Gerrard Ponti (ed.): Remembering the Suzuki Court

 

From Remembering the Suzuki Court

1. Brian Page, clerk in Suzuki’s third term 

One fall day of my clerkship I arrived, at request, at the Chief Justice’s home–to prepare, uselessly I always thought, for upcoming oral argument of a case. He rarely “prepared”; but, when he did, a revision of something seemed sure to come. He never prepared at these “preparations.” One arrived, something happened, one left.

The Chief, I was told, was out back, gardening, which at the moment consisted of Suzuki on his knees, pulling out shafts of a tall weed like plant with delusive hope of becoming a tree. I announced myself, wondering if I was expected to contribute to this enterprise.

“Ah, Brian. I am pulling.”

Oh oh. He’s in his transplanted immigrant mode, victim of the world force beyond the control of all.

“Yes, Chief. I see.”

“Pulling weed-like growth with irritatingly beautiful purple flowers in spring. I pull these out every year.”

“Every year?”

“Yes.”

“They reseed that fast?”

“What?”

“They come back that fast?”

“Come back? They never leave! Devious users of my plan.”

Yes, this is why I am here. To see, hear this. So:

“Plan? You’re weeding.”

“Grows very high, very fast. Pop! Big purple flowers so beautiful! We must let them be! Roots strangle humbler plants. Soon nothing but big, beautiful purple flowers. No one remembers the prior residents.

“There. Done.”

He stands up.

“But you’ve left some of the roots.”

“I must.”

“It will grow back.”

“Unless another appears.”

“You mean to plant something else?”

“I am no plant!”

“Chief?”

“Weed like growth didn’t ask me to be here. Plant must come.”

“It’s your backyard.”

“Illusion! I am only visitor.”

“Chief, if you leave the roots it will surely return.”

“Roots till the soil. Easier for seed to take hold.”

“You pull the roots, Chief. You are the real tiller.”

“You understand!”

For this I fought for notice at Berkeley Law. My future rumbles dissatisfaction: “You were a clerk of Suzuki? Next!” Still:

“Easier for what seed?”

“Good question.”

This last grumbled. He is teaching himself a lesson, one requiring an audience. As though making a point is a bad thing, he makes one circumspectly, hoping I will somehow figure it all out, hoping I will somehow make a difference.

“It is unlikely a seed will drop, Chief.”

“I know. So beautiful purple consumes mysterious unknown resource, grows big every year. Which means I’m here every year.”

Time for author’s message. This must have something to do with vouchers [West v Louisiana oral argument was pending]. His engine of success.

“Strange. Plant slow, evolves slowly. I evolving quickly. So I keep pulling out the slow one, hoping something will happen. I evolve so quickly soon I will no longer be here. Plant will always be here.”

“A bleak legacy, Chief.”

“Seed will come. Important texts say so. Seed will come. Meanwhile, I have lovely purple flowers each Spring!”

He claps his hands to shake the dirt off.

“Let’s eat so you can go home.”

 

From Remembering the Suzuki Court

2. Brian Page, clerk in Suzuki’s third term 

Ben went back to his birth state of Illinois after his “spontaneous retirement.” He settled in a farming town, in a once been small farm whose acreage had lay fallow for many years, hard, bumpy land not quite worth the swallowing by corporate entities. The associated town survived, nearby farms now corporate leases plus some individually owned perpetual debt, the environs inadequate for economies of scale. Ben bought a hold out farm that sadly went under. He kept it that way, of course: weeds and prairie grass for view.

Here he worked on Historical unpleasantness, a collection of interpretative vignettes, some of which were published in his life. “I was Chief Justice. Maybe someday I will say something, so they take present nonsense.” And his Zen Journal–but I knew nothing of that.

Firmly entrenched in Manhattan law practice–too firmly, Ben would say–I visited yearly, grateful I wasn’t turned away. Many past clerks came, but he never spoke of them, not even those of my year. Once, having finished lunch, we went out back to watch the weeds campaign for status as prairie grass, moving to show us the ways of breeze. There they were. A clump of ugly green plants, about three feet tall, sprouting vivid purple flowers, the very same as in his D.C. backyard.

“Ben–they have followed you!”

“Struggle never ends.”

I pause. “Ben, I know I am slow–I was your clerk after all…”

A growl.

“…but it cannot be that this plant is indigenous to both places.”

“Struggle requires preparation.”

“You put those weeds in your D.C. backyard. Every year. After pulling them out.”

“Ah. I chose well. You are slow. Nothing grows that fast!”

“You put them there, let them bloom….”

“Irritating dazzle of purple….”

“…then you tore them out, waiting, then planted them again.”

He stands still, looking out at the moving prairie grass/weeds. Then his arms flurry: “Something must substitute when reality does not come!”

Reality does not come: the wild seed, dropped without intention. Not one of numerous seeds flung about; a rare seed rarely dropped, dropped by no hand. A sutra seed. A seed so rare we wouldn’t know what to do if it came forth. Perhaps, Benjamin Suzuki, there is–there need be–no seed. Perhaps it is the transplanting, the removal, the waiting irrespective of hope, then, when nought comes, the transplanting, emblem for what should come but never does; perhaps it is this foolish cycle which is the marvel awaiting, awaiting for us to notice what we do. No, you do–not I. Not I, Benjamin. Still, this million dollar man before you did listen, fresh out of Berkeley joust, so important walking the Court steps which remain after I pass. I, a transplant which must be uprooted, awaiting the seed which never comes.

He turns toward me: “I know. Was I ever Chief Justice? I have to ask Elizabeth sometimes.”

I have no words. He pulls up two lawn chairs, facing them towards the unkempt acreage of grass.

“Time to watch movement.”

We sit long, saying nothing, sounds and indistinct shapes of color forming sense lost upon the first human encounter, where words inundate all possibility, leaving only the failed words of conversation to construct an abode. But, in this silence, in this movement which never ends nor recedes, in this companionship without talk to make you out of I, no transplanting is necessary. You’ve done it, Ben. Sutra seed whose bloom is as vast as vision. Here, the dangerous mircale of transmission: what I took did you give? Pull me out of this ground. Sell me to the great corporation for rooting in plush concrete where important outcomes abound. I will find a way to dazzle purple, not the real thing, no, never the real thing, but emblem for what might be.

All along it was the purple weed you loved.

*         *         *

You’re gone now. With Elizabeth I view the unkempt prairie a final time. Purple flowers have broken out of their plot, meandering toward the back door, trailing the house’s back.

“He kept it up until the stroke. Uprooting, waiting, transplanting. Each year. I asked him if I should hire someone to do it. He said that would be crazy. Those last three years, sometimes he would look out back. ‘Purple thinks it has won,’ he would say, ‘Let it have its pay.’”

Purple flowers needing no human eye. But purple nonetheless. Purple, ready for use–or not. That is literature. That is the writing in the dark of unknown value. That, Ben, is what you finally left us.

Back inside, Elizabeth opens his desk: “What shall I do with this?”

His Zen Journal, as rambling as the purple weed. Too long grown because never uprooted. His pay. But human flowers never wilt. Ask why they’re here and you miss the possibilities of present use.

That fall next I assumed a judgeship in New York county court. I had made enough money. Time to transplant irritatingly purple flower. I, emblem for what did not come.

 

From Remembering the Suzuki Court

3. Gerrard Ponti, clerk in Cabrales’ fifth term 

The Justice took me south, drove me through southwestern Texas into New Mexico, legal briefs in trunk, days in old hotels, never that fuzzy class called motel, hotels just this side of comfort, days with legal briefs pilled about Mexican food, this the locus of my jurisprudence, he said. Never mind Harvard Law. Desert towns were his education, men and women speaking Spanish, telling stories of lives with fiction a tool for clarity, speaking this time to audience of single man who ramifies into multitudes, unknown, concealed magician of ideas.

