On the Problem of Likeness and Difference

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx“remind me, someday, to point out

that graveyard, the one with

overgrown grass and the toppled-over

headstones of those blacklisted from any

true accounting. The light, the afternoon

light, filters through the oaks in shafts and it

lingers a little longer there. A half-forgotten

place with ivy vines meandering around sunny

patches with only the kind of beauty only

ruin can bestow. A space where all the

violence visited upon the body, the

palimpsestic scarification of the body, has been

prayed into a hymn of hope. Visitor,

it’s not a place for you. You can go there,

but it is not for you. Its stillness

is condemnation. I’m thinking about

memory, about what can be remembered,

about the will it requires to remember, and

how it is all not-about-you and

all-about-you at the same time. That the

shape of the present is nothing other

than our inheritance from the past, which

means that the past lives on in the present

not merely in buildings, and who owns

what, but that it lives on in the way we

see one another, in the way that we see

ourselves. This explains why some places

—open fields, exquisitely-executed

eighteenth-century stone buildings, half-wild

cemeteries, for instance— are possessed by

a sadness that ambushes you when you find

yourself in front of them. It also explains

why in turning away from the face of another

in need, you do so with a faint sense of

regret, but with a skill that surprises you.”


Jon Thompson’s latest book is Notebook of Last Things (Shearsman Books, 2019). He also edits Free Verse Editions, a poetry series, and Illuminations: A Series on American Poetics. More on him can be found at www.jon-thompson.com 


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