Rosa Guy, Carlos Fuentes, Alice Anderson and Brian Morton, lined up next to my computer, have been staring at me for the past couple weeks. They wouldn’t say what they wanted. That’s what troubled me.
Then, Haruki Murakami showed up. With his light touch, his exuberant storytelling, he trod lightly on my brain, at first. Modern day Tokyo, a young school teacher and two young women, all wondering out loud about their lives, their loneliness and their longing. Then he whipped out this gem:
“On the flip side of everything we think we absolutely have pegged lurks an equal amount of the unknown.“
I read the line three times. I noted down the page number. I dove back into Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart. The rest of his story blooms from the bud of that statement on page 134. Slowly, softly, from a moonlit Greek island back to bustling Tokyo the unknown takes on momentum that catapults me to the end, leaving me tingling with the sweet caress of his story, like a phantom lover that has quietly slipped from my bed. My senses aroused I turn happily to thoughts of others I’ve so recently loved.
Morton’s Schiller, the old writer Starting Out in the Evening, looks down at his unemployed penis, straightens his back into writing posture and thinks, “I don’t feel like an old man. I feel as if I’m still ripening.” He’s referring, of course, not to his already spent sex life, but his writing life.
Fuentes’ Atlan-Ferrara, adrift in memories of Inez mounting him, on top, in control, as though steeling his conductor’s baton from him, “My excuses are an inevitable reaction to the dangers posed by angels.’ With undisguised feminine guile she steals his life as well, not by taking it but by withholding herself.
Instead of withholding, Jonnie Dash whom Rosa Guy conjures out of The Sun, the Sea, a Touch of the Wind, throws herself, mind, body and heart into Haitian life, trying to retrieve her soul from hurricanes, lovers, lies and betrayal. She fucks with abandon to resist love.
Then there’s Alice Anderson, whose own passion and desperation fuel the pages of her memoir. When I met her a few weeks ago, she scrawled a line across the title page of Some Bright Morning I’ll Fly Away, added her signature and handed it back to me with a genuine smile. Later, when I studied her flourishing, sharpie-bold line I read it as ‘we make chapters of our scars’. It was impossible not to think of Alice without thinking about her many scars, from a near-death accident as a teen, from spousal abuse and from the surgery needed afterward. Wounds populated every chapter of her book. She bared the secrets of her flesh as though the reader were a lover to whom she needed to confess the intimacies of her past. She packaged them into chapels of truth and had, of course, inscribed, “We make chapels of our scars” (the opening line of her prologue) explaining: “Our scars are built on the delicate yet dazzling scaffolding holding our weary, ragtag hearts aloft.”These books have nothing to do with each other – other than my having read them all recently. The authors, speaking their intent, bounce messages off my train of thought as in an echo chamber in which I, the listener, collate the disparate sounds into a theme.
Sitting in a neat little stack to my left, they turned their spines toward me, each title sounding a different chord. Did CARLOS FUENTES demand that his name dominate Inez, revenge for the woman that dominated her lover? Though I could take it as irony, I put too much trust in Rosa Guy’s magic to blame her for the title on the spine of The Sun, the Sea, a Touch of the Wind becoming sun-faded. It’s hard to look at Some Bright Morning I’ll Fly Away, not because it’s faded but because I cannot think of her book without seeing Alice Anderson, sitting there in the flesh, raw, tender and healing.
Morton, on the bottom, speaks to my destiny with these books by inserting telos into his story, the intended destination of my being. But, without Murakami on top, the six-inch stack would have been nothing but a random collection of books. Without their Japanese conductor, the two Americans, the Afro-Trinidadian and the Panamanian would have had no one to coax the common theme from their clamoring voices.
Every one of them – perhaps all books – speak to my unknown. They illuminate the dark side of my mind. Theirs are all tales of survival. Morton’s Schiller, the once famous writer whose skills have waned, reclaims his sense of purpose, “All the objects in the world would be shards of bare mute blankness, spinning wildly out of orbit, if we didn’t bind them together with stories.”
I am also an old writer, ‘Starting Out in the Evening’, telling tales that keep my final years from spinning out into the oblivion.
Without Rosa Guy’s vibrant prose I could not have imagined Jonnie Dash’s orphaned, homeless childhood. But I too managed to spring free from the impoverishments of my past, not with the art Jonnie sourced from her soul but, like her, with fugues of fantasy. I too misplaced people and time. Rosa Guy lit a match in my dark unknown.
I too abandoned lovers. Like Fuentes’ headstrong conductor I was slow to cherish a women who wanted to be on top. My youthful dick insisted that it was a baton meant to direct the entire orchestra rather than a wand that could elicit a perfect moan from even the most hesitant of instruments.
“Understanding is the sum of our misunderstandings.” Murakami reminds me that I am not composed of my past mistakes but of the realizations the mistakes catapulted me into. Fuentes furthered the thought, helping me understand why it’s hard to recognize the me I once was: “With time our portraits become lies – they aren’t us anymore.”
If what Yeats said is true, the lessons and insights that all these writers inspire in me are transitory. Reading is yearning. So, no matter how much a book fires my senses, tips my consciousness toward the light, if I do not seek more, I will inevitably rock back into an everyday state of mind.
I will keep them around, Rosa Guy, Carlos Fuentes, Alice Anderson, Brian Morton and Haruki Murakami. Like old friends who’ve passed through my life I will try to stay in touch. But, over time, when their words and ideas come to mind, I will wonder, ‘who said that?’ All I will know is that it was a gift from a friend long ago.
“Man can embody the truth but he cannot know it.”
–William Butler Yeats