Here’s a paradox: The things that kindle the most language inside of me–the things that get poetry and associations humming through my whole mind and body–are the same things that eventually, and suddenly, bring me to the end of my words.
I’m thinking of a dark, crowded bar strung with Christmas lights and tinsel and foil fringes, Japanese beers lining the shelves behind the counter, an ancient blue-screen karaoke machine mounted into the wall. Paper tickets, $1 per song. Heavy velvet curtain near the door. The wheaty musk of alcohol dried right into the floor, porous cement. Eight people in a booth, chairs screeching to make room for casual dancers. Rickety microphone, an old man in a Hawaiian shirt keeping time on a djembe. I’m thinking of Jimmy Eat World lyrics projected against the wall, forty people shouting the punky chorus in the dark. An off-kilter duet and [the place beyond words].
This Saturday was the longest day of the whole year–the solstice, summer’s debut. It was a day where the light absolutely sprawled in all directions and at sunset, clung dotingly to the earth.
In the late afternoon, we cast out toward the coast with the sunroof open, and just before the highway on-ramp, we put on the colored sunglasses we keep in the glove compartment. There’s no better word for the movement of the car along the asphalt span of I-280 than “flying” (winging, streaming). Our hands were reaching through the top of the car, measuring the full tidal rolls of the wind–fwhip, fwhip, fwhip–and R. Kelly was crooning through the speakers and California was rolling big and burnt all around us like a voluptuous and barely-clothed woman.
My life may have started in that exact moment. What had I ever lived before then? And would I survive after? It felt like my entire life had collapsed in on itself until it was just this one dense and burning moment, a front-seat neutron-star. My brain blown entirely clean, not a shred of vocabulary left. Lexically bereft. Just the sun and you and you and you and you and you.
I love words because they help you to find the perimeter of what you know, and deposit you on the other side of it. You feel for walls, as in the dark; you determine where the solid things lie.
Love does almost the same thing, constantly plunging you into strange, deep, un-navigable waters. This is the shore, the solid land–and now you are here. So far beyond what you know.