Two Quiet A Crowd

hrabal

“ To avoid the unlivable is not to flee life but to throw oneself into it totally and irrevocably. “

  • Andre Breton, Inaugural Break

The gods have abandoned this land, this library of ignorance, this fifth floor where I look out like a sentinel on the high mast of a ship, adrift upon the waste land of an over fed city that moves about nowhere as all tragedy must, an eternity of stories never told, of children dying, of lost finger nails, of quelled lust – all going back and forth, waves of the day’s energy spent like dimes on bubble gum or coffee on boredom, both a progressus ad futurum and a regressus ad originem, a sighing and exclamation, an eating of itself ….. the books behind me back me up and I let these fertile rows lead me from temptation toward Basho’s Deep North, learning to learn there is nothing to learn, I let the window lay a warm blanket I can rest upon while below the trees, thin, scraggly, so human made, stand in order, attentive, cold and stoic against this winter, as if waiting heir commandant’s barking roll call or the warm kiss of fate, the axe blow, the fate that has me open the newspaper to hide me from their suffering and see the words that have pushed this pen;

 

“Bohumil Hrabal died on Monday after falling from his fifth floor hospital window. He was apparently feeding pigeons when the accident occurred at around 2 pm.”

Words that sound too loud a solitude and make the polite men nod and the insurance brokers sign the check, yet, say nothing except, accept, how quiet and calm is this death, this unnoted entrance, so well ordered and unassumed — and so,

 

Should I then presume?

And how should I begin?

 

On that day like any other day, when you pane Hrabele were feeding the birds and watching closely from your fifth story perch, the spires of the city which had conspired so long with all the other fifth floors in this city of alchemic confluence, where time has lost her chains and space is crushed on the pivot of liberty and strange things may always be again ….. while you sat there with your marble eyes and shining bald spot, sucking on a thought like a cough drop,

 

Do I dare, do I dare ….

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

 

I, at this hour of discontent, for now known reasons, sleepless and behind time had wandered into the livingroom with my own doubts and putting the slug in the golem’s mouth, watched a video alight and the words, “Manufacturing Consent” breathe across the screen without objection, while you pushed the table to the ledge with those herculian hands so steadied by years lived by the word, hands, fists full of pleasure poinding on the heart of the matter, or placing sprigs of spruce around a vagina, hands which held you up, for the poetic embrace like the carnal forbids all lapse into the miseries of the world while it endures, the misery, miserable like that outside this fifth floor window, I seated like the King of England in this library, the headquarters of civilization see, supported by so many voiceless voices and tamed tongues whispering about the fall, Eve’s quick hands, Solomon’s solemn vanitas veritas, the lists of the dead of wars and wars and wars, Kant’s categorical imperative and the philosopher’s disquieting stone, all this I know,

 

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther loom.

So how should I presume?

 

I know but would cry out but for the such weighted conformity I am, the habit and refuse I’ve accumulated like how one nods the head unaware, yo-yo-yo-yo, and soon moves with the leadened boots of the worker, the necessity handcuffing the will and marching it into the basement of the vague where all reality dissolves, never hearing the magic flute wafting its high sound out of the fire rising from Master Hus and like invisible ash, smoke only smelt, off into the heaven’s unknown space ready to be opened like a music box by one who would find the key in a dirty handkerchief laying on the street, sent by an unthinkable chain of events to open up the sky, erase chance and send it fleeing into the world that is as it is, a dog barks, the caravan passes, grey soot stunk world, where it can argue that the trees outside this fifth floor are only trees and not talismans, that I am only here by co-incidence, writing this, and this is nothing special, lets bring out Hegel, didn’t he cut the head off of old Schopenhauer’s suffocation anyways, so what of it? Get on with it, that’s not music you hear and if you hear it, it’s only by chance, by God! Stop it, let the dead bury the dead, didn’t Christ all mighty say? He slipped and fell, he was old and lived a good life, amen, case closed, jury dismissed, next literary persona please. Pay the band, pull up the covers up over the eyes, sleep, sleep, sleep – yes, render unto Caesar what wasn’t Caesar’s, this is the proper place of dreams, yes,

 

And the afternoon, the evening sleeps so peacefully!

Smoothed by long fingers, asleep … tired …. Or it malingers.

