- Of Travels and Thinness, and: Eggs Benedict
Of Travels and Thinness
In the oldest stories, the priest-king raises a willow wand or the priestess bares her breasts, and with a sprinkle of sanctified water the ship is launched, and then a sweet quiescence passes through the crowd. We could use a little debased, contemporary version of that. All day, we’ve scraped away at the nerves of one another, employing whatever blade-edged tools of accusation were handy. No allusion, and none of the usual easy guttural four-letter hurt-words, was off-limits. Scrape. To the marrow. Scrape. To the brain jelly.
“England, too, was determined to join the international effort to chart the transit of Venus.” In May of 1768, the Endeavour —in expectation of its voyage to Tahiti—was completely rerigged; and recoated in sulphur, pitch, and tar; and eight tons of ballast added. And to this all-weather vessel 103 men were entrusted. And even so . . . after thousands of miles of razor-sharp coral, scrape and scrape again, “the hull had been ground down to one-eighth of an inch” —the width of a grapefruit rind. Only that. And even so . . . the ship made port intact.
Somewhere a dog is being put to death. Somewhere a man is silently crying, in shame. We can’t begin to tally every horror that the moon sees; [End Page 128] all we know is that it never stops. It could be, though, that nowhere today, not once, was there a flight that required the oxygen masks to drop like bats in front of frightened faces, or the flotation devices to be unsnapped. I’ll take that for a blessing. [End Page 129]
I’m watching my cholesterol we say, as if maybe cholesterol could be magnified in our binoculars like a rare bird or a suntanning neighbor. Then quantum mechanics tells us that the very act of watching an action changes the action. Maybe in reading these words you’re changing these words. And maybe in changing these words where you are, their entangled brother and sister words in Minsk and Tahiti and downtown by the taco vendor also change. Is it true, that if two people read a dictionary . . . then really there are two dictionaries? Surely I hold as many mes in me as there are yous out there to see me(s). That’s the problem of course: the single I, but cholesterol always multiplying inside me as if for an army. It took my father away. It freed his pixel elements and they floated, floated, floated back into outer space. If we could see the earth from that infinidistance, all of its grief and gaudery would be on display in a breathtaking simultaneity: fish swim bladders like helium peonies! tiny guns and major damage! a pair of lips on the night winds, seeking another pair of lips like moths in heat! the final graphed-out valley-and-peak on my father’s final cardiogram! the craze-lines in the finish of a seventeenth-century oil painting of saints wearing pleated head-ruffs of light! O look at all of the people out there, with car keys, and dreams, and triglycerides! What amazing beings for dust to have made! [End Page 130]
albert goldbarth’s new collection of poems, Selfish, is due out this spring from Graywolf Press. Two of his earlier collections received National Book Critics Circle awards. As a test of endurance, he says, he continues to live in Wichita, Kansas.