Wednesday, May 2, 2007

How It Will Happen (from Memory)

After you have asked a certain number of questions in the world, a buzzer goes off in your head, followed by the sound of your own voice as it might sound coming from a bullhorn: Thank you for playing, but you have reached the limit. Then you see a close-up of a hand rolling itself politely to the edge of a stage, showing you the way behind the curtain. Then a group of henchmen in executioner-garb appear around you and someone whispers in your ear, “You will be permitted one letter back to the world. Go with these men.” You descend into the cabin of a sail-boat that has been waiting for you to finish. There you are left alone, although the henchmen stand guard around the exit—the ship slowly begins to move. There is a very nice, stately wooden table, an inkwell (seriously), and a stack of crisp paper of unusually high quality. Here, it seems, you are to write your single letter to the world.

But of course, this is not how it happens. Instead, you wake up one day in February and there is a loud bird making unseasonly sounds. You are not ready to wake up, but it occurs to you—this is your first conscious thought that morning:—you could simply imagine the bird away if what you claim to believe is true. Almost incredibly, a second thought springs into your head, something about Jesus and his mustard-seed parable. That morning you shave, you look yourself in the mirror for the first time in a week, you skip breakfast, the snow crunches as you clear the light, white dust away from your car windows. In your car, you realize that you actually understood what the bird’s call meant, why the bird was making that sound. In your car, you understand that you have forgotten what the bird meant, that you have already forgotten.

But neither is that how it happens. Instead, after you have asked a certain number of questions in the world, a single crow cocks loudly outside your window to announce that you will hereafter be satisfied with making yourself understood. And that morning you shave your face for the first time in a week. There is no stately wooden table and the snow is no longer fresh. You know, humbly, that you used to understand the cries of birds.

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