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Changeable Day: a collection


“If all movement is always interconnected, the new arising from the old in a determinate order — if the atoms never swerve so as to originate some new movement that will snap the bonds of fate, the everlasting sequence of cause and effect — what is the source of the free will possessed by living things throughout the earth?” — Lucretius Carus Titus, 99 - 55 BCE

Sidewalk café. All that brings to mind. Tiny table half in shade, pots of shrubs and gaudy primrose, saplings budding into sprays of white plus tender leaves, an arm’s length from traffic. A crow swoops from the eaves to investigate leftovers from a couple with a Doberman, who just sauntered off leaving plates and dregs in cups and most important crumbs. Life keeps at it: two Latino guys power-wash the plastic surgeon’s brick plaza. Deliveries come and go, their boxy trucks beetling around the corner. One hipster driver wheels his handtruck, empty, back to its mobile den. The Doberman’s ears were taped and rigid as party tooters. He (or she, I didn’t check) reared up, front paws on their table like someone making a point. His point being, I want what you have. This week I’ve discovered Lucretius Carus Titus, his On the Nature of Things, his muse Epicurus, his followers Bruno, More, Jefferson, Darwin. I feel the knowledge seeping through my veins, don’t know quite what to do with it... Expensive cars crawl past, windows darkened, engines drowned out by the pressure-washer’s howl, a cross between waterfall and dentist’s drill. Bristling with old tools, a yardsman’s truck heads, implacable, for the next weedy landscape. A well-dressed lady in a puffy winter coat (it is warm and sunny) stops and lifts her phone to the blooming plum, snaps a picture, checks it, retakes it, stalks on. Across the street, apartments overlook the scene, and me. Yes, I am part of someone’s changing view. Who lives above me, unaware? If I lived here I would be home now. That’s what the realtors are selling. At the barber’s, a giant photo of an unshaven but “handsome” man (quotation marks are mine), in posh casual wear, gazes pensively at the adjacent shot, a “man and son” (ditto) enjoying quality time with their haircuts. The workers pressure-wash them too: so clean you could eat off them. The last time I wrote such observations I was 20,000 feet up and a thousand miles from home, where I live now, and I was registering the street life of clouds, the passing traffic of mountains and rivers, as if it was I who was static, not whipping through the air at 600 em pee aitch, as though the sun circled around the earth. Today I am free to do nothing, leverage the sun and its changing position, and, well, “think”—that is, think thoughts, rather than worry at concerns like well-worn stones—because “my man,” as they say, has clarified with bar charts and spreadsheets that no, I really needn’t go back to work. I am “retired.” All that brings to mind. My senses stir, small multi-legged critter roused from a winter’s sleep. A few feeble blinks, the stretch of a foot, a foreleg, a quick flapping of the ears to clear the cobwebs. I’ve been wanting all this time here pen in hand to figure how to fit Lucretius in to this story. I think I have it now. I have swerved (cue vee Greenblatt), like prescient Lucretius’s atomi, which make up everything, which do not travel in straight lines like raindrops: they jitter and they change their courses, thus enabling evolution, and happenstance, free will, and such. I slouch in this sunlight like one of those proto-fish dully amazed to find his front fins scooting through the hot sand of a scratchy beach, a beach that’s full of new things, swerving, often, freely. He wants what they have. He can live here and be home.

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