The Setting Sun

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The passing of a life from everything
to something, to nothing we can see
or understand, is a work of art
that each of us paints, carves, writes, sings.

If we could run out onto the waves
west into the setting sun, beyond
the islands and the edge of space,
maybe the day would live on.

Still I sit here, where I have been quiet
for years, and I wait for you to pass.
It has always been you that I wait for.
Will you see me in the corner of your eye?

I hope you will remember I was here
when I am forgotten and you are gone.

 

 

Kyle Kimberlin
July 28, 2014

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The Box He Carried

Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.

- Marcel Proust, novelist

No. Sorry, Marcel, but I’m not buying it. I don’t believe that it’s himself that the reader finds in a book; it’s not a mystical selfie. The best writing is a sort of tribal drum that calls us out of our isolation and into the firelight of the commonalities of humanity. Art helps us understand the suffering and hope that we share, not the machinations of the ego.

What would the writer know about you, that you would find yourself in her work? This truism holds with writing as with all we think: You can’t transmit something you have not got.

I read somewhere once that a writer’s job is to watch people suffer and take a few notes. I can’t find the quote with Google anymore, and it’s probably a paraphrase. But it’s held me in good stead. To love is to suffer. To see that life as we can perceive it is fragments of time, and that every heartbeat is a quantum sufficit of change precipitating death, is to suffer.

There is consolation in the knowledge that we are all in this together and that the human condition is subject to illumination; it reflects the light of artistic inquiry. So the book is not an instrument that looks back on the reader, but rather one through which he sees that he is not alone.

We gather what we can along the way. From time to time we have enough of time and life to fill a box, if not a book. So here’s a vignette – flash fiction, if you like – on the topic of that gathering.

”In the first of the moon,
All’s a scattering,
A shining.”
- Roethke

Wild Radish

She was noticing the dust, which covered her shoes. There was so much dust, and large rocks by the trail and the chaparral was orange in the late afternoon. Dust was kicked up by a breeze off the ocean, so that it stood to spin in little storms, which bore it up and over the houses perched like crusts of heaven on the side of the arid hill.

The ocean was dark blue and choppy, topped by little caps of white. There were sailboats, pretty to look at, and the gray outline of the islands. But the sea seemed annoyed by their coming, by what they intended to do. So she watched his shoulders and the back of his head, as he moved ahead of her down the trail. His shirt was red and black flannel, and she saw the cloth was beading and thinning where it was tightest over his bony scapulae.

Wild radish grew thick along the trail, bullied by the onshore breeze, its blossoms lavender and veined like pallid little hands. She thought they looked sad and frail; orphans, underfed, unloved. But she was in that kind of mood. Seeing sadness everywhere and swept along by grim events. She wanted to go home, make tea in her kitchen, sit and read.

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They came to the edge of the bluffs, a cut through the brush and heavy plants, where the trail dropped steeply down. He turned and began to walk crab-wise, testing each step carefully, so as not to fall. Shifting the box he carried to one forearm, pinned against his torso like a football, he reached for her hand.

“Careful here now, watch your step.”

Step by step and slowly I descend, looking for what I believe. Something more than this hand to hold on to, brighter than this slanted winter light. I dreamed about you last night, that you came for me in a white car, smiling, looking far into the distance, as though the house were built of canyons, quarries of slabbed and shattered rock. But we could go, into the town where the people were gathered, where the sound was pooled into music, where the children in their houses were asleep. You disappeared as I woke up.

The tide was out, and the beach was empty, curved for half a mile like a crescent moon against the bluffs, and at the far end were the bones of the abandoned fishing pier. Great rusting ribs of iron stood in a line that led a hundred feet beyond the waves, and gulls perched on the tops of every one.

I dreamed this place before I came; I knew before you left that I would dream to bring you here. And how could the sea not accept this, welcome it? This is what she does.

In the soft sand, where it got harder to walk, he dropped her hand. They kicked off their shoes and he had the box in both hands again as they went on, through the piled kelp and drifted wood. She noticed how the sound of the waves boomed ahead of them and echoed from behind, from the cliffs, and rolled from ear to ear as waves broke down the beach. So they were caught inside the thunder, crash, and roll of it, and in the shushing ebb of every wave. Then there were pockets of quiet for the gulls to call, to cry.

I remember when I took you to play on the longer, happy public beach. You had a yellow plastic shovel and a pail, and said you’d make a castle big enough for God to come and live with us. I helped. You got distracted by a group of boys and played with them. I rested by the half-built castle, until God arrived.

He stopped on the damp and hard-packed sand, just above the margin of the waves. She stood beside him, her hand just lightly in the middle of his back, above his belt. The sun was just setting, turning the clouds the color of a saffron quilt.

“We have to wait.”

“I know,” she said.

“For the wind to turn.”

“Yes.”

The sea rose and fell in front of her, so it seemed to be at level with her eyes. The boats and the islands rising, falling with her in a floating world. She could not tell herself from them, or separate her feet from sand, her eyes and arms and mind from everything borne up and down and back and forth, foaming and sloshing and living and dead.

The wind turned. The sun had fallen finally away.

“This was his favorite place,” he said, opening the box.

“He loved it here,” she said.

“He loved you too and me, and this is not really him, you know.”

“I know,” she said. She was weeping now.

“We didn’t have him long enough, not nearly long enough, but it was all so hard for him. And now at least he has some …”

“Peace.”

