This morning I woke up from a dream about someone I was seeing until a couple of weeks ago. And then I thought of how, exactly a year and and nine months ago yesterday, I decided the face I saw every morning was the last one I’ll imprint in memory, and how that changed too last summer. Then I looked up from my office window and from a distance saw a window I once looked out of at five in the morning as I waited for the sun with someone I could have loved. Could have loved, what a funny phrase.
And then more names came up and only this poem could silence the enumeration.
In this room I was born. And I knew I was in the wrong place: the world. I knew pain was to come. I knew it by the persistence of the blade that cut me out. I knew it as every baby born to the world knows it: I came here to die.
Somewhere a beautiful woman in a story I do not understand is crying. If I strain hard enough I will hear a song in the background. She is holding a letter. She is in love with Peter. I am in love with her.
Stand on the floor where it’s marked X. I am standing by your side where it’s marked Y. We are a shoulder’s length apart. I’m so close you can almost smell the perfume. If I step ten paces away from you, there could be a garden between us, or a table and some chairs. If I step another 20 paces there could be a house between us. If I continue to walk away from you in this way, tramping through walls and hovering above water, in 80,150,320 steps I will bump into you. I can never get away from you, and will you remember me? Distance brings us closer. There is no distance.
In 1961 I was in Berlin. It was a dusty Sunday in August. In the radio news was out that Ulbricht had convinced Khrushchev to build a wall around West Berlin. I remember it precisely: By midnight East German troops had sealed off the zonal boundary with barbed wire. The streets along which the barrier ran had been torn up. I lived in that street. It was the day after my birthday. I remember the dust covering the sky. I remember being scared. Father had not returned from the other side. The Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse had orders to shoot anyone who would attempt to defect. Father had not returned.
Happiness is simple.
Sadness forks into many roads.
Before the time of Christ, Aristotle believed that the earth was the center of the universe because he needed a stationary reference point against which to measure all other motions: a rock falling, a star reeling through the sky, his heart beating against his chest like a club. He needed to believe in certainty, in absolute space. Without it, the world would not be known absolutely. Without it, the world cannot be known.
Twenty centuries later Hendrik Lorentz needed to believe that every single molecule in the universe must move through a stationary material called the aether, as every human being in his various turnings must move through God. Scientists looked everywhere for proof of this aether. And everywhere they found nothing.
I have sometimes been accused of being a bore. I beg to differ: people laugh at my jokes, and I’m handsome. I would like now to talk more about myself: I don’t like going to airports and hospitals. They make me uneasy. In both cases, somebody is always going to leave. I was born in 1983, and have never been to Berlin. But I have a memory of being in Berlin in 1961. I have a memory of something that never happened.
I would like to elaborate on myself, but you will understand if I talk instead about the sky in Berlin in 1961: it was covered with dust. There were no birds. There was no sky.
Memory is brutal because precise.
She said: give me more space. I said: don’t you love me anymore? She said: give me more space. I said: why? Did I do something wrong? Is there something wrong? Is there someone else? When did you stop loving me? In what precise moment? In what room? What city?
I held her tight as one who’s about to lose his own life holds on. Then she said: give me more space. I said: no.
I have only one purpose: to live intensely.
I wish I never met you
and I wish you never left.
You taste like a river in June.
I’m going to say something important. Look at my face. Ignore my eyes. Just listen to me. But listen only to the timbre of my voice, not to what I am saying. They are different. They are two different rooms. The first is an exhibition of despair, the second only an explanation.
The first is all you have to listen to. So listen carefully because I cannot repeat myself:
“Everything/ one suspects to be true/ is true.”
In 1879 a boy is born in Germany. At age five he’d throw a chair at his violin teacher and chase him out. In time he would develop the capacity to withdraw instantaneously from a crowd into loneliness. At twenty-six he would publish his theory of relativity in Annalen der Physik. He looks crazy, but he is certain: there is no aether, no absolute space.
Sometimes they thought it was the words.
What they wanted to say could not be said.
They fixed the TV, vacuumed the rug,
dusted the furniture, looked out the window.
Sometimes she would purposefully lose hold of
a plate and it would smash to the floor.
Then they would have something to say,
only to begin to say it then stop.
Look at this box. It is empty except for a diary, a book, and this picture in my hand. Now look at this picture. It weighs nothing and occupies almost zero space. I can slip it in anywhere and it will fit: inside the diary, under the box, through a crack on the wall. If I tear it several times, it will occupy a different volume, many and various. It mutates, you see. If I burn it, it will smoke into the air. It will take up a whole expanse.
How many more times
are you going to let the world
My father is an incorrigible storyteller. He would tell the same stories in different ways. I wouldn’t know which ones to believe. So I believed all of them. “There is no story that is not true,” said Uchendu.
Father would point at the TV. He would repeat lines, rehearse the beginnings and ends, explicate with his hands the elaborate twists and turns of every road.
He said: “I am dying.”
I said: “But aren’t all of us dying.”
And I thought the world
was about this leaving,
not about anybody’s leaving
but about this leaving.
The next day it was the same.
A beautiful woman walks into a room. The room is dark. There are no windows. There is one light bulb but any time now it will go off. I pretend not to notice and look away, my heart beating against my chest like a club. If I strain hard enough I will hear a song in the background. What other forms of happiness are there than this?
In 1989 the Berlin wall falls down.
I believe in love only when it rains.
To appreciate the value of land, one need only look into a painting: so much beauty. Buying land means buying the layers of beauty directly above it. It means buying the sky above it. And the birds above it, the clouds, the gods.
In truth you are buying a corner of the universe. You are saying: this is my room. You are saying: I live here. Here I exist.
Your sadness is immaterial. You did
not come into the world to be happy.
You came to suffer/survive.
How many words have you spoken in your life?
How many did you mean?
How many did you understand?
Somebody picks up a phone. He dials a number. His voice travels a thousand miles into another country. On the other end somebody picks up and hears the voice. Who is this?– This is me. The phone is hung up. The voice travels back a thousand miles.
Elsewhere somebody picks up a phone and before he could dial forgets the number.
Sometimes wars are waged because there are too many people in too few rooms.
Memory is incomplete–lost.
The world is incomplete–vanishing.
Nothing more happens. You open your eyes and it’s over.
Memory is brutal.
Memory is precise.
In the next room people I do not know are talking with hushed voices. Their secret slips out the window like a cat. It is raining, and I press my ear to the wall. I imagine that one of them is smoking a cigarette. I imagine that one of them is covering his mouth in surprise.
When my aunt died the doctors said the fat clogged her arteries. Every week she visited the hospital, and every week the vein on her wrist had to be ripped out so a catheter could be stuck into her body to suck out her blood. You could see the plasma pass through a filter and then back to the body. If you put your ear to her wrist you would hear her heart.
Before my uncle died the heart attacks were so excruciating he said he’d prefer to just die. They transported him to the hospital, and on the way to the emergency room his heart gave. Mother said my uncle ate too much pork and drank too much beer. She wonders if he’s going to be happy in heaven.
In some house in some province in some country in some novel there is a story of a man a father a child a lover who dies because of too much sadness.
Nobody thought that what was wrong was the love.
She said: give me more space.