The summer after her senior year, Naomi flew to Indonesia with nineteen other Americans and signed a pledge to immerse herself in Bahasa for three months. She stayed in Malang, a city known for its temperate climate and waterfalls, and spent each day at the local college, learning to speak and read and write, piecing together the world again molecule by molecule. It felt like a second childhood, or like being reincarnated. Mountain was gunung. Friend was teman.
Jangan malu, her tutor would say, when Naomi hesitated. Jangan malu. Don’t be shy. In the evenings, she sent emails to her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, who was doing a summer internship at a law firm in Houston. He seemed to require a full legal brief explaining his wrongness for her. Apart from that, she was immersed.
A fruit tramp family of the 1930s stayed in many places for short periods of time. We arrived, picked the crop, and moved on. That’s why we were called tramps, nomads, and many other things not nearly as complimentary. Our shelters while picking could be the loft of a barn, a converted hen house, or a small sleeps-two tent. On occasion if you were in an especially nice place, you might have a cabin or a large canvas-covered dwelling with a wooden floor. If we had a place of permanency, it was the car or truck that took us to the next job: we might spend the winter in California or pick apples in Washington State. It was all dictated by the season. Packing and moving was as much a part of our life as picking the crop.
We went to the bathhouse because it was Dorian’s thirtieth birthday and, being the kind of friend he was, he wanted to do something for himself—partying at Chicago’s Boystown, a neighborhood we’d frequented when we’d been undergraduates at Iowa—and then something for us, especially for Aviraj, who was Dorian’s closest friend and still a virgin. He had flown for this, Aviraj had; I had flown, too, but it wasn’t as big of a deal, because I had come from New York—costing me around $250—and he had from Mumbai—which could’ve cost shy of $1,000 (not that I asked). This infamous holding-out on Aviraj’s part had come, on the one hand, because of his spiritual beliefs and, on the other, because—idealistic as he was—he had never been able to keep a man, which had brought about that soothing old joke of ours where we told him not to worry; he was surely the type of guy who never dated and then, bam!, he’d marry on his first try. The group would laugh at this jealous joke, yet a jealous silence would always follow, for not only did we believe it to be true, but we also believed Aviraj to be the only one of us who had marriage in him.
If the heart is a temple,
each statue will be broken.
But I have practiced idolatry:
loved the creature more than
the creator, whom I can’t see.
There’s a hole where the sun
should be. It has entered me,
along with the cloud and river.
No I do not want everlasting life
to be condemned to forever here
on this wasted earth no merci messieurs
unlike the Struldbruggs hailed all the way
from the island-nation of Luggnagg
discovered at the end of Book Three
of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels
I cannot remember a time when I was not chosen last.
That and the great, timeless subjects: music, weather, war.
Wounds are openings through which presence shines through.
The child in the doll, Christ in the wafer, the ocean in a droplet.