The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

November 18, 2001


of falling

tonight azure and i watched the leonids. i don't sleep anyway; i woke her
and we went out, lay back on the deckchairs by the pool and stared up
between the palmtrees. huge clouds floated by from the east then north.
you could see around them. we saw meteors. we were alone. they had been
moving through space since the early solar system. we witnessed hundreds
burning up in high atmosphere, some leaving bright and glowing clouds. we
watched. we cowered. i said, i think you're the only reason i'm alive. i
was thinking of azure, of my father, my daughter. i didn't feel there were
others. i felt i have done enough. i felt this world is emptying out.

for azure, i should have remained silent. these things can't be discussed,
they're present, they breathe down our necks, caress our face. they're
silent. and then there's judgment.

of which, nothing. there's no judgment for good or evil, there are fits
within laws made by humans scarcely in agreement, humans who can barely
think for themselves, who live shuttling between fear and desire. what
doesn't fit loses; what fits, goes quiet.

after death, nothing. all about the judgment is senseless. draw that
senseless down to you. bring it to life in the world. it remains the same
and just that, without meaning except they will take you away for what
they don't want or don't like. there is little more to go on, derrida
notwithstanding. jurisprudence works out the fine points, drags ethics
along, which is where ethics belongs. but not in this world; ethics is not
of this world, not of us. the tether always breaks. we built ourselves
against and within that. life turns into an impossibility by virtue of
culture drawn out along legalisms and the rapture of implicit violence. be
on the side of the winner. be a scapegoat. walk silent.

the meteors are drawn nowhere; they have a indescribable ontology. i think
of all those billions-of-years-old topographies on the way to annihila-
tion. it is never possible to recover lost terrain, only the memory of a
tiny shooting star moving south from here, almost overhead, a punctum i
will retain and retain.

i have seen meteors. i have seen meteors leaving clouds glowing in the sky
for minutes afterwards. i have seen fireballs and portents. i have seen
omens and comets, rare atmospheric phenomena, bead lightning and aurora.
azure, i said, almost crying, i wanted to hold that back, you're the only
reason i'm alive. the shifting of pillars of the world was terrifying;
nothing happened; no judgment was called. i did it myself, turned against
me; i made sure i lost. the meteors continued; they are falling now.


Thought this was especially beautiful - Alan

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 18 Nov 2001 04:41:49 -0800
From: Jeffrey Jullich <jeffreyjullich@YAHOO.COM>
Reply-To: "WRYTING-L : Writing and Theory across Disciplines"
Subject: Re: of falling

--- Alan Sondheim <sondheim@PANIX.COM> wrote:
> - of falling tonight azure and i watched the
leonids. i don't sleep anyway; i woke her and we went
out, lay back on the deckchairs by the pool

The radio stations and television (which I don't
normally see, --- reception had been out for weeks
after The Towers went down --- but had it turned on
tonight, briefly) were promoting the Leontid showers
heavily, and saying that, since the New York sky would
be cloudless tonight, the viewing would be uncommon.

I set the alarm for 4:30 a.m.  They said viewing would
be best between 5:00 and 5:30.  Dressed in layers for
the chill: a black T-shirt, a dark blue black and
white horizontal striped short-sleeve over that, a
gray pull-over, a vertical powder blue and white
striped dress shirt, a sleeveless sweater, Ferrar
herringbone overcoat . . .

Morningside Drive, where the Cathedral adjoins St.
Luke's Hospital, has the most unobstructed vista of
sky in the neighborhood.  You can see clear to the
building in Harlem where Clinton has his office.  When
I got there, there were already two couples standing
at the stone wall along the park.  Asked 'em if they'd
seen any; "Yeah."  Down in the park itself, a dozen or
so people had set up blankets on the slope facing the
east toward Harlem.  Teenage giggling voices.

Very quickly, the visual flashes of--- a meteor here!
long pause, nothing, another meteor there, set in.  As
soon as it was sighted and an "Oooh . . .!" would go
up from the sky-watchers, it was gone.  You couldn't
call another's attention to one: "Look!  There's one,"
because as soon as you saw it, it was gone.  Meteors
were disappearing at the periphery of my vision; it
was difficult to know where to focus.  Within about 45
minutes, I counted about thirty, some of them a couple
of seconds apart.

A family of three (mother, father, son) wondered where
Leo is, what the constellation looks like (the mother:
"I'll have to look it up when we get home.  I always
forget what Leo looks like."  Son: "You can always
tell Hercules, because he has a club").  I said I
wasn't sure if they call it "Leontid" because the
~sun~ rises in Leo now (with precession of the
equinoxes, and October being Libra, I thought maybe
sidereal Leo could be now).  She said she's heard that
they ~"appear to emanate"~ out of Leo.  "Oh!"  I:  "So
that's what the space must be."  I pointed to an area
overhead.  "I've seen more of them clumped up around
that zone of the sky, there, and, now that you mention
it, a lot of them are angled out of that spot."
Several of them whizzed at all angles, some in
opposite directions, diagonals.  Some slashed like
razor blade scars across the sky.  Others, hazy,
dustier.  One or two, wide-tailed, slower.  "Well, the
ecliptic runs--- there," and, standing up, I swept my
arm across the sky in the arc I remember as the
pathway of the sun, moon path.

