Becomes another man’s. Gone out to many lovers. Desolate heights. Your wickedness. Ashamed. You harlot. You harlot. You harlot.
A reluctant prophet is Jeremiah. There is no doubt in him of the connection made like an open channel in the mind, pulled back and spoken into, words as audible as the rushing wind. The word of the LORD came to me, says Jeremiah in a voice weary and broken. He does not write his book after the events have happened, or he as they open like ugly flowers; he writes first, before anything, writes the prophesy he was then condemned to live out. The local and global future collects in a spiral of film tape in his head and he can run it forward, rewind, slow it down. He must get it all. He writes and he is scared, he writes and he yearns to stop. He sweats as he writes, soaking through cloth, he is anxious and taps the ground with his foot. He cannot stop, he must stop.
Finally he cries out against God who built the film. I cannot watch it, he cries. I cannot see it now and I cannot say it later. He writes his regret because he sees the reluctance flame up again, later. He cries out now and he sees himself cry out again.
Jeremiah describes how God unstrung the reigns of time and handed the whole bundle over to him. The LORD reached out, and touched my mouth. The God, the Being from which being stems, reached out the hand that is not hand, the form that is formless, and touched, sensed and caused sensation upon, felt, Jeremiah’s mouth. The transcendent filtered itself into the everyday, the metaphysical into the physical, and what was left was Jeremiah, his mouth aflame, his mind coursing through that which had yet to happen.
Thousands of miles from his father at his desk, R- looked up from his Bible. He stared out from his balcony and listened to the horns honking, the Cairo traffic that does not stop. R- thought often of the prophets in the Old Testament, how stretched and absurd their lives were – like Hosea. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute, and when she was unfaithful to him it was a symbol of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. And my life, thought R-, could it to be a metaphor? He thought of his father and the letter he had emailed him.
Did he know why he had written to his father? Did he have an expectation or a purpose? He wasn’t sure. R- suspected that he had, and suspected that the motivation to speak to the man he had not spoken to since leaving for his journeys ran beneath his awareness like a cockroach scuttling into the shadows when the light is turned on. R- counted the days and realized that yes, it was in fact a year and a half since they had corresponded – though this for R- did not stem from a deep disgust or disinclination. He called or wrote to whomever he could, whenever he could, and his father – could he have simply forgotten?
That contacting his father had not occurred to him until this morning when the desire opened his gut and spread through him like hunger, like a need for survival he must fill, was an inescapable reality, and R- was not oblivious enough of his own emotional labyrinths to disregard the feeling and the letter as a fluttering bit of natural randomness, the moth that is by the lamp regardless of if you see it or not but then decide to look, and you see it.
R- too had been touched with words first, before his own words could come inevitable and – were they, too, terrible? His mother wrote him often, her emails that wove the mundane history of recent Spring with her occasional observations and a fragment of a book she was reading or an update on Gabe’s achievements. They were breathless and encompassing like her paintings, but her letters had not opened him like a cleaver, they were instead the preservers and reminders of R-’s childhood, the source from which he first found the hands he would use to hold the trees as he walked, the eyes he would outline the leaves with.
So much to tell you but it feels almost silly to say it as if you could really understand it from so far away. It’s like there is a great water between us. Well I suppose there is isn’t there. How strange to think of the Atlantic Ocean and that all of it is there in the middle and you are on one side and I am on the other, but of course you cannot see it from Egypt I suppose so maybe you do not feel the distance. I walked to the park today and the Winter has uncolored everything. It’s quite cold here, do you remember that coldness? It is the kind that makes you feel warm. I have been reading Anaïs Nin and she makes me feel quiet and alone as if I could walk outside and no one would be there. She says somewhere that life needs dreams or something like that and I started thinking about that and what my dreams mean to my life or even if they are all one and the same. What do you dream about? When I dream about you I dream about sand and camels and even though I know differently it seems to be all I can see, hills and hills of sand and maybe a camel trudging through it. Gabe is well though of course he is insufferable. We think of you often but more during dinner times. Your father says Hello I’m sure and tonight we will sit inside out of the snow watching yet another high school basketball game I can tell you now I will not miss these when Gabe leaves. Though of course I will.
Love always and forever,
P.S. When you come home you will have so much pie you will burst.
R- smiled. He saved each of his mother’s emails in a separate folder and reading them was like listening to classical music: he felt something, something real and undeniable, and each part had in a smaller degree what the letter as a whole had fully, and yet it was nearly abstract. He never remembered the content of the emails, only the color of them. Some felt red and others green, some blue, and none of these corresponded to their stereotypical emotions of anger and envy and sadness, they were just colors, abstract and nothing and yet something, too.
But her’s was not the letter that had prompted his. He delayed the thought by watching the Egyptian shopkeepers below him unload a truck. That morning, before he had written to his father, he had traveled to meet a friend at the school where he worked. The school was outside of Cairo on the expanding edge where the city crept into the desert. He rode a bus out with students of the school who lived near him. It was early enough that American cities would be yawning and stretching awake over coffee and croissants and yet here there was no noticeable change: women in full niqab sat along the street selling packs of tissues, men stood in clusters waiting for the right bus to filter onto. White vans sped bast the school bus and inside were young men, about R-’s age, slumped over and asleep, resting on the long trip out to a factory where they would earn that day what R- might spend at lunch.
Slowly traffic slowed and clotted. Horns harassed the scene as cars jolted forward, stopped, moved another yard. R- strained his neck and looked for the reason. The bus accelerated and then he could see it. On the side of the road was the burnt out and crumpled frame of a car, like the carcass of a great beast. Around it solemn men moved slowly and one used a piece of the bumper that had ripped off to scrap the glass toward the sidewalk. The first truly foreign piece of Cairo that had lodged itself into R- like a splinter he knew was always there but tried to forget about, assuming it would dislodge himself as he grew into the place, was the traffic – it moved like an animal, like an organism itself, cars speeding around each other, vehicles filling whatever spaces they can find even if that requires creating new lanes. It was lawless and structureless and yet, to R-, it appeared to work, as if it had its own natural logic.
He looked but did not see a body. Only the men, too calm, too comfortable with the poise of gravity such a situation requires. R- felt absurd. He had assumed the traffic in its own way had an order that precluded accidents and as he looked out he saw stripped away the surreality he had created. Cairo was no more or less than anywhere else he had been: a savage country, devouring lives when it could, a place that people gambled against and often lost. How could he expect differently? As soon as he asked the question he realized he never really did. The remnants of the car, splayed along the road – he believed he had seen it all before, had guessed it was ahead. And what followed the accident was a primal fear that shook him: even now, this traffic, this bus, me, I am in the crosshairs of impending tragedy and at any moment the structures of chaos could claim me, too. In a second Cairo had demystified itself, stripped like the woman you do not love and yet you want, and then you get her and here she is, a woman in a body that will bloom and wilt, a body that is every body, this that is no transcendence, the reality that has drained the imagined reality of its wonder.
One of the shopkeepers dropped a box and out fizzed whatever soda was held inside, pooling on the dusty ground. The two men began to argue loudly and R- returned to Jeremiah, prophesying about the destruction of Israel, of the people above all people, God’s people, lined up like vases ready to be smashed apart. Once God made Jeremiah wear a harness around his neck and walk the streets. Like this my prophet you, O Israel, will be yoked under the rule of Babylon. God shouted in the face of his people who would not listen to His whispers. You are not your own, he said. These are the reigns you will wear.