In the pet store there is no one at the register. There are three nondescript gray kittens sleeping in a cage for $229 each. I locate the spray for keeping my cat off the houseplants. There is no one to ring me up. I have no desire to take any action whatsoever. A line is forming behind me. The kittens are bringing me down. A tall woman with a crew cut stops in my peripheral vision and stares at me. I say I’m waiting for the salesperson. Or maybe I say I’m waiting to buy “this.” She blinks and hurries into the aisle of colored objects for cats and dogs. After a long time goes by, a thin woman with dense freckles runs out from the colored-object aisle and asks me if I want to buy what I’m holding. Maybe the kittens are just happy and grateful to be alive, dry, warm, fed and apparently drugged. Handing me my change, the woman smiles meaningfully and I have no idea why. I stare back. Too late I remember my purchase has a funny-sounding name. To make up for it, I try to appear patient and friendly. I say I don’t need a bag. They will grow old in their shared cage at that price.
The leopard son nurses a recently orphaned baboon while his mother hunts. Or tries to nurse it. I saw this on a nature special. The merciful interspecies behavior surprised the researcher to no end, some kind of gap in their upbringing.
I stop in a monastery to prolong my lunch break. I’ve never noticed the monastery until today. The monks are sitting in rows, waiting to chant. It’s quiet. It’s very quiet. Then there is a solid block of extra quiet that comes from somewhere else, like when you’re swimming in a warm lake in the summer and your feet glide through the ice cold direct spring water for a few seconds. Like that. When I close my eyes into it, I am with God. God is there. Whatever God is, it’s nothing but God right there in that block of direct-spring silence, and it’s so good.
Wildly oversized cartoon-shaped balloons plugged in all winter long on their lawns by too many mild winter depressives plunge others into chronic numbing despair which fails to lift with spring, light in the morning, a smart new president.
I look for myself. I am not anywhere. It scares me half to death.
I go back to the monastery in the morning. In fact I return to the monastery obsessively several times a day. I wonder if the monks know how unreal it is almost everywhere else? I WONDER IF THE MONKS KNOW HOW UNREAL IT HAS BECOME ALMOST EVERYWHERE ELSE? No one says anything. No one is selling me anything. They ease my mind. Receiving the ash on my forehead, I perceive the ash, the ash of my forehead. My pain is quiet until I’m touched. I would like to give them some money. I would like to give them all my money. My sincere impulse strikes me as hackneyed. What I own is of no value. I don’t get raises anymore. I can’t afford what I bought in the past. I can’t afford the past. I can’t afford anything. Before I die to make a friend.
The leopard’s claw catches the baboon’s skinny arm to pull her up on the higher branch against his tufted belly fur: infant death all affectionate.
Meanwhile winter streets in Minnesota are hard on the hands and feet. AWOL from the tough love facility, newly twenty, he is out with his old middle-school teacher to get something to eat with a group of us before the cultural event. Raw, his hands thick and peeling like red bark, his voice silencingly gentle, his frostbite real. Something feral has been caught and put back in his body. As soon as it can, as soon as we lose interest (inevitably) it will get away from him again. He watches how the self-appointed peers offering advice at several removes around the table have already left, are in fact gone as they speak, and he sees himself exiting with them as soon as his teacher falls asleep. A word that is true and a word that is a lie is the same word. For now he can relax in the restaurant’s warmth, the shallow attention, the meaningless sympathy; not that he’s going to stick around, but is there anything wrong with hanging out a while longer? Till the check comes? Till see you again? Till we love you?
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