You are reading Fiddleblack #13
There he was again: the beautiful newcomer, slicing through the water like a knife, like a fish, like the wind. He had the force and grace of a scythe.
The sheer power expended in each stroke was dazzling. It explained the Grecian physique and cocksure gait. He probably got the question often: are you a dancer? A yogi? Strong, smooth paces and erect posture always elicit that sort of question. I was not the only swimmer impressed by his speed and stamina. Others stopped to watch.
I first saw him in a white swimmer’s racing suit and a white silicon cap, with black goggles. I watched him cut the water between my own pathetic laps. My frog kick and gaspy hack. I was clandestine. I was surreptitious. Adonises are accustomed to the staring. They sense it. But how sly I was that first day! How patient and respectful of my own newfound obsession. I scarcely cast an eye his way. Such was my nonchalance that I was able to tail him home, to 3112 23rd St, without being detected. He made it rather easy for me, distracted as he was by his cell phone. He dispatched a round of texts. Called his voicemail. Tripped over a root-gnarled patch of sidewalk. Was unaware of my pursuit.
I reconnoitered his block from time to time. No set schedule: just waiting at a bus stop a few doors down and across the street, on an old splintery bench that had long since flaked its stingily thin coat of yellow paint. I waved the buses, lured to stop, to hiss and rumble on without me.
The hours of waiting were ecstasy. I know it makes me unusual: I am a person who enjoys waiting. For instance I spend all of summer wishing for autumn, even though there is nothing I enjoy more than roasting my white barrel-chest beneath a scorching July sun. To me, the beauty of fall is its distance from summer. The hours on the pine bench, enduring the minuscule possibility that he might turn the corner at any moment, were likewise exquisite. Every second twisted away from every minute was to be savored, a shred of one variation of infinity. Is it wrong to love wanting more than having?
On several occasions, of course, it happened: he arrived. The first time, it overwhelmed me: a dizziness, a closeness of the air, a tightening. That first time I saw him turn the corner I heard a dry rattle, like a flexible straw being twisted, and realized it was my throat.
Was I worried of being found out? Not at all. Find what exactly? Find me waiting for a bus in my own neighborhood. Didn’t we use the same community pool? In succeeding coinciding lap-swims, there was no denying it, his awareness of my interest. So what.
To force a few words from him, directed at me: a simple objective. Not notice me, no: I had not failed to be noticed. I seldom do. Not because I am handsome or ugly or abnormally shaped or sized. But I admit to being unusual. Off-kilter.
I was told by a tarot reader that it is a blessing to be aware of one’s queerness, as I am of mine. Queer was her word, and at first it was not at all clear what she’d meant. She had me lying flat on my back on a lumpy piece of furniture draped in a musty old rug while she turned my cards by gaslight. It was such sad conflation of paradigms, but she told me some truths I already knew and needed to hear repeated. Such as the one I mention.
So I get noticed a lot.
Eliciting speech is another thing entirely. It is as though noncompulsory speech with a person of my caliber of queerness were to cede some of one’s own theretofore oblivious and taken-for-granted normalcy. It was so wholly impossible for me to expect even a syllable from Adonis that a word would have struck me. A sentence would have slain.
Elaborate schemes for casual coincidence in the locker room mostly failed. As I knew they would. But not always.
Is anyone using this locker? Excuse me. Water sure was cold today!
But only a head shake, nod, lips pursed into one of those smiles that politely assents but disinvites further chatter. His voice eluded me. He always escaped.
And then a 1AM bus-stop stakeout on a Friday night produced the following:
Adonis arriving home, tippled and speaking loudly and angrily into his cell phone. Telling somebody they’re a cunt. His voice was gruff, the way I imagine a small-town handyman’s to be. Or plumber. Some kind of working-class hardass. It tickled me to think of Adonis’s parents as Bible-thumping hicks. Or a malt-swilling toothless oaf and his bruised-up greasy wife. I fantasized.
My inventions held the same sway over me as waiting. I would never meet Adonis’s parents. Unless…
But they could be dead. Or estranged.
Thus they were infinite beings to me. And at the same time nothing.
He went inside after fumbling with his keys. I went home.
There are other things I do with my time. I play chess in the park with lonely men who barely speak to me. Some of them speak only Spanish, but lack of a common tongue is not the reason for our silence. The propositions of language are of no interest to devotees of chess. Each move is a wholly unutterable expression. Any thought shaped with words would be to these men appalling. Vulgar. Try to understand: it is another mode of communication or communing, one totally devoid of the feminine fecklessness of language.
It is no coincidence that the older women in the park steer clear of our tables, a few of which are topped by granite slabs with marble chessboards embedded in them. The ladies’ nearest approach is dominoes, played in mixed groups. But none of my chessmates ever joins them. They have renounced the weaker sex and its natterings.
I also draw.
When I draw, I draw birds. They are restless, challenging subjects. And when I cook I always improvise some unforeseen result. Often I end up with stews.
Swimming is a new practice. One recommended by my doctor. Cholesterol and hypertension: the usual. If only he could have known how relevant it would be! Adonis has taught me to admire sport in a way I previously ignored. Was it because I lack the talent for it? Could I have been so vain?
I don’t think so.
Shelley eulogized Keats as Adonis. He spelled it Andonais, with two As. The whole poem is a reckless subliming of language by the romance of death. It is idiotic and rather transparent. What Shelley really sought was immortality. For himself. And I suppose he got it. Dramatic death in the unforgiving Italian sea, the very next year. Rather clever of him.
Adonis was of course a mortal. Irony was simply not in the Romantics’ arsenal. Or maybe it was. Reading Adonais, it feels like Shelley may have eulogized Keats to death.
