|Dan Beachy-Quick [Coffee House Press]|
from Dan Beachy-Quick's An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky:
I went into my office and closed the door. My desk I kept perfectly clear. Books on the shelves in alphabetic order. No photos on the walls; only a clock whose minute hand vibrated when it clicked into place. A window overlooked the green where students hurried between classes, where the old oak with the obtuse burl grew more grotesque by the decade. A dead fly on the windowsill; I picked it up carefully by the tip of one wing; its forelegs pressed together as if in anticipation of prayer; I dropped it in the wastepaper basket. As if I needed a reminder, I thought. To inspire one must be inspired. I had been and now . . . it was, or I was, or both were, changed. Not that the books I taught had fallen in my love or regard for them. The opposite. I loved them as much as I ever had, maybe more; I just felt incapable of being loved by them in return. Somehow I had made myself unworthy of the words, those others' words — words that had put in my mind worlds, a careful disorder I lived within and out from which I looked at my students and invited them in. The classroom is its own peculiar cosmos, built not of natural laws, but of laws of attention — sympathetic chords that the teacher plucks in himself so as to secretly force the same note to vibrate in his student. How does one learn? — that is an awful, unanswerable question. I wanted my students to suffer a confusion that clarified, to leave the classroom unable to explain even to themselves what had just occurred over the previous two hours, as if, once one stepped back out the threshold of the classroom's door the spell had been broken, one had unwittingly drunk from the river Lethe by stepping over it, invisible though it may be, and the distinct memory of the discussion, what the discussion brought light to, slowly disappeared in content even as it remained in form, an empty form whose emptiness was the only reminder that it had once been full, world-full, thought-full, but a few minutes ago. Knowledge was this absence of knowing — that is what I taught, thought. But how could I have suspected I would become my own philosophy? That from within emptiness I would have only emptiness to offer? To speak about pages as if they were still blank, to hold them up and say, See, do you see — say it if you do — that underneath these words the page is blank? The words disguise that blankness as meaning in order to secretly imbed the blankness in you. Words speak around a silent heart. A word is a giant who buries his heart in silence where it can never be found, and in the silence it pulses, not a sound, but sound's opposite, a blank deafness of muteness inside a simpler quiet, the mind's quiet when it seems to say to itself, I'm ready to think, and then waits for thought to begin. Blank faces, they all look at you, little planets above the flat plane of their desks. It isn't a look of expectation, not of hope, not of yearning — it is a look of fact, the fact of itself. The eye is a dark tunnel behind which mysterious processes occur — distraction and judgment. Behind the eye is the clear pool Narcissus stares into and drowns; but so too is Echo's echo chamber, all the words others speak to us rebounding against the skull only to be spoken back. The world is the condition of asking others to love you by using their own words to convince them to do so. Infinite repeat. Day after day of walking from my office, walking down the hall, down the stairs, to the classroom where students were still assembling, the dark wainscoting adhering to the wall, waiting for them to sit, for chatter to subside, not a silence of patience, but the old chaos in whose silence alone meaning could occur; saying over and over again, countless times, let's open our books, let's open our books, the sound of the pages being thumbed through, let's open our books, specifying a page, a specific word, the breath in a sentence one comma requires you to take, let's open our books. It is a form of enchantment. Professor as conjure-man, professor as initiate, professor as medicine man, professor as holy fool, shaking the book as a shaman shakes the rattle, beating the book as the shaman beats the drum — but it ends. It does not end well. The hand drops from its power, or the power drops from it the hand.
I try to not let myself feel how it is I feel.
I try not to remember; I write so I don't need to remember — let the pages live that life.
But I fail.
The dead fly I'd thrown in the trash bin rattled weakly against the metal, not dead at all. The metal amplified the sound, a buzzing that didn't fill the room but annoyed the ear, the flightless wings trying to fly. I don't know why, I don't know why it must be so, all of it — that it is as it is, has been as it has been, my life; my life's transparent wing. I looked out the window at the oak, blue storm-light darkening the sky, and I thought, I can't bear it.
No, I said it to myself differently. I said, It can't be borne.