here in this universe can I find a way out of its laws? Isn’t that what we all want? Or should I jump in with transcendent pragmatism to contemplate my inevitable demise: the fact I no longer jump, run fast, or touch my toes without groaning. Maybe if I dig a hole in the backyard and crawl in it, and pull the soil back over me, maybe that’s where transcendence is hiding?
The Etruscans, perhaps, knew best to decorate their tombs with lovely things. No mere hole for them! But a room brilliant with frescos of seascapes and gardens. All their most cherished possessions with them: amphoras of wine, oil, feasts laid out around them, friends even, and dogs and lovers.
The trick, I guess, is to get to your tomb before you wind up in somebody else’s . . . whether as a dog, a lover, or both.
I suppose you can no longer write about the moon. There are now so many taboos. We live in an age of myriad taboos. There are times it seems nothing can be said without offending someone. Even that sentiment will come across as offensive. It’s gotten so bad, so exhaustive all this endless correcting, that you wind up throwing up your hands and just saying whatever you want, realizing no matter how careful you are, someone somehow will take offense.
But don’t worry, I won’t say a thing about the moon.
The older you get, the more exotic young people become. What on earth are they doing? Are they so captive in their own bodies that they’ve lost their minds? I suppose so. There’s probably nothing to be done. They will age, and see their folly, and new ones will replace them.
But where are they going driven by “that place where procreation flares . . .”? Flares is certainly the right word. A mere flash, a flicker or fast second here, a whole life—to say nothing of the desire to multiply. Is it “go forth and multiply” or “sit down and shut up”? At some point the latter surely comes knocking on the door of the former.
But who’s to say which of us should be the ones to forgo regeneration? We all demand the right to contribute to the decadent overpopulation of our colony. Show me any human and I will show you a colonist. Show me any animal at all, any plant for that matter. It is the nature of nature to end in what’s unnatural.
And yet, that’s the thing with nature: it can hold all things. It’s as hungry and as flexible as the English language, so that even the unnatural becomes subsumed as something natural after all.
No, I’m afraid the youth will not help out with this one. Again. We’re on our own, meaning, we’ll never find a place to be alone.
don’t like to tell people what I’m reading. It seems pretentious. I don’t really like to talk about books at all. At least not with most people. Certainly not with other writers! The best people to talk about books with are people who don’t write, who only read.
Of course, there are people who only read to “better themselves.” I don’t like those people. How could I? They ask you what you’re reading in the same way they might ask you what your politics are. Those people only read the books in fashion. And by “in fashion” I mean in political fashion. It’s disgusting.
Of course, I talk about books with my wife. She is a writer, but she’s also my wife (that’s two strikes against her). We have to talk about books, as, like most married people, we are constantly trying to find things to talk about.
And sometimes, because we live together, one of us will just start talking and the other one will overhear, and they will sometimes be talking about books. We are lucky in that we mostly read different things. But not always. Sometimes we read the same things . . . on purpose! This can be, at its best, interesting. At its worst we argue for days about whether the language of Choderlos de Laclos is too florid, the sentimentality of Maggie Nelson is too cloying, or if the bits about Jesus in Pascal should be cut out altogether. The arguments become memes, and inevitably personal. And because we are both writers, we insult not only the other’s intelligence, but by extension their writing as well. Now, insulting a writer’s intelligence is not that big of a deal. They don’t really care. But if you insult their writing they will be absolutely devastated and sulk for weeks!
The only literary thing my wife and I have ever agreed on is that Dostoevsky’s Svidrigalov is the most perfect villain (outside of Shakespeare) in all of literature.
My friend Tyler, I think, is the perfect reader. First of all, he doesn’t write. Secondly, he is endlessly patient. He’s read William Gass’ fiction for godssakes! He doesn’t seem to form snap judgements or let his ego intercede in the story. He just watches it happen. It’s very passive but that might be the best way to read: to surrender completely to the writer. After all, a book is not a conversation, it’s an argument, a proposition. You can only have conversations about a book, not with it. In fact, I think that’s why a lot of writers write in the first place. We can say whatever we want without anyone talking back to us. By the time a reader does talk back, we’ve already stopped talking and moved onto something else, “oh, yeah, whatever, I’m not really interested in that anymore . . .”
