Once in antiquity, a wise and noble judge crossed the great desert in search of an epiphany. Along the way, he lectured the shifting sands, interrogated every mirage, and even thrashed an almost naked apostle. In the end, he came to the great river, dried out and thirsty. Behold, he said to himself, the river is pure and I thirst, but I have nought with which to draw water–neither stone jar, nor earthenware cup, nor glass bottle, nor leather wineskin. And the judge sighed. Not long after, a caravan arrived, glorious and terrible as an army of many banners. One by one, the dromedaries, sheep and traders knelt down to drink, but the naked apostle who had come with them leapt into the great river to swim and drink as his heart desired. The judge eyed such savagery with disgust, and prayed that the whole caravan would drown in the tainted waters. The shadows passed, the clouds and stars passed, the very hawks and kites passed. And the skeleton of the judge passed not, but remained by the edge of the sparkling river, bone-dry.
A poor man saved up his money to buy a good coat, a black coat with a hood. It was to replace a long dynasty of shabby coats that fell apart. The black coat would take him onto the roads and through the fields into events he had long anticipated. There would be rain and starlight and absolute quiet for miles and miles. When he purchased the coat it fit perfectly, and he felt a freedom and comfort he had not known to be possible. At once, he set out through a light rainfall. And then he noticed in the last glow of twilight that the new coat was already coming apart at the seams. It had not even gathered one straw or fleck of dust, and yet it was tearing. The man stopped and whispered something mournful, for he knew that his soul would live forever, but his story had ended, for the coat was integral to the plot.
A man returned to the river of goldenrod and silver grass to meet his soul once again. My soul, he said, where have you traveled? Do not ask me that, said the soul. I have wandered far, for my home is far away, and I have not found my tree. The man asked about this mysterious tree, but the soul merely stared at him with indifference. The man said that it was a depressing age, a time of confusion, a chaotic world. Where was the world going? He recalled the better times—warm nights with lanterns and moths, the willows along the river, the fragrance of oil paints, the roar of the sea. And you were there, you were always there, he said warmly. Do not look back into time, the soul said. You were as empty then as you are now, a daydreamer and a cloudhead. The world has always rebelled against itself; it is not going anywhere. The river never travels. The water travels from the source to the sea, but the river is always in the same place. It is pure nothingness and emptiness. It has no time, and nothing happens to it. The soul threw a stalk of goldenrod into the icy streams. They watched the stalk drift away and disappear around the corner. What do you think? asked the soul. The man suddenly felt a warm, southern wind blow through the grass from beyond the curve of the river. My soul is somewhere else, he said with both fear and relief, and I was mistaken in believing you were her.
Was there something of him in the denuded darkness that flowed outside the wide open windows? Was his face among the trembling blemishes drifting down the river of forgetfulness? For hours, he lay upon the razor-crisp silence, drifting past the rages and ruins of sins into balconies brushed with argentine breezes and through courtyards cut to rival diamonds. In a fountain overflowing with a gentle shimmer, somebody else overflowed in her blue-black hair. Though he reached for her wrists, the soul strained for the hush that glinted into the waters of her midnight eyes. Was this stain of splashed shadows that which corrupted a dead soul in search of closed doors and clothing?
On a spring morning, the boxer awoke with a strange case of clairvoyance, or to be more precise, the ability to read minds. As he smoked a cigarette on his porch, a woman walking down the street smiled and bowed, and he sensed how he became part of a poem she was composing in her head. Later, as he strode to the train station, his black jacket triggered an episode of acute anxiety in a man begging for change to buy coffee. The pigeons looked at him in expectation, and the gentleness of their thoughts almost made him stop and abandon his plans for the day. As he inserted coins into a machine at the train station, his tall figure burned in the dark thoughts of a stranger pretending to gaze at the large signboards mapping the train routes and announcing departure times, while his angular jaw and musculature gave the waitress at the coffee shop across the way a warm, unspeakable feeling. Disturbed by wave after wave of passing thoughts and emotions that did not belong to him but included him, the boxer bounded up an escalator and boarded his train. The sounds, whispers, pulses and screams that flooded him on the train left his head throbbing and his body almost lifeless. To a hundred minds crammed in the train car he became a hundred different ghosts, haunting their interior monologues. He began to lose his bearings and forget where he should go. The boxer got off at a stop in his old neighborhood and began to walk down quiet streets, where there were few passersby, heading for the home of his old friend, a beautiful girl with long, dark, red hair. It was not his original destination, but he wanted to see her and feel her thoughts more than anything. The world seemed heavy. He tried to remember as many faces of those whose minds he had read as possible. Lost in such thoughts, he was crossing a street, when he felt the fear and love of someone dear. As he looked up, he briefly saw the truck, the blanched face of his old friend with her dark, red hair through the windshield, and heard the scream of the brakes. Losing consciousness, he hardly felt the broken glass embedded in his skin or her hands on his chest, and he could not read her thoughts anymore. All he wanted was to remember the faces, little bodies and wings of the pigeons he had disappointed.
When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground–that is an old proverb, the young man said, as he cared for the invalid lying by the side of the great road, the road of caravans and elephant migrations. Do not fear, little one, the old man wheezed as his soul began its departure, for I am too old to remember if I was illiterate or not.