Or what he hears? Or what he feels? Things to say about–what can anyone say? Yes, what words are there in the treasure house of words, words and more words, so much cacophony—there are only these words to say, to tell, to speak, those that others have said, that others have told, that others have spoken . . . what would the monkeys do if they could talk? What takes place in our language . . . tongue, the taste of words, the weight of words there in the mouth, do we feel them, their heaviness or lightness, or sweetness or bitterness? What we say that we know others will understand—is it what we need to say, have to say, could say otherwise, or only in these trite words I have heard before spoken by others who cannot say what is needed. Only in these can I speak, one cliche after another cliche after another, all in the petty paces of lips, of tongues, of voices voicing what exactly? Thought takes place in language, she said she had been taught. But what else takes place in language? One received idea after another; propaganda, propaganda, advertising is right alongside propaganda. I know I was taught—what?

Yes, thought takes place in reflection, the coolness of looking back, but how? In anger? Of course in anger. In resentment too? Within tranquility? We used to say, some kind of tranquility was necessary, no?  I knew that the Sea of Tranquility was on the moon . . . the mirroring mind is the parroting one? How are they the same? How could they be different? Mirror me, mirror me, wherefore art thou, mirror me. Which one, are you today? I ask me in the mirror. You might ask something similar, or say something the same, after having read what has herein been laid out for you to discern. What about this other, this another-me or was I correct in the first place,  other-me? How am I other to myself? I used to ask. If that were possible? How another is different from other is simple enough to get. Who is other? Who is another? Which me is I? Everyone is other, even unto himself? Another I am I—yet, I am we, as I have said before and before and before, yesterday into another day before yesterday and so on back, creeping in their petty paces. This I know as well as the phantoms I see in the dark of my room at night as I wake in the middle of the night afraid to check the hour.

It is all about how this tomorrow and that other tomorrow in a string of tomorrows light our way to our death; to die, to sleep forever, what dreams of this have I had of late? How is it that we look forward to what comes straight at us, unavoidably sometimes no more than hopefully fulfilling wishes?  Yesterday, I spent the afternoon into evening on the beach in Montauk, with sun, sea, sand and sky . . . and the seagulls too with their little footprints washed away with each wake. Who am I alone there on the beach watching the ocean seawater in waves coming to the shore for hours into days into weeks into months, years, centuries, millennia, ages, eons and so on?  We walked the low-tide surf to Ditch Plains to watch the surfers surf, and to get hot dogs with relish from the truck at the back of the beach. What do I say about me, about him, I am he, who is she with me that she is not alone?

He is he, and he is they, himself to himself, what? I am we, yes. I am many, of course. Who does not know that the Self is made up of many selves? Something I have known for a long time. How could I not? How could you also not?

I am singular and I am plural. It could be no other way; the many-selves Self. How could it be any other way for you? More questions. it couldn’t be. I am I; I am you; I am he; I am we. Either one I am he is; I am he, and he is I–what he thinks, I think and I do not think. The mirror is my doppelganger. What he imagines, what he knows, when he could, and how he does not know–knowing being what it is when it is in the human mind, my mind, a thing far too ephemeral for anyone to hold onto with certainty, thoughts, speech, words in the ether too. I had a dream where in the dream I was dreaming me in my bathroom looking to the mirror but in the mirror I had seen me as Dorian would have seen himself after a long and protracted period of his portrait in his attic.

I sometimes think—that is what it is all about, you know; to think or not to think. I am, therefore,I think;I have said this before, and will say this again as I have here. And other times I say that there other times I try in words on the page, writing—yes, to write or not to write, that is the question of who I am. Essaying my life along, carrying it by the words I place on the page carefully, not ephemerally; this is what writing accomplished. Religions became something else with the Book. As I have for decades now, having collected over ten thousand handwritten pages of notebooks, I am who I am as I write me . . . one marble covered notebook after another after another–truly the petty paces Bill talked about. Yes, Bill, the pints, Bill, the pints at the White Horse . . . I prefer other notebooks now, but there was a then when I bought one after another of these notebooks to keep my journals in, to keep my sketches in, sketches or drafts of essays or short stories or literary vignettes, as I liked to call what I couldn’t call essays or short-stories, and all about et cetera, et cetera in boxes . . . portraits in the closet.

