“Would you rather,” he asks me, “never be able to use a public library? Or lose the dog forever?”
“The library,” I say. As long as they exist for everyone else. I could live without them. Besides, my friends could bring me books.”
“Would you rather,” he asks me, “never be able to read a book again? Or lose the dog forever?”
“The dog,” I say. “If she’s going to a good home, I would miss her terribly but she’d be okay.”
“Would you rather,” he asks me, “never be able to read a book again? Or the dog dies?”
“Neither,” I say.
“You have to choose,” he tells me.
“No, I don’t.”
I reject the false choice. No situation in this world demands such a splitting. I claim it all. My love is vast. Like Whitman, I contain multitudes.
One of the many dangers of failing to log out when the tween is slouching around the house in his miasma of boredom is that he will stumble upon the online profile.
“What is OK Cupid?” he asks. “And why is that guy kissing a dolphin?”
Before I can pop the screen closed, he’s found the list. I value…
“Public libraries? Really? Libraries? Why am I not on the list?” He looks again. “Oh my god, the dog isn’t even on the list!” He gets on the floor, gathers up the pooch in an admirable attempt at triangulation, and stage-whispers to her, “Mommy thinks books are more important than you.”
She doesn’t seem too concerned.
He’s only just scratching the surface of the strangeness of this. Tip-tapping on a screen, these tiny characters forming words to shape a self. Answering questions I would never ask, and here I am, trimming and trussing the voluptuous flesh of my story to stuff into columns of cabinets so much like pens.
“There you are,” I say, scrolling up. “You and the dog both, right at the very top of my intro.” Do we need to list them multiple times? In my book, if kids are involved, they are a given. Oxygen, a safe home, my beating heart. My child.
He wants to be the most important thing. Even though he’ll never admit it. And of course, he is. Even though there is room for so much more.
(For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you)
The man whose profile mentions D&D and boxing both leans across the table at the Irish Pub. “Here’s what I think,” he says. Then he stops. Reconsiders. Leans back. “I really hope this doesn’t work against me.”
Speak! I want to holler. Tell your truth. This is what we’re doing here. Don’t fold yourself into some shape you think fits around mine.
I nod instead, gesture him on. He launches in right handily, tells me what he won’t do, where he won’t go, why this won’t change, how I shouldn’t ever expect him to __________.
I bite back the smirk. Brother, this is date #2, I’m not asking you to do much more than stick around ‘til dessert.
Is this is how we convince ourselves that we do the world good even as we guard the source of our light? We carve the boundaries of our tolerance into the too-forgiving earth. Be all of you inside this frame I’ve hammered together, he tells me. Be all of you but only just a bit, really, and please tuck in the other parts, and, oh, first apply my logic to explain those parts of you I wish didn’t exist.
Love RPGs. Raise bees. Don’t want kids. Dog yes, cats maybe, religion no. Outdoors your one true home. Clean food. Beer and barbecue. Petite women, groomed pubes, tattoos, road trips, Thai food, ice cream, Breaking Bad, Misfits, Matrix, Oliver Sachs.
(Trippers and askers surround me)
Lean in please and ask the real question.
Before I’ve spit out even one snip of my story, he’s jittering in his seat.
“I hope this won’t hurt my chances, but.”
“I believe, I think and well actually I’m anti.”
How much I want one of them, any of them, even my own son to lean in and ask.
Not would you rather. Not your likes versus mine.
Not to whet the appetite of an idle curiosity
Where do you come from?
How do you carry your light?
What is the shape of it?
In what corner of your spirit does the old wound squat?
How do you sway along the tightrope of this cacophony?
Ask me about what’s unfurling inside of me.
And I’ll do the same for you.
Recently I’ve begun to pray. The atheist with an altar on her dresser. The polished stone and the photograph, a single diamond earring. A lit candle that smells like cookies.
(Very well then, I contradict myself.)
Because fury strained the muscles of my heart, ground these teeth to daggers. Because the bitter alluvium left on my throat had begun to sour the notes as they made their exit.
The lyric wilting.
The boss tells us to uphold a policy we said we’d never condone. Grooming us. A slow erosion of vision. Yet another slight recalibration of the compass. The tiny degree shift carrying us miles off course. We land again somewhere in a place we have to decide to call home. We scoff at the idealism of the self we left back there. We had so little to lose then, we say. Of course we could stand on moral clarity.
But maybe the younger self knew the power of conviction, how it was the most precious thing after all.
Because someone so much like me has acted so reprehensibly, has profited from the devastation of an already vulnerable life.
Because the betrayal of what we say we believe is so very near at hand.
Because a neighbor a friend a hero a nation revealed the ubiquity of corruption gestating inside the illusion of innocence.
Each of us in the daily act of moral failure. We need to keep the job, to pay the mortgage, to feed the kid to stay alive and retain the little we control.
The tired mind rejects the option of resistance.
Of learning the histories.
Of mastering the tools.
Of asking the question underneath the question.
Right there on the shelves of those public libraries are the operating manuals for underground railroads, overthrowing tyrants, mounting rescues, collective action and revolutionary love.
“Would you rather,” my boy asks me, “save me or save the world?”
(My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds)
“Both,” I say. “I chose it all”
You are the whole. Your story belongs to the story of everything. I know how much we stand to lose. The only option is decide with our weary, broken hearts, to love it all.
You, the man across the table at the pub. You, the boy in the living room wrapping the dog in a hug. You, wherever your here is now, you too have a heart so big it can split open, spill past the flimsy borders of tolerance, fixed narratives, and tastes. If you let it, you too have room for the love that undoes you entirely.
Poem references: Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”
Image: Marlina Vera, Couple #7
7 thoughts on “Not a Bit Tamed, Untranslatable”
every day I try and get more ok with my limited powers to shape the world (including myself) and my vulnerabilities to what the world brings into contact and every day I fail, if cookie scented prayer or the like help than that’s as close to grace as we are likely to get.
your powers are exuding… thanks for all these writings! I’ve been swarmed under with work and family the past 6 weeks or more… finally a breath to ready by – and well worth it
It’s nice to see you back! You’re writing again too. This is a very good thing.
Have you encountered Karl Ove Knausgaard’s seasonal series? I think of your perceptions when I read it… Autumn begins it – he has been much of a companion as I parent & write my way toward my ends