At night we watched the water, but her depths revealed nothing of themselves, all reflection and tides and unknowns. But once we looked and like a jumping fish it showed itself. We gasped to see Time. You! We almost said, but he was gone again.
What could we do with that? Dark and cold, she would neither be caressed nor worshipped, features afforded by our creatures, mountains, monuments. The mirror of her, looking back, knew us, and she held what we had meant to catch.
It was hard to face, our faces. We went back to carving our names. We carved them in stones that looked solid enough to hold them. To last, as the saying went, the test.
What test? We wondered, and the answer was Time. But time was submerged again, and the sea, seeming to see us, had always been more than we could take in. Now it was more still, and rising.
Records of cross-examination.
The first thing we grasped was that we were made of one part here and another just outside us. The next was that Time was made of more than one kind of stuff. Now it held us; now it was a river beyond. Now an elaborate ice castle, now air and what flew on it. Then it was in us somehow, overlapping breath but more.
Was it a fabric? Some spoke as though it were something to be measured, conquered, won. But then, some spoke of nearly everything in those terms. Let time no longer be imposed on us, said another, imagining it a medium to be shaped, like clay. Some had a bias toward thinking that the moment at hand was a new Time. For others, the future could not be born without events, and until these happened, none existed that we could name.
There was much we couldn’t name. This was not a beloved idea. Often, it seemed to be measuring us, and while many fell, none of these were Time.
The tracks uncross, uncoupling the stars in our eyes. It is late and the light won’t train toward the alley by the liquor store on Broadway. Saturday night leaks greasy blues against neon signs for lotto prizes and fast-food payday loans. The discount tire guy waves and falls, to be raised again, a blow-up Lazarus. Alive.
The buzz of broken streetlights reminds that everyone is hanging as you are, by the thread to which we’ve tied some whispered prayer. Give us this day, our daily bread––no, never mind, take it back. Regrets fur like smoke at the crosswalk, teasing, Go. Not Yet. Hurry. You’ll miss it again.
My eyes hurt. Show me one thing blooming. Here they are, cellophane-wrapped with other plastic-plated symbols of significance, ready for purchase, bright tokens. Pang of grief, but you work with what you have. The hungry eye learns to make do. The gas station oasis lit to magnify the lines on the faces in line, we avert our eyes in respect for one another’s naked needs.
If not this day again, give me something. I pay to spill back onto Broadway. Beneath the glow of a No Vacancy sign, I wait to cross, sated now, the stems in hand. There are others on foot, and we stand at the banks. Not yet, don’t go. You can feel something hold us by the words we still won’t speak, nudging toward the next chance to give it all away.
There can be no contradiction between paired images, only connection, and so little that is true will conform to the expectations of available language. There is a certain sadness that smells of oranges––or nectarines? and it holds a horizon inside itself, complete with sunrises and sunsets that only one at a time may witness. The challenge is how awe wants company to verify its origin, as something other than madness. Lacking any, a witness is burdened with a weight that denies its own release.
The fact that it is so difficult to express is what complicates, and in these complications, sometimes art. In its invisible geography, the felt experience of any other tends to flicker, then disappear.
Like fireflies, or a faulty bulb? Like meteor showers?
No, not like any of these.
It breaks your metaphor, doesn’t it?
A choice, then: the astounding freedom of unsight, or the weight of witness.
This body, take it. It has never known certainty, the first sound a cry, shattering words.
In her profound The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, Elaine Scarry writes, “When one hears about another person’s physical pain, the events happening within the interior of that person’s body may seem to have the same remote character of some deep subterranean fact, belonging to an invisible geography that, however portentous, has no reality because it has not yet manifested itself on the visible surface of the earth. Or, alternatively, it may seem as distant as the interstellar events referred to by scientists who speak to us mysteriously of not yet detectable intergalactic screams. . .”