So he traveled with a clerk one month each summer, rejected certiorari petitions in tow: what would we have said if the Court had heard the petition? Studies in the caprice of justice, voices drowned so a few others may speak. Why invest so heavily in a few clerks? Because so much was invested in me.

And always church and mass. Sundays, and, when available, confessional. Once, in a small New Mexican town, he entered an old confessional, I sitting in a pew, wondering how such poverty could sustain such a glittering alter; then priest rush walks in directly to confessional, enters his side, confers with an Associate Justice. The priest emerged bemused, started at my presence, rushing off, a visitation from something. The Justice would call it an act of God if in the audience. Acts of God. Cabrales would say our lives are too familiar to recognize an Act of God. But an immigrant needs those acts, sees through others’ mundane. Immigrants, he said, found it hard to ignore God. Then, with a smile, of course, immigration is a matter of scale.

Where we traveled, not all immigrants were Hispanic. One small town’s sole hotel was owned by an Arab. We stayed and did our what if work, listening to the proprietor’s banter. Banter of Iraq. Heads rolling in Bagdad, death so persistent it must come from faith. So many heads only the hand of God could sever them all. The proprietor was wounded inside, no balm in ranting against America, his America, citizen some twenty years.

“We have chaos!” he barked at the Justice, “No one knows who is doing this!”

Anthony paused. Pau paused. He knew most Muslims declaimed terrorists as not of Islam. But the beheadings were too frequent to escape the net of Belief. Gently he said, “No. We know. All of us know.”

The proprietor’s eyes bulged. “Who,” he dared.

“The hand of divinity severs these heads.”

Silence. Not Islam. Divinity. Not nationalism. Divinity. Not the murderous hatred of humans. Divinity. Divinity: the fulcrum of hope.

Anthony reached into his shirt pocket, took out his small childhood wooden crucifix covered with decades of sweat and skin, placing it on the table, before all.

“I know,” he added.

A moment which might break. The proprietor looked at the cross, at the Justice. A burden retreated from his face: “Yes, you know.”

We traveled the next day.

From Remembering the Suzuki Court

4.  Theodore Taylor, mathematician at the University of Utah, friend of Benjamin Suzuki; shortly after Suzuki’s first term on the Court

Nonacs v Selton [declaring conscription violative of the 13th Amendment’s prohibition against involuntary servitude] seemed about to topple the Court, the Republican House fuming, seriously considering impeachment of half the Justices. Justice Scalia’s proposed Constitutional Amendment nullifying the decision would redirect the rancor, but that was yet to be. Benjamin wanted to get away. He came to visit. We trudged Zion National Park in high spring. At the middle Emerald pool he stared at its waterfall, just stared, seemingly twenty minutes or more, occasional fellow consumers passing, close, unaware they shared this landscape beyond man with the Betrayer, the Assassin of Liberty, the Diabolical Mind–and a host of other sobriquets rampaging through the media. Nothing had changed; nothing would in the foreseeable future. Yet hysteria over Nonacs continued to grow. Ben stared. Out of worry, I approached, asking what he saw.

Staring still, he replied, “The dissolution and confluence of history. The larger no different than its parts, just more destructive.”

I pointed to the pool at waterfall’s basin. “There is also calm below.”

“Destruction is creation”

“How often that slogan has been used for abomination, Ben.”

“I know. But the tool can’t be dropped. By anyone.”

No playful Japanese immigrant-who-is-not in his voice that day. Nor for many days thereafter. Ben had changed the game, and he was afraid. I think Scalia saved him. The Court majority forced Scalia into an honesty which ultimately insulated the Suzuki majority. If Scalia hadn’t been so honest in his Nonacs concurrence, if he had just dissented, prophesying destruction, I think the Court might have broken in its first move. I think Ben was sure of it.

[Archival note:  cf Nonacs v Selten:  Justice Scalia conurring in judgement;  Kendal Q. Binmore: A cacophony of silence: ground of the Triumvirate: 6. Gandhi’s failure, Suzuki’s hope, which uses this entry in its entirety.]

From Remembering the Suzuki Court

5.  Andrea Clark, clerk in Suzuki’s seventh term, with her description of Suzuki’s funeral appended

I arrived late that morning, entering outer chambers to find the door to inner open, portal to dark interior as always, but brownish glow portending something other than sightless oblivion.  It’s timeless in there; better time disjoint.  Always dark, lights displaying objects, paintings, bookshelves, with hovering weak pin floodlights.  Walk away from that candled illumination and the room ghosts you, there but intangible, your image possibly constructed by the cultural necessities which placed you there.  In clerk conference I’ve seen him pace while we sit, voice traveling dark to reveal itself under a painting, as though that part of the point made, effort from a different world made present advocate.  Goya become legal mind, Picasso shattering jurisprudence, picking up the pieces in new form, see what was always there.

We clerks have looked at one another, certain a point has been settled, not certain how or what why there is.  With Suzuki legal reasoning was an after thought, a way of arriving at a nexus of quite other cause, it’s role to place you in front of the illuminated consensus of history, he fading into almost remembered as you stand transfixed.

Which Goya?  Saturn forever eating his child.  I’ve seen him make a pro-life point, stopping under that painting, then do it again when discussing the burden of a mother forced to term–forced, biologically, to be a mother.  Superimposing the two stands he seemed before the painting issueless, our consumptive fear of our own creation unclothed of all politics.

I’ve exited inner chambers wondering what day it is, whether there is still day.  When I first arrived as clerk, upon saying I was to be Suzuki’s some would look wide eyed, conversation gone halting, a feeling of contamination, more like taboo, descending.  Not unclean, but fathomless, the way we approach one burdened with tragedy, where the divergence of life is underscored.  After inner chambers I knew why.

A rarity, inner chambers open.  He would shut himself in there, often refusing tone of  phone, I glancing toward the closed cultural invention of privacy, walls made by hands anonymous, dead severed from their work as they want it, lives propping up the barrier for creation’s sake, architects unable to make, only house making.  Inner temples everywhere, holy of holies not to be transgressed, from these comes the new, not from me, perhaps from you, exterior into privacy, there as foreign  as God.

From that silence phone ignored, but never a knock, perhaps the hand making wall’s plea for a place after all, what has God wrought in the sanctum bade made, what do we do when our task complete?  Take us back into the beginning we never knew, as closed off as these walls make a room.  Perhaps that’s what privacy is, the unknown beginning, unimpeachable privacy the exit of death.  Perhaps he answered those knocks, bouncing over to open  door, in hope the world would be there, target of all those words of law, finally come to wear that garment, yes, I exist, what no one can touch but only hear in story; yes, I exist, what you weave has a recipient, its just that I cannot speak, only give you rumor of what I might say, privacy of chambers as isolate as world.

But before me world cannot knock, door open, moment separating privacy and its loss.  What do I do?  Is it open because I failed my sentinel of outer chambers, he inside afraid of creation’s isolation without a ready saving hand to pull him out?  A species unable to be alone, wanting to be alone, terrified when it really comes.  But all he has to do is walk into the hall, out of the false dark of made cave.  Walk, and the world changes before you, create without lifting a finger.

I’ll sit, pull out briefs, ignore the unknown hole.

“Enter!”

I start, look up, door empty.  Maybe it will go away.

“Enter!”

I don’t want to hear a third, perhaps quiver in voice, voice attaching to me, whether we link it or it us undecidable, that part of our definition.  How can I disrespect my Chief?  I stand up, role to play, script inside.

“You’ve entered!”

“You called.”

“Door open.  Maybe someone wanted to enter, so I called ‘enter.'”

“Wanted to enter?”

“Open door may be invitation.”

“Or not.”

“Why you here?”

“You called.”

“To acknowledge entering!”

“Can I go now?”

“Why you ask permission to leave when none was given to come?”

“You called “enter!”.  And open door may be invitation.”

“Precisely!”

There’s a reason for this–there always is.  Reason made to figure a reason.  He spoke last.  Cheap one word feint.  So I’ll do nothing.  I stand.

He sits.

