Or—another example—when I say “me,” this means nothing; my meaning only deepens when I tell you my name is Salem (another story), that I am twenty-five, that my mother has been dead going on four years. A friend of mine, of ours, Nate, has just taken his life. We, the four of us, have returned to his corpse, his ghost. And thus, as I tell them, as I now tell you, I am coming to strike myself as a locus of absence, defined by and defining others’ untimely demises.
Or, to put it another way: wrongful deaths. Recalling my mother’s passing, I first thought this: wrongful deaths. But all deaths are wrongful—we are born into light bound to one day depart—and so I replaced this phrase with one more stock, more literal (and therefore apt): untimely demises. But now the phrase has been tainted by my language; theirs are no longer mere untimely demises but wrongful deaths, with all this phrase’s associated meanings. Besides: is there such a thing as a timely demise?
Derrida—Mark tells me—argues that there exists nothing but the text. By this, I assume he means something very particular, something I am unable, without reading Derrida myself, to understand. I am still able, however, to take from this statement this: what I say now swallows all.
The four of us—Mark, Imogen, Cord, myself—have returned to the space in which Nate did it, in which he ended himself and invited us to bear witness. I am telling you this, now, while sitting cross-legged at the kitchen table in the Victorian (and again this text grows) where we now live, speaking into my set-up’s mics, sleepy in the slanting light. You, the you I imagine, are leaning in, your face pallid, your attention piqued; you are speaking of Derrida, telling me of all the ways in which I am wrong; of a thing called différance, of meaning deferred…
If the Roof of Your Mouth Is in Fact the Ceiling, Then This Makes Your Brain an Attic
You had said this to me, implying the thought was yours. You had not cited Demetri Martin. I saw the special only years later, post-grad, years resettled into my childhood home. This was a time when I believed in myself and little else. This was a time when my family believed in my belief. I slaughtered mornings pretending to write, attempting to think. In the afternoons, half to punish myself, I lapped Voltaire vineyard’s rear fields. I brushed against red varietals they watered into oversweetness and nonetheless labeled: Merlot, Cabernet. I thought often of you (and also Mark, and Imogen, and Salem; us, to say this a different way). I thought of how time and chemistry had embittered you into someone else. I thought about jokes, over my head, you’d made re: Voltaire’s name: there was no way. There was no way they were not alluding. One summer, either our sophomore or junior year, your family had taken a trip to Tuscany. You had come back lambasting our soil’s loam, its relative lack of sand. (I thought of Mark, and Imogen, and Salem; I thought too of things they had said, but they, unlike you, are not yet dead.) I did not think then—the most philosophy I’d read was that of Murakami, who did not write philosophy—but I think now that I and we already knew you’d end up dead, your blood’s red-black dots against a whitewashed ceiling, walls. Voltaire, once the event-hosting majority of its enterprise had exploded, relaxed their oenological (this word, Nate, is for you) routine. The autumn before you did it, I ran past darkness left to shrivel on its vine. It rained a lot where we grew up, too much. I thought of you often. I did not once call.
Outside Ostara’s, we shivered and waited for our fifth to arrive. It was a Sunday, and the world revolved, restless. Sunday: now and forever more a Godless day, a pagan day. Eagles fans drifted across Mulaney’s lot like unmanned sailboats, their jerseys blossoming with wind. We waited for Nate to arrive. The door opened, closed. We smelled coffee and chocolate, cinnamon and butterscotch, yeasty bread. We shivered. At my side, Cord swore. Nearby, where Bridge bled into Main Street, a folk duo wheezed into another minor-keyed melody. Joggers jogged. Dog-walkers walked dogs. Godless day, pagan day. A day for Ostara, a day for a dawn, nothing after. A beginning, nothing else.
Better for it, I now say. Even then I believed in no God. The others shared my agnosticism. The wrapper of a sugar-free protein bar quivered against the cracked concrete at my feet. Quest, I read. Quest. I swore. We swore. We did not ask why we were here. We knew why we were here. We did not bring up the texts Nate had sent us, each of us, over our first months away. We did not talk of promises unkept. We hugged him, awkwardly, when he arrived. We went inside. We did not bring up his texts. Not once. He did not ask for help, and we did not offer it. We drank hot black Turkish coffee, quashing our grimaces, pretending our tastes had changed. We did not bring up his texts. We feigned growth. We left.
The transcription of the last voicemail he leaves is overlong and for the most part inarticulate. Run-on sentences, accidental syntactical heresy. Ill-conveyed shame. The word “cantrip,” as if by magic, appears twice. The phrase “and from his grave a rose” repeats four times, and never in a context that makes grammatical or literal or metaphorical sense. At points, he seems to quote from an as-yet unknown text; at other times his words appear to be his own. And from his grave a rose.
But I want it to make sense. Because it will be my grave, too, I imagine: our grave. And maybe “a rose” should be “arose.” And maybe these things mean the same thing. I need things to make sense, I think. Derrida calls an impasse like this one—a juncture at which a text refuses to make sense—an “aporia.” An aporia: and from his grave a rose. A beautiful word for a linguistic dead-end. This is the last voicemail he leaves. And perhaps he did not want to do this—leave it—and instead wanted only to exist in whatever languorous absence came next. Perhaps he was cut off. Or perhaps here, too, he cut himself off. Perhaps (I hope; we hope), at the last moment, he attempted to preempt what he’d intended, which was this: and from his grave arose a rose.
Colin Lubner writes (in English) and teaches (math) in southern New Jersey. His work has either appeared or will appear, temporally speaking. Recent pieces can be found through his Twitter: @no1canimagine0. He is keeping on keeping on.
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