Discernment of Stirrings
by Wm. Anthony Connolly
… I am a strange loop, a purple arc, from on high, a mere cell in the body mystic.
When I walk into a room, I try very hard to be Anthony Connolly. For I am Q, and I am eight … upon the howling pyre … the hasty retreat of raiding forces … foolscap leaves, tucked into … black and blue bruises, tattoos inked by voracious dogs … sunk in fallow grounds … panic grass and feverfew … Orpheus turning, bone droning into stone.
Be it bred in the bone or threaded through song and story, plied on canvas, chiseled from stone, be it handed down from generations in fine cedar boxes or in a blind faith that sustains believers, this mortal coil is one of furrows and rings replete of fluent pattern. Begin looking for schema and one finds the hunger is never sated. It is continual and magically so, indiscernible and unknowable. For some time now, perhaps all of my life, I have had a keen interest, a heightened awareness of this, the ethereal patterns accentuated by beginnings, passages, terminuses, but mostly by my own inner self becoming silent and empty enough to recognize all patterns begin within, inside my very bones.
I am on a plane heading home. My folks have been ill, and it has been some time since I last saw them. At thirty-thousand feet, my traveling companion tells me this story, which I will relay to you minus some of the minor details: He once lived in a small green house on the edge of a vast prairie. There he grew meager crops and eked out a living. The homestead was indistinguishable from all the other rural homes, save for an enormous tree behind the house that bore the sweetest crabapples. One night, he had a dream that he would find his fortune in a land across the sea, near a castle and its graveyard, on a stonewall marked with an “X”. For years, the man saved up his money to buy the airplane ticket. Finally, the day came that he had enough money, and then some, more than enough to fly to his dream destination. He bought a ticket, packed one bag, and set out to find his fortune. It was dark when he landed in the strange city, in the strange country, and soon after leaving the airport, he got lost. The man wandered around looking for any sign of the castle and its graveyard. Nearly sick with exhaustion, he finally came to a road, and up the road, he could see a castle. Sure enough as he got closer, he saw the graveyard. The gate was locked, so he threw his bag over the wall and scaled it. It was even darker on the other side. He found his bag and began to proceed along the stonewall looking for the “X” in the moonlight, the “X” he had seen in his dream so many years ago. He said he did not hear them coming he was so focused on finding the “X.” It did not even register when one of the thugs grabbed him from behind and began to beat him. Three of them worked him over, beating him, rifling through his pockets and finally they left him, slumped against the stonewall. They took his bag and all his money. The man sat against the wall thinking about what to do next when a light shone upon him. It was the graveyard’s caretaker, who had heard the commotion and had come to see what had happened. The caretaker helped the man to his feet and led him to a small cottage on the grounds, where he sat him down by a fire and gave him a cup of clear tea.
“Where are you from?” the caretaker asked. The man looked up from his tea and told the caretaker, “Canada.” The caretaker asked the man why he had come to Scotland, and he told him about the dream. Before the man could finish his story, the caretaker began to laugh, great peals of laughter. He grabbed his gut and bent over in great laugher. The man demanded to know why the caretaker was laughing. And this is what the caretaker said …
I have attempted to prove who I am, to others, to myself so many times now the magnetic band that contains my essential information is now largely emaciated. Back and forth, through times, through the smallest of spaces, I go and come back sometimes without moving an inch, hoping that what I see in the mirror is an act of divinity, that is it not the gizmo of some lesser daemon or a watery invention of mine or anyone else’s imagination. I couple this with my conundrum of seeing in everything a deity and then again, as if preceding a blink, find the divine gone and unknowable. Saint Augustine wrote that God is a circle whose circumference cannot be seen. Sometimes I glimpse the stirring circle, but mostly I cannot fathom what invisible vice seizes me. It is difficult to see the line between the past and the future, between what is me, and what is the world, and ultimately that it takes a special discernment rousing from wrack and ruin to see beauty.
[keen for Kevin]
This is the story my Mum tells, in the apex of some paroxysm of her relatively recent, yet incessant, debilitating pain. Of all the things to bawl in the throes of it, in the draining of her energy, in the depths of her little shed tears, when she weeps for her baby, she keens for Kevin. The story is about my brother—dead now nearly a decade. Several years ago, his estranged wife, Victoria, had called from out east. Could Mum and Dad send money? My parents squabble over the request. Kevin would just spend it on drink or drugs; he would just throw it away my Dad argued. My Mum finally told Victoria that no, they could not send Kevin money.
The story she tells now, years later, as her health deteriorates and her defenses decline is that it was winter when the call came and Victoria had called to ask my Mum and Dad if they could send money so that Kevin could buy a coat.
