A Matter of Survival

reading A Matter of Survival

I don’t really know how anyone gets from A to B on any given day of the week. There’s just so much that can go wrong. We’re dropped here in the flats on our own two feet. No wonder so many things end up broken. I still feel guilty for being a bad guy. You know, sometimes, once or twice, back then. As if being unaware, or unsure, or being blind, or hungry, or just being desperately sad and alone—none of which are my own damn fault—as if being me could be used against me. Oh, but they are. They are, in so many ways. Those things are used against you.

When I was a kid, sitting at the piano upstairs, at the top of the hill, on Hill Street, with the view of the city spread out below us, my dad turned and said to me, “you’re a rude person.” Not that I was being rude, but that I was that kind of a person. Rude. Well guess what—fuck you, dude! Exactly how is a ten-year-old supposed to know how to be? Even then it was clear that someone was supposed to fuckin’ show me—and, needless to say, that that someone was he. And so now, do I get more satisfaction out of chancing into the right kind of tea than the average civilian on bliss Planet Three? It sure feels that way. Finding my way feels like rolling the dice, like sliding in safe, like saving my life. Now, saving my skin sure trips the right switches, and yet—it’s just as true that it’s a matter of survival. Life and death, every day of the week. Seems like a dangerous place to be, and, it is, it is. It is.

It’s been long enough that there’s finally some evidence that I can’t screw it up, and yet every move still feels like the crux. The sack on my back, that broken-down truck, the misshapen ship-sign leading straight to dead fucked. Every climber’s worst nightmare, the hidden crevasse. Beneath every sharp-edged snow bridge lies the invisible threat of being sliced up and swallowed, silently lost in an ice-tight vice, crushed—eventually, long out of breath—by the impossibly slow glacial grinding grey granite perfectly smooth, leaving gods’ eyes reflecting pure alpine blue—and no room for you.

No doubt, it’s important, doing it right, but which is the point? Is it being on time or my intimacy with time, and the dance that gets done by my left and right arms as I paddle along the windows and willows and the wind in the whorls of the wood of the world? Are the windows open? Is the sun coming in? Is there cool air to breathe? Can I be the light in the trees and the soft smells of dawn, the voices of birds and the fruit growing sweet, as I wait, with care, to wake, not too late?

This orbit, this morning, going around, racing through town, I drifted along the columns of air like the spare snowflakes of a dark December afternoon. It’s three pm in Maine and the sun is already low and grey. Unfolding the Sven-saw is an incantation of the red metal arms and Swedish steel blade shifting into its triangle shape. This magic, it works. It jumps out, it’s bold—and it’s gentle. It’s safer and lighter than an axe. I tighten the wing-nut. I bend down, I make my cut, and then I pack the saw away. My mother and I lift the green tree and take slow steps in the snow, rough bits of sawdust marking our path. She wears thick glasses with plastic frames and a wool scarf wrapped around her head against the cold. My hands are sticky with sap as we walk back to the old car, my share of the weight pressing on my small boy shoulder.