Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery by Charles Bell, 1815.
I was sitting on the cross-town bus, heading east just barely past the park.
It was sunny and the ancient sadness of the fires roared down on us cutting through the trees and grass and the tall buildings sparkled and I remember thinking how pretty – how truly pretty – life was untouched. How amazing a sun, how incredible our land actually is. How important architecture could be…if we were as human as we think we once were. And I remember my stomach griping and bursting inside as if the plastic of my soul was beginning to stretch and finally snap.
Staring out into the sun long enough I always think about the beauty of birth and the horror of slavery. I wonder what the animals have thought. I wonder what the butterflies have thought. I certainly know what the sharks have thought. Sometimes, late at night-early in the morning far deep in the pocket of the twilight, I can hear them burp. And I have no pity for them and I explain this to the Animal Rights People. Believe me, I tell them, they have eaten a great deal more than some people ever will.
It is in the shade, only in the shade, that I can reflect upon myself. As soon as the bus dove back under and the park and the sun and the painful poetry all vanished harshly – and not without cruelty like a gambler’s luck – I am able to hide and die a little in between the tall buildings and skyscrapers which cast the only eternal harmlessness that we can still rely on. They got it all wrong – she or he or it or whomever they were that proclaimed a “little death” is in between our loins and our orgasm. All great fucks are affirmative and they give us sunshine inside where we cannot seem to be touched. A little death is not between two lovers – it is stuck somewhere between our organized madness and the revolving doors of Monday-through-Friday and the urban renewal of more shadows to lurk behind and more sadness to cover your cup.
The bus ride was peculiar as all things seem to be when you’re looking for signs. It was empty and the tryptophan roared.
The old man’s name was Harvey and he had eyes the color of smog-infested snow. At first I thought he might have been blind. His hands were like overgrown claws. His face was etched in a permanent scowl and I expected a gruff, ornery voice. But is was tender and buttery and tended to trail off and get lost in the back of his throat. He had muttered something to his sisters, two well-dressed old ladies, and it wasn’t until he pushed back his cap that I noticed the small hole in the center of his forehead, as if a tiny third eye had not quite grown in.
I looked up and read an ad on the bus: Save Darfur, People Are Dying.
Outside a homeless man struggled with his cardboard box, the wind pulverizing the flaps at the edges and sending endless newspapers into the air. I looked back at Harvey.
“You lost?” he asked.
“Oh. You look lost.”
I didn’t tell him I was going to a job interview. I don’t think I said anything. “I feel lost,” he said. He turned to his sisters, “We’re all lost aren’t we?”
“Hmm,” the older one said.
I got off on 66th street and walked south. Before I reached the end of the block, I turned and looked, as if I knew. Harvey stood at the corner like a face from some ancient circus poster. But with the sun dazzling the way it was I could not tell if he was smiling or frowning and from where I was standing his lips appeared to be two glistening orbs circling and crying out to God knows what.
Angels, demons, we are all the same.