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Three Letters


ISSUE:  Spring 1984

Dear_______,

I am green, and I may well misunderstand your words, as
even now I cannot read the precise condensations of the rain
upon the outside of the thick glass of a recessed window on
the fourth floor where I write this. Through the gray slats of
window blinds, they line up like hieroglyphics, and I am as
certain that I do not think correctly about this as I am that
they should always appear to me to be amorphous cartoons
squeezed from the weather unless I take steps. . . .

And so I might crack my fist against the glass, not changing
a line of that watery writing which maintains its distance and
temperature, but, in the pain and insanity with which I think
of my battered hand, comes to be, in a life which has sides,
the other side.

I detest the way that life is used as a metaphor for death,
which only gives us death as a metaphor for life. I would
rather have this sense of the other side, the condensed
version, the utterly unreachable. For if I break through this
window to take possession of what is on its other side, what
will be left?

Only everything.

Dear___________,

Today, when I pulled on a rope to open the blinds, the day
was bright with light clouds like those which surround the
peaks of the world’s tallest mountains. And now the air is
moving around enough to bend the tops of trees. An altogether
satisfactory amalgam of wishes as portrayed in pictures and
 talk.

Behind a choppy cluster of full trees which end my view in
one direction within a hundred yards, there sits a small
chapel rarely used now. Almost no one married in it is still
married. It’s not cursed. It is just very ordinary.
Others are bigger or smaller and known for it.

The chapel is open today. A ceremony for a woman who, it
is said, died in Ireland, who once wore her hair long enough
to touch the floor when she bowed, and who danced in
circles of head and hair until the force of it flung her from this
town and out of mind.

No doubt she thought she was a failure. Most businessmen,
most scientists, and everyone in the arts think they are. I
think she intended to live longer. I do. I know more and more
people who are dead, which doesn’t make them live. And I
won’t tell you how to say the end of that sentence. The mind
can make all sounds at once.

The mind, starting from nothing but the privilege of
darkness. . . .

The mind, pulp and sinew, is destined never to complete a
thought. As a life is destined to stop short, even if you live to
be a hundred. In deception and pride, we have manufactured
things to call complete. We are ourselves pieces of something,
I am sure, but it would take the thinking of light itself
to know what.

You wanted only to know how the river runs here, where
the swords are among the trees, why the yellow flower is
heading for the clouds, and maybe the attitude of the grass
where some of the mourners are walking slowly toward the
chapel, hands hanging heavily, rolling their steps so as to
walk even more quietly. And I, I wanted to think about how
time stops.

They are all in the chapel now, and the door closed.

Dear_______,

Your very friendliness is a problem when we come to speak
about feelings, so that sometimes we hurry into lovemaking
so that we might not suffer any longer the slight feeling of
mere happiness.

We want someone to be watching when we do these things
that might kill us. We can only see ourselves in the other’s
face. Not in the eyes only but in the mouth and cheeks. Is the
mouth held open and sounds pushed up from stomach and
bowels held caught at the top of the throat? Then someone
must be reaching deeper to grab and pull out those sounds.
Does the mouth contort and the teeth come forward? Then
great labors are taking place to open up the body. Do the eyes
slam shut? Then you and she are nothing, a long explosion
seen and heard by no one, a triumph without beauty or
ugliness, in which the smallest grain of feeling punctures the
skin like one of those jacketed bullets which penetrates an
armored vehicle of war and slams about inside, chewing up
metal and skin until it stops spinning and drops.

Later, a door or hatch may open and a soldier appear
seemingly undamaged and fall out as if unable to work his
legs. Right now, it appears that no one has been left alive.

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