a string of six little fish

yamamoto masao 1132


I just finished The Waves -- well, three hours ago. As soon as I read the last word of Bernard's last speech I rested the book on my chest and fell asleep. I slept for two hours in falling dusk -- slept with words under my tongue and the susurrus of waves in my ears.

I can't say very much about this -- it's too fresh still, too important to me -- it will continue to be too massive, too plentiful -- a great old maple that cannot be tapped. I will babble a little though, as is my wont.

The phrase-making dreaminess -- everything is rolled over, taken in. Everything is touched by the light, the wind, the water -- everything is covered in a thin dusting, marked for this specific use. Life laid out in limpid pools -- tidal pools -- the water brings in new nutriment -- washes to us, stranded, starving, washes but a few new scraps to be incorporated.

The self bleeds out -- the self seeps -- we are coral reefs -- we are constellations -- we are many and we are one. When I call for one self I cross my fingers, I hold my breath and wait -- will she come?

-- I dance. I ripple. I am thrown over you like a net of light. I lie quivering, flung over you. -- We melt into each other with phrases. -- My roots are threaded, like fibres in a flower-pot, round and round about the world. -- Even my body now lets the light through; my spine is soft like wax near the flame of the candle. I dream; I dream. -- I hate. I love. -- There is some check in the flow of my being; a deep stream presses on some obstacle; it jerks; it tugs; some knot in the center resists. -- What I give is fell. I cannot float gently, mixing with other people. -- I need the illumination of other people's eyes, and therefore cannot be entirely sure what is my self -- I have lived a thousand lives already. -- Now I will relinquish; now I will let loose. -- Meanwhile, let us abolish the ticking of time's clock with one blow. Come closer. -- I am sick of natural happiness -- None had the courage to be one thing rather than another. -- There is only a thin sheet now between me and the infinite depths -- If we could mount together, if we could perceive from a sufficient height -- Knock, knock, knock. Must, must, must. --

What is the self? What is perception, experience? Why do some try so fervently to capture it -- to remember, recollect, record? Why write, make phrases, tell stories? They say we tell our selves into being -- we roll a great scroll behind us as we live -- the path of the woodworm, chewing up the stuff of being and leaving behind an empty tunnel -- I Was Here. But we don't, do we? It's so easy to think that way -- to apply logic and order and find design -- to apply design. But how much is left out in that process? -- I pare away the unsightly and leave only the lovely phrases -- the drops of experience preserved indefinitely in amber -- I wear those drops as so many beads about my neck. In creating we choose -- we make decisions to add, to omit -- we make decisions to forget -- we forget willfully! and yet we still think we tell our selves into being.

I have not told myself into being -- no more than you have told me into being. No one spoke the words -- there was no concrescence -- no big bang theory of being. It seems we creep in and out of the self -- the self as a this and not that. We shift, protean and shadowy. Dappled light makes thumbprints on the undersides of leaves -- stars and crescents of not-shadow cover me. I am only part light, only part this and not that.

We are not stories, but we need them. I need a rat-a-tat-tat drumroll behind me -- clear, distinct, imperious -- march, march, march -- turn here, turn now -- I need order and direction.

But it is a mistake, this extreme precision, this orderly and military progress; a convenience, a lie. There is always deep below it, even when we arrive punctually at the appointed time with out white waistcoats and polite formalities, a rushing stream of broken dreams, nursery rhymes, street cries, half-finished sentences and sights -- elm trees, willow trees, gardeners sweeping, women writing -- that rise and sink even as we hand a lady down to dinner. While one straightens the fork so precisely on the tablecloth, a thousand faces mop and mow. There is nothing one can fish up in a spoon; nothing one can call an event. Yet it is alive too and deep, this stream. Immersed in it I would stop between one mouthful and the next, and look intently at a vase, perhaps with one red flower, while a reason struck me, a sudden revelation. Or I would say, walking along the Strand, 'That's the phrase I want,' as some beautiful, fabulous phantom bird, fish or cloud with fiery edges swam up to enclose once and for all some notion haunting me, after which on I trotted taking stock with renewed delight of ties and things in shop-windows.

The crystal, the globe of life as one calls it, far from being hard and cold to the touch, has walls of thinnest air. If I press them all will burst. Whatever sentence I extract whole and entire from this cauldron is only a string of six little fish that let themselves be caught while a million others leap and sizzle, making the cauldron bubble like boiling silver, and slip through my fingers.

It's alright though -- perhaps the accumulation of years, of experience, perhaps they just need a story. Perhaps we aren't to tell those stories too soon, perhaps we must appoint some regnant self to do the telling. It won't help to slice away the flesh of experience and leave it to dry in the sun -- it won't help to try and enforce an order now -- not yet, not while the atoms still swirl, not while the connections forge themselves, while my roots thread about the flower-pot, not while the tide pulls in, depositing its haul in little pools.

But to run away, to hide one's head, to shield one's eyes, to turn and refuse to see -- that cannot be, that cannot persist. One must be open to the challenge -- self versus self; self versus world -- one must take up arms and fight -- one must make a work, make an effort, make an endeavour. Activity -- the rat-a-tat-tat that follows me --

But if you hold a blunt blade to a grindstone long enough, something spurts -- a jagged edge of fire, so held to lack of reason, aimlessness, the usual, all massed together, out spurted in one flame hatred, contempt. I took my mind, my being, the old dejected, almost inanimate object and lashed it about among these odds and ends, sticks and straws, detestable little bits of wreckage, flotsam and jetsam, floating on the oily surface. I jumped up, I said, 'Fight.' 'Fight,' I repeated. It is the effort and the struggle, it is the perpetual warfare, it is the shattering and the piecing together -- this is the daily battle, defeat or victory, the absorbing pursuit. The trees, scattered, put on order; the thick green of the leaves thinned itself to a dancing light. I netted them under with a sudden phrase. I retrieved them from formlessness with words.

We must, that's what he seems to say -- our lives are made of 'must.' And if we cease, refuse, run away? We are lost -- we are swallowed whole by the violence of experience -- the relentless stream. If you want to refuse, to turn away you had better build high walls, had better stop the stream -- shore up your defenses and protect against the invasion. And you had better pray you're not sensitive.

But isn't all of that only for a fraction of us? What about the Percivals? What about the unreflective types? What if I have no need to re-create? What if I feel nothing when I come across a phrase? What if thunderclaps, oaks cracked asunder, violent sparks of flame -- what if these do nothing to me? Or what if I never doubt the self, what if I've never called and waited? What if I'm not touched by the great swirling masses? I guess I cannot know -- I cannot know -- but I wonder -- I wonder when these questions arise -- do they arise for all? How does the mind grapple with them -- how could the mind grapple with that doubt -- Who am I? Am I one? Am I the one I see in these photographs? Am I the one who wrote this story? Am I the one who planted this garden, who raised this child, who remembers this lost love?

-- And in me too the wave rises