By my window

By my window

And I know it must be spring out there
I can almost see it
A yellower sun peeping out from between those telephone wires
A bluer sky stretching far vistas above these houses
And though cars and people are making much noise
I'm certain that somewhere the earth is grown fertile again
And though all the clocks say it's time for work
I know that somewhere the trees must be delicately tipped with green
And though computers are flashing their garish pictures
A light-fingered breeze I know, I know
Must surely be blowing somewhere, somewhere
Just as if the day were real
And fine

By my window

When I was a boy I remember

Walking barefoot across the cool, green grass

Out in front of my parent's house

Dandelion flowers would catch between my toes

And get stuck there

I'd be walking around barefoot with dandelion flowers

Stuck between my toes

And those flowers were yellower than the sun

And their stems were the palest of all palest greens

And their petals were as soft

As a finger's touch

I remember

Their powdery smell too how faintly acrid

Sometimes it made me sneeze

By my window

These memories worry me
They worry me

With delight

I was reading a book the other day in which the following sentence appeared:  "Each of us wants to get in touch not so much with the harsh rebel, the self-destroying outsider, as with the wild and seductive troublemaker we keep locked up inside."  The words brought me up short.  I began to wonder:  What is it that causes some people to become outsiders – and why should it be that outsiders so often become "self-destroying"?

Upon reflection I decided that no one takes to this path through choice.  On the contrary, everyone longs to fit in, but some people simply do not; everyone yearns to be accepted, but some people simply are not.  If we don't have this longing, this yearning, then we are not merely outsiders – we are outlaws.  The difference that makes the outlaw lies in his or her indifference, or outright antagonism, towards the prevailing social order.  The difference that makes the outsider lies in those character traits that put him or her at just enough variance with social norms as to make acceptance difficult to come by; the failure to achieve it, and the distortions in self-perception this failure so often involves, sometimes exact a high price via self-destructive behaviors.  But . . . does it have to be so?

The only self-destructive behavior that I continue to indulge in is my tobacco habit.  I've smoked cigarettes ever since my late teens, and over the years they've come to provide me with a tangible sense of continuity in the definition I give to myself, a definition that proclaims, via the evidence of what I have lately come to feel is an essentially self-negating habit:  "I cannot help being who and what I am.  I cannot help it; and if I cannot be accepted for who and what I am, then I will, I must, sooner or later destroy myself."  For the outsider, this claim amounts to little more than a sort of childish tantrum, tantamount to the threat of the would-be suicide:  "Love me or lose me!"  For the outsider turned outlaw, it's a manifestation of revolt against the unreasonable conformities insisted upon by society, a revolt that becomes rage turned inward because it cannot find any better way to express itself.

I go out to buy a pack of cigarettes.  It's nighttime, and although it is spring the nights are still chilly, so I put on my flannel jacket before leaving the apartment.  I walk the four or five blocks that lie between my house and the nearest store quickly, without looking at anyone; my shoulders are slightly hunched, my eyes lowered, my head tilted downward.  I have noticed that, since I've been out of work, I have more and more often been adopting this withdrawn attitude when out in public.  I've stopped shaving altogether, and my beard has grown shaggy.  Likewise my hair, which I've not bothered to get cut for several months now, looks unkempt.  I've noticed that people are beginning to throw me the occasional curious, sidelong glance . . .  I don't seem to mind.

Leaving the store, cigarette pack in my pocket, I turn the corner and start heading for home.  As I do so, my eyes light upon a young man walking towards me.  He is perhaps six feet tall, with curly brown hair, and is maybe five years younger than I.  He wears a jacket against the damp chill, his shoulders are hunched, his head tilted downward:  when I see him, he is lighting a cigarette.  He smokes furtively, putting the cigarette up to his lips several times in rapid succession and exhaling in small, quick puffs.  Feeling my gaze, he glances over at me.  Our eyes meet briefly as we pass.

I cross the street, walk down to the next corner, and then turn right.  When I reach an alley halfway up the block, I pause uncertainly.  I've warmed up now and suddenly feel that I don't want to go home just yet:  I've got itchy feet, and decide to keep walking awhile.  Turning down the alley, I head back in the direction from which I've just come.  I'm moving quickly now, all geared up and full of energy; but when the alley I'm traveling intersects with another, I stop dead in my tracks for a moment and look all about me as if searching for something.  I have no particular object in mind; it's just an impulse that grips me unexpectedly.  I cross the intersection and continue walking, only now I find that I'm looking about me intensely, almost frantically, everywhere I go.  As I approach the main street I see, strolling up it, the young man I had passed just a few minutes before.  At the instant I see him, I realize that he is what I've been looking for.  But why?  I stare at him a few seconds – he's still hunched over, still smoking his cigarette – then force myself to look away.  He's on the opposite side of the street from me.  I turn onto this street and begin walking in the same direction, still throwing the occasional furtive glance his way.  I find myself worrying as I go along that if he notices me looking at him and recognizes me as the one who had caught his eye earlier, he will think that I've backtracked on purpose in order to make contact with him.  But I have no desire to make such contact.  When we get to the corner, each of us on our separate side of the street, I immediately step forward and cross.  Once I've done so, I glance quickly behind me.  The other man has crossed to the corner I've just come from and is walking away from me.  I turn to my right, moving off in the opposite direction.