I stand.

“I have haiku!”

A notebook before him, he dips his head toward desk.

“Day breaks/ No one knows why/ There we all stand.”

Closer to a reason.  No “the,” just “a.”

He goes on, “Which morning is it?”

“What?”

“Which morning?  Rare gift of language, each gives it, somewhere.  Great significance through arbitrary commonality.  Completely arbitrary, yet yields great significance.  Which:  morning or mourning?”

Only after the fact can I write this.  At the time, all I saw was the sun rising twice.

“Day breaks, shatters–language gifting again!–what does it break to make day?”

“What breaks?”

“Day!”

“No, what breaks the day?”

“What breaks, what is broken.  Same question or not?”

“How did you become Chief Justice?”

“You ask this too!”

“Why am I here?”

“You ask this too!”

“I didn’t sign up for Zen combat.”

“Signing up for Zen combat is not Zen combat!”

At a loss, I move outside the candle illuminations of pin floods, absorbed into the dark.

“Fine reply!”

I will stay here to not be here, so as to hear or not.  To hear is to be here; to here is to hear.  God, now I’m doing it.  In the dark.  Can I ever craft a brief again?  And why is a brief never brief?  Like day breaks–to come is not to shatter.  But he says it is.  Same word hiding itself.

Help.

“Correct!”

I’ve been silent so long–darked–that he has been forced to speak twice.  Hearing is here. Does this mean, having spoken again, he is lost?  Seems reasonable.  Perhaps a new form of court litigation–stand in the dark, let the other side babble.  But one needs dark.  “Your Honor–could you turn off the lights?  No, only on my side.  We need to see the babbling opponent.  When do I speak?  See?  I’m not here.  How can I speak?”

Well, at least a strategy to survive Suzuki clerkdom.  But avoid the pin floods.  Else you’ll be absorbed into a piece of art.

Employing my new found strategy of career survival I remain in the dark.

Agitation.

“Powerful reply!  You want my job?  My eyes hurt from seeing.”

Ok.  Have compassion.

“So day breaks.”

He jumps from his chair, delighted.

“Wise choice!  For me, not you!  Er, you.  I chose you.  I was correct!  You will do fine with task!”

Uh oh.  Task.  I don’t think he means the next brief, brief or not.  How can you fail a test when not told you are being tested?

“Out of darkness!”

I rustle in my dark.  He hears.  Damn sexist blouse.

“Yes!  Conrad in play!  He not know why he wrote!  No one does!  And not just about Conrad.  Humanity employs us to create.  We are It’s sightless hands.  Useful to know!  Enslaved, we are free to read others.”

He points to one of the visitor chairs opposite the desk.  In the light.  I will be illuminated.  I don’t want to be illuminated.  But if I resist he might pull “Heart of darkness” from his odd library and start reading aloud.  That would be really wierd–or a new path of weirdness.  Pulled toward the chair by my chosen task like a fish hooked, just expecting a meal–in my case, career–I sit, trying to flop in the seat.  He doesn’t notice.  Probably doesn’t.

“Day breaks, but still there is light.  What was break, lighting day break?  Mourning becomes morning.  Hard task!”

Right.  If I say something I’m not afraid day will not break but the ground will fall away.  I employ Golden Silence.  Suzuki doesn’t notice.  Probably.

“We cannot break the day.  But we can mourn.  And morning comes after mourning.”

Ok.

“Passive acceptance becomes action!  You will conduct my funeral!”

At least he didn’t start out with that last.  Which has no connection to anything he has said up to this point.

“I’m a law clerk.  I have a copy of the contract.  We’re legal professionals–remember?”

“Relax–I not dead yet.”

Now he moves into voicing dark while I sit illuminated.  My fault.  Employ a tactic, it’s out there for all.  From the dark:

“I provide composition, you conduct.  You not even in performance.  Like a director, backstage.  But you better be in audience as sign of respect!  You one of my clerks!”

“Why do you want me to do such a thing?”

“You law clerk!  You forced to endure darkness interspersed with illumination torture!  Think I not notice!  It is my chambers!  Performance will be my final jurisprudence.”

“How can you make such a finality when you have years left on the Court?”

“I must be constrained!”  His face pops into a light.  “Don’t you think?”

Well, he has me there.

His face retreats into dark.  But his voice continues to sally forth, unseen but here.

“Jurisprudence is way of walking!  Everything finished–body on ground, autopsied.  The law leave us dead.  My final jurisprudence will be final walk.  Knowing this, I can comport myself now.”

“Good you didn’t bring this up in confirmation hearings.”

“Why do people keep saying that over so many topics?”

Poke.  Poke.  Self realization?  Hard to tell in his dark.

“Here.”  Dark severed hand appears at CD rack, removes a case, vanishes to reappear in my face.  “Listen to this.  Track 7.  Funeral music.  Will talk about dancer later.”

What?  Dancer?  At a funeral?  Christopher Tin, The Drop that Contains the Sea.  Track 7, Devipravaha, “Goddess river.”

Taking CD in hand, I await the capping moment or fusion with art object.  A Suzuki darkening always ends with him appearing before a pin flood lit art object.  A brief discourse ensues, like a commentary on a capping verse to a Zen koan, art object here the capping verse.  If fortunate, you figure out what the koan is–not solution, of course–once you’ve escaped the cave.

Darkness moves.  Don’t try to follow it.  Just wait.  How do you follow darkness anyhow?  That was probably the first Suzuki koan.  Full bodied, no longer darkness severed, Suzuki stands before a Native American prayer fan, made of feathers from several species, owl prominent among them.  (After his death, I learn that it is illegal to own owl feathers unless associated with a Native ritual.  Suzuki obtained the fan with [Associate Justice Henry] Mitland on one of their western archeology summer excusions, but the Justices were silent on particulars.)

“Fan lifts, directs, smoke, employing the power of flight.  Impressions here sent elsewhere, smoke capturing echoes of images of us, not whole, disjoint, partial–story sent elsewhere as a few lines of text.  Sage smoke, it is said, takes away accumulated bad energy/spirit.  Not quite true.  We are our accumulations.  Smoke maps this, sends it off in dispersed image as incomplete story.  Original is us.  But by sending images off we change our emphasis.  By sending out, there is a shaking, sifting of pieces within us, that are us.  Telling changes what tells.”

He pauses.  “Hah!  Saw cell video of Sioux civil resistance at Standing Rock in frozen winter night.  Cell holder comments that South Dakota highway patrol were afraid of burning sage lobbed at them.  Translation:  they don’t want to send out, don’t want to change their mix.  Such is a good wall.”

Another pause as he looks at an event that can no longer be seen.  Then:

“Look at feathers.  They have marking; they have images.  There–face calling out.  There–a parent, mother?, enveloping a child.  There–a watcher.  There–a hand raises a feather–on a feather!  Birds fly on the residue of dispersed story, accumulating bits of these on their feathers, unsolicited tattoos  made through flight.  The power to capture while dispersing–this is the feather.  A diverse species fan concentrates accumulating capture beyond the singly traveling bird.  This makes the fan powerful, dangerous.  We thirst for concentrated story–but look at what it can make us do!  Single species fan humble, recognizing the wisdom of inability.”

He peers at me intently.  “Perforce this Court has multi-species fans!”

Has the capping commentary of the capping verse of art object been capped?  Not quite.  His voice rings out:

“What has this to do with funeral composition?”

Picking up the fan, more softly:

“Owl is harbinger of death, but also calls out for medicine.  Like much else in Native thought, power lies in the call for others to come.  Always elsewhere solace comes.  Here humanity is the waiting for other.  Not so our humanity!

“Owl calls from the dark where no tale goes.  But its call comes to us for story and tells us that the oblivion we never reach is not empty.  This our anchor here, and this will be my funeral.”

Ok–that’s a rap–I mean cap.

The inscrutable Zen Justice blank faces me.

“Exit!”

“What?”

