Is the comma in danger of extinction? Here at the The Coming of the Toads commas have fallen out of favor as we have begun to eschew the common comma, not all commas, and the comma in writing (where else is it used?) still remains an effective tool for the common reader, but sometimes the right word in the right place creates its own pause and nothing more is needed by way of punctuation, for the common reader or the anti-reader. Of course commas are used for more than to create pause. The comma used to separate items in a series, red white and blue, for example, often punctuated as red, white, and blue, keeps the colors from running together. The comma evolved from the colon and suggested something cut out but today the comma is used to add on, to amplify, to continue, to ramble on, sometimes unmercifully, the end nowhere near, the sentence a structure of lean-tos, each clause flipping about like a butterfly which may look to the common reader indecisive. Then there is the comma butterfly, also called angelwing, and what writer would want to eliminate angel wings from their writing, not us. Whoops, that’s anglewing, not angel wing, a mistake no comma can rescue. Still, the happy discovery that commas may suggest angel wings gives us a lift.
As said of politics, all rain is local, parochial. It may seem frivolous to a parish under water that in a neighboring bureau filled with sun denizens are dressed in shorts and sleeveless shirts drinking dizzy fizzy wine coolers in the town square park sitting in beach chairs on the warm dry grass listening to a gypsy jazz band play La Mer, while next door, where rain falls, Leonard Cohen indoors on a turntable sings, “All the rain falls down amen, on the works of last year’s man.” Yet in rain country umbrellas are not as ubiquitous as one might expect, nor are they absent in the sunny clime. The rain falls through hair, straightening the curl, seeps through flannel and wool, fills the shoes and soaks the socks, wrinkles the skin. The rain bounces off the asphalt street, runs down the gutters carrying along leaves summer and fall debris: a dirty tennis ball, a burnt out sparkler, a used up crumpled face mask. The rain overflows the curb down at the corner and a car spins by splashing a muddy wave across the sidewalk. A city bus sploshes around the corner, windows fogged, the driver and riders masked and anonymous. There are no cats to be seen out and about, a few dogs hunkered up on their porches. A woman with no umbrella scurrying shoulders hunched head down misses her bus and takes shelter under the awning in the doorway of a closed cafe, pulls out her phone and votes for sun, but the polls are closed for the winter.
The clock is the most totalitarian of instruments, brutal and tortuous in its omnipresent place, its tick, tick, tick neither musical nor metrical, its singular forever forward motion that can only be circular not once portraying the true feeling of time, which can only be experienced in a still state. The watch, the clock’s child, suggests a semblance of private ownership, but it must be set to the public heartbeat. Only in a trap can time be kept. The clock is a syllabus for a curriculum of time in which two horses run a race clip-clopping in opposite directions.
Not Alfred Prufrock’s fog, the little yellow neighborhood cat come smelling, touching, and arching once, wags, then slinks furtively off and licks herself to sleep, the house warm and safe in her arms. But the fog that falls from a hairball night, wet and thick, as sleazy as the backuped drains running up the gutters down on skidrow. A light that illuminates nothing. And the only sound one hears is the tinkle of a bell like the carriage return signal on a fin de siè·cle typewriter, the kind T. S. Eliot might have used.
They line the streets, sitting out at sidewalk cafes, watching the passersby, angling for what they might catch. Patiently they wait, nursing a coffee through a first frost morning, almost napping off over a warm afternoon beer, coming back in the evening for a smooth glass of purple pinot noir or a shot of postprandial espresso. The burbling, gurgling, murmuring river of cars drifts along, punctuated by busses and trucks, bicycles, pedestrians crossing, a cop on a Harley, a delivery truck snagged on a rock, three buskers in an open boat. The anglers move along too, changing spots, carrying their birdcages of verbs, baskets of nouns, hooks and swivels and spinners tucked in their tackle box notebooks. And I move upriver, looking for a new hole, so hungry I will not catch and release a cliche, but will pick out its bones and pan-fry the fillet in butterfat in a cast iron skillet.
