Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.



What I Have to Sing About

for Aaron

Lately I've been singing. Not in public, not in this voice, but singing
In that casual, turn-off-your-brain, private, pedestrian way. It's not as if
I'm imagining an audience. This is not about applause. This is about something
Called happiness.
How's that for sincerity. Sincerity--it's the new irony.
I've been sincerely and unironically singing my guts out for the past few weeks.
It's almost as if my brain is an iPod full of songs and something about the air
Or the color of the summer sky or the tree teeming with astonishingly green
Leaves or the passionate graffiti on the wall written in bloodred spray paint
Or the I-might-be-in-luck spring in the walk of the person who's hurrying
Down the street or the jazz riff in the person's voice telling me
About something he feels, something he really feels, something profoundly personal
Pushes just the right button and a song comes sputtering out of me. Does it
Matter that my song sounds like a lawn mower that's about to give out? Look,
You don't want to hear me sing. Me singing is not a beautiful sight, though
You might get a good laugh at the silly grin that's pasted to my face. So
I have a grin and a head full of prematurely graying hair.
Is that something to sing about?


God, sometimes I wish I were
Juanes or Tom Waits or Bruce Springsteen. Or even Barry Manilow. But
That's a lame regret. I have regrets that are much more real than that. Regrets
That are cut-your-heart-out painful. Painful to the point of paralysis. Many years ago,
There was someone I should have kissed and didn't. That didn't change my life.
There was someone I did kiss and shouldn't have. That did changed my life, too.
If ever there was a bad Robert-Frost-road-not-taken moment, well, I won't
Get into it. Regrets can kill a man. Regrets can turn into late-night drinking sprees
With no one to keep you company except Billie Holiday's voice singing
"I Cried for You." This is not good. Look, if you don't take regret by the throat
And say, Fuck you! Get the hell out of my house! then, baby, it's over for you.
The world is littered with bodies killed by that particular bullet. And believe me,
That bullet kills so slowly that you'll be dead long before you're dead.
I've given myself some advice: Say you're sorry, Benjamin. Say you're sorry
And mean it. And don't expect to be forgiven. Take the slap on the face and move on.


I've thought about that for a while now and let's just say that the next time
I'm about to kiss or not kiss someone, I'm going to think about it very seriously.
Kissing someone at my age is a very serious thing. I've made some wrong turns
And gotten lost. I even lost myself. My entire self. If you have ever lost yourself,
You know how skyless and starless and dark the world can become. Still, I can
Sing about the journey. Why the hell not? Listen, even when you sing the blues,
It's singing. Yeah, we're back to Billie Holiday--but this time without
The bourbon. Listen, does it matter that my hurt has haunted me since I was five?
Does it matter that I've misspent millions of hours hating myself? I took
The theology of mea culpa to new heights. Does it matter that I wanted
To drink myself into the next millennium? Look, no one ever said that depressed
People are original. Depressed people are too depressed to use their imaginations.
Yeah, a million misspent hours. That's a lot of misspending. I can't resurrect
Those hours. Remembering--that's different than resurrecting. Does it matter
That I am sometimes so riddled with guilt that I feel like Pancho Villa's body
At the very moment of his assassination--riddled with bullets, I tell you.
It's a bloody fucking mess. I've got no one to blame but myself. Blame? Hell,
Let me just walk past that word. It's not a helpful word, not in my opinion.
Trust me, I've been in therapy. I have made that word illegal. And the good news
Is that I've never been narcissistic enough to say with anything resembling
Conviction that everything is my fault. I'm over the mea culpa theology.
It just didn't work for me. Let's face it--I've made a few mistakes. I hurt
Some people. I saw the look on their faces. I've seen the tears of disbelief
And the hurt. I dream them, the people I hurt. I may dream them forever.
But everything is my fault? Listen, Benjamin, everything is not your fault.
From my perspective, that's something to sing about.