I was back down elbows on stone steps again.  "Y'know,
the Ka'aba, in Mecca, the center of Islam they all do
pilgrimages to?  Inside it, it's a meteor, the big
black rock."  The son, maybe 10, knew about this; he:
"But nobody's allowed to touch it, it's so holy!"  I:
"Y'know, bin Laden, part of why he's so rich, his
father's construction company was commissioned for the
re-building of the architecture around the Ka'aba.
Imagine, how trusted they were, to be given something
of that importance.  And the Dome of the Holy Rock,
too," sort of muttering the latter, 5:10 a.m.,
semi-sleepy, ". . . the Dome of . . ."  The 10-year
old tried to help me; he knew what I was talking
about: "That's where they believe that Mohammed---
went up."  "---ascended. . . . It's on the Temple
Mount.  It's the heart of all the feuding: in Judaism,
it's said to be the rock where---",  another meteor
("Ooooh!"), "---Abraham," stammering again, maybe
~inappropriate to mention son-slaughter with a 10-year
old and his father, "and Isaac . . . where he didn't
kill him."

My next door neighbor's voice, eventually.  "Is that
you, George?"  The birds had begun peeping.  But very
few.  Maybe one.  And just a peep or two.  "Even the
birds," the 10-yr. old, "sound respectful.  They're
not chirping.  Just little tiny noises."  The bird
sounded odd.  "You'd almost think," he said, "it was a
street lamp or a parking meter or something."  (I
thought of the title of Paul Klee's painting, "The
Twittering Machine," but didn't mention it.)

Eventually, just George and I, the sky, an occasional
shooting star.  George: "My mother phoned me and told
me to go out and look."  "From Philadelphia!?  At this
hour!  Wow.  Was she out watching?"  "Yes."  "What a
poetic personality she must have."  "Yeah, she's like
that."  "Is she starry-eyed?"  His father is a noted
eye surgeon.  "Starry-eyed?  No. . . . But they're

I:  "It's almost reflective, the visual meteors
overhead, these brief little blips, and the bird
noises, . . . like ~auditory meteors,~ . . . It's hard
to articulate."  He: "I know what you're saying."

It astounds me often lately, especially around
computers: what ~are~ we?!  Fire, maybe electricity,
vaguely, radio waves, okay, industrial revolution,
trains, fine, they're made out of metal and coal,---
that I can ~sort of~ get, sure, we're just re-shaping
basic elements in a complex ways; but once you start
with optical fibres and circular mirrors spinning at
high speeds that can record information and
instantaneous signals on opposite sides of the
globe,--- I can basically understand how images,
photographs, show up on paper, sort of like ~prolonged
reflections,~ and I understand the illusion of moving
pictures in film, --- But how an exact,
two-dimensional likeness of something, on a computer
screen, out of a cathode ray tube,--- it's beyond me.
The visible becoming a pulse and traveling along
cables and then ~becoming visible elsewhere~ at the
same time . . . As though, ~what?~ the cables were
optic nerves themselves?!  It's just too unfathomable;
we've gone too far to comprehend, and it sets back in:
and you mean there's not ~any other like us!,~ except
the animals?!  ~What~ the f--k are we!?

George and I were leaving the park; I: "It's sort
of--- spermatazoa/ovum.  The meteors, these sort of
atmosphere-penetrators."  George:  "There are those
who say that that's how life as we know it started . .
. life as we don't know it," self-conscious giggle.

George and I walked back to 998.  When I told a
Yeshiva-educated guy once the building's address,
wondering why Rosenblatt has held onto it all these
years, had mentioned Rosenblatt's history, his father
came to the country first and was a sexton in Ramath
Orah, the local synagogue,--- how I didn't understand
why, with all his other high-rise real estate
holdings, he spent so much time puttering around the
building; his father lived here, in another apartment;
Rosenblatt slept on the floor when he came to the
country from Russia---

"He will ~never~ sell the building!" the guy declared,
gay, fashion industry, in a Village restaurant.  "Not
in his lifetime.  You don't have to worry about him
selling it. He'll die owning the building and pass it
on to his children.  He'll never give it up."

He wouldn't tell me why.  In the lobby, there's a Star
of David-like pattern in the mosaic floor, two
interlocking triangles.  We had been discussing how
Orthodox Jews will buy up real estate because of the
numerology of the addresses, how it's sort of a
hermetic status symbol; a friend's parents own 777
West End. --- Eventually, I figured it out: 9 + 9 + 8
= 26 = 10 + 5 + 6 + 5 = The Tetragrammaton, the
unutterable four-letter Name of God.

I told George about ~K-Pax~ and Ionel.  "On Broadway,
I saw this guy, he had, like, a shoji screen set up,
panels.  And these ~bad~ magic marker paintings of
flying saucers.  On cardboard.  He didn't look like he
had been out in a while.

"But he had this 3-ring binder of press clippings.
He'd been in art shoes and, like, Holland Carter of
The New York Times, he's this real important critic,
had called Ionel Talpazan the 'star' of the show. ---
Well, he told me he had been, y'know, 'taken up' into
a flying saucer when he was 7 . . ."

"Where?!"  George wanted to know.

"I didn't ask," I said.

"Did he tell you anything else about it?"  George was
very keen about the 7-yr. old alien abduction.

I: "I didn't pursue the point.  Y'know, if somebody
tells me he's abducted when he was 7, I'm just,
'Mm-hm. Okay. I understand.  No explanation needed. Go
on.'  I wouldn't ask.  Y'know, he didn't look too
together in his appearance. --- Anyway, in ~K-Pax,~ it
ends that the alien is going to dematerialize back
into outer space and take one of the patients in the
psychiatric ward with him.  They know when he's gonna
depart.  So, the patients all have a big bon voyage
party, in the solarium.  It's decorated.  And, what
d'you know: sure enough, on the screen, there's one of
Ionel's magic marker flying saucer paintings!"

His key in his lock: George; my hand on my doorknob:
"I think I have some cream of wheat.  That'll be good.

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