Sunday, May 22, 2016
On a Shitty Toe and a Bloody Man
One morning, I looked down to my left foot and discovered that my great toe was covered with a viscous brown deposit that looked like excrement. It was 7:15 am and I had just come from bed. My feet and legs were bare. I was unable to account for the smear of brown on my toe. I pushed my foot in the direction of my dog, Frieda. The dog sniffed my foot suspiciously and, then, turned her black nose away in disgust.
I studied both feet and all my toes, but found excrement only on the great toe of my left foot. The shit was on the nail and the top part of my toe. I didn’t discover any excrement between any of toes or on the underside of my feet.
The condition was inexplicable. I had just come from bed and, certainly, there couldn’t be a hidden cache of shit concealed under the covers and sheets somewhere near the foot of my bed. Of course, there was a possibility that the dog had been derelict, had suffered an "accident" to put the thing euphemistically. Accordingly, after using a paper towel to wipe the shit-smear off my big toe, I retraced my steps carefully inspecting the floor and carpet. But there was nothing.
Perhaps, the atmosphere, in certain conditions, contains quantities of human or animal excrement that are suddenly, and without warning, excreted in small puffs or shit-bursts. Maybe, my toe had encountered one of those secretions of atmospheric excrement. Perhaps, there is a form of shit expelled by stars in certain phases, an interstellar diarrhea, that occasionally, rains down from outer space.
Of course, everyone has seen enigmatic, yard-wide dollops of shit, seemingly fallen from an immense height, and splattered across the landscape as a complex, many-pointed star of excrement. What is the cause of that phenomenon?
My eye delights in the swift, purposeful scurry of an ant across the warm sidewalk. Each ant hustling on its errand projects its tiny shadow on the white concrete. Viewed microscopically, I presume that those shadows are utterly complete, each small hair and scimitar-shaped mouth-part cast as an equally minute shadow on the ground. It is strange to think that the laws of optics and the same sort of shadow that I cast walking my dog, apply equally to creatures so tiny.
On this afternoon, I encounter fat black ants wearing silvery wings on their backs. The ants have not yet discovered that they are now winged beings and so they don’t fly. Instead, like their brothers and sisters, they scurry across the sidewalk, waddling swiftly to some goal that they have in mind. Why are the ants winged? I understand that there are such things as nuptial flights, but, surely, you will agree with me that it is a wonderful event, verging on the uncanny and miraculous, when a creature of the earth suddenly sprouts wings and makes ready to take flight across the green lawns speckled with dandelions.
I bought a slender volume of poetry by Ben Jonson selected by Thom Gunn. In that book, this poem appears:
My picture left in Scotland
I now think Love is rather deaf than blind,
For else it could not be
Whom I adore so much, should so slight me
And cast my love behind.
I’m sure my language to her was as sweet,
And every close did meet
In sentence of as subtle feet,
As hath the youngest He
That sits in shadow of Apollo’s tree.
O, but conscious fears,
That fly my thoughts between,
Tell me that she hath seen
My hundred of grey hairs,
Told seven and forty years
Read so much waste, as she cannot embrace
My mountain belly and my rocky face;
And all these through her eyes have stopp’d her ears.
Jonson reflects upon the fact that a young woman with whom he is enamored has demonstrated her disregard for him by leaving his portrait, presumably his gift to her, in Scotland. With wounded pride, the poet boasts that his verse is sweet and fresh and subtle, emerging from an imagination that will be forever young. But, of course, Jonson recognizes that the young are not so much impressed with poetic virtuosity as they are entranced by physical, youthful beauty. Jonson notes that his body as gone to "waste," that he is now fat with "mountain belly" and the gaunt craggy face of advancing age. His hundred grey hairs make obvious the fact that the poet is now 47, middle-aged and undesirable. Of course, the irony implicit in this masterful and moving poem is the fact that Jonson’s poetic skill has not aged, nor has it suffered any sort of "waste" – indeed, the complex dancing rhythms of the poem demonstrate that Jonson’s artistic powers are undiminished.
There are several kinds of surprise registered in this little poem. First, Jonson is surprised and affrighted that the young woman does not desire him and that his poetic genius does not avail him anything with respect to winning the girl’s affection. Second, Jonson is surprised, I think, at the ravages that age has made to his body, the "waste" that the young woman will not embrace. Third, the poem registers the profound surprise that desire remains even though the body has become undesirable. And, of course, all of this is mitigated by a kind of surprise and boastful display that Jonson’s poetic prowess has not withered or become stale.
When I went to Walmart to buy the week’s groceries, I met a man in khaki uniform standing at the door. He was selling Buddy Poppies for Memorial Day. I bought one of the red imitation flowers and tangled it around a button on my shirt.
Later, after filling my cart with groceries, I hurried into the part of the store where toiletries are sold – I needed to buy a shaving razor. As I returned from that place, I saw a man staggering into the store, hurrying down the central aisle toward the back of the huge market. The man was middle-aged and balding and the top of his head was split open. Blood was pouring from his wounded scalp down onto his shoulders and chest. Further, his face was all covered with bright splotches of blood. The man’s eyes were wild and he walked with lopsided gait and, it seemed, that I was the only person who noticed him – only I paid any attention to the injured man. He seemed to be an employee and he was wearing an orange vest and I wondered what could have happened to him to cause the gashes to his scalp and the profuse bleeding around his ears and cheeks and splashing across his nose and the front of his jaw.
The man staggered down the aisle and, then, was gone.
I thought of Shakespeare’s lines about Banquo in Macbeth:
Safe in a ditch he bides
With twenty trenched gashes on his head
The least a death to nature...
The world is full of strange accidents, uncanny events, mysterious happenings. We go to bed young and wake up old. Crawling creatures suddenly sprout wings and fly.