“You entered upon Enter!, now exit upon Exit!.  We will choreograph my after exit over the months.”

I exit, entering the artificial day of ceiling light, inner chamber closing behind.  Two other clerks are now desked, gazing at me as at a newly encountered art object.  As such, I can say nothing.


The funeral of Benjamin Suzuki

“I stand on the other side of social death.”

So reads the Zen Master facing us, or rather the now empty aisle, as we sit dutifully audienced.  Well, not really an aisle–more a precipice into darkness.

Retired, Benjamin staged the lighting and placement of rented coffin several times, hiring stage production from the theater, demanding they take notes, strong arming, through his fame, an open ended contract for a one time showing, ultimate theatrical reality, reducing stage to life.  I had to be there for each staging, trying to explain to my law partners (who had to be kept in the dark) why I had to skip this dispostion, that court session, without letting a very tired cat out of the bag.  “Law practice stuffy unreality, forcing us into reality; be glad for escape into alternative fiction!” Suzuki would say upon come hither phone summons.  Fortunately, telling my partners I had been called by the ex-Chief Justice flummoxed them into silence.  “I retire to achieve full power!”–a strange power–of silent journals published years after death; of stories of clerks and Associate Justices; of, most strange, works by scholars who cut and pasted from his written opinions, transcripts of of oral hearings, and the above.  A power of trace beyond control of any present hand–just as Mitland wrote, himself hidden in journal:

The world is posthumous in horizon where sky is ground, ghosts traveling toward us into reality, departing again into the view from nowhere never reached.  The world is sustained by death and resurrection, Christ’s trick perpetual.

Culture gulping him down, having appetized on nibbles while he was alive.  That big gulp is final power, just like in the movies, where culture talks, loudly, to Itself.

That aisle which the Zen Master faced wasn’t really an aisle, for audience was seated wholly to his facing right.  The Master is fully lit, but as the aisle recedes toward exit it narrows into triangular light, rest dark, darkness expanding at price of triangle closing of light, ending just before the last rows, wall and conjectured door all dark.  All the Master sees distant is a tip ending of light entering oblivion.

When entering for ceremony, all we saw was darkness at our feet, expanding triangular ray of light beginning somewhat ahead, at our back the light of outside open door.  Feet hesitant to step onto ground darkness, remembering adulthood one steps onto the dark, trying not to scurry toward that beginning ray of light.  Audience shuffles forward, more of it illuminated as it approaches the front row of seats.  But some, never; save at mass’ front, some in the lumbering collective entity remain dark.

The triangular lighting leaves a few of the back rows of seating wholly dark.  Then, moving forward, the first seat of a row becomes lit, the second seat of the next row partially lit, more seats as one moves ahead in rows, toward coffin’s stage; but even the first row retains some darkened seats at its end.  In each row, some sit in light, others in darkness, the most illuminated closest to the front.

Suzuki’s instructions were adamant:  Justices, retired or sitting, must be placed in fully darkened back rows, other judges as well; Presidents and such in the illuminated area of the front rows.  For all else, “seat what you want.”

Triangular lighting is employed on stage as well.  The coffin, so dark it could house the void between stars, sits fully to audience’s right (Zen Master’s, with his back to it, left), so all must turn if not crane their necks rightward to see it, more turning needed the further down a row one is.  The coffin is cut by trangular light, front tip, nearest audience, fully lit, back fully dark.  The darkness of the coffin creates a precipitous severing effect, as though the coffin has been sliced obliquely, far portion removed.  The mandatory draping American flag is severed as well, just gone in the dark recess from which the front end of the coffin emerges.  But emblem resists oblivion, fading into rather than falling therein.  Zen falls outside of us; nation wants to stay.

The (again, mandatory) armed forces guard suffers similar treatment.  To audience’s right of the coffin, it stands slanted relative to coffin’s edge, first two soldiers fully illuminated, last fourth shadowed, darkness his side companion.

Back to all this–the Zen Master, facing now empty aisle.

“I stand on the other side of social death,” he reads, to make that point holding an index card before him.  A moment’s stillness, then he walks down aisle, into darkness.  We expect to hear back door open, see rectangular light promise of outside world–but no.  He simply walks into silent oblivion.

We have no program.  No list of speakers, no choir to lift to heaven, no musicians.  Just the sliced coffin and honor guard, our necks getting sore from rotating right.  We begin to shuffle, cough–the usual things allowed to audiences–look around, alarmed to see part of ourselves sliced away into darkness just like the coffin.

Then music comes.  Though decades passed, Benjamin never wavered in choice of Tin’s 4:39 minute  Devipravaha, never looked elsewhere.  Chord introduces a walking gait, interpretive dancer coming from oblivion of aisle’s end (“Dancer will interpret his presence there!”), delicate chamber additions as the dancer slowly yet decidedly moves forward, contorting his body as though squeezing through the spacing between words, leg first, or through the hole of an “o” or “p” or “a,” torso parallel with ground to pull presence forward into next word.  So until coffin reached; then moves clockwise, he flowing around the wordless coffin entering its back black oblivion, just as at his appearance at aisle’s end, returning into the light on coffin’s other side, now closer to the honor guard, then clocks around again into oblivion, there remaining.

As he so enters, a woman’s voice singing Sanskrit comes from aisle’s oblivion, just as the dancer, she walking stately forward as she sings, no obstacles of words.  Suzuki preferred foreign languages sung, importing–he would say unearthing–meaning into their sounds (“Artists know not what they do or choose!”), but here the Sanskrit, root of Hinduism, mother of Buddhism, ancestor of Zen, fits:

Destroyer of all our sins, who have become the staircase of heaven
with waves ever wavering, O Divine Ganga:  be kind!

Reaching coffin, she too travels clockwise, entering dancer’s oblivion, still singing, exiting other side, stopping at coffin’s lit front.  Here a brief wordless aria, a cry for what was, horn overhead dipping toward her and coffin, then flying on.  Gait music returns; in song now muted she walks to aisle, toward its finality, dancer emerging from coffin’s never end, following, picking up the words he traveled through, throwing them behind, toward coffin, buried in Suzuki’s own words.  In final note he enters the oblivion just transgressed by singer.

We sit in the silence so created.  As with the Zen Master, there is no evidence of life after oblivion.  We sit fifteen, twenty minutes.  Nothing happens.  Finally, a President or two rises, their security relieved to depart, we rest following to begin the outward shuffle.  Massing like lemmings at oblivion’s precipice, are we to grope for wall and door and handle, the final message of retired, now dead, Chief Justice?  Just as bunching at wall seems inevitable, from other side door opens, light comes forth, we exiting social death through anonymous hand.  Blinking into existence, we look about–only to see ourselves.

Sitting in full dark of last row two wait our exit:  Associate Justices Anthony Pau Cabrales and Henry Mitland, remnant of the triumvirate of the full Suzuki Court, both still on the Court, Cabrales departure two years hence.  They watch the honor guard, still motionless in condensed purpose.  They guard nothing; Suzuki was cremated several days before.  Yet he insisted on an empty coffin:  “Understanding compartmental.  Coffin fine compartment.  Ever see anyone walk out from one?  Everyone satisfied with understanding.  Cremation becomes us chasing the air.  Air always wins.  I will be cremated, but you will see satisfying box.  Understanding dodges itself.”

Yet who shall release these uniformed guardians of the insubstantial?  Suzuki’s final comment:  “Law is constraint and release.  But whence release?”


From Remembering the Suzuki Court

6.  Gerrard Ponti, former clerk to Cabrales, with Cabrales and Mitland at Suzuki’s funeral.

“Culture is easy dismissal.”

“Hah!  Worthy of me, Anthony.  But said by a man who takes mass and confession?  You–if you’re wondering who.”

