To Acknowledge Distance
By Chris Wells
NDQ is proud to publish, in serial, Chris Wells’s novella, To Acknowledge Distance, which originally appeared in volume 84.3/4 (2018). This is part 2; here is part 1.
1. No longer pretend that I am Ferdinand. Now an “I” speaks with a different aim—no longer a character but a human being. I am the man who has written your story. But now I am no longer seeking to tell a story, nor attempting to write a fictional letter, but rather attempting to express truth, or at least to face an unfiltered truth, if this is possible. Perhaps the truth is banal, or can be phrased in a way that is both honest and banal. Here’s part of it: I am indeed sitting in the bedroom of a house. It is the fall of 2014, not 2003. It is someone else’s house, a small bed-and-breakfast. The fictional Charles addressed in the first part of this letter is likewise staying in a small country inn, but unlike Charles I am with my wife, who is not Tara nor anyone other than herself. She is writing a book just as I am writing this—whatever this may end up to be.
2. The truth is that I, like you, am made of fear. For most hours of my life I repress this fear, but the certainty of guilt, death, the revocation of all my freedom, haunts me. Is it death I am afraid of? Yes, but on the other hand, I am not sure if this is distinguishable from a fear of life.
3. If you were to approach me, the real human me, in person, I will deny that this narrator speaking is me. Certainly by the time you read it, it is no longer me—I will have changed with every moment I am still breathing, and perhaps long after that. Possibly the act of writing these words will effect a more meaningful change. Perhaps these words will dissolve my fears and absolve me of all of which I would be ashamed.
8. In a very real sense, I have written all I must. The necessity is gone. Perhaps my fiction-writing vocation has been fulfilled, brought to completion, along with the end of my astrological youth, as those who believe in such things may say. This is the only explanation I can offer for having so little to write. I understand this is not an explanation. All the writing I did before this work brought my youth to a close, and now—what? I get closer with every word to the end of my life, which will be by all earthly appearances the dissolution of all my hope, a dissolution back to insensible elements, individuality dissolved in the multiplicity of mineral molecules. Death as the end of all expression and experience, as the loss of all one loves, including oneself. Perhaps this is why I am writing—although I have nothing to say, I cannot help but rebel against the end I am fearing. In a sense, this work is a necessity. I am just not proud to admit it.
12. What are these numbered paragraphs in this fictional letter’s postscript? And why are there so many gaps, so many paragraphs that have been discarded, never to be read? They signify nothing but a failure to finish the story about Charles, Tara, and Ferdinand. They are a continued effort to try to complete what is incomplete, perhaps by nature.
17. If completion is impossible, perhaps closure is not—an agreement with myself to leave the work incomplete, which is already an inevitability. This work is a conversation for closure with the real “myself” and not with you, Charles. A conversation with you would be absurd, as you do not exist, nor have you ever existed. Neither have I, really, if the above is to be believed. So who do I write to? It is to a version of a self that has longed to be actual but has remained imaginary, and will remain so. I must shed a particular self that I have pretended to be, but to depart from the self I had once spoken into imaginary being without a ritual goodbye would be too rude—an affront to the old self, therefore I may be haunted by it.
18. Some forms of fiction persist as a medium of the truth, and any given self is such a fiction. Full awareness of the void does not come before the mind and the heart are ready. It does not come before the self is ready to see that it has sprung from the void, which is the source and stuff of the self, a horrific spectacle because it is you and yet so strange to you, what you have in vain longed not to be.
20. It is just nothing that is the necessity that propels the work. There is sometimes a reason to speak or write. There are many more occasions to be silent, but I am not yet ready for such occasions, and so I keep speaking and writing.
28. Is language just a game of fort and da? Are words a way of calling forth presence from absence? Certainly this is what any story does, even true ones. The fear of abandonment—perhaps this is what gives language its energy. We can create fictional characters with language, companions with whom we may imagine we can be completely transparent just as they are, as they have been, with us. But they do not do so willingly, because they are imaginary. The author is a creator god of an imagined world doomed to predestine his characters, just as the characters are doomed to whatever fate this god cannot help but give them.
29. Words do not merely call forth presence from absence; they also make oneself present to another and also make others present to oneself when one is listening—for we are all “listened into existence.” For this reason, to be listened to is to be affirmed in a much deeper way than speaking alone could accomplish. When one listens, one welcomes you into their mind by creating you anew, or by co-creating you. It is possible that this desire to write, to continue a story, can be mitigated, lessened, even eliminated if the goal is no longer to bring myself into existence for you—whoever you are—but to bring you into existence for me as well as for you. This is what listening can do for both of us. The point of speaking perhaps is not to speak but to be heard, or the point of writing perhaps is not to write but to be read carefully and deeply—and therefore to be listened to just as deeply.
