Inside the dome of my mosquito net, its borders edged by the clip-on light that illuminates my Kindle, I am reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It is sparse, bleak and unsparing. It is late, I am tired. I have worked a sixteen hour day and have another one ahead. So I read myself away by battery-powered light, tented. Like I used to do when trying to hide my clandestine page turnings from my parents. I have always tended towards the nocturnal.
I reach a passage where the unnamed protagonist’s wife, bowed and tired in the aftermath of some unspecified apocalypse, decides to take her own life. I think of losing those I love, the far away ones who are never far from my mind. I have a moment where I curl up and mourn that which I have not lost.
The man-made disaster unfolding in the here and now, this very real crisis, it is anything but unspecified. I think of the many thousands of people who will be spending the night with empty stomachs, in temporary shelter or none at all, leaving behind one kind of uncertainty and fear for another. How daily I parse their suffering into clean and clinical sentences as I present the argument as to why their lot warrants particular recognition, why they merit assistance when others do not. Is this a zero sum game in which we are engaged? I think of the abstract faith of my youth, the angry gods who called out for blood and obedience. I can see it writ large, here.
Passing it off as the workings of a tired mind I close my book for the night. The screen fills with images of fountain pens, the nibs narrowing down to one still point. I turn off the light and feel the whisper of the fan as it languidly churns the air.
And Yet The Books
And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are, ” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.
– Czeslaw Milosz