from Agon of the City, Ahoy of the City
Blown out of hiding, the cat and her kittens announce the route of the gardener in semaphore orange sweatshirt, ear protectors, kneepads, and 100-decible blower. The animals hunker beneath the bushes: the mother’s eyes dart back and forth, and the kittens almost at play, flush against the ground, excited.
I shut the window. The cats flee. “Blowing what? Where?” I’d like to ask someone, but who?
The hollow world, spun too fast in the cyclotron, revealed—the backways of the neighborhood, a skills competition in line drawing, or a caricature of city planning, a still life, except for several joggers, two crows, the quince tree I’m trying to find, and a woman with camera and tripod taking pictures of nothingness.
Who’s to say what it will be like in Year 4063, this halfway to uncertainty? Will there be a shortage of people? Will we be desolate in refugee camps, the world outside hostile to us at last? It takes a life to hear one voice, to have one voice be heard.
The city is a vestige. It announces itself then disappears. When it turns stationary, I realize it was my dream of the city alone that made me think it existed. Are the people I meet real or ghosts drawn from a well haunting me with their beautiful fingers, smiles, their mouths and words?
To say the city is open is to miss living there caught up in its circles each with its own perspective on what it means to mean.
Or as they fish the aqueducts, hoping that their poles will pull out something demonstrable. It’s at best a lottery though in that there’s a sort of justice—that of the man locked in a barrel with a dog and a trove of snakes then cast overboard into the sinking sea.
As I lie on my side in the bathtub, delaying my re-entry into the world, I sing to myself, I’ll weaponize my body into pure instrumentality, then vanquish the world, then vanquish the world.
If no one thought stands any chance of an afterlife beyond the second that it takes for someone to read it and then discard it among the provisos and marginalia, then I could be a factory of thoughts, producing products of various natures, and known, insofar as known, for this apparatus alone.
But, no, there’s no appeal in that.
The city is the city as seen in a panoramic photo taken from the air. This is where its romance begins. As the citizens walk down the streets, full of traffic and other citizens, they hold this image in their minds and think, “Yes, I too live in the city.”
It is the rich who can match this mythical image to the view from their living room windows. They achieved the city, the rest are the ground operators of the nightly pyrotechnics show—a giant, pointillist installation that illuminates the sky for the pleasure of those sitting in the dark living rooms high in the dark hills.
Dreaming that, while still alive, they’d been translated to the Islands of the Blest where time had happily stopped, as on an antique clock.
The city is this island.
To have been left alone. Sitting among the trees on campus, it all so park-like, semi-public, no ID needed to come inside but a divide—belonging—pressing others out. The bushes trimmed each week, the paths through the courtyards, the thin ropes to protect the fragile grass, the prospective students led through, their guide speaking of sports’ victories, the crowd not sullen but quiet, imagining the future, the possibilities of hope.
“I’m a hopeful person,” he said as they hiked through the burnt hillsides—a summer news cycle made real. “Perhaps we’re not hopeful enough.”
What is hope but unprovisioned desire? Or has hope been re-routed into the vegetal, the public plantings, their little paradise to replace what we can no longer hope to hope for?
Matt Reeck's translation Class Warrior—Taoist Style from the French of Abdelkébir Khatibi is available this fall from Wesleyan UP. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter, and co-edits Staging Ground magazine.