1649 c/o James Chapman

The laws of nature are discoverable by means of reason

As I combed her long dark hair she spoke of death as a glory. I would have to forget my body to feel this glory. Death was truth, culture, an engraving in copper greening on the wet ground. Underground, everything you can name melts into time, gets resolved by truth into truth. Like, the face of the beautiful woman becomes jelly. The tongue of the gourmet becomes soup. Truth tends toward glop, muck. As I combed her hair, she sang a hymn to muck, to the combining of all in all. As I combed, as I chased confused tangled clumps of hair back up to their source and negotiated their rhetoric and became lost in the problems of earthly insoluble hair, she took the crayons and put them in the cooking pot one by one. If she found a red crayon, she next put green. If orange, immediately purple. The wax attacked itself as it melted. Yet it was me who built this cooking fire for her, I even willingly stirred the pot, though gazing in my mind at the individual crayons as they’d been before they became ruined by truth. I best loved mocha, saffron, gold, uterine, royal purple, permanent crimson. Colors are ephemeral. Laughter is untrue. The list of untrue things is the infinite list of moments in the life of the world. That engraved copper plate has Sanskrit words mingled with Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Sumerian. To one who knows all these languages, it’s clear that the meaning here is hopelessly fucked. But for all of us who can’t read these words, the engraving is mystery, it seems to sing monody about what is permanent. The pot of all colors, when combined by melting, when viewed with ultimate perspective, that brew is muckbrown. As I combed the dark hair of my permanent, life-long, never-to-be-parted-from, souls-joined-forever-in-truth wife, my body was directly behind hers, but in this world our bodies are ephemeral. When a guy crossing the street suddenly laughs at a memory that hits him from twenty years ago, and you’re watching on the corner, you see his face change, you witness blossoming brightening. Next instant his laugh is gone. It’ll never reappear that same way. You saw it, yes. But you don’t know this guy, and he’s not important, you don’t have to care about his life or the hilarity he’s suddenly understood, the light that flickered in him. You should forget the whole thing and fix your mind instead on a particular text of a dead poet. That poet once witnessed the face of a woman crumple with desire. Another time in his now-ceased life, he saw sheet lightning illuminate a ravine and make it a revelation of beauty. Those two incidents gave him emotions, which he combined in a stanza, using them up so he couldn’t use them again elsewhere, thus approaching his death a stanza nearer. The poem became famous, was published again and again for centuries, now you know it. You recite it as you cross the street, you watch the traffic carefully, you want your body to live. The poem is true. The woman’s desire, the sheet lightning, those were not true, they were junk, and the man’s laughter you’re ignoring right now is stupid. Try to pay attention to what I’m saying, I know it’s hard. You can’t love both your wife’s hair and her soul. Or if you must, consider her hair a direct expression of her soul. That’d be unscientific though. Many women have tremendous hair and no souls whatever. Souls only exist in those people who love death, hence live for truth. Am I being clear? I combed her hair, irrationally since she could have done it herself, that was my love for her soul operating. A scientific approach to her tangles would be to shave her head and separate all the strands with a machine. Aristotle once cut open a fish to see how it worked. Nobody had ever thought of doing that before! The inner workings of the fish are not the same as eternal truth, since fish are ephemeral and pleasurable and practical and pointless, but at least the workings of fish are generically true. There was a cat in the room with Aristotle while he dissected. This cat didn’t believe in eternal truth at all, he just wanted to eat the fish. Aristotle would have said this is merely how the cat-machine works. That was how the Aristotle-machine worked. There was also a fish in the room with Aristotle and the cat, but because the fish was dead nobody mentions it as having the right to an opinion. Its desire was to exist, swimming, being silver. Stupid impermanent fish. Personally I’d’ve liked to see the fish in the water, flashing light, carrying life away within it. But Aristotle won’t let me, because I’m wrong, I’m just wrong. I combed my wife’s hair and she talked constantly. She said things you young people wouldn’t be able to appreciate, because you’ve failed to clamp your joy to the awareness of death. She talked about Descartes’ remark that the soul has nothing, nothing to do with the body. This was typical of the beauty of her soul, bleak beauty. Her hair expressed this, in my opinion, though not according to Aristotle. I was not allowed to hack the tangled clump of hair out with a knife, but must coax it, make it cooperate with ephemeral reality. Every day this coaxing. I was a crayon that would not melt. Palepink, almost white. In the world of light, all colors combine to create white, not mucky brown. I was not living, at that time, in the world of light. Light, soul-stuff, bounced off me like my skin was a mirror, floods of light, I felt none of it. So painfully pale. The sun had never touched me, and I’d never touched the sun. The sun is permanent, but my pleasure in the heat of the sun, that’s ephemeral. Have I got that right? No. Even the sun is ephemeral. There’s a ten-billion-year limit to its desperate desire to burn and burn and burn.