The Mysteries of His System
The Verses in His Life
A Love Story
by Barry Grant
Part Four: Spring
"What did you say about love?"
"I said luck and love will take me onward."
"I need luck and love to find a new system."
"What do you mean by love?"
"Grace, forgiveness for being who you are, open space . . ."
"What do you mean by needing love to find a new system?"
"Oh. Love is a kind of luck. I suppose love is a kind of luck. I wasnt looking for you and then there you were and there was love. Thats love and luck together. People try to explain this but theres no explanation, really. Thats not all there is to love. Thats the part that has to do with finding a system. You dont know, then you know. Youre alone, then youre not. You have a system that makes you unhappy, then you have a system that makes you happy. You cant find a system by searching for one. You have to be in the right place, but you cant search. When you are in the right place, a system comes to you. Like grace. Like love. Like you came to me, Prue. Ive thought about a lot of possibilities, all that I can think of, and thats my conclusion, for now anyhow."
"In the meantime?"
"Wait. I wait."
"How will you wait?"
"Oh Audie, you have such ideas," Prudence exclaimed as she reached her fingers through Audies hair and pulled his head to her eager lips.
Audie waited, and while he waited, he listened to his system, enjoying it as he could, not thinking about a new system, not thinking about perfection or imperfection, not thinking about discernment or the failure of true perception. He filed his magazines unread on a shelf in the room with the system, their smooth sides and taut spines, marks of the distance he had traveled.
Audie waited, and Prudence waited with him. And while they waited, they worked at their jobs, entertained friends, attended concerts and plays, and did all the things that a couple in love with money to spend do in a town near a big city.
They hired an expert to build a network of poles and racks and bins in the bedroom closet.
They gave clothes and furniture to the Salvation Army (sighing relief when the black men with their back braces and bowling shirts walked the deal table out the door).
They bought new towels and linens from Edith. The towels, pennants of rose quartz cotton in dense pile, fine strands of hemp and ox blood lovely woven at the roots of the corners. The linens, wild silk.
They moved the blue heliotrope from its proud place in the bathroom to a bright windowsill in the alcove off the kitchen.
They gave money to their causes, discussing together every one of the appeals to their concern and sympathy they found in their mailbox. Animal rights, human rights, free speech, ending war, food and materials for the poor in distant places, and the Buddhist temple down the street each received a monthly check from their joint account.
The letter from the One World Free Vegetarianism Foundation was signed by Mr. Bell, founder and director, in Los Angeles. After reading it aloud to Prudence, Audie said, "Ridiculous," and tossed it in a pile of credit card solicitations, empty envelopes, and advertisements for missing children.
Prudence said, "Audie, hes probably a poor unhappy man, perhaps with only parakeets or sick birds hes found on the street for company. Lets send him money."
"If hes so poor, how did he get our address?"
"Maybe he got it from that classified ad paper with the tiny print and the numbers you and your friends receive. He could be, you know, that way too. Hes addressed the letter himself and the paper is cheap and the print is dim, so he cant have much money. I bet hes the only member of his organization. If we send him money, he could spend it on food or movie tickets or new clothes so he wont look so poor and lonely when he goes out on a date, with whom, its not for us to say."
"And Mr. Bell will send us a bumper sticker that says, Rice and Beans for a One World Dream," Audie said as he kissed Prudence on her brow.
Audie waited, and Prudence waited with him. Their waiting was a space of quietness and ease and deep energy. They lived in this space, looking and tasting and talking and listening with an intensity and a satisfaction neither had known before. (This is a love story.) Everything they did worked, even when it didnt, work. Every day, Audie thought, "What luck. What luck."
"Prue, Ive got to get to my desk. I feel a poem in me." Prudence unlocked the door to their apartment. Audie whisked past her, pulled off his gloves and overcoat, and nearly knocked over the coat rack as he pushed his heavy woolen topcoat upon it.
Prudence heard a door slam as she took off her coat. She thought to herself, "He could be in there for hours. He wrote a poem before the concert. I guess that wasnt enough."
Audie and Prudence often stayed up late Fridays and Saturdays, sometimes until two or three oclock in the morning. The middle of the night was their favorite time for talking, listening to music, writing, and making love. The darkness and the silence quickened everything they did.
Prudence had the peculiar feeling of enervation and excitement that she often had after a concert. Too tired to write in her journal, too full of feeling to sleep, she turned the tuner to the classical station, sat in her chair, and opened Emma. Novels were almost all she read. The twenty or thirty books she loved had almost everything in them she ever wanted from books, and she read them over and over.
"Sorry Prue, for disappearing, but I did have a poem in me. A pretty good one, I think. Listen."
Prudence looked up from her book and listened.
When the horns squeaked
And the conductor
Raised his arms
As if to call forth spirits
And the piano replied
With an apologetic chord
Hauled before the audience
By the baton
By the violins
By the harps
By the basses
By the trumpets
By their associates
(But not the tubas
Of not carrying a tune
His soft tunes
Like an old man
Who says he knows the world
And wont get excited
Or look out his window
Or misplace a book
Or take a walk
On a Saturday
The piano player
The old mans
Who flung his hands
Off the burning keys
And his jowls
And his pompadour
Out to our hearts
"Audie, I like that poem very much. Of all the poems you have written, it is the best. But did the piano player have a pompadour?"
