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Discourse 24.1 (2002) 160-164

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From The Distance

Lyn Hejinian

A chronicler must gather details as if they were hard candies
That will be given (though only later) to people
Who will put them in their mouth to suck
With fascination for a long time.
But what grey mountains of water they are in reality
Lifted by sand and then toppled
Into foam
That strikes at us. We cannot gulp it down. It scuds
And like an aggregate of prisms
Studies the light
By which we see (or think we see) where we are, what's there, past sinking into our wake
and future on the horizon
Or on one of the several horizons
That float
In bands
Or present objects distorted but still recognizable
As they might be to a time traveler
Between the vanishing line and the limiting line
Streaking the sky
With islands
Of enormous but non-existent beauty
Offering us nothing but unproductive gladness.

The verdict is that we're assailed. Perhaps
By ambivalence. Unerringly it tracks us. My own wavering [End Page 160]
Is like dawn—my ambivalence links me to other obvious (rather than
clandestine phenomena)
And to diurnal
(Rather than nocturnal) practices
And it must be obvious to everyone
But—just to make sure that no one thinks me self-deluded
On this score (since self-delusion is even more idiotic
Than ambivalence)—I freely (though to mention freedom risks raising an array of thoughts that would drive me from my purpose) confess to it. I stare without being able to discover
Any grounds at all for affinities. I should settle for parallelism. But a writer of annals, chronicles, journals, diaries,
Or history
Ventures to discover affinities
As a cartographer ventures to discover a place. I look at a creature in its cage from several vantage points,
The creature looks just as they did before,
So I start with that in mind: mortal and finite—as long as it lives it will die.
And within those terms (these being the outer limits of its existence, neither of which it can cross
Since birth severed it irreversibly and eternally from the state of never-
having-lived and death will sever it from living)
Its life is forever
And for the duration of that forever (for its forever) it is
From log to cage, from the southern ocean to the northern seas,
The selfsame creature: an iguana, say, or a fox (that is its eternity)
And that it is that
Is no less wondrous than my being this and here from one hour to the next
Though I may think from one moment to the next that each moment is freeing me from the previous one
And releasing me to the next
And thence into a secret future
Between trees, walking the forest floor on the outer edges of my feet —
Silent, invisible, in an infinite process of disappearing.

Every traveler's tale unfolds
Along the rising and falling contours and over the edges
Written around the map
Of the tale folded into it. We are exposed. There is nothing here
But exposure. Every wave, even as it curls over the light, produces exposure,
Every thought is crossed by its own frame of illimitable
Transient white foam. Exposure produces the "blanks" on the map
Which are as blindingly bright as the white light that the sun casts
Through the translucent mist
And that are the source of "vision." The sun
Is always prejudiced in favor of appearances—change, eventfulness, and destination.
One cannot die quietly [End Page 161]
In its presence.
The sun casts ghosts.
(But it should be remembered also that while the sun shines one cannot murder with guaranteed impunity).

Even in my dreams I'm shocked by the criminality that dreams permit. Awake
I'm too much the quaking coward for crime, I'd regret. Regret comes readily
To me. And yet
I don't tend to look back—that's not my cast of mind —
But recently unnecessarily watchful I walk
Imaginary walks
Through places I thought I'd never see again
As they were when I was...


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pp. 160-164
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