Watching Auroras with Wallace Stevens

An Essay on Poetry

Image by Niko Becker

Just last night, when unable to sleep or to dream, I left my home for the beach. An East-coast beach is quite cold, you know, and it’s bare, and like a barrier at night. And I walked barefoot along the sand – where the breakers crashed in a monic lull like a mind out of word.

I stopped suddenly; the clouds cleared; the Northern Lights leaped above.

I watched them for a time, until I saw a man in a grey suit, looking up at them also, and walking along the beach.

Relieved that a fellow traveler (on this weary road of life) could share in my experience, I caught up to him and said hello. He turned blankly on the sand and faced me. And we made quiet intros, and innocuous small talk, and small trades of our scrapped ideas.

We were both writers, it would seem.

As often happens in these circumstances, I challenged him to a Writer’s Duel. He accepted, we shook hands, separated by ten paces, turned around to face one another, looked up at the Auroras, drew our typewriters from their holsters, and readied. He made the earlier shot.

– ‘This is form gulping after formlessness, skin flashing to wished-for disappearances and the serpent body flashing without the skin.’ Said he.

– Chiaroscuro auroras, in clouds like moving grass, through ion and air, lights in frigid brilliance pass. Said I.

A good volley. But soon he readied again, and as he wrote, a form appeared on the beach, a sandcastle:

– ‘Farewell to an idea… A cabin stands, deserted, on a beach. It is white, as by a custom or according to an ancestral theme or as a consequence of an infinite course.’ Said he.

– And the door swept open and the sand surfed the floor and broke like water upon the wall and dried the couch and the bed, and the way out and the way in. Said I.

Another good exchange. But he was leading and I was following. Ergo he:

– (as he crafts further the sandhouse) ‘Upstairs the windows will be lighted, not the rooms. A wind will spread its windy grandeurs round and knock like a rifle-butt against the door.’

– And the wind will make its drifts, and its hills, and circling, circling eddies across the floor along the feet of the father who sits in

– (interrupting) ‘In space, wherever he sits, of bleak regard, as one that is strong in the bushes of his eyes. He says no to no and yes to yes.’

– And yes to no. And no to yes. And goodbye. Good morning and goodnight.

– ‘And in saying yes he says farewell.’

– He fetches shows from air, carnivals, and turnings of dance. Said I

– ‘Scenes of the theatre, vistas and blocks of woods and curtains like a naïve pretense of sleep. Said he. We stand in the tumult of a festival.’

– We turn in the fest of a tumult… playing in stage, strutting in plays. We frett for curtain falls, we fawn for sleepy applause. Said I. All is brief.

He sighed and turned away and began to walk again along the beach; I heard him say:

– ‘It is a theatre floating through the clouds, itself a cloud, although of misted rock and mountains running like water, wave on wave, through waves of light.’

The sandcastle began to crumble as I followed him a ways, saying nothing.

– ‘It is of cloud transformed to cloud transformed again, idly, the way a season changes color to no end.’ Said he, walking and minding me no longer.

He looked up again at the auroras, shimmering above the black water of shoal and surf. He stopped. And he was angry. He shouted in his anger:

– ‘This is nothing until in a single man contained! Nothing until this named thing nameless is and is destroyed! He opens the door of his house on flames. The scholar of one candle sees an Arctic effulgence flaring on the frame of everything he is. And he feels afraid.’

Perhaps satisfied with this outburst, he again plodded forward along the sand, his hands behind his back, saying nothing. I did not follow him. Following there would be then, and not now; our battle would be again, but not to win. I turned aside and went home.

And I slept well in my own bed and I finished my thoughts there.

Cheers to your Sunday morning…

JCL

Wallace, Stevens. The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. 2nd. New York: Vintage Books, 2015. Print.

Calling on Kafka

An Essay on Acquaintance

Just the other day, a friend of mine asked me about one of my other dear friends, Mr. Franz Kafka. She had heard good report of him from me and was rather eager to make his acquaintance. Jealous of these affections, I immediately set out to dissuade her.

I booked passage on a steamer, SS Ahasver, which after a sea-sickening journey along the coast, brought me to her residence. She welcomed me in. I, bumbling with all Mr. Kafka’s letters, stories, and novels I’d brought with me, immediately set about demonstrating to her his errors:

– Well he only wrote in very rough and partially burnt German drafts, you know. So you’re never getting a polished or original text.

– His characters have no character! They seem forces of parable!

And most triumphantly:

– Many of his sentences are quite long.

Of course, all these efforts only succeeded in exciting her the more to meet him. Pressingly, she demanded I leave all these documentations with her to peruse at her leisure.

My point blunted, I left her to his letters, and set out to visit Mr. Kafka myself – and thereby, perhaps, to dissuade him from the fatal contact which would prove him the better writer.

Traveling to Prague was no easy journey. It took a few months to will my way through the maze of bureaucratic passage. Bribes, begs, and blunders stalled, stalled my way. At one time, I was required to confess my sins to a Czech priest – who was quite delighted to hear them. Another occasion, I was asked to paint a picture of ‘a picture’, a portrait that took much to unpuzzle.

Finally, after passing an exam on the interpretation of kabbala, I was at last permitted to visit him.

I arrived by plane this time. It was night. Mr. Kafka’s dwelling, a small and cramped apartment, was stuck between a Shochet’s Slaughterhouse and a Jewish Mercantile. I knocked on his door and was immediately let in, it seems, by the door itself – no one was inside.

I wandered through his one room apartment, peering under and behind stacks of books, where a few times I’d found him before – but all to no avail. I was at a loss. And I was lost. How was I ever to prevent my friend from finding him?

Then I saw a white light shining through the window – his balcony.

