Post Road Magazine #8

Some Stories Are Parables, But by Brian Lennon

...when I got up from the porch, at the party on the farm, at which I could not speak, I looked out over the cornfield with stacked fluffy clouds and strings of sun and sprinklers and distant pickups trailing dust, at which I stared for a while, then I left, and when I got up from the porch I lost my composure, there was a dog there, and a small child, and a larger retarded child, and some people that I knew, whom I was glad to see. The dog ate potato chips, its head in the bag, the smaller child placed insects on the turntable, while the larger retarded child walked in circles on the porch making alarming sounds. I looked out over the field, I thought I'd seen an elephant but it was nothing, I lost my composure then. It was easy to regret, being glad to see people, for example if your motives are weak, if you're lonely, or if you're desperate for distraction from yourself, which deforms the other person, or if you give in out of guilt, because someone else is lonely or desperate for distraction, and you mislead or are misled by someone, in which case you are lonelier than before, because rather than wandering in darkness you are pinned under a vivisecting light, and then there's a struggle, which always turns out badly, in shame and raging at yourself: “Damn me!” Of course I'm exaggerating, but when we moved out here from the city, a thousand miles, we thought we'd be glad to see people. At the party, I was itching to leave, to return to the city, or maybe I was just watching the larger retarded child when I saw the elephant, I looked out at the corn, an elephant raising dust, it was nothing, or it was a truck, though what truck would be draped with gold braid, now I remember what I was thinking. I was thinking of the passage in Heidegger that reads, “Anxiety brings Da-sein face to face with its Being-free for the authenticity of its Being,” which of course means everything and nothing, and in any case is not party conversation, but I wanted to be at a party at which one could say, “Anxiety brings Da-sein face to face with its Being-free for the authenticity of its Being,” and I was deploring the scarcity of such parties, when I saw the elephant. Who is really ever happy at a party? When I was a child, another child vomited in the camp pool, a menacing slick spread over the water, oozing my way. I jumped out just in time, the perp cried while they hosed him down, I went behind a bush and I vomited too, when I came out the child who had vomited first was on his knees, blubbering, spitting and vomiting, and then one after another little classmate, observing, removed a finger from a nose and vomited too, the place was awash in it, our “counselors” were horrified, one child had been vomited on by several of the rest, he looked awful, it dripped from him into the pool, he fell in, started thrashing around, and the counselors looked at each other, but they jumped in, it was a mess, everyone vomited that day, even the “principal,” who came to find out what was going on. To this day, when someone gets in front of me and opens his mouth, I worry there is vomit on the way. The elephant plodded along, determined or bored or weary or disconsolate, on a road I couldn't see, it was raising dust, so it had to be on a road, and I looked away and then looked back again and it was gone. But once when I was in Nevada I saw a train of elephants, holding each other's tails, dropping them, trumpeting, it may have been a heat mirage, who knows, I was crawling on my stomach moaning “Agua!” so I wasn't in very good shape, that was when I was a Bedouin, though Bedouins don't speak Spanish, I must've been mixed up, when I got home from the party it occurred to me I should go for a walk, to clear my head of Heidegger, so out and down the sidewalk, the houses on our street were dark, was everyone out or just asleep, hard to tell, was everyone at the party, suddenly I tripped on a branch, I stopped and picked up the branch and threw it on the top of the hedge, but first I looked around, to see if anyone were watching, because I didn't want anyone to see, then I picked up the branch and threw it on the top of the hedge, and walked on. The meaning of the passage in Heidegger I took to be, when you are anxious you are closest to the point of overcoming your anxiety, which means everything and nothing, and suddenly it occurred to me that the branch, which I threw on the hedge so that no one else might trip on it, might be projecting over the sidewalk, at neck level, and that it might stick someone in the neck. I hadn't considered the branch's position, I just wanted it off the walk, besides it was dark, I wanted to move on, to clear my head, but what if it projected over the walk, what if someone came along, were injured in the neck, neck injury is serious, so I had to reverse my steps, the branch was pointing into the walk, it nearly stuck me in the neck, so I dragged it down, threw it back where it was before. But I was doing all this without my leg, the leg I left behind, which remained on the porch when I got up, so I was hopping, I hopped down the darkened street, tripped over the branch, hopped on, hopped back and dragged it from the hedge, and standing on the porch, looking out over the field, the passage from Heidegger came to mind, and since it was the only thing in my mind, and since what was in my mind was unsayable, that's to say everything and nothing, and in any case not party conversation, perhaps its meaning at last ran clear, perhaps I understood— though this of course is only speculation  •

Brian Lennon is the author of City: An Essay (University of Georgia Press, 2001).“Some Stories Are Parables, But” is excerpted from Post-Assassination, a book-length prose sequence in progress.

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