Oct/Nov 2010 Salon

Isaac Rising

by Stanley Jenkins

In the old days, the Classical Days, all the smart money was on getting wise to the fact that in this life you're screwed, and the sooner you realize that, and learn not to care, the sooner you can actually find your dignity—and in finding your dignity, beat the bastards down—or maybe, if you're lucky or so inclined, find the Unia Mystica. Who really knows? Structurally, the two are pretty much the same: find your dignity and beat the bastards down. The best revenge is a life well-lived.

In the American Days, these latter days, all the smart money is on getting wise to the fact that you can always become someone else, and that if that is true, you can also always leave all your sins at the last known address of the guy you used to be. The American Days have been the Dine and Dash days, Sunday School Days of looking over your shoulder and waiting for the Day of Judgment, when all the guys you used to be will finally get their comeuppance, and you, having always already artfully moved on, will finally get to be envied like a guy who can always get someone important to return your calls. A guy who can make all the wives of your friends look at their husbands differently, because it isn't like anyone is ever returning their phone calls. Like that could ever make it okay to be condemned to be eternally pursued by Hounds of Righteousness all the days of your life. (O my America!)

These days I read Boethius and contemplate just what consolations are to be found in Philosophy. I read Dr. King and can't ever quite see the moral arc of history bending toward Justice. All the Earnest Young Men, all the Carrie Nations, all the Urbane Neo-Platonists, always illuminating the Invisible Halls and Mansions, strobing them in flashes while falling and flailing in epileptic fits as the Disco Ball turns.

I've killed Passions with Arithmetic, entire Loves with Division, and buried bodies in the wall. I've walked in Another Man's Shoes after stealing them when he was asleep, and I've worn my Dead Grandfather's Underwear. I've parsed every verb I've ever embodied, diagramed every sentence I've ever served, and for the life of me can't quite seem to learn my Grammar.

These days don't have no story. There is no Syntax. History has been—it doesn't really go anywhere—well, it's been kind of a disappointment.

So why is it that none of that seems to matter? Why is it that I keep making up stories, or that the best of the stories I make up always seem to keep me afloat until I can find the time to make up another one good enough to get me to the next inn? Why is it that the stories I make up—(or actually, you know, you never ever really make anything up—you just make some other story you heard somewhere your own—heard or received like in a dream or a revelation or from the wallpaper that you see everyday but don't really notice but nonetheless shapes you in ways you can never fully recognize—heard or received like fugitive transmissions from pirate number stations on dented short wave radios—always depending on the kindness of strangers and the witness of those who are no more)—why is it that the stories I make up sometimes—I mean, without prejudice—can be seen to help other poor schleps like me make it to the next inn as well, and that those stories let us travel together to the next inn, so we don't have to be so alone in this pilgrimage, and that it is so much better to be together than to be alone, in this flood that seems to be relentlessly carrying us all downstream together, all willy nilly, on our way back to the sea? Why is that?

Why are the stories so efficacious?

I couldn't care less. I just gotta keep my head above water. Just do my job. Water on the rise.

They say love covers a multitude of sins.

It damn well better.

I knew a man once who killed God and was saved only when he finally relented and just let God help him bury the corpse.

When I close my eyes, Isaac is always rising.


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