We come to know we will die and that our particular deaths remain mysterious. When and how will we die? How much will we suffer? How much will those around us suffer? What will the moment be like when we stop breathing? And what happens afterwards? The latter two questions we cannot fathom the answers yet we continue to raise them as we witness those we love and do not love and those we know and do not know die before we die. These questions are like prayers we repeat not so much to receive answers but to express our uncertainty, our vulnerability. Ask our mothers. They will tell you about human fragility.
I don’t mean to bother you, don’t mind me, no rush at all, it’s not worth your time at all, pay me no attention, pretend I’m not here, I’m invisible, only passing through your field of vision momentarily, a blip, without a trace, you won’t even notice, I’ll never bother you again, I promise, pretty please, don’t be upset, please forgive me.
I would not hang myself because I do not tie knots or handle ropes with ease, I would not shoot myself because guns scare me, I would not jump off the top of a tall building because I’m afraid of heights, and I would not throw myself in front of a moving vehicle because I do not want to hurt anybody else. I am adept at swallowing pills. I can even swallow three or four at a time, without water. You really have to find something you’re good at and focus on doing that.
My son rolls marbles across the hardwood floors, and because our house slopes slightly to the south, the marbles roll beneath the couch, in a far corner of our house, and I gladly move the couch to pick them up. I suppose I could tell my son to stop, or ask him to help me pick up the marbles but I feel delighted by watching my son’s face fill with wonder as he rolls each marble then watches it disappear to this unknown place, an early brush with what he cannot see but knows is there. You are the cloud.
My son stood watching the other children. His teacher asked if he’d like to help her build a house out of wood blocks. He couldn’t, he had work to do, he told her. His teacher suggested his work could include helping her to build a house out of wood blocks. My son’s reply: —My work is thinking.
What is the shape of sorrow? Is it like a spiral curling inside itself or a vortex drawing its contents to some unfathomable center or the sea moving in gentle, laving waves, or creeper waves, or destructive and debilitating waves, or perhaps sorrow is shaped like a ghost, always there, never there, shaped like a sob, a convulsion, a howl, a wet towel, a hard smack on Formica, a raised fist arising from regret or thwarted desire or truth in shadow (bewitching erection!), or perhaps sorrow is shaped like a bowl holding only so much, closed at the bottom with nowhere to go, open at the top for pouring fourth, emptying, up-filling. Whatever its shape, sorrow is capacious, seemingly without end, capable of terrifying overflow and upheaval and slowly swift deterioration. Like America.
I can imagine my son’s ascension on this Earth. I see his devotion to the many people he loves and is loved by. I see his ardent passion for whatever he chooses to fill his days. I see his love for his spouse and children and pets. I see his particular loneliness, the loneliness of an only child, his desire to surround himself with a crowd of people, his struggle to stay with that crowd. I see his grief over the loss of his mother. I see him carrying that grief like a walking stick. As an old man he pays close, particular attention to his grandchildren. Why can’t I dream such things for myself? Does my father hold such dreams for me?
The leash lasts longer than the hand that releases it. This mug from which I drink lasts longer than the two fingers curling through its handle. The chair on which I sit, the table at which I write, this yellow lamp light—all lasts longer than me. The green corduroy against my skin, the gray suede shoes and the socks with holes in the toes, the Band Aid covering my blister. Dustbuster Plus. The wedding band lasts longer than the finger it encircles, and the silicone implants last longer than the breasts they fill. Mobile devices, applications, dotcoms, screen savers, beach homes, bank accounts, cars, snowmobiles in ramshackle shed, shovel with rusted head. The window into the cow’s digestive tract. The recording of the bells chiming at every hour lasts longer than the clock tower. Pompoms last longer than the cheerleader. His cock ring. Her vibrator. His little plastic trophy. Fernando-Valenzuela rookie card lasts longer than Fernando Valenzuela. The recorded voice lasts longer than the actual, the canvas lasts longer than the painter, the photograph, the film, these words. Our bodies live in decay. We are finally together.
Jay Ponteri directs the undergraduate creative writing program at Marylhurst University and show:tell, The Workshop for Teen Writers & Artists. His memoir, Wedlocked, was published by Hawthorne Books in April 2013 and received the Oregon Book Award in creative nonfiction. His chapbook, Darkmouth Strikes Again, is being published by Future Tense Books, this spring.