33. We humans often feel mortality growing inside us, a weakening of the body and mind that reminds us that the force and energy that creates our physicality will dissipate. But it does not disappear. Nothing is lost but our ability, as human beings, to make a human kind of difference. Nothing is lost but a human difference.
34. If what is lost by death is close proximity to the world(s) of others, the ability to enter readily into the spheres of their senses, to become part of their memories and imaginations, to be seen and touched and listened to, then what is gained by death is distance. Perhaps this is how death is real—it is the ultimate distance from experience, especially of others but also of oneself. In death we no longer even listen ourselves into existence. I wrote a poem years ago to acknowledge distance, both physical and metaphorical. I had written it as I remembered a time my wife had been out. It was a summer night. I was waiting for her to return home from a late dinner with friends. I was looking for Orion, the Hunter, a sight that has often brought me comfort, and to identify the Pleiades, the star Aldebaran, but it was the wrong season for these stars to be in the sky that night. Cars kept coming down the street toward the house. Some seemed likely to be her car, but my impressions were wrong, and the cars passed—cars driven not by my wife but strangers I would never meet. The poem:
Doppler effects of nearing engines
cross the brink of my disappointment:
for you I yet wait,
peruse the neck of Cygnus,
a summer night still
as short lives of crickets
nonetheless accomplish what they must,
were made for
and then just the same
36. Perhaps I write in an attempt not only to acknowledge distance, but to affirm it. Perhaps by affirming the distance gained in death, the sting of death will be removed. Every word I say or write is in some sense a failure and will never be fully understood, but perhaps it is immortal nonetheless. Charles Sanders Peirce conceived of the entire semiotic process as infinite, with each sign generating an interpretant which is in itself a sign, generating further interpretants in an endless spiral. This theory shows that simply by making signs, or by being signs, to one another, human beings risk failure, the reality of distance and difference. Writing a story such as this seems to ensure failure, as does making any work of art—the artist fails to master the effects of their work, no matter how much effort has been exerted. But the interpretive process never ends. In this I might find a strange comfort, an ability to take refuge in the inevitable flux I have often attempted to flee from in vain.
37. This room I am in is a mere bedroom with a bathroom and a window to a pleasant outdoor scene. At first it seemed ironically liberating because it is confining. The wider world with its demands for attention have been shut out to me, and I have made the time to write, to create, to overcome my inability to finish this story, if this were possible. But in this small and quiet room, the woods visible out one window and a clearing leading to the road visible out the other, with no one around except for my wife, with no demands or expectations or congratulations or greetings or other social contact, I feel this has become stifling. A malaise creeps inside me. Could I be getting sick? I have drunk wine today and hardly enjoyed it. My bottom right molars hurt now, but why? Have I been clenching my teeth? Could it be that I am unable to face the risk that this act of writing may be meaningless? Am I leaving anything unwritten that may heal me?
39. Many things become possible as we perceive a false order in the great chaos, signs pointing to one another in a web that we feel we only need to follow, traversing this web we unknowingly create, mastering it as if our minds were spiders. I have always mistaken the web for myself.
