Week 6: Stillness exercise
I am sitting under a tree in broadleaf daylight outside my brutal fraternity housing in Palo Alto, so it must be spring or summer, or, at any rate, sylvan, because I’m stretched out (no yoga for this omega man) in the accurate shade of its lovely leaves. It hasn’t rained – or, rather, it hasn’t, as Americans love me to say, lashed in a long time, lashed being an unknown verb of rainfall in these pacific parts – and the grass, while green, is as brittle as Astroturf or fibreglass under my bare legs. So it must be late in his second year as well, the diaspora Celt peacefully studying violence through two dead languages in the French Department in pursuit of an English degree, because it took him at least eighteen months to shed the long belted trousers of his Dublin two-piece corduroy suit for the DayGlo sports shorts graduate students wear at Stanford University in this, the last decades of the second millennium, although he is still knotting the slim suede, pastel-coloured ties that his San Franciscan friends, God bless them, find fetching and micro-phallic and European in the dog-days before the plague-years roll their tumbrils through the Tenderloin, and finally, fiercely close their pastel eyelids under the soot and glitter of their Max Factor mascara.
The boy under the tree is excited and delighted. He thinks he can prove that Freud detested the olfactory aspect of the sex-act, the marine and manure dimension in fastidious nostrils, from an enigmatic footnote in a forgotten essay, and, while he’s far too old at twenty-five to imagine that this explains everything about the prurient Puritan, it must surely explain almost everything. Besides, it matches a sentence he’s just read in the other paperback book beside him, which is something by Sartre (truly, this is such a long time ago), the philosopher who once stood in a church and said to the tabernacle: Give me a sign, and I will dedicate my life to you. I will sign up. I will sign on, so I will. Otherwise, I will be wise in another way and another wayside. I will invent myself out of nothing like the I in aluminium. I will make an iota of difference that way, and I will write the letter I in lower-case forever afterwards so that it stands out all the more whenever it meets the I, or the eye, of another competing and comparing Other.
You can tell that the boy is paraphrasing this moment of conjugal negotiation in the late master’s very early adolescence, because he is actually thinking at the same time, there and then under the gorgeous, coagulating olive and emerald foliage of whatever you call the arterial canopy of the coppice of nineteenth-century trees outside the brutal university housing on this stunning, sun-struck day in Palo Alto: Stop giving me signs, Lord. Stop it at once. I cannot cope with so much meaning, Lady. It is bad for my heart. It is bad for my breathing, Love.
And, as he’s thinking this, this is thinking him too, because it begins to rain, so it does, out of the blue, out of the blue beyond, out of the brilliant sunshine, out of the vast Valentine’s X of the vapour-trails of two invisible intersecting jet-planes on their way from Tuesday afternoon in California to Monday evening in London, England, or is it the other way round, and from the Spring or Summer in Silicon Valley to the hibernating bumble-bees of a monster swarm in mid-winter Melbourne, say, who see the light of the world in the sacrament of ultraviolet.
As the first, infinitesimal drops condense, and the sunbathers sit straight and hold out their hands with their pale palms cupped and upwards, staring at the sky which has been thirsting for a whole trimester in a blinding anticyclone over the bleached Bay Area, two, three, seven, twelve water-sprinkler systems suddenly fountain in their field of vision, ovals of yes like the arms of ballerinas or the time-lapse cinematography of roses opening. It is all a pas de deux, a parting of lips, a proposal of marriage, like the one that Jesus made the Samaritan woman, who was parched from the wrong wed-locks at the patriarchal well.
Remember me, they say. We are the matter. We are the mystic. We are the echo-chamber of the prayer called Memorare.