Now shall I make my soul,
Compelling it to study
In a learned school
Till the wreck of body,
Slow decay of blood,
Or dull decrepitude,
Or what worse evil come –
The death of friends, or death
Of every brilliant eye
That made a catch in the breath –
Seem but the clouds of the sky
When the horizon fades;
Or a bird’s sleepy cry
Among the deepening shades.
– The Tower, William Butler Yeats
Stanley brushed his fingers across the cover, revealing the words obscured by layers of dust. The Collected Po…Poetry? How long had it been since he had last heard these words? He caressed the letters. There was a perfect amount of friction, a sublime cohesive force between the cover and his skin, as they made passionate love. Stanley’s eyes welled.
Poetry… poetry, where have you been? Poetry… poetry, did the times leave you? Come hither, please.
– – –
Stanley did not know why he went into the attic that day. He was having a midnight drink in Reality. He asked for his dopamine pathway to be stimulated and put on some old school beats (Lil Pump, Lil Yachty, 6ix9ine, just to name a few), they’re mostly from his childhood. He liked how they just mindlessly rambled…
Loneliness had creeped in more than usual amidst the midnight high. Stanley summoned two R-bots with 50 credits. Riley, model them after Callum and Warren. He missed his old pals from high school; he missed them a lot. Callum died of myocardial infarction in a simulated orgy. He was enjoying himself but his coronary arteries were not. At least he died of ecstasy. Lying in the R-tank, the smile on his face beamed ever brighter under rigor mortis. Callum always had a beautiful smile. Warren was arrested – for spreading ‘anti-technology sentiments’. He was denied access to Reality. Stanley never saw him again, in reality, that is. Warren died soon after, of loneliness, they say.
Stanley made small talk with Callum and Warren, inquiring about the weather. [An idiosyncratic remnant of the 21st century, of 21st century people like Stanley. No one cares about the weather anymore. You can have any weather you liked in the tank.] The more they talked, the more nostalgic he grew. There was a strong calling from the distant past, but for all he willed, he could not recall more than a fuzzy picture of the olden days save for a few memories – his first kiss, his debut as a lover in bed, when he got into that big argument with his parents, and, and that time when he was reading poetry to his friends, naturally, to impress the girls (Lo, thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind/ For thee, and for myself, no quiet find). Most of the contents of his mind have evaporated. They were gone. Perhaps they have fossilized under the weight of increasingly new memories. He read Freud and he thought the man made a lot of sense. Maybe one day he could go and conduct some archeology and dig the memories out.
– – –
The distant memories, fermenting and growing richer and weightier with age, had grown a smell so pungent and a taste so rich that repels the ill-prepared visitor. Nevertheless, there was a perverted beauty in their antiqueness, like pieces of rotten cheese. [More specifically, a Casu Marzu. Stanley, in his more reckless days, tried it in Corsica.] Stanley ingested a tiny bit, just to be cautious, and waited. There was a bit of indigestion, understandably, but he liked it. He was catapulted into another era, one where poverty, unemployment, famine and oppression loomed large. The times have changed, and we are better for it. But Stanley could not help but dwell on the moments of deprivation and desperation; of the moments of sorrow; of the countless times he cried next to his Mother on the dining table; of his growing despair as he went from state to state searching for a job but couldn’t find any; of that time when Jane and he hugged each other to sleep at the back of his beat-up 1999 Ford F-150 in the frigid winter of Maine, in between them the beat book of The Collected Poetry. He could not help but feel that there’s something lost in the comforts of the present… Never mind, Stanley was an old man. We always romanticize our past. Perhaps was just falling into the Nietzschean ‘what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’ bullshit; he was just too old to appreciate what’s new, much like how Mom and Dad (now long dead, and dearly missed) despised the internet when he was a child. Still, oh… he could not help but feel an yearning for the past, or at least parts of the past which was now lost in the peace and prosperity of the present. He could not help but feel more lonely the more the world changes. He had been left behind. The times have rushed in front and he is struggling to catch up. He felt a bit sad.
Riley, burn me some pot, will ya?
The sweet scent of marijuana filled the tank. Stanley felt a bit better as reality (Reality) dissolved in front of his eyes. Everything seemed just a bit brighter and more lively. A big, honest smile grew out of his face. He had always been a bit peculiar when high, this never changed from the 30s, [hence the college nickname : ‘stonedley’], but that was a long time ago. He ran around naked in the streets of Reality.
That ended up costing him 200 credits (computerized streets are not cheap to generate, even after quantum computing), but hell, what does it matter? Stanley got 800 credits every month as part of the UBI package that earned the Libertarians the presidency. Ironically, it had been 40 years since the libertarian party held their last election.
Whatever. No one protested. No one cared. There was no point. They were living so comfortably.
– – –
That day after the initial high subsided, Stanley grew sadder. He was a stranger to Reality, and a loner in reality. He was in the saddest era of history, living the saddest little life inside a stupid sad machine, and being so sad he was taking the saddest substances, for a sad price of nil, and all this only made him, again, sadder. He was a sad old man on a sad lonely planet. Sadness permeated every bit of his being. He empathized with the sad old streets of reality, because no one, except sad old men like him, ever takes time to look out onto them.
Sad streets, under the sad moonlight,
Gave a sad, sad cry.
Sad poets, writing sad poems,
Gave a long sign.
[the catch is that there were no poets left]
Sadness. Stanley loves the word. It is so general – there is nothing specific or particular about it – yet it manifests itself so individually in each mind. You can use it on anything, anything at all, because each repetition of the word, of sadness, contains its own world of meanings. Each sad moment, sad object, sad person, sad world, is in its unique way, sad. All encompassing sadness – overwhelming sadness – sadness of the soul, of the body, of the mind, of the world – sadness… everything is so sad – people are living so happily that I cannot help but feel a bit sad.
– – –
Is it the weight of the page, the faint smell of paper, the decrepit attic and its dark complexion, the familiar – yet distant – font of the letters, or the almost too trivial discomfort of the dust entering one’s lungs? There was an authenticity to the attic that is lost in Reality. Maybe it’s the amalgamation of all of them, maybe it is just his old mind playing tricks. Stanley doesn’t know.
– – –
Stanley kept thinking about the book that he had held in his hands a day before. On this silent night, lying in his tank, he twisted and turned. Questions grew like poppies in the death lands.
What happened to the world of his childhood?
Where are the poets, where are the writers, where are the artists?
Where are the Yeats of modernity, the Virgils? The Whitmans and the Keats?
They say that all the faults are the times’, all the genius, one’s own. Has life gotten so perfect that we’re left only with the faults? Has the geniuses deserted mankind? Stanley asked questions like this – all night – thoughts lurking in the back of his head that he had never articulated. It was time that he did. An old man has to untangle some old knots before he dies.
– – –
He waited for the universe to answer. He had an inkling that it would. Perhaps he was being too Romantic, too wishful. What awaited him was silence. Not a single voice came from the cosmos for the whole dark night. He only heard his own echos, his echos amidst the sad breeze. The times, the questions, the lives, these all felt a bit absurd. Stanley could not help but laugh.
Oh, the clouds of the sky, are you laughing too?
Prithee, sing the songs of poetry with me. We’re the loneliest things.