40. This fall there was the sound of leaves raked against one another over my front yard. I was the one with the rake. The rhythmic scrapes came into awareness, accompanied by the sound of far trains, wind moving across earlobes and into the caverns of the ears. I had not touched my rake in nearly a year, but I had never questioned its existence, nor thought about its impermanence or how it was constructed from discrete and separable parts. I had no reason to check on it, make sure it was still there. Down the street my neighbor raked to her own rhythm, her own inward music set to the unique pace of her nervous system and whatever concerns it had—her brain, her mind, with its, or her, habits and desires—for a raked yard. I had not spoken to her in months. I did greet her with a wave the other day. From those hundred or so feet away, she appeared focused and active, moving her tarps loaded with leaves to the street, bending her knees and walking up her own front yard and then out back. Yardwork can indeed be a form of meditation. For me it was meditation on an unfinished story started several years ago, recently rediscovered, about a league of chicken players with an undefeatable champion. I am so different from the person I was when I had started writing this story. Whenever I tried to complete it, nothing seems to take the shape it should. What I feared is that by finishing it, I would have dissolved the need to tell any story. I am now remembering the wind moving through the piles of leaves along the street and thinking of all that wind has destroyed. Even the most common wind dishevels so much it moves over: leaves, hair, trash. I know firsthand how destructive it can be. I lived here as Hurricane Ike moved through in 2008. I saw in awe the derecho of 2012, with the wind bending trees prostrate to the ground. In the derecho, a laconic old man stood on the loading dock where I worked and said he’d never seen anything like it here, and neither had I. But of course these storms, and storms like these, had hit other places much harder. We, I suppose, were “lucky” if luck means we compare our outcomes favorably to those who have had it worse off than we have, as if this were something to celebrate. The wind leaves some people in ruins—their houses, their lives, the symbols of all they have loved, and sometimes it kills them more directly. We had a strong wind last summer as well. It was a mere fifteen seconds by some accounts, but it was strong enough to affect us personally. It had severed the branch from our locust tree in the backyard. We had come home from visiting my father in a hospital in Michigan and saw the branch lying on the roof. I climbed a ladder and tried to remove it myself, but the branch was too wet and heavy for me. I traced the edges of where it had fallen. It had punctured through the tar with stubs of its thorny twigs. I felt one or two thorns puncture my hand as I traced the damage. My blood fell on the roof and I was still bleeding after descending the ladder. My wife came out of the house and volunteered to call the insurance company. I had to prepare myself to teach. I had to somehow put these worries aside, about the roof, about my father’s failing health. I had to be present. The present moments are always the most important. The people I have admired most in life are those who face each moment, even the difficult ones, with a discernible coolness and quiet confidence, not unlike the character of Ferdinand. This is in contrast to someone like me, who faces each hard moment as a mountain to be climbed. I admire people who are not hesitant to give you absolute attention sprung up out of their natural courage and compassion. They are both vulnerable and self-affirming. As for the wind, we have no control over it. No one on earth can reverse its direction, nor can anyone turn upward the force of gravitation that keeps us on the earth but brings branches down to rooftops. Bringing up my damaged roof might have troubled my students, and yet, if avoiding the topic were a conscious decision to keep them focused on the business of the classroom, the conventions of schooling, would I have been inauthentic, and would that in any way have been regrettable? I knew a man who disarmed his friends by crying. His tears were a byproduct of his own unwillingness to be closed inside himself, to be untrue to himself and others. He told me in tear-drenched sighs of his failure to ameliorate poverty in a certain country to which he was invited to serve as an economic consultant, and in which there lived—and died—children whose underfed bellies bulged as they sold gum for almost nothing. This conversation with him reminded me of walking through the streets of Philadelphia where I had come across a woman on Market Street desperately trying to sell me gum at fifty cents a package. She said she sold it to benefit her kids’ school. People avoided meeting her eyes, evidently believing she sold it for some other undisclosed purpose. At the time, it did not bother me if she were choosing to deceive me. Love believes all things. This refrain had been resounding in me from one of Paul’s epistles, and the resonance was especially strong when I walked the streets of Philadelphia, where I searched for God amidst the poverty I saw and in the stories of crime that increased our fear of one another. What does love believes all things mean? What did it mean to me? It had meant I would believe this woman, whom I knew may be concealing the truth. I would believe her because belief is a choice, and sometimes a radical one. I had thought it was only radical belief that had any chance to change the world. Of course I did not believe her in the strictest sense; my belief was not so much a cognitive state as an existential attitude, not unlike a belief in God, though there is no plausible conception of God and, to quote Job, though he slay me. And so I bought the gum from her, or I believe I did, as this used to be my way. After the money exchanged hands, she smiled. How