Reading Life Aloud

Late in the evening the wail of a siren.

We had not heard any gun shots, though they are frequent enough these days to elicit shrugs. Neighborhood dogs start to howling, echoing the alarm, filling in their own parts in harmony. The air is stickered with it, like a collage with scraps of noise, pasty smears of sound. But it’s nighttime and the sounds make their way sightlessly until they find an ear, any ear. The noise of day with its throngs of listeners is retired now, and the evening runs things its own way.

Lacking earlids we live with sound’s endless impressions. We are always hearing, always soaking in sound’s pressing embrace. I like to tap on glass to hear what it is, to hear its clarity. In the seashell we hear the sea. In the wind rustled leaves, music. Halted in traffic, the signature of a culture comes booming from a nearby truck. Idle chatter or clarion calls, these pings and flourishes are themselves the markers of silence.

Out in the desert, away from roads and towns, the markers come from another quarter. It’s the yips of coyote or the serrated hum of insects that mark the silence. A pause in the mute dark recalls the ghosts of the sounds that had once passed this way.

Sirens or crickets, a gap, a faint distant ring. Like prospectors, we pan the grit and soil of our hearing, looking for specks and nuggets of silence. But a simple lack of sound is an artifact of subtraction. The quiet we found was there all along. We are to silence as fish are to water.

And the city, weary of its own bleats and braying, finally settles down. The dogs too, now that they’ve had their say.

—o—

There is wildness in the mechanical lurching of interleaved parts. Eagerness in the hum of transformers. You can feel it in the finger gliding sheen across chrome steel and in the abrasions of puckered tree bark. It all plies soundly in the aggregate. I see as beached waves, their edges traced in foam, the mark and sign of the human. The beasts we call tame reflect the wilderness of an unchecked procession. I do not condemn it. I take delight in these civil surfaces with their attendant racket and classify the most garish of artifice as natural.

I have looked for the dividing line between nature and us. It is ambiguous and replaceable. It is indistinct. There is always the wild, partisan little weed erupting from a crack in our concrete cornucopia. There is no edge to the wilderness, any more than you can assign a shape to infinite space. There are no sounds outside of silence. There are no unwild things.

—o—

World views define the qualities of nature, and a world view always selects one thing over another. But nature itself has its finger in every pie. Nature is its own nature, and we the curious, eager to understand, confront the absurdity of cataloging it all. It is troublesome that understanding lacks closure, that it’s always cutting another notch. But how we love the language, with all its baggage, hailing a taxi, catching a plane, late as usual for another explanation.

The manuscripts, tucked away in a folder, are themselves mute. The stamps and sprinkles of ink rest upon the paper, waiting for us. Waiting for our eyes and mouths. Then, to complete the purpose of language, we are born, we come to letters. But first, we come to know by reading life aloud.

—x—

About the image: I had placed some red wine in a small blue ceramic cup on the offering shelf and days later found it had dried to form a tiny crystalline planetarium.

Billion

If on the day that Columbus set sail for the new world you began to make $5,000 per day and continued to make $5,000 per day until this very day, you would still not be a billionaire. You’d be getting close, but not quite. Go ahead and check the math. This is what we should keep in mind every time the word billion or billionaire gets tossed around.

Think how you might justify earning that much money. I tried and came up blank. Nobody earns that kind of money. Most are born into it. A lot of them just plain steal it through legal means, the law being something crafted by those who hold all the power and money.

Go ahead and call me a Marxist for bringing it up, but you’re a fucking dupe and an idiot if you work for a living and actually admire these motherfuckers.

The above example has been floating around the net. I did not think it up myself.

Red Admiral

I watched, through the kitchen window, a butterfly dive again and again into the up-blast from the A/C condenser unit on the deck. It would zoom straight in, just above the spinning fan, twirl and flip up like litter caught in a dust devil, and then circle above for a moment where the flow had dispersed. A few seconds later it flutters back down and dives in again.

It did this enough times to establish that it was deliberate, it was clearly having fun, like a youngster going back for another spin on the roller-coaster. After five or six times the A/C unit cycled off. The butterfly landed on the nearby table and rested, like a kid exhausted from play.

I still don’t know where to file this bit. It’s a whole new category for me.


A Red Admiral behaving like an adult.

Flier, Flier, Pants on Fire

The air doesn’t need to have cracks in it. You can fall right through the thing itself. It plays with pressure and motion, mussing your hair or pulling your boat against currents on a shifty sea. Cup it in your hand, out of the car window. Blow it. It makes shapes you can hear. It’s there when you laugh, the material of your voice. You suck it in when you’re shocked. Release it slowly and the world becomes relaxed. Breathe it, if you want to stick around to see how this all ends.

The airfoil hypnotizes the sky and we ground-dwellers, with a cocky new take on gravity, call it flight. Aloft, we hold ourselves in a makeshift certainty where heavier-than-air flight is possible, our nerves as jumpy about being seated in the sky as they are when a nagging fear gets us to doubting. The cabin is pressurized, the air outside losing interest in the meaning of weight. Travelers impatient, we race ahead through time, out of this purgatory, rehearsing in our imaginations the getting on with it. But objects are always stationary to the geometry of their own locus. The X and the Y form a point on a plane where the pilot admits, through a crackling intercom, that we’re all hurtling to our destinies.

And she even knows the temperature on the ground for when we get there, but for now, the clouds make faces at us through the windows, and the turbulence flexes our wingtips. Intrepid goers and comers with our itineraries and phones, minds in airplane mode, we submit to continuity and see landing as a kind of taking off into an alternate, less valiant sort of sky. Back on earth we breathe each other’s air with a sense of autonomy, a sense of privacy that is groundless. Meeting and parting, crossing time zones, our connecting flight is the unshuttered air above, the midwife of all our doings. Terminals, they are called, and we keep passing through them.

Airport now in the rear view mirror, flying down the highway, who can ever see how this all ends? It’s all just beginning, is it not?