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Red Paint

/david capps


Endings, like beginnings, mystify. Sometimes to be mystified is to sense a returning, without knowing why or how far, or even when exactly, as a ship lost at sea might know that eventually there will be a lighthouse, and the lighthouse keeper will know that the ship has come from some destination it calls home, without being able to identify precisely where. Then he will proceed to take out his binoculars, tighten the straps of his raincoat, and growl lowly into the storm.

In a less Austrian, more Prussian light, the Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich shows what a shipwreck might have looked like. In The Wreck of Hope, jagged ice shafts, remnants of an ice floe broken through by an exploratory vessel, seem almost to tear through the canvas, recapitulating the violence of the ship’s masts upended in the surrounding arctic landscape. Similar peaks, prospective failings, shade into the distance, sighs conceiving conquest. But that comes after. Immediately you see not the aftermath of an ending, but the moment of its rupture, frozen in time.

Flux heralds endings, the same flux of Newton’s fluxions, distill essences of small gradations, areas under curves described to a limit where distance approaches zero, a calculus of change that lies incalculably beneath the surface of any movement: the wilting of leaves in winter, the slight stirring of a cracked blue eggshell after a storm, the storm itself which sweeps through funnel clouds and funnel spiders, the irresistible desires of men to probe the most inaccessible landscapes, to denude mystery, leaving behind of themselves if nothing but clay-red handprints, frozen footprints, corpses arrested in frigid bloom, illuminated only by the flickering inclinations of the human heart.

You begin to walk aimlessly from the orchard given the vaguest directions, towards your origins. The violin finally returned to its case, at home. Thoughts of those imprisoned in a wooded tomb. The setting sun playing against the horizon so slowly it reminds you of the grape you once almost ate that a bee had crawled inside, obscured by light’s purplest desire, and it’s as if you could find the sun again and have it not be a tidal pool, a hair-clogged drain. You remember begriffsdome, the architecture of concepts, the misleading metaphor of architecture as frozen music, as if without some deus ex machina like The Arctic a shipwreck could really freeze, where to be frozen could mean to end completely without subsequent rescue attempts, without the train of memories alive for generations in the families of survivors who had already begun, in their own way, to birth a legend.

Begriffsdome, how in the dream it was the one last question hanging from the rasp of the annunciation of being, muffled within the folds of evening’s purple gown. Then you had to write about it.

I lay beside her in the pale sunlight not-yet noon and not yet not-yet. Crows bicker from the baums as if startled by some eternal fire harbinger of a species that necessitates its own destruction even before its own creation, her hair dusted gold, and each of us the meeting points of finite and infinite, the comforter half-covering the weightiest sweat that drowns out sleep like white noise drowns out a pulse. Such as being riveted to a memory. Is what happens to it what happens to figure after figure divorced from ground which lends being riveted the paradox of dissolution.

She finally does return the violin I play as she descends the stairs.

Endings and beginnings play differently upon us, seem poised even to grant us the innermost wish of immortality. For when we consider an ending as such—that next moment after having detached the ending from its subject matter—we find it unavoidable to reintroduce ending as it applies to ourselves, to what is closest at hand. Every ending becomes my ending or my beginning, as if I could be reborn, a reflection of the unconscious wish that I exist forever.

To avoid this reintroduction would be to treat ending itself as object of meditation; even there it presents itself as a culmination, an attainment, a sympathetic sigh, a surge of boundless energy, a discharge, a wound closed, the polished metal of a bronze bust. It does not appear as that fixed point around which perceived changes occur. What is this fixed point? It is nothing. Hesitating, you were going to venture that it was oneself, but oneself quickly vanishes along the horizon of our own attentiveness, and soon whatever discrete experiences habitually conjoined to I. Where then were the iron rivets of the ship’s hull as it ran aground before the empty lighthouse?

There is sometimes the game you would play, standing on a bridge overlooking a slow flowing river. Each would toss a leaf or a twig in the water to see whose would surface first on the other side of the bridge. The passage of the leaf or twig as they swirled together, creating delicate ripples in the water, felt inevitable; yet the spontaneity of the outcome, whether yours or mine, such concepts as were really the beginnings of those concepts, of competition, retained their spontaneity as our feet fled from one side of the bridge to the other and the upright leaves shook down from the oak trees enlivened by the whirlygigs helicoptering to a known abyss.