And what I know is what I know, how I know is—what is it about this how-I-know-what-I-know? There is surely method in my madness, and it has nothing to do with what methinks. I am omniscient whether you agree to that or not, and whether your brand of narratology can sustain or accept or allow you to enjoy omniscient narration, what I say has been said is what has been said even if I have edited what has been said because my editing is also from omniscience–I am all-knowing, even when I am not narrating. Now there is a man who is about to tell the story of another man who the first man mentioned here had heard about from yet another man, although this man has chosen not to include this man in his telling of this other man’s story, or what it was this other man had been purported to having said . . . he spoke words, he said words, and more words–whose words?

The teller telling of what had been told to another who will tell what had been told as if it has been told to him directly and not indirectly, it is amazing to me but also quite settling that what most people think is their memory . . . words telling tales they believe they remember actually quite accurately without any filling in is not exactly what is happening when they remember recall try to recollect, all recollecting is a rearranging, a reordering is it not? Is it not what collecting becomes,  this being one thing and collecting again another? How could it be different? It is not, this way we remember. Memory is as much fiction, a thing made, as any story, except no one really sees it this way, and if anyone got a grip on what happens when she remembers, let’s say, she would realize that she was an author, yes; and if she ever set herself the task of copiously copying what her memory was telling her, she would understand that she was a writer, no less than if she cut out an article from a magazine, then cutting each individual word out and placing them in a bag and then shaking the bag and then taking each word out one-by-one meticulously copying them down on paper, yes, becoming the writer poet she had always been every time she remembered anything.

And so on and so forth and what next and whenever and wherever anywhere anywhen, of course any-when, why not, if there is a word ‘anywhere’ there should be a word ‘any-when,’ don’t you think, or are we headed somewhere else, somewhen of course, again the way we speak can be expanded, words words and more words like facts built made, a factory for facts, a factory for speech, no? Otherwise what? There was a room, let’s say–let’s more than just say. I am telling you now there was a room not so unlike any other room in an apartment building, as you have seen them or been in them, the kind built in Brooklyn after the Second World War, the 40s . . . yes, a room, a bedroom, one looking out on a courtyard as they are designed in apartment building complexes built in the West End of Brooklyn near the waters of Gravesend Bay. His window looks east. He is in this room, this man not so unlike any other man, in fact, he is like any other man as he is like every other man, a universal man, a man who is also no one as much as he is everyone. He is everyone and no one and he is me and he is not me.

He is singular and he is plural. He is we, he is he, he is again, you and not you. I wish you did not think you knew better than I do. I wish you were not so full of yourself that you imagine condescending to me and mine is what you should be doing here. This is not a request or really a wish or a hope—I know you cannot avoid being who you are, how you are, whenever you are, it or them, chairs, you know, are them, walls are them, floors we walk on together are them.

Who are you? I ask, genuinely, just as you feel as if you have to ask who I am, as if knowing my name would help you to understand better, or knowing my age, where I am from, what faith I follow . . . who I am going to vote for . . . you know any support of either Democrats or Republicans only convinces me that you have become too complacent not to enjoy playing ping-pong.

 

II

He talks to others in his room who are not present. He always talks out loud to people who are not present. This man talking to others not present, out loud, says what he says when he says it how he says it . . . what he should have said, how he should have said it, when he should have said how and what he had said . . . to whom should have been a consideration he took more seriously . . . why is seriously confused for cautiously? It does not make any sense. It is most likely because he has taken his feelings seriously, and the communication of those feelings to others equally seriously, that he has said what he has herein, the way he has herein; although they are not completely what he feels, as no words ever said can ever completely, totally, entirely, exhaustively say what one feels.

What do I feel?  I will now narrate what this man has said–did say, one time, how long ago I will not venture–what he said was said not long after the facts of why he said what he did; or, as in this case, will herein say what I will convey he has said . . . and so . . . what about this and so on and so on as it so goes when it does (and it is it, this and-so-on-and-so-on); I say so, and you say so, and what ensues we could tell more about—and all of it is in the telling, the minutes, you know, yes, life is lived in the minutes, Virginia. What we know is in the telling or the retelling or the recalling or the remembering as remembering is the general process of memory, all memory of things, of events, or of people is another kind of in memoriam.

