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At the Door of History

Yarrow Paisley




As far as I could tell, there was no excessive jubilation upon my return to my provenance. Fanfares played, true, and streamers shot up, but these well could have been in response to some coincidental event. I am not one to presume.


Listing on a street corner was my father, holding a sign and gazing out of dazed eyes at passersby. The sign was not written in the language of the people who passed, and he received no donations. He did not appear to notice this negligence, the daze of his eyes being steady and committed; but he held the sign fiercely.


I spoke briefly to him, demanding no response, merely practicing the performance of my speech. My words took on the forms of his hallucinations, and he smiled vaguely, replying in this way despite my assertion of no need. His voice began to hum. I appreciated the effort and left him there to his pursuits.


I did not seek certainty after that, and did not mind its lack.


The world became a ruin from my inattention. How passionately I sat upon the crumbling benches beneath those monuments! How ardently I gazed upon the mounds! All my capacity for love swelled into a bubble in my mouth, which I batted gently with my tongue until my pent breath burst through the seam of my lips and released the bubble into the world, never to be seen again.


How can the biography be written of a man who can't remember? Ask his consorts, I suppose. They shall remember every failure, and they will not suppress one detail of his impotence, in the interest of historical veracity. And what better way to ensure sales?


I retain glimmerings of that time, however. Nothing can be entirely erased. There is always some smudge left on the surface. The smudge bears all the burdens of meanings it no longer signifies. It does not resent the meanings, just the burdens. They weigh much, contribute nothing.


I cannot relate the consciousness of the smudge, but all my yearning will carry it toward you. You shall be responsible only to stand in one spot so I can find you even with my eyes downcast and my ears filled with the scream of ululations that may or may not be the exertion of my own lungpower.


Things may have happened one way or another; there is not much difference as far as I can tell. As an object passes by another, gravitation becomes felt in degrees that match proximity. This is natural, and shall circumvention be attempted, it shall be thwarted. And will you move your lips as you read this piece? I am not watching; no one is. But there is no shame in it.


I sought an absolute record of events, an account of history without omission, infinite in scope and minuscule in reading time. I am impatient of reading materials. I wish to finish once I've started, and once I've finished I wish I'd savored, but it is too late; and afterward, one merely sits and stares.


I craved treats without consequence, and never could find them. Always sold out. On order. I placed my name on waiting lists. The outlets would close before my name was reached, their proprietors satisfied with the profits-to-date and admirably not greedy for more.


My cravings intensified. Do not despise me my weakness. I am like you, but less perfect. I manufactured simulacra of those objects I desired. They are with me now, in the form of dust, into which they have disintegrated. I have not bothered to reconstitute them. They would only return to dust again.


How far must one travel, I asked myself. If home is farther from you than that world you most despise, is it a matter of strength to surpass the near to reach the far, or endurance? Shall you summon energy or will? Or shall you merely shut your eyes and wait? And do you have the choice?


I believed for some time that I had fooled myself. The place I had come to bore superficial resemblance to that which I sought, but surely these faces were shifted somewhat out of the sublime molds of my memory. Certainly, there was upon them the crust of a suffering which had no existence in my recollections:


The man with his eyes fixed to a plate of clear glass as though it were a mirror of himself—this man could not be the one who'd laughed as a boy at the onslaughts of history and called them winds more fetid than the breathing of butts! And he prying ineffectually at the fastened lid of his own snuffbox, this one could not be the scholar of exotic percussions whose rhythms transcended in complexity even the mating trills of birds.


Perfection lurked in the corners of every room I entered, but no broom could sweep it out into clear light. Wedged in its preferred nooks, it remained ungraspable.


I celebrated what I could not achieve, however, by simulating it in substandard forms and imprinting on it publicly the brand of my satisfaction. I deferred my weeping to private moments.


A city descended around me. Buildings fell into place. Wherever I lingered, new structures floated down upon readymade foundations. I did not doubt my surroundings. There is no doubt without questions, and I could summon none.


Instead, my imagination latched onto the provisions of my survival. About me were the records of human endeavor, and I persuaded myself of their authenticity.


I sought the shadows of my visions. Such light, however, as was cast upon them passed through undeflected.


One must hold the world in his mind, I came to understand. All that becomes and fades shall not be lost. The qualities of objects are themselves objects; transparency and opaqueness stand separately as viewable entities. The eye which grasps an object holds it should even demolition attempt to break the grip. Memory preserves the existence of all things. Even the faulty and diffident objects of the world shall persevere alongside the perfect and mighty. There shall come a time in which no distinctions can be drawn.


However may one console himself with perceptions of intersections of time and existence, one must eat.


There were no fruit sellers on my block. Only dung could be had, and dearly. One must die, who lives on dung: had not my mother taught me this? Had not his mother, the seller's? How had he come upon this form of commerce? Stumbled into it, or craftily designed it from the bottom up? I did not ask the man, nor did I ask his competitor. I bowed my head in greeting and exchanged a friendly word, even as I hated him. I hated him so hotly that I felt my burning should ignite the nugget I held. And yet, at the transaction's conclusion we receded from each other, and these passions dwindled, on my side at least.


Everywhere, revenants touched the world, and my own body trembled as though all should crumble at such contact. But all things remained fixed in their bodies, as did I remain fixed in mine.


My expectations laid me low. I wept at the sight of a cat sliding along brick.


I wept when the rain did not pass through me but entered me through the pores.


I wept when my weeping came to sustain me in the nights when I felt I should dissolve into my cushions.


At the door of history, I paused. The lintel was carved of ivory, the sill was ice. Between the two, jambs of mirror.


I dared not step through. I feared my feet.


And yet, on the other side was a room whose walls were lined with shelves upon which were stored books of all materials and sizes. They beckoned me, as books do.


Still, I dared not step through. I feared I would be forbidden removing any of those books, no matter how mysterious and compelling the words they contained. I feared I would be trapped in that room with those books, bound to them as surely as their pages were bound to their bindings.


And yet, what kept me here but provenance? With what chains did my provenance secure me to the world of ghosts and bodies?


I could not answer, but the chains, as solid as the mind they tethered, tugged me back from all doors out of the world. 





Yarrow Paisley lives in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. His writing has appeared (and is scheduled to appear) in many venues, online and in print; information and links are available at Yarrow is also a member of the Step Chamber, an experimental collaborative venture with some truly notable emerging writers and web artists.


A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure. - Henry David Thoreau


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