Town and Country

A famous Thanksgiving dinner at my stucco urban palace. The tables arrange themselves variously: two very long ones, four shorter ones, two middling short, one slightly long. I realize the scene is unreal, my guests imaginary, conjured largely from the dead. My father, my Uncle Aloysius, Jack Bate and Herman Melville, Lord Byron and Teddy Roosevelt, Aunt Esther and Henry Adams, Charlotte Bronte and One-Arm Connolly, who killed himself at forty. The rattle of glassware makes a ghastly but cheerful music.

Unable to correlate my guest list, I step outside the urban dream and enter the rural one. A huge maple has broken and half-fallen, angled over the eggshell of my country house. Let it topple and smash the antique slate roof if it wishes. Meanwhile on a nearby ridge of naked basalt a gaggle of teenagers silly with beer is climbing a sullen mossy cliff. I shout at them to halt and descend, but they ignore me. When one falls and breaks her bones with a snap audible for a mile I laugh the meanest laugh.

Nothing will induce me to return to the Thanksgiving dinner I dreamed in a sorry moment. My country house, a sprawl of twenty rooms, is also a ghost of the mind, but it doesn’t repulse me the way the imaginary dead, eating real food in my townhouse, do. I lack a motive for either dream; but watching the huge broken maple sway like the Sword I suppose revenge against myself will do—the brief November day going sulfur-yellow at sundown and the lawn torn by frost-heaves exposing the bedrock.

Frog Pond

Off Dusthouse Road a frog pond stews in mingled purples and browns. The jitter of crickets and keening of cicadas fill the gaps between senses, alerting me to the continued expansion of the universe, critiquing various dimensions. The modest industrial buildings scattered along the edge of the woods—old brick, modern metal sheathing, fire-prone wood-frame—regard me without curiosity, though only the brick predates me, the rest erected in honor of the passing of my childhood. That is, the narrative includes both the raising of small buildings and the rearing of my person, parallel structures responding mainly in terms of strategy rather than mutual perception. The frog pond, however, remains murky, grape-fringed, difficult of access, private as the mind. The occasional croak of a frog expresses continuities I can’t claim even with myself. To be a frog is to be all frogs, I guess. The industrial buildings don’t even pretend to any permanence, and neither do I. Not that frogs don’t suffer and die, but the pond, only twenty feet wide, resists the encroachment of worlds less complex and fully realized, and the fringe of grape and ivy upholsters this small fragility against clumsy people like me.

An Outdated Globe

Russia remains the Soviet Union, Sri Lanka still Ceylon. Amusing myself with a razor knife, I cut out and peel away nations until the planet’s piebald in my hands. Now in mockery of cosmology or divine rage, I drop the metal ball on the floor and stomp it flat. This feels good and I wish I could do it again, like any authentic creator disappointed by creation.

So much for a sublunary world susceptible to artificial frontiers, stamping of passports, military coups, and famines. So much for the United Nations and global capitalism. I pity those abstractions children study in grammar school, where no one learns grammar anymore.

Later, on the way to the landfill with a mess of trash including that crushed, humiliated globe, I wonder how many worlds lie beyond the measurable universe, whether the human ego counts as a world, whether the basic globe-shape adequately represents everything from atom through ego to macro-universe.

At the landfill the solid thump of trash bag tossed in the hopper satisfies so completely I wish I could discard my body that casually and violate the law of form and walk away into worlds unknowable as globes, atoms, egos. I stroke my razor knife and wish I had the nerve to slice my arteries and learn if the blood flow is as cosmic as they say.

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