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fools, clowns, & captain ahab

June 29, 2013

If a clown–I mean a real clown–tries to tell you “the facts,” you wouldn’t believe him/her, but we tend to believe so much of what we’re told by people who look and act the part of an authority. I’m a critic to the bones, which is why the ultimate target for my criticism is Criticism itself. There’s a breed of critic that I’m tired of, that I need a break from for a while.

There’s a time in our lives when we become sick of the culture and embrace the counterculture. Then there’s a time when many of us become as tired of the counterculture as we were of the culture. What comes after that is the “comfortably numb” phase. The mainstream bigots are posting poorly spelled and Randomly Capitalized rhetoric all over fb, and the hipster-squad (sorry Student Review) responds with all the sophistication, grace, and unbelievable coolness of the Toms-wearing, Kerouac-reading, Wittgenstein-quoting, mainstream-music-disdaining freewheeler. Social media allows all of these knowledgeable folk to spew their respective brands of awesome into the ether, where it awaits “likes” (the cherry atop our social-anxiety-ridden cyber age) from members of its own camp, and nettles dissidents into a frenzy of “comments.” The convo thread becomes a battlefield, and the victor (the person with the most wit and rhetorical aptitude) leaves with fresh arrogance, while the bitter loser retaliates by clinging more desperately to their original opinions.

Don’t get me wrong here–I see tons of advantages to forums like fb, for a lot of different kinds of conversation, but that’s a point I want to come back to later. It’s just, it can be tiring when so many people are so right so much of the time.

But what can you do? If you want to escape the whole system, you can just go silent. You can drop off the map and never open your mouth again for the rest of your life. And in fact, if we could all understand exactly how little we know, and how incorrect most of our opinions are, the whole world would probably go silent. But I don’t think we’ve reached that state of enlightenment yet, and so silence may not be the healthiest thing for us. We don’t need to know more, as much as we need to understand better how little we know. I believe travelling and reading are some of the greatest modes of learning available to us, not because these activities teach us new doctrines, but because they expose us to new ideas that challenge the old doctrines. We don’t read or travel to learn more things as much as we read or travel to expand our awareness of our unawareness. In a universe this huge, ignorance is inescapable. But ignorance of our own ignorance seems to cause the most damage. Until we are perfectly aware of our ignorance, and can retire into the blissful silence of real humility, we’ll continue to squawk at each other. To become silent too soon is its own kind of arrogance and its own kind of pretense. But if we choose not to go silent, we’re admitting that we’re in the system and a part of it. And of course, we are–inescapably. So the question for me becomes, how do you state your thoughts and ideas in a way that’s at least partially humble? That’s where foolishness comes in, I think. This is where absurdity enters the mix–the absurdity of trying to accommodate polar opposites simultaneously–to try your best to be in two places at once even if reason declares this is impossible. It’s the realm of BS, and it’s a good realm, if you ask me.

The fool/trickster/clown is a hugely important character in literature and in life. I try as hard as I can to be a good fool–a proper fool. Sometimes I fail, but I think of all the idiots that have inspired me in life, and I get up and I try again.

Most of us are funny little charlatans. Most of us have been tricked by other funny little charlatans into thinking we’re the Arbiters of Wisdom at some point in our lives–some of us have made authoritative declarations of fact on facebook or from pulpits or in confidence. It’s ok. You’re being a fool, and so am I, especially right now. (Of course by now you’ve realized that I’m currently, as I type, committing a lot of the follies I’ve been venting about, i.e. complaining heatedly on a blog about opinions expressed via social media). Hence the irony mentioned ^.

It’s all pretty funny, in the end, which is why I value comedy: absurdity is the power by which the worlds are made to spin. The fool is never wrong, because everything he/she says is clearly a joke, no matter how seriously he/she says it. Nor can you assume that he/she means the opposite of whatever he/she says, for the same reason.

