Lying suspended over a lake. She can see her entire self on the surface of the water. Every now and then circles appear and expand, distorting the image. At times she looks at her reflection with sadness, at times she chokes with bitterness and tries to escape, to turn over or stand in the air. But it’s no use, she is totally fixed—as if fastened with unseen ropes.
Thick fog passes underneath. When it shrouds the view below, she feels euphoric, she feels herself turn inside out, revealing attractive short hair and two ears with seven rings in each, revealing her perfectly feminine form. She is fragrant with the scent of lemon.
Kirsten entered this particular Starbucks right after her interview at The Wilderness Foundation across the street. It had not gone well. She’d exited into the midmorning glare and crossed the street in the direction the traffic light permitted—she had to go one way or another—and continued through the glass revolving door to the counter, where she ordered a grande hot chocolate, yes on the whipped cream. Set down her bag, claimed a table. Two mothers worked their strollers around the table to her left like lawnmowers around a mailbox. A man dialing his cell phone took the table to her right.
Chipper Hanson had found a lost goat and tied it to his porch, where it was kicking and butting and destroying things. He called the hardware, and the hardware called me, because if nobody got it off his porch soon, his wife was going to get the gun and take care of the problem herself, and whether that would involve just the goat or the goat and the husband, no one could say.
He leaps over two fire-painted blossoms resting on the stark cracked city pavement. Roused, these unfurl into late-Christmas-season orange-and-black butterflies that flutter into the violet shade of a smog-encrusted roadside jacaranda tree. A thrum becomes a hum becomes thumping footsteps, and soon he is entangled in a thicket of jeers and tossed gray, black, and brown stones as he flees toward a still-distant night. It is said that in combat some soldiers shoot over their enemies’ heads in order to avoid killing them. Some don’t even fire at all. Moses Ebewesit Odidi Oganda’s fingers tremble on the trigger of an old, shiny AK-47. He hurls the gun away with an “Urgh!” The weapon spills across the road—a low-pitched, guttural noise.
Dr. Nakajima had a poem in his head. It went something like, however far I go, blue mountains.
‘Ah,’ the Doctor thought, ‘I like the style of Taneda Santka. He is modern, yes, but his poems are easy enough to remember in volume. They are neat and simple and great for these summer days when the mountains grow taller on the horizon with every step. What a joy life is, when someone else puts words around it.’
The mind swings inward on itself in fear
Swayed towards nausea from each normal sign.
—derek walcott, “A Lesson for This Sunday”
On a lake, in the woods, in 1940, my grandparents built a cabin. One room, big stone fireplace, outdoor privy. They lived and worked outside New York City and spent summers in Maine, my grandmother often here alone with three young kids but no electricity, plumbing, or heat except the wood-burning fire. Surrounded by one hundred acres of no one. Up the road, there were neighbors: the Garnetts and the Hibberts—and the Savages, who lived up to their name, my grandmother used to tell me. They ate with their hands off the table’s pine boards. Mrs. Hibbert shielded her children from the Savage boys when they came around, sometimes en route to my grandparents’ place for supplies—whatever was lying around unprotected.
I went to buy the Roland Juno-6 with my best friend Michael the summer I was sixteen, before either one of us had a driver’s license. Other boys saved their house-painting money and bought an electric guitar with a starter amp. Or a five-piece drum kit, if they had the kind of parents who tolerated an unholy racket in the basement. Michael and I had earned eight dollars an hour for two weeks to stain a cottage on the Cape, a mythic payday that had sent us whooping and hollering into the waves, and I wanted to buy a synthesizer with my share of the windfall.