For Every Action (Some Detritus on the Trinity)

for Steven Pinker


The evening news cleaves to the palate of the television screen and cringes off a gauze of static. A man watches. There are holes in the ozone layer. Irradiation of the planet. Ice melting, coasts will disappear, landmasses rewritten by water.

There is a new cable channel devoted to floods.

And so, the man is seized by thirst and decides to drink all the water his house has to give.

There is, among the pipes, a fear of dryness.

There is a neurosis of pipes that the house inherits, and the man inherits the brain of the house as heads inherit the structures of hats.

Tree roots could be sipping at the pipes. Tree roots care nothing for the hermetic dignities of buried things, for the issues of alien conveyance. Tree roots are patient diggers, descenders. They take everything that’s wet. It’s the ideology of tendrils. The will to refreshment.

Yet, above ground, all limbs, the trees are willing distortionists. They waver and bow to the sun and wind in supplication. But they will never let go of their earth.

They are, ultimately, Social Darwinists. All nature’s creatures are Social Darwinists.

Except men.

The man’s approach is less scientific. A man, faced with the need to drink, sees will as a petition to satiation. A catalog gathering names designed to convince, ultimately, by its magnitude. There is faith in men that mountains can be moved and thirsts satisfied. We do not know how this will happen, only that certain circumstances can dictate it.

Such religiosity mystifies the apes, of course, who are at one with the trees.

Men are distinct among primates for the severity of their tree envy.

Indeed, men are innately suspicious of anything with the capacity to outlive men. And men love to kill things, especially when the killing of said things can be argued (by men) to disprove human animalism.

(As the man drains his house’s faucets with his lips, a small pond mysteriously forms in the back yard.)

The apes have always felt that faith is not a reply to science. On the other hand, they believe that science is not a reply to fact.

They are, after all, the bastards of evolution.

But the occupation of the man’s thirst, like an avatar, is only getting harder to bear. His throat feels like a bonfire of condors or a caviar of spiders’ eggs.

He drinks faster.

(The pond in the back yard becomes a lake, and then a sea.

All the land of the earth is being swallowed by water.)

The man’s thirst is increasing.

We cannot explain why this is happening. We know that the increase in thirst is connected to the increase in water, but not how. There is no use intellecting about where it goes or where it comes from.

Floods are no time for philosophy. Philosophy requires parched libraries paneled in lacquered, kiln-dried wood, volumes filled with slivers of paper, compendiums, all sewed into rows like little thought seedlings, and left utterly unirrigated.

And to the trees, who excel in their drunkenness, whose imbibing is a kind of static ballet to inaugurate the flesh, all of man’s beloved texts are no different than postcards of lynchings.

“This is all the fault of the plumbing,” the man grumbles, and continues to drink as his house bobbles about in his backyard sea.

Maybe the man is being victimized by a strange leak that hides undetectably in the cornices of his cerebral cortex. The concept of retention has become muddled somehow.

The house has been a great protector, but it could be like a parent who, unable to fix its own leak, breeds leaking children. The man is a child in the womb of his house. He’s living the oral life.

There is no reason to believe the explanation will be anything but biological.

“Can thirst be buried like trash in a landfill?” he wonders amidst the surging of gulps.

And now, there is no sign of dry land anywhere—only the little house and miles of sea.

And the man’s thirst.

Thirst is a meaning for a life. An activism, if you will. But wild waters are dissatisfied with containment. They are not mere genies. Water expands over everything, when properly fed. It devours through its capacity to yield and its inability to cease.

The hunger of water is the lord of the earth. Water always takes the lion’s share, and water takes even the thirstiest man in the end.

Thirst is only a ladder leading down into the ocean, a method of anchoring. Distraction from the envious cliquing of waves. A ritual drowning. Surrender to the arbiter of matter.


But, on the other side of the world there lives another man in another floating house who is not in the least thirsty.

In fact, he is annoyed at looking out his window at nothing but water every day, at the bleak inundation. He is annoyed at the nauseating reeling motion of his home and the smell of gull shit pouring off the roof and coagulating in the storm gutters.

Yet, it’s up to him to drink enough water for the earth to be revealed.

He doesn’t even like water, feels it encourages a pageant of absences. He takes his scotch with two drops (for the bouquet), but that’s it.

The task is rather daunting. But I wish he would stop dragging his feet. It’s not like he has something better to do.

The gulls are piled three deep above him, pecking each other to death for roosting rights. He turns the faucet a bit, and the water comes out brown and moaning. Two months ago, he lost his basement to a school of grouper.

He lets a shot belch into his old fashioned glass and gives it a swirl.

Wasn’t there a story about Heracles being deceived by a bottomless cup?

Didn’t Socrates die from the feet upward . . .?

At the end, he was nothing more than a nearly stilled bust, still chirping.

The man would rather die from the head down . . . his face growing numb, his eyes glossing over while his legs dance a jig to the abundance of fatality.

The human body is mostly water, thinks the man. We are castaways in our own skins, tiny islands coming up for air. Our lives are brief episodes of staying afloat.


Somewhere else, a third man has cultivated the entrepreneurial spirit and built a boat and a family and a zoo. He spends his time trying to lose birds to a roost he cannot even see.

He’s a patient maniac.

The dodos are conspiring in the hold to plot some distant extinction like jilted suicide poets. The cows and pigs and sheep are just happy to be alive and uneaten, for now. The rats and mice are dreaming of the underbelly of a civilization about to take root. They dream of marvelous sewers.

The man is standing on the deck watching his beard grow longer and waiting for some sign of wings.

One day, the bird-man succeeds in losing a bird.
Then another bird comes back ready to make a twig nest in his beard.

He thinks to himself, “Ah, I have outlasted God! The world will soon be mine!”

As his eyes comb the waves for the protuberances of mountain tops, he fantasizes about the architecture of races and the unsinkable ark of will triumphantly bobbing above the depths, a spec of flotsam, unpalatable . . . immune.

A tiny paper crown worn by the Lord of Thirst.

But deep in the ribs of the ship an ape is spitting, “The king is dead, long live the king . . . .”

[See Note On This Poem]


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