“The Devil’s in the details,” they say. That’s a misleading phrase. I guess they mean the Devil has his way when you don’t pay attention. But you rarely find the Devil lurking in the little things. He’s much too vain to hide for long in anything but plain sight.
“Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear and forgetting where you heard it.”
In the dingy, black, zippered case containing my once impressive—now cringe-worthy and rapidly obsolescing—compact disc collection languishes a silver-faced CD-R I burned into existence with the excited expectation its musical contents—some new wave Afrobeat jazz—would please my wife. To my surprise and disappointment, she rejected my offering with naked disgust. She’s a more discerning fan of Afrobeat jazz than I am, sensitive to vagaries of its substance more than just similarities of its surface. In that moment, I had proven myself no more penetrating than a “for fans of” algorithm. Or Cain.
Though I never listen to it now, I keep that disc—its surface barely scratched—because my wife organized my CDs a while back, and I had (of course) forgotten to label this disc in any way, so my wife—after being coerced even a second time by her care for me to discover its contents—scrawled this non-biodegradable judgment on the face of the disc in her delightfully angular pseudo-cursive: “Fela Kuti Rip-Off Band.”
Standing alone outside the stand-alone hangar where a wanting-to-be-chatty technician took a six-minute break from the internet to test my van’s emissions, I involuntarily reached into the pond of my pocket, emptier even than usual, and as I reached, my hand became a line to pluck out my phone, a hook dangling the plastic lure of my synthetic self which I hoped to find lodged in the jaws of a simulated society swollen with numbered mentions, likes, and shares—affirmations like so many gold coins to pay a tax true sons are never required to pay—these few coins in a fish never big enough to stave off for long the hunger of being-with-myself-and-God, yet never so small that I could resist fishing it from the abyss where I should let it forget me.
But, as I said, my pocket was emptier than usual. And, to my shame, I contemplated going to retrieve my phone from the van, which revved its engine, in park, to rebuke me. Trying to remember how to pray or even how to notice, I looked down to my feet, perched on the gray pock-marked curb which straddled death on one side—an expanse of black asphalt, and life on the other—a thin, dry stretch of rising red clay, sparsely populated by stubborn clumps of fescue.
There on the side of life, savoring of my youth, sparkled the tiered mica among the fragmenting sedimentary rocks and the squat dust volcanos of the black blood ants, who ranged to and from their holes, their trinary ganglia firing either “food” or “danger” or “home,” ever following peer-posted trails dotted with invisible and irresistible pheromones. I leaned over and followed one ant in particular—every step of mine equal to thousands of his—a single ant who persisted over all obstacles unperturbed, always running, jostled by the counter-stream of brothers and sisters, moving so fast for his size, never resting, never distracted, destined to live and die in this Mars red clay planet surrounded by the tar-smelling pitch black outer space between strip mall galaxy clusters in a suburban universe. And I knew that he could neither travel far enough or live long enough, even if his mind were like mine and a small bit less trinary, to ever believe anything else existed outside of this.
“Mr. Minkoff! You’re all set.”
I have often, but not always, failed to predict what would please my wife. One small victory: I introduced her to (), by Sigur Rós.
Together, with our eyes closed, lying on our backs, unified in expectation, her trust in me building with every song, we allowed ourselves together to dissolve into the gentle topography of that record until its superficial flatness became a varied world in our perception. As the record spun, its grooves only visible to the naked eye as a moonlight shimmering on its surface, our hearts united in the blind and subtle needle, through which we read the record like Braille, both exploring and being explored by the ranges and valleys of worlds hiding in its details.
I read a poem once, young,
thinking not much here from line to line.
No rhyme to seduce my ear;
no metered furrow to plow with my tongue.
But it left a taste after—in fine,
a fear: What had I missed?
One time I was hired
to demolish a deck—wooden, color-bled,
too much sun-kissed.
Gas-soaked, my wreck, I set the fire.
The surface gray gave way to red,
and I smelled the cedar smoke, the air.
It’s said that Bezalel overlaid
the tabernacle’s purple and gold
with the skins of goats whose hair
(matted, worn, black, and frayed)
would better shield the shepherds from cold
than portend Jehovah’s glory.
But He didn’t brand an ichthus on the trees.
His name’s not scrawled bottom right of sunrise.
Through the windows of this story
we see no scaffolding of decrees.
It seems there’s nothing to disguise—
no hidden code in the stars we’ve counted.
But I have glimpsed moments of the source—
under-skin naked quivers of awe:
Once when I found a mollusk on a mountain.
Once when I read Lift up, ye ancient doors.
I had eyes before, before I saw.
If you have ears, hear.