I stand with Justices Anthony Pau Cabrales and Henry Mitland, in the light, outside the theater Suzuki chose for his funeral.  Few want to be here, far beyond general unease over death and its ritual.  For ritual it will not be, save for the social compulsion to attend–compulsion many with satisfaction have refused.  Whatever happens in this building, we will be used.  And for what?  All will dismiss this day to fading memory.  A man who argued through irritation will have no after life.  Seating judges in absolute dark?  That we had to know before arrival, to avoid confusion and scene.  Several judges sent their regrets.  Justice Whitehead as well, as has Suzuki’s replacement.  The sitting Chief Justice will not be shadowed into make believe oblivion by a dead man.  Life if for the living, as Jefferson said:

I set out on this ground which I suppose to be self evident, “that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living;” that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it. The portion occupied by an individual ceases to be his when himself ceases to be, and reverts to the society.  (Jefferson to Madison, Paris, September 6, 1789)

The dead should not wrap their arms around our ankles to take us down too.  But, as Madison pointed out in reply, what are we without the works of the dead?

Cabrales looks at the milling anger in wait.

“Communion is not culture.  Nor confession.  They are as hard reality as the biochemistry of cure for true practitioners.  But the culture of auditorium, of audience, seated distant–our commitment is only easy presence.  We walk away from presentation when we walk out the door.  To walk away is to walk away.  Culture is movie now, and movies replace themselves.”

Mitland grunts.  “Then why, Anthony, all the sour faces?  Forced to see a bad movie?”

“Movies replace themselves.  This event, not.  It’s not a funeral.  No program.  No officiation.  We will hear Suzuki’s voice one last time, without recording, without archive.”

“Why anger over that!”

“Because that’s what death is.  No temporary eternity in publication of opinion or otherwise.  Whatever happens in there shall be recorded only in our to fade memories; no devices allowed.  In his death he returns us to the reality of encounter–the only reality the vast majority of Homo sapiens have ever had.”

“Anthony, I thought I was the Suzuki interpreter.”

“Henry, I face death in oft ritual.  You discuss rituals from afar.  All you talk of you are not.  A ritual becomes reality when you are it.”

I sidewise glance at Mitland.  This was the triumvirate.  Cabrales devout as anchor against the drifting words of success; Mitland the outsider who would make a theory to get us to the moon, even if “us” has limited seating; and Suzuki, who broke whatever you gave him, bent knelled in reverence at the pieces, then asks you to help make something else of them.  A breaking will occur shortly, of the death given to Suzuki.  But this time he will not be there to pick among the pieces, and the triumvirate remainder will have no glue of law to present a work of art from pieces of the past.

“So, Anthony, I am to face an unavoidable ritual, one not in book I can set aside.”

“Oh, I venture pieces of ritual–small pieces–precariously placed, teetering, meant to fall, probably.  There will be nothing to hold onto.  That’s Zen.  And that is why I am rather Catholic.  You see, Henry, I can’t push people into the abyss of understanding.  Most never stop falling in there, a drowning with breath.  I suspect most who willingly jump experience the same.”

“And Benjamin?”

One of those focal moments where nothing changes after the saying.  The Chief Justice is gone.  We say for our own sakes, forgetting, as we must, in the next topic moment brings.

“I think he decided to fall forever for our sakes.  In this, Henry, he was much more as you than I.”

“I take refuge in that culture is lived by others.  That stops my fall.”

“Henry.  Look at your syntax.  ‘take refuge in that…’:  there is no abode there, only for others.  You watch others’ abode as you fall and call that abode.”

“That’s why anthropologists go native.  An anthropology department is an atheist congregation of believers.  [Deceased Justice] Scalia didn’t have that problem, nor you.”

“Henry–do you think me an enlightened believer?”

“I’d better!”

“Then let me tell you:  a man has belief for fear of the consequences for the ones he loves if he does not.”

“Anthony–are you too in perpetual fall?”

“A man not falling knows not belief, only the fear of unbelief.”

Silence.

“Anthony, I think I shall be grateful to sit in the full dark promised therein,” Mitland pointing to the theater.

I venture my first words:  “Like a coffin?”

“Ah, Anthony, already the sculptural genius of Benjamin scripts outside itself!”

Flustered, I feel as though a hand puppet of the dead Chief Justice.

Wall opens a door.  Sour faces move amongst each other as though losing orbit to fall.  Being of the darkened ones, we can wait until those expecting to be seen tumble inward.

Creeping toward door, Mitland offers “We enter Benjamin’s cave one last time, as he liked:  silent audience to his ravings.”

Inside, Suzuki’s cave–his inner chambers–greets in pruned form.  In original, pin lights revealed objects, the light as much to create an outer dark surround, illumination constrained to a few acts of hands, hands creating to push dark aside, not out–perhaps because our acts are important when darkness could so easily take them away–into an earth we cannot know yet somehow grounds posterity, what is revealed lost so another revelation can be.  Darkness is past creation lost–oft intentionally.  History, culture, consists of an amalgamation of alternative, incompatible lightings and darkenings, coherence that no one can bear it all.  Incompatibility lets us bear some past.  We travel the maze, finally stop.  That stop is our say on existence.  Humanity, no single voice of say, lies in urging others to go further than our stop.  Each us rests, solace that some trace flows into the darkness which cocoons our being.  There is no final us of humanity, Suzuki said, not even in the now.  Humanity is a tenuous thread connecting between lights surrounded by darks, with no guarantee threads will endure.  Suzuki thought snaps where inevitable.  Law’s function to enable–not force–fresh fragile weave.  Humanity full is disjoint, travel to its pieces never complete for any individual, ever in jeopardy of loss.  And some somes of us dearly want some lost, but not the same somes.  Full, general humanity is a hypocrisy against endured existence, some, only some, wanting to save themselves by positing paths thankfully not taken.

How to present such a thing?  Move audience into light and dark, present, absent, and agains, some forced to be in others’  outside dark, memory their only lighting which shines nowhere, without voice, save in whisper to darkened neighbors according to rules of audience, here summed humanity never seen.

Suzuki’s coffin, split between oblivion and presence which not even draped flag can mend, inhabits both presence and travel beyond presence, to another presence, not its own.  This I take to be the Zen kensho, the breaking through what is, sloughing off the binds of presence to potentially–only potentially–greet an elsewhere.  Suzuki has always been in coffin.  His inner chambers was coffin.  His funeral coffin, into which he was not, never ended, elongating into oblivion where end and beginning do not apply.  This unterminated death was passage, not for him to heaven, but, again only in perhaps, for others who, not dead, would find an ending in light, coffin’s other end, placed in other ceremony, entry into an elsewhere though the commonality of dead, of loss.  Suzuki’s non-funeral opens to ritual he cannot have.

I think this core to our–including my–unease over Suzuki:  he provided routes to place by being in none.  At funeral’s end Mitland turned to me, I the forever student, and asked

“Do you know the view from nowhere?”

“Sir?”

“Science–that which encompasses all beyond the perspective of any individual, even that of a scientist.”  He waves his hands, I conjecture, based on slight breeze near my Suzuki darkened face.  “Don’t belch relativity at me–relativity itself is invariant, no only me sees there!”

“No, Justice, no belching.”  I hope that first comma came through, else I said “No justice, no belching.”

“This view from nowhere is perpetual fall from everywhere.  Anthony said Ben decided to fall forever for our sakes.”

“So he was the view from nowhere?”

“Science full!  Of course not!  Talk about making a gargantuan type error!”

I mumble in the dark.

“He was entry to paths in search of elsewheres.  Not those paths, which must be formed by lived walk, but portal to that possibility.”

We sat in Suzuki oblivion while audience shuffled, fearing confrontation with the unseen wall of Suzuki’s final act.  Mitland continued

“In physics the view from nowhere is shunted away.  Specialists live in their worlds–that’s a somewhere, a somewhere of paycheck, career, family–only borrowing results from the great nowhere.  Specialists survive by gladly not knowing everything.  They borrow from others of their kind, no one dwelling in the full nowhere of science.  This is how we survive science–and so also how science survives each individual us.

