There is fear of pain, fear of shame, fear of humiliation, of poverty, of want, of not getting (love, fame, riches, your due). My college friend was afraid his tombstone would say, He had potential.
There is fear of lack of beauty, fear of meaninglessness, fear of loss, fear of drabness, fear of mess, fear of low energy, fear of lack (of gumption, of direction, of certainty), fear of permanent suffering; I will always have: this dull but sharp headache pushing my temples, this wheeze and chest pressure, this lump in my throat, this deep bruising in my heel, this charley horse.
Love. Connection. Engagement.
There is fear I will never learn, I will keep making the same mistakes, I will never mature, I am not mature, I feel young, quavering, I am nervous, I am sarcastic to stumbling customer service people. Fear of badness, essential badness.
I am not a good person.
I grow old… I grow old… / I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
I fear I am T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock, undaring.
I leave things undone, wires unconnected, papers unstacked, files IRL stiff paper files unfiled.
The city should fear not recycling the recyclable. Congress should fear not repairing the repairable. Education officials should fear overcrowding, bureaucratic incompetence, outsourcing, overwork, a high teacher-to-student ratio, lack of: attention toilet paper soap and paper towels clean floors bright walls and quiet order with some joy. School districts should fear not providing joy and safety. They should fear illiteracy of all kinds.
I used to believe in utopias. Then I read that perfection is fascism. Still, I’m satisfied if someone says, I should have done this / this country should have done this / this leader should have done this. As if a glimpse of what should have been is enough.
I am not mentioning COVID or long COVID.. I wear masks as talismans. Boosters as armor—brittle, shredding.
I fear throwing out the wrong things. When I had breast cancer I donated old syllabi and old research papers to an archive, interview tapes and notes to a lefty library and I now regret it. One of the men I interviewed was still a Stalinist and had been a pallbearer for Julius Rosenberg. He did not regret.
The state asserts its regrets in official language. Pardons to draft evaders who fled to Canada. Apologies and reparations to Japanese-Americans interned. We’re so sorry. We confused you with the enemy. American Blacks, still waiting for their forty acres and a mule, based on a proclamation by General Sherman. Germany was made to pay survivors. Our paper money is no longer backed by gold, but we believe in it. In Manhattan years ago I found I had a twenty-dollar bill with Andrew Jackson’s portrait and stamped in red: This man killed Indians. The word Manhattan comes from Lenape dialect, we adapt the word, we kill the speakers of it. We are sorry for the violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples. But you can’t sue us and there’s no money for you.
(Crypto is ghostly, there / not there / precious, labile.)
An old friend saw me at the reunion and couldn’t place me. We were among the ones who went away for college. We had ambition and luck and a sense of ourselves beyond Texas . Contenders. He did not recognize me, therefore he no longer recognized any of that in me.
He could not see me though we sat next to each other. He was disguised by a beard and mustache but still I knew him.
I see him on Facebook: on a mountain, in a desert, at a beach. Looking at him looking at views.
We count up virtual birthday greetings. They acknowledge the date of our emergence into the world as a separate person. See, I exist. In the pandemic we walk through Graceland Cemetery, its lush 121 acres come alive with strolling families and dogs and children on bikes. We note the dates. We note the anonymous and the famous. Poor rotted bones and dust. Can’t move like we do now. Each year Halloween decorations get grislier. Skeletal hands and feet rising from below the earth as if undead. The message remains the same: As I am now so you will be.