The Long Meadow
By Vijay Seshadri
Graywolf Press Copyright © 2004 Vijay Seshadri
All right reserved. ISBN: 1-55597-400-7
Survivor We hold it against you that you survived. People better than you are dead, but you still punch the clock. Your body has wizened but has not bled its substance out on the killing floor or flatlined in intensive care or vanished after school or stepped off the ledge in despair. Of all those your started with, only you are still around; only you have not been listed with the defeated and the drowned. So how could you ever win our respect?- you, who had the sense to duck, you, with your strength almost intact and all your good luck. The Disappearances "Where was it one first heard of the truth?"
On a day like any other day, like "yesterday or centuries before," in a town with the one remembered street, shaded by the buckeye and the sycamore-the street long and true as a theorem, the day like yesterday or the day before, the street you walked down centuries before- the story the same as the others flooding in from the cardinal points is turning to take a good look at you. Every creature, intelligent or not, has disappeared- the humans, phosphorescent, the duplicating pets, the guppies and spaniels, the Woolworth's turtle that cost forty-nine cents (with the soiled price tag half peeled on its shell)- but, from the look of things, it only just happened. The wheels of the upside-down tricycle are spinning. The swings are empty but swinging. And the shadow is still there, and there is the object that made it, riding the proximate atmosphere, oblong and illustrious above the dispeopled bedroom community, venting the memories of those it took, their corrosive human element. This is what you have to walk through to escape, transparent but alive as coal dust. This is what you have to hack through, bamboo-tough and thickly clustered. The myths are somewhere else, but here are the meanings, and you have to breathe them in until they burn your throat and peck at your brain with their intoxicated teeth. This is you as seen by them, from the corner of an eye (was that the way you were always seen?). This is you when the President died (the day is brilliant and cold). This is you poking a ground-wasps' nest. This is you at the doorway unobserved, while your aunts and uncles keen over the body. This is you first river, your first planetarium, your first Popsicle. The cold and brilliant day in six-color prints- but the people on the screen are black and white. Your friend's mother is saying, Hush, children! Don't you understand history is being made?
You do, and you still do. Made and made again. This is you as seen by them, and them as seen by you, and you as seen by you, in five dimensions, in seven, in three again, then two, then reduced to a dimensionless point in a universe where the only constant is the speed of light. This is you at the speed of light. The Long Meadow Near the end of one of the old poems, the son of righteousness, the source of virtue and civility, on whose back the kingdome is carried as on the back of the tortoise the earth is carried, passes into the next world. The wood is dark. The wood is dark, and on the other side of the wood the sea is shallow, warm, endless. In and around it, there is no threat of life- so little is the atmosphere charged with possibility that he might as well be wading through a flooded basement. he wades for what seems like forever, and never stops to rest in the shade of the metal rain trees springing out of the water at fixed intervals. Time, though endless, is also short, so he wades on, until he walks out of the sea and into the mountains, where he burns on the windward slopes and freezes in the valleys. After unendurable struggles, he finally arrives at the celestial realm. The god waits there for him. The god invites him to enter. But, looking through the glowing portal, he sees on that happy plain not those he thinks wait eagerly for him- his beloved, his brothers, his companions in war and exile, all long since dead and gone- but, sitting pretty and enjoying the gorgeous sunset, his cousin and bitter enemy, the cause of that war, that exile, whose arrogance and viscous indolence plunged the world into grief. The god informs him that, yes, those he loved have been carried down the river of fire. Their thirst for justice offended the cosmic powers, who are jealous of justice. in their place in the celestial realm, called Alaukika in the ancient texts, the breaker of faith is now glorified. He, at least, acted in keeping with his nature. Who has not felt a little of the despair the son of righteousness now feels, staring wildly around him? The god watches, not without compassion and a certain wonder. This is the final illusion, the one to which all the others lead. he has to pierce through it himself, without divine assistance. He will take a long time about it, with only his dog to keep him company, the mongrel dog, celebrated down the millennia, who has waded with him, shivered and burned with him, and never abandoned him to his loneliness. That dog bears a slight resemblance to my dog, a skinny, restless, needy, overprotective mutt, who was rescued from a Crack house by Suzanne. On weekends, and when I can shake free during the week, I take her to the Long Meadow, in Prospect Park, where dogs are allowed off the leash in the early morning. She's gray-muzzled and old now, but you can't tell that by the way she runs.
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