did she see me? Gullible, humane, perhaps both? A sucker, some kind of Midwestern bumpkin? I wondered if there were any classist or racially-charged connotations in her thoughts about me, or about the situation. Or in mine for even wondering this. Also in Philadelphia, a man stopped my wife and me as he was hurrying somewhere, or from somewhere, or from someone, or to someone else, and he was so stressed that his shirt was wet with sweat from his armpits and chest and drool dripping from the corners of his mouth. He had asked us for a bus token. We gave him what he asked for. I wondered where he had to have been right then as if his life depended on it, and I wondered if his life did depend on it. And I wondered if I had ever drooled from sheer stress. Sometimes I have slept facedown, mouth parted, waking with a dry mouth and a wet pillow. We are disgusted with spit as we are disgusted with other excretions of the body. They remind us of our infancy, our weakness, our creatureliness, our mortality. Spit is perhaps a piece of you, something to be kept inside, swallowed, and when it comes out of the mouth it is an aberration—a reminder of one’s bodily functions, smells, germs, our eventual creaturely passing. Like all water, spit will change form and evaporate; it may even become something beautiful, like a cloud. As a child, everything that moved seemed a vehicle to me, and I wondered: who drove the clouds? Angels or spirits in each cloud, sitting at a wheel, pressing some kind of pedal with their feet, looking forward, focused, guiding it to a destination, one cloud after another, fulfilling some heavenly purpose? There was a grandfather I never knew, gone before I was born. I asked my mother one day if he drove the clouds. She said, I don’t know. We were sitting at a small table by the window as my grandmother drank tea. I learned the word teabag that day. My grandmother showed me the bag, full of small brown fragments of leaves wetted in a mug of hot water. I was wondering, not entirely consciously, about the relationship of one word to another: tea and flea. My father in jest called cats flea-bags. Our family had fed many of them. I remember the looks of one of the cats, but I do not remember her name. A dog killed her. She fought the dog as all the children around me cheered the cat on. I had absorbed as an even younger child the narrative arc of the underdog, and so I believed I knew the ending. Here, the underdog became a literal being, literally under the dog. But the ending of this story is uninspiring and too predictable for those with experience of this world. After the dog’s violent attack, the guts of the cat poured out of its belly in what looked like jelly to me. Within minutes the cat expired. This bloody jelly is what the insides of the flea-bags looked like, I thought. Cats carried their fleas only on their outer edges, hidden in their fur, just as clouds only exist on the outer edges of the air, high in the sky. And things did not always turn out as they do in stories or on the TV shows I watched. I learned that the world does not have a narrative logic. Maybe a summer afterward, I found a dead rat near our garage. I took it near the backyard sandpile we played in, and at the rough boundaries of the sand I buried it. Years later we were playing and digging in the same area, having forgotten about the rat. We dug up the bones. They were all that was left of it. It seems to me we animals cannot quite be compared to clouds, constantly changing, constantly becoming something else. We animals cannot be compared to a pile of leaves, either, so easily scattered. There are bones, relics, residue, other less tangible things we leave behind, feelings and memories inside the worlds of others. The boneless clouds dissolve eventually, or become indistinguishable from their surroundings. Hurricanes gather such strength in the ocean and spread themselves in a reckless rush over land, but they expire as well. I saw Hurricane Sandy on the radar perish in Canada, becoming indistinguishable from the calmer air around it. There are efforts, perhaps, to dispose of us just as cleanly as nature disposes of clouds or storms. After the surgeons cut off my father’s leg, the hospital had it cremated. This was a routine practice authorized on a consent form without anyone clearly remembering the form or what might have been explained. And when he died, we were given three choices: cremation, burial without a viewing, or burial with a viewing. The last option would have been expensive. They had done a full autopsy on my father’s remains. Even before the autopsy, he was not in his best shape. Based on the reports from my mother and my sister, he no longer looked like himself. In his own opinion, he looked more like his own father, not at his own age but at present, a man twenty years his senior. My father, once prone to obesity, had lost maybe a hundred pounds over the last few years while he was on dialysis. My father did not want my kidney. I know this, or I think I know, but I did not ask him. Rather I had sensed it, or I thought I did. He wanted the kidney of a dead stranger so as not to burden his family. With a tendency to hypertension, it was unlikely my donation could have been approved anyway. I keep wondering if somehow I could have made a better decision on his behalf. Later on, my sister reassured me that my intuition was right, that I did not let him selfishly die by my lack of engagement. I asked myself if he had deserved to be sick. I felt guilty for asking myself this. He had let diabetes ravage his vascular system and destroy his kidneys. If he did not care for his kidneys, why would he take care of mine? It had long been a topic of conversations with others, my father’s paradoxically miraculous condition of ill health. As they talked about their own aging fathers, I would interject: you think your father has health problems? In a strange way I boasted about my father’s state of health, perhaps because, just like him, I unconsciously