A few years ago I posted an entry to one of my blogs describing how my iPod—courtesy of a stupendously depressing sequence of precisely themed, despairing songs that were too close to one another, and to me, to believably emerge from the random shuffle—was trying to kill me.

My friend Mark sent me an email in reply. He’d had an eerily similar experience himself, right down to having two of the same songs in the same sequence. “Apparently,” he wrote, “it’s going to rain when I die, and the grave digger is supposed to make my grave shallow so I can feel, so I can feel, the rain. However,” he went on, “the song just before that instructed me to wear my sunglasses at night, something I cannot do. I don’t have any prescription shades and I can’t see fuck-all without my glasses even during the day. Guess I’ll be sticking around and walking into walls for a while.”

My friend Mark introduced me, at various times, to the Weakerthans, to Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” and other entries in the American series, to Elliott Smith, and to Ben Folds’ tribute to Elliott Smith after Smith died by suicide… a track that was part of my own iPod’s attempted homicide. All of which remain favorites.

My friend Mark never understood my obsession with David Foster Wallace, but he humored me beyond reason, including reading all 1000 pages of Infinite Jest closely enough to ask questions about it I still can’t answer.

My friend Mark used to play Dungeons & Dragons and I never let him forget it.

My friend Mark and I used to retreat to my little cabin and get so high that we remembered how to laugh without feeling self-conscious about it. We’d laugh so hard and so long that we actually feared we might die from lack of air, unable to take a breath. When we recovered we’d talk about how mystified the emergency personnel would be when they found us expired from laughter, surrounded by empty bags of chips, memorialized by our huge red bong affectionately nicknamed (and crookedly engraved) “The Rooster.” Which would make us laugh even harder…which would make us worry that we’d die of laughter, and so on until the night ran out.

My friend Mark looked like the captain of a fishing boat who was down on his luck or a heavy-equipment operator, but he could easily explain the stultifying effects of our unquestioning acceptance of Aristotle’s fundamental logic or the difference between Spivak’s and Derrida’s idea of différance.

My friend Mark was a big man, bigger than me, but he spoke softly, the words rounded in his mouth. He liked to say “Sheesh” and “Dang” and “Awfuckinhell.”

My friend Mark once pointed at me and said, mostly without irony, “now that’s the way to rock out with your cock out” while making devil horns at me with his other hand.

My friend Mark grabbed me by the shoulder at a rainy intersection in downtown Seattle, preventing me from absent-mindedly stepping in front of a speeding taxi.

My friend Mark said it was fine—if a bit aesthetically damaged—to love Courbet (anywhere) and Rothko (in the right light) and that he’d adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about my adoration for Ray Carver and Thomas Pynchon if I swore not to mention them in the same breath again.

My friend Mark laughed—out loud!—at my lame jokes about Heidegger and De Man when I presented my Senior Thesis and later gave me a blank card of congratulations because, he explained, it’s all text… inscribing it would be redundant, and I’d “just make more pomo shit up” about whatever he wrote anyway.

My friend Mark knew every word to every song on Boston’s Greatest Hits and once mangled “Peace of Mind” so horribly during a drunken karaoke night that every time I hear the song I instantly picture him, one arm up rock star style and my ears hurt.

In the early morning hours last Sunday—Palm Sunday—my friend Mark turned on every light in his apartment, put a record I can name only to myself on his prized turntable, and hanged himself without leaving a note.


[CC-BY photo by Chris Lott]

cypress trees emerging from a lake's waters

It begins with the bald cypress bursting from the moss and water.

Somewhere invisible the tentacles of root become a single rough trunk.

Its knees are supplicants, wading to or away from their barked deity I cannot say.

The water still laps at the rocks, slowly smoothing them, the wake of some dark thing that passed unseen.

The darkness is the immortal, the thing that’s always been.

It came before and will long outlast even the stars falling into the water.

So let’s say you capture all of this.

Let’s say you become known as the painter of dark, each canvas more inscrutable and desirable than the last.

And someone buys and loses your final masterpiece, the one you finish just before you close your eyes for the last time, just before you struggle and fail to find some profound final words.

And then it’s found, decades later, at a rummage sale.

Someone buys it for the frame but decides to keep the painting rolled up in the spare room that never brightened into a nursery.

And more time passes (it doesn’t really matter how much).

And then a fat, florid estate-sale bargain hunter buys it for the proverbial song and makes a big splash on Antiques Roadshow, which she wasn’t even gonna bother with but she just had a feeling.

And the linen-suited expert says he’d insure the piece, conservatively, at somewhere between the wholesale value of Daisy’s voice full of money and the chance to see your long-dead father one more time.

And you wonder, from somewhere without walls, where it never gets dark, how you can get one of these visiting gigs because among the many things you haven’t heard since you watched your body shrink and disappear into its own spark is how to get out of this photonic loam, for even a little bit.

You’d like to spend one more night on the bank next to the tree.

This time you wouldn’t fall asleep or even close your eyes.

This time you’d catch the dark that moves through the dark.

Blinking at the spectrum-stuffing lights in the convention center the bargain hunter tries to look like she’s not planning to sell the painting as soon as she can.

And the sky wheels on the water, touching everything everywhere.

[Featured image by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash]
[Written in 2016 as part of a 2xl project]