A polo zealot, Akbar, "the greatest
and wisest Mogul emperor of India,"
insisted that all candidates for public office
pass a strenuous polo test by playing
against the emperor himself, at night – a darkly
moonless night – in chase of a wooden ball
especially set on fire. Those who qualif – oh,
excuse me: email. Lowell again. His
marriage. As if I headed Office Central Command
for routing the cloverleaf intricacy
of Lowell’s and Angie’s emotional traffic. He
hit her. He didn’t. She sucked off Freddie’s brother.
She didn’t. Also the night where every dish in their kitchen
got broken. Lowell’s and Angie’s emotional shit
is how it finally feels to me, and joins the list
of fecal exotica: otter dung is spraints;
cow dung is bodewash; deer turds, fewmets.
If we added every offal, every spoor, and then included gleet
(hawk stomach phlegm), we’d beat – at least
in quantity – the fabled ten (or fifty or a hundred:
it varies) Eskimaux words for "snow"; for "shit"
it’s anaq. This is all too much. The formal
prodigality of heaven is too much: or of the heavens,
to be accurate; there are seven
in Jewish mystic tradition, layered as if angelic realms
were strata demarcating a canyon wall (a not atypical
cosmology in world religious beliefs), and in the second
of these heavens "stand one hundred thousand myriad of chariots
of fire" (the wheels of which have eyes, and these
"are like the flames of burning coals").
Nor is the human spirit simpler. For Confucians,
there are two souls, shen and kuei – that is, two kinds
of soul: in reality, the body holds at least five shen
(and maybe up to a hundred) and the kuei consists
of seven sections. Nor is the body
simple: not the weaving fan of fringe around the mouth
of the fallopian tube, and not the twenty-foot-long duct
that’s coiled in the cojones, and not a single one
of the hundred thousand beats of the heart in a day,
and not the scribbley walnut gnarls of the brain – there’s nothing
uncomplicated about, or under, flesh. The bruise
displayed on Angie’s left cheek has its origin explained now
by at least as many theories as the universe’s. Maybe
it was Lowell fueled by cheap drink and a costly rage.
But then again, a woman in a neighboring town presented herself
repeatedly to the police and doctors, over a span of two years,
with the knife cuts that a "stalker" inflicted who
turned out to be – at last, as she admitted – herself.
We can’t be sure. It’s all too much. 3,200
feet of helium are required to lift a person;
there are mornings when I wake and there’s not
helium enough for the weight of my eyelids.
"I don’t know," said Lowell, sitting on a bench with me,
as if this aptly summarized his marriage-angst:
"I don’t know." What he means is that the element
most commonly discovered in an opened human life
is overloadium. And we bear the facts
that are soiled by tears, as we carry the facts
that are spangled in celebration; we accept the wobbly,
in-and-outty "facts" of quantum physics, as we hold on
to the great Truths carved of marble, and the counter-Truths
of counter-marble . . . no wonder we falter,
and deal in hurt. And yet I think existence
wants an ever-thickened density of knowledge
and connection, so that one day Information
will itself have reached the threshold to become a mind
– a mind of which we’re neurons, know it and like it
or not. "I just don’t get it," Angie said
when a third beer loosened her studied reserve,
"why can’t it ‘work out’?" What she means is
there are moments when we envy "the blesséd virgin
Amelberga, whose body was said to have been guided
upriver to Ghent by a school of sturgeon" – she
was floated, trusting, cared for, through a sure,
directed course. I have my version
of this fancy. It’s a poem of, oh, say sonnet-length;
it’s supple, undisrupted. It feels like this:
I close the door. (Behind it: gabble
and disjunction.) And I walk into the clear,
black night. I’m in a great arena. Nothing
can be seen – there may be nothing to be seen – except
of course for the ball on fire. That’s all I need.
That’s all: the darkness, and one burning sphere.
And I follow its light down the field.