Once, I heard a boxing coach say you don’t punch a thing if you really want to achieve your objective—which is pure harm—you punch through. Since that day, I have often thought of the other side. I was studying English somewhere in the Midwest. It is hard to say. I suffered horribly a kidney stone, and after it had raked its barbs through my ureter, damming and undamming the channel as it moved through its disgusting course over the period of three hours, after I had passed the wretched thing, I composed myself. I reached into the bowl in order to behold the thorny, black diamond of it. Bowing down and then standing up, pausing there over the sharp and glistening months of calcification beyond my knowledge, didn’t I worship that shard as if I were in its debt? My urologist insisted I give it to him for testing, but how could I part with a god who had visited me? I wanted a name for it. I treasured my tangible black hole, pain’s incarnation, my ready connection to the supernatural. Though I told the doctor that in a fit of revulsion I had flushed it, I keep it in a tiny stone box I once brought back from Africa. My stone of stones.
Months would pass without his thinking of it, and of the grand entrance to the house and the long-necked women in gauzy dresses and the men, men of means, the men he wanted to punch in the face but would refrain from doing so. All those servants in ill-fitting white shirts and smudged black pants, the servants everyone ignored, these he would be kind to. But here finally, on the table before him like a word from an angel, was his invitation. Should he pour himself a glass of wine? He opened it.
While the envelope had the appropriate stamp and cancellation postmark in those wavy hills that reminded him of his year in Iowa, and this same envelope was of a heavy cotton the off-white of the bleached winter prairie of the southern plains, and while his name was in some Jensen font of impeccable taste, the letter within was nothing but a blank sheet of paper. No date or salutation, no body, no closing or signature. His mind for a moment tried to go blank. No, he would not let that happen.
He rummaged through his mind in search of the details he had always imagined for the estate, the immaculate shrubs, the ridiculous nouveau/deco marble stairway, the windows and the doorways within the house rounded at the edges. He thought: These people who mill about these parties, they have no eye for how today’s architecture, so beautiful now, will in ten years gather scornful remarks in the next generation. A curve here today must be straightened tomorrow. Where is the aesthetic of something that will last? Finally, over the white expanse of the page he wrote himself a modest letter of invitation and he signed it. He would simply put it in a drawer to forget about the whole affair only to find it one day and have a good laugh. He would not light it on fire. He would not set it ablaze.
Once there was a man with stones for a face. The stones had cracked precisely enough to look like a man’s face. The stone-face had something to say. It said, At rest, the dragonfly seems to fly.
Years passed. The man had something else to say. But he couldn’t say it, as At rest, the dragonfly seems to fly had gotten stuck in its craw. Do you have something stuck in your craw? Stone-face’s mother finally asked. Why yes, I’m glad you asked, Stone-face said, but he couldn’t speak any more than that, as this was the new sentence that was stuck in his craw. He stood there looking as if, Why yes, I’m glad you asked. His mother thought it was odd that he refused to speak for years at a time but, after all, he did, indeed, have a face made of stone.
Years passed and one day Stone-face was walking down a cobblestone lane when he tripped over a feral cat that had come barreling in front of him, running from a man with a long gun. The sandstone of which his jaw was constructed shattered into two long plates. Between the plates was a fossil of an ancient bird-snake that showed a completely new way of looking at the fossil record since the bird-snake had both male and female genitalia. So this is why you have been so conflicted about speaking, his mother said. Orality, she said. An hermaphroditic and archetypal orality. Since his jawbone was immediately on display at a distant museum, he could only nod sadly.