Projection

Here is the age of the self-assembled self.
Before the fatal upflower of fiction
Our lives were our own. The stories we knew
Were the people we knew. The selves we were
Were the things we saw our body do.
In time we learned to predict these things,
And we would say: this is me, this is myself.
Then we started watching movies. We would read
Paperbacks from the rack, or see a play
In Greek—it’s all the same. And we learned
To tell such stories too. And who was our main
Character? Whose arms and limbs could animate
Sans fee? So our stories stole ourselves.
From people we descended to protagonists
And became spellbound by our diaries.
We put the best years of our lives, which
Should have been our twenties, into the job
Of reading this book of ourselves. Of course
We were just writing the book… Meanwhile,
Our actual selves lived on, undisturbed
And unobserved. We would screw up this
Or that; or something good would happen
To us; or sometimes something funny; and
We would write these incidents into the book.
The bookstore grew a self-help section,
A therapy section, a drama section—
Even biographies were our books in print,
To say nothing of the poetry. (Cowboys beware!
The New Yorker is not far behind you.)
Like Tolkiens of this grand new world
We made whole languages to explore
The undiscovered continents of us—
Some of these sections are barely in English.
Imagine being a human being so subtle
That the architecture of your heart could not
Explain itself in the tongue of Hemingway.
A new species in a new age! (My own view
Is that everything bad in the last century
Was done to transcend mere humanity.)
It was a great flowering of sentiment. Feeling,
However, was nowhere to be found; feeling,
A white alligator consigned to some sewer,
Unobserved and undisturbed—eating shit,
Condoms, rats and dead hitmen. Yet
As our bodies ceased to magically heal
And we came into our thirties, which is now
For most the decade of maturity, we found
What troubled us most was this disparity
Between the books of ourselves and the things
We saw our body do. This we had attributed
To production issues; careless animators;
No. It was the alligator—the self itself,
Undisturbed and unobserved, which really
Drove arms and legs and lips and tongue.
The actor kept deviating from the script. And
As we kept writing down what happened
As if the plot points still fit the character,
We started to see there was another script.
This script was shorter and less flattering.
It did smell of the sewer in which it lived.
Maybe some partner would say to us, as a
Mot d’escalier: “you’ve told me a lot
Of stories about why you do what you do.
Your soul is a fascinating book of mystery
At which your lovely eyes have barely hinted.
Problems, though, began when I began
To think, like some rogue algorithm,
That your actions were no mystery at all
And could always be predicted: at every choice
You chose whatever would make you feel
The most power over me… Naturally this was not
Your plan. It was certainly nothing the author
Of your diary, who though mysterious and subtle
Is gentle and kind, would do! But your gator
Was just hungry…” and he ends by thanking us
For a good lesson in keeping away
From girls without a good handle on their gator.
At this point, our bodies already starting
To sag and flab and ache, we realized
That this character in our own book,
Which we spent so much in writing,
Banking the best years of our bodies
On these unpublished autobiographies,
Was not real and not us. Instead we
Were the things we saw our bodies do…
Our diaries went in the Little Free Library
And the tawdry work of adulthood began:
Meeting this cave-reptile, adopting him,
Teaching him to trot after us like a dog—
But never off-leash at the dog park,
Never without some lunge and nibble—
No special food can make him anything
But what he is. In truth there is not much
To know about him. Like golden retrievers
Everyone’s gator is basically the same gator,
Just bigger or smaller—and it is this work,
Which is not made of insight but of effort,
Which is not a drama but a grind, which
Will never be perfect and always be ugly,
Which finally makes us into the people
We will die as. Can we still be good people?
But that was never for the author to say—
Only the actual reader of the actual book.