“Live and invent. I have tried. I must have tried. Invent. It is not the word. Neither is to live. No matter. I have tried. [...] I say living without knowing what it is. I tried to live without knowing what I was trying. Perhaps I have lived after all, without knowing.”
-Samuel Beckett, “Malone Dies” (1951)
hard going in this going light:
i see but darkly, phrase to phrase:
and in the gloaming, however slight
my understanding, faintest trace
of some preliminary vision
where words fall lithely into place
and in eluding cool misprision
immerse me in their glassy pools
of order and of clean precision
and take these frayed, unravelled spools
of thought that have half-harled my brain
and (slick from wet) so let them fall
into a type of curtained rain
the way your hair (flared in water)
falls in drapes when you again
emerge: a kind of order!
but dark accrues upon the dark:
the going light goes even further -
flailing lonely in the park
when we’ve left our stern assays
into the deep, we confront the stark
knowledge: how words betray -
no that was not it: some other
realisation comes into play –
No, it will not do. Attempt the deep? But how does one begin. Getting lost was not your concern, but your objective. And the coldness of your verse that will not warm your hands let alone the nerves. Better the cheap lighter approaching the cigarette. The better to warm your hands. The better because it reaches what it approaches. Never mind the fire (tired metaphor, begone with it). And what do you have recourse to, besides smoke? The words you write? No: all lame, all dead as clay, and cold and damp. (Self-admonitions all day, as always, to no end, no improvement.) What then, having been told not to attempt the deep but having attempted it anyway? Having been warned not to for all the wrong reasons. Getting lost might have been salutary, instead you remain the same, not lost but foundering. Could it have been more accurate had they only said: Do not attempt the deep, for you will know how much you do not have? The days always in their derisory and sallow fashion flit by without impression or permission. Attempt the deep? Have you not always attempted? only to be rebuffed? And all your thoughts so frayed like wires, wires insulated from revivifying heat. You might have, some younger age, rehearsed the usual forays into passion, or what passed for passion in your understanding – love poems, to people you couldn’t say you really loved, who could really say they didn’t love you back, or other cobbled words stolen from novels, replete with falsified empty wine bottles and cigarettes (though these are now real, though to no effect) and other types of evidence. To prove what and to whom? That you have lived, and to… No matter to whom, the verdict still the same. Such things as aren’t usually amenable to proof find in you a special case, of dryness. Terminally debarred from life you content yourself with vague attempts at doing something you were never taught, let alone had a gift for. The sad music each day acquires deepening relevance. Though depth is probably not the right metaphor, for you. Instead, the dull rustling as of some wind-touched reeds is what passes, in you, for being moved. To have been found, and subsequently informed, that you have been absent from your life most days, was devastating. Though not a surprise. And a devastation as is that can be registered with only the hushed susurration of reeds, a howl-less, storm-free tinny devastation, more an innominate dullness than any sense of loss, though you are always feeling some sort of loss, though are you are always at a loss. What kind of meditation is this, to what end? O dark dark dark, and other such remarks by better men who could give credence to their emptiness and make something resembling music out of it. Instead I offer only the above verse, so lame and unfashionable (even others can mock themselves better than me), so curtailed and weakly sputtering. Terza rima, as if tercets could staunch this bleeding emptiness. Can I content myself with the shallows? Perhaps I’ll make a start then. Neither fever nor tremor. Neither movement nor grace-swept stillness. No, none of the usual rewards for trawling the deeps. I am in the low countries. I believe in the shallows, since it is what I have. Or what I have left. Or what I only have. These shallows, these semblances. These low countries with their minor revelations. Revelations which I receive humbly with appropriate applause. The sky the woolly colour of too-long-kept wine. Here, my words are like tears: they do not come to me. To my dismay. No. I must content myself here with this life that approximates life, with vision that approximates vision, both unfulfilled and unfulfilling either way. No. But what else can I do, being here, having nowhere to go? Perhaps I have lost myself now, though I’d expected it to be more edifying. Instead I have what I have. I must be content. No. But what choice do I have?
Perhaps this may pass for wisdom: this observation, this episode. Another furtive assay at the deep. Perhaps we could glean something from it, with careful enough reading, and sturdily proficient attempts at imagination.
Imagine this then: cold, night, moonless (actually, it doesn’t matter what state was the moon, same result in any case), on the green metal bench under the shelter outside the bar: congregation of smokers. Cigarettes in mouths, as if on parade, as if for inspection – of what? and by whom? No matter, same result in any case, as follows:
“Does anybody have a light?” says one.
Thus ends the parable.