He said, “I was sure they killed him, sure they wanted him dead for the bed, this less than human goy, my father, was taking up. I am not going to tell you that I was hurt or that I was angry–I still feel the same and it no longer has anything to do with hurt or anger. I knew no one in that hospital was ever going to respect or love another human being as I was taught Jesus had wanted us to love–I don’t even do that; I know too many Christians do not, but then this is not a rebuttal for one system in comparison with another, he said. He said, “Jesus is an abomination for those people in that hospital. I cannot get away from this, and it has nothing to do with what they intended or did not intend, but what they could not help but do because they had been raised to think without thinking,” he said; “if you understand,” he said, “raised to act from somewhere in a system of decisions based on pre-established norms of behavior,” he said. “All of that a fancy way of saying we are going to hate in the most banal ways,” he said. He said, “I at least think that I should do as I was taught, although I do not,” he said. “I am not,” he said, “so certain anyone there does the like,” he said. “And I am talking about the good people there, what their good people do, how far they will go, what it is one people and their culture allow their good people to do and what another culture and its people allow their good people to do are not the same thing,” he said. “You cannot tell me,” he said, “that all ethics are the same. I am comparing goodness and goodness in my mind with my thoughts refracted through my experiences, although no one in this mainstream wants to hear them,” he said, and I know you want more from me than he said, he continued, he added.

“I am not comparing what the shit each of us lives with will do to other people,” he said, “especially their own,” he said. “I too know that Cain is Abel’s brother, he said, as you do too, I say. “I will go to my grave, though, knowing that systems of belief are never the same,” he said.  He said that he knew “some systems allow for even good people to be less. I saw it daily,” he said. “Be afraid,” he said, “of asking me how,” he continued calmly, without raising his voice as you might suspect he would or should, if you are simultaneously critiquing the narrative. He said what he said as he did because “I will tell you what you do not want to hear if you ask me why I think as I do, believe as I have.” He said, “This is not despair; don’t look for an antidote. Love thy enemies keeps me from buying a machete or a gun,” he said. “They should have more respect for Yehuda Ben Miriam,” I have come to think then to say, ‘But they won’t,’ I heard one Hispanic woman say as her husband lay dying, ‘in a place with people who do not care,’ she said,” he said.

He said, “I close my eyes and see a bone finger hand I had seen once in a dream not long after my Aunt Anna had died. I helped cafrry her coffin, lead bue I said, to the grave, one very warm humid June. I missed school for her funeral. I stayed after everyone had left and tossed a rose on top of the lid or maybe I just imagine that I dropped one on top of her coffin, a handful of dirt I recollect having done,” he said. “Memory, revery, recall stretching; silhouettes clutching my shoulders, winter bare branches on my block all the way home alone after after-school. November gray I recall; April is not the cruelest month—November is, for sure,” he said. “Nothing on that teeming life springing back in the spring for November, slowly like my dad the morning he died, then all of sudden still—dead. Leaves are falling having fallen all of them fallen,” he said.

“The morning he died, the snow stopped and the sun broke through the clouds into his room. No one in that hospital had the integrity or the respect I was hoping for as I came day in and day out the last days he was alive with eyes opened and not a word or a nod or a blink as I was sure he was blinking for me when he first arrived and they left him in a corner of the emergency room for thirty-six hours, and as if that was not bad enough, one or another of them–yes, them, only them, those people I knew who they were and why they looked at me the way they did–one time an Orthodox EMS worker shoved my dad’s bed aside for a bed he was bringing in with one of his patients and my dad’s bed banged against the wall, and then intervened and told him if he ever touched my father’s bed like that again with the contempt I did see in his eyes and on his face I would chop him into pieces with a machete. A Puerto Rican kid who saw it said that they are all like that in this hospital. He was standing holding his grandmother’s hand as I saw an Orthodox woman holding her mother’s hand just before they came to bring her upstairs; they had come in only hours before. The Puerto Rican said, ‘See?'” He said, ‘I have been here for six hours,’ ” he said the kid added. “I can have murderous contempt and do understand how people can come to a place where they can kill other people who have or who had nothing directly to do with . . .,” you know what he is saying, trying to convey, I say he has said, has thought, believes, imagines you could also understand, but then, as I and he and others have said in pages written by me, edited by me, published by me, you must stand under to understand, what you do by it says you do is clearly drawn in the words as placed before you; I understand is to stand under what you want to know, getting closer, getting nearer, getting to touch, to feel, to hold or to hold up, post to lintel I think I wrote in another place.