The comforter that wraps around us is filled with cotton fiber, or more likely polyester, cheap filler. There is no quilt handed down from generation to generation where perhaps if you were to pull hard enough upon a single thread the whole would unravel, and in that way each thread, each stitch if it could experience consciousness would experience its parthood with a greater significance. The legs entwined beneath the comforter, the animal softness of ankle rubbing ankle only to remind each of its distinctness, like the cool wood of the bed frame which is no longer made of wood but metal. The words that composed the great poems of departure shift in meaning so that they are no longer recognizable, fade away in the mountain mists of the Tang dynasty, come under endless dispute, metallic sheen in the dark as I lie naked trying to make sense of this exact place between ending and my ending, our ending, forgetting sometimes that the general does not illuminate the particular, but there are just layers of particulars, bed sheet after bed sheet, attempts to still the inevitable reality of exposure.

Mostly, I lie daydreaming.

There is no around which unless ending is ritual, repetition, recurrence of the same. Imagine, for example, if reincarnation were a live possibility. Then ending is a sort of modulus life wraps around. Then the notion of projecting myself indefinitely far into the future (my desires, my wishes, hopes, deliberations, all the stable attitudes I now take up) destabilizes. What to make of one’s own ending when, on this idea, only a vague and indifferent flow of experiences survives? Clinging to the I, reflection then casts reincarnation out as a live possibility.

It is my turn now to talk. One pillow between us, sweat-stained, as I have carried it move from move to move, fever to fever, what started as fluffy down deflated to a dead goose lining, sentimental value only. But the kind of swallow you make before you speak, having thought it all out, not as lines rehearsed, but the general gist, the flight pattern before some hunter has taken aim and fires. That pillow survived every move for the last two decades. Conscious states are not really a fluff either that fills the mind which loves to move from love to love. Being concerned, for example, with someone’s future, means being concerned with the future itself, and to that extent not mindful, erects a hierarchy of value although obviously the future is not part of someone’s future.

Stars were once thought to be eternal, as fixed in the heavens as anything could be; perhaps the only constant (at least for those who did not out of cowardice fold to a Pyrrhonian skepticism about everything), their light streaming endlessly toward the faithful on the stile or kneeling on the molded cathedral steps and the drunken sailor dead reckoning alike, and lovers, too, who felt within each others gaze some finite trace of that eternal light which would be impossible for all but angels to bear. What could be made by the created didn’t compare, despite Plato’s best try to expand the conception of procreation, so that a spirit that gave birth to great ideas, for one could be pregnant both in body and mind, approached a sort of immortality which was love’s true aim. She made it very clear that she didn’t want to have children, and we cried, and laughed, as we would both always be too poor for that privilege anyway.

If we were really parts of each other, our ending finds a place as the continued endurance of a physical presence: the husk of a wasp nest in winter, a stone at rest at the bottom of the lake, a collection of simple particles distributed through space. Yet here I am, trying to meditate on what my ending means the moment it has reattached itself to my existence, and now I find myself saddled with the concept of endurance. What would it mean to endure without end? Would it be the stone at the bottom of the lake, in a Steinian sense: the stone; the stone; the stone, each separable occurrence of the word, the same and yet different (what would be the typographical analogy of I, in this case?). Think of all the times you have ever smiled, no matter how meekly or in what ecstasy, the repetition of gestures which were indiscernible have led to your smile, your characteristic brightness.

The stone simply has one single gesture that it repeats at every instant: thus to endure without end. It is the character in the Borges story who in searching for the fountain of youth loses his identity as Homer. Immortal, Homer appears to him as the name of someone else. To exist without you without end would our own names not appear as echoes in a canyon deposited there long ago by someone else?

Endings, the figures of heartbreak, what were endings to the starlit play below summer’s crepuscular awning where each day began anew, and a consciousness that had not become aware of its own mortality had not yet begun to unravel, for that gossamer spider’s thread lie so far in the future it could never been seen, sensed. Though years after I would still find a golden hair or two in my violin case, bow hair or her hair.

David Capps is a philosophy professor at Western Connecticut State University. He is the author of three chapbooks: Poems from the First Voyage (The Nasiona Press, 2019), A Non-Grecian Non-Urn (Yavanika Press, 2019), and Colossi (Kelsay Books, 2020). He lives in New Haven, CT.


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