“Yes.”

Wild Radish by J. Kyle Kimberlin is licensed under
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Cuttlefish

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns … instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.

- George Orwell, whose birthday is today.

A cuttlefish looks like this.

I use the quote above to shoehorn my thoughts onto blog topic, but my favorite quote from Orwell is this passage from 1984:

To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone — to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink — greetings!

I sit here tonight look at those words again, amazed at how much Truth there is in them, and wondering if we have finally come to live in that age of doublethink.

Slavery is freedom. The climate is not changing. Guns keep us safe. Rich people create jobs. War is Peace. Immigration is hurting the economy. Iraq is Obama’s fault. Ignorance is strength.

I’ve been watching World War Z. It’s interesting to see what that silly zombie fad looks like with a big budget. …It is a metaphor of American politics, right?

“Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.” So for us, a zombie apocalypse is more likely than attaining government or, by, or for the people.

The Doldrums

It’s quiet in here, too quiet. I haven’t heard the music of words lining up and thumpimg together for quite some time now. Writing makes me happy and I’m not writing. But I don’t get writer’s block. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in the horse latitudes. If I don’t keep the little boat of my consciousness out in the trade-winds, in the shipping lanes of language, I wind up windless and adrift. Becalmed.

I know what I have to do. Just as horses were sacrificed on sailing ships becalmed on their voyage to the New World, thrown overboard to save water for the men and lighten the ship, I need to make a change.

No one needs to have their forelegs cracked and be tendered to the vast, insensate Deep. I just need to find some time in my day for reading. Those who are artists understand; no planting, no harvest. No peace, no art.

Let Them Alone

 

If God has been good enough to give you a poet
Then listen to him. But for God’s sake let him alone
until he is dead: no prizes, no ceremony,
They kill a man. A poet is one who listens
To the nature of his own heart; and if the noise of the
world grows up around him, and if he is tough enough,
He can shake off his enemies but not his friends.
That is what withered Wordsworth and muffled Tennyson,
and would have killed Keats; that is what makes
Hemingway play the fool and Faulkner forget his art.

 

- Robinson Jeffers

To Know and Not to Know

Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil….

Here’s a writing idea for us, for a bit of horror fiction. I don’t really write horror, but I’ve come close, so I’m willing to give it a shot.

Imagine a dystopian society — perhaps post-apocalyptic, Orwellian — in which each week the people permit an armed person to enter a school at random and attempt to kill one or more students. The killer might be an adult or another student. It’s random. It goes on week after week. Children die, so it goes.

The police would do anything of course, but they’re always a moment too late. No champion arrives to protect the children because no one knows where the next shooting will occur. The leadership of the land is helpless, in part because this suffering is accepted as the sacrifice for freedom. And if they try to stand and speak they’re shouted down, rebuked, reviled, and lambasted for their liberal proclivities.

Imagine there is a slowly rising tide of grief, rolling like muddy water in a shallow ditch of tragedies recalled. The people grow tense and tired, though they’re becoming immune to pitiful images of candles and flowers and teddy bears stacked against walls and curbs and chain link fence.

How long should we — the authors — let the present tense arc of bloodshed go on, before that salty wave of past tense sorrow overcomes and washes it all into a poignant denouement?

Do you think we could write such a tale with verisimilitude? I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine a society that wouldn’t put the safety of children above all other motivations, or a country where this could really happen every f—king week, for months on end.

Maybe instead of a treatment in short story or novel, we could pitch it as a movie of the bloody week.

The attack with what police said was a semi-automatic weapon — “Shooter dressed in all black w AR-15 and vest and helmet. Cornered in bathroom by officers” … was the 74th since December 2012, when Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. That’s one about every eight days.

In 2014 so far, there have been 37 school shootings. As of February, about half of the incidents were fatal.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/06/oregon-school-shooting-74th-since-newtown.html

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To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again ….

– Orwell, 1984

Half Past Eternity

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
― Marcel Proust

I tell you I am aging relentlessly, thrown
open to the ocean air like a sash window
framed by peeling paint. That’s how it is.
But I have been held close, held up
into sunlight and moon wind, into branches
of old trees, held so tenderly and helped
to lean out over water rushing into death.

You and I are still alive. Don’t be afraid.

You know that life is hiding from us, though
we caught a glimpse this morning, where
it fell as a shaft of light across the floor.
It rose and flew like a moth down the long
hall and disappeared. As a child I saw
life fly in through the window while
morning arrived and my grandmother
was singing in another room. It fluttered
by and rested for a while on my hand. 

The house is gone but not that room, not yet.

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This candle’s tiny flame is all we know of fire,
no less than a sun, and all of time
is moving in this single clock. I wind it
twice a week and see behind the glass the marks
where Papa’s fingers brushed its face.
We do not die, his garden goes on forever.
So we can see him planting tomatoes
in a day of late spring resurrected,
swaying in green and yellow light.
A breeze parts Grandma’s linens drying on the line.

That day will live as long as we need it to.

From a distance he appears soft and kind
and now he is visible only at the focal length
of years. Seated on the sofa in an umber light
he sets his watch. Half past eternity. He looks
up at us as if to speak, but so much silence falls
between.  Did he remember, as the evening
softened and grew dim, the cry of the dogs
through the tangled woods?

They always knew the dark road home.

 

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Half Past Eternity by J. Kyle Kimberlin is licensed
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NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
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