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Three Considerations of the Eye

This story first ran in the Late Winter 2009 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

This story first ran in the Late Winter 2009 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

Most things can be done without. Once I slept on the floor for six months because I didn’t think a mattress was important, and besides I thought it would make me stronger. I don’t know if it did. I skip meals sometimes, and under the right conditions I can see nobody for a week and be happy about this. However the one thing that could destroy you is not being Seen. This is not tolerable. If you are Unseen for too long you will kill yourself or kill somebody else. Because blood at least seems to draw the Eye. Are you Seen now? If Unseen, do you crave the Eye?

Is there an Eye?

Not the eye of others like you. Whether or not others like you are present is nothing to the Eye, which can fix on you when you are alone and can forget you when you are in a crowd or surrounded by brothers and sisters. Even the eyes of brothers and sisters are not the Eye. Their eyes can be, at the worst of times, the obliteration ofthe Eye, and so of you. If you are not Seen, perhaps you are nowhere.

Is there an Eye? Is it better to think so or not to think so? I will tell you three things.

 

Consider this. I walked once in woods, at night, when I was in school therefore away from home. A terrible night, despicable, so that I hate to tell. Do you know how it is? What ached and anguished me this particular night is no matter—the same thing, unnameable but the same in whatever form: that which confronts you in every direction, a giant all face and no back. What will you do? It is impossible to stay in your room, since even the question of which chair to sit in becomes intolerable. All choices are closed and all pursuits are vain. It is too late even to start finally on the course of virtue, since it would be for the wrong reasons and you are vile, vile.

You see how it was. What could I do but leave my room and seek a wood?

A wood, and a path through it. Twenty minutes down the path there is a lake. Twenty minutes, though, is a long time not to be Seen on a path in a wood. Which is worse: not to be Seen in a room, or not to be Seen in a wood? One is small and therefore intolerable, the other is large and therefore intolerable. Nevertheless you cannot stay in the room. It may after all be only the ceiling that is keeping the Eye out.

To be Seen makes the body light. When he said the Eye is the lamp of the body he may have meant this. In any event the Eye was not on me, and my body was heavy and full of darkness. I mean to say that every step had to be decided upon.

The lake was my goal if I had a goal, though to have a goal means to walk in a direction—I mean that direction is a gift of the Eye, and when the Eye has ceased to exist, or never has, no directions are. All things are the same, since distinction is a gift of the Eye. The Eye Names.

Something glowed on the side of the path, firefly green, a small spark. Some insect. I bent close but it remained indistinct. Straightening I saw that they dotted the path. I tried to bless them unawares but you see the problem with this.

I continued five more steps. This now is the part of the night I would rather not say, but it is necessary that you consider it, since it is the crux. I sat on the grass first. Then I kneeled. Then I lay on my face. I remained this way, with my nose in the dirt, for a minute.

Then I got to my feet, turned around, and walked back the way I had come; having achieved nothing; less.

Do you see? The shame is not the lying in the dirt. This is something that one does, and it was required in some way, or at least there was nothing but this to be done at that moment. The shame was irrefutably in the not continuing, in the walking back.Yet this is unfair, because I walked back because it was impossible to walk forward.

I returned to my room. If you want to know how it was, do this: find a video that contains a man drawing a line with his pencil. Watch the video until the line is drawn halfway. Now press pause. Now rewind the tape, watching as the line is undrawn, all the way to the beginning. Now remove the tape and keep it on the shelf for the rest of your life but do not watch it.

That is how it was. I think it was the worst thing that has happened to me. What can happen when the Eye is not on you? Nothing. You cannot even be anywhere. It is impossible.

But consider this, now: there was once also a night on which I wanted to be Unseen. Can you imagine that? I will tell you about it.