"Prue. A poem is not nor can it attempt to be a veridical representation of a state of affairs. Everything happens only once. A poem is its own reality. It is what it is and not something else, as you have taught me. A poem succeeds or fails in its attempt to create a feeling or state of mind or to reorganize the raw data of experience into something new and enlightening or shocking. A good poem is like the whack of Kungo Roshis kyosaku. It wakes you up and you pay attention. Just like a system. Hey its just like a system. A system is a machine for making poetry."
Sometimes, after he had read a review by Silverton or Lange and added a number of purchases to his collection of serious records, or after he had spent a weekend with friends auditioning interconnects, or after he had asked himself, "Who am I?" and thought all day about an answer, or after he remembered that life was good and he didnt have to be anybody if he didnt want to, he would say to Prudence, "Prudence, tonights a theme night." Prudence would smile her smile of knowing Audie and say, "Whats the theme?" Audie would reply, "Twist and Shout" or "Yeah, God" or "Dont Blame Me" or some other name he was proud to have thought up. Prudence would wave her hand through Audies hair and say to him, "Youre such a little boy." Audie would smile his uncertain smile, unsure if being a little boy was good or bad, unsure if Prudence was right.
In C was playing. (Rothko Chapel then Bot-Ba were next in an evening of "Zenpaper Music.") Prudence sat in her soft red chair, Audie in his. Prudence thought about the music and how it went on and on and seemed to be saying the same thing over and over, but when you listened carefully it was interesting and told you things, and how much she liked it when Audie told her things, and how interesting they were even when he had told them to her before, and she thought about the time Audie explained how his system was wrong and why he needed a new one. She remembered exactly what he had said, and she said it to herself,
"Prue, by wrong, I dont mean,
wrong in frequency response,
wrong in imaging,
wrong in resolution,
wrong in tonality,
wrong in time coherence,
wrong in dynamics.
I mean, wrong in,
When the recording stopped, Prudence turned toward Audie and reached her hand across the space between their chairs and said, "Audie, tell me what youve been thinking."
Audie was used to this question. He rested his eyes in Prudences eyes and answered,
"Sometimes I think about myself,
that is, I think about
and what I did
and what I might do
and what I should have done.
Sometimes I think about
the dog Zeke,
whom we both know and love,
and sometimes I think about
the music in my ears,
and the sound of the bird flying
against the bedroom window
when I kissed your breasts
and sometimes I think about
your sweet voice and your dark eyes,
and all the rest of you.
Every day, when I am not thinking about
I say your name to myself,
Prue, Prue, Prue,
over and over again.
Is that thinking?
Sometimes I think about space and its
relationship to objects,
and time and its relationship to spirit,
and sometimes I think about, whether,
because all beings are essentially motion,
that is vibrations of long and short and irregular
conflict among people is inevitable
or if such conflict can be avoided
with careful planning.
Sometimes I think about my system,
but not now."
"Audie, you said that last time."
"Remember what we did afterwards?"
One spring morning, Audie was sitting by a window in the room with the system listening to a mockingbird spit jeers at indifferent neighbors. ("Is that music?" Audie wondered. "Everything is music," he decided, as he always decided when he asked himself this question.) The bird stopped its music and lifted itself into the air. Audie followed its flight to a lower branch in another tree, thinking, "Birds know differences of which we are unaware." As his eyes turned toward the ground, he spied a spotted spider building a web among the jonquils he and Prudence had planted in a window box. (Later, he looked up the spider in his spider book. "Common name, Red-Spotted Crab Spider," he read.)
"The first flowers of spring! The flowers must have bloomed that morning!" he said to himself. "They werent there yesterday, and flowers dont bloom at night, not these kind. A sign, spring flowers and a spiders nest together, a sign!"
Audie asked himself, "What kind of a sign?"
And what does a sign look like, exactly?
And, I dont believe in signs, do I?"
"Uh, Audie said as he reached into Prudences bowl to rescue the soup ladle that had slid out of his hand. He wiped the tail of the ladle on his napkin, licked his fingers, and finished serving the miso soup. Prudence noticed an expression on Audies face she had never seen before, preoccupied, grim, exalted, dazed (the exalted and dazed part she had seen before), and wondered what it meant.
Prudence finished drying the dinner dishes and hung up the drying-off towel. She sat at the kitchen table, running her fingertips across the faint indentations of the grain of the oak, watching the shadow of her apartment building creep up the wall of the building next door, and thinking about Audie and Edith and Mr. Bell and everyone else she could think of, saying to herself after she thought of each one, "May all beings be happy."
The click and whir of the refrigerator turning on startled her. She looked over her shoulder towards the room with the system where Audie had gone after dinner to pull recordings for "Oh, My Soul" and realized that the apartment had been silent for some time. She pushed her chair away from the table, stood up, and walked through the short hallway that entered into the room with the system.
She found Audie slumped in his chair, staring at his system, its lights dark, the last rays of the sun glinting in the silver prongs of its power cords.
"We begin?" Prudence asked.
"We begin," Audie replied.