There should be a guy who every morning rides his bicycle down to the main street and sets up a small glass case of beautiful cakes he has made. He should sell the cakes at a reasonable price to whoever comes. The cakes should be both beautiful and inspiring. They should be sumptuously iced and decorated with fruits and sugared flowers which are not only lovely to behold but genuinely delicious. He should sit on a low half wall and read a newspaper folded into quarters until the cakes are all sold. As soon as the last one is sold he should tie the glass case to the back of his bike and cycle to the market to buy fresh eggs and flour, chocolate, fruit, all the things he needs to make cakes for tomorrow. And then he should ride his bicycle home, where he should kiss the top of the low door frame leading into his widower’s cottage because it will always remind him of her. And then he makes the cakes for the next day. Now that’s what should happen. It should be happening already, in towns all over the country. Hell, all over the world. If it’s not then fuck it. Let the bombs fall. Let them turn the beaches to glass. Return us to hunter gatherers, cowering in caves. Miserable dirty people dying of cold when it rains for too long. Let us slowly work our way back up if we can’t get even that part right when it should be so obvious. See if the next crop are smarter. And if they aren’t then try again. As long as it takes. Let our distant descendants hide in the shadows of the brick walls we built. I don’t think that’s too extreme.
Oh what has remained undone by sloth, discouragement, and of course distractions . . . Distractions of living the siren song of the daily round—chance, often choice led me to spend the squandered years in beautiful or interesting places: to learn, to see, to travel, to walk in nocturnal streets, swim in warm seas, make friends and keep them, eat on trellised terraces, drink wine under summer leaves, to hear the song of tree-frog and cicada, to fall in love . . . (Often. Too often.)
There is but one solution to the intricate riddle of life; to improve ourselves, and contribute to the happiness of others.
Winter passed away; and spring, led by the months, awakened life in all nature. The forest was dressed in green; the young calves frisked on the new-sprung grass; the wind-winged shadows of light clouds sped over the green cornfields; the hermit cuckoo repeated his monotonous all-hail to the season; the nightingale, bird of love and minion of the evening star, filled the woods with song; while Venus lingered in the warm sunset, and the young green of the trees lay in gentle relief along the clear horizon.
Let us… seek peace… near the inland murmur of streams, and the gracious waving of trees, the beauteous vesture of earth, and sublime pageantry of the skies. Let us leave “life,” that we may live.
Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings. Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima's houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.
Young Alexander conquered India.
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?
Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Great triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?
Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?
So many particulars.
So many questions.
The acknowledgments remind me of a playwright’s list of characters that come before the first act, a glance into the cast of a life and how a book is made. There are lovers, chosen families and birth families, friendships cascading from childhood into adulthood. There are teachers and classmates, the traces of the classroom where books sometimes begin. The agents and publishers and editors who have ushered forth the words between the covers. There are the institutions and residencies that, stitched together, create a map of where the book was written. And of course, there are the fellow artists, the writing groups, the people a writer thinks alongside, the strange blending of heroes become friends, of friends who are our teachers and most honest critics. The ones who saw the early scaffolding of a book and coaxed it along, staking it up like a tomato plant. In the white space around the black ink, I see the fury and exhaustion and hunger and mourning and delight of comradery in the process of making a book.