Things could be worse. I could be
George W. Bush. I could be Dick Cheney. See, I'm grateful for my life already.
Okay, not being someone else? Is that all I've got as a reason for singing? What
Have I got to sing about? Good question. I'm suddenly divorced. I lost the house
In the settlement. I lost the dog, too. Have you ever lost a house you loved? I planted
All the desert trees and shrubs. I shaped it into my vision of Paradise. Gone.
Lost it. Have you ever lost a dog you named and trained? A dog who loved
Your smell so much that she stole your T-shirts and took them to bed with her?
This is all very sad. My own personal tragedy. No, I am not Prince Hamlet,
But I love that dog and grieve her loss. Go ahead and laugh at my tears
And the whole drama of the man-dog thing. Love is infinite--didn't anybody
Tell you? My love for dogs does not diminish my love for my own kind. And if
You think about it, my dog and I are real and Hamlet was just a character in a play.
Do you know how many literary critics love that play more than they love people?
Do not scoff at my love for my dog. Do not. And so what if Hamlet was
A very good play? Fuck Hamlet. Listen, I dream about that dog just as I dream
About the woman who kept her. I would like to say that I hate the woman
I'm divorcing--for keeping the dog I love. For other reasons too. Except
That somewhere inside me I know the truth of the entire matter. Yes, I know
That no one will believe me when I say that I love the woman I've left. But
This is the good part: No one has to believe me. Love and Divorce and the songs
I sing are not things that can be explained. I'm done with explaining.
Yes, goddamnit, all of this has something to do with happiness. Maybe
The way you love makes sense--but my love makes no sense at all.
And neither does my life. Living is not a tragic play. Living is not
A lesson in logic. Soliloquies and syllogisms have never, not once,
Helped me solve one fucking problem concerning my relationships with
The people I've loved. Ever try a soliloquy on your mother? Have you?
Ever try to engage her with your impeccable logic? How'd it work out for you?


Look, I'm lucky to have walked out of my old address
With my toes and fingers intact--though, frankly, I'm still looking for my balls.
Did I expect to walk out with all the furniture and no hurts, no scratches, no
Scars? I'm fifty-four years old and I"m starting my life over again. Believe me,
The one thing I know how to do is start my life over again. But how many lives
Do I get? At least this time around, I don't have to resort to waiting on tables.
At least I'm not forced to suffer other people's inane conversations
About remodeling the bathroom and maids that don't speak English
For a lousy 15 percent tip. So what exactly do I have to sing about? Divorce? Divorce
Is not only not original but it's nothing to be proud of. A wife who feels
You betrayed her and hates you for destroying her life and hates you even more
For your inability to be a real man is not exactly what I dreamed of putting
On my resume. Ex-priest, ex-smoker, ex-dog companion, ex-husband.
Rack 'em up and break 'em, boys. Yeah, I feel like a fucking billiard ball.
A few months ago, I was seriously considering suicide. It's called ideating.
Ideating suicide.
Have you ever seen a torn-up pinata that some kid just beat
The holy hell out of? Well, that was me. I suppose you're wondering when
I'm going to get back to that word happiness again. I'm coming to it.
Listen, the road to happiness is a long fucking road trip. You can't take
The freeway. Back roads, buddy, that's all you got. Unpaved back roads
And bad weather. Storms, baby. Don't expect to get there fast.
And don't expect yourself or your car to arrive in mint condition.


The day I signed my divorce agreement, I found a place built in 1900.
A friend of mine had brought it back to life. There were scars everywhere
On the building. I pictured myself reading a book there, writing one,
Working on a new painting, singing a song, my bare feet stepping on the old,
Forgiving wood floors. This, this is my new life.

Listen to me. Do you think finding a new life is a simple matter?
Finding any life at all is a miracle. There is something inside me that knows
That someday I'll have another dog and I will love, I'll love that dog.
There is something inside me that knows that someday, someone will look
At me and want to touch me--and there will be no hurt in that touch.
There is something inside me that is illogically and profoundly unafraid
Of the word tomorrow. There is something inside me that knows
That even though I am getting older by the day, I will always have
The mind of a curious boy who is looking for a whole forest of animals
In the clouds of a summer sky. There is something inside me that has banned
The word suicide from the vocabulary of my scarred and battered heart.

A few nights ago, this guy I know who has become
My friend got a little drunk. It happens. He was in a bad space. (I won't go into it.
Everyone deserves some privacy--even a guy who befriends a poet who might
Want to make him the subject of his next poem.) This is the thing: the guy was
In a world where hurt had become the only god that mattered. Tell me
You haven't been there. And tonight, here I am, thinking about my friend.
I have to say that I remain stunned by the beauty of his pain, by his great
And graceful disappointment, by his capacity to feel. To feel. Only someone
With deep faith can be that hurt. And I'm sorry I didn't know how to
Tell him that. I think I'll keep that image of him forever. Listen to me.
Everywhere I go, there is all this hurt. I walk away from one world and walk
Into another. But everywhere there are faces. The cities of the world
Are teeming with arms and hands that are reaching out to touch.
There is no escaping the pain. There is no escaping the beauty.

God, I've never been this happy. You still want to know what I have to sing about?

~Benjamin Alire Saenz
from The Book of What Remains


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