I wish I had just sent the money anyway, my sister, Denise tells me Mum said through her weeping, too sick, too weak, to be reticent anymore. Outside the hospital, the landscape was but untrammeled snow, exquisite hoarfrost, and a distant frozen lake.
At the center of my hometown, on the Canadian prairies, is a lake. Crescent Lake is so named for its shape, but some think it more resembles a correctly aligned horseshoe, where luck never runs out. I lived in that hometown most of my youth, from the early 1970s until the late 1980s; my Dad and sister live there to this day. I have spent many times on the banks of the lake, running, musing, riding my bike. Not a lake one goes swimming in or sups. It is stagnant, has opacity of old tea, and is a little putrid on particularly humid days. But it is beautiful to gaze upon. Most of its bank runs residential—at one end posh homes custom built in the 1970s and at the other end, 1960s bungalows. Giving away to this, now this. Like a river running through the year of the cat. There is a particular lake view I like, and I always stop just there, to take a breather, where it curves fat and fulgent in the summer, snowy and obscure in the winter; either end fading around an indiscernible corner. There was a time when I thought the lake was a complete circle, a ring of water, whose circumference I could not see. Across the bridge was a municipal recreation area, a fairground and golf course and it was all called Island Park—hence my erroneous belief. It was only later in life, when I returned home from away, did I come to discover the water runs aground, in the back, terminating in a fen field of acrid sod and stiff bulrushes.
My brother stopped living with us when I was in the sixth or seventh grade—I cannot quite recall which. When he left, only my sister and I remained with our parents. Our older brother and sister, Michael and San had left a long time ago. After leaving, most of Kevin’s adult life was transient, precarious, and fraught—he never settled completely and when he did, something came along to mess it all up. There were periods of stability and seeming normalcy, but it never lasted more than a couple of years before news came he lost his job, he had been arrested, he set a hotel on fire, he had lied. The list was endless. He was fucked up and hard to understand most of the time, but I never lost my love for him. During the initial years away from us, Kevin flitted from one job to the next; his employment never sounded credible, or if likely, hardly permanent. He worked as a marketing person with a traveling band, a record store clerk, an aide to a rich man, a bartender, a cook, and a nurses’ aide. It is certain the verities of commerce and capitalism are such that people lose their jobs; Kevin lost his job, not to these exterior realities, but largely due to his own idiocy, his own self-destruction. If it was not drinking, it was drugs; if it was not grass, it was stupidity, the insinuating byproduct of his additions. He would get caught in lies. He would get caught with another man’s wife and have to leave town. He would miss work because he was drunk, or if he arrived at work, he was too stoned. Kevin kept moving, but so too did his monkeys. They scaled his back wherever he went and whispered into his ear—there is more to life than work. They clung to his clavicles. There were times when Kevin tried to keep it together. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous—twelve steps. Once he came to my Sociology class on deviance to speak to my classmates as an alcoholic. Kevin married, enjoyed matrimony, had children, went back to school and had it all going his way, until it all circled back on him—his past, his lies, his pain, his addiction: His little annoyingly persistent creatures. And down the hole he went. Shifting into jobs, in and out of drunkenness, in and out of jags and deception. His marriage ended, he moved out and got himself a room in a dilapidated hotel, where in the first week of June 2000, he died, alone, forty-three-years-old in a small room filled with well-tended plants. On a calendar tacked to the wall, he had circled a future date: July 15, and written “Mum’s B-Day.”
[the Mustard house]
Just recently, I found myself on the lake, back home again. Across from the Mustard house down the rim of 1970’s customized homes, some looking like they were airlifted from New England, others from California, I stood with my Dad in our heavy winter overcoats squinting into the mid-morning hoarfrost and sun a near bitter-cold scalding our cheeks, watering our eyes, making our noses run. Out for a walk to burn off breakfast calories, I tapped Dad on the arm and pointed, saying: “That’s where I lost my virginity.” He continued walking and my Dad the prude said, “I didn’t need to know that.”
Inside the house, crossing some time-warping Einstein–Rosen Bridge in my mind, my overcoat, my coldness, my watery eyes sluiced and collapsed, and from a warbling black hole I emerged drunk, fourteen, and horny. Cathy, my eighth grade girlfriend, and I were on the couch, on one of those nondescript nights of lemon gin or beer; a night of a divine darkness suffused with awkwardness, stuttering puberty, grinding pelvic bones, and loud music. It was all buttons and zippers, clasps, and skin, perfect skin of untrammeled snow. Together we rose and fell in that place, a beautiful ache in the rising, in the pit of my stomach, maybe in hers and the heat, the sweat of the moment, the hesitation, the velvet burning acceptance, and the grip of some invisible vice. Crash, bend, blood, and groan. Blinded by the Light.
