Ten Thousand by Roo Borson
I was standing in a hallway of Mona Lisas. I passed face after face after face, that smile appearing and disappearing. It’s a painting of secrets, that much I know. I walked the length of the exhibit wondering if I’ve ever had a smile like that.
They said da Vinci was thinking of happiness. Perhaps the kind that lives in the corner of your mouth, or in the empty space that spans the distance between sitting still and the landscape beyond. Perhaps he meant colours warm enough to soak your bones, or the greens and greys where a soul can live. I once found contentment in the inside of someone’s wrist. It lasted as long as it could last.
I passed a wall of flowers, from the ceiling to the floor. Then I sat at a table under the sunlight to have lunch. A. and I talked about our lives so far, and I realised we’ve known each other for thirteen years. I cut into my tomato face up and it exploded on my dress. She was talking about investing in a neighbourhood café. Maybe I’m leaning now towards something I’ve read before: we don’t really change. We just grow into the person who we really are.
On the walk back, I was thinking about the invisible scars of the original Mona Lisa. How many times has it endured attacks? From red paint to acid, all those years. And yet it lives.
And yet it lives, my silent mantra, trying to keep up with A.’s brisk pace and even brisker talk. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another familiar face: K. How many times have I embraced people I love in a public space? Not nearly enough. But Saturday was a day for pleasant surprises, the kind that feeds your spirit. Two hours later I stood before the stage, looking down at the orchestra playing a familiar tune. Listen: do you know how sacred that must be, to sit in an alcove, hold an instrument close to your body, and play with such abandon?
The room was filled with people. I couldn’t hear myself. K.’s voice in my ear: I’ll see you soon. Evening, and R. was telling us about fitting a washing machine inside his bathroom. A. was telling a joke about a chocolate frog, and I was laughing until I was crying, and look, it’s all really simple, isn’t it. Things happen. The universe happens. In the hallway of my life, my face appears and disappears, and appears again. Sometimes I’ve willingly framed black holes and appreciated them more than I should have. Sometimes I place my mistakes under the light, as if to tell myself, look at this, look at what you’ve done. And sometimes I am able to walk past them all, and continue walking, saying, and yet I live, and yet I live, and yet I live.
It is dusk. The birds sweep low to the lake and then dive
up. The wind picks a few leaves off the ground
and turns them into wheels that roll
a little way and then collapse. There’s nothing like branches
planted against the sky to remind you
of the feel of your feet on the earth, the way your hands
sometimes touch each other. All those memories,
you wouldn’t want them over again, there’s no point.
What’s next, you ask yourself.
You ask it ten thousand times.
This is from Night Walk, Selected Poems by Roo Borson, published by Oxford University Press, 1994.
It seems that the important question is: ‘Who am I?’, asked daily through the activity of living a life without answer. As if there is an abundance of me, beyond all necessity, asking to be lived. That the question of my self is exacted in the multitude of experiencing others; that it’s purpose is to be that question, a kind of innocence.
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