When, like another Hans Christian Anderson, I imagine a stone's experience, I imagine a little person in the stone. I populate the world with little persons, all of them breathing. If there were such a thing as a infant metaphysics, guess at the way the world would be. The world would be filled with little peoples. A crowd of atomic human figures.
A stone’s experience of breath.
When I was in high school, I was on two teams. I was on tennis, and I was on cross country. I ran, for a while, every morning. This was after I had been suspended from school for stealing a van. It was Mikey McCall’s father’s van, and since Mikey was in on it, Mikey’s father didn’t press charges. Still, it was a lot of trouble, and though I felt that stealing the van had definitely been worth it, since I got to see some country, hang out in Austin, which is where Wilburn, the other guy I stole the van with, wanted to go, and meet this girl, I felt like I better straighten up a little. Dad and Mom were both very pissed off. They kept telling me they couldn’t believe that I’d do something so stupid. I wanted to repeat a few of the stories Dad told me about his adolescence, what he and Uncle Henry did, but I didn’t, partly because that really hadn’t influenced me at all. I just wanted to do it, and I knew what the consequences were going to be. So I really tried to get into cross country as a sort of penance. I’d been a halfassed runner before, missing practices and always coming in around the middle, but it was in cross country that I met Wilbern, who was an excellent runner, and I felt that, now that we’d had this van experience together, I ought to try to come up to his level on the running front, which was obviously how Wilbern was going to get through college. They had let Wilbern choose to get off suspension by doing school good citizen work. That way he didn’t have to miss any of the meets. I missed most of them. I made it my goal that summer - I was seventeen - to come in at least fourth in one of the meets in the fall.
I felt good and military adhering to the discipline I’d outlined for myself. I felt like Mishima or something. That summer I read a biography of Mishima and Sun and Steel, his essays, which I found a used paperback of in the Dekalb Junior College Bookstore, and I felt that here was a darkly attractive figure who understood balancing the death drive against the life drive, and how that required a regime of spiritual and bodily exercises. So ‘military’, which had always meant something bad to me - stupidity, blind obediance, repression- meant something different for me that summer. It meant strength, purity, will. I’d get up and get out around six, and I’d run my route. I went down from our court into Gladstone Drive, turned left on Verona Park and turned left on Shiloh Mill, ran a half mile down to the Shiloh Mill Baptist church, ran across the church grounds, jumped the creek that separated their property from the Salem Golf course, ran in the path that snaked among the pine trees around the course, hit Dial drive, then took Naman’s Way back to Verona Park, which I crossed and went back to my subdivision. I concentrated, as Coach Fregee told us to, on breathing, the in and out, and I also tried to hold a certain balance within myself of energies, thinking that I was being very samurai. I liked to hold back and hold back the moment when I finally had to mouth breath, as opposed to nose breath, then I’d coordinate my rhythm to the way my lungs felt, thinking of them as two living animals inside me. My goal was to prolong nose breathing while I picked up my pace a little more each day, so I tried to cut off mouth breathing as soon as it occurred. The first incident of mouth breathing, I’d change my pace, get back to nose breathing, then speed up. I concentrated just on these things, I tried to keep my mind from straying beyond the confines of my immediate body situation. This, too, I thought of as somehow very Zen. I would concentrate sometimes so much on my body I’d feel like I was going cross eyed.
I’d chosen my course to give me a variety of landscape. Long ago, during a phase in the six grade when I went around with an almanac and was always pulling it out to mull over random and insignificant statistics, I learned that Atlanta was exactly 1,050 feet up in the air (although, admittedly, I wondered whether they had just averaged out heights and depths, or whether that was the highest point, or what, since obviously there were dips and rises all over the city). That meant that Gladstone, as a suburb, was about that high or higher. Coach Fregee, who came from Chicago, said that the times in Chicago were almost better on the average by a minute than the one’s in Atlanta, because of the altitude difference. So I was aware of that. I turned left on Verona Park each morning because I wanted to hit the hill there as soon as possible, thinking that it was sort of a merit. I was really convinced that I gained virtue every day just by making my body do things that put stress upon it, that required will on my part. Although I knew enough to see that there was a paradox here - I asserted my will over my body in order, eventually, to submerge myself in a balance of energies. The threshold to that energy situation was shucking the idea of will, or of individuality, or of the possessive “my” , as in “my body”. There was only the balance, the weighing of light and darkness, the hard muscle, the readiness to use it. It was like I was going to become a gunslinger, instead of a mediocre cross country runner.