Coulrophobia is the going name for the fear of clowns. Who knows why we’re all terrified of them–maybe some of us had a sensory overload at the circus as children. But I think it has more to do with the fact that their primary duty–that of funniness–opens the portal to all the ironies of life. Ramsey Campbell, a horror fictionist, said, “It is the fear of the mask, the fact that it doesn’t change and is relentlessly comical.” The thought that no mater how much pain the clown might be in, the painted smile and jocularity would continue. Maybe the fear of clowns is  rooted in the fear that we might be living in a three act comedy. We would much rather write a script that explains away the primordial fear that absurdity dictates our existence. But I don’t think we need to fear absurdity. It’s in everything, but it isn’t evil. In fact, when we understand the role of absurdity, we realize that it offers everything good in life. I don’t think we can ever be omniscient and laugh.

[SPOILER ALERT: I’ll be talking about the end of Moby Dick in the following paragraphs, so stop if you don’t etc. etc.]

When I’m performing comedy onstage, and I bomb a joke–really destroy it–and the auditorium goes quiet, my entire set is in peril. Not because I feel particularly bad about the joke–I’m used to bombed jokes–but because the audience begins to feel afraid for me.  Good comedians can recover from a bombed joke by convincing the audience of their genuine fool-heartiness–and I mean literally, by proving that they are fools to the heart. By proving that they really don’t take themselves too seriously (comedy operates by usurping the gravity of norms, expectations, etc.–by selectively not taking reality seriously). I’m hit-and-miss at recovering a lost audience, because I have too much at stake. Deep inside I know there’s a part of me that takes me quite seriously, and I’m afraid that part will surface right when I’m trying to convince the audience I have nothing to lose. Fear is the anti-humor, and it spreads from comedians to audiences (especially empathetic, encouraging audiences) like an air-born virus.

Fear is not anxiety about the unknown as much as rage that there could exist an unknown at all. In Moby Dick you have Captain Ahab: he’s terrified > enraged that such an incomprehensible creature as the white whale could exist. In Cormac McCarthy’s brutal Blood Meridian, the Judge, whom I consider to be one of the most terrifying antagonists of all time, makes the chilling comment, “Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.” Ahab, too, is offended by the existence of something he can’t comprehend. Not only is Moby Dick inaccessible to human knowledge, he can’t be dominated or destroyed by Ahab, who has long been one of the greatest whalers on the seas, and proves this by tearing off Ahab’s leg from the hip. Moby Dick is my favorite book, and Ahab is my favorite character–the most tragic character I’ve ever come across in literature. But Moby Dick itself is not a tragedy, in my opinion. I think it’s a comedy, and I’ll explain why.

The narrator, called Ishmael, is easily the greatest comedic character I’ve ever read. But he is only great because of Ahab. If Ahab was not so brilliantly tragic, Ishmael would not be so brilliantly comedic. The reason for this, I think, is that the witness to the tragedian is, ipso factoa comedian, and the greater the tragedy he/she witnesses, the more comedic he/she becomes. Because he sees the tragedy and lives to tell about it. My definition of comedy, here, is absurdity, and my definition of absurdity is just to say that all life is comedy, and tragedy is its adjunct, and art and literature are the children they had together. Ishmael is the supreme comedian because he witnesses the supreme absurdity of Ahab, which Ahab himself couldn’t see. The witness is someone who is left confused, in a funk–who experiences the true absurdity of human existence and goes on existing. Someone who walks away realizing that things didn’t make sense, in the end.  If Ishmael had not witnessed the confusion of Ahab’s story, he wouldn’t be a comedic character because he too would be an actor in the tragedy. Starbuck sees Ahab’s madness, and the madness of the Pequod’s entire enterprise, more clearly than anyone else, but because he does not accept it (by experiencing it and continuing to live his life), he becomes a tragic character. He fights the absurdity to his dying breath, and exeunts thus from the stage. Ishmael is different: Moby Dick ends with an epilogue, which begins with the line, “The drama is done–Why then here does anyone step forth? Because one did survive the wreck.” The question he asks is what I’m getting at: if the tragedy is over, why does the book continue? His answer hints at my point, which is to reassure us that this book is a comedy. Of course, Ishmael isn’t actually the only one to survive the wreck–the readers survived it too–but he stands in at that moment for the rest of us. Ishmael is as effed by the whole event as we are. Melville extends a charitable friend to the reader, to suffer the readers’ pains with them, if not for them.