I went out onto it, but there the light was so great, emanating from a little table, that I could not see who was sitting in the little chair there. I attempted to gain a clearer view of who was there by the following methods:

I stood up on the tip of the balcony’s bannister; I kneeled down and tried to look from underneath the table; I walked around the table; I leaned as far as I would dare over the table, and explored with my hands, finding a great book open on the table – a magnifying glass lay upon it.

But I could not identify the occupant who surely sat there with this book and this light.

I spoke:

– Mr. Kafka? Is that you sitting there?

I heard no response at first; after a time though the light shifted, as though moved to better see me, and I heard the response:

– Good evening. Now, what can I do for you?

– Am I disturbing you? I asked.

– Yes. Yes. Said he, shifting his light again. Must you stand there? I’m studying.

– You’re studying?

– Yes. Yes.

– Well I don’t want to interrupt you; I’ll go back in. Said I, moving.

– So you’re still here? He asked me, before I could entirely leave.

– Well yes, but I’m going to be really going. If not now, then sooner or later. I wanted to look at you out here, while I was still here. It’s completely dark in the room, impossible to see, you see. Said I.

– Well who are you?

I explained to him my name and my business, that if he was Mr. Kafka, how we’ve met before. And I explained to him also my predicament. I was quite careful not to speak too highly of her, lest I incite him. I explained that under no circumstances must she be permitted to see him, lest she be spirited away.

He listened quite patiently (or perhaps he didn’t; the light too bright to tell) and said:

– If I had to choose between my studies and having acquaintance , I would naturally choose the acquaintance. But all my efforts are geared towards avoiding the necessity of having to make such a choice… Well I will get back to my studies. But do come over and visit us again sometime; I can set aside an hour for you every night if you’d like.

– So… you’d advise acquaintance?

– Absolutely. Said he, his voice strangely sounding like a boom like a multitude of voices in the deep.

I flew back to America that very hour. I relayed a message to my friend with Mr. Kafka’s address and his open invitation to call upon him for a teatime. This time, I did not slander him, except of course to say that his tea was often too cold, his cups too cracked, and his manners, too obscure.

Cheers to your Sunday morning,

JCL

Franz, Kafka. Amerika. New York: Schocken Books, 2008. Print.

Falstaff stole my Nikes

Sir John Falstaff by Johann Heinrich Ramberg

An Essay on our Sole Possessions by J Christian Lawrence

This morning, I set out to walk along the road to the Globe. Suddenly I was accosted by the most rotund of burglars I’d ever seen. Fat Jack Falstaff. He bumbled out an alleyway like a swollen bowling ball slung into the street by a slow arm. Pinning himself on my feet, he leered over me and grinned and said:

– By my troth, thou bacon-fed knave! It seems ye hate my youth!

I was rather confused: I’d not eaten bacon for at least a month; and this moon-man rising before me was quite old indeed. I explained this to him quickly, being atop the point of his dagger.

– On, bacon, on! Said he. I was born with hair and beard white and belly paunched and legs patient as the memorable pachyderm. I’m younger than ye! I mean to rob ye, old one!

Now his sweat seemed to lard the earth and make a butter of it. I feared to slip me onto his point, and so I emptied the contents of my purse: naught but a few dry playbills and two true-pennies…

– Have you such little coin, old one?  He asked me pityingly. Is it from the nursing home you’ve a-wandered to meet Fat Jack?

– Why yes, young man, from the nursing home, that’s right! (what a man will say upon a knife!). You see, escaping that neglectful place, I’ve spent all my monies on these shoes here, with which I’ve walked to you, sir.

– Then they’ve walked you to their new feet, old one!

At this time, he relieved me of my expensive shoes. Nike Dunk Highs. I stood barefoot in the muddy street as this fustilug squeezed his fat trotters into them – staining the white with mud; stretching the foam; smothering the swoosh; fraying the laces and turning a-back the tongue.

He got them on like a clown stuffing into a wee car.

– (posing) Old one, what think ye? Think ye these shiny shoons become me? What’s wrong, old one? Fat cat’s got yer tongue?

Angrily, I protested this injustice. And of how far I’d walked, and so now the difficulty before me – to walk barefoot back again so long.

– (taking my arm) I’ll walk you some of the way, old one. But be of good cheer! This is not thy dunnest day; that’s the last. And this is not that. Yes, I’ve removed yer shiny shoons. But consider this, the soles that stamp the earth makes familiar the soul its birth. Do we come into this world shoe’d, garbed in Guccis, or nicked in Nikes?   

– No… I suppose not…

– And when ye wore them they worried ye. A spot of dirt here. A speck of scat there. Dirtying them would make a mud of day.

– Yes… that’s true…

– Nike’s expense expends the road of life. Possessions shape our paths a worrisome. Now would anyone think of robbing ye, being robbed?

– No, certainly not.

– Then being robbed, I’ve robbed ye of being robbed. Shoeless, ye nay worry the loss of shoes. Possession-less, ye need not pant to possess.

I left the fat knight and went home. I sat in my armchair and sipped my tea and thought on what he’d said.

Certainly, adventures await us outside our doors. If we dare depart our doors. Often what’s around the next corner is not what we’d expect. As I sit here, I’m reminded of that character of Tolkien’s who was swept out without his favorite walking stick. Hobbits don’t wear shoes. What need I for them?

I was Nike-less but somehow happier.

I later inquired after that fat burglar. Apparently, he had sold my shoes and used the proceeds for drinks with others of those robbed – thus does he impart wisdoms and witticisms to a Nike-nicked-world.

Cheers to your Sunday morning…

~JCL

William, Shakespeare. Henry IV Part I. New York: Bantam Books, 1964. Print.

Pic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Falstaff#/media/File:Falstaff_plays_the_king.jpg