This month, For Future Reference will take the form of a series, unfolding.
". . . with the Holocaust. Everything in it already seems so thoroughly unreal, as if it no longer belongs to the experience of our generation, but to mythology. Thence comes the need to bring it down to the human real. That is not a mechanical problem, but an essential one. . .I do not mean to simplify, to attenuate, or to sweeten the horror, but to attempt to make the events speak through the individual and in his language, to rescue the sufferings from huge numbers, from dreadful anonymity, and to restore the person's given and family name, to give the tortured person back his human form, which was snatched away from him." Aharon Appelfeld, Beyond Despair
Things to be Desired
“You’re an Indian, huh?”
“What are you doing here?”
“My Dad worked these docks. They called him Beaver.”
“He the Indian?”
“I come down here too.”
He steps up close. Shaved iced. He’s a barely holding together. Twilight is a blanket. For the moment they step inside.
“See. You’re lucky.”
Two hundred pounds of fat, she doesn’t feel. What is it he’s saying.
“You know your people.”
She heard it all; but she never heard this.
“Black people. We don’t know our people.”
They stand, shoulder to shoulder, in the silence of recognition. The water coming up to the edge. Sometimes pouring over. He to the left. She to the right. One man, five foot seven. One woman, five foot one. Thin. Fat. Black. Beige. Close cut. Thick waist length braid. Before them the island. Behind them the buildings. Overhead the new sky of the Embarcadero. The Central Freeway just torn down. Earthquakes expose the mud beneath the surface. Structures fall. Pancakes with no syrup.
She doesn’t know what to say. This was her moment to find the quiet and he keeps on talking. Her head packed tight with wishful thinking.
“My Sister gave me this. Have you seen it?”
He hands her a folded paper, the Desiderata. She looks at it. Reads. Still not looking at him. The intimacy between. Her father’s people always find her. Head nods and hat tips, an index finger raised to the eye; she walks the city streets and they stake a claim. Daughters lost. Fathers found. Uncles and nieces.
“He an alcoholic too?”
She turns and looks at his ear. Small ears. Hers are huge, no one disputes the size of ancestry in the earlobe. Strings of ears on museum shelves, hers still attached. They frame the face. Eye to eye, you never see it.
“You got that look.”
“What is that?”
She hands him back his paper.
“You know they found that in a deserted place.”
“My mom likes sayings.”
“Yeah. So does my sister.”
He’s the left foot. She the right. A wave of water rushes over.
The blue horses of morning.
He jumps. From left to right, making his way over to the knee deep concrete hedge, he sits. The bay immersing her calf deep inside it. Offerings she has none. Olokun. Yemaya. Even Oshun gathers here at this seven point juncture. One minute piles upon another and she follows him over to the seat and sits like she’s expected.
The cold gets colder, wet pants, shoes, socks. His jack rabbit jumping has him dry. She’s wet. A slow soggy slopping over.
“How long you been sober?”
“You guys have a real problem with that.”
“With what?” She’s ready to leave, but doesn’t.
She’s a lump of floured water. Poorly figured. No breasts, just flaps of skin, nipples like birthmarks. No suckling children or jealous lovers. Just an empty gnawing ache. Emptiness, fill it.
“I smoke crack, but I don’t do heroin.”
His speed picks up, or hers slows down. It’s difficult to judge the shifting perspectives. Cold water, darkening sky. The soles of her shoes sponges she can’t wring dry. Her back beneath the jacket, growing wide, loosing shape or absorbing it.
“See. That’s why I came down here. I told this woman to get me some and she brought me this.”
He holds his fingers out, palm up, in between them a swatch of air. He shakes his hand up and down.
“A balloon. And you know what’s in that shit.”
He drops his hand.
“I threw it away.”
Cars rush by. The night is on, not announcing it’s arrival.
“Fuck that shit. Excuse me, but no way. Not me.”
She breathes. Words. She has none. Wet feet, she had two.
“So I came down here. ‘Cause I know where it is and you know I might just go back and get it. So I come down here. Get me some air. That’s when I seen you saying your prayers.”
She keeps breathing air into the wordless mass. Two or more gathered together, this is a meeting. They are inside it.
He pours out of himself, “I wish you could see me another day. This shit makes me all paranoid. I’m not like this. Mean and paranoid. I’m a nice guy. If you could see me another day you would see. I’m not like this.”
His hands long strands of black thread. He wraps them around his words. They keep spilling forth, but like the girl they don’t hold water.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Why do they do it?”
She waits for him to finish.
“What I want to know is how can they? I understand people like you and me. Why we use. We need it. I gotta have it. We’re hooked. But these people that sell it. How can they do it? Make their money off of other people’s misery. I don’t understand.”
Thoughts can smother even the strongest fire.
“I don’t know.”
She’s tired. Narcotics are high heeled shoes. She don’t use them.
He says, extending his hand. She takes it, puts her inside. Names, she don’t give one.
“If you see me on the street, and I look like this, don’t come up to me. I’m mean.”
She don’t answer. It’s a gift and doesn’t require a response. Recognition takes many forms, in the intimacy of what to do and when to do it. Whodini rings in her ears, “One love, one love, you’re lucky just to have, one love.” She likes the slow decay of fermentation. One drink is too many, one hundred not enough.
At the corner she throws her shoes and socks into the trash. He melts into the unlit night. Her father. Her brother. The beaver who likes living down at the piles, his head on the pavement, a bottle at his hip.
- ▼ March (3)