Many fine books have been written in prison.
A the age of six my leg bled, opened like the flesh of an apple, colors reversed, pain unreal. The scar faded but now the pain returns in phantasmal power, its own being known utterly to me. The cause is still unknown, however--a bicycle crash and a trip to the hospital, sterilization with hydrogen peroxide (how can the weeping veins tickle?) and a bandage even a birthday party could not keep unsoiled. The forehead scars are also a mystery save one--the eyebrow mark too is an enigma. A childhood of clumsiness painted large to my recollection and private to the history I have created for myself.
Where was I when the Titanic went down, when the Hindenburg blew up, on V-J day, during Neil Armstrong's otherworldly step, or the evacuation of Saigon? The bones feel not these hundred years, and in truth none of them weighs lighter than a feather. In any case, the final years of the century past are enough to have been mine in a tiny backwater of the world far from momentous events and historic news broadcasts and universe-altering Vatican pronouncements. What are these years the body remembers, but sunshine, family, garden, trees, bicylcles, asphalt, summer afternoons, the cicada's song? Dark moments are pushed out and only seen in half-light the mind does not stare too hard into.
The child has promise, potential, innate talent, ability, aptitude, an attitude problem. No attitude problem really, but lack of enthusiasm. Capitalized Truth is not to be found here, escape to the imaginary world that appears like mist in the library provides a simulacrum of what is desired, and the harsh fact of reality is precisely that carefree pursuit of what is needed in the spirit cannot be done. Or so it looks to the frightened twelve-year-old for whom dawning adulthood has brought awe and shirking of responsibility. Two thousand days of schooling flutter by in an instant. They are the dead leaves in the mind's forest, to be swept up and devoured, excreted as soil to nourish the trunks of our thought. Hallways tiled and locker-lined, the sweat stink of a gymnasium, the chatter of a thousand bored gossips, a shaft of sunlight outside, a book that moves as quickly as the glaciers seen in my fourteenth year.
No challenge is too great, but many are too small when life is laid out in all its mundane detail to the excited mind of the child who sees nothing but an infinity of closed possibilities. This is not how it is supposed to be; this is not how my life goes. Where is the fame, the success, the richness, the love? We never learn to take a compliment, we never learn to be joyful, we never learn to be satisfied, we never learn to try. And so a smile crosses not these lips for lo the many years. Tight as a drum made of watchsprings, the mind recoils from its own creations, holding fast to the self. Then nothing turns out as it should and instead of accepting things as they are, and seeing that truly no fault may be laid before anyone, yet still the self blames the self.
Never have we done what we should, an the highest praise is underserved, for how may I
be worthy? We crave approval and reject it if offered unwarranted. For that was merely an act performed, not an indication of the inner self so alone. My thanks, I guess, I guess, sure (but still unwarranted). Success requires too much, for our sight is set high above reach--then we stumble over the feet we could not see for obsession with that far-of goal. Falling, then, the skinned knee though no great injury convinces us that the path ahead is impossible (for we cannot see it with upturned eyes). Over and over the work is wrenched from us by duty. "I must," repeats the thought, and the self-serving remove from engagement feeds this pathology. Work half-done or barely completed though above average fails to secure superior marks, of course, and then we can say at least we deserve not to fulfill all the promise forced upon us.
Who asked for this gift, for I was not the one to do it. Whatever measures applied to me say this is not something requesitioned on official forms, this mind is not what is attained through skill and work or dedication, and everything is too easy unless it cannot be done. Everything is seen and understood and known except that which matters only trivially--or so it appears. And yet the cage door, unlocked, cannot be touched. These are not my people, this is not my time, this world is decaying and putrid, everything I see has failed, and I see myself most clearly of all. I am everything and nothing, for whatever I set myself to is obtained, and I cannot set myself to anything. So control me, stifle me, push and pull me, point hither and thither and yon, crook the funger to return. I will be this and better than ever could be expected if only I do not have to take my own reins.
And still escape is on one's mind, to jump from the Road to the Sun and float away, disembodied, to the mountaintop where the guru imparts all the magical secrets of the universe. So you jump, but the guru's hut is empty, and there is no path down from the mountaintop. So you sit and think, for there is nothing but time and the gnawing hunger within and the thin unbreathable air. The view is merely a cloudbank, the ground rocky and sterile, and a small wooden stool supports you in the hut as you consider. No thought penetrates, for the longest time. And then in the quiet foggy night a voice appears to speak, though to another. The voices multiply, and the clouds form the scene, for you can now see further into the essence of this illusion. The figures move and dance together, mouths in motion, voices changing as rapidly as the mind can make out what goes on.
There is process and process and event after event, what is hidden behind doors appears outside, and what is seen by all fades into mist. Slowly, one's thought attaches to the movement. Slowly, the dance is made clear and for lack of anything better the steps come hard at first and then more easily. On and on the twirl goes, on and on the motion--it is exhausting, but the mountaintop is boredom and isolation. Feet lighten, the steps become familiar, the passages of the clouds are clear and navigable though changeable and labyrinthine. The steps add leaps, and the leaps grow higher and then, finally, the clouds part before your flying figure, and the grin on your face matches the exhilaration of escape even if it be unto death. For who may fly forever?
Graduation in a small town. Sunset stains my vision even in memory. The smell of damp wool and the sound of a thousand tiny metal folding chair creaks. It's over, just a tiny step, a picture, and then it's over. I will leap from that ledge, so high, as the motorists with their cameras and maps and cell phones gawk or probably pay no mind whatsoever. Summer is lightness and air, and the guru sits in his hut, waiting. Jump.