If the universe is a stage, God is the witness, and if he’s laughing, and I believe he is, then the play is a comedy. Only by witnessing our fear and suffering can God experience the confusion that is, for some reason, inherent to our existence. Only by experiencing this confusion can God laugh. Don’t get me wrong–there’s nothing disdainful in this kind of laughter. On the contrary, I think it’s the greatest thing ever, and the most beautiful, and the most promising. I believe God atoned for us by witnessing the confusion with all the empathy of a good reader–the perfect reader, even. Like Ishmael, he alone survived to tell the tale, and his first-hand witness–his account of the tragedy–marks the birth of a comedy. We are resurrected in the same way an actor playing Ahab might be resurrected to bow to the applauding audience. He comes back on stage at that moment of nirvana, when everyone present acknowledges that what they saw was not real.

As I write this, more examples of this witness-comedy stuff are coming to mind. Think of Shakespeare and a lot of his contemporaries–the chorus acts as a witness to the play, often appearing onstage at the end to remind the audience that the whole thing was just a production. And then, of course, there’s the fool. In Taming of The Shrew, the actual story is, if you ask me, at least as tragic as it is comedic. But the drunkard who witnesses the whole production makes it a comedy. In King Lear, the fool directs remarks to the audience, hinting that he, like Ishmael, is both in and outside of the play, witnessing it. Toward the end of the play, he vanishes completely from the action, maybe because he is no longer an actor, but has joined the audience as solely a witness.

I’m making all of this up as I go. You can’t really rely on anything I’m saying, not that you would have without my disclaimer, etc. But that’s not a reason to stop listening to what people are saying. If the whole thing really is a comedy–if God himself is laughing–then there’s no more need for us to be afraid. There’s no more need to wait for that vague day in the future when wisdom will dawn. We aren’t impotent Ahabs or impotent Starbucks anymore. That’s when we actually begin to practice faith: we begin to believe in things for a positive reason (love) rather than a negative one (fear).

I think that when we’re at a higher level (and yeah, I do mean a higher level, in Truth), we won’t need reminders like the ones we find in literature or philosophy or even this foolish post. That’s when we can all be silent. But I think we haven’t fully reached the witness-phase. We haven’t become confused enough, or foolish enough, and so we need to supplement our foolishness with fresh perspectives from people more foolish than us.



June 29, 2013

I think people should laugh at my jokes around %60-70 of the time, with at least %15-20 of that laughter being the wheezing, knee-slapping kind that makes your stomach cramp up. The %30-40 cushion is for when you’re going through a dark time or my humor is in a momentary “slump phase.”

You are vanting to learn de Romanian, da?

June 25, 2013

In the beginning, there was a very short old lady–

Actually, before we get there, we really have to establish an important point, which will clarify what’s to follow: my working knowledge of Romanian as I began my tutoring today was virtually nil. Okay.

In the beginning, there was a very short old lady who said, “Ah, you are student, Trrent?” and then nodded and beckoned for me to follow her through the halls of an unknown university building.

In a small, window-lit classroom, she motioned for me to sit opposite her. I sat. We smiled at each other. We were alone. I swallowed. She handed me a Romanian grammar book and said, “It is very good.”

Seconds later she was jabbering to me in Romanian, perhaps under the impression that my holding the book would make me conversant. As I stared at her mouth and nodded faintly, I remembered that I had arrived in Cluj two days earlier, during the Pentecost celebration–a huge deal in the local Eastern Orthodox religion–and it crossed my mind this was her way of celebrating the Biblical event, by actually reenacting the cloven tongues of fire part. I went along. I nodded. I got into it. She could tell I was hungry for knowledge, and she fed me feverishly. I ate it up–devoured it–I was here to learn! We were both very excited. Gradually we became tired, and her jibber-jabber slowed like a river suddenly run dry. An hour had passed, and we had exhausted ourselves. We both smiled sheepishly. We were sweaty. She produced a plate of biscuit-like treats and said, “Please eat dulces.” We needed to recover our energy if we were to continue at this pace. So we bit into the dulces. We crunched, chewed, and dryly swallowed the dulces. I almost got carried away and ate too many, but caught myself, and carefully paced my dulce consumption with hers. After we finished, I poured us each a small cup of mineral water, and we drank it, and then I poured another round, and we drank that too.

