And Yet The Books

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 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

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2 thoughts on “And Yet The Books

  1. Hang in there friend, I see you are growing tired in many ways, physically, heart and mind.
    Im worried about you.
    ” abstract faith” and “angry gods”. Who is that “god” youre speaking of? Blood and obedience?

    Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

    2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge?
    3 Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.
    4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
    5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
    6 On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
    7 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?
    8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
    9 when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
    10 when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
    11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’?
    12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
    or shown the dawn its place,
    13 that it might take the earth by the edges
    and shake the wicked out of it?
    14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
    its features stand out like those of a garment.
    15 The wicked are denied their light,
    and their upraised arm is broken.
    16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
    17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
    Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
    18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know all this.
    19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
    And where does darkness reside?
    20 Can you take them to their places?
    Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
    21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
    You have lived so many years!
    22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail,
    23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
    for days of war and battle?
    24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
    or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
    25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
    and a path for the thunderstorm,
    26 to water a land where no one lives,
    an uninhabited desert,
    27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
    and make it sprout with grass?
    28 Does the rain have a father?
    Who fathers the drops of dew?
    29 From whose womb comes the ice?
    Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
    30 when the waters become hard as stone,
    when the surface of the deep is frozen?
    31 “Can you bind the chains[b] of the Pleiades?
    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
    32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons[c]
    or lead out the Bear[d] with its cubs?
    33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
    Can you set up God’s[e] dominion over the earth?
    34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
    and cover yourself with a flood of water?
    35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
    Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
    36 Who gives the ibis wisdom[f]
    or gives the rooster understanding?[g]
    37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
    Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
    38 when the dust becomes hard
    and the clods of earth stick together?
    39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
    and satisfy the hunger of the lions
    40 when they crouch in their dens
    or lie in wait in a thicket?
    41 Who provides food for the raven
    when its young cry out to God
    and wander about for lack of food?

    Im praying for you. Hang in there.

  2. Also, Im getting your address from Rachel. A package of love and care is finding its way to you, you’re not forgotten way out there.

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