Don Schaeffer is a phenomenological poet, devoted to exact description of experience. He has published a dozen volumes of poetry, his first in 1996, not counting the experiments with self publishing under the name "Enthalpy Press." His poetry has appeared in numerous periodicals and has been translated into Chinese for distribution abroad. Don is a habitue of the poetry forum network and has received first prize in the Interboard competition.
He holds a Ph.D. in social psychology from the City University of New York. He currently lives in New York after spending half his adult life in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada.
The following work is copyright © 2013. All rights reserved. No distribution or reprinting in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Those long bus rides between Urbana, Illinois and Wheaton, Maryland were all in the interspace. There were hours of smooth nothingness punctuated by jangly nothingness at change points like Cincinnati and Pittsburg, blurs in memory, dreamy, the taste of intensely needed sandwiches and the desperate need to be clean. Long half voyages through fantasy, through needle-sticking frustrated drives, thirst, looking out of the window for relief, only to see darkness.
Samuel passed from region to region through this desert 3 times a year. He thought as he travelled over the flat land of Eastern Indiana:
In the world where people live in imagination, those who imagine themselves to be among the creative struggle against each other. They look up to heaven for special blessings, and look into the future for signs of immortality. Of course no one can see into the future, so it's in imagination, tied to self-esteem. It's a dangerous way to be, hanging so much of your life on faith with so little evidence. It's like being suspended on pikes over a cliff.
The bus paused in Indianapolis after the sun went down. Some passengers swept against him and he felt the vibration as they swung their bags one after the other, once nearly hitting his face. Then others got on. Nobody interesting. The pattern of seating changed. Samuel prayed that nobody obnoxious would chose the seat next to his. He forgot his own obnoxiousness.
There was no time to leave the bus. Samuel always felt the fear that he would leave then find himself abandoned in the inhospitable station. He sat back in his seat and waited for the interlude to pass. Overpopulation was created in a bus, perhaps worse than in an airliner, especially an airliner in 1963 when they were still polite and served food.
Thinking he was special and that he had something important to say fed his vanity and added to his pain. It was an item of faith that Samuel clung to—wouldn't let go of. It was as if feeling ordinary would take away all his hope, as if he had to practice the faith or lose it.
Years ago when a great steel gate marked the entrance to publication and the mystical editor lords sat in their office towers and pretty leafy bower cottages with their recognition stamps it was almost easier to stomach. Then dreams were easily shut down, aspiration quickly doused. Now the levers of dreams are temptingly reachable. One can hope longer, can gamble longer, can hang one’s self further out over the cliff.
It would be a 22 hour ride. The bus would stop a little east of the city for a rest stop and give passengers 30 minutes to grab something to eat. For a man preoccupied with competition, sibling rivalry, Samuel liked his privacy. The idea of sharing life with someone caused him to pause, loving somebody who was human and helpless made him turn away.
Samuel thought, there are only so many lines left on the honor roll of blessing. And I want a place there. He threatened all the other aspirants in his creative writing class and even wrote a rant condemning a fellow student for writing a good story. How dare he, Samuel said. He just pretends.
What Samuel meant was, can I share the eye of God with him? His words dance, sliding, take him up. His wings tilt and balance in the eye-time space, while I walk, stumble, with the rhythm of the gimp. I lead dumb words with chicken legs. They would never fly by themselves. God won't look at me at all.
Artists are made hungry. They are tempted by the breathing of their prey, like jackals, like salesmen. Hunting for the ones who live among the riches, people who know who they are, feeling immunized against doubt, feeling they have been reared to enjoy and applaud, certain of a place in the eye of God. They are the buyers.
To create an artist, Samuel would say, feed him thin so that love develops fast but imperfectly. That's what leaves a great selling. Let the artist live on group hugs and watery conversation, skinny relatives in dark places filled with folklore and fear, never quite out of myth and nowhere to hide.
“Don't invite an artist to your dinner parties, says Samuel. “Rich conversation doesn't venture where the artist goes. Thin and perverse half grown love is the burning that fuels the selling. Everything flows out, rarely in. The sale is the thing.”
The bus slipped past Ohio over the line into West Virginia. There were broken and burnt hills that used to be mountains. There was no more grandeur just tricky turns and thin forests black against the snow. They made a sharp turn down a passage cut into rock. Then Wheeling came into view framed by the canyon. It was like a gentle glide into the town, down the narrow streets. In the bus, half asleep in the early morning, Samuel could sense the dark life of coal miners. He was safe from that, he thought.
Aching with fantasy, he thought, I write poetry that has an audience in my egocentric brain and I make things on paper I call art. I wait like a beggar for a passerby's disinterested eye. I wrestle with sincerity on the ancient field of paper.
It was like a game of hide and seek. He recalled just such a game. I hid behind the curtain. The others were supposed to find me. I waited but nobody looked. I waited and listened like a deer in the forest, a little frightened, but that was the thrill of it. But nobody came. When I left my hiding place, I found the terrace door open and all had fled.
The bus didn't stop in West Virginia. It is such a small state and the Maryland panhandle was only minutes away. Samuel settled in for another few hours completely saturated with resting. The slight early morning gray was like dust in the bus. Where was he going? Samuel was thinking. He was going home; but it wasn't home. It was a visit to his parents back in time. Would he ever return? Was he really welcome? They would greet him and he would be grateful.
In the ancient days, before Samuel knew, when Samuel was a troubadour, the audience would come if they had nothing else to do. The singers would fill up the empty hours and sometimes a few coins would flow. We lived between the towns, in wooden carts drawn by starving horses. We had no place to go and nothing to do but watch.
Now, from the high standpoint of age, as if he looked back from a high peak with thin clouds drifting under him, Samuel realizes that now is the time for play. He pulls out his toys like he did when he sat sprawled on his parents' carpet.