After our repast, we continued as before, for another four hours. We did not have another break after the first one, although the occasional munching of a dulce was allowed and even encouraged. By 14:00 we had finished for the day. We were both a little glazed. She said, “I meet you here tomorrow da?” and I agreed and then headed home to my hostel.

Now, as I lie supine on my bunk, laptop on stomach, composing this post, I’m racking my brain for a line–just a single line–of Romanian that I actually remember from today’s lesson. Here’s what I turned up: “Noapte buna, ploua la Cluj.” It means, “Good night, it is raining at Cluj.” It doesn’t even make sense.


June 23, 2013

In the courtyard below me, a couple is smoking cigarettes down to the nubbins and arguing in heavily accented English. They seem to be in a relationship. They look Romanian–dark hair and light-olive skin–so I’m wondering why they’re choosing to have this argument in English. After a while, this guy tells the girl to stop talking, so she gets up and walks away. He regrets it. He puts his head down on his arm, on the table, and is motionless for a few minutes before sitting up, sparking another cigi, and rubbing his forehead in the thoughtful, melancholy way smokers have–another semi-romantic mystery to me, who doesn’t smoke.

I’m in a little hostel in Transylvania, wondering how I made it back here. Last summer I was taking buses and trains up and down this area on a crimped budget, camping and couchsurfing and collecting folklore with my friend, Nick Jones. This summer I’m by myself, trying to learn Romanian.

It’s called a FLAS grant and the government provides it to undergrads to study obscure European languages. Romanian is one of those obscure languages.

Why would you spend so much time and money trying to learn Romanian, Is it for your major, How will this help you make money, etc. etc. To which I respond: Maybe. Yes? Kind of. Meh. In no particular order. The truth is, I saw an incredible opportunity and pounced on it like a predatory cat. I let instinct take over. I once heard my mom say that when she’s not sure whether or not she should do a thing, she moves forward with it until she feels like she should stop or do something else. I thought a lot about going on this trip. There were reasons to stay and reasons to go. But I chose to go and moved forward with that plan–and I’m here, and I’m glad.

It seems intrusive to tell you all about this couple–neither of which is aware of that their private affairs are being mentioned on a public blog. But there are a couple reasons why this isn’t a problem for me. First, I’m not counting on more than six people reading my blog. Second, you six readers only know this couple in the  abstract. For anyone reading this post, they belong to the vast, foggy fiction of people you’ll never meet. And the same is true of the people you meet, that I never will. They’re like constellations: you can piece together a few points and get a vague image, but a lot of imagination is required. Unless it’s the BD or Orion’s Belt, in which cases I think we can agree on a certain unmistakable outline, which lends itself to a more or less uniform appearance in the mind, excepting occasional extravagances in imagined dipper or belt color. And of course, only Orion’s belt is being discussed here–Orion himself being so difficult to perceive that, if he exists at all, he lacks any recognizably humanoid proportions. But I’ve derailed.

There’s a certain kind of timidity, born of respect, that comes with only having a constellatory awareness of people. I like that. Sometimes it’s the people we know “perfectly” that we treat the worst. We stop letting them surprise us. We want them to “be themselves,” forgetting that their self is just the culmination of what they have done and are currently doing, and that they are free to depart from their past and remain themselves. I don’t travel all the time–I wish I had the time and resources to do it more often. I like being in a place where the selves–my self and others’ selves–are the culmination of a mere moment.

Not sure if and when and how often I’ll continue this blog, we’ll see. I don’t want to shove myself into people’s consciousness when they were perfectly content without me there. But I need to write, and this is as good a chance as any to do it.

Description of a Nighttime River

June 4, 2012

…..  ….I sat down on a slightly damp log and listened to the river gurgling darkly. The air was cooler by the river and I shivered, wondering why I hadn’t brought a coat. In the dark I couldn’t see into the water—its opaque surface seemed like a dark cloak concealing things of a deeper shade, insects or fish, awake or sleeping, I didn’t know. It moved smoothly in the center and along the banks where I sat the rank reeds and little boulders made small riffles in the water and these disguised the occasional splashing of frogs or maybe the jump of a small fish. In the trees around the woods I could hear owls. Behind some thick swaths of cloud which were draped in the sky like a luminous gray blanket, the moon, a thin disc. The skin on my arms was puckered with goose bumps and I watched the hairs standing on end and wanted them to lie down.

