It’s a declaration of faith that the spiral staircase leading to his door should be—for weeks now—in the process of being renovated. From white walls, to exposed brick, to the burnished banister that coils around the stairs like flights I can imagine a lighthouse must have rising inside of it—all the way up to the open throat of light over water over light made on water.
Beyond the door are the almost finished candles, logistically paced around a large empty room except for the mattress and the two hats hanging high on the wall above it.
And it’s cool because it’s summer and the recovery from summer, the air conditioner, from somewhere that makes no noise and changes so delicately the air for which it stands. My friend read me a poem that had this amazing bundle of lines about how the poem is a veil you throw into a room and lands on something that will give you the shape of something. Without the veil, who would ever imagine the shape?—the way I am hardly considering the shape of my body now without the clothes I came in with, and his body without the clothes he was wearing to meet me at the door.
When I left, I said I didn’t know where I was going. Home, I think. North, maybe. I’m looking for a door in the sky, I said. Remember always, there is a door in the sky. And he laughed. We had talked about the door before, after the lovemaking that always put me in the cradle of the lovemaking, the hollow of the bodies of the one body.
She was homeless for a place she’d never been—David Kalstone said about the poet, Elizabeth Bishop—and I think of it now as the distance in the distance and how it makes a loneliness that touches everything like powder.
When you travel, you don’t exist—Elizabeth Hardwick writes in Sleepless Nights—the southern siren song to the south and most memorably a love song to Billie Holiday. I am travelling now, in my own city, after leaving a story about sex: him in his crow’s nest, looking down as I must look to him now: a smaller man walking a map instead of a street—for the city is merely a map in the mind of the beloved and I am the journey maker having framed the mind of the beloved into a meaning for night picture or picture night.
New York City is a newspaper blowing up Amsterdam Avenue tonight—no traffic, no traffic for miles, but only the lights to say we haven’t left yet, gone anywhere, will stay even when the lights are gone; will stay because we take the city into us. It rocks us in its cradle of wealth and forgetfulness, homelessness, the newspaper caught now on 86th Street, pulled under the wheels of a yellow cab I will get into for home after this last cigarette after sex he doesn’t know I smoke.
We know each other one way in different directions.
I told him that I wanted to fly. I will meet you in midair, I said. You can do that, he said. You could do that, I said. The second or third time I met him, he said we are moving from the fourth into the fifth dimension; that he saw angels like little Christmas lights bringing him other days.
There’s this beautiful scene in a not as beautiful movie—Holly Hunter was in it, her guy was a pilot, I think, the Air Force I think, and they’re saying goodbye to each other before he gets on the plane on the airfield of a woman saying goodbye to a man. And you already know the plane is going to crash. You know because that’s the only reason Holly Hunter is standing there in her completely inappropriate dress (for an airfield) and her almost completely inappropriate expression for goodbye which she is making the goodbye of terminal disease. But just before he lifts himself into his flying coffin and just before she breaks away from the terminal goodbye, she says, in almost a whisper, these days are fragile.
These days are fragile.
Bahia means bay. But like so many words in English, the other language finds more beauty in the meaning, in the sound of the meaning. English, he said, is so short. Portuguese, Spanish—these are the long languages. Yes, I said. They are the languages that take in nuance, duende, even. And, like foreign movies (the full range of humanity), the recognition that language is to the man the way man is to language. They are inseparable. They live together at the end of the mind.
The beginning of thought was something written down—without knowing how it looked as language. Hearing it. The other languages hear more music. English, he said, is so short.
At the end of the beautiful and prescient loneliness of Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451, everyone has become the book they may as well have eaten (memory thrives for the famished), and the snow is falling as fast as rain in a long, rhapsodic shot of the human library walking back and forth in front of a camera that does not move with the people. What makes this timeless? Is it the idea that life on earth will carry on, and survive the burning of a book? Can life read life again? The end of the movie took me back to a classroom a few years before, where we had a ritual of jotting down questions and folding the paper we had written them on and handing them to whomever we chose to be Mr/Mrs Wizard. For one day, someone would be all knowing, like the little prince. Is there life on earth? somebody wrote. And so, I’ve been looking for life on earth ever since.
Michael Klein is a member of the resistance. He teaches at Hunter College and Goddard College. His current book is When I Was a Twin.
Cagibi Issue 5