What Might Have Been

June 13, 2015

The Cooper’s hawk perched facing west on my neighbor’s back chain link fence. It was the size of a crow and had a speckled breast of black and brown and a long fantail. I had just got out of bed and pulled up the south-facing window shade in my office, and there was the hawk.

And there were my hummingbirds and house finches and goldfinches and chickadees, all feeding, sugar and seeds, below my vantage point. The Cooper’s hawk turned its head sideways and watched them but did not react. A bluejay spotted the hawk, and it shrieked and divebombed at the predator’s head. The hawk was not impressed. Jays can outfly hawks, but they can’t hurt or scare them.

And then the Cooper’s hawk became alert, its head craning down toward the ground, and it was clear it was about to attack. It leaned forward and dropped to the grass and came up with a hapless redtail skink dangling from its talons, and off it flew. Breakfast.

I have been depressed for days. I deflated the other night as I came out the Lambert Airport door and felt the crushing humidity. I had spent nine days in California sunshine and dry air, and had waded in the Pacific Ocean and climbed on, and hiked a lot of mountains.  And there were no mosquitoes in the desert.

Last night, I opened my garage door and a swarm of mosquitoes flew in and past the partially opened house door, and my Genehouse was now a mosquito dancing school. I killed them off and slept with a can of bug spray, in case a straggler sucked my blood in the middle of the night.

I dreamed of what might have been. One of you women readers—just one—knows exactly to what I refer.

I lead a what-might-have-been life: three novels that no agent has seen, two books of poems, these chronicles (which now are four hundred, thirty pages long), one hundred songs, a rock opera, twenty plays, an orchestral score and a bunch of essays: my life since 1983.

The greatest what-might-have-been that I know of is Charles Henri Alkan, a French composer, circa 1835. Alkan lived in an apartment in Paris, which he shared with lots of parrots. When a parrot died, Alkan would compose a funeral dirge for piano. He had studied music and was friends with the novelist George Sand and other luminaries, but he was a serous recluse.

Alkan wrote a letter to the French Ministry of Culture, enclosing scores of his music, and demanding recognition. A delegation showed up at his house several weeks later at noon, and the composer dismissed them, saying he was eating. Charles Henri Alkan died while reaching for his Talmud, another obsession, on a high book shelf, and the Talmud fell on his head and killed him.

Today, Alkan is considered one of the great composers. That is small comfort to him, given his smashed head and the dead Frenchman thing. Had he been a writer and had there been social media, Alkan might have written the Charleshouse Chronicles.

I have never observed a wild animal with what-might-have-been ennui. It is purely a human disease. This morning’s Cooper’s hawk did not hesitate and think how cute the redtail skink was, or attempt to write about it. She ate it.

We eat, five times removed from our killed, prepared food. We get fat, we screw, we bear more eaters of killed, prepared food, we dream, we hurt, we die. Oh yes, and we construct fables in an age of science and understanding. We’re waiting for a guy in robes from an age of ignorance to take us home.

It is going to be a long wait.

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