Jan/Feb 2003 Salon

Two Things I Think I Know

by Stanley Jenkins


The abyss that is my soul invokes unceasingly
The abyss that is my God. Which may the deeper be?
        —Angelus Silesius (1624-1677)

A voice cries out in Queens.

Speak. Ask.

What shall I ask?

Ask what it is that you desire.

I desire rest for a restless heart. I desire peace and wonder and time to unfold every leaf. I desire fire in order to be consumed. And to remain.

What are you prepared to sacrifice?

I’m afraid I don’t understand your question.


I have discovered that the life of the mind, as it is evoked in the halls of Hyde Park and other places of hope and hostages, will not get me where I am going. I have discovered that the life of the flesh (all flesh is grass), as it is peddled on the streets of Disney World and the theme park in Times Square, will not lead me home.


In the midnight hour my words and reasons seem as useful as a check for a million dollars written against my current balance. In the time of no patience and much need, my passion and lack of discipline will sell my dignity cheap. It always has.


Nevermind. I dream a foundation. And know God in the fact that the sidewalk holds my weight.



I love one single thing, it is to me unknown;
And since I know it not, I chose it for my own.
        —Angelus Silesius (1624-1677)

Love’s impersonal. It’s no respecter of persons. But it don’t mean a thing—unless it’s livable.

I knew a man who would do anything for love. It was pathetic. It was ungainly. He was a bad actor. He gave away his dignity. Just fucking gave it away.

I imagine Jesus at the moment. At the very moment. Jesus didn’t give nothing away.


In my American imagination I am always saying goodbye. In the land of Philip Marlowe there is nothing but goodbyes. But that’s not the land we live in anymore. Is it?

And, push come to shove, I am too old to not be avaricious. I want my time. I want it real bad.

I have learned, the hard way, that there is no virtue, in and of itself, in pretending to be other that what you have no choice being. All the smart money is on what is just given. You ante up. You play your cards. You take your chances.

And love, though pretending a thousand possibilities, always ends up being one actuality. And that is the thing to keep in mind when you lose your hair or get fat or begin channeling your parents when disciplining your children. Love has other aims than your own pleasure. It’s impersonal.

And it’s all you got.


In really old photographs my grandmother is dishy. And I want to shake my grandfather’s hand for making such a lovely match. He’s dead now, maybe fifteen years.

She sure was pretty.

My wife spoons beside me and I would sooner give up touch than lose forever the curve of her hip and the inevitability of her flesh.

I did not go to my grandmother’s funeral. I had no money, I was young and it was a continent and a paycheck away. But every time—in my own time, in this time of love—I pull up close and prepare to surrender the day and dream—beauty is present. And my grandmother blushes once more in wedding photos and the years and years of arthritis and deformation and pain—just fucking pain—fade. And just don’t matter.

Some experiences cancel out others. In the big picture.


Which brings us to what I really think I know to tell you. The living hurts. Nothing can take that away. But a good woman—for a sad-eyed, eagle-eyed—man such as I—a woman who makes no apology for being alive—sure makes the living easier.

And you can find God in that. And God can find you in that.

And at the end of the day. You know what? That’s good enough. It just is. And that’s good enough for me.


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