Excerpts from the Life and Sayings of Pescuetti as Told by Aron of the Lowlands

First published in The Offbeat (Volume 17, Spring 2017)

They called him Pescuetti. None could recall if he had ever called himself such. Yet as one called him, so did another, and another—the last syllables resonating off the trunks of trees, sunk into the rings of fallen leaves.

And he gathered the leaves into a bed for day-naps, the dreams of which took on the leaves’ color and frailties. Thereafter, more than once did he raise his stony head to the name; more than once, his grey eyes like vowels lifted in the air’s soft accent.

*

Some say he favored his left leg and trained himself to walk with a limp. On damp evenings, he’d unshutter the house, drag his lame leg to the unlit square and circle pools of rain, counting the dim stars drowned within—his reflection shrugging off the wet and wavering light.

*

From behind, a drunken man once mistook him for an escapee. When the drunk tried to turn him in, he found that Pescuetti had already surrendered himself long ago.

*

The thoughts of Pescuetti were never far from flowing water. For this reason his eyes watered at certain heights, so concluded women in their altitudes.

*

Almost indifferently, he raised the one-eyed son of another man—yes, the same man whose wide-knuckled fist banged and banged on his door in a time of need and thereafter was seen always with the doorknocker hanging from his neck.

When the son, all grown and full in stature, set sail for youthful adventures at sea, Pescuetti gifted him the door. It would, in time, make for a fine raft by which to escape, or drift without end.

The son bore the door on his back, boarded his ship, and then, at its prow, sailed tall into a tale blown forever off course.

Meanwhile, Pescuetti’s home remained doorless and thus none could properly break in, though many tried, thrashing their hands on the threshold.

When word of the one-eyed son’s fate reached him, Pescuetti tied this word to an anchor and watched it sink to the bottom of an elegy.

Pescuetti buried the door’s key behind his house, at the edge of a stone garden. There sprouted a duplicate door, by which, it is thought, Pescuetti entered into a heated argument on the hereafter.

*

He had never, it was said, misplaced a word. Yet he found one or two daily underneath the gestures of his most loquacious friends.

It was also said there were words he would never use, but kept preserved perfectly in moments of profound silence.

*

He kept certain words literally on the tip of his tongue, set there for his would-be lovers, so they alone might mouth them when alongside him.

*

All this to say, he spoke as if by definition. His voice, like a fine analysis of sound, opened the sense of each utterance and fell away.

In brief, there was nothing he could not have meant.

*

Pescuetti, a follower? Yes, in that others never failed to lead him back to himself.

*

He stood within himself at the pier, an intrinsic finality to his bearing, as if the legends of those who’d come before and those who’d come after concluded in each of his taut gestures.

*

From the side, a sober man once confused Pescuetti for an engineer, bringing him several difficult problems on the nature of drawbridges. Pescuetti talked with him with great command not of the subject, but its metaphors as the two walked slowly along the canal, the bare backs of rowers at rest floating up ahead, passing under pelicans perched on opposite posts.

*

Rumor still drifts about that, if approached predawn by a man whose cap is at an obtuse angle, Pescuetti could foretell six follies the man would commit by midday.

*

Some believed Pescuetti would be the last philosopher to die, without a single peer to mourn him, as he would have it. Yes, some believed Pescuetti to be a philosopher, a sort of language-stoic; some took him for a master of black arts or word-conjurer; and others deemed him a logician outside the times, despite his pamphlet of proofs that a man can never quite be what others take him to be.

*

To him they were but whispers, belonging to a faint world.

*

Men from the north have claimed Pescuetti’s shadow appeared only in natural light and never indoors. A young artist from a colony up there concurred, having confirmed it after Pescuetti’s brief stay at his secluded cabin, which on that very night, balanced on the cold horizon, burned like a boat out on the water, canvas and wood aflame—embers and ash instead of tomorrow.

Swiftly it burned, while the young artist and Pescuetti had gone out to unbury two hollow boxes, the rough painting of a child-bride on one and a rhyme about nightwinds on the other.

The young artist lost everything that evening, even the smoke, for Pescuetti had carried it away in his box of nightwinds to the nearest town and there made black dye of it for the hair of old wives. Their husbands paid top dollar and Pescuetti later sent the proceeds to the painter, who, with the money, built another cabin. It was further south a bit, among the windblown reeds where the years, like his oils, blended into one another. There, amid the replaced furnishings, he aged into The Old Artist, dreaming up a series of landscapes under a less pleasing light.

*

Pescuetti carried himself as one carries a body out of sacred waters.

*

Of words, he uttered the following from the fertile foot of a volcano, figured to be one or two miles from his birthplace:

Some words are within our power, while others are not. Words within our power are in school dictionaries, on museum signs, on grocery lists, in textbooks and more. They are printed on leaflets and they are tacked over entrances and exits; they appear on business cards and safety warnings, and sometimes in manuals for machinery. They are—in just a word—words, words, words.

Words not within our power are on gravestones, in prayer books, crossed out of drafts but then added back in. They are tattooed on fallen bodies and written in the margins. They are found within the opening of poems and the closing of love letters. They are cried out on battlefields, or heard somewhere in the dark. They often appear in riddles, or in a speech spoken in dreams. They are lost in burned books, uttered in oaths, and sung at daybreak. They are—in more than a word—words, words, words.

Remember, then, if you regard that which is just a word as more than a word and that which is more than a word as just a word, you will undoubtedly twist your tongue, entangle your thoughts, and disquiet the voice inside you. But, if you regard that which is just a word as just a word, and that which is more than a word as more than a word, then what you can put into words you will put clearly and what you cannot put into words will make itself manifest.

*

Pescuetti appeared delighted—at what, no one could say.

*

There is much to suggest Pescuetti preferred soup for after 5pm, but gratefully took from whichever platter was passed his way. At supper he was often seated across from a window, half-lit with the distant town at sundown. During a lull in conversation, he was said by guests to gaze out the window, tearing the bread on his plate into the smallest of pieces and twisting them into the shapes of insects, as if to feed nightingales and nightjars.

“His eyes could pull the world toward them and then gently let it go,” a dinner guest of high distinction would later remark to another dinner guest of greater distinction.

“It is true,” agreed the latter, holding up his glass and adding, “In his eyes glints a time-lapse in which the sun and moon are seen zooming through gathering skies, the spheres flashing in an ordered frenzy, the quiet lightning of the world rushing back on itself, the miniature and monumental claims of men breaking apart and rejoining in the mouths of later generations, the roar of invisible engines and industry in accord with the pulse of slow and laboring hours, the inevitable passing and blinking of ages scaled down to the vibrations of one’s minute human view of it.”  He took a sip of his wine and set the glass down swiftly—a little too forcefully, for the stem snapped under his hand.

*

Pescuetti’s eyes, the bread, unseen birds, and one more thing—nearly the evening’s first principles.

 

 

-The picture of Pescuetti above is drawn from the philosophical

debris of Simone Weil, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Epictetus, and others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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