From a Window
— Devin Kelly
Apartment Window, 10:52 p.m.
Tonight, Linda Gregg writes: “Moon, you are getting worse and worse.”
I read at least two poems a day. It’s one of the few practices I have. Each morning, I pull a book from my bookshelf and read a poem, and each night, before sleep, or nearing it, I do the same. I do each by a window, the same one. Four floors up, and overlooking my street. Tonight, I’m sipping a glass of whiskey after doing my nightly reading ritual. Tonight’s book was Linda Gregg’s All of It Singing, a book that seems to oscillate in its place on the bookshelf, ever so slightly, on certain nights. Maybe the book itself is singing. I don’t know. The street outside, though, is not singing. It used to. There used to be a line of people chattering as they waited for cuchifritos, a rush of footsteps and raised voices each time the subway, rattling either north or south, deposited its travelers on the corner. Sometimes people would fight, and you could hear the trajectory of it, the way it began on opposite sides of the street, met nearer to one side than the middle and then spilled violently toward the endless ends of the earth.
I like windows because of this. Life goes on through them, even when it doesn’t. Like now, when all I see outside are the quiet, blue-lit rectangles of a hundred people watching television. And the occasional star, or satellite. The ever-worsening moon. Anything can be a reminder of anything. It’s why looking is as good as feeling.
The Vostok Window, Yuri Gagarin
I see earth…it is so beautiful. That’s what Yuri Gagarin said when he looked out of his small porthole window after being launched into space in 1961. Imagine. The hardest thing about having a vision is remembering every detail. The hardest thing about hope is keeping it. Every child is born with a fist that wants to wrap itself around the closest finger that resembles love, or, if nothing else, itself. I don’t know if he did, but Gagarin could have reached his hand out and cupped the earth within it. Some nights, I hold the moon between two fingers.
What is the difference between wanting to be held and wanting to hold? Everything but the wanting.
Apartment Window, 9:32 p.m.
Tonight, someone on a bike argues with a car and holds up traffic. All behind them, the cars honk and honk. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding this—how someone can create conflict, escalate it, and then extend it for so long that they now have a conflict with someone else. I’m old enough now to know that I spent my childhood watching my parents do this to each other until they were far enough away that conflict could not bridge the gap.
It feels like the whole city is parked behind these two.
I have spent a life avoiding conflict. I shy away from difficult conversations. I’ll let anyone use my body for a bridge almost any day. I watch as the screaming yells, rises cacophonous until the honking behind the screaming is loud enough to end the screaming for now. No conflict is resolved. One is abandoned because of another.
Where does it go, this anger? It lives inside the self.
Apartment Window, 10:26 p.m.
Tonight, a dog holds a piece of cardboard in its mouth for an entire block. I don’t know what it finds in such a small, almost useless thing, but then again, I horde so much of what is small and useless, even to me, even to a dog. In most moments, there is something beautiful about trying, even if it’s impossible. I once had a dog. His name was Frank. I was six, maybe seven, when he shat on my rug, and my dad grabbed him by his collar. I never saw Frank again.
For a long time, I didn’t know what it meant to be good. Before me, a carousel of figures rotated, and I did not want to disappoint a single one. I learned a complex set of morals. I learned that what your mother loves, your father does not. I learned that Jesus can mean a whole lot of things. I learned that sometimes, you can bend God to make of him what you will. Sometimes I liked the pain of a belt on my ass. Sometimes I liked the hard certainty of knowing I did something wrong. It felt right to be met with something pure. I’m older now, and a dog on its way to nowhere carrying nothing in its mouth is enough to make me cry.
The Church Window, Boyhood
I walk in from the light and see the light changed to more light. Different colors. How can light make more light? When I am older, I wonder—if the body is a kind of light—if this can be a kind of living, this givingness of light. When I am older, I understand how hard it is to even be alive. If the body is a kind of light, it is a candle burning on both ends. How funny, that stained glass is called stained, as if it’s a sore, an illness, to make of light so many colors. Stain me then. Stain me again and again.
Apartment Window, 10:32 p.m.
Tonight, three planes circle above my window, caught in a holding pattern. The apparent stillness of planes never ceases to amaze me, how they seem to hover, like lights on a building’s roof, until they descend out of that far awayness, and become close, and fast. When I am in a plane, I press my cheek against the window and look down onto the world until the clouds obscure my view. There’s something about the world viewed from a great height. At once so deeply familiar in its overt, atlas-like landscape, and at once so gone, so removed from the intimacy of skin.
Most days, I want to be both far away and close. To touch without touching. To love without loving. To hate without hating. To hurt without hurting. I want to punch a wall without bruising my skin. I want to scream without making a noise. I want to dream without waking up. Pain and joy alone exist on the ends of things. Like meaning and suffering. Like living and dying. To live in between what you want and what you do not want is to have both at once, or none at all. To live nowhere is to not be alive.