Kevin, who was in town visiting, met me in the back alley. He was standing there in pine tree shadow, in the cold darkness, a cigarette ember lighting my way. I staggered through the snow and showed him my hands in the streetlamp light. “Is this normal? Did I cut her?” He took my stained hands into his own as if to warm them.
[smoke on the water]
The first time I saw Kevin drunk he was sound asleep. It was 1971, and I was six. We had been out of town, my Mum, Dad, Denise, and me. It was obvious as soon as we walked into the house unannounced that while we had been gone for the night, Kevin had had a party with some of his school friends. Beer bottles, potato chip bags and candy wrappers, record album covers, and playing cards littered the hardwood floor. “Smoke on the Water,” was playing dimly on the stereo and Kevin was in Dad’s green leatherette recliner, in the full back position, asleep, his head crooked to one side, his mouth open, and his glasses still on his face. Someone had covered Kevin in our mother’s overcoat.
[the Einstein-Rosen bridge]
It is speculative of course, but it possible to travel through a black hole to another place and time in our universe or even another dimension. A spinning black hole, we are told, has a “ring-like,” singularity, a point where a throat develops and one could, theoretically, travel through the throat to another universe. There is only one drawback.
You cannot come back.
[aboard the Flying Scotsman]
Dad likes to tell this story about being transported during the war from London, England to Edinburgh, Scotland: “After a few weeks, of living in our one room home, plans were made for me to go ahead by train to the family in Edinburgh; I would get there by train.
“Traveling by train during the war was a bit precarious, the four hundred and fifty mile trip, several hours in the famous Flying Scotsman, albeit fast, was subjected to strafing by marauding enemy planes. Mum decided I would need an escort for safekeeping. She checked along the whole train. She found a carriage compartment with a group of Royal Marines heading to Scotland to join their ships in Rosyth, Naval base. Mum asked if I could be left with them in their compartment and would they please make sure I got off the train in Edinburgh.
“Of course they were pleased to help out. As it happened, the marines had been enjoying a day in the pub and were a bit tipsy, but good fun; they insisted that I lie down on the seat behind them and go to sleep. To make sure I was warm enough they piled their great coats on top of me, these trains were heated with steam and were quite warm, so I was very hot and unable to move. The marines sat in front of me playing cards, drinking beer and smoking and speaking loud with some strange words (*#!?) I had not heard before.
“Part way along the trip we had to pull into a tunnel to hide from a plane overhead, a half hour later we continued on our way arriving in Edinburgh at Waverly Station. By this time, all the marines were snoring sound asleep. I grabbed my bag and departed without a word. I was met at the platform by my Grandmother and Aunt Rose.”
[the structure of reality and the Divine nature]
Dominican philosopher and theologian, Meister Eckhart, like many Platonic theorists of the Middle Ages, came to understand a basic law, or pattern, in relation between a believer and the divine. We pour out, and return full. It is a circle.
But to go on the journey, you must die a little, inside. “… You must know that to be empty of all created things is to be full of God, and to be full of created things is to be empty of God,” Eckhart preached.
In Sermon 53, Eckhart said: “God’s going out is his going in. They [created things] are all called to return into whence they have flowed out.”
The first grace is flowing out, the second flowing back: A circle, a throat, a singularity of ice and snow, and blood, vibration bred in the bone.
[Norman Mailer is dead]
Norman Mailer was one of my guilty pleasures, more so the man than his prose. I loved that he gave writers a bad name by his booze-drenched antics, his head butting, and his courting violent characters and guile. I love Mailer’s kookiness, and his philosophy. When he passed away recently, I skimmed through his book on writing, Spooky Art for some consolation and found myself drawn to his “Attack on Reality” chapter. There he writes, “we’re born with a profound appreciation of the universe and do lose it in the first few years of our life.” Later on, he writes, “We’re supposed to lose it and regain it.”
[back to our story]
… “I had a dream, many years ago. In the dream I was told I’d find my fortune behind a green house on the prairies, beneath the roots of an enormous tree that bore the sweetest crabapples.” And then the passenger slowly transmogrifies, undulating cell by cell, bone by bone, skin, clothes and eyes into another person; and another, and then a ancient tree, then fire, water, air and steam dissipating, rising in the air before me, a book on my lap, not on an airplane anymore when the narrative comes, alone and wondering how from this chaos to make a spick and span circle. A strange loop.