Paper thin. Onion skin. It had taken 96 years to turn blood into poetry. I would speak of the poetics of old age, he would call it the necessity of decay. Either that, or the slow swim towards death.
Swim, not march. He chose his words carefully. ‘March’ was too weighty a word, he pictured it wearing heavy boots, only able to move forward in monotonous repetition. ‘Swim’, on the other hand, implied fluidity, flow. Yes, it is only through swimming that you can meet resistance with grace, move through density while remaining weightless.
So, on his slow swim towards death, his skin had become so transparent you could see the words flowing through his veins.
He always had the most beautiful penmanship. Perhaps he had learned it as a small boy. I could see it now, the sun filtering through the schoolroom window, the heavy particulates of dust dancing above the ink well. The wooden desk. The small hand confidently waltzing across the page in cursive loops and pirouettes. Only resting his pen when certain that he was sitting on the peripheries of perfection.
He was a man of letters, of language, built his house out of books. But it was only in his old age that it had gotten to this point—when he would eat his words, and I mean this in the most literal sense. He lost his taste for food, would only ingest bits of paper, lines of poetry.
I arrived at his house on a heavy Thursday when even the clouds forgot that they had the ability to let go and become light again. Instead they just hung, waiting. Grey bleeding into black.
So, it was on that day that I arrived with a bowl of soup. I thought I could by sly, cheeky really, in my gesture. Offering alphabet soup, of all things. I knew he would appreciate some epic line from Tennyson or Keats, but all I could manage was to spell out ‘y-u-m’ in noodles and hold up the spoon to his mouth. I should’ve known he would dismiss it—didn’t want to pollute himself with someone else’s salty words.
He grinned at me, then turned around to face his desk. The wooden desk. The inkwell. The return to childhood.
And that’s how I remember him, carefully writing in tiny cursive on white paper. The way he moved his gaze towards the window, through the window, through the clouds. The way he put down the pen, absent-mindedly lifting the paper to his mouth to tear it with his teeth, as if it were a piece of bread. And there he sat, chewing.
I stayed and watched the words circulate through his transparent veins. Watched, until all his words dissolved and were gone.
(Photo credit: AikBengChia from Flickr. Transformed by sunlight, water and me. Text courtesy of the random wires in my head).