..First Glyph

February 9
3 p.m.

A narrow road crawled up the face of an extinct volcano. I followed its long reluctant rise through the slender trees this morning. I spiraled with it to its summit and then climbed the iron tower at its peak to do my scribbling for the day. But a disappointment. Not there. Something missed. Colorless. This depressed me. I weighed the view against a scene in which Domingo surveys Mexico City from a volcano's peak. I was using this much smaller volcano as a model, this visible section of Jalapa as a model. It did not work. Mexico City's Popocátepetl volcano rises incomparably higher. And Mexico City...well...I only got the most generic impressions of an urban area from a high elevation. Nothing in it. Nothing inspired.

And such a change from this morning! So sunny the sky beamed. So sunny I. I left my hotel blithe; blithe with the day, with my life, and with a hunger to work and a happiness and a confidence and a readiness and an eagerness. Bright Sunday morning. The sun bathing the cathedral domes beautifully. Peach, shined this one. Burgundy, shined that. Off to work, I stepped. With a light heel, I moved. Off to produce, I went, to seek whatever it is I seek. But a pile of uninspired scribblings later, then a long wandering lost around the volcano's base later, then a boarding of the wrong mini-bus later, and a deboarding of that wrong mini-bus, and a realizing then that that wrong mini-bus had been the right mini-bus, and a slouching in of those persistent highland clouds, and gray, their gray and my bright mood dimming, dimmed with the filmy sunlight.


That loneliness of last night, too, I think.

How severely it came over me, like a greedy fever. And it's just the start, I fear. The first of it...A warning sign...Of what's to come. For I'm still at the beginning of this trip. This is still just Veracruz state and already I am last night leaning into the bathroom mirror and admonishing myself: "It won't go away." Last night I am leaning into that mirror and re-engraving lessons learned intellectually--from experience--but resisted emotionally-- regardless. "It will be the same there as here," I repeat to myself. Then I bury my face in the wash basin and wash my face in the wash water. Drying my face, I repeat: "It will be the same." And this is how I combat the loneliness. But not exactly the loneliness, I guess, but the promptings of the loneliness. For continue on, the loneliness commands. Go, it says. Leave Jalapa. Move on to Puebla. There, I, your loneliness, will be satisfied, it promises. There, I, your loneliness, will stop haunting you. And I hear these promises. And I listen to these promises. And I want to believe in them. So I consider that next place on the itinerary. I consider that next city westward. Might that be the place where my loneliness ends? For I want this. I want the loneliness to end. But even as I listen and even as I consider I know the loneliness lies. Just continue on, it tells me, and: "But it will be the same there as here," I tell myself, leaning into the bathroom mirror. Because I know this to be true. I know the loneliness waits for me in that next place. I know it just has to be borne, like a cross.

In the beginning I believed the lies. I believed the illusion that loneliness could be expunged by a continuing on, a moving. And believing, I acceded to these demands. I continued on--frequently. And, yes, there is indeed a comfort in the move. Loneliness does seem for awhile to abate. But the abatement is more retreat than surrender. The newness of a place beats it back. The stimulation of change and novelty beats it down. It hides, maybe. It cowers, maybe. But it does not die. And eventually newness becomes commonplace. Eventually change becomes routine. And there it is again. Loneliness. Still. Patient. Lying. Coiled. Just a heartbeat does it. A look from a woman, maybe, or a scene in a movie, and it is upon you. A parasite. Drawing at your blood. Being nailed through your wrists. Relentless. Suddenly, you are considering that next city westward. Suddenly, you are listening again to the lies and promises of comfort; yearning for a new place where loneliness might not be. Your few hours rest have passed. You crave them now anew.

We are designed to reason from cause to effect, I'm afraid, or from effect to cause. To truly re-create life, therefore, is impossible. There are too many effects created by numberless unknown causes. I would never think to put a grass fire along the road to Jalapa, or to give the radio in this restaurant faulty reception, or to use quotations from the Buddha in the menu. "The extinction of thirst overcomes all suffering," says the quotation from the Buddha in the menu. This just above the beer list.

Running from loneliness is not a logical solution. One does not run from loneliness. To soothe loneliness one stops running. One sits still. One finds a mate. One settles down and lives happily ever after. That's how you cure loneliness. One is not driven by loneliness to the road. One is driven by loneliness from the road. On the road you are forever making it clear to romantic prospects that you are not going to change; forever you are knocking the legs out from under relationships before they are even consummated. Forever they are parading by: the almost-lovers, the might- have-been-wives: Lourdes, Tina, Larnee, that girl in that San Diego telemarketing room whose name you never knew. Anyone of them could be the one if you just stopped running. And you know this. You are painfully aware of this. Every time a romance founders you are reminded. Just stop running and it will work, logic counsels. But you don't stop. So you are not running from loneliness. You are running to something. But to what?

"I'll know when I arrive." This my answer once. She was a Dutch girl in my arms. My potential? Contentment? My destiny? These filed through my mind as I lie there. My unfinished novel? The Holy Grail? At last I became more specific: "Perfection," I told the Dutch girl. And now I will append: The ideal. That secret. Mahler's resonance.

"But perfection is so limited," she countered.

An actress was she. But more a voice coach. Four languages she spoke. Shakespeare she could recite from memory, and Cummings. A Jewess. I had been impotent with her.

"No," I replied. "I think perfection is limitless!"

And she paused reflectively.

"Perfection," I said again, aloud.

That was probably the first time I named this thing to which I run. And it is as accurate a name as I can offer. More accurate maybe than the secret, or the mystery of genius, this enigma. It incorporates more--the emotional, the intellectual, the spiritual. All of this is served by the running. All of these are served by my sitting here in Jalapa in this restaurant with the enticing aromas and insipid food before this café con leche near that round window full of pan dulce through which those brindled skies breathe and that occasional plume of exhaust fumes billows.

A heavily made-up woman fidgets on the sidewalk. A Malcolm X t-shirt she sports. The radio wails Santana.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers