THREE EXEMPLARY EVENTS

ITEM: calamar. I was swimming in the Adriatic with a mask and breathing tube over a bed of dark seaweed, winding and unwinding slowly in the current like hanks of heavy umber-coloured hair. I flushed out a squid the size of my hand. This little creature startled me as much as I scared it. It looped and twisted in intricate evasive manoeuvres, much like the `barrel roll’ with which early aviators liked to show off, and rocketed back into the seaweed. It was so quick as barely to be visible, but in that fraction of a second it blurted out a convoluted record of its passage in sepia. One masterly stroke of calligraphy disintegrating in the current.

Transient, like the best things

ITEM: gravity. A friend of mine, Art McKay, was a painter. Art was decidedly fey; things happened to him that do not happeh to other people.

At the time I am thinking of he painted with stove enamel. One night he opened a quart can that had been opened earlier and then improperly closed. He pried out the thick rind that had hardened on the surface and looked around for somewhere to get rid of it. The door of his studio was cased in old-fashioned molding with a little carved rosette about four inches square at each upper corner. You have seen these in old buildings. By whim he stuck the paintskin over one of these rosettes and went home. He showed me later what he found in the morning. It was eerie. The patch, impeded by its own viscosity, had spent the night slithering down the molding, leaving its trail. When it came to the Yale lock it inched its way laboriously out over the casing, then over the oval brass knob. Hanging by a thread of thickening paint, its own weight had tilted it in until it found the door frame again. Then, rotating as it went, it kept going until finally, several inches short of its goal_the floor_it ran out of goo and stopped and hardened, leaving for all time a monumental calligraphic record of its fall.

ITEM: song. I was cycling downtown from my home in Vancouver. The high point of this route is the corner of Pender and Heatley; from there north and west it’s downhill all the way to where False Creek and Burrard Inlet used to connect at high water around what is now Carrall Street. I began to coast down Heatley. I never, ever pedal downhill. To forego such a pleasure would seem like spitting on the gift of gravity.

I had barely started down this long incline when I heard singing on my right. It was a girl on the sidewalk with a skateboard singing a wordless song to herself. She was a strange person. About fifteen, not exactly beautiful, perhaps a trifle simple-minded for all I could tell, but to me, extraordinary. Not the girl herself perhaps but the conjunction of girl and song and movement. We floated side by side to stop at the lights at Hastings Street. She smiled at me, still singing. We both turned left on Powell Street. I passed her, but I could hear her still. When I stopped in the five hundred block she came clattering down the sidewalk and floated west, and her song faded and faded.

More transience. This encounter haunts me still. A door opened into my life, allowed me a glimpse—of what?—then closed. I cannot dissociate the event from a passage in The Idea Of Order At Key West by Wallace Stevens.

She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

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