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The Night Orchard They have given me a room near the power station across the canal, and sleeplessness has become an island jolted by hot sounds and water lights. A vapory static scents the air like fruit that has caught fire. Thickly, the shallows of a dream that I would have if I slept darken under a greasy skin that won't break. And then the scent of fire again, sweet, heaviest near a woman's letter to me, propped on the nightstand. As you near the center of America, you reach an unmoving inland sea of towns founded, strange to say, on a migration fleeing tolerance. The coastal cities had accommodated small boroughs of affection. Their harbors steamed with tenderness at morning, and at day's end a borderless sublime floated in the bankers' streets and you might put it in your soft hand and then into a friend's hand like clean money. And so the undistracted governments of heaven fled inland, upwelling and lacustrine charters of orchards, tulip farms, and in the next century, power stations and bad hotels to afflict the transient. Borne up and eddied in sleeplessness there, in nearly a fever dream, I can sense orchards burning and power becoming water again. Absurd, because this isn't Florida. They do not drive off frost with fires in orchards as they do in orange groves. 20 Power stations do not spew forth shipwreck; they light houses; they hang dry and solid in their constant translating stammer. But I am afloat somehow, and there is the sweet of burn. What, if anything, upholds a person cut off from the mercy of his private life remembering the little flecks of burn on skin where there had been no fire but his mouth only and at morning patches of white like sea mist? What is there to translate at the center of America but roiling shallows and, away inside you, an answer to the letter on the nightstand? The questions that we ask of the civil world leave us one choice: either freedom is identical with happiness or we are all on islands in the middle of flat continents jolted by the stammer of sleepless dreaming. The money of countries must feel like a skin or it is rubbish. I must be able to stand in the center of the night orchard and be touched by fires burning justly in the good tolerance of the landowners. I must answer a simple letter with language wrought from my heart's error, common to everyone by example, but belonging solely to one woman whose body is sea mist and whose voice over the telephone sounds so much like wings that it must be wings grown out of the flecks of burn along her shoulders 21 sometime after I left her bed and she began to write such beautiful letters addressed to hotels. Finally, the power of inland cities must be a charter of the heaven curled on apple leaves, small and perfectly suspended between happiness and freedom on one stem. As we come closer to a real sleep, as we get that far, America is purely and completely its center, down to the seas in all directions. Its sweet produce always afire, in winter and in summer. The question of our civil lives stammers between legislating the difference and knowing the difference that sets each heart away on islands, and it tries to speak out of itself of the loving error of passion which is the beginning of freedom which is the beginning of happiness. I have my answer. She has always known it. I bury it and my face in her shirt. Great turbines and little coins like new Floridas spin in the dark. 22 ...


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