Settings is everything. If you don’t get your settings under control you risk exposure to a crowd of marketeers and advertisers, scammers and schemers, grammarians and auditors, spelling and lingo specialists, APA and MLA experts and all sorts of self-appointed stylists, and there you are, slipping down swell after swell of pop ups as you fall into the troughs between paragraphs, your settings in disarray. Not that marketing or advertising are intrinsically bad or wrong. But you can’t just sit there. You must ensure fork and spoon and knife and teacup are correctly situated, properly placed, not to move them, mind you, but to observe their movement around the table. Just kidding, that – don’t know anybody frets over those settings anymore, but in writing, there seems to remain a force, a sitting army ready to be activated to a sentence disaster (run-on or fragment), a paragraph catastrophe (its topic sentence decapitated), a thesis statement emergency (no one in disagreement). Fonts and points are important though, for the setting of the hens relies on easily reached clucks and clicks and the broody trance setting in. Yet, if you want to be set completely free, the thing to do is disable, disarm, disengage, dissemble, disassemble. The problem we have been set is to first find settings and to then calibrate and if no pop ups appear, to celebrate. I don’t know what set me to thinking about settings, just sitting here, wondering if it’s worth getting into or not, the topic, floating on the open sea of writing, settings uncleated, set loose with pen and paper as with oar and boat, where propriety is indeed a kind of table setting so that the tea party does not go mad, rarely though all that useful navigating an open sea, a blank sheet, subject to the predicates of clockmaking winds.
“Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel,” the bumbling Lord Polonius in Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” tells his son Laertes in a rant of advice often repeated since as sage and sound. But who wants to be grappled with a metal belt? Neither is friendship a luxury cruise liner where one might go shopping for a friend. A rowboat, maybe, lost on some stormy night on some stormy sea in some stormy argument, a crew of two with only one oar. A lack of friends may be associated with loneliness, and one is often never so lonely as when part of a crowd in which one can find no partner. Acquaintances and neighbors are often confused with friends when they are not. Likewise, parents, children, and siblings, when impressed as friends are often the first to jump ship. A friend at court can hardly be trusted, neither is one’s cohort a circle of friends. A friend in need is not free. To simply like is not necessarily to befriend. What is the focus point of a circle of friends? One’s spouse must not be mistaken for one’s friend, nor one’s friend mistaken for one’s spouse. Friendship is not a vessel, unless it is a ship of fools.
What can be said of cliche that has not been said? Sadness, too, floods the sensorium. Snorkeling along face underwater, sadness cannot talk, and hears only its own sorrowful breath. Cliche will sleep deep and wait out winter and will rise up again come spring, already gone to seed before the yellow narcissus awakes.
And so on, as before, in a roundabout way, using more words to say nothing than necessary. But we find merriment, on the merry-go-round, meandering and anfractuous both getting somewhere and going nowhere. Caution, of course, for those for whom the ambiguities (the zigzags, the waffle rabbits) are not pleasant but tortuous. For their sake, we shall here and now come directly to the point, dash it – The point is this: if the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, we shall always opt for the longest distance, which is a roundabout, since we’ve little interest in ever getting to the point, having just abandoned one.
However on you go on you must, with the headbutt. The hug and kiss. The head back. The ha, ha, ha. The la-de-da. The the-the-thes. The I, I, I. Not to mention the you you you. How to say new, anew, renew, using the same old word weary world weary words. Free now but, free form plot, rising action leveled, it’s a flat world after all, free from quantum. Perhaps if you tried a new template, picked a different font size, striking typography, add some color, perhaps a pic or two. Invite others to comment. Don’t be absurd. Must travel light, if must travel. The fewer words the better. Must not go far. Fewer said, fewer dead. What stopped you, then? You mean what started me up again? The same old story, impossibly wordless, still telling. Mew, mew, mew.
Land of to have and have not, mostly have not, like most lands where guns come before butter and both wind up on the black market, where compulsory works for some but not necessarily for others, where chance is every character’s antagonist, where you’re on your own but rarely left alone, until it’s obvious you’ve played out every option, then you are let to go, and you can’t go on, but go on you must. Also paradisiacal home to amateur myth, where you mighta had class, were it not that, in every failure’s telling, everything is thrown, from bronze, silver, and golden rings to bad apples, rotten tomatoes, and remaindered books. Where one is born into simplicity but immediately starts to complicate matters, thickening the plot by making decisions great and small. But it’s never too late to start singing, as long as what you sing is instrumental, no lyrics. So we come to this, not an end, but a new beginning, a fresh start, an unheard song, not of diminishing returns, like the musical chairs game, but of growth born of compassion and humility, where you give up your seat to someone else, happy to be standing, happier still to be moving, happiest when ignoring the bored gods, those gods of pencil tails, gods of implanted teeth. Gods of the chaste and gods of the meek, gods of the shy and gods of the bold. Gods of yes, maybe, and no. Gods of marrow and morrow, of deep pockets and short-sheets. Gods of horror and jubilee. Gods of theft, and gods of trash. Gods abroad and gods stayed home. Gods blowing in the wind and contained within. Gods of youth and muscle and gods of old and wrinkled. Gods of hello and gods of so long. And god of gods, who never grows old, oldest of all, god of lead and god of gold.
“So long!” is episode 81, the last episode of Inventories, a novel written in serial format at The Coming of the Toads, with daily installments from 27 July 2020 through 15 Oct 2020.