Some days it is clear upon waking that what follows will involve certain reminders. About how, for example, I am at any given time rarely more than half-open or half-closed. Even when I thought I was more than aware of being somewhat too dense for my imagination’s preference, I am now the weary stranger offering directions to the inquiring heart, wondering whether its own spiraling rhythm is moving toward the center, or out. Or else, a shadow cut from its source, floating around like a kite. And it’s unclear, from this wavering axis, whether the metaphor is the blunt object sending an atom of awareness out into a larger field, or a mat to cushion the impact.
Writers keep tackle boxes of images, memories, metaphors. Bait the hook. Cast into the dim light of early morning, over the blank page. This loud hunger, shhhh. Try the next metaphor. Vary the retrieve. Look and wait.
I recently came upon a character who is fishing. I don’t do this, so this means it’s time to research some. What test for what catch, what lure, what line, what basic knots? What bait for bonito, how to prepare guitarfish, how to vary the retrieve when catching halibut. Sometimes you want to move slow and steady. Other times it’s crank, crank, twitch. What I find is supposed to be for these characters, but I can’t help sampling some. I’ve always had it, this waiting pose, looking out.
Anglers have their rods and their lines; their lures and their five gallon buckets. Writers keep tackle boxes of images, memories, metaphors. Bait the hook. Cast into the dim light of early morning, over the blank page. This loud hunger, shhhh. Try the next metaphor. Vary the retrieve. Look and wait.
Now I have an excuse to go to the pier, just looking, waiting like the others, but without a line. To watch the angler in the blue jacket, and hold a silent one-way conversation.
What are you bringing up now? Is that mackerel? Maybe you will filet it yourself when you get home. Maybe there’s someone waiting to add it to a bowl with jalapeños, lime, cilantro, oil, as her mother did when she was a girl. And who taught you what line, and what taught you how to wait, and what longings are behind the eyes you cast over the surface now, reflecting back the deep? And who meets you in the silence of your sunset reverie, and what other shores do you remember, and what aches would you rather forget? What makes you limp when you move now, back to the folding chair? Is it simply stiffness of hard work over time, or something else? There are no grays visible beneath your ball cap, and yet your face is etched with deep lines, like a bronze sculpture. Angler, where are the young promises of new life you once held on your knee, raised up, up! — above your head, just to admire? Who laughed back, cooing, and what is it like to remember them at a distance, and what makes them laugh now, do you know? And who holds them now, and are they gentle, and can you bear to ask?
I keep metaphors on hand like tools for getting me out of tight psychic spaces. Many are regularly useful, like the tiny Philips screwdriver in the catchall drawer, even after they’ve become so clichéd that they would sound generic if I used them in writing. You know the ones, hope as the thing with feathers, and the bright light in the dark room. The beloved as a summer’s day, or the sun. The heart as the always-breaking part, its cracks the places through which some inner light shines. Snow like a bedcover, a partner as one’s other half, emotions like an amusement park ride, the premise of which is to simmer delight with suspense until they boil over into terrified laughter. The dead horse, still beaten; the late-coming blooms, time as a thief, running off with the riches still unspent. Years like a river upon which a body may be carried, against which the salmon might swim. Time at the bedside in the white costume of a nurse of the first great war, coming to heal.
These familiar metaphors can be called up as needed, summoned for the occasion. There’s comfort and security in returning to them. I’ll be the tree; you be the bird. I’ll be the nest; you be the egg. I’ll be the frightened, you be the sheltering wing, here is the basket, now take the eggs. Long road, steep hill, one foot at a time, there are always the bushes to shake.
Until they shake you such that your vision lands on one you’ve never seen before, and it’s like finding a new room in the house you’ve been living in for years. This happened the other day, as I was walking by an elementary school, and I looked through the fence, into the garden, to read the words painted in a child’s hand, in large letters, on plywood propped behind the raised beds, against the opposite fence.
“THE WORLD IS YOUR OY,” it proudly proclaimed, and I almost missed it, filling in the space with the missing letters I expected to see––as I do often, mainly with my own typos. Ah yes, I thought, the mollusk ready to eat, which is a delicacy when fresh and poison when left to sit too long. The thing to be shucked and opened, quivering briny flesh on the tongue, swallowed whole.
But then I stopped. No, it was not an oyster, as this young person had written it. Perhaps they were going that way, and then they got tagged it or something more interesting happened in the adjacent field–– a kickball game or an unexpected kite. Maybe the fire bell rang. Whatever the interruption, the result is clear, and what it leaves me with is a metaphor that’s just right at specific moments when other ones will not do. Yes, I think, wisdom from the letters of babes. The world is indeed, sometimes, just this: My Oy! Some tools are too wonderful to keep to oneself, so I have to write it here again. I’ll leave it to you to decide on the appropriate use.
A cannibal galaxy has such gravity that it may eat other galaxies. Some moments in time are like that.
There are moments when you are inside something, noticing what you will remember when it’s done. Or there are exploding moments and you can’t help but notice the blast of certain solid-seeming ideas. It’s a protected site: caution tape, guards. You can’t go around taking things from it, so you look, gathering images for later when you’re no longer at the site, for when the site itself no longer exists except perhaps as a memorial, for when you are considering, in memorial, what remains.
A cannibal galaxy has such gravity that it may eat other galaxies. Some moments in time are like that, eating any memory of what happened before or after. You try to recover, but can do no better than metaphor.
It was like being inside a Dali painting, melted face propped on a stick. It was like being stuck on top of the monkey bars or like one of those dreams where you are trying to scream and the words won’t come out. The problem with trying to tell some stories is that the origin point was consumed by other origin points, cannibal moments.
It was like another dream, also: driving a car up a ramp. The ramp is so steep that it’s practically vertical. The road is narrow and it is over a bridge and the bridge is over sky and space and water and whatever you might be about to fall into is on both sides, close, and there is no way to reverse, but you see that the road ahead of you will very soon drop off into sky. You head up anyway, accepting a certain lack of choice. Or choosing to accept that the original decision was already made when you got into the car and started driving. That moment never shows up in the dream, not once.
Or it was like being underwater, in the quiet susurration of it, trying to resist the temptation to surface for air.
Or it was like flight/not flight, as in jumping up, bouncing off, or being thrown, that moment in midair when the breath catches.
And while you’re catching your breath you know that it was indeed like all of these things, but none exactly, and for the time being you are all out of words. Sometimes all you want to do is hang on to some scrap of fallen silence at your feet and close your eyes, as if doing so could make it possible to return to some moment just before.