“Gerrard–Benjamin did not do this.  As Anthony said earlier, he accepted forever fall for our sakes.  He accepted nowhere…”

Cabrales interjects:  “I think he was there no matter goal.”

“…accepted nowhere for hope of others’ somewheres.  A view from nowhere not of science but…”

“Of Zen,” I hazard.

“…perhaps only possible because of what science has done to us as totality.  Of Zen?  Maybe.  Science–and law–mutated his Zen.  Maybe we have just seen that mutation presented on the rather modern Zen platform of the religion of no religion.  While there are Zen Sanghas–communities or congregations–there is a radical disjuncture between such and practitioner outcome.  There is no final embrace in common God.”

“No,” Cabrales sadly sounds.

The audience has cleared through the saving portal of light.  Perhaps that light, such as it was, says heaven is here.  Don’t look at me in extended coffin of dark.  Go outside where existence lies.  Lies–existence lies:  that a favorite Suzuki twist, “lies” meaning presence, location, but as well untruth.  Go outside, look around, you’re being lied to–that what existence entails.  Presence is concealment.  The other meaning of “lies” gives something like “Go where existence is present, exists,” which, in the context of Suzuki’s final voice–this, um, funeral–would seem to mean “I’m not It, not here.  Go where there is a here.  Which will be concealed in lies.”

Rather proud of my rumination, I realize I’ve missed an exchange between the Justices–something about the frozen honor guard, staring steadfastly distant, which here means into the dark.  Perhaps truth lies–in both senses–out there, the guard transfixed with–what?–terror, awe?  Most likely just duty which, I say, is one way of dealing with the other two.  Mitland rises to exit, we following.  But the guard is not part of our we.

Outside, that portion of the audience not yet escaped is now a mixture of sour, disgust, bemusement, fatigue, and, quite occasionally, speculation.  Chief Justice, don’t you think disgust will have the greatest life?  Have all you done here is create little engines resolved to tear down what you managed to raise?  Would you cluck cluck and say all that matters are the exiting thoughtful, I’m doomed anyway, being dead, you must have noticed?  You’ve left something here which self erases.  Perhaps you are saying understanding is, ultimately, for the dead, all of our won words and written opinions not withstanding?  What did the Zen Master say at start?  “I stand on the other side of social death”–not death.

***

We wait for Mitland’s rented limo.  Anthony has declared intent to visit a church in walking distance and I will accompany him.  Mitland will exit alone.  That somehow seems right.  But we would rather see him drive away than walk away from him.

Mitland breaks our silent wait.  “Begun in silence, ended in silence, the middle music.”

“And the dance,” I say, “”what was that?”

“Hmm.  Dance is the silence in music captured internally, our movement in reply to what is heard.  We cannot be the sound, but we can be movement in reply.  When the dancer retreats into coffin’s never ending dark,  song comes.  To fill the silence of silent dance gone, to repel the dark.  Dancer waiting singer out in oblivion until she moves toward her own silence of dark.  She sings, to keep Suzuki here.  Can’t be done.  That’s why her wordless aria at coffin’s front is longingly resolved.  The dancer goes through our structures of words after we are gone.  His movements are script of the music we had hoped to make.

“All of it, singer, dancer, is art framed by silence.  Those two are our active understanding.  Art is silence housing understanding.  Most evident in painting, ceramics, sculpture, where silence coexists with understanding, at our side, asking by not asking how it goes.  Hmm.  Maybe movies, plays, concert pieces, song make their before silence through their after silence.  The second exposure is the full art.  In painting this is not necessary, as silence is always there.”

“Or maybe you have forced a point into failure,” Anthony grumbles.

“Hmm.  Then I retreat to say the visual arts, sans video, meet the distinction.”

“What,” I ask, “of the written word–novels, stories?”

“Lord,” Cabrales laments, “I am contrite; remove your just punishment in your grace.”

“Hmm.  Gerrard, there the word becomes silence as we contemplate.  So talk of literature is not understanding.”

“But, then, writing and reading about it are?”

“Where is your limo, Henry?”

Silence frames us.

But Mitland will not be done.

“We were given a meditation this day.”

The limo can be seen distant.  Anthony’s face relaxes.

“Such things,” Mitland continues, “usually have no practical import.  But they convince us that we are not ever under the control of others.  We can think our way to private escape.”

“Never under the control,” I ask, “or sometimes not?”

Anthony groans.

“Rather too much to ask of a meditation ultimate freedom.”

“What about Descartes?”

Anthony chirps.  Since Mitland does not reply and the limo is a few seconds out, I ask

“Are these others, mostly or always in control, not also under the control of others?”

Opening limo door he replies, “Meditation may release, but not to heaven.”

As limo departs I call out “Restrict your thesis to hand crafted objects!”

Suzuki’s meditation complete, Mitland drives off to the battle of words, Anthony watching the receding limo.  “We each deal with death as we can.”

“So Justice Mitland is wrong here?”

“I didn’t say that.  “Henry.”  You’ve earned “Henry.”  Now it’s my turn.  The church is this way.”

From Remembering the Suzuki Court

7. Allan Martin, clerk to Justice Whitehead in the term of Suzuki’s death.

I’m the po boy in chambers.

Justice [Rachel Colleen] Whitehead strove each year to choose clerks of fundamentalist faith.  Opening the sacred chambers of law to women did not interest her; faith was the vagabond entrant otherwise ever shunned.  Surely she was right in that.  The law is secular battle, spiritualty protected like a woman in Victorian England:  be seen so we can see how good we are in your display, but the sinew of your protection is ever ours, you glorious puppet almost in God’s hands.  Faith is the second class citizen needing affirmative action.  But a stubborn citizenry who might forego an arm up is parcel of what they are.

Choice was limited further than the pool of faithful young minted law degrees, for a seat at Whitehead’s table could be trumped by the call of God.  Some offered declined, taking a position of legal support for a charity of faith.  Personal relations beyond Whitehead’s ken erased her status.  And she would have it that way.  The Holy Spirit comes face to face, even if that face introduces as a stranger.  Declines did not bother Rachel.  She saw herself as a conduit for the Spirit; if not used, use was placed elsewhere.  Such was the case even after a clerk’s year.  Placement of a clerk at term’s end was not a matter of  status–for them or her–but operation of the Spirit.  Her clerks might take low paying advisory posts, possibly field work in developing countries or economically depressed areas in the US.

The Spirit erases its prior path.  Works are of now, the past only preparation for now, to be lost in God’s doing.  Eternity has no past, and the kingdom of God on Earth strives to be eternity here.  God, so often said, is no respecter of persons, vitae thrown in the trash.  To say you were Whitehead’s clerk simply pointed to the anchor of your present step, and such anchors gain their power through abandonment.  The only permanent anchor is God, that which cannot be anandoned–like it, please, or not.

This left the Justice an isolate in law.  Her legal goals were real, but she had no conception of a soldiery of implementation in the lower benches, a strange commonality with Chief Justice Suzuki which may well have bridged the ontological abyss between them, flimsy, falling into the place without sound, sound which is ground, so a place which is no place, only cry of fall unable even to break its speed.  I heard Justice Mitland say that no place was Suzuki’s abode, he the falling bridge.  But, I asked, what anchored the other side purported to be Suzuki?  Mitland smiled:  Have you ever gone an a desert archaeology hike?  Neither did either Rachel or Suzuki abide in career, although I suspect this realization was more gradual for him than her.  The Oregon Appellate judge Suzuki was not the later Chief Justice; only a President could make that transformation.  God worked on Rachel well before career.

