Monthly Archives: December 2009

Suicide in the desert

All this time I had thought that the land was something other than me, something I sensed as if I had feelers dancing across it. Now I could see. We had the same command, driven by the same fundamental longing. I had never been a separate creature from it, not once. All this time I believed that, I had my own desires, my own hands. Laughable, now. I have always been the land.

My pen hovered above the paper and I could not remember my thoughts. It was hunger and thirst, I figured, stealing what was left of my mind. The words I’d written seemed vain and fleeting now that they were in black ink. Perhaps this was what people who once lived here understood: there can be nothing but desire, otherwise a person might sit in this black infinity and never move again.

Enough clever thinking. I felt angry for trying to capture the sensation of this illimitable desert. It was as if I were suspicious, trying to detect words where there were none. This sense of longing that I tried to write about, even using the word desire, tore it from me, rendering its power, turning it into a thought, a weapon, something other than what it is. There is a greater sense in this desert that I could never write. It is the very root of existence, the thing that is beyond beauty and safety, beyond need.

I closed the notebook and set it on the ground, pen marking the spot where I had left off. Then I pulled the pen out, losing my place, withdrawing the temptation to write. I tossed it and it landed ten feet away, clattering mechanically among the rocks. That is how a pen should write, I thought, with no fingers touching it.
I stared at where it had landed, rubbing the smooth, hard callus from the pen on my middle-right finger.

Closer to me I saw a lighter. It was within reach. I should use it, I thought, and set fire to this useless notebook. It would ignite easily, starting at its flimsy cardboard cover, burning through 150 pages, leaving only the tight metal spiral discolored from the heat. Then my words would no longer be bound and inadequate. Thousands of verbs and adjectives would finally be free, flying away with the smoke.

When I looked at the ground even nearer, I saw the knife I had used on the coconut. I picked it up, studying its blade. I brought it flat to my lips. The steel was not cold.

Fire could free the words in my notebook just like this knife could free me. If I were to cut my tongue, I thought, sever it completely, then I would silence the weaknesses of my voice. Without my tongue I would never speak, never try to reduce this landscape to something conceivable. I would close off this avenue of escape from the desert, becoming even more a creature of the land.

A warning signal fired from within my head. I would claw the ground in pain if I did this. I would bleed to death. But even that seemed acceptable in these dazzling stages of thirst and hunger. I would no longer be mortal, I thought. I would lie dead, a feast for the wind. This must be the madness that overtakes people who die in the desert, the strange final acts of suicides, the last precious water poured deliriously onto the ground. I touched the edge of the blade with my tongue. My fatigue will act as anesthesia, I thought.

The sharpness of the knife slid to the base of my tongue, still curious, not yet cutting flesh. I should take one more step, I thought. The land pulled on me, a magnet to steel, the poison of a snake entering the blood of a small animal. Come, it said. Yes, come.

— from Craig Childs, ‘Suicide in the Desert‘,

Another you

‘The only solution I found was to talk to you. Another you, not the you I lost, but the you I’m always losing. My only way out of the hole was to talk myself into a new wider loss.’

Every step I take

‘Every step I take is in you, in my death. My mouth is full of you, I breathe you in and out.’

Guilty

‘I cut you down to size, make sense of you. I shape you, think I master you. These very words are guilty.’

Montaigne on death

Where death waits for us is uncertain; let us look for him everywhere. The premeditation of death is the premeditation of liberty; he who has learned to die has unlearned to serve. There is nothing evil in life for him who rightly comprehends that the privation of life is no evil: to know, how to die delivers us from all subjection and constraint.
[…]
And as the Egyptians after their feasts were wont to present the company with a great image of death, by one that cried out to them, ‘Drink and be merry, for such shalt thou be when thou art dead’; so it is my custom to have death not only in my imagination, but continually in my mouth.
[…]
All the whole time you live, you purloin from life and live at the expense of life itself. The perpetual work of your life is but to lay the foundation of death. You are in death, whilst you are in life, because you still are after death, when you are no more alive; or, if you had rather have it so, you are dead after life, but dying all the while you live; and death handles the dying much more rudely than the dead, and more sensibly and essentially.

— Montaigne, ‘That to Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die‘ (tr. C. Cotton)

My endless end

‘You’re my death and my chance to live. I can’t go back to a time before you, or forward to a time after you. Mirthless laughter. You’re my endless end, my very life.’

A woman’s voice

She wants him to remind her what she said just now when she woke up. She sometimes speaks when she’s still half-asleep, and then when she’s fully awake can’t remember what she said. But this time she recalls quite clearly a woman’s voice similar to her own, and some complicated, painful words torn out of her own flesh, words which she hadn’t quite understood and which made her cry.

— Marguerite Duras, Blue Eyes, Black Hair (tr. B. Bray)

And wonder what I’ve said

‘You disorient me, but what do I know? I speak, I shape and scatter you like clouds in the wind, look around stupidly and wonder what I’ve said.’

Joyfully

‘You take me to where I wasn’t, where I’m not and where I won’t be, joyfully.’

Laughter

‘I talk to you, turn away, turn back and away again, admit I can’t dispense with you. I ask if you can dispense with me and laughter rises from mouths, mountains, trees and lakes…’