George Jackson, Sir
I tell myself, when it gets bad, how hard can it be? I've done all the hard parts. I've raised my kids. I only have twenty years to muddle away, and then I get to die. That's not so bad. Twenty years will fly away in no time. There's really nothing more to trouble about.
It all fades away, and I don't believe in any of it; I fall, slow motion, to a clever little piano tune about rain, all the way down, just a few glancing blows from the rigging. Below me only salt water.
None of it made any difference: all the histrionics, all the wanting, all the learning, all the careful preparation for things that never happened, couldn't have happened. I won't say I wasted my life: you can't say you wasted your life without having some life in mind that you think would have been worth living. Should I have served some other master? That's the only question I find mildly interesting: and it's too late now. And anyway, what other master would have had me?
Some long-forgotten persona pleads: but there was no way to know, when we started. I shrug. How does it matter? I could never have lived an honest life. I fledged in a nest lined with lies. We're all of a piece, and we all went down in the flood together, and good riddance.
My earliest memory is of being two years old, and unable to speak. I knew what language was, but I couldn't master it. I stood there holding on to the arm of a sofa – shoulder height to me – and I longed, I longed to speak. And I learned. I learned so greedily, I learned to read, I learned Spanish and German and French, Latin and Old English and Old Norse, scraps of Greek and Chinese and Tibetan, and I still couldn't speak, and I still can't speak. Still standing there, holding on to the arm of the sofa. I still can't say what I mean, and people come and go in some great world that I can't understand.
Another night of no sleep, another night of uselessness. In the end I was good for nothing, affected nobody. I never did learn to speak. I'm still standing here, still mute: except that now I'm fat and deaf and old, as well.
So who cares? Not you: not me. I might as well shrug it off, and pick some other life out of the closet. I could be a sage on a lacquered box, whose ancient glittering eyes are gay. I could be a kindly old man with a long white beard, gentle and simple, soaking up the sun in some quiet corner. I could vanish from the physical world altogether, and become nothing but a voice, a reminder, and ask the Goddess to cast a glamour about me: I could be Mentor, wrapped in old stories that no one minds but no one can shake off. Ask the old man by the door: he knows all that kind of thing. I could learn to keep a garden. I could get a dog. I could even write poetry. Poets are supposed to be old men.
Zafus and zabutons, knees and sitz-bones, prostrations in front of glittery shrines, forehead to the cool wood floors. I've watched the sunlight move across the floor as the sun moves across the sky. I've sat still while mornings turned into afternoons, while afternoons turned into evenings. There's nothing like looking, if you want to find something, but what you find is not always what you expect.
I am grateful for it all, you know, even if I have squandered it. And even as I write, here, the mood lightens, and the antic recedes, and a real smile replaces the grimace. I look forward to seeing you. At a night sentry-challenge from a member of the feuding families, Huck Finn identifies himself: George Jackson, sir, I'm only a boy. How can anyone blame you for picking up identities where you find them? You find yourself in a dangerous world, and you proffer the story that works: what else does anyone ever do? If you're not given a plausible name, you have to make one up. Please don't shoot me, sir. I'm only a boy.