I found myself in her chambers because the Holy Spirit had taken all her choices away.  I was not on her list at all.  Other clerks filled, my position was declined thrice.  Rather desperate, she turned to list remainders among the other Justices.  Justice Mitland offered my name; I became the clerk not of second or third but no choice.  I am secular careerist, no Christian at all.  Her other clerks–and Whitehead–were ever congenial, indeed giving, but there was an aloofness measured in their absence.  I wondered what happened when I was absent.  “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3).  “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17).  I Caesar’s, given that due, but the tax of material life was not why they were there, I left hand ignorant of the right.  I was never excluded from opinion deliberation; indeed, taken most seriously.  Yet the pivot of decision, perhaps much as in Suzuki’s chambers, often eluded me, as if the words of prior law were a means to get to something else.  I don’t know how hard fast this distinction can be.  In all chambers of the highest Court decision need not be a preordained mechanism; judicial innovation is escape from such.  But both Suzuki and Whitehead strove to make escape part of the very mechanism of decision.  Escape needs destination; Whitehead had God, Suzuki nothing.

If I had found Jesus–and there is no avoiding the phrase–the full mystery of chambers would undoubtedly have opened to me.  But I suspect mystery it would have remained.  There is, in this Christianity, no finality of causation to end mystery, a false finality in any case of the endless back unraveling of prior cause.  Such finality is promise of more story after we sleep.  For the Christian, sleep is finality through eternity, eternity itself a mystery, not understood but lived.  And understanding cannot avoid life.  Understanding needs life which can only be lived beyond understanding.  That is why I could not believe:  needing life beyond understanding unending.  I saw–see–eternity as enforced servitude, I angry libertarian who wants the option of a finality of death, no more story, no forever mystery, just gone.  I want an out, even if, as Suzuki’s Zen might say, it is an out of no out.  Medicine can often offer a better, but it, in itself, cannot force you to live.  This Christian God forces life and then offers a better under penalty of torture–a servitude if you do not believe.  Bliss is the acceptance of servitude.  Materiality, in the hard incapacity it so often bestows, has, through that very bestowal, an escape; God’s love locks that door.  The finality of materiality proffers escape.  Often harsh, but materiality begins harsh.  From that, as in Chrstianity, it–sometimes–tries to make a heaven on earth.

Mitland found the distinction between Christianity and materialism not so much in ontology as in absolute failure.  Failures abound in the Christian, fallen, but recovery ever possible, barred, depending on what texts how read, only upon entry into hell.  Sin is a causative force; even free will is influenced by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  In the combat for souls decision is not so much lost as prevented by the forces of evil.  How could it be otherwise when original sin is without present responsibility, responsibilities ever tinged by that prior causative force.  Materialism differs, Mitland asserts, through inescapable despair.  Death is final; decay is final.  But decay is transformation.  The Christian, opting out of decay, truncates analysis of transformation.  Transformation, as decay, is part of original sin.  To linger on decay is to embrace the paths of sin against the salvation of God.  Heaven on Earth is an ostracism of decay, save as exit from materalism into eternity.  The evolutionist sees in decay another flowering of life, but life is not in itself sacred–as Ebola or the Spanish Flu testify.  Christians, certainly fundamentalists, desperately need to extract life from decay; that is eternity.  They exist, then, ever on the precipice of science denial, the communion of pulpit a gathering, even a crowding push, at eternity’s closed gate.

When Mitland ceased his own pontification I asked what you do when people don’t want to know  “That, Martin, is what culture is.  It is the arrogance of science applied to the words which shape our actions to dismantle the necessary ignorance of our days.  Christianity is not unique in this ignorance, just more proudly clear, perhaps for long dominance, in voice.”  He then introduces the irritant of literary (or cultural, as for the writer culture is nigh forced into the literary) criticism.  “Derrida offers escape through deconstruction of our verbal prisons.  The dismantling of science doesnot, cannot.  Derrida offers a flowering of life through the very decay deconstruction brings.  Salvation is escape from the ruins of contingent meaning, perhaps not for I in the rubble but those coming into the rubble afresh.  Science dismantles and offers only ever itself.  Very few can live in that rubble–not even scientists.  But that is another story of faith and its discontents.”  He paused.  “Possibility of construction (the irony of why deconstruction is  popular) is not endurance of construction.  Alternatives may not survive the dissected parent, for that autopsy is only in the mind, not in others’ lives.”  A chuckle.  “There is no judge to decree the deconstruction reality.  Rather, reality forces it into contact with its origin–which is exactly what deconstruction is supposed to do!  Deconstruction searches for origins within culture, but culture is deconstruction’s own origin.  The therapist must never be analyzed by the parent!”

Ah, Justice Mitland, talk of deconstruction numbs any reply–another not so far from Suzuki’s Zen.  I asked you what to do when people don’t want to know.  You skirted into deconstruction’s non-knowledge, but the question came from social science’s dismantling of belief where, unlike deconstruction, the disassembly remains fully real.  What do you do when knowing reality which most refuse to know?

Mitland smiled.  “Is that not, Allan Martin, exactly the question for the Christian as well?”  Pausing for seniority affect, then “Allan, why do you think I gave your name for Rachel’s chambers?  You are field anthropologist entering belief.”

***

During Suzuki’s tenure Rachel gave him a reproduction of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, God reaching out to touch Adam’s hand, reproduction limited to the two non-distant hands still too far apart for creation.  To everyone’s numbness–that being the only way to describe repeated encounter with Suzuki–he immediately placed it on the wall behind his chair  (Rachel Colleen Whitehead: journal, entry 4).    There it remained until retirement, then shipped with all else to his chosen home in Douglas, Illinois.  But it returned, two days after his death, by special courier, with brief note:

“This no longer useful.”

Alas for Rachel I was the only clerk in outer-chambers upon arrival.  I brought it to her, she freezing upon seeing sender.  I asked if I should leave; she said no.  She looked at the package as though from Satan.  That’s not at all as bad as our movies would have, for Satan roams wherever salvation refused.  Her middle name Colleen, “little girl”–and such there is in the fundamentalist, transposing for sex.  The Mystery leaves us children, needing direction.  Yet even Suzuki is part of the Mystery, however indirect, for all comes from God–even Satan.

This is an oft remarked story of Iblis in the Qur’an, Iblis an ambiguous Satan perhaps for being predecessor to the Vile One.  Upon creation of humans God (Allah) directs the angels to knell before them.  Iblis refuses, saying only the fount of creation deserves such veneration from the first created.  An odd story.  Why should a tertiary creation–after the admittedly more perfect angels–be venerated much as God?  And why would an angel, Iblis, absent of free will, refuse the order?

Creation is the drawing of distinction.  Mitland spoke of a mathematician who defined distinction as “perfect continence,” continence used, says the mathematician, it its original sense of “containment,” sexual abstinence and control of bowel/bladder thereby derived.  But these latter uses have, Mitland said, an expository point:  both imply in consequence the absence of creation (bowels via that which lives on feces).  Absolute continence, Mitland said, is creation of an absolute exterior denying a future.  Continence is separation, interior from exterior, a fissure on the world.  Unlike perfection, there is a known separation.  Before fissure, before all else, the world was perfection, God Himself.  Angels, yoked to Him, are His conduits.  There is no interior in perfection.  Disobedience, free will, creates exterior for interior:  I am not you, I am distinct.  Iblis’ refusal is the hand of God creating beyond Itself; without that no, all is God, and such a wholeness does nothing so is no thing.  We are sin; without us God has no function, a silence of Being which might as well be unrealized probabilities.

My musings, not Rachel’s.  She stared confronted with sin in a box.  The problem with sin is that it’s the engine of the mundane world, an ocean furious and gentle; to enable salvation one must get one’s hands wet.  The Holy Spirit swims among us.  But to enter those waves is to lose partial control.  And here, a dead man pushes sin toward her.  In a box.

“Should I open it, Justice?”

A contained body jump.  “What?  No.  I will.”

Some tearing of the skin of a foreign body until out comes her gift re-given, note floating to the floor.

I pick it up.

“This no longer useful.”  Standard syntax dodging Suzuki.  No longer useful.  Not essential, offer of salvation thrown on the waves, tossed about like anything else, tossed by the hand of death, to find a use it never knows.  A Suzuki counter move, piece pushed into place by dead hands.