I had a friend when I was young. I would go to his house, which was far away not only from my house but also from other houses, and from all city lights. All day we played. You see that it was not a question of words or thinking. He had a large collie that we would run with, and chickens that we would throw high in the air to watch them flap down. Once we built them a hutch, to make up for throwing them. At the bottom of the long hill of his driveway was a swimming hole with a small waterfall. I mean small for a waterfall but big enough to stand in or even behind, the sound of the water replacing all the thoughts in your head. Once we pitched a tent in the back yard but instead of sleeping in it we sat outside it all night. Watching shooting stars and inventing constellations.

Three years later I moved away. Maybe there were letters. Who stopped sending first? Three years after that I drove by his house one summer on my way to some wedding. I slowed down but did not turn up the driveway. I didn’t know if he lived there anymore, and there was no time. I thought about our times for the rest of the drive but it was too heavy to do for long, and nothing came of it. It felt like being Seen but in the wrong place, as if you should have been somewhere else.

Two years after that he was in town and found my telephone number, and invited me to meet him at such and such a place, at eight o’clock, to catch up. He mentioned the night of watching stars. I was happy, and I said I would come.

In five minutes the happiness faded and the dread came seeping. At seven thirty I was sitting in my room. I thought of how much I had changed in eight years. He did not know that I had dissolved into words and thinking so that there was nothing left that could invent a constellation or run with a dog. I could not like him anymore and he could not like me. At eight thirty the phone rang. Also at ten to nine.

On the night of which I have previously spoken, I was Unseen and as a consequence I was nothing. On this night, with the Eye fixed on me, I was something singular, and knew what it was. Every minute.
One thing more. This is two years after, again. It was last night. I have moved back to the town where I was born, to a small apartment across town from where my parents still live. My friend has married. I was sent an invitation but you can see that it would not do. And why do they marry such people? I have seen her, a soft one with no weight, no eyes that could fix you. There is a bad weight and a good weight.

Two months after the wedding, here I am. My apartment has become intolerable, so I am out walking.

There is a place I have been by car but never by foot, on a hill beyond and tar above my town. The town lies spread between a hill and a mountain. In the morning a band of cloud will rise from the river and lie like gauze in the valley. Once I saw deer there, and once a dozen turkeys that disappeared into the wood when I approached. It is night now. lt will be an hour before I crest the hill.

It is not to say that I have been called to a meeting there. Can you meet the Eye? It will be a meeting without words. Nevertheless there is direction to my steps.

Here I leave the town proper, which is to say that I am passing the last stretch of houses that are visible from the road. Alrcady the streetlights are sparse, and soon they will be gone. One last house, with paint flaking in the orange light of the porch. A woman is standing with her back to me, smoking. When I pass she does not turn. Do my footsteps make a sound?
I have left the streetlights behind me for half a mile, and here is a curious effect, or fact. I walk uphill with the woods dark to my right and to my left, but the road is as dark as the woods. Ifthere were a moon it would reflect on the road and make it a band of grey, but there is not a moon: so there is no difference between the road and the woods. Where does the line of sight end? Am I Seen? Consider this; I have a choice. The uniformity of light, or of darkness, imparts a uniformity of essence: the road is not distinct from the wood. What would it be to leave the road and enter the wood? A difference, or no difference? But I do not leave the road, since l fear to vanish from the map, or from all maps, to walk in unchartedness.

It is possible that I am called after all, or that the road is a kind of calling, so that to leave the road is not a choice, but is madness and death.

Give me a road and I will walk it.

Here past the lights it is silent, as if the lights had been a noise. A brook is flowing deep in the woods on my left. Something rustles close by: I freeze and wait. There is nothing that threatens, but now that I am still I see a shape standing on the side of the road ahead. It is featureless, grey on black. A murderer, or my friend whom my silence betrayed once. If he sought me I could not refuse. O seek me. We watch each other. After a minute has passed I see that he is a fire hydrant and a signpost.
Here is the crest ahead. You cannot see it but you know the feeling of an opening out to sky. The opening is like speech after silence or like the breaking of dawn, some slow but sudden flood.

I gain the top and see that the land is all awash with fireflies, blinking in staggered concert: the myriad eyes of a thousand Seraphim.

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The Grackle is a production of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Imagine Dallas Literary Arts, Inc.