…  ……Several voices were whispering in hushed tones somewhere in the reeds no more than fifteen yards down the bank and I jumped to my feet with fright. I had thought I was alone—certainly it was a strange time of night to be at the river. I had been up in the mountains, probably at Lake Merwin, although there was no good explanation for my being at the lake so late in the evening, either. I had meant to come quickly home to my parents, to my brother and sister and their families—it was someone’s birthday today—probably a niece’s or nephew’s, and there was supposed to be some kind of party. But I was sidetracked as I often am and so I found myself sitting by the river watching the water move in the darkness.

….. ……I sat down and observed a man sitting with his back to me about three or four yards to my right, apparently looking at the water, like me. I felt too timid to ask his name but I was extremely anxious at his sudden appearance, so that I could do nothing but watch his back, feeling slightly nauseated with cold. Whether by a strange shift in the moonlight or because of the tired state of my eyes I became aware that the man was not facing the water but was actually looking directly at me. He spoke my name and I didn’t like the way he said it. I was tired. I was cold and I felt a slight knot in my lower abdomen and I had things to do—things I’d written down and forgotten, which is typical of me.

……….I stood and grabbed a rock about the size of a basketball and hefted it into the mud between me and the man. I grabbed another one and placed it next to the first. It would take several more rocks to make any kind of wall and the wall would require some mud to act as a plaster or daubing or it would simply fall over. I looked around the bank but couldn’t see anything of sufficient size so I started moving through the tall grass, downriver. After about a hundred yards of walking I came across two women who seemed to be drunk—they were whispering things to one another that I couldn’t understand. Occasionally one of them would shriek with laughter. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was I was disrupting and so I stood there, only three or four feet away from them, hoping they wouldn’t notice.

……….I had to get away, and I had to get away immediately. Slowly, imperceptibly, I slumped down towards the ground. I tried to match my movements with the tall, swaying grass, to make myself as discreet as nature. It worked. After several excruciating minutes I was lying on my back, looking up at the luminous navy clouds. By using my fingertips and my heels only, I was able to scoot my body slowly, inch at a time, up the bank, away from the river. With time I became used to the motion and was able to move quickly on my back, so that in a matter of seconds I was a considerable distance up the bank.

……….My next task was to approach the two women from a distance, naturally, as if I had just arrived at the river, and had run into them incidentally. Taking several steps backward into the darkness, I waited five minutes, growing more anxious the whole time. When I finally felt enough time had passed, I took a deep breath, and before I could think about it any longer and become too frightened, I deliberately made some noise in the brush. I kicked a small rock and sent it scuttling through the weeds. I hummed loudly. I tromped through the grass, dragging my feet behind me. The women did not turn but continued to whisper and laugh as before. When I was standing at the river in front of them, I picked up a smooth rock, examined it with the eye of a professional, and threw it skipping across the water. I looked back to see if the women would say anything. One of them began speaking and I stepped forward questioningly, because I hadn’t heard what she said, but then I couldn’t tell if she had actually spoken to me or to her partner. I picked up another stone.

……….“Anyone think I could skip this all the way across the water?” I asked.

……….But one of the women abruptly burst into laughter before I could finish the sentence and sat there gasping for breath and wiping at some tears in her eyes. The other woman looked at me and shook her head as if to apologize for her friend’s behavior. I waved my hand to reassure her that no offense was taken, and I was about to turn and throw the rock into the water when it occurred to me that the women were almost certainly laughing at me. They had been observing me from the start and I realized everything they had been saying in secret: “Look at him—like a tall celery stick. Look at those hands! And watch the way he walks, like he knows we’re watching.”

……….“Easy for you to say,” I mumbled. “But be careful or I might chuck this rock at your head.”

……….“It’s getting late,” replied the one on the left. She wore garish makeup and her lips were dark on top of her large teeth. So they were sending some kind of hint. They wanted me to leave. If I wanted to stay, I would have to think of some kind of excuse.

