When I'm really reading, when I read for days and weeks and it's so good I don't ever want to stop, the books come and come to me. Where they come from is no real mystery. They come from out of the blue. Out of the radio and newspaper. Out of one book and into another. Out of the library. Out of the mouths of friends. Books I've ordered arrive in the mail. A friend leaves one in the mailbox. The note says something like, this made me think of you. Books stacked on my wife's desk have titles that call to me. At coffee a friend has a book I really must read. Books arrive from the past because space is curved and all things return after we read them. Reading one book I try not to think of others. I write quotes on sticky notes, in my notebook, between dates on my planner's pages. I dog-ear library books, God help me, and leave pencil dots near quotes that whispered to me. You see, I know where books come from. It's all magic. A trick in which a magician reaches into a dark place that isn't her hat, and pulls out something not quite a rabbit. The ears seem like pages and the magician's fingers are stained in ink. I stand and applaud, hoping she will hand it to me and I can begin to read.
Vision narrows. The mind lets go of the duties of the body. Things such as breathing, beating the heart, making words. Yet a part of the mind is still wide awake. It turns on the silent alarm. The flashing light atop the ship's bridge. We are going down. Mayday. Abandon ship. That small part of the brain, buried in our evolutionary past like some fossil, triggers a little language. I say, I not good. You hear, uh-nuh-guh. Then even that small part of my mind comes to a stop. Your eyes widen, your heart beats a moment sooner, your brain synapses fire lightning without thunder. You reach for me. Catch me, maybe. Help me down to ground. I won't know. You'll have to tell me all this later when I return to the world. My vision coming back. As I look up into the light of concern, a candle flickering in the breeze of my returning breath.
Men dug a hole in the parking lot outside the pool in which my daughter is swimming. They put up orange and white sawhorses. The strung yellow tape around it. Caution. Last week I checked out the hole. Six feet down it went. A horizontal pipe at the bottom had been cut cleanly. That pipe was big enough for a child to crawl inside and be stuck forever. I looked down into that dark hole a while. Listening. Then I walked away. The hole stayed with me. Then this week men filled the hole with dirt and gravel. They installed a new elbow and vertical pipe. Fixed a grate on top that no child could fit through. That drain is a darker hole within a dark hole. Soon it will be topped with concrete, smoothed flush with the parking lot. I climbed over the sawhorses and tape. Cautious. I checked out that drain. Knelt and put my ear against it. Then I called down into the darkness. Hello, I said. A child's voice echoed back a hollow hello, hello. No wonder that hole is fenced and taped off. No wonder all that caution. I moved away but am still wary to look at it, to imagine the hole that was there,or even to write these words.
I would write nothing but poetry such as this
Well, that and a lot of good essays.
And a short story or two every now and again.
Plus maybe a book.
If I were brave
I would write nothing but poetry such as this:
The First Rule
Never build three doors
in a straight line
A devil might rush
deep into your house,
into your life
by Michael Ondaatje (1998)