Tuesday, July 27, 2010

64. Rasputin and His Assistant Walk the Median of the New York State Thruway

Carrying a large cardboard box,
a box not too large for him but bulky,
beard flowing in the wind, black hat
and black glasses, he seemed not
to notice the traffic on either side of him,
the median rising into a small hill
he strode across. Still, his memory
of the future seemed somehow dim as
he walked a mountain of a median
towards something we could not see,
maybe a stranded automobile and
the box contained a little piece of a motor
he might somehow insert into
his broken car. His hair was wild,
with locks, but his stare was grim.

Behind him walked a young woman,
maybe in her late twenties, neat,
wearing a simple dress of dark blue,
with a floral pattern. Her countenance
was almost worried, and she hurried
after him in her sensible shoes,
dark, probably black, holding
firmly against her chest, with two
crossed arms, a book or a sheaf of
papers, some record to tell them
where they were, who they were,
what they were planning to do.

On most days, I would think nothing
if I saw Rasputin walk the median
of the Thruway, even in the sun,
and it was a sunny day, warm but not
to the point of discomfort, the kind of day
the human body was made for but rarely
experiences, so it was a good day,
better than most, and we were driving
to the end of Long Island to see
the end of the word, the oceanic blindness
that greets those who stare out from
any bare spit of land into the maw of
that great nothingness that is the great
somethingness that is that surrounding
Mother Ocean that covers most of
the Earth and joins us all together as one.

On that day, we made it as far as
Sag Harbor, still a distance from Montauk Point,
but far enough into the water and the night
that we could feel the cold hands of the sea
reaching for us. If we were thinking
we might forget this, forget how hungry
the sea is for our well fed bodies, then the
road into Sag Harbor reminded us:
Lost at Sea Memorial Pike, a road that follows
the path of the bridge at Sag Harbor,
the bridge that Ray Johnson jumped from,
to his eventual death. The fall is short, but
the icy water of January will kill anyone
soon enough, particularly someone ready
to die. We didn’t travel that distance to die,
we don’t even understand the need to die,
we understand merely the requirement.

And we are ready to live out those
requirements, so I wonder what kind of
box Rasputin was carrying (boxes being defined
most commonly by their contents), and I wonder
if he has something to say about death, about
necessity, about the need to fight against
it all. He had to be killed, say, a dozen times
before he died and sank away into a dark river,
yet it still didn’t work. He lives among us, he
has blended into society so that almost no-one
can recognize him, so that he can live
a normal life, the life of a man with car troubles.
With lives like a cat, he doesn’t care
for anything further. Survival is gift
and promise enough.

Yet I wonder about that young woman
with him. I wonder what her life is like,
if she should live with a man his age, if
he is indeed her father and she his only
living child, and trying to live with
a father who should be dead. What does
she think? Does she worry that she
herself might not die? that someday she’ll
be carrying hidden car parts around
the world? that she will live longer than
any of us really should?

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