……….About twenty yards up the river a fisherman was slowly approaching, floating in a paddleboat only a little larger than he was. Periodically he would lean out of the boat and submerge his face in the water, as if he were looking for some sign of life in the river. Because he was strapped into the boat, it leaned dangerously every time he performed this action, threatening to roll over completely in the water. But after a moment he would pull his face out of the water, suck in air, and sit back in his violently rocking boat and shake his head, sending a small spray into the air, which caught the moonlight for a moment before disappearing.

……….“My friend,” I said to the women, gesturing to the fisherman with my head. “He’s out fishing for crawdads using glowworms.” And taking this to be as good an opportunity as any other, I added “What is it you two are whispering about, anyway? I wouldn’t ask except that I think you may have noticed me standing next to you earlier. I had to lie down so slowly just to keep from frightening you with any sudden movements.” I looked up at the stars, demonstrating the way I had used my fingertips and my heels to inch my way up the shore.

……….At this point I became embarrassed and annoyed. Why did I need to explain myself to them? I had been minding my own business, looking for a rock, walking down the riverbank, and they had intruded upon me with their secrets and their laughter. Something very funny, I was sure, but wasn’t it rude to whisper in front of a stranger? And what about that laughter? What on earth could explain it?

……….“It’s my nephew’s birthday tonight,” I said finally, as if this was a conclusion and a goodbye. “I’m sure my family’s wondering where I am, by now. My nephew is eight years old, today. He’ll probably want me to be there when they cut the birthday cake.” Suddenly I wondered what time it was—certainly it was past my nephew’s bedtime. Certainly my family had all gone to bed, and hours ago. “Do either of you know what time it is?”

……….But before either could answer, there was a frantic splashing in the river, and I turned to see the fisherman’s paddleboat flipped upside down, floating on the surface of the rippling water. The boat was moving back and forth and I realized he was probably still strapped in, struggling for air under the water. I threw the rock I had been holding and it hit the side of the boat with a very loud, hollow smacking noise, and the struggling movements ceased. We waited. There was no movement.

……….“I suppose neither of you want to go out there,” I said to the two women—a gesture of bravado—as I waded into the water. Beneath my toes I could feel the slimy slipperiness of the algae on the rocks. Most of them were smooth but occasionally one was sharp and I had to walk gently, always ready to displace my weight lest my foot be cut. There were sticks, too, in the water, and they crumbled or flattened beneath my feet, and there was an abundance of sludge that squeezed up and through my toes onto the tops of my feet, where it sat heavy and cool. The water was very cold but I was not shivering—my body temperature was already low before I entered the river and I didn’t seem to be affected by it. Lucky. I moved my hands cautiously over the surface of the water, testing its blackness. Through the reflection of my fingers I could still make out the luminous glow of the dark clouds above me. No stars tonight, I thought. Then I corrected myself. The stars were always out. I just couldn’t see them.

……….Without noticing how quickly I had moved, I was suddenly standing near the upside down boat, the water all around my shoulders and neck. I made several attempts to lift the boat but couldn’t make it budge. I was about to give up when a thought struck me. I submerged myself completely in the water, waded under the boat, and emerged again in the little floating cavern. It was dark, but the fisherman’s glowworms had all escaped his tackle box and floated down through the water. The light they cast illuminated flecks and swirls of debris, and the small, pale fish which slithered up to them and took surreptitious nibbles. In the pallid light from the water I could barely make out the bearded face of the old fisherman.

……….“Shhh,” he said, as if aware that I was about to speak. “He’s down there, alright. He’s down there. I’ve got my hook fast in the corner of his mouth. A good fish. A big one. Bigger than any I’ve ever seen. A monster. Leviathan. He’s a noble fish. Strong and proud. But I have been chasing him for some time now and I will kill him. If he doesn’t kill me first, by God I’ll see him dead.”

……….I looked, afraid, into the glowing water, but I could see no movement. Only the little fish nibbling at the glowworms. The worms sank slowly down, deeper into the water, toward the rocks below, and for a terrifying moment I thought I saw several pale hands swaying in the water—but they were only weeds such as grow in the rank sedge of riverbottoms.

……….“Aha!” the old man croaked.

