Thinking cannot hold me
Thinking cannot hold me. Ready, steady – go. Lewis Paul Bremer III once ran the Boston Marathon in three hours and thirty-four seconds. He had a plaque on his desk which read success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan. He never got over the regret of those last thirty-four seconds. The only thing that seemed to help was bombing Baghdad. He doesn’t run anymore but he walks with the dexterity of a seasoned footman. He serves the President, who, in turn, looks to Bremer for what there is to think. For his birthday the Commander-in-Chief gave Bremer a sandbox, and then he filled it with children. They will come to be known as the next generation of those who died young long ago. Bremer is happy in his new great big life. Everyone calls him the viceroy and he likes to watch the troops marching. He will address the President’s concerns after his cucumber salad.
For the reconstruction the viceroy wore gloves and a hardhat. Aban and I always arrived before him and told everyone else what he needed to hear. Off the record, the city was burning. Then we were driven back to the green zone, past several guards, a metal detector and a few tanks. We were members of the strategic communications team. We decided what occasions had sufficient gravity to warrant leaving the palace. The backdrop to the podium from which we advised Texas was draped in blue canvas and peppered with stars. A line of flags behind the speaker, and on the podium itself, the eagle. It was designed by the President’s own image consultant. One day the viceroy decided to burn this country’s notes and print new money to pay for the war. The new dinar has security features to discourage counterfeiting and can be purchased at National City Bank, 2007 South MacArthur Boulevard, Springfield, Illinois.
Here is a short list of things that I know: an exergue is the base or basis on the reverse side of a coin where the emblem or the signature is struck. The obverse is the face. Parricide is the murder of a close relative. Musing is the work of separation. That’s it, but there will be more lists later. A lot of thought has gone into money. Before Eve reached for the apple she was in Atlantic City. She examined coins. She foresaw smartly dressed orgasms over the phone and a black dog on a leash. I will be the wind in a burning building, she thought. Her dreams fit inside this paragraph. If you turn the page she will run from the window that faces the sun. Suddenly, satiated, she is afraid.
There are a lot of numbers in the previous few paragraphs and this one. If I ever get out of here we will all go to the museum and stand next to history. Then you will know what I know. From behind the glass I will show you again what we cannot bear. Outside my window there are three palm trees whistling beyond the courtyard, beyond the corner’s turn. I walk to and from the window. I am what I cannot see. The invisible rises to greet me, right foot forward, I do not move. It is best if we do not go back to the war, it is broken and I cannot hold it in time. I’m trying to work but from this room I can’t get anything done, neither life nor art. War will not be reduced.
On the morning before my capture two men entered my office with a woman who lives in this city. They held her arms to stop her from tearing at her face and hair. Her children had not come home from school, it was bombed during math class. I gave her money, she did not understand. I am a prisoner now, no one else and me together at last and soon to be seen talking to a dead bird. In the beginning was the word and the rest I don’t understand. As for the kids, it was an accident. They are with me now, or so I imagine, fluttering about baskets of ripened figs that I hold playfully above their reach. With a grab and a shriek they fly like bandits, like angels to lie on the cool concrete. They enact scenes of battle against armies who would scatter their ashes to a world much larger than a house and a garden.
Is a week longer than a day?
A mountain yawns, fells a city and wraps itself in a grapevine. There are exits death does not know. Every night Hakim locks the door and quickly, before I am afraid, I’m through the courtyard, into the street and on my way to Pompeii. I have decided to rescue that city’s entire population. On arrival slaves bring me flowers and I assure them that exile does not end with death, it continues. This is called an enigma. From Pompeii I fly to Paris where I settle for a shower and a better hotel room, smaller than the room I’m in, but in Paris they change the sheets. Then it’s back to the war. In Hollywood it is spread with the same bloody trowel, in Flint, Michigan it’s a story told from the inside of a coffin. In my room I know now how each day begins. One guest brings another, and food is issued in adequate amounts.
Hakim tells me my last words will be recorded, and transmitted all over the world … will they be heard in New York, I ask … yes of course. But first they will be clipped and squeezed through my teeth and distilled again to fit through a wire racing beneath some ocean and then pole to pole. There’s no need to write it all down as though it were a message that could be understood later. It’s a refusal. I wanted to die later and preferably not on cable. Deaf and balding perhaps, in some more or less insignificant building. By then I would have updated the casualty list and the number of people living in tents. I would have listed every rape, every lynching and everyone who disappeared under a bus, closed the gap between numbers and bones.
I remember the snow in New York receding during a late winter rain. The ground scarred and hesitant, pulling itself in to the fore. It is cool in my room and at night it retains the heat. They build for the climate here. A rodent scuttles by my feet, glimpses my end, and at least for now it is reluctant to speak. A jostled creature in a constant state of astonishment. In Manhattan we imagined them as under the wheels of a subcompact. There, where each night I emptied my plate and then the bottle, only to awaken my greed for a woman’s knee. I will not be forgiven for what she helped me forget. Last night there were two of us, please come find me again.
After I sleep, perhaps, Hakim enters and engages what I assume are my ideas. Evers and nevers in between naps. He’s talking to me, that much is certain. Behind my eyes my brain is constantly working. That’s how I know who is speaking. The guards no longer accompany his visits but from other rooms their voices still pierce the silence. When I hear them walking I freeze, breathe, only after I fix their direction. Hakim is asking if there are messages, he will see to it that they reach their destination. Without the camera, he assures me, family, friends, the cow of good conscience. That was my old brain, I explain, but I suppose I can still send a note. He left pen and paper and told me he’d pick them up later.
When Hakim leaves I sit, or watch things grow. Sometimes I do both, my hair for example, it’s important I not become idle. While he is here I muster as many words as the situation requires. I don’t know if he knows, but I can’t connect them to the things that I’m thinking. I will count the stones on the floor, two chairs, state clearly there is only one fork, one spoon and one pail. I checked, that’s how I know I don’t have a knife in my sock. A list will announce my predicament, things as they are in a letter home, west generally. I drew a map so Hakim would know where to send it, but it’s not to scale. I can only see the objects I’m naming and as any trifling philosopher will tell you, that is the whole world.
Texas, I have found all I have lost in a page torn from your almanac. I am telling stories again, a gap and a gathering, this and not that while cities burn. A fruit ripens having already lived. I am born to my departure, born to what is hidden in these spaces where we have never touched, again. There was a life, conjecture broken, vacations earned. I lay down with the elephants. We muddled and ate the morning paper. The details are not important, the details are all there is. Small countries, we softened them for massacre. That’s why they don’t like me now. Still, there is no precise definition for war; death certainly, dividends, the other, corpses and devotees. Texas can be quite liberal on the subject. A little calibration and we will bestow the disaster. I understand the unattainable, but for this I have not been prepared.
War is full of things you can do with the person next to you, even if he’s from Oklahoma. That’s because you both speak the same language, the end of perspective. In any case you can’t stay awake all the time but if you work together there’s a chance you’ll outlive him. I was at Harvard when they took New York, deliberating on the question of return and without a trace. The infinite came to mind, a distance now given to the dead. For a moment I knew time as love and falling, silence briefly and later grafted to another failed September. I promised then I would exact my escape by remaining. I was dispatched to interrogate suspects shielding suspects behind suspects without answers. From this room I have informed Texas these people want to kill me because I have oppressed, starved, tortured, exiled and murdered them.