The little I want, you never bring it.
I miss it; that’s why I lay claim to so much.
To so many things, to infinity almost . . .
Because of the little bit that’s missing, that you never bring.

— Henri Michaud, trans. W. S. Merwin


Because of the little bit that isn’t there, that life refuses to bring; because of that moment of hesitation before getting wet, or born, or real; because of how you must lean away from the table as the full plate is set in front of you, because of the fullness of the plate, and the body’s constant demands (Drink! Food! Sex!); because there is always the tiniest space between desire and its aftermath (more desire), between lips kissing, asking; between teeth, which require so much tending, flossing, rinsing; because of that tiny bit of space, that little absence, I once felt a longing so intense it made me cry. So I cultivated a kind of silence, which I believed would be the soil in which the little bit would grow and flourish. And occasionally it came and lit on my shoulder, or croaked in my throat, or threw me to my knees in a bright moment of ecstatic union, the little bit becoming everything and then Pop! vanishing like the queen of hearts in a magician’s hand, or the special piece of chocolate you try to keep hidden from your family, the little square of heaven that you squirrel away behind the jar of rice when no one is looking. Who the hell took it this time?


When you’re a child, you have the little bit and it has you. You throw it up and clap your hands. Your father momentarily catches it, but it is yours in your little animal eyes, your tender knees, the way a banana unwraps in your small hands, unzips as you slowly pull down the peel and reveal the soft, pale fruit. You grow tall, taller, and the little bit travels into new parts of your body, creating breasts or a bigger penis, new hair in weird places, and you know it’s there because of the strangeness you feel. You need another body, someone else’s, to help tend the little bit that hides in your sexed flesh. And it scares you, it overwhelms you, it makes you strum the guitar and sing about how “The Water Is Wide,” or how “Tonight You Belong to Me.” And you try so hard to fix your hair up, to find the right sweater or jeans so the little bit will be attracted back to you and marry you and give you everything you ever wanted, or lost.

But sadly, you learn that the little bit that’s missing is not found in other human beings. So what can you do? You turn to Nature, to flowers, to trees, who seem oblivious to the lost little bit. You stare at their hard sturdiness, their green leafiness. And sometimes, if you stare hard enough, walk among those great torsos long enough, the little bit rubs off on you and you feel tree-ness everywhere, especially in your chest and legs. But it doesn’t last, because the little bit that a tree has is its own little bit, not yours.

Then you think: maybe the mind can find it, and you begin writing and talking about it, trying to strangle it, that little bit, to circle it with words hooked together so tight and fine that the little bit will choke on them and die. But you realize that the little bit cannot be put into words. So you try to fathom it in dreams, such as the one where you are driving a car that is flying down a hillside out of control, killing chickens, and your girlfriend is sitting beside you, gabbing and oblivious. You write down your dreams for years, believing they hold an important clue. Or you read about how Confucius, Jesus, Heraclitus, Buddha, Shmelke of Nikolsburg, Mohammed, or Rilke conquered or claimed the little bit with wisdom, and you believe that this wisdom, if grasped, will fill the space where the little bit lives. And while you read, or meditate on what you’ve read, you feel the little bit coming apart and you cry, and the salt seems to dissolve the wall behind which the little bit has been camping out. For a little while, you feel that you are a part of everything, but then the tears retreat and you get up to throw your soaked Kleenex away, and as you walk toward the bathroom, you notice how each object again retreats into its own specific space, then blurs into the same old shape in about two seconds flat, and the little bit — you hear it — chortles, Ha!


When I was working in suicide prevention, I once spoke to an incredibly fat man in my very small office. He came to see me because he wanted to die. He leaned forward over his massive belly and told me how he’d been dead once, during an operation for a problem related to his weight, and he had seen the famous light at the end of the tunnel, and it had been incredibly bright and alluring, the most wonderful thing he had ever felt. And then, wet-eyed, he leaned back and said he couldn’t even describe it. Since that time, he said, he’d wanted to die, to return to the great light that welcomed all his weight and could lift him into itself as if he were a kid again. And every bit of me believed him, because of how he said it and because he was a car mechanic and never went to school and never read Life After Life. And ever since I met him, I think of how the little bit that life holds back will, at least, be gloriously present in the vast beyond. I really like to believe that, don’t you? I like to think of being absorbed by it, like the times you peered into your parents’ bedroom through the slightly open door when you were scared by a bad dream, and they were both in bed reading and they smiled and invited you in between their warm bodies and said nice things. But now I can’t really open that door for more than a few seconds at a time, and sometimes, though I don’t want to, I think the bit about the bright light is really just a pretty illusion, like loving my first husband forever, and then so many bits of this and that intrude and I get really confused and don’t know what I believe. That whole bit.