The substance of what I feel is incommunicable, and the more incommunicable it becomes, the more I feel the need to communicate it, communicate the incommunicable. Not because it’s incommunicable, that would be too easy, too communicable, but because suffering often occurs in hotels where people sit solitary and glum in the nude, because dread, because vicissitude, because despair will sometimes try to invite the stars into its house but the stars aren’t that easily fooled, because leaves without a wall will blow into the playground and brush the sand while fragments of a poem follow sleepers everywhere, especially in their sleep, where the dead reside, and there is no word for that. This is plain. But can we call it a substance? It is, after all, a feeling, and a feeling has no substance. It doesn’t slop around in my body like water in a bathtub. It isn’t grease, and it isn’t the fluid that fills the interior of my eyes, aqueous humor. Not mockingbirds or the mirrors in the palace of Versailles. Nothing I can find in the trunk of a car. Not a black hole. Not a tank of propane shooting flame. Not the embrace of a woman or a man. The feeling of muscle, the feeling of hands on the wheel of a car speeding down the freeway to California, the time spent lingering at a table in a restaurant after the meal is done and the waiter has perfunctorily deposited the check in a leather check presenter, and you’ve been swept away by a daydream, a fantasy involving Patti Smith and a pirate ship, not that, but all these. The smell in the trunk of a car, the embrace of a woman, the mystery of black holes, the feeling of grease, warm water in a bathtub, mirrors in a palace, the light of chandeliers in the aqueous humor of my eyes.
I feel like a fisherman casting a net into the water hoping something will come up when I drag it back in, silvery bodies flip-flopping on the deck of my boat. But then I’ve never been fishing, not like that, not on a boat, I don’t think I’d like it, I’d probably get sick. And so you see how easy it is to lose one’s way when you’re trying to define or describe the indescribable, the indefinable, the ineffable and strange.
The ineffable is linked with the sublime, whatever the sublime is. I know the sublime when I experience it. It’s an intense feeling, a mixture of awe and fear and terribleness and sometimes, if I’m lucky, ecstasy. It can beautiful, but beauty is only a small part of it. There is something of the eternal in the sublime, the beatific rather than the beautiful, the boundless rather than the bountiful. “Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt,” wrote Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason.
The immensity of the attempt is incommunicable. And so the argument becomes circular, goes round and round in my head making me dizzier and dizzier until I begin walking like a drunk and the world is a cuticle on the finger of eternity.
The more I try to define it, the slipperier it gets. Knowledge enters the arena gently, seeking to know what can be known and dissolving like sugar in that which is conjectural or wet. Neurons glimmer, exchanging impulses like sailors in a topless bar. Nothing is profane. The sacred imbues everything, every alley, every bar, every wharf and wharf rat and loin. Fascicles are off-putting and faults are fascinating. There is nothing in existence that doesn’t ultimately fail the most sensitive equipment, the most supple language, the most agile violinist. It would take a Paganini to get even close to describing the scent of olives in southern Greece in late November, or the flight of a barn swallow just after the sun rises in Shoshoni, Wyoming.
Grief brings us close to the regions of the ineffable. When someone close dies, we feel the majesty of the sublime. And there are times forever after when everything feels just a little absurd, a little silly in how seriously some things are taken.
We pray to furnish our thoughts with the practices and skills of the bear, the great bear of the eastern sky who incarnates trigonometry, and is jeweled and reticent. The glaucous grammar of the chestnut causes buffalo to appear, and hot air balloons and sandwiches. The Renaissance walks in and sits down and begins talking about rope, the history of rope, the ins and outs of rope, the ontology of rope, the economics of rope. The recognition of rope, the unraveling of rope, is renewed, reborn, because rational discussion will do that. But what of the irrational? How do we corral the irrational? The behavior of the irrational is primordial as a typewriter, eccentric as spit.
Axle Shoe arrives on an axle, wearing shoes. Axle Shoe is wearing an oil-skin coat and a pair of warm climates. Axle Shoe embraces a beautiful shape. It appears to be a duck, or pustule. It’s all too mercurial to communicate with words or lips, and the greater the effort, the more elusive it becomes, until it is mist, and tingles on the skin, and Axle Shoe walks away, rolls away on an axle.
I’m doing a lousy job here because really, the incommunicable is fabulous and strains any attempt at faith or belief. Sometimes the ground cannot be negotiated because it’s clay and it’s been raining all day and there’s no secure footing to be had anywhere. And the river below is raging and dark and turbulent. Which is how it is much of the time in the mind, in my mind, maybe your mind, I don’t know, shall we put our minds together and see? I don’t know what people mean by that. How do you put your mind together with the minds of other people?
And it occurs to me that we all share the same consciousness, roughly. Very roughly, I know. But if there is a copse of trees in our vision as we travel through Iowa everyone will see the same copse of trees. And that same copse of trees will trigger different memories and feelings about trees, but the facticity of the trees remains the same, they’re poplars, and lean west with the wind.