Apartment Window, 10:43 p.m.
Tonight, a child is bundled up in a coat so tight their arms stick out, motionless, nearly parallel to the ground.
There’s a myth about my youth, it goes:
1996—winter—enough snow to reach the windows of the first floor of my house—my father—me—young—the size of a few footballs—a bunch of coats—one of them yellow—the second floor of my house—the window open—a calm wind through the icy trees—my father laughing—the air—me flying through the air—the sound of laughter from a slightly greater distance than before—the trees at eye level—the tree trunks at eye level—a pillowed thud—soft—like drowning but warmer—maybe even safe—red cheeks—my father’s arms—a smile with a million crowns—each one shining—how many kings live inside my father’s mouth—how many kings live inside a father—any father—how much desire to be a king lives inside a man—what does it take to renounce a crown—I was thrown through the air as a child—to be helpless—I long to be helpless—my mouth is full of teeth—when they rot—let them rot.
‘Looking Out the Window Poem,’ Denis Johnson
Johnson is looking out a window and writing a poem. He writes: “If I am alive now, / it is only // to be in all this / making all possible.” He writes: “there comes / into me, when I see / how little I liked / being a man, a great joy.” Joy, I’ve found, is not chosen despite the world. It is chosen with the world.
Tonight, at the nail salon across the way, two people stay behind and give each other manicures—with a disco ball for a light. A year ago, my father went to the same nail salon to get a pedicure. He had just recovered from a hip replacement and hadn’t touched his own feet in months. His nails were craggy mountain sides. I watched him from my window—this man, mid-70s, easing himself into a chair to let himself be touched.
What is it about being a man? There are rivers we spend our whole lives damming. I wanted to span my arm across the street to touch him. I never knew I’d want that. But I do, and I did.
Joy is a present tense.
Apartment Window, 12:01 a.m.
Tonight, Linda Gregg writes: “Cruelty made me.”
Tonight, outside, there is something about the world that is cruel. It lives in the blue windows, the loneliness inside the loneliness. It lives in the conversations people have and the ones they don’t. It lives in what makes someone walk down a sidewalk silently, head down, hands stuffed in pockets, without looking at a single thing. Such cruelty, to be denied witness. It lives in the passage of time. The moon arcing its reflection from one side of a puddle to the other. It lives in the bus skipping a stop, the car backfiring, the long walk a person makes when they realize another bus won’t come. What makes us, you ask? From a window, it seems like everything.
For a long time, I wanted to be everywhere at once. But from a window, I know my smallness.
Once, I held my face over a cliff on an island that felt like the edge of the whole world. Beneath me, and beyond, the ocean stretched like a long note drawn out on a broken cello. I could not have imagined myself being more than the tiny space I occupied. I called for my mother, and she did not answer. I called my father’s name, and he did not speak. What makes us, you ask? The way the ocean batters against rocks on both sides and is so deep in the middle. From a window, you see this. The intimacy of your life, and how it expands, until you have to turn away, and go to sleep, and keep whatever it is you have.
The Human Condition, René Magritte
An easel with a painting is placed in front of a window. The painting on the easel resembles exactly what is outside the window—there is barely a way to tell where the painting ends and where life outside begins. But then, the viewer realizes, life is the act of viewing the painting. The painting is just a painting.
The danger of a window is how it makes you believe there is an outside, that the self—your self, my self, all selves—is not part of this making-ness. The beauty of a window is how it allows you to witness the way your self can be, could be, and is, part of this. To reflect means both to turn inward and to throw light outward.
Apartment Window, 7:43 a.m.
Tonight is gone. It’s morning. I wrote something about cruelty last night, didn’t I? I forgot to say that you return, most days, to the same place in a different light. Sometimes it’s changed. Sometimes not.
It’s still quiet. There are birds alighting on the chained storefronts across the street. Someone is sweeping a broom through another window. Above the buildings, the sky is cloudless, stuck in some placid blue. Imagine if morning appeared each day like a life does? Screaming. Maybe scared. So small. Would we ever emerge out into the day at all? What does it mean to make sense of things? It doesn’t always mean to have hope. To make sense of things means to sometimes let them be as they are. Light shines on the day no matter the horror, no matter the love. The store opens. The bird flies away. The people begin to arrive, one by one, carrying yesterday’s burdens, and the ones from the days before, and sometimes the burdens of others, and sometimes the burdens of actions they did not choose, the burdens of consequences they did not deserve.
It’s endless, this sense-making. You understand why it becomes impossible sometimes to even say a thing. I want to believe in a world where all it takes is light, and a cheek turned into it. Maybe, maybe. Look, the people are coming. More, and more. I need to join them. I can’t stay here. I am full of words that mean nothing unless I say them to someone else.
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