May 24, 2007

If We Could Only Understand a Pink Sock

I once knew someone who collected litter, or threatened to. The scraps people tossed away, which the wind from cars had stirred. Shopping lists, torn halves of photographs, crushed cans, a single glove. In them she imagined she would find a culture’s identity, and mysteriously, her own, the long-sought meaning of her quixotic self emerging in the pattern of drinking-straw wrappers and magazine subscription cards dropped by strangers. She probed the unconscious of the city, reading the tea leaves of the street. From the crumbs she tried to reconstruct the loaf.

This is the kind of person I decide to believe. And if a stray bottlecap can tell us our identities, what about the fugitive words that slip away the moment we try to hear them? Words said into telephones passing by: “Is it okay if I come semi-dressed up?” “Made a redneck corkscrew for the pinot: a drywall screw and two vise clamps. Pulled that sucker right out of the bottle.” “I’ve known her for eight years and I have never known her to say the word Yes.”

I listened and thought, “These are the expressions of my truth.”

I heard my birth-cry and heart-sigh in the sounds a car makes when it drives past: the motor sound, the muffler sound, the tire sound, the airstream sound. The textures of a bird’s singing: how its voice moves its feathers, moves its branch, how the notes echo subliminally off the houses.

She came home one afternoon carrying a child’s grimed pink anklet with a big hole through the bottom. “Look!” Was this the piece of evidence that would take her back to the first months of her life, even the moment she was conceived, and cancel out all dread?

I heard the child crying, the mother scolding, at the throwing away of the sock.

The woman and I stared at the sock on the kitchen counter. “I have a feeling this is the central discovery,” I said, wanting to love someone.

No, no, there can’t ever be a central discovery. “I need to get over this obsession,” she said, and that night she ransacked under the beds and threw out all the unsorted orphan objects, which now seemed to her like junk.