I read about the dust bowl, think
of you. This is not my past, but the past of the land: chaotic erosive
forces, people and nature conspiring against themselves, hoping
for relief from their own errors. Eros, erosion. Chaos, the wind.
Logos, progress and pride.
I find my Grandmother's words in notebooks:
"It was so black I would get on my hands and crawl. The cows would
cry. We slit open the bull's stomach to find it full of dust." I
read her lover's words in a letter written from the truck of his
harvest crew: "Jesus, it's windy as hell, but Daddy's got his wheat
in, what there is of it."
I hate the obvious. I'm pained when someone
asks me to spell things out a-b-c. Don't ask me questions about
what I mean. I don't want to have to clarify. Words refract sense:
meaning bends through them, scatters and changes. Each word brings
a familiarity and a strangeness with it, each word some mundane
or terrible history. Who am I to know what words have done to you?
Why should I tell you what they have done to me? We all come to
language with our own hard histories.
Pal. Lap. Alp. Pla. Plains. Pliable.
This is what three letters can do to me. I can think of leathery
old men wearing fedoras and playing cards and telling dirty stories,
or strippers, or that time on the train, or ballet class. Pal is
a word made of a street-wise p softened by a luxurious a, a sexy
l, all at once familiar and challenging. "Even the greatest work
of literature is just a dictionary out of order." Every word is
just nonsense and sound reassigned. Even "want"--I'll change
it to tawn, or nawt, naught.
Not what I want, then, the apparent.
It is a lie that anyone can ever really understand anyone else,
at least through words. I like code, secrets, enclosures, traps,
tricks, games, myths, guessing. I like flirtations that exist as
themselves, follies, staircases that lead only to walls and back
down again. I don't like naked: I like half-stripped. I don't see
any of this as pointless but more honestly to the point. The goal
once reached is never what I wanted in the first place. I only want
to play with someone who knows how to play, who won't embarrass
me with their incompetence.
I'm always on watch for someone who
can keep up with me. This someone has to be unflappable because
I have a long bad habit of trying to be shocking. I don't like this
habit. I'm trying to kick it. It exists, nonetheless, along with
my habit of rolling over in mock submission and then clawing my
way back to the top. If you see me on my back, trust me as much
as you would an alley cat with recently sharpened claws.
I have to be fair and let you know
these things about me. It is self-indulgent to write so much self-referential
jive, to be self-obsessed. I know it is much more culturally appropriate
to project myself on someone else, maybe you. Maybe I could just
project on to you what is really in me: call you shocking, clever,
troubled, devilish, lewd. I can call you chaos, but really I'm just
speaking into the mirror. I can tell you about logos, but really
I'm just talking to the air. I can tell you about Eros, but you
already know all about that, much more than I could imagine.
Everything is Eros. What about the
compost heap? The mail man everyday delivering mail to my box? The
librarians shelving all those books? What about vowels: o's, i's,
u's, the lines of a capital E getting it on with each other? Eros
is not something that only drives sexual possession. Eros is just
something that exists, like atoms, or air. I don't take the body's
appetites personally. Do I take it personally that my heart beats?
That my eyes make tears when I'm hurt?
I'm flesh then, not just words. I
try not to let it bother me. At first, I meet you; I think the attraction
is flesh. I can toss it out, disregard it. I'm tricked by this trick
of the body, this transmutation of erotic energy into sexual desire.
Then I get my sense, again.
The pull towards each other isn't
just one of sexual gravity. You know this. You are delightful in
your clarity about this, though you dangle the possibility of sex
in front of me, thinking I'll just open up to you. I don't want
sex, but it isn't entirely honest for me to say I haven't been flirting
with you. I am flirting. I could excuse this by saying I flirt with
everyone, flatter and tease and laugh too much, tussle a little,
but this is still no excuse. I am flirting, but not towards a typical
end, not as if attraction were a road one drives down with no exits,
leading straight to the city of sex.
You say you are Mr. straight lines
and things done right the first time. I'm Ms. round-a-bouts, sabotaged
street signs, Aramaic graffiti, crowded bits of nowhere where everything
looks just familiar enough to be confusing.
You present yourself as single minded:
power, order, control, deviance, passion, unashamed narcissism.
I love this. I could eat this combination for breakfast, lunch,
and supper. I could serve heaping bowls of unashamed narcissism
to every guest who crosses my doorway. Narcissism with cream, with
sugar, with catsup or Tabasco. Deviance with a bit of sugar on top,
please. Unrestrained power with chocolate sauce and jimmies. It
is so nice not to feel alone.
But you are something else, I think,
something other than what you present. Have you heard about the
devil and the farmer? You picked the right livelihood:
Just as all human wealth is tied
ultimately to the produce of the soil, so the Prince of Darkness
is intimately related to the farmer . . . the farm has been the
perpetual theater of his conquests. In one respect, we wish to
be taken by him, for he is Eros and he moves us to increase. .
