On Departure

30

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — An old French traveler I met years back told me that children and the elderly get along well because they’re both so close to death. One just crawled out of it, the other is sliding into it. One is arriving, one departing.

Arrival to a new place is birth and in the new land you are a child. You have a world of rules to learn, a new reality to wrap yourself through. Like a child your ignorance is forgiven.

Departure is death and like death your absence creates a void. The impressions you leave behind are images that will remain with those behind. You are elsewhere and already new, constantly changing, detached from those images unless you choose not to be.

The one thing I find I can never depart from is myself. I am always right here, right now, inside these eyes and hands. Places and people come and go but I remain always right here. I cannot walk or fly away from myself. I follow me everywhere, carrying those I’ve met and places I’ve seen inside, sometimes only for a time, feeling them shrink, pushed to the margins by the present.

What I value most about travel is not the radical alterations in environment but radical alterations in the effluxion of time. There is Christian time, Islamic time, Buddhist time, Chinese time, Island time, a time that engulfs you at sea. Each has its own rhythms and syncopations. An hour is different everywhere. Expanding. Contracting. Opening. Recurving. Flattening out.

The two experiences of time I find most radical are those of arrival and departure.

During these hours and days things take on an unusual clarity. When arriving things are naked and new. Steadily they cover themselves, recede into the background, become dull, unnoticed, routine. When it comes time to leave again their clothing drops and they are again naked and significant. The hours pass strangely.

Arrival is filled with promises, departure with the mute pain of unconsummated desire and how promises change.

I look out at Oklahoma, the place I grew up that is no longer my home, and see the promises I arrived with that have died, the new promises that have since sprouted, the shift in my thinking between then and now. I look forward to India, where I will be wandering these next few years, and see promises developing that I know will mutate or be forgotten.

All wayfarers feel the heat of transformation before they set out on another big trip. They know they will be battered around and thrown down and lifted up and humiliated and praised and transform again and again before they return. But will those who remain behind be able to see and accept those transformations? Will the wayfarer be able to accept their non-acceptance?

In my backpack I have packed the following. An HD LED film projector. A 17-inch telescope. A spare pair of blue jeans. Some iron-on patches to repair holes. A pair of khaki slacks for “formal” occasions. Three long-sleeve button-up cotton shirts. Two black sleeveless shirts for warm weather. A miniature LED flashlight with a headband for reading or cooking in the dark. A bandanna. A yoga mat. A large envelope with white unlined paper and a clipboard for writing letters.  A knife. A miniature magnetized chess board. A one-cup  Italian coffee percolator and a sack of Ethiopian coffee beans. A camera. A biography of Arthur Rimbaud. The Bhagavad Gita. A pair of black sneakers with different-colored shoe strings. Duct tape. Super glue. Several satchels of green tea. Three harmonicas. A green keffiyeh. Iodine tablets. A tiny wooden pipe. Rubber bands. A zip-lock baggie of foam earplugs, most of them so old and unmalleable they just fell out of my ears and are basically useless. A zip-lock bag filled with about fifty maps, letters and postcards, as well as unsent letters and postcards, some written long ago. A leather-bound notebook with an orange GlaxoSmithKline printed on every page, which I stole from a hospital and now write poems in. Five meters of rope. Swimming goggles. Two pairs of socks. Seven pairs of black briefs. An inflatable pillow. Three dozen condoms. A poncho. Sleeping pills. Valium. Aperients. A couple of candles. A voice recorder that I sometimes wake and mumble dreams into. A map of star constellations of the Northern hemisphere. A sunhat. A computer. The rough draft of a novel I’ve been working on the last few months. A coffee bean grinder.

The pack also has a bunch of stray debris at the bottom that never seems to wash out.

Tomorrow I fly to India.

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