Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dinghies Bearing Gifts

Dearest Mordantt Gheng: 

Thank you so much for your letter which arrived by post yesterday, or at least it would have if you had mailed it, which you didn't, because letters are such an antiquated form of communication.  You're right: it's so much nicer to get each other wrong face to face.

Along those lines, I bring a quote that immediately made me think of you: 

"You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you're anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you're with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. ... The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that -- well, lucky you. "  (emphasis mine, obviously)

Doesn't that just say it all, really?  (It's from Mr. Philip Roth in his book, American Pastoral, in case you were wondering, which you may well have been.) 

Talking of getting things wrong... Or let's not, because if we were, then the list of things that I've gotten wrong would be really quite long and there's no need to go into that at the moment now, is there?  

Do you believe that people change?  It's part of my credo, you know.  "All people are always changing."  And to give people credit for attempts at progress of which we know nothing.

By way of reciprocation, here's a poem by Abdul Whahb Al-Bayati that I translated in college from the original Arabic, and by "I" I, of course mean Bassam K. Frangieh.  I so admire people who can translate things for real (like you), and not have to pretend (like me).    

Here it is:

The thieves assaulted me in Paris
They took my notebook and with blood dyed
The cubes of light and the asphalt
They left me dead
But I awoke... before dawn
Carrying the lilies of the fields
And the suffering of the words
For my nation open like a grave. 

This particular poem really is special to me because I really did learn it in the original Arabic and later recited (or something very much like it) it in a flower garden in Wisconsin, in front of a kind and warm-hearted audience.  I remember made me think about nations and belonging, and looking for a country of one's own, real or imagined. And how our citizenship in heaven, but what in the world does that look like here on earth.  I vow to thee, my country...

Which also reminds me of my friend, Saint John, who was instructed in Revelation to:
"Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later."
My word, what a daunting task: to write what you have seen.  I expect there would not be books enough in the world to hold it all.

I will say a rosary for us both, or I would, if I were Catholic, which I am not, which is fortunate because we have already determined I would not be very good at it.  But of the few things I am very good at, yelling at God is one of them.  Yelling in general, really, although I'm trying to be better about that. 

So I've reached the end of this communique, only I'm not really talking to you, Mordantt, am I?  Well, I am, really, because you know the code, the score, and the things that I've forgotten. Really, Mordantt, I just want you to know that all my good memories of you outweigh all the tangled memories of you; my Patsy, with your plunger, squeezy cheese, and bottle of perrier, my friend who sent me sand from the Jersey shore and seashells, with your door-like work desk, pens, notebooks, PJs, and cutting class to go make music on the stage.  

Love from across the ocean, 
Marco Polo Monsoon

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