Friday, October 19, 2012

Everybody has to relearn to forget sometime. Lake Titicaca, 2011

How much easier would life be to wake up screaming than to be awake and to know one cannot scream at all.

I sit and smile and wait for the pain to subside, which it always does eventually. Often I can last without even hope of screaming. I know I won't scream. But sometimes, yes, I do scream. I do so quietly, some rare times a woman walking past hearing me, turning to me to look to see if I am sick or wounded. She stops and stares and can't move on just yet. I see her face, and I want to scream. She keeps on staring.

I thought I had it made, a job made for me, my life made for me at last. Then the committee said no, I cannot be a part of some greater thing, my life not to be, in the setting sun, one of quiet and comfort: I am, they said so sympathetically, so... insane.

I think about it sometimes as I walk down streets that have for me no memories, and I sometimes smile. I am insane. They can say it, back it up with expert analysis of test results, shake their heads and smile sympathetically, wishing me well and encouraging me to apply elsewhere in some other place and time far from here and now. I am in Peru, and I know, as they do not, that I am insane. I see it in the deep blue lake, in the falcon hovering high above the mesa, in the ragged pot-holes of city streets. I know what they can only figure must be so. So insane. I can't even weep over it.

I had a boat ride this day, beginning myself at 6:00 a.m. after the third or fifth straight night of sleepnessness, standing in a hot shower in the darkness, bending down in the darkness as the water beat on my head, on my back, and ran down my legs and into the drain to be gone. My hot shower couldn't last, and this I know. The shock of cold air has to come. And so it did. I walked out of the bathroom and into the the light in my room to face yet another strange day of mysteries I cannot hope to fathom. I float as much as life allows till those snags pull me under and the current tears at me till again I am loose to drift on to the sea of forgetting. There was no towel today, so I got into bed and patted myself as dry as I could, still cold in the skin, still bewildered by the possibilities I cannot know but might well dread.

I remember.
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
I grew up in a small village so far away now that no one could ever travel so far to see it. I had the lakes and the mountains around it, the forest all over all but the shimmering water and the sky above; the wind, the sun, the scent of pines and oak. It is my home and I shall not return to it. I can now only remember it as the boy who was there and remains there still, who cannot move, who cannot return and who cannot stay. My world is the world of the boy who sees and knows so little, who wonders and imagines and dreams. I see the world in its mysteries and I am moved to laughter and tears as the wind burns my eyes while my dog and I race through the forest like shadows of the past glimpsed in memory. 'Jerusalem!' I cry. New York City. The Lost City of Dinosaurs. Lake Titicaca. And when my feet touch such ground, I, the boy from the mountains, am in a state of wonder that I have arrived in such a place and time, unknown and possibly excited that I, so small and alone without my dog, should be there. All the dreams are alive in the woken world, and there, me, I am there in my own flesh, my own mind, and no one to say to me "...."
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
I look at the grown-ups all around me in a boat sailing softly across an imaginary lake that I am now upon, and I have no idea what to say to them about this myth made real in the now, here, me and us and the lake. Lake Titicaca. I am in Peru. It is not my home. It is the Mystery. I don't understand how it is that I can be here, in this place so magical and real only in the mind of the child I was. Yet, here I am, Peru, Lake Titicaca, a childish dream come true. It is a lake, and I cannot return to my home. I turn to my fellows and I want to speak of Mystery, but I remain silent because I remember drops of memory hat are as deep as the lake I am on this day among those who know what I cannot grasp that I have not grasped and that they, having grasped so much, grasp so little. I used to know Lake Titicaca. Now I don't know anything at all but much that is of no good to know but that one must know to know. "Whither is fled the visionary gleam?/ Where is it now, the glory and the dream?"

I remember. "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." I remember.

The boat is filled with us, all of us not the same. Two couples sit near me, so different.

Over there sits a young woman with a young man with a young man collapsed outside in the burning sun as the boat flies across the water to the weeds. The boy is sick and lays in the sun and is left alone. He stays that way all day, his friends leaving him to his illness and the sun. We chat all around him, our various talks and tales whispering in the wind. Shortly we arrive at the floating islands of Uros, reed islands inhabited by people who, whatever their connection to their ancestral past, are now Modernists in a read diorama of cartoons on Lake Titicaca. These people, living in a memory that was never true of themselves, live life for cash and hand-outs and the necessities of living in the here and now. Tourists like myself bring them money so they can live another day floating in this soggy daydream. But I don't care about the people on the reeds, only about the lovers near me. Is it the real in the here and now or am I taken in by sentiment and longing and memories? I will never really know, though I will remember, and the memories will haunt me and cause me illness from which I cannot escape the pain of. It was so much better before I knew.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.*

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!**

Fires burned and smoke rose across the lake, leaving us to wonder who and what. One man suggested it was the reed island set ablaze by the girl who smoked cigarettes there, who left her friend behind. We chuckled.

And then across the lake 20 minutes later, another burning.

The darkness set in, the storm rising as we passed a Potemkin Village of ancient agriculture. Life was, so they say, so much better when.

Later, a boat burned in the darkness, two orange spots in the night. "Diesel and plastic," said a tall, white-haired German. We sailed on, leaving the boat to burn, a storm threatening to capsize us. We are who we are; we are not them.

*William Wordsworth, "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood," (1804) Poems, in Two Volumes (1807).

**Alexander Pope, "Eloisa to Abelard," ( 1717)

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