Later, prior clerk’s to Rachel told me of being in Suzuki’s chambers with her.  Her eyes avoidance wandering its darkness (he forced everyone to endure its spotlighted dark), repeatedly flicking back to this painting of two hands almost touching placed on the wall behind his desk chair, an anchor of reality among exhibits of delusion spotlighted.  But for Suzuki delusion was the only anchor.  And we survive delusion by repurposing it.  Over his head, wall behind where he sat, two hands stretching, unable to touch.  Suzuki would point out that Adam’s hand it not limp.  If creation this is, Michelangelo made two participants.  Creation is not on one’s body, but in the outreached space between alien hands only to be made common in touch.  That was the creation Suzuki spied, as ephemeral as hands losing their clasp, clasp neither genesis nor salvation cradling into sleep.

Christians see sleep as whispering of eternity.  I recall one of Rachel’s clerks–a believer, of course–speaking of heaven.  I pointed out that in eternity one would recall people refusing bliss, sent to the scream of hell.

“Oh no,” she replied, “we won’t remember those refusing the Lord.”

“What?”

“Think about it!  If I remember those I cared for who refused the Lord I could not be happy.  They will be blotted from my mind.”

I reeled from the massive change in personality this would entail, the joyful acceptance of mental manipulation, child asking Father to tell it what to be.  We are our memories in the space of relationships these form.  To erase a howling unsaved is to alter the character of the remembered saved; any who knew the hell consigned will be different.  What survives?  Archetypes of bliss–the perfect child, spouse, sibling, parent, if they accepted the roll call of salvation.  Someone with a large family might, in eternity, never have had one at all.  Any trait born of an other’s unrecognized sin is erased.  A solipsism of dream threatens, only avoiding by quarantining oneself, while alive, among the saved–which is what a sect honestly does. “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” could be appended with “in any case you will forget what your left hand did.”

I do not know what Rachel thought of all this; I feared venturing the topic.  Curious that in chambers affecting lives profoundly we are unable to discuss the foundations of the world.  Mitland leans back in his chair, hands to back of head, “Really?”  I do know Rachel strove to see the touch of the Lord.  The Holy Spirit travels through face and hands.  She saw in that reproduction promise that at the end of traversal through Suzuki’s spotlights of sidelined human delusion touch would come.  He thought so too.  That’s what delusion gives.

Right now she stares at those hands.  I suspect she decided not to attend his funeral then and there.  God is not used, only uses, this a joy of belief.  She looked at those never touching hands and mumbled “That which is known shall be as nothing.”

“What?,” I prompted.

A bit dazed she turns to me, quoting 1 Corinthians 13:10–“when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”

Suzuki, self proclaimed into hell, can no longer be reached.  His posthumous acts are pure Satan–Satan refusing to bow to doctrine as God commands, this the fulcrum of creation, rebellion against comforting obedience.  Suzuki becomes an act of God in death, and Rachel must refuse him–Him or him?

Eternity and its need, Mitland said many times, are among humankind’s most dangerous idols.  Rachel needs rules to climb the stairway to heaven.  The unsaved dead have no afterlife on the ground.  So cultural artifacts of humanity’s dissonant chorus cannot command interest.  Satan is needed in life, but to be avoided in death.

 

***

A few days after the funeral chambers opened.  I feared Rachel’s absence thereof would yield tension.  Walking down the halls I encountered Justice Cabrales.  He spied my state and stopped midstride.  I looked down.  Of the Triumvirate he was, is closest to Rachel.

“Allan, Mother Church is of centuries.”

I am bewildered.

“Mother Church was holy, pure.  A child struggled out of womb into sin, purity instantly gone as God signs off on his work.  It was for Church to save the creature.  A few days, weeks, after birth the infant was taken to a priest.  The priest, renewing holiness every day in rite, would put some of his pure saliva on his fingertips and apply it to the infant’s lips.  Thus begins the perpetual purging of sin by the Church which would structure life in sacraments and confession.”

I am warry.  Being with Rachel, I avoid talk of religion.

“You see, Allan, the burden is off us.  We just go in for a car wash.  Yes, we’re suppose to avoid swamps and such, but the burden is really on the ever cleansing Church.  That’s why we have so many priests–so you can find a washed off one when needed.”

I’ve often wondered what Suzuki did to Cabrales.

“But Rachel.  For all the fellowship of Believers she is alone with her God.  She must clean herself and beg grace for the smell.  Allan, did not Benjamin spill the darkest night upon us at his funeral?  No, Rachel will have none of his performed death.”

Seeing as a matter of policy I will remain silent, he walks past, but turns around.

“All these faiths for heaven to make, heaven almost touched, but not.  Rachel protests our collective failure, recusing herself for later finality.”

I see Michelangelo’s hands, behind Suzuki’s desk, in chambers.

 

***

After the funeral we clerks, past and present, assembled at a bar without the venerable, to discuss the venerable, we acolytes unable to disengage from the speakers of reality.  Of course Andrea Clark was there, now able to speak of the yearly lived funerals, Suzuki at her side by empty coffin, empty coffin there at finality  (Gerrard Ponti, Remembering the Suzuki Court, Andrea Clark, entry 5).  Suzuki treated the coffin as a vehicle, pondering how to make its presence active exit.  He did so through darkness, having one end disappear therein, elongating the coffin into become void.

Andrea and I woke together, later, having climbed the stairway to orgasm to erase intimations of Great Purpose we could not contain, for a night primate imperative performed uncounted in history to place us in encore which is the cry of reality.  Everything else, all law, all battle of words and deeds, only to flow in that cry yet again.

When the brain returned to speech she was a girl disappointed with Father.  “It was a trick, really.  He preempted your thought with shock tactics which worked because he was Chief.  Anyone can do it, at least at home, alone.   Reality is the control of words.  He made certain you couldn’t speak them.”  She got up, thankfully slow, and walked over to a CD carrier.  There, turning to me nude, sex of millennia speaking with a modern mind, she pulled out Christopher Tin’s The drop that contained the sea, one song, Devipravaha, being the dance during Suzuki’s funeral.

“There’s another he played, which he said spoke of Rachel–er, Justice Whitehead.  He said it was a soloist’s call for travel, to break the bonds of now, approved by the surrounding chorus, building them all a resolved certainty which nonetheless leaves them exactly where they are.  This, he said, was Rachel, all certain but unable to move until certainty’s product comes to her.  Ben’s coffin was travel, gone, far.  But there we all stood, just like Rachel, but a stationarity without certainty.”  A sad smile.  “We never go anywhere, not really.  Others must, for things change. Oh, who, where are they?  Ben left, that his last statement.  Not an interment.  Not an I await your arrival too.  A gone.  An elsewhere.”

She started the track,  Iza Ngomos, “Come Tomorrow.”   Powerfully clear solo launched to hover exactly where it is.  Chorus repeatedly affirming the goal of travel into a great island of sound.  But the water surround for transport is only there in stationary song.  If we move, singing stops, water vanishes, we with nowhere to go.  Our resolve lies in our communal stationarity.  All we can do is keep singing, hoping someone travels the waves we have made bringing far to us.

That beautiful body becomes all mischievous girl in face.  “I can be Suzuki too.  Here’s another track.  The longest.  He never spoke of it.  We may not be able to move without losing song so buoyancy, but we can sing of other’s move, imagining therein.  We can create reality of trip never taken.”  A sighed pause.  I have difficulty not focusing on the fall of her breasts.  “That, Suzuki would say, is culture.”

She plays the track, Waloyo Yamoni.    Andrea’s vision endures, so much choral imperative made of a boat speck receding ever further into ideal point gone, soloists creating a floating feeling of being on the craft, but what is seen thereon only approached in an excitement never resolved.  Oh what we would see if we could see!  Culture is ever somewhere else, brought to us unawares.  Perhaps we are not so different that the steadfastly standing Rachel, our certainty that a certainty will come.

Come back to me Andrea.  Let your breasts, waist, thighs be the song sustaining arrival.

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