 

What had actually taken place in my self this last week? The armed power of the state and media, accompanied by an accomplice, all literate and cultivated people, had denied the truth and reality of a writer, preferring to listen to the clock, tick-tock and not the spaces of sound, the too loud a solitude between the hand’s making. They all listened and let enough alone, the truth walking away like a child sent to its corner, rubbing a small stone …. But what had actually taken place was that I, a poor poet and even poorer man, coated in the miraculousness of being, touched, touching, groping the ariadnian thread of Perseus that lead through the labryinth of isolated lives, I, arrived on this fifth floor, this vantage point of the mind where always endures and for a moment enlivens and lets live us living dead who would otherwise believe,

 

There will be time, there will be time …

Time for you and time for me

And time yet for a hundred indecisions

And for a hundred visions and revisions

 

And that we are but flotsam in the rancid gutter of life, not a torch, a signal, a sign, multiple like the universe, mere coins spent before we’re even lost in the jar, in the room, still smelling of the finger’s scent ……

 

And so I sat in the Metro Toronto Reference Library pondering over a lifetime and a newspaper, the way I always do, if the god’s were like me, we’d all go belly up in the washroom, on the toilet, with a paper in hand …. I sat there thinking of how I wanted to jump but lacked the courage or enough beers, trembling like when Picasso and Max Jacob, who leaning over their fifth floor balcony in Paris thought the same thought looking down and Pablo snapped back, “We must not have ideas like that.”, I sat there thinking about all my fifth floors, how I met my own Nadja and she left like your Pipsi and I sat in my fifth floor apartment looking out at the moon over the Tri Crize and wondering if it was the same moon they’d see back home and how it was watching me dying, how it had seen so many die but still stood there so stoic, ave luna una morituri, te salutante, I thought I’ll return, but now I’m here sitting reading the newspaper remembering having read another paper this morning and thinking about Hegel saying how glorious it was to get up everyday and read the paper and find out how much new was happening in the world, remembering having read about a small child falling out of a fifth floor window from a building near where I grew up, Jane and Finch, remembering now and saying this is no co-incidence, especially since I wrote friends a week ago about pane Hrabele, read and heard the voice of the kouzelna fletna that morning, now thinking that all is magic, especially the truth, remembering a dream,

 

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us and drown

 

Remembering that the heavens aren’t humane, nor is life above or below – or within me, and I’m glad it’s not so, we are like olives says the Talmud, only when we are crushed do we yield what is best in us, but not to forget love and compassion, the mad love that can’t be fit into a newspaper article or a verdict or a suicide note or those that believe in co-incidences. I remember all this and more as I looked out my fifth floor window thinking about the poverty of these naked trees and should I as you,

 

Should I as you

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices

Have the strength to force the moment to its crises?

 

But it is impossible to say just what I mean. I will have to remake human understanding from scratch, tear down all her walls and let love in, let the always sing her miracles, let the rock break into song like a magic flute coming from the eraser mark left when time and space have abandoned our bones and death, this life against life, this truest kind of life, this great white page drawn on in even whiter chalk, death, can live again …. I thought and think all this among all this knowledge, unknown, this ship in search of a beach, yet,

 

I have heard the mermaids singing each to each

 

And so I write these fragments, these fragments I have shored against my own ruin like driftwood waiting the archaeologist’s eye or the soft hand of a boy who in picking it up gives it back the fire burning, burning, burning, everything back together again, nothing to nothing, reuniting purple socks and mislaid hankerchiefs until in coming together a meaning is given and the ruin awakes like a ten crown note uncrumpled or the start of a mad man’s smile, the possibilities open and the die explode into double sixes, a meaning, an itching, I Ching, a being, a doing, a lifting of a hot dog to a mother’s mouth, the squeeking wheels of a baby carriage, the silence of a sewing machine embracing the umbrella on the operating table, chance meets chance and they cancel each other out, there is a dance, a swivel of freedom, a pro me to je real, the blueness of oranges screaming in the hallways of hospitals where cut flowers mind the dying, the white sphinx giving up her riddle in loud roars of blasting sand until all settles and is forgotten again, even the root is covered up to grow no more and a fragile, so sensitive man, throws himself out of a fifth floor window five days ago …. returning his gift to the quiet crowd.

 

PS. When I returned home I randomly opened up my collected poems of T.S. Eliot. This is where my finger landed – the fifth section of the Waste Land. I read it over a mug of beer to the immortal pock faced moon which by now had reared its head shouting a timeless laughter through the nothing which separated us.

 

Datta: What have we given?

My friend, blood shaking my heart

The awful daring of a moment’s surrender

Which an age of prudence can never retract

By this, and this only, we have existed

Which is not to be found in our obituaries.

 

Toronto, Wednesday, February 12, 1997