He said, “What do I say about these branches, their shape, the texture of them in my eyes, and sight does have texture. There are textures that are visible; yes, how they appear, the branches blowing in the wind, skeleton fingers at play, as I have already said, but with nothing new added that I might have added, as when I say something of how or of why they could become skeleton fingers . . . just another metaphor for what I see of the branches in silhouette on the wall moving again in time with the breeze that blows sometimes in gusts quite violently shaking the tree, the branches, the skeleton fingers on the wall,” he said.

He said, “On the wall, the shadows of the branches as they dance in time with the breeze that blows. I turn to see them shaking with the gusts this morning up to twenty, the weather man said last night, as I get up out of bed, a year when I am sleeping on the side next to the window. I look out the window and see the brick wall outside. I see a bent shadow on the brick wall, this brick wall I am talking about is the one perpendicular to the wall with the window that faces east and the rising sun, the window of which I look out when I get up, putting my feet on the floor to stand and turn and bend and look through the window to see the color of the sky and perhaps learn something of what the day is going to be like. I can see what people are wearing or if it might rain before I listen to the weather man try to predict the day’s weather,” he said.

“The shadows of the branches reach the wall opposite my window inside,” he said. “I turn and see them as I prepare to leave the bedroom and walk to the kitchen and have my coffee,” he said; “and look out the widow in the kitchen facing the same direction as the window I looked out of in the bedroom,” he said. He said, “I look to the wall in my bedroom opposite the wall with the window that faces east, the rising sun through the compound of buildings, one in which I live. The sun’s shining through the bare branches of the trees in their mid winter starkness, I could say, skeleton fingers at sunrise, I imagine, again the wall opposite the window facing east-southeast, the backlit branches black. They move about, they play as I imagine them doing, a dance of fingers, skeleton fingers–wouldn’t skeleton fingers be white, aren’t bones white? Not if they were backlit. Remember, light skinned people in the dark appear black . . .”. He faded.

“I looked to the shadows on the wall over my Dad’s bed after he had finally been given one,” he said, “after 42 hours in ER on a gurney without curtains and I will never let anyone tell me that an Orthodox Jew can respect a Christian because my experience in that hospital showed me that most of them cannot—or is it that most that met in that hospital where people are supposed and expected to have compassion; and yet they do disrespect in a way that allows their Rabbis to tell them they are good people. God is for Jews which is why Israel can continue Genocide against Arab Muslim women and children and we do not blink,” he said. I know that terrorism is what it is, and I do know that Arab Muslims are committed to the total destruction of the State of Israel, so do not imagine that I am fooled by them or Al Jazeera . . . the former only the lesser of the two devils.”

He said, “let us not play hop-scotch with history or or with facts–” he paused. He continued with a little more vehemence. “I know,” he said, “that Muslims and Christians are not special either because they are Muslims or Christians,” he said. “But I am talking about media messaging in this country that allows us to secularly sanctify Jews,” he said, as he had been taught to believe, “because of the Holocaust,” he added. And he did believe as such, that there has been and could be a secular sanctifying. It is nearly the same as we have had in some media conduits for Palestinians, oh, the martyrs—in an age that is so a-religious, the only ones talking religion are fanatics and idiots. But the secular world has re-animated its own brand of martyrdom. It’s good press, it’s good sensationalism, it sells.

“We disbelieve or furiously oppose any criticism of Jews,” he said. “Their decisions in the world that bring misery to others goes without question,” he said. “I know that Blankfein only happens to be Ashkenazi,” he said, “much the way Islamist Terrorists only happen to be Muslims,” he said as he had grown accustomed to saying, believing that yes there are only a small percentage of people who  are actively the ways he has inferred that possibly more are, but that, as he has also been taught to think, that there are a great deal of good people who agree or do not disagree in themselves let alone not openly with what these people he is maligning do, as he will continue to think, in one or another revised ways, in these and other words he will later choose more carefully, for what far too many people he knows and has known do think believe wonder pass in consideration casually or vocally vehemently after a few beers at their local tavern or after April 15th.

