Argus | Bruce Meyer

I used to believe that every moment of my life had to be well-spent or there would be little point in living. On days when there is nothing to do, I feel ashamed of myself. I ask the dog what he thinks. He is an old dog and he lies beside my desk and farts when I try to work, though I had gotten used to him. I know wherever I go he will follow me. He is a good companion. I stare out the window as late autumn rain falls on the garden and the boughs of the trees cry because they have nothing to do but wait to be reborn after months when they are dead to the world. When they drop their leaves and their sap stands still in their branches, they are no longer trees in my garden but forests in a place that doesn’t exist. Every year they die in the same way. They must understand how it feels to die and then return from oblivion. Oblivion is the difficulty all things face but few survive to describe it.
My wife senses my restlessness. She looks up from her book and asks if I couldn’t find something to fill my time. I smile and tell her I spent the night in oblivion. The truth is I hate sleep. The past beats up on me. The dead insist I pay attention to them. I used to love sleep.Before I married, I had a small flat not far from the market, and to make my space complete my mother bought me a reclining chair. I would wake from delicious. Even frenetic music, a Shostakovich symphony, for example, could put me out cold.
One afternoon my power to dream ceased. How could I be certain I had not sunk deeper intoa vast darkness inside my head? Nothing appeared to make sense. I was on a small, wooden ship and the sea was blue and sparkling beforethe sky clouded and the ocean became wine-colored. The dreams troubled me. I was struggling to get home but I couldn’t remember a note of Shostakovich, not even the haunting second movement of his Second Piano Concertowritten on a February night or the final bars that conclude with a clock chiming five a.m. I could not recall owning a reclining chair, or even my wife’s face though I was certain I had a wife and she was calling me home. My friends had drowned – they hadn’t written books or hung out in coffee bars with me to discuss Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. I even recall the taste of coffee.
Piece by piece, my life, my memories, the things I loved evaporated the moment Iremembered them. I closed my eyes and saw dust, death, and blood, and men screaming on a plain before a walled city. One of the towers had thin white curtains that danced in the breeze and a woman on the battlements shouting the names of those who were about to die.
Something in me wanted to die, but I recall someone saying that even in death when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, we still dream, and the dreams in a dead man’s head are a constant river running and doubling back upon itself. This was not oblivion. Oblivion is far more complex than mereemptiness, though even emptiness, a sad, dark place where nothing happens, is populated by those who long to tell their story.
The worst pain one can feel comes from knowing there is one person I loved more than others and she was fading into a shadow – her smile, her green eyes, the touch of her hand in the night when I almost woke – and the whisper of snow falling against the walls of the house. And then, I forgot the sound snow makes when it is driven by the window, and I felt its absence the way the loss of feeling in a finger asks one to recall something that cannot be remembered. Oblivion is the confusion of one narrative with another, and only my own story mattered to me.
I was ready to toss myself overboard and drown when I remembered an old man puffing on a cigar. He had a close-cropped white beard and panes of glass sitting on his nose, and he turned to me as an aside from arranging strange little statues on a shelf behind his desk and muttered how I was living the story of a man attempting to wake from a dream.
The sea before me was endless but an island, slanted in the opposite direction from all the others loomed out of the mist one morning and I knew I had arrived. I clambered up the cliff face. An old dog walked up to me and I bent down to rub him behind the ears and he sat on his haunches and licked my hand as he looked at me as if I had just returned home without explaining where I had been ad why I had been gone so long.

Bruce Meyer is author of 68 books of poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and non-fiction. His most recent poetry publications are Telling the Bees (Libretto) and Grace of Falling Stars (Black Moss Press).