I liked to compare, while I was running, the effort it took me to get up the hill to getting up it, as I had done hundreds of times, in the car. It was then that I discovered what I didn’t like about cars, what in fact I still don’t like. In the car, I was divorced from the power of the hill. Now that power, I thought, was in the set and of the type of the power I wanted to feel in my body. When there is nothing resistant about the hill, the power there is broken, but one’s body’s power is injured too. The car is never quite as germane to one’s body’s issues as the hill, the valley, the stream, the meadow. It was a matter of exposure, I thought. To put myself against the hill, to bend to it, to experience it and remember it in my legs and thighs and with my lungs, that seemed to me a human necessity. It was taken away by the car, you were stripped of your own power, thinking that power was at your fingertips. Trading in muscle for speed.
I was against it, at the time.
You know that when you go down this slope, you will be traveling at a sort of frightening speed. The wheels will whip around so fast that if you apply the brakes suddenly, the bike will probably flip over. Not that this has ever happened. Also, the pedals will go around so fast that it will be impossible for you to connect their motion with your will. Your bike is your horse, and sometimes horses are wild and you can't bridle them. What you will end up doing is taking your feet off the pedals, and you will scream. The scream will be like the scream of a brave: WOOOOOOOO.
The rush down the hill isn't just for fun, though, because you want the impetus of that speed to help you up the opposite slope. If you started from a dead stop at the bottom of the hill, you would never make it. The mass of the hill over your head is in itself enough to take the fiber out of you, enough to tire you, you just have to look at it and you will, as if defeated, dismount, as though the hill had almost toppled over on you. The thing to do, then, is not to look at the whole thing, but to stare at the space just before your front wheels, so that the hill is put together increment by increment in your consciousness. Soon you have slowed down to the point where you are only moving forward in laborious spurts. You have to put all your weight on the up pedal to force it down, you feel your leg as a lever, a primitive machine no different, except in its being flesh and a part of you, from the components of the bike itself. And your breath comes in pants, your breath, that immaterial thing, suddenly has weight and a rudimentary shape in your throat. It is like you are having to swallow fistfuls of air, and having to breath out fistfuls of air. The image of the fist is appropriate because it is as if something was clenched in your throat, something was working against you. Near the top of the hill, your breath comes out punchily. You punch the air into the air, and the air hits back. At the top of the hill, you run out of air to punch with. You are out of breath. Being out of breath is sort of like being out of gas, which happened once when you were with Mom going someplace. The car suddenly lost its dreamy power, its seamless flow, and died, and Mom had to guide the thing, suddenly all dead metal and rubber, to the side of the road. When you run out of breath, you have to stop, you have to get over to the side of the road and breath heavily, in great pants, like a dog, your mouth open and your tongue flapping.
Now you are in high school, and you are running because you are part of the cross country team. You are running down a road that follows a railroad track, you are running, or at least this is your plan, as far as Stone Mountain, and then you are turning around and running back home. The street that follows the railroad track is undeveloped, so that older houses with big lawns line it, and it is shady and quiet.
You are trying to breath right.
You are trying to breath with a certain rhythm. It is as if breath were a scarce commodity that you were doling out, like bread in a famine. You think okay, I'll take a breath now, and you take it. You want to luxuriate on this air, you want to let it go deep into you, and then you want to breath out. Breath out now, you say., and you want, for a moment, to be balanced on the emptiness of your lungs, the vacuum within you, rippled only by the movements of your heart. Your legs, white, skinny grasshopper's legs, pump up and down, up and down, making a patter upon the surface of the road, and your ideal is that there will be a correspondence between the pace you achieve and the breaths that you take, that eventually you will find a magical balance, one that will allow you to run forever. The point is to be able to notch up your speed, so that you can increase your pace until you are doing as well as, say, Wilbur, the star of your team, for long stretches of time. Of course you don't expect that you will keep up with him forever, he is the kind of athlete who, just when you are losing your grasp, or better, your gasp, finds that extra bit of speed. What keeps you back is that you lose the crucial link between breath and motion when you speed up too much. Your breathing goes to hell, it takes on a panic rhythm, it stampedes out of you, your heart and your lungs throb like stricken, epileptic creatures, like a cattle drive gone awry. Really, you still have that bestiary way of thinking of parts of your body, as if your physical being were a zoo of different, separate creatures, the heart in it's cage, the lungs in the lung house, the legs roaming around in the leg area like gazelles, etc.