……….The pale little fish that had been nibbling at the glowworms darted off of an instant. A movement from my left drew my attention and I saw the long side of something blot out the glowing electric pall. “Come at me, fish,” said the man. “I respect you. I even love you. But by God, I will kill you!” The old man shouted this and the fish suddenly swam between my feet, knocking them both off the rocks, and for a moment I was floating, like the glowworms, like something unborn, turning slowly through the cool water, and then the old man and I were being towed down the river. I shook the old man’s shoulder but he paid me no attention. He was shouting now—spitting and gulping water—“Damn you, fish! Now you’ll kill us both!”

……….The fish made a sudden lunge past my legs—yards of slimy flesh sliding along my calves, as if it would never end. When it slithered through and slapped my knee with its tail I plunged down into the water and kicked and began pumping my arms. The water was very dark and cold but my body was not shaking and I was swimming freely now. I opened my eyes in the water and tried to discern the shapes floating around me, but it was dark, and whatever movement I saw was as likely my imagination as anything else. I rolled onto my back. Through the ripples I could see the moonlight, drenched, hidden in wet blankets of cloud up above. How nice it is, I thought, to be swimming tonight, in this river. I had obligations to keep, and yet, here I was. With nothing to say for myself.

……….I was kneeling on the algae covered rocks and my fingers sank through the sedge as I crawled out of the river and lay down on the bank, looking up at the clouds. My wet clothes clung to me and my arms and fingers and everything below my waist burned and tingled and I burned with a deep sense of calm.

……….I suppose I knew from my dreams that the godmade sun was meant to rise on all and without distinction. But at present it was still the deep of night. The river still gurgled softly, darkly, and the owls still hooted and the bats still flapped in the damp forest surrounding the river. The moon—a thin disc—still hovered behind a navy quilt, and it was the deep—the very deep of night, and I knew, with no little satisfaction or remorse, that I would be long, long dead before I felt the morning’s first warming rays.

© Trent R. Leinenbach, Ashen Apples, 2012

Celebration of Voice/ 3

February 29, 2012

The man.. kept a garden……    …and went to pick ………some fruit from a tree but

On the wind he heard avoice... The man was

….afraid and he .stood   .   . the                         .voice.


With his ears and eyes and nose and mouth and all his skin he



After a while the man….bent down, .tired, .and then

sat at the . .root of the.  . tree.

Some birds were whistling……….. in the     branches and he ….listened.. to these too

….and wondered…………… if it had not been the.. birds he was.. listening .to

all along.


He listened to the wind andthe.. way. the branches swayed and the shudder

Of each leaf.

The leaf-sound ….was like people….. talking…. and muttering and…..whispering,

not knowing

the man .was

………listening but he .  …heard .their ………………………..stories until he .grew

so tired ..  ……..he .could not lift his head.


Lightning and thunder crackled and ripped over the . .sky and he  trembled at the

Voices …………..he ..heard and

the. raindrops began to ….fall and ………each………one………made……….some

Announcement before it..                    .hit .the earth.

The stories.   . mounded upon..his .      .listening.. skin.

He.. .held.   his . ….      ..breath..   . and shut….his eyes with….the intensity of his ………………..listening

..until all the voices had ….finished talking…………….. like a cloud ..moving.. into

…..the distance and the.. last few raindrops fell and these he

..Heard out and.  . then the. man drew a

….          .ragged breath and

Ah groaning,…               . died.


His last word was ah—like ha or like aha, and it is the .sound ofrecognition and

rethinking as well as

laughter .and…………..breath.

Swimming Pool

February 6, 2012

To my grandmother

A little further up the street a deepening

darkness has sidled up to the turfed porch,

rubbing its back against electric

candles in the window.

Welcome, darkness.

Shadows long, longing and looking, once

into the trees before they curl up for the night

under eaves, skimming shingles, delighting in the cool brick

of a chimney, the fire long gone out.

Long gone out—but not so, so long.

Shadows that called with mouths closed

at childhood, awestruck, fireflies,

nighttime swimming

in a too chlorinated pool.

The pool is gone now—a little deck surrounds the air,

the absence of a pool,

where ghosts of children dive from past to present,

present past,

and the shadows play games of tag

and chase a beach ball down a hill—

children’s games—

with memory. Something you cannot see

to feel.