Ask us, tell us, what it's about,
Where the traitors, where the friends,
Where the hope is, where the doubt,
Tell us, ask us, how it ends.
Let us know before we speak
What we'll say, and how,
Who the heroes, who the weak,
What parameters allow.
Let us know before we kiss,
Tell us who we'll marry
Or why the days are meaningless
Or how the stories vary.
Guess the weather, name that tune,
Take your places in the grave,
History gone, and worlds soon,
Type the future in, and ‘save,’
Save Juliet, and Romeo,
Summer nights, Scheherazade—
The everlasting status quo
Of a steady, disappointed god.
Rue de Varenne
April 11th, 2005
This is one of my mechanical dances, odes to and imprecations at the machinery which increasingly dictates mind. Computers are entire worlds, bookended with messages from above and enticements from below, and we nest in them like any house, fluffing up the fonts, dusting off the function keys.
I was going to fill in the heading bar of an email when I stopped and asked myself: what exactly do “they” mean by “Subject”? What are the cable guys asking? What miracles do they want? Do the Fates want us to step up to the bar? To take control of our destinies? The hubris of that perfunctory heading implies we know our own compass. It’s a prophetic profile, slipped casually onto page 400 of a tax form: “Hour of Death?” How should we know what we’re going to say? We might know the subject if we knew the object. Who even knows the verb? What a conceit if we think we do.
Trips, for example, which only at the end of a sizable distance, fraught with detours and regrets, can begin to be seen, are always surprises when they finally arrive, as in this sentence, where the pompous primate beats its prosy chest in front of its humble but meaningful mate. So we must be a terrible disappointment to the organized, impeccable gods, who know just what we’ll do, but see how little we know it.
Medieval theologians fought many duels over the fatalistic aspect of divine omniscience. Does a god’s knowledge connote complicity? Is heaven the Satanic enabler? By asking politely for the ending before the beginning, does Steve Jobs mean to escape moral liability?
Scheherazade is the girl who tells a thousand and one stories to distract the sultan from sleeping with her, ultimately winning her freedom, as any writer hopes an ending will free him from the necessarily more limited beginnings of his story, like a chess game in which the start is confined, the middle infinite, and the end inevitable. Forces beyond language control the status quo, the entropy of the universe, but maybe by dancing we can talk our way out of gravity.