. In his other aspect, however, we wish the devil would go away,
because he is chaos and collapse . . . as messy as the devil is,
his dual nature creates a useful friction and heat.
William Bryant Logan, Dirt)
create a useful friction and heat. I think of you, I write. I try
not to think of you, I write. I write to you now, though I am writing
for me. You become one of a list of invisible names on the invisible
address line of every thing I'm working on. I read things, I think
of you. I want to throw books at you, whole libraries, to crack
your head open with delicious words day in and out.
I know that grass keeps the world
fertile, that those of us from rugged glacier-made places need to
keep that rug of roots and wisps on top of us to hold us together.
I am different than I used to be because I am held together by my
life, that grass. It might just be hubris, but I don't think I'll
just fly away in a black blizzard when faced with Eros, or chaos,
or logos, even when the farmer comes around, mucking up the ground
with his words. This might disappoint you.
Does this confession suit your need
for power? Does this sound like submission? Am I all pathos? Are
you ready for my claws? The claws will show up later. Or now, because
I think of the recent turn in our correspondence, your quaint not-quite
proposal for something sexually triangular. At first, I am thrilled
at that bit of strip-tease on your part, the tiny spark of power
I feel at your confessions. Then, I am seduced: I mistake words
for the real. I've been conned.
Then you leave this snowy place, and
I have the same old comfortable silence. I go to church, teach,
go to the flea market, shovel snow, play squatter monopoly with
my kid, hang with the ladies and drink coffee from old cups, start
a project or two, end some things.
All this time, my correspondence with
you is under the feet of Iowa snow. I get distance and time, a cataract
over desire, or a scraping of the lens of it, what? I don't know,
but I see differently. I see that what I want is not a result, but
a process. I like you. I want an excuse to write for you, to have
you write me back. I think I'd write you about anything, even sex,
even leather laces and scripture verse. This is good stuff, what
comes out of this writing. At least for me. And I can be good for
other people. I can give you a life a million places outside yourself
with all these words.
You feed me as if I were a little
cat who comes by your back door. You make me think about everything
I've done before, but in new ways. Your little sentences provoke
big sentences in me. I see a thousand essays in the seed of one
word from you. I'm mewing at your door again.
I shouldn't take my own weakness personally.
I'm more than just words, also desire, not for flesh things but
for these ghosts of emotion. Emotions are just tricks of neurotransmitters,
right? We are all just evolution's bitches, building alliances,
trying to neutralize any threat to our survival. This is why fear
is so sexy, really, because it distracts us from our own fear, sates
our essential evolutionary scared-shitless-ness.
Fearlessness. (Chaos.) Honesty. (Logos.)
You talk up these things. I love terror and lies. I love lies because
they are more honest then anything, big billboards advertising where
exactly I need to look to find answers. If one is scared, one should
proceed in delight and expectation because one is headed in the
I worry a little about you. (Eros,
again.) I worry that if you believe what you are saying you might
end up in a wreck. I worry because someone who promises power always
fails to deliver in the end, and those of us who believed the promise
are disgusted for believing. I worry because we are wrecked as soon
as we are born, wretched, vulnerable and practically hairless, just
human, all with one foot in the grave. I want folks to know that
we are already living a disaster. I think this must be the first
reason I write at all.
Which leads me to a confession: I
want to know you because you seem referential. You remind me of
my favorite disasters. You remind me of other times, times when
my life is conducted with heightened awareness, when memory bothers
to write each detail in its log. I'm a slut for the world turned
upside down. Chaos is a tart. Then I slide thoughts of you over
to something beyond memory. I mine the past for differences. You
drink from a thermos, not a bottle. You have a love in your life,
a "girl." This is not the same as anything. You are not anyone else,
not even memory.
The devil is a farmer, just like you.
My DNA dances with farmer DNA, grandfathers and grandmothers ripping
up the sod. So the farmer is a seduction of sorts, not quite erotic,
peering in the garden, tempting me with promises of increased productivity,
the thrill of words and friction. I'm hardly in the garden--the
ordinary, everyday sort of life I lead is no Eden, just life.
I'll eat the apple, maybe, but not
if I know who you are. This letter is not from a fortune teller.
I can't claim that cards have spelled out some future, you the hierophant
and the emperor and the tower and the devil and the hanged man all
at once. I don't want to be a Cassandra, or a Lilith, or a whining,
wanting Eve. I'd rather just watch the devil at work. I think I'll
just look at you, moon a little into your eyes.
This letter might be a meditation
on something else, the pathos of the self, of memory, of meaning,
of being from a somewhere that is for most folks nowhere. This letter
probably has nothing to do with you. I don't even know you - four
times I've seen you, we just blow words back and forth like so much
unplanted soil. This letter is just a warning. This letter is just
to tell you that I've been thinking about you. This is just to say
I will figure out what it means when the wind blows, and I will
figure out who guides the plow.