Halfway down this block I come to another alley and turn up it.  When I reach the main street one block up I check for traffic and then hurry across, intending to continue up the alley on the other side.  Just as I reach the curb I look up and notice a man standing out on his front porch.  The sight of him startles me – I'm generally pretty observant regarding my surroundings, particularly when it comes to the location of other people – but this man, I can see, has been watching me for some time without my having noticed.  I don't speak to him, though normally politeness would have caused me to at least offer a nod in greeting.  The fact is that I don't even want to look at him again, though I can't quite say why.  My one glance has revealed a middle-aged man with wavy red bangs hanging down over a broad, slightly stupid and (though this was perhaps only my imagination) a rather sinister looking face.  Dangling from his lips a lit cigarette burns.

The alley I go up now is very dark; there's only one streetlight dimly glowing at the far end.  To my right there's a long row of dilapidated looking wooden garages, then a line of small houses; to my left stand the backyards of the houses facing out onto the main street, all hidden in deep shadow.  In one of the yards up ahead of me I spot the silhouette of something strange.  Some odd shape – I can't tell exactly of what – catches my eye.  I can't make out if what I'm seeing is human or not, and continue to stare at it fixedly as I walk.  A sudden puff of white billows up from the silhouetted shape, like a puff of smoke coming out of an engine.  But still I can't make out for certain what the shape is – some sort of a machine, perhaps?  When I pass at last under the streetlight I steal a look to my left and glimpse the figure of a man leaning against a fence.  He is smoking a cigarette, and appears to be oblivious of me.

I continue to walk for another half hour or so, but no one else attracts my attention.  In fact, though there were surely many other people about – the hour was not late – these three people were the only ones I seemed to take any notice of at all.  Yet I did more, of course, than merely "notice" them:  my attention had been riveted upon them.  It was as if they had each been brought into the foreground of my awareness, magnetizing my eye, for some specific purpose.  In fact, strange as it may sound, I feel quite certain that this is so.  I feel as if the same thing has happened now as happened during the robbery attempt at the convenience store – that life has somehow arranged itself in a specific manner for the express purpose of sending me a message.  But the message in this case is more complex, more difficult for me to interpret.  These three men that I've seen would seem to be functioning as mirrors of myself, each one penetrating a little more deeply into the truth of who I am as "outsider" turned "outlaw."  The first fellow provides a mere surface reflection:  of my behavior; how I walk, dress, comport myself in public; of how I use smoking as a gesture of rebelliousness towards society, smoking currently being so far out of fashion as to be tantamount to an anti-social behavior.  Attracted to this man, yet also wanting to deny the attraction, I sought to escape him only to have my attention drawn to a second man, the red-haired fellow standing on the porch.  He appears to reflect a somewhat deeper level of my psychological orientation, personifying as he does both the stupidity and the callousness I so often seem to see in other people, these two traits being those that I believe most responsible for having turned the world into an almost unbearably ugly, insensitive, and inhumane place in which to live.

But perhaps it's only my own egotism that makes me rail so furiously against what I see as carelessness and lack of sensitivity in others.  I too am a part of humanity, and have within me my own dark reserves of callous indifference:  the anger I feel towards other people may in reality be an anger I feel towards myself.  Perhaps it's this anger which provides the real clue as to why the outsider and the outlaw sometimes self-destruct.  Still, there is much that is good in humanity, and if it should turn out in the end that there is not enough total goodness to save us from ourselves, this would in reality mean nothing more than that we were an experiment of nature which had failed, or that we represented but one stage of an evolutionary process which, encompassing goals much larger than any single species' survival, simply did not find in the human species the requisite ingredients necessary for success.  If our species creates conditions that it cannot itself survive, then we will all have been revealed to be "outlaws," indifferent, or even antagonistic, not towards society, but towards the whole earth, towards all of nature – and thus, ultimately, towards ourselves.  Should this turn out not to be the case, however, then the outlaw will have been revealed to be someone who simply manifested the behaviors of a psychological imbalance characteristic of a specific individual, rather than the whole of humanity.

All of which leads me, ironically enough, to the third figure I saw, the man leaning against the fence.  He is the most mysterious of the three, being a figure of shadows.  As such, he apparently acts to embody some meaning as yet unrealized in me and is thus, perhaps, representative of some untapped potential I hold within.  But I am in a quandary as to how to realize that meaning and thus manifest whatever latent potential he represents.  That I must continue to insist upon my status as a figurative, if not literal, outlaw against society seems clear:  I will not, at any rate, permit myself anything less.  But if the egotism that fuels this insistence, like the egotism that fuels so many of humanity's attitudes and behaviors, may serve self-negating and destructive purposes, might it not also contain an impulse for self-preservation?  If, in turning my back upon the ills of society, if, in the process of trying to save myself I am careful not to sacrifice what is good in humanity, then perhaps I may also gain the capacity to lend aid to another engaged in a similar endeavor, and so demonstrate my worthiness to be given aid in return.  Perhaps I may even be somehow enabled to lend my defenses to this beleaguered earth.  I do not know.  Perhaps the man in the shadows only portends the fact that, as far as the world is concerned, I am beginning to disappear.  That I have nothing left anymore but myself.  That I am only alone.  Not heroic, not tragic.  Just alone.


Each day a new promise,
Each day a new sorrow.
Like any addict,
I'm waiting for something easier