I do not wonder more about what I have not said herein about what he had said that I have said he has said. I have said so much elsewhere about what someone has said when what has been said is something we have overly emotional responses to, especially in the media–the media here being especially sensitive to issues about what this man has said, whether by inference or overtly. It has not been my place to comment on this either in the received ideas of our culture, the received expressions and responses of our media–no–or in any other trite or cliche form framed by one or another variegation on political correctness. He is who he is and has said what he has said, and it is not my place to engage in explication or picture-drawing to make the simpletons who get their notions of what they think, of what they should think, of how they should emote, from the media. Anyone so lost to himself as to be unable to think or discern for himself apart from the received ideas he gets from the media or popular entertainment (which includes the news) I am not going to talk to or speak to or write anything for . . . for what? for whom? for how we imagine he owes it to himself and to the others he imagines for whom he speaks? Questions beget questions; people in the media are not even the apes of God, but the apes of conglomerate controlled conduits of the most simplistically constructed charade—I do so love hyperbole.

 

III

You are free to take away from this what you wish, what you can. I could wonder why I have not commented–and this would fit right in with another of my culture’s media conventions, the put-on tribulation, the put-on confession of a social sin, if you will, so I could then show how I have come ’round to the conventional and received enlightenment the media insists I should have. I do not even want to say fuck you to this–but I do, inside, say, without vehemence, fuck you to all who think other than I think about this, about what I should say, should have said. All of America’s political correctness has its metaphysical origins in the former Soviet Union. I need not say more. I will not say other. Who would try?

I should try–this trying another thing than what you think it is. To try or not to try; all trials held dear, close at hand, the essaying I do in my essays has kept me sane, made me more intelligent, I believe, than—I hesitate to say you, but then that would be the set up you I have fictionalized herein, and not the actual real-world you who is reading this at this moment, live-body you, unique-in-the-whole-history-of-the-world you; a you distinct from everyone who has ever lived, who lives now and who will ever live. It’s like when you read an editorial; you cannot take offense to everything said in every editorial because the editorializer is using the pronoun we. I cannot or should not be able to sue on the grounds of defamation an editor for his editorials; however, I do imagine that we have become stupid enough to imagine that we should be able to . . .

I am certain there are many, many people for whom the label Anti-Semite will fit and for whom that will be enough, be everything, be all that ever will need to be said for others to conclude there could be no veracity on what he has said, which s not what I am saying. It is the fact that these opinions can never be expressed, and I suspect even in fiction;  dogma is dogma is dogma, whether from State, Church, Mosque or Synagogue. And what more should I have had this man say because it is I who determines how this man tells the story he has told to me, one that had been told to him that I have chosen to leave out, and why I did so is more for the clarity of the telling, or so I think imagine believe hold as a conviction therefore a convention. How is it one to another to another is enough? Any further removed and I risk losing the thread and I do not want to lose the thread as I think I have not lost the thread, herein all is sewn up neatly, I believe. Every tailor is mostly satisfied with his stitching, until he becomes dissatisfied.

Theseus rolls out behind him his ball of yarn. This yarn has been unravelled for you. You will do with it what you want, what you will desire, what you will wish . . . how to say the way I should have said what I have said about what he said about what another had said? I am sure you will tell me as the critics will tell me, say to others, what I should have said; but more precisely what I should not have said, never have said, because freedom of speech is something always curtailed by laws or common opinion or the media all too willing to manipulate images and symbols and words and slogans and cliches and trite ideas sometimes marked or marred by tragic ignorance as we see paraded and parading before us on our social media and in our newsrooms and off of our news desks and from publishers and CEOs whose agendas are not his as he has herein said because they cannot tolerate what is true only what gets manufactured or presented through our various media as true especially when it concerns anyone who is like them or shares what they share, conglomerate money with others in the media always one for all and all for one these media moguls controlling information putting all of us in America in . . . formation.

To inform has always been about putting in form, just as Confucius said, if you want to reform society, begin by reforming language–the medium is the mesaage thus the language of communication.

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