Not his name or a first crush or even the harsh assertion of a cuss word but an arrow, carved into the desk to impress his desk-mate who was a year older, the arrow chosen because he was neither daring enough to carve genitals nor creative enough to think of anything else, so just an arrow, pointing off to the left somewhere, perhaps this simple symbol the story of his life, though it’s unclear if he was indecisive or simply greedy, always wanting that over there. The desk itself destroyed by a teenager throwing the thing out his window years later, half inspired by real frustration, mostly having witnessed the act in a film and wondering if it would really explode into splinters or just ram into the sidewalk like a stone. It cracked in half like an egg, this surprise almost fascinating enough to make up for his father’s silence, his mother’s pin-thin lips. His father meaning to take it to the dump, but too busy, the thing sitting in the back of the Volvo for a month until his conscience looked the other way, and he dumped it over on the corner where the Mexicans were always leaving old TVs and desk chairs for each other. A man named Jorge, an expert carpenter, taking the thing home and putting it back together again. Two generations later, his grandson reading Lorca while digging a nail into that arrow, the word flecha more beautiful and meaningful in any case.
A series of scribbled notes in The Waste Land from a college class where not only did he understand nothing, but clearly the teaching assistants and quite possibly the professor also understood nothing. He chased down every reference and filled his book with meaningless scraps of information—card games, Shakespeare, jazz, old women wishing for death—but asking for guidance, he was told not to worry about it. It would not be on the exam. The book by chance ending up years later in a still relatively square bankers box tucked deep within a vast storage barn and going undisturbed for over a century. Finally, the great granddaughter deciding to go through it all, taking one month, then three, and finally six months off her well-paying but soulless corporate job to do it—she had some idea that this would reconnect her with her life, though she told friends it was about making sure the expensive things were not destroyed and just think, a single one of grandmother’s paintings would pay for the time off, so it really was not foolish—but even all that time sorting and remembering, she got through only the art and more valuable family heirlooms, selling off the books without even looking at them to a man in Oklahoma who had made it his life’s work to save the printed word. The Waste Land, having been relatively influential, was overstocked, and so his slim annotated volume sat with seven others exactly like it, three of which also contained some undergraduate’s scribbling, only one daring to use profanity, though two having references to genitalia, the pictorial one clearly a different hand than that of the diligent note taker.
Photos in this era everywhere, thousands of meaningless moments, candid and posed, and yet, between the deletion of digital accounts, the government’s efficient erasure of unimportant data, the series of unbelievable fires that swept through Sonoma County and destroyed the box containing the only box of prints, only a small wallet-size photo left, originally meant for his first passport, taken in a booth near the boardwalk in Santa Cruz as preparation for a year of study in Spain. The wild man in the photo an accident, the result of a cheap hair tie, the real man soon giving up the hair altogether, playing the poet and troubadour making less and less sense anyway. This tamed hair perhaps the start of what came later, or so he sometimes thought when both women bickered in the kitchen. Strange, somehow ending up with too much of a good thing. But loving the photo, for the way it pointed back toward a boy who believed he could spend his life as the guitar-playing gypsy in the Lorca poems that sent him to Andalucía. Unlike the other photos of Spain, much more important and thus diligently organized into the album that burned in the fire storm that swept over Sonoma Mountain, this one really the dream preceding Spain, a dream that stayed in his wallet for years, still there the day he met Valentina, who he called Vale, thinking how this was his favorite Spanish phrase. Daring to say it, even with Ingunn upstairs banging on the window for dinner, returned him to those times, as did the way she held a cigarette and made love. The wallet holding the photo half-chewed by a parrot when they lived in that small coastal village in Norway, the parrot feeling as homesick as them certainly, and because of this damage, the torn leather tending to leak its contents, the photo falling out in an apartment they rented in Paris on a trip meant to save their relationship, the wild young man with his absurdly long goatee and barbaric hair slipping down into a perfect little nook where the slats of the bed met the frame, this hopeful past silently staring up from his two-inches of glossy paper as thousands of guests paraded over him, some sleeping quietly, others snoring, quite a few making love, and a small group using that bed as a lifeboat for their own relationships.
A guestbook in San Jose del Cabo, the entry all Valentina except for an arrow signaling the words “luxurious bed” which she had written only to compliment the owner’s taste in antique furniture and obvious pride at the ornate headboard, but his “childish” mind thinking of just one thing. Val teasing him, but only lightly, for his continuing lust meant some protection against childlessness, the danger of this condition growing in his absent eyes when they lay together. The only positive outcome of her empty womb the continuing perfection of her body, the smooth mocha of unstretched skin making the small hope of passion seem endless. Next to the arrow, the word “Boom,” written in his hand and the arrow matching perfectly in size and length the one he carved so many years before on a desk that would eventually end up in a museum with a caption reading, The desk where Jorge Fernandez wrote his first poem.
A handprint in cement, Ingunn insisting on all of them huddling down there marking the new foundation. Just think, she said, when the children are all grown up we will have their little palms next to ours down here in the basement, their happy youth the foundation for long happy lives. Him cringing a little, feeling she forced herself toward poetry to please him, recalling this years later when things got messy, how somehow he thought it a good idea to say she was not poetic like Val, meaning this as something positive, her pragmatic mothering the price he wished to pay for a family. Instead, taking it as a directive, quite sick near the end, with Val taking care of her, bringing this up endlessly, telling him he had used her body for children while saving his love for his “poetic” woman’s return. The worst part about this, a creeping feeling it was true. Worse yet the desperate and complete love he felt for her, even after she was gone. Some days, after a million tiny chores, bills to pay, checks to sign, things increasingly flooding meaning from his life, he walks in and watches the girls sleep, searching their faces for a trace of their mother.
Whether his eyes or his nose lasted longer, an unsettled question, his oldest daughter getting both, the eyes never quite making up for that hawk-like nose, his granddaughter getting only the eyes, and here the record growing hazy, the real problem with body parts the subjective nature of their signature, for example, the unforgettable moment when Valentina, now nearly a hundred, looked into his great granddaughter’s eyes and gasped. There he is, she said, all these years later, her mind racing back to those first days in Berlin, wandering around in the rain, looking for the Greek restaurant that served breakfast until four. Val dying a month later, just a stone’s throw from a century, his great granddaughter’s eyes still his, but no one left to read this. The nose reappearing in the next generation but finally outdone by Ingunn, her tiny round Norwegian genetics succeeding in smoothing over that proud but overtly masculine arch forever. Woman doesn’t even have a nose, Valentina used to say. Ingunn laughing, calling Val and him twins. Two old hawks waiting for my carcass. Squinching up her eyes as Val did when she smoked. An amazing mimic even half paralyzed.
His signature illegible and ubiquitous, a meaningless squiggle strewn across a million forms and bills, a wasteland of tiny agreements individually seeming harmless, each nothing but the necessity of passing through the present moment, each an arrow forever signaling something else, some other man reaching over, repeatedly checking a box marked life.