KEEPING THINGS WHOLE
„In a field,“ poet Mark Strand has written, „I am the absence/ of field… I move/ to keep things whole.“ And who-fearful, abandoned, pre-emptive, trembling, has not used their absences to „keep things whole?“
But this not-presence as a way of keeping ourselves together, a way of insisting on the self as tenuous, unreliable, missing (viz. Keats of the poet: „He has no self…“) and mysterious– rather than present, actualized, known and vulnerable– is fraught with the risk that we willultimately be missing… not only to others but to ourselves.
Yet how tempting it is not to be there. Placing my very presence in doubt– Will I be there tomorrow? Later? Next week? When you open your eyes?— I focus attention not on myself (i.e. on what I might be/am when I am actually present), but on my tenuousness, on the infinite possibilities of what I only could be, were I truly known. But– refusing to be present, to assume, even briefly, the fixed position–not only can I not be known (and why should I want to be, since I’m not worth knowing?), but I cannot even allow myself the stillness in which to become worth knowing. Were I to cease being an absence, I would have no other recourse but to become a presence, which would limit my possibilities (both in my own eyes and in the eyes of others) to (how awful!) what I truly am.
Absent, I am perpetually the subject of attention (and of attention’s twin, desire). People are always asking: Where is he? Where has he gone to? When will he return? Why has he left us? Present, though, I may be painfully reduced to its object (Whois he? Whatis he truly like?), and may even be forced to answer these questions myself. Absent, as Strand suggests, I can „keep things whole,“ for I live in the world of the purely possible, the unbounded, of light and air.
Present, I am tethered, grounded, singular– worst of all, mortal and un-God-like. And who, I ask you, would easily choose the latter unless the former condition (i.e. his own presence missing from his own life) had grown so painful to him– unless he had so often asked himself the terrible question (Is anyone in there?) without an answer– that he finally relinquishes the fixed position (of non-presence) and says to someone: Yes, love, I am here. I am here here here here… And where are you?