This city is full of lunatic weirdos, but hope resides in the fact that I, though sometimes considered a neurotic loner, am in fact a sane and contemplative man. I do not crave money or fame. I am not enslaved by technologies or commodities. I am content with moderation. An exception: I read the newspaper and am sometimes overcome by the sadness of our world. Our world? The world. These days I will no longer share the world with just anyone, let alone everyone. I cohabit it. I endure contemporaneity and contiguity in ways that have nothing to do with sharing. To share the world is to desire mutual comprehension of it. And most people, in my experience, do not desire comprehension, but distraction and material comfort. When I speak to these people, I do not temper my words.
But it is not for me to judge. Judgment is a process devised by man to compensate for the injustices he himself has wrought, an imperfect earthly simulacrum of the divine justice meted by deities. I refuse it.
Man’s gods are jealous rivals for judgment. On Olympus, the Greeks imagined, there raged an outright free-for-all among the great incestuous divinities. The mighty Jehovah, on the other hand, thirsted for a monopoly on vengeance and blood-drenched adulation. He did not seek justice so much as love and obedience, and judged accordingly. Thou shalt worship no other gods before me. Curiously: the violent and inscrutable gods of the grand monotheisms all desire to be loved. Love and green-eyed cruelty were knit together into the twisted flags unfurled from the mouths of their prophets. Like the knotted scarves of magicians, if magicians had great hollow saliva-less bellies that could be stretched to fit six yards of silk.
And so what I wanted: to be addressed. To speak and be spoken to humanely: it is a modest form of secular love. I seldom speak to anyone except my plants. And even then, addressing the ferns and the sansevieria, I am stunned by the sound of my own voice. I am overwhelmed, sometimes to the point of pain.
I saw him frequently. And I began to want more than words.
Intonation is everything.
Physically: I am a large man. Pale brown bushy mustache, hirsute and rosy-cheeked. Burly but not unattractive. As I have remarked, I eat well.
I live simply: my two rooms are like two seasons, two hemispheres, two lobes. They are sufficient. One room is a wood-paneled den with thick brown carpet. I sleep there. The other room is a large bright kitchen, painted pale green and white. It is where I cook, eat, draw, read, and write. My plants are there. I own a bed, a chest of drawers, modest cookware, and a long sturdy table.
According to various legends—and they are various—Adonis was killed by a boar. What the Spanish call un cerdo salvaje, a wild pig. The boar was sent on a special mission to kill Adonis, but by whom? Here is where the accounts differ. Death by assassin pig is a death deserved. And indeed, death is nearly always deserved, justly or not, in Greek myth. It is as though a premature demise guaranteed some stitching in the mythological tapestry. Dying of old age in ancient Greece was an admission of one’s historical and cultural irrelevance. To assign oneself to oblivion, which in other cultures (namely: the Egyptians) was a fate worse than any death.
Occasionally I go to talks at the public library. There is something about the people one finds at events at the public library that inspire a vague hope in the human species. It’s a sort of optimism that never lasts, and also one slightly dented by the decrepitude and disuse of what was once a magnificent public institution. It shows mainly in the worn furniture, but also in the stained and fetid Berber carpet. My optimism is also always tempered by the overwhelming majority of wealthy old white widows and idle wives, also elderly, who shuffle their feet and, as John Lennon once put it, rattle their jewelry.
I can’t stand John Lennon or his nasal utopianism.
The library: when I’m there listening to a poetry recital, or watching an interview with another writer or artist, I can conceive of myself as able to integrate into a community of sorts. I dread joining the ranks of widows by getting old. But then I remember why I am there in the first place. I am already among them. And so I smile at the elderly and nod at their platitudes about time and virtue, their obvious remarks about the weather, the idioms I don’t understand. I show them my teeth.
Often I am unable to sustain attention in the talk, despite the fact that I am there by choice, in my tribe. Just as often I decide to wait in line after the talk to buy an overpriced book and have it signed. Could it be that I am so meek as to apologize for my wandering thoughts with flattery? Is that right? No. I’m not sure I believe in atonement.
I seem to have begun a fugue. To have strayed from the death of Adonis with this bit about the library. Well here it is:
In the myth the boar did not abduct Adonis; that invention was mine, devised out of necessity. Stumbling home drunk, it wasn’t hard to subdue him with the old-fashioned rag soaked in chloroform, to wrap my arm around his waist and one of his around my neck, to carry him home like a good drinking buddy, to chuckle and shrug at the people we passed, to bury his face in thick brown carpet of my lair, and to whisper Shakespeare’s thirteenth sonnet in his left ear as I nibbled it, savage pig that I am.
We limped out into the lamplight together in the deadest part of the night. I took him to my usual bench, the one near his apartment, and laid him there to wake. It was my own little clue, a knot of doubt and horror to tighten in his belly every time he told the otherwise perfect story to his buddies, the one about “the night I got so wasted I passed out on the bus stop bench near my house and slept there all fucking night.”
Murder mysteries are passé. Today all that excites anyone are vampires and zombies, boorish metaphors for the leeches that live large off the rest of us on Wall Street and K Street. Such a tiresome narrative already. The so-called “young professionals”: even they see the irony.
I prefer real-life editing. My little amendments to the city around me will become a ponderous thing. Like the Armillaria gallica, a giant subterranean organism.
Physically, I did him no harm; on the contrary, I perfected him. I still see him at the community pool, and I can perceive a new fury in his physical expenditure. A new hauteur to his posture.
He is still and will always be an Adonis. But now: my Slave and my Lord Adonis.
Adam James Morris is a writer and translator living in San Francisco. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Barge, The Coffin Factory’s O-bits online fiction, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. An excerpt of his forthcoming translation of Hilda Hilst’s With My Dog-Eyes appears in this summer’s issue of BOMBmagazine. The complete translation will be published in 2014.