believed he was not as mortal as he was. Back in the ’90s, he said a doctor once showed him a vial of his own blood, the bottom third of which was thick and white, like lard—pure sludge, my father said. He later had a stroke, and then septuple bypass surgery to avoid a heart attack. After all this he was still essentially intact, despite all the food he enjoyed in amounts well past what had been medically advised. The way he ate was an American custom he would not let go of easily. Then his kidneys failed. Would his kidneys bounce back? Maybe, but this was unlikely, the doctor had told him. No one knew how long patients on dialysis could live. In many cases, perhaps they could live long and well on it—as long and as well as they had lived if they had received a kidney transplant. I saw him in May of 2014. He looked frail. My wife agreed that something was definitely wrong. We had not seen him in months, so perhaps it was like the story of the frog in the boiling kettle; others did not notice he was dying, not even himself, but we did notice, we who had spent most of our lives living hundreds of miles away, we who could go days without thinking about him. I got a message from my wife in June. They had taken him to the hospital to get stents in his leg. Later, they decided to do vascular surgery. The surgery was “a success,” but the surgeons said they still may need to amputate. I looked at the leg. It was dark and swollen, but I could not imagine it needed amputation. Was gangrene present? We spoke to the surgeon, who said they would not amputate until my father was ready for it. It was entirely his decision. Did he need this further surgery? Why would he need the surgery if the first surgery was “a success”? The surgeon said he did not need it—it was only for pain management. What if he developed gangrene? If it was not infected, said the surgeon, it would not need to be amputated. People live with gangrene all the time, he said. I looked at my sister and I said—to her and to myself—I did not know that. After it was amputated, my sister said he recounted vivid dreams to her in which he still had his leg. The dreams saddened her, but perhaps there was a meaning to this. Perhaps it meant he would learn to use a prosthetic. Perhaps God was communicating to my father, and through my father to my sister. Perhaps being “surrounded by prayer” was working to heal him. At the hospital they were also considering amputating his other leg and his new “stump” up to his hip. My father said to my sister: This sounds like a death sentence. No, she assured him, this was not a death sentence. His life would go on, but it would be different. It was a life sentence, not a death sentence. But perhaps the doctors were wrong, anyway, so they would get a second opinion. One of my father’s nurses told my sister: You know, your father—he will not get through this. My sister was furious. My father will get through this, she replied. My father is a fighter. You don’t know him. Everyone who knew him believed, or wanted to believe, he would get better and he would be stronger for it. We were gathering money to rip out the old porch on my parents’ house and build a wheelchair-accessible porch in its place. Before the money was even raised, the work was completed by well-meaning friends and relatives. When I went home for the funeral, I saw the new porch. I was sad, not just because my father did not live to use it, but because I had such vivid memories of the old porch, which as a youth I sat on almost nightly during the spring, summer, and fall of every year. That porch had been a place for me to think and daydream away from the noise inside. I would sit with a cup of Nescafé, listening to mourning doves and looking at the trees across the street. As an adolescent, I had thought I hated the town I grew up in—not the town itself, with the quiet life of its trees and birds, but what I perceived as its savagery, its lack of culture. I had assumed there was a real world awaiting me, at least real in comparison to this town I was living in, the only home I had known. This real world had poetry in it: William Carlos Williams, e. e. cummings, Ezra Pound, H.D. This real world had prose in it: Joyce, Faulkner, Stein. I had an encyclopedia at home in which I read at length about people I considered worth knowing about. I thought I perceived how they were linked to one another in a web that made up this other world I had thought I belonged in. Eventually I read about Ford Madox Ford. The encyclopedia stated he taught in his latter years at Olivet College, a small school not more than a half hour’s drive from the porch I happened to be sitting on, the porch connected to the house in which I was raised. The real world had intersected with this world I was trapped in. Did Ford Madox Ford, this man who knew Pound, Joyce, and Stein, ever walk through my hometown? Did his eyes ever light upon this house, this porch where I was sitting? I was starting to discern what I thought was my calling to be a writer. This fold in space and time I discovered in the encyclopedia provided a bridge from myself in rural Michigan, twenty miles west of Lansing, to what I now know had been there all along: the real, the good, the beautiful. Since then, I had never given up the dream of being a poet and a writer, but I had been determined to take my own path. I had decided to learn Greek and Latin—something to root me further in the splendor of the past. In college, I became the best student in Greek, often scoring one hundred percent on exams and winning the Classic Prize and other scholarships. But I let the allure and demands of scholarship get in the way of writing. I would try to be a classicist instead of a novelist. After getting my bachelor’s degree, I was certain, with my good grades and strong recommendations, that I would enter a prestigious school to pursue my PhD. But I was not accepted by any of the competitive universities to which I had applied. In upstate New York we had driven late one night through