Who knows, might be hundreds of starlings in the pear tree right outside my window. Damned birds: I was forced to read in the National Geographic, which just won’t let this sort of thing alone, that they don’t belong here; they’re like an invasive weed, strangling out the other species. It’s likely if they keep reproducing and if at the same time domestic cats, which are more destructive to the environment than an average Republican governor, keep fornicating, in ten years there will be an all out war between the species. Just to put things straight, I don’t really know if they are starlings, I’ve never trusted my skills as an ornithologist, they could be finches or robins, which are probably kind and considerate birds, polite and helpful to the others. I can’t really see them anyway, the leaves of the pear tree are so thick. I refuse to worry about it. Instead I dream of figs, giant figs, lain in alternating directions, front to back, in two rows of a holiday box, just like the tasteless* pears that arrive when a loved one dies. But in my dream the figs open, which leads me somewhere else altogether.
One out of ten Parisians bought Henri Barbusse’s L’Enfer when it was published in 1908, but in the play adaptation the only memorable line was something like, “the trouble with women is that one wants all of them.” When extrapolated to all desire, this concept—we can’t have what we desperately want—signifies our inconceivable mortality (we want to live forever, natch). The play, and I suppose the book (though I don’t know for sure, since I haven’t read it), goes to great length to illustrate this idea, which is actually the basis of all art and religion. Only the play Hell pretends to be the first to imagine it. The fucking pretense! Actually, the play doesn’t illustrate a thing, it just tells, same as the National Geographic, and somehow, now beaten down by it all, I am supposed to care.
But my soul is weeping for Marguerite. At 1:33 this afternoon, I can’t stop thinking of her, she who has filled these last six weeks, “the lapse into despair of the writer who does not write,” I am the reader who cannot find enough time to read.
The sun is out, finally. I don’t know how to shut up, how to stop adding subordinate clauses, how to contain a single thought into a single, concise, and yet elegant phrase and Marguerite, who was born into an aristocratic family the communist Barbusse would have despised, writes as if she is a glass bucket, collecting drops of water. A perfect glass bucket in which each drop remains yet visible.
Does she realize that inside the word despair is spare?
Marguerite lived most of her life on an island off the coast of Maine with her lover and translator Grace Frick. (There: I have done it, a sentence that contains a single idea. All right, two intertwined ideas.)
For 30 years she collected the drops that make her Memoirs of Hadrian. And some of them evaporated part way (actually she burned those she no longer found useful, another thing I can’t get myself to do).
I’ve opened the window, but the starlings have gone for some reason, like entering a dead grandmother’s house. There is a voice on the street below: a Spanish woman. This isn’t an accent, but a quality of sound, the color brown if I were to pretend to have synesthesia. Her hair, however, is black, and long. She is walking on crutches toward her Smart Car, midnight blue, same as the cast on her leg. “Hay temprano, no?” she says to her American friend, a blond. She bends down to throw her crutches in the hatchback door. Her hair drifts across her face.
But early for what?
And where are you going?
*Joyce Carol Oates says this is so and I believe her.