A hummingbird’s heart beats something like twenty times every second. If you could press your sorry human ear to the hovering hummingbird’s tiny breast you wouldn’t even be able to distinguish one beat from another. The sound of that minuscule heart would be to you a harmonic, a bass hum.
The heart of a sparrow in flight beats eight times every second. Even a sparrow. That’s what flight is all about.
In love our hearts beat more rapidly. In love we approach – not closely, but still – what it is to be a bird. In love, in this way, we approach flight.
And I know that the quiddity of flight is in fact in the accumulation of air-sacs and light bones and the currents of chemicals in nut-sized avian brains –
I know. I watch the flight of birds – just now, I watched a chaffinch flitting between the fence-posts ranged around the boundary of the park – and I see nothing more in it than in the slow dances of clouds, or in the vast traction of continents – in the spin of a planet – in the drop of a hat.
They can be understood and still be beautiful. Of course they can.
After love –
After love, our hearts grow more still, though we remember (whether we wish it or not) that at one time they beat more rapidly. The birds do not know, now, then or at any time; they are oblivious.
And again we might wish to be as the birds are: oblivious. In every important sense there is no difference between having forgotten and never having known. It doesn’t matter that the birds never knew.
If we were to become oblivious, if we were to forget, then we would still not be as the birds are. We would be different from the birds because the birds do not care that they are oblivious. The birds do not care that they have forgotten; they do not care that they never knew.
A cock-sparrow hops about the wrought-iron foot of the park bench. If I watch him closely I can discern the quiver of his heart within his grey breast. I watch him closely for a moment, and then I look away.
Across And Down
‘I’m not a physicist. I’m not even a scientist.’
He blinks at me.
‘I’m not a physicist. Actually I’m only here because of my husband. Mark Eisner? I’m Lori Eisner. I’m a – ’
As I’m about to say ‘a novelist’, he allows himself to be diverted by a passing tray of cold canapés, and turns away – I see him seize a smoked-fish crostini, and then he’s gone.
I swirl my wine.
Mark’s a hell of a physicist. That’s what they say to me, if they say anything at all. He’s a bigshot in eleven-dimensional m-theory. I guess what this means is that he’s a genius. He really is. My husband is a genius.
This means that the only people I tend to meet are fucking physicists.
Mark’s very supportive of my career, but the fact is that I do my work in a study, alone. Sure, once a year I might have a launch party to attend. Mark might take me out to dinner if it’s my birthday or our anniversary. But the rest of the time it’s just physics conference after physics conference. I could just stay at home – but if I did that then I’d never fucking see him. Last week we had dinner with Ashoke Sen. Who’s Ashoke Sen?, I’d asked. Mark’d looked at me like I was crazy. Ashoke seemed like a nice guy. The two of them talked tachyon condensation all night long.
These men who ignore me at the conference after-parties: they remind me of ants. You know how an ant, when it meets another ant, kind of checks it out, smelling its pheremones or whatever, to see that it really is another ant?
Well, when it isn’t another ant, they freak out. That’s what these physicists are like. They can’t get their heads around it. And remember, these are guys who can get their heads around the idea of there being eleven fucking dimensions.
Mark’s no different, really. He can’t understand why I’m not excited about meeting Ashoke Sen. He can’t understand why I write.
When we’re in bed, and I’m doing the crossword puzzle in the Post, he lies there beside me thinking of m-dimensional space. I think of the four simple dimensions of my life. Of the three dimensions of my body. Of the dimensions of this crossword puzzle, which deals only in across and down.