a town called Lansing to visit one of these schools before I had been rejected from it. The name of the town disoriented me, at least briefly, in a similar way that a January thaw is disorienting. Even obscured by rain and nightfall, this did not look like the Lansing I knew. I had later learned this was the mother town of that city. Settlers from this area of New York had founded the capital of Michigan—from this tiny town, here in the Finger Lakes region. A professor from the school I visited said I needed one more year of Latin, so I took out further student loans and we moved to Philadelphia so that I could get more training in Latin in a specialized nondegree program. This was the beginning of my disillusionment. I saw so many contradictions around me and felt even more within me. Faced with the dissolution of whom I had known as myself, I turned to whatever God there might be. I started to read the New Testament daily. I would believe all things. One more example of how I would believe all things: a woman was wandering the local streets one Saturday afternoon, saying to anyone who would listen: I’m looking for Pastor S—. Do you know Pastor S— in the — Baptist Church on P— Street? I replied that I did not. He usually has a food basket for me. I need to get it, but he’s not there. I have my mother staying at home. She’s really sick and hungry. Now, I don’t want money or anything. Do you think you could buy me some groceries? It would really help me out—me and my mom. At first I tried to weigh if she were telling the truth. But love believes all things. I agreed to help this woman. I began walking to the large grocery store near my apartment building. Oh, we can’t go there, she said. They don’t like me there, and it takes too long. Let’s go to the gas station. I let her pick out a basket of food at the gas station: soup, bread, macaroni and cheese, milk, butter, lunch meats. Love believes all things. Who decided this woman was a persona non grata at the grocery store, and why? The man at the convenience store showed no emotion as I paid for her groceries, but he seemed to know her. She left with her bags and a cursory thank-you. These were the words of Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle, in the first epistle to the Corinthians: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This was the reason I listened to the woman selling gum. This was why I gave away my bus tokens to anyone who asked for them. This was why I bought this woman groceries. About two weeks later, I saw the same woman on a weeknight. It was not too late, but it was in the winter, and it was dark. She began the story in the same way: Do you know Pastor S— The story was identical. Did she not recognize me? I did not confront her about her con. Instead, I said no, that I was sorry, that I could not help her. This time I also lied. So love failed me, or I had failed love. To believe all things is a form of hope (hopes all things), and that night I reached a limit to my hope and my love. When hope comes to an end, what comes after? Cynicism. A lack of eye contact. People stop buying gum from the needy, stop buying them groceries, stop giving them anything. And what if their bellies were rounded from malnutrition? Maybe none of this matters. There are too many people in the world already, someone might say, someone who has been hardened to humanity’s perennial and seemingly unsolvable problems. But love cannot have too many people in the world. Love cannot have too much diversity of persons, too much difference, too much novelty. Soon afterward I moved to Ohio to continue schooling but lost my resolve to remain in my field. This was all of my free will: the coming here, the dropping out. Although the story of my life may be nonsense, does at least my free will prove I have a soul? Can I really prove a soul exists? Surely a naïve test of free will is inadequate. An old professor used to work in an anatomy lab with a man who had dissected many cadavers. He said he had never seen a soul yet. Of course, at death the soul has left the body—it cannot be found in this way. But perhaps then the soul is nothing but a ruse, a trick, a leprechaun held in the shadows of the hand. When you look into the darkness of the hands cupped together, you see something—perhaps a leprechaun, more likely a wiggling finger. When the hands open, perhaps the leprechaun vanishes into the light, but more likely it was never there. The soul may be God’s wiggling finger in us which we take to be magic, but it is actually something utterly banal. In the face of all this, we may still believe all things. If you try to trace the workings of God in the course of your life, you will find what you hope for, but if you are looking for sound and fury, you will find that as well. Whatever we sense and remember, the thoughts we think, the emotions we feel, the actions we take—these are but the mirrors whereby we might recognize ourselves, but often we don’t want to look. Everything I have believed was love was for myself only, meaning it was not love at all. Love is a possibility yet to be realized. Until then I am blown about like fallen leaves, with which I have more in common than I wish to acknowledge. That night I rested the rake against the pillar of my house. I looked up at the sky for Orion, for Aldebaran, for the Pleiades, but the sky was starless, and it was too early to see them. I once imagined the light of Aldebaran had announced the birth of my father but it did not reach earth until four years after his death. The circle closes, but in our world it is never perfect. I sat on the porch and looked across the street to the pine that rises above a neighbor’s house. It is a pretty house, a pretty pine. But the view from this porch is nothing like the view I had as a child.
C. R. E. (Chris) Wells is an artist who lives in central Ohio. His debut novel, White Kitty, was published by Flaming Giblet Press in 2009. He shares visual art and poetry regularly on his blog at faintpress.tumblr.com.