Nail Chiodo

Lucus Feroniae

Canto V

More than any other thing, it is our priorities
that served us rightly, helped to satisfy—or at least
to assuage—a great many yearnings. There is little
that I know in detail about the varied lives
of the others in my quintet since the time
of our scattering, when after high school we hit
the road and careered down separate paths:
the only experience I can go through the math
of point by point is my own; but on the basis
of what I do know from or about them, I can tell
that all have used their fancy’s scimitar well
to preserve some semblance of peace in the oasis.

Tom has refused all hypocritic oath
and, like a true captain of the only same boat
that everyone is on, has instead become a doctor
specialized in the health care of the working.
He is married to a woman of many noteworthy
achievements … yet, rather than play proctor
to him, I shall quote from the e-mail he wrote me
not long ago: “Hi Luigi, yes was this ever a surprise!
So very nice to hear from you! As you probably surmised
from the web site, my life has been almost anything but ‘artsy’.
My wife of eleven-plus years, Bonnie, is ten years older than me,
was in Ghana in the second Peace Corps group ever,
went to Oberlin to become a serious piano/violin player
(and ended up a chemistry major), taught at Malcolm X
in Chicago in the late sixties, got a PhD in ‘Industrial Engineering’
(her dissertation was on the politics of abortion—she used to be
a member of ‘Jane’, a collective of women who performed
illegal abortions without a physician before Roe versus Wade),
taught at Georgia Tech and the University of Michigan,
did lots of international consulting on women’s health issues,
and is now a serious weaver (and Mom). We have two adopted daughters
(we were in the birthing room both times), Lucy age ten and Lily age four:
a couple of high-energy, forceful personalities.
Besides work, almost all the fabric of my life revolves around them.
I work too hard but do a wide variety of often interesting things
and, sometimes, seem to make a real difference.
Back problems of uncertain diagnosis since the late seventies—
actually doing better than ever with this and not much interference
with lifestyle and activities. We were in South Africa
for a sabbatical year in ’93-’94
and return there for another year in July:
incredibly beautiful, complex, fascinating place.
So happens last week I was in NYC and saw Kerry
for the first time in twelve years—she’s as eccentric
and focused on her own path and delightful as ever—
gave up being an architect, has been working almost full time
on a complex art project related to the phenomenology
of the origins of perspective, its relationship to Christian prayer
and to the conceptualization of the world—she had a showing
in St. Louis last year. The others you mention
I’ve had no contact with…. Do you know how to contact
Fred currently? Hugs and ciao, Tom”.
Yes, that is indeed the voice of my cherished Tom,
whom I can still see as if he were before me in the act—
as simple and necessary as it was uncommon
in the readiness with which it was done—
of rising from where he was sitting in order to go
sit down next to someone who wanted consoling.

Fred, too, was quick, but more inclined to stroke
the wrong way the hair of whoever spoke
in clichés, automatic babble, and ready-made formulas
from under an institutional umbrella,
from behind a desk or atop a pulpit.
It is unlikely that he had read much by Plato,
yet the Socratic method was for him second nature
and, in no time at all, the culprits
could be found gagging with a foot
in their mouth that they themselves had put.
More than once suspended from school and oft dismissed
from certain classrooms, whenever shown to the door
my fast friend never failed to crawl out on all fours.

He left high school before having quite finished
and did not go to the most renowned university:
it came to him, quite conversely,
and the freshman both studied and taught mathematics
there that same year. I have it from a reliable source
that the richest man in the world took his course
and that it helped him to become more pragmatic.

The so-named educational method and philosophy
that had come into being in those same lofty
halls exactly one hundred years earlier,
first enounced by Charles Sanders Peirce and then duly
expanded upon and divulged by John Dewey
(who died, incidentally, the same year
in which Fred was born), may well have lived
its apotheosis in that down-to-earth class of his.
The lot of the nation’s upwardly-mobile reserves
stormed shortly thereafter the ivory ramparts
of higher learning (it was the time those serial upstarts
known as “Yuppies” first made their sad presence observed);
and authentic pragmatists, who always have the greater picture
on their flesh-and-blood mind as a permanent fixture,
were inevitably destined—just like Peirce himself generations
earlier—to withdraw from the very stage they had helped to set.

Society can only ever pay but lip service to the debt
that it owes to the most daring imaginations:
for it takes not only brains but also a heart to understand
that the most audacious mind-sets achieved by Man
require not just creativity but also the courage to use it.
All those who really have neither, or perhaps one but not
the other, must make the best of what they _have _got
and band up so as to try to protect their allotted bits.
Amongst them there may always be some
who are still able to appreciate at least one
(or the other) of those outstanding qualities,
but never once anyone who can comprehend both.
Inexorably lost upon those who are loath
to admit to a broader scenario, audacity
thus runs into society’s wall of defenses;
if Fortune does not entirely omit to attend
to its responsibility in the inevitable crash
of the designated victims, the latter can usually hope
to come out of it with a few broken bones,
a solitary existence, and a shortage of cash:
many a genial life’s tale in a single paragraph.

One should hardly speak in terms of last laughs
where such unhappy (when not downright tragic)
turns of fate are concerned, but there remains the uncanny
whole other side of the story that, one can be
charmed to imagine, might simply condemn as if by magic
all hypocrites to forever wash dishes in heaven.
I advance this in lieu of other hypotheses more leaden,
which posit instead afterlives of psycho-physical torment
or—what is utterly inconceivable—a nothing
devoid of all meaning, like turkey without gravy or stuffing,
a state undistinguishable from never having been born.
Everything is possible, of course, but my own impression
is that human experience does assume superhuman dimensions
wherein the scullery might well correspond to high office.

I shall return upon this subject later,
when the time comes to explore the great crater—
or embarrassing, pustulant stumbling block
on the plain face of our so-called mass culture—
represented by the furuncular feature-
length film that Fred and I made together,
along with three more of my maverick brothers,
and which goes by the title of “The Insignificant Other”.
For the moment, I must abide by the taut tether
of our greater community and go on to recount
also a little of what Kerry and Scott are about.

Canto VI