He asked Emilie to leave the curtains by this window undrawn at night, in order that, when people were asleep, the fish might look at the moon.
—Isak Dinesen, “The Dreaming Child”
What is the theme? he shouted at me.
I’m sorry? I said.
Your point! he bellowed. What is your point?
Things are slippery? I offered.
Ah, yes, he said, nodding his head, calming down. Meaning is elusive. Meanings. Answers.
I mean things, literally, I said, stammering, starting to wave my arms around like I always did. I mean objects. I try to pick things up and they fall right through my hands. I lose my footing; all the surfaces seem so slick and shiny.
He sat nodding his head and stroking his beard. That might at least make a decent enough metaphoric entry to your theme, he said. Please go on.
But that’s all there is, I told him. It’s not a theme; it’s the way things are.
I left the inquisitor’s office and wandered the streets for hours. I was puzzled by the way the world looked, and had to admit that I sort of liked it that way. I liked losing my way, enjoyed the feeling of being wholly lost in a big city, stunned by an odd angle or a furtive, impressionistic detail in the ceaseless shadow tide of the peripheries, noticing the things that never moved absorbing the things that did. Also, big things, slowly, almost imperceptibly, absorbing the darkness, just as in the morning the light would rise in all of them again.
The faces of the people I passed were slack with preoccupation; they’d pulled down their shadows around themselves, and looked right through me in a sort of empirical blackout. I didn’t mind feeling invisible. It made it easier to stare into things.
I didn’t want anyone to give anything away, to show me the way into a single idea. Poets, writers, artists, musicians: I liked them best when they were at their most mysterious, when they drove me deep into the unexplored scrub country of my skull. The really great ones would kick all sorts of stuff loose in my head –images, luminous dust, sparks, bursts of static electricity, a fragment by which a story, a secret, even an entire lost civilization might be inferred. Words would suddenly explode from dark pockets in my head like startled birds fleeing a bush.
I’d ultimately fall down flight after flight of stairs, a bass line beating in my head like hail on a tin roof, or, a moment later, quieter, like rain at the windows.
Just open the door a crack, that’s all I ask, or allow me a brief glimpse of the whole howling universe in the sliver of moonlight where the curtains flutter momentarily free of the window frame.
Put it in my reach, not in my lap, as someone –I think Wendell Berry– once said.
Let me imagine my own world, my own poem, my own story, inside yours.
Just let me imagine.
That’s all I’m asking.