David Means

From "The Old Man"

“…One winter morning, at the crack of dawn, heading back to Michigan again, to see my father before he had a major heart procedure, I got on the train and sat back and, as we pushed out of Chicago, with Bellow in my lap, I recalled that in Humboldt’s Gift, another favorite of my father’s, there had been some mention of the afterlife, or of the dead. (Now, here, at my desk, with a copy of the book beside me, I locate the section, on page 141 of my edition, and in it Charlie Citrine, the central character and narrator, says that he cannot accept the “view of death taken by most of us, and taken by me during most of my life — on esthetic grounds therefore I am obliged to deny that so extraordinary a thing as a human soul can be wiped out forever. No, the dead are about us, shut out by our metaphysical denial of them. As we lie nightly in our hemispheres asleep by the billions, our dead approach us.”)

I now see that on the train, barely remembering this passage, just catching the gist of it, I was somehow retroactively aware that in getting up in the middle of the night and packing in the dark and heading downstairs in an Ambien stupor to catch the earliest train possible, I was, somehow, knowingly, joining the dead who haunted the nighttime places between sleep and waking. I didn’t know at the time but I was following in the tracks of Charlie Citrine’s logic, preparing myself somehow not only to travel to my father, who would die a few days later, but also for the state I would be in when he was gone. I was feeling it in the cab, sensing it in the sweep of streets — Chicago streets, against logic, rise and fall more than expected. Call it wishful thinking or sweet delusion or whatever you want, but I know now, here, writing this, that the sensation I had was of communion with the dead around me. On the train that morning, I was aware — without knowing it, admitting it fully — of the shadow-space, partly because, of course, on a train in that transitory state between one place and another, between Chicago and my hometown, Kalamazoo, I was suspended between a sense of the life behind me and my father ahead, something like that. It’s high time you admit, I say to myself now (and said on the train), that you have a full-blown belief in a certain communion with the dead, one that you feel, strongly, must be sustained, if not in argument then at least in the fiction you write. A man stands alone along a stream in upper Michigan casting his line in a curl behind him, feeling it, sensing the gorgeous loop, the play of gravity and air and swing and motion, and then lays the line down perfectly along the stream’s surface so that the fly, far out at the end of the leader, which is invisible, makes just the right splash — the same splash a mayfly would make — and he takes a split second to look away from his task and to sweep his eyes from one end of the scene to the other and feels himself to be utterly alone with nature itself, folded into the place and the moment, while also aware somehow that he is not at all alone but subsumed in his own essential eternity along with all those who came before him. In his own violation of the rules of physics, he exists and doesn’t exist, and that sensation allows him — I’m pushing here — a vital link with those who are gone, because he is gone, too, as far as reality is concerned, and no one can prove that he made such a beautiful cast because no one knows they have to prove it, and when he has left that spot, along the Au Sable River, he will purposely avoid making mention of the moment and will answer questions from his friends with vague pleasantness. That’s what I feel about that moment on the train; that I’d be much better off not even trying to articulate it, or would be better served to simply say I felt strange in the cab on the way to the train, and then on the train itself; whereas inside I’m saying, I had a communion with the dead and readied myself to have a different relation with my father, one that would be between a dead man and myself, retroactively, without knowing I was doing so.”

- David Means, from his nonfiction essay in Harper’s Magazine, full link here: https://harpers.org/archive/2016/06/the-old-man-2/

From "Sleeping Bear Lament"

The great roiling swells of sand driven upward by more sand, compiled against itself; the eternal days and nights of Lake Michigan currents and the constant pounding winds rolling grain upon grain; the fronts staggering listlessly across the lake from Wisconsin like drunken louts, picking up moisture over the great body of water and pounding the coast until from nothing grew something. What did the Ottawa Indians think, wandering this moonscape, praying to their beloved Sleeping Bear as he lay prone on the great expanse of otherness, huddled against the lake? All along this side of the state the beaches were being taken away by the currents; houses tumbled down in slow-mo on the news, tag teams of bright yellow bulldozers attempted to rearrange fate, and we smoked our cigarettes and drank a last beer and sat in a little alcove of razor grass and laughed at our fear, at the idea that we could worry that Rondo, all taut muscle and hockey arms, might be dead.

It was turning out to be a brisk, fall-like day. The front had swung through a giant line of anvilheads. Out of the firmament, the ceaseless drive of wind, Sam came to me once more: that day in his house alone in that room with the soft linty smell of furnace heat (What’cha wanna do? Don’t know); the event with the trumpet. And of course his death—his death most of all—taking the whole high school by surprise. His cocky fuck-yous dead and gone. by that time he was completely one of those fringe beings, absorbed by the vast riptides of misery we pretended didn’t exist…

- David Means (whole story here: https://bombmagazine.org/articles/sleeping-bear-lament/)