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the best way to read a book is to just let it happen to you. Like watching a horror movie, or therapy. You have to just let it happen or it doesn’t work . . . The time for objection comes when the text is done, which I suppose in this instance would be . . . now.
never liked clothes. I wear them of course, but I would be happy not to. Or to wear the bare minimum (bare being the operative word). I could live where it’s warm, and wear only swimmers, at most a loose shirt or linen slacks at night. Never socks. I hate socks. Socks feel like little straight jackets for your feet. The worst part of my day is putting on socks, and I leave it till the last possible minute, and take them off as soon as I can. Sometimes I take them off on my way home from work. I drive barefoot.
The times I’ve lived where it’s warm have been the most healthy and contented days of my life. Even Taiwan, where the air is full of dust and lead and carbon monoxide, the fact that socks were not necessary made up for the sinus infections, the thick yellow mucus, the burning eyes and the potential for lung cancer.
In Mexico, too, socks are unnecessary. What’s the point? Sure, people get dressed up there (as they do in Taiwan) but there’s no need to. Why? just sit on the terraza and listen to the parrots, the mariachi, or the men yelling “elote!” in the street.
I went a whole year without wearing socks in Australia. It was delightful. I nearly floated away. Socks are a burden, an anchor. They are the chain that ties Prometheus to the stone so the vultures can pick out his eyes. What fool invented them? What pretentious, Edwardian shithead said “oh, these will adorn the area above the shoe and beneath the hem.”
A sock is a shoe, etymologically speaking, and therefore unnecessary. What fool would wear two pairs of shoes? From Old English, socc, “a kind of light shoe,” derived from Greek, sukkhos, “a Phrygian shoe.” Phrygia is where Turkey is now. It is of course a desert country on the Mediterranean: a place where you don’t need socks! I don’t blame the Phrygians for wearing shoes, especially “light shoes,” but what dumbass, from what country, decided “these shoes work better if you wear another shoe on top of them?”
admit I think of death as kind of a failure. A tragedy, to be sure, but also a failure. I’m just being honest.
The geranium in the balcony box, for instance. It came back again this spring, and is blooming now in May. The verbena, though, didn’t make it. It failed to. I planted them both at the same time, in the same way, under the same circumstances.
I saw a rat that had been run over by a car. It had been there for some time, as it was flat against the pavement. All of its guts squeezed out through its mouth and ass, the hole in its side where it burst like a balloon. Many cars had run over it. I was riding my bike, and I saw it, and I took a picture of it with my phone. To have as a kind of memento mori.
I’m not trying to be insensitive. None of us have much control, ultimately. But it does seem to be a failure of certain species that they cannot achieve longevity. Some insects have only minutes on this earth, a day at most. While a tree might live a thousand years. That tree, to me, is a great success.
When I say certain species, I mean individuals of certain species, of course (see rat above).
A moth who lives a few moments longer is as much of a success as a tree that makes it a few decades more.
And what is our problem! Most of us, if we’re lucky, make it seventy or eighty years. That’s it! Randomly flipping through the dictionary, I see that Pat Nixon lived to be eighty-one. Richard Nixon also eighty-one. George Mason (American Revolutionary) died at sixty-seven. Eleanor Roosevelt was ninety. Even Socrates lived to be seventy-one. It seems to me we’ve failed if we haven’t been able to improve our life-expectancy more than a few years on someone who lived over 2300 years ago. That, surely, is a failure.
But maybe those moths, a few minutes old, have always lived to be only a few minutes old. Maybe we’re stuck, fixed in the wax of our biological limitations. And all we can do (again, if we’re lucky) is fill out the full potential of our measly seventy or eighty years. Bask in the sun that long, before the lights go out, again, forever.
Thomas Walton is author of All the Useless Things Are Mine: A Book of Seventeens (Sagging Meniscus, 2020), the anti-lyric-essay lyric essay The World Is All That Does Befall Us (Ravenna Press, 2019), the microchapbook A Name Is Just A Mane (Rinky Dink, 2016), and, with Elizabeth Cooperman, the tesselated essay/poem The Last Mosaic (Sagging Meniscus Press, 2018). His work has appeared in ZYZZYVA, Delmar, Timberline Review, Rivet, The Chaos Journal, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Bombay Gin, Pontoon, and other magazines. He is one of three editors of the bilingual poetry anthology Make It True Meets Medusario (Pleasure Boat Studio, 2019). He lives in Seattle, where he builds gardens and edits PageBoy Magazine.