You speed up a little, you think you can comfortably pick up the pace this afternoon.
At a certain point, you couldn't speed up any more. When you make a dash, go go go, trying to push past your man from another high school the last one hundred yards, and you pass the finish line, your legs wobbly at this point, when it is over and you stop, your heart will operate like a overworked pump. Imagine an abandoned pump in a sinking ship. Maybe when you die, if you die of a heart attack, that is what it is like. You will lean over, put your hands on your knees, and try to reassemble your breath, try to steady your legs, try to come back to your throat and chest, try to cool down. Your face burns. Your breath scrapes out from your throat, the sound of it will be in your ears. A little body of breath, a homunculus of air, climbs out of your body through your open mouth, and has to breath in, to fill itself with its blood element, and climb back into your body again.
You are on top of Julia . You look down on her face, you look into her eyes. You lower your face, you hang there right above her nose, your face is a dirigible. The you lower yourself and your lips graze her cheeks. Your lips clasp her lips.
You are panting. Julia is panting. She rocks forward, she arches a bit, she brings you into her. It is a question of magnitudes and proportions, of too little and too much, and in your panting delight you are thinking that your stuff is just the thing for her, for her thingness, for the thing between her thighs. Traditionally, a nothing, but this is another delusion. Another tricky, stupid construct. It is an inlet, an ocean, a freshet. The thing between her thighs is the crux between being in a thing and being, for a moment, out of a thing, the thing. You are emanating a honey-heavy power. You are in that portion of fucking, it is the power trip part of it, and when you look for a comparison what you imagine is that you are watching some heavy drop of rain dribble slowly down a window pane, and that its very sluggish, zigzagging path leaves a slightly glistening residue, and then you imagine that you are in the drop, that it is enormous, and that it trembles with power, the surface tension of it is the tight quivering coherence of your sex, and the moment of really dissolving, really falling, really following gravity and fate, is musically upon you, the culminating flourish.
You seem to have forgotten air.
No, it is in my mind, still. Air. Breathing, panting. I want to show you in different situations in which air becomes a concrete concern. How often, after all, do you breath during a day? Your traffic in air is continuous. It isn't asthmatically impeded, and thank God, nothing is wrong with your lungs. It is a clear current running in and out of you, it is your invisible and intimate attachment to the world, you are part of this river, but unlike your bloodstream this river is not self contained, not solid state, but your connection to a larger system.
You pant, then, your mouth on Julia's shoulder. You are half biting her, half drooling. Your body jerks, it shudders and you imagine a serpent, full of coils, rippling slowly out of them, showing itself in almost it's real length, an enormous, regal beast. And what else? Come now. The bluntness of skin and flesh, its final bumbling. If only your dick could think a little more interestingly, give you the last shred of information about its mission, its sensation. That would be nice. You feel that everything was there, approximately, but that there should be more... more color. It should be an historically important thing, this fuck, like the veil in the temple being rent, but the moment passes in which it could be, and it isn't, it is just satisfaction. And then you become aware of your shared breathing. You are both panting and gulping, and the first of the sensations that returns to you, after all that rumpus, is how hot the breath is on your face, her breath, mixed with a sort of cooing sound she is making, a baby baby, oh yes sound, and how heavily you are panting yourself. Now this is surprising, or at least a bit surprising, because it isn't as if you were doing anything that required lifting or running, you weren't working, and yet you are both in a sweat, both out of breath. So what was it, exactly, that you were exercising? What has been riding you, what in the world has gotten you to this point?