We have a soul at times. No one's got it non-stop, for keeps. Day after day, year after year may pass without it. Sometimes it will settle for awhile only in childhood's fears and raptures. Sometimes only in astonishment that we are old. It rarely lends a hand in uphill tasks, like moving furniture, or lifting luggage, or going miles in shoes that pinch. It usually steps out whenever meat needs chopping or forms have to be filled. For every thousand conversations it participates in one, if even that, since it prefers silence. Just when our body goes from ache to pain, it slips off-duty. It's picky: it doesn't like seeing us in crowds, our hustling for a dubious advantage and creaky machinations make it sick. Joy and sorrow aren't two different feelings for it. It attends us only when the two are joined. We can count on it when we're sure of nothing and curious about everything. Among the material objects it favors clocks with pendulums and mirrors, which keep on working even when no one is looking. It won't say where it comes from or when it's taking off again, though it's clearly expecting such questions. We need it but apparently it needs us for some reason too.
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A Hard Life With Memory I'm a poor audience for my memory. She wants me to attend her voice nonstop, but I fidget, fuss, listen and don't, step out, come back, then leave again. She wants all my time and attention. She's got no problem when I sleep. The day's a different matter, which upsets her. She thrusts old letters, snapshots at me eagerly, stirs up events both important and un-, turns my eyes to overlooked views, peoples them with my dead. In her stories I'm always younger. Which is nice, but why always the same story. Every mirror holds different news for me. She gets angry when I shrug my shoulders. And takes revenge by hauling out old errors, weighty, but easily forgotten. Looks into my eyes, checks my reaction. Then comforts me, it could be worse. She wants me to live only for her and with her. Ideally in a dark, locked room, but my plans still feature today's sun, clouds in progress, ongoing roads. At times I get fed up with her. I suggest a separation. From now to eternity. Then she smiles at me with pity, since she knows it would be the end of me too.
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I am telling him what he wants to hear: ants dying of love under the constellation of the dandelion. I swear that a white rose, sprinkled with wine, sings. I am laughing, tilting my head carefully as if checking an invention. I am dancing, dancing in astonished skin, in an embrace that creates me.
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They're both convinced that a sudden passion joined them. Such certainty is beautiful, but uncertainty is more beautiful still. Since they'd never met before, they're sure that there'd been nothing between them. But what's the word from the streets, staircases, hallways- perhaps they've passed by each other a million times? I want to ask them if they don't remember- a moment face to face in some revolving door? perhaps a "sorry" muttered in a crowd? a curt "wrong number" caught in the receiver? but I know the answer. No, they don't remember. They'd be amazed to hear that Chance has been toying with them now for years. Not quite ready yet to become their Destiny, it pushed them close, drove them apart, it barred their path, stifling a laugh, and then leaped aside. There were signs and signals, even if they couldn't read them yet. Perhaps three years ago or just last Tuesday a certain leaf fluttered from one shoulder to another? Something was dropped and then picked up. Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished into childhood's thicket? There were doorknobs and doorbells where one touch had covered another beforehand. Suitcases checked and standing side by side. One night, perhaps, the same dream, grown hazy by morning. Every beginning is only a sequel, after all, and the book of events is always open halfway through.
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-A Word On Statistics- Out of every hundred people, those who always know better: fifty-two. Unsure of every step: almost all the rest. Ready to help, if it doesn't take long: forty-nine. Always good, because they cannot be otherwise: fourwell, maybe five. Able to admire without envy: eighteen. Led to error by youth (which passes): sixty, plus or minus. Those not to be messed with: four-and-forty. Living in constant fear of someone or something: seventy-seven. Capable of happiness: twenty-some-odd at most. Harmless alone, turning savage in crowds: more than half, for sure. Cruel when forced by circumstances: it's better not to know, not even approximately. Wise in hindsight: not many more than wise in foresight. Getting nothing out of life except things: thirty (though I would like to be wrong). Balled up in pain and without a flashlight in the dark: eighty-three, sooner or later. Those who are just: quite a few, thirty-five. But if it takes effort to understand: three. Worthy of empathy: ninety-nine. Mortal: one hundred out of one hundred a figure that has never varied yet.
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The buzzard has nothing to fault himself with. Scruples are alien to the black panther. Piranhas do not doubt the rightness of their actions. The rattlesnake approves of himself without reservations. The self-critical jackal does not exist. The locust, alligator, trichina, horsefly live as they live and are glad of it. The killer whale's heart weighs one hundred kilos but in other respects it is light. There is nothing more animal-like than a clear conscience on the third planet of the Sun.
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Some People Some people flee some other people. In some country under a sun and some clouds. They abandon something close to all they've got, sown fields, some chickens, dogs, mirrors in which fire now preens. Their shoulders bear pitchers and bundles. The emptier they get, the heavier they grow. What happens quietly: someone's dropping from exhaustion. What happens loudly: someone's bread is ripped away, someone tries to shake a limp child back to life. Always another wrong road ahead of them, always another wrong bridge across an oddly reddish river. Around them, some gunshots, now nearer, now farther away, above them a plane seems to circle. Some invisibility would come in handy, some grayish stoniness, or, better yet, some nonexistence for a shorter or a longer while. Something else will happen, only where and what. Someone will come at them, only when and who, in how many shapes, with what intentions. If he has a choice, maybe he won't be the enemy and will leave them to some sort of life.
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Teenager Me-a teenager? If she suddenly stood, here, now, before me, would I need to treat her as near and dear, although she's strange to me, and distant? Shed a tear, kiss her brow for the simple reason that we share a birthdate? So many dissimilarities between us that only the bones are likely still the same, the cranial vault, the eye sockets. Since her eyes seem a little larger, her eyelashes are longer, she's taller, and the whole body is tightly sheathed in smooth, unblemished skin. Relatives and friends still link us, it is true, but in her world nearly all are living, while in mine almost no one survives from that shared circle. We differ so profoundly, talk and think about completely different things. She knows next to nothing- but with a doggedness deserving better causes. I know much more- but not for sure. She shows me poems, written in a clear and careful script I haven't used for years. I read the poems, read them. Well, maybe that one if it were shorter and touched up in a couple of places. The rest do not bode well. The conversation stumbles. On her pathetic watch time is still cheap and unsteady. On mine it's far more precious and precise. Nothing in parting, a fixed smile and no emotion. Only when she vanishes, leaving her scarf in her haste. A scarf of genuine wool, in colored stripes crocheted for her by our mother. I've still got it.
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Out of a hundred people: Those who always know better- 52 Doubting every step- all the rest Glad to lend a hand if it doesn't take too long- as high as 49 Always good, because they can't be otherwise- 4 maybe 5 Able to admire without envy- 18 Living in constant fear of something or someone- 77 Capable of happiness- 20 something tops Harmless singly, savage in crowds- half at least Wise after the fact- just a couple more than wise before it Taking only things from life- 30 (I wish I were wrong) Righteous- 35, which is a lot Righteous and understanding- 3 Worthy of compassion- 99 Mortal- 100 out of 100 (Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.)
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The world, whatever we might think about it terrified by its vastness and by our helplessness in the face of it, embittered by its indifference to individual suffering-of people, animals, and perhaps also plants, for how can we be sure that plants are free of suffering; whatever we might think about its spaces pierced by the radiation of stars, stars around which we now have begun to discover planets, already dead? still dead?-we don't know; whatever we might think about this immense theater, to which we may have a ticket, but it is valid for a ridiculously brief time, limited by two decisive dates; whatever else we might think about this world-it is amazing.
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I am who I am. A coincidence no less unthinkable than any other. I could have had different ancestors, after all. I could have fluttered from another nest or crawled bescaled from under another tree. Nature's wardrobe holds a fair supply of costumes: spider, seagull, field mouse. Each fits perfectly right off and is dutifully worn into shreds.
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