Alfredo on Arbitrariness, Laws, and perhaps the Nature of Perfume:
The Romance of Nuance
In the face of so much diversity, so much laughable lawfulness,
such trying and tempting statutes of absurdity, it would seem
altogether likely that in doing just this I have transgressed
several norms in the privacy of my thoughts. It seems only fair
that I cannot catch fish barehanded in Kansas. Certainly, I am better off
for not having done such a thing. My hands especially. Nor would I
ever think of sawing wood on public sidewalks, keeping a horse
in my apartment house, kissing for more than five seconds in succession,
or smoking on someone else’s bed. And never would I contemplate
keeping two cows, or less, inside the city limits of Valdosta, Georgia;
or, saying “Oh Boy!” in Jonesboro. Or use exploding golf balls
in Massachusetts, or eat excessively at a funeral, put tomatoes in clam chowder,
deliver diapers on Sunday, allow my dog to bark after dark in St Louis,
scare wild ducks which I was about to shoot, or be shorter than 6’
if I was a policeman in Michigan. Much less play the Missouri waltz
at any hour of the broadcast day in Mississippi, or dance the duck wobble,
bunny hug, angle worm wiggle or the kangaroo glide in Montana.
And without question I would forego taking my dog or goat into a graveyard,
much less let that same dog loose in Dallas without it wearing a headlight.
And the last thing I would do would be to sleep in a basement in Amarillo.
Animals one by twice
arrive before an uncertain dawn, orderly after a fashion. Newly paired,
they heard the call and responded as if tethered to a May pole, somehow
arriving simultaneously at its center. All manner of beasts. With or
without wings. Blind or many-eyed. Born live and squiggling. Nest hatched.
Ocean-based, sky-borne, or land-locked. Speechless like a giraffe whose
purple tongue says nothing at all. Warblers, roarers, mimics, and mutterers.
Yowlers and howlers. Furred and feathered Adams and Eves. An open zoo
of binaries in a monotheistic universe. All bound to board my round ark
of hope. It was, a pre-statistical nightmare to inventory. 2 by 2. Exponentially.
Trying to sex chickens or other avian abominations. Heterosexuality be damned!
Two of anything, Naamah, Emzara to me most nights, my wife who is wise
in all ways quickly decided: If they came as an implied set they were mates
in our minds. Mirrors of an orderly celestial universe. For animals at least.
Beyond that a vast chaos. No other sorting arrangements possible. A whirling
Swamp of alphabets and randomly unpronounceable names. Some small
enough to be nearly invisible. Others hugely grotesque with no hint of taxonomy.
As it was cloudy, and a reluctant dawning forecast by the local soothsayers,
all of whom we have decided to leave behind, we opted for tuples with
columns. Animals, or whatever, two by 2. We knew they could multiply.
Exponentially it seems. Much was discovered during our 11 months afloat.
But we found few who could actually count beyond one. Meaning themselves.
Two was a concept greater than infinite to them. They might herd in small
packs, or darken and obscure whole plains when roaming. But march up
a plank side by side, in synchronous strides? No way. Not even if the gang plank
was broad enough and thick enough for two mature elephants or whales.
Imagine if you will two blue whales, 100 feet long and a scale-staggering
200 tons plus, slithering, an entirely inadequate word, up the “plank”
before settling on deck. My original plans did not call for the 8.5 million
species, plus or minus 1.3 million. Nor did it include any enormous knowledge
of the simple fact that 99% of all species on earth are now extinct. Or account
with its biological abacus any micro-organisms. Sure, they don’t take up
much space. But add them in and we’re talking a trillion entities on my ark
without corners. Not counting our own small brood. Shem. Hap. And Japheth.
Always mentioned lastly, but eldest. The New Progenitors, if you ignore
my small part. And their respective wives: Sedeqetelebab. Ne’eltama’uk.
And ‘Adataneses. All names a man like me, more than 5 centuries old,
and unlike some aboard this life-saving ark, unable to regrow new teeth,
and who finds near impossible to utter without blinding my audience
with spittle, or choking on the backflow of syllables. After Japheth I swore
a fixed oath of monosyllabic names thereafter. I may have been too precise
in my swearing, since, afterwards, we never had the luck of a girl. No Book
of Jubilees there. Still, we managed, and have filled to near overflowing
with our Lord’s living load, and did sink low in the rising waters. I’ve since
dreamt of bilge pumps, whatever they might be. I imagined nightly ways
to steer a round rudderless ship. Thank God it rained the entire 40 days,
otherwise we would have been overwhelmed by unclean birds, and eyebrow deep
in excretory matter. As a farmer I never learned how to plow the sea, or sow
oats in other harbors. Now, we muck and muck more, mostly to pass the time
and lighten the load. I’d long lost whatever olfactory ability I was gifted at birth.
Naamah always claimed the smell of my feet could kill. She too grew to enjoy
the death of dung smells. As for the Children as we called them, they were driven
to outdo, to compete in the most amazing ways. What animal’s excreta, if properly
dried, provided the best seasoned fuel source? Which animals who had multiplied
beyond our fingers, could be recycled with prayers and sea salt? How exactly long
was 40 days and why not 30, or 20 or even a fortnight? A flooding of a world,
or its known parts, is usually comprehensive in the most thorough ways. Granted,
it’s hard to drown fish. And birds are canny survivors who can colonize mountain
peaks and stay aloft for hundreds of days, perhaps years, gliding and soaring,
riding the wings of the wind. Got to admire the bastards. Who knew butterflies
were so tasty and protein-rich. They were a great distraction and oddly offered
hope. So we sailed as if we had sailed before and knew the art and the ways
of sailing. By that, I mean we floated. We went wherever the waves or the wind,
and sometimes both, dictated. Never did I believe I was a true Captain. I had
no choice but to do what I had done. I could tell myself I was chosen, but I was
only one of many so designated. At my age. There’s no iron in this irony. I’ll not
heap anachronism on top of anachronism. I have been tasked as have my family,
to save all that lives without exception. To accept without doubt or questions.
To believe the unthinkable. The impossible. And yet, we seem to have done it.
We float. Whatever leaks we spring, the young ones patch with the foulest
but effective dung. Even though we cannot agree most times on the days past,
how many and since when, we sense there is an end to this. And perhaps an end
to these days and nights of confined misery. This world of water without land.
The long nights bringing more water. But not the white bird you promised?
Richard Weaver volunteers with the Maryland Book Bank, CityLit, the Baltimore Book Festival, and was the writer-in-residence at the James Joyce Pub. Recent publications include FRIGG, Mad Swirl, SPANK the CARP, Adelaide, Dead Mule, and Magnolia Review. He’s the author of The Stars Undone (Duende Press, 1992), and provided the libretto for a symphony, “Of Sea and Stars “(2005), performed four times to date. Recently he published his 120th prose poem.