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TRUMP AND ETERNITY


Nature seems to slow down when the news reaches a fever pitch of obsession, as it does now. I listen with morbid curiosity at all the bickering voices on cable and network news as Trump is analyzed for every lazy, careless word he utters as he tries to find an appropriate version of the facts for firing James Comey. Either he decided to fire him a week ago before asking the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to make the case for dismissal, or he hung fire until Rosenstein gave him the plausible pretext for axing Comey. The press has worried every nuance of Trump's squirmy explanations like Talmudic scholars shaving off one semantic level of sacred text after another, looking for the depth of intent that would exhaust all the ambiguities around the ambiguous nature of language.

The quiddities of Trump's ever-shifting logic are not to be pinned down to anything definite; he is a man desperate to conceal his true motives, which may include firing the FBI director who looms over him with truculent independence. And looms is the word -- he is as tall as an NBA center, and stands right under the hoop through which a certain key evidence could easily set up the chain of events to impeach him.

Meanwhile, outside my window, a cool crisp May morning slathers the yard with spring sunshine. Nothing is plain or modest in such brilliance -- the meanest weed aches with erotic desire to throw out some gorgeous tumescent blossom, when its meager little flowers are hardly more substantial than the crumbs left in a pizza box. The fence descends the steps into a blur of runners and branches bulging with partly unfurled leaves. I have to negotiate that passageway to get to my mailbox, and by the time I have made it through the pulsating arms and groping fingers, I am out of breath. I feel like some shy teenager who finally got to dance at the prom, and stands breathless with wonder. The girl beside him is red-faced, her corsage flattened against her sturdy bodice. But it's only me on the edge of a dirt road with a handful of circulars and a few bills, while I gaze about at the cold blue sky, the dry, uncarded wool of the clouds, and the manic trembling of the maple trees.

News makes you hungry, as if you had just come away from a feast of Chinese food and now feel hungry again. You want more, you crave the key to the mystery, you wish you could smuggle yourself into the studio and produce the telltale letter that shows Trump has been sleepless for many nights wondering how to deflect the glare of the spotlight from his own sweating face to that of, say Mike Pence, or even Rience Priebus. But he shreds the sheets of his bed and you are not there with the letter in your hand, and the security at the studio doors would be seeing you out by now into the arms of the local police. You can't make reality shape itself like so much modeling clay. It is what it is, a lump of misunderstood, mistranslated, misconstrued tidbits of things that continually gain or lose relevance as more tidbits turn up. Everybody gets to have his say, from Chris Matthews, whose round face is like a full summer moon, to the dour, ministerial George Will deploying a slightly dated eloquence to cover the little he really knows about the crisis. Men turn into squawking blue jays as they bring their fragmentary views into the light; women talk at the rasping edge of their voices to minimize whatever music their female voices might otherwise betray, as they make judicious stabs at the elusive truth.

The truth is so much wordless air moving gracefully over the marshland, sprinkling silver dust over the animal prints made last night, delicate deer marks, chisel gouges of the coyotes, the fat, convex hammering of dog paws, the spidery scrimshaw of birds nipping at the air bubbles in the soggy clay. Things haven't changed much in centuries, and the ponderous old pendulum of nature's pulse hasn't altered its rhythm since the ice age. The sky is that monumental hat the earth wears in every season, with its brim of stars and its gaping holes in the crown where time has worn away the felt. Otter Creek slides its dull mirror under the arching trees on its way south, and by the time it reaches Rutland, it is like some old song that has worn away its words.

My wife sits at the dining table in early afternoon surfing for a channel while she eats a sandwich. She can't find much to listen to; everything on air is like so much linoleum someone lined the floors with, a pattern of repetition that is harmlessly boring and inconsequential. She finally turns off the TV and thumbs the pages of a novel. We are at the bottom of a sea of information, and live among the cast offs of time and memory. A sentence might begin on one channel that another will finish, while the face of Trump floats over the heads of the voices like some grotesquely inflated balloon hovering over the crowds at the Macy's Day Parade. We want meaning in our empty human world; we starve for lack of understanding. We have fashioned a government that in principle functions for our good, and yet, with so many temptations to corrupt it, we are left with a limping, maligned, disintegrating system of rules and loop holes. We beseech the Founding Fathers for wisdom, guidance from that more innocent and unblemished past of our imaginations, and receive nothing but the dusty silence.

My first caterpillar has emerged from under a forsythia leaf and hesitates to condense its parti-colored tubular body. There it stops just outside of time, with its accordion-pleated skin at rest. No one could possibly explain an alarm clock to this creature; it would be even more difficult to lay out the principles of cause and effect. A political scandal would slowly close its eyes and curl its two spun-glass antennas. Its diary is empty, and the pen it might use is without ink. Nothing can inspire a single thought from this meticulous string of molecules, as it begins to contract its rings of muscle and moves on. I whisper the word Trump in its ear and it doesn't even bend its head to allow me to explain.

A car comes down the muddy road and a couple stares straight ahead. They are like the caterpillar in this one regard, that they live inside a tube of vivid colors, and their progress toward some goal is unknowable. Inside the dark cabin where they sit motionless is the hum of a voice providing an update of the latest events, the next thin layer of reality newly peeled away to reveal some delicate revision of why Comey was fired. I don't think they are listening; I think they have given up trying to understand anything. They exist in a murky, turgid realm of half-ideas, a dimension in which reality is no longer flexible but hardened into marble. I nod to them but they don't see me. I am lost in the folds of nature, a neighbor who has willingly suspended his humanity in order to breathe the moist, moldy breath of my backyard, and to enjoy the anonymity of the birds and gnats.

The road ends at the end of my lot and joins a paved street leading to town. They head that way. Behind them the dirt road travels backward in time, like some soft velvet cloth coming off a bolt of make believe, and I am half tempted to begin walking that way. The hills are vague, but behind them rise the peaks of the Adirondacks rooted in the mysterious calm of upstate of New York. We are such a thin layer of facts imposed upon this eternal landscape, a gauze stretched on pegs to cover what we cannot conquer with our consciousness. But there it is, the grand estate of nature with its monuments to silence and emptiness, its rivers of forgetful glitter, its breezes rising and falling over the mute world. I walk a little of the way, stop, turn around, and go back into the house, to the realm of fussy parsing and overly nice dissection of events that hardly exist outside the television.

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© 2014 by Paul Christensen