I’m out of town with Norma and I’m homesick. I miss my cats. I miss my friends. But I know that once I’m back home, I’ll miss something I’m never able to put my finger on. Is it something from the past? Growing up in Brooklyn? My father’s big hands, the smell of his cigars? My mother’s arms, her breast, her breath? Maybe I’m nostalgic for the night they lay entwined, and half of me met the other half. Or the moment just before that.
When I was a boy, I used to wonder how I’d feel about stepping into the next century. I’d be an old man by then, in my fifties. Would it even matter to me? Sad to say, I’m not as excited as the boy would have been about living in the year 2000. I know that human nature is still human nature; that weapons of mass destruction are still weapons of mass destruction; that lovers still get married and either stay married or get divorced, and that the ones who get divorced will marry again, because human nature is still human nature. And what is beautiful remains beautiful: the love of a dark-haired woman, an orange expertly peeled, sunlight slanting across the sofa as a man in his fifties lies down for his nap.
Here I am, poised at the beginning of another day. I splash water on my face, run my fingers through my hair. How I love beginnings. Yet the day has no real beginning. Nature doesn’t stop and start. All night, the sea rises and falls. All night, our dreams are braided together.
I dreamt that I voted for Ralph Nader. And he won! And he did what he promised: he took the country away from the corporations and the politicians and gave it back to the people. But the people didn’t want it. America was too much trouble, they said. America was conceited, and America talked too much, and America was fat. They might be interested in another country, though. How about Monaco? Monaco was nice. Why not give them Monaco?
Now that I’m trying not to read while I eat, I’ve fallen behind on my newspaper reading. Who knows what stories I’ve missed? Yet it hardly seems as if I’m neglecting what’s important. Last night, eating a piece of freshly baked bread, I was reminded how shockingly intimate an act eating is. I was eating the body of the world — its fields of wheat, its fire, its salt — and, imperceptibly, my body was changing. One bite at a time, I was being nourished by something mysterious. I was eating rain. I was eating sunlight. I was eating a piece of bread and actually tasting it.
More wine, I tell the waiter. More bread. It’s my birthday. I want this lovely evening to last. No problem, he says. Keep eating and drinking like there’s no tomorrow. But do I mind if he clears a few dishes? Do I mind if he starts sweeping the floor?
When Norma and I argue, I feel as if God has abandoned me. Is this because I worship Norma instead of God? I want her love, her reassurances. I want to find safety in her arms. I’ve always insisted on a flesh-and-blood woman to worship, inspiration close at hand. What if God is even closer than that, closer than Norma’s body pressed against me, closer than my own bones?
I know how to make a good cup of coffee, but do I know why coffee plants grow on hillsides, why rain clouds gather, why the sun gives off light? I know nothing. In an infinite universe, ignorance is infinite, too. So what makes me think I’m going to figure out anything during this brief lifetime? Maybe, instead of following my breath when I meditate this morning, I’ll follow my ignorance: How it comes unbidden. How it fills me. How it connects me to everyone else who’s alive. O ignorance, be my teacher. Teach me to love what I’ll never understand.
The love of a good woman helps; it helps a great deal. But it’s no substitute for the love of a good man. I mean my love, ripened on the vine all these years, the strangest fruit I can imagine: succulent, always surprising, tasting of dark root and open sky, native to this soil only, this moment only. Do I taste myself, really? Do I taste the grief — because I’m meat? The joy — because I’m seated at this feast?
I sit here, waiting for God to appear, forgetting that God is already here, waiting for me. How easy to misunderstand, to imagine that God is a man: god-like, of course, but vaguely human. If I were a woman, perhaps I’d think God was a woman, too, with breasts as big as planets. Women with big breasts were never my cup of tea. But what a God that would be!