Memories. Going through these boxes might just kill me.
It all started yesterday when I opened a box of photos in search of a specific illustration for my blog entry. Once I’d started, it was as if I became trapped in a room where all the echoing questions of all of myselves through the ages began a bamboo-beneath-the-nails, water-boarding interrogation of me, that same inquisition it feels as if I’ve spent my life trying to answer with theatre, with relationships, with writing; the endless third-degree consisting of the bright light shone in the eyes and the repetition of one word: “WHY?”
I spent an insomniatic night looking for clues in the photos and the letters that I’d tossed in no decipherable order into these boxes, decades worth of memories, things and people and events I’d forgotten, all of which were triggered back into the “now” as I rummaged through the detritus of my life, fearfully glancing at this sentence and those scribbles and that snapshot until one caught me.
At seventeen, I’d copied down an Oscar Wilde quote: “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” And with it I had furiously penned an adolescent manifesto, swearing I would never accept without “serious investigating of its path to the very foundation and roots of its first expression” any thought, tenet, belief system or “worldy assumption.”
Soon after, having done one of my “run away from home” acts and moved around the country, I received a letter from a friend in which he wrote; “I’m glad to hear you survived your night-ordeal with the man in the car. I can’t condemn when I have done the same – just, by god, be careful. You have terrible taste, you know, and you HAVE TO KNOW BY NOW you can’t save anybody. Stop trying. Sorry to her about it not working out with the ice cream man but he sounds like a creep too.”
Oh, the man in the car and the ice cream man. I don’t even remember the latter. And – luckily, I think – I didn’t save copies of the letters I wrote, so I’ve no idea what prompted this missive. But, I do have photos of me from the period. It’s some wonder there were any men at all.
I should have stopped there, but, no. Instead, I found a poem I had written. A completely horrible example of the ridiculous adolescent whine of angst in which I burrowed and wallowed and from which I expected to produce “art.” Dear lord. Here it is:
You, to whom all oaths I swore
would dance all night then ask for more
but with your eyes and not out loud.
My friends, all watching, couldn’t see
you saying, “You belong to me.”
nor understand what we had vowed
I never heard them say, “Beware!”
Thought if I fell, that you’d be there.
I walked the tightrope I had found
That height, it never caused me fear
trusting that your net was near.
“I love you,” I said; the crowd around
Laughing, as I hit the ground.
Wow. Edna St. Vincent Millay, I was not. Hell, I wasn’t even Rod McKuen. I know there are boxes of this sort of shit somewhere. Eventually I gave up on rhyming schemes and adopted a faux-Patti Smith style, modelling after Rimbaud, in the way one might say a three-year-old with Playdoh is modelling after Michelangelo.
I did have some sense. I also copied out a Walt Whitman piece, and reading it again last night, it seems almost prescient, though I am certain at the time I had NO IDEA what it meant. Here’s an excerpt of “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.”
Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking
by Walt Whitman
Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,
Out of the mocking-bird’s throat, the musical shuttle,
Out of the Ninth-month midnight,
Over the sterile sands and the fields beyond, where the child
leaving his bed wander’d alone, bareheaded, barefoot,
Down from the shower’d halo,
Up from the mystic play of shadows twining and twisting as if they
Out from the patches of briers and blackberries,
From the memories of the bird that chanted to me,
From your memories sad brother, from the fitful risings and fallings I heard,
From under that yellow half-moon late-risen and swollen as if with tears,
From those beginning notes of yearning and love there in the mist,
From the thousand responses of my heart never to cease,
From the myriad thence-arous’d words,
From the word stronger and more delicious than any,
From such as now they start the scene revisiting,
As a flock, twittering, rising, or overhead passing,
Borne hither, ere all eludes me, hurriedly,
A man, yet by these tears a little boy again,
Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves,
I, chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter,
Taking all hints to use them, but swiftly leaping beyond them,
A reminiscence sing.
Yes, Mr. Whitman. Thank you. Though whoever I was at twenty-something could have had no idea that this who I am at – well – I am ancient – that this ancient me would one day find this poem of yours again and recognize it as the elegy we all sing when, once adults, we realize we are still the children we were, borne hither by all we’ve known and yet, finding its meaning elusive.If Whitman couldn’t figure this shit out, what hope do I have? But, you know, what can you do? So, here I am . . . going.