The Adornment of the Morning

A ceiling of Beomeosa Temple, where not a single person spat.

A ceiling of Beomeosa Temple, where not a single person spat.

This moment descends, much smoothed and homogenized, from that moment in Beowulf when Grendel prowls about just outside the walls of Heorot, grumbling drool through his teeth as our hero pretends to sleep with his fellow warriors snugly tucked away inside—reading is a form of pretend-sleep, and I am reading in bed this cool gray morning in urban Busan, holding a book instead of a sword (Dead Souls), and a different kind of monster is prowling the alleys outside my bugscreened window.

It is presumably a man, and if it’s not a man I would only guess that it’s some species of spitting snake, a possible fact I have only determined with the sense of hearing, since I haven’t seen him though it’s feasible that his smell may have gotten mixed up somehow in the wandering specters of stench that like to filter in through the window screen and drown every room in a flood of city odors before flying off to ensnare the perfumes of some other dwelling.

I remember the adornments of younger mornings. At Hampshire all kinds of birds would sing to greet the sunrise, straight out of Debussy, and at my family’s house in Maine I would be wakened by my parents stomping down the stairs. Here in Busan there is a man somewhere out the window who spends every morning coughing and spitting, coughing and hawking up phlegm, with such a spectacular noise that the solid cement foundations of this building, the girders of adamant supporting these noble apartments, are shaken and shivered to smithereens! He coughs and the thunder in the sky runs away in fright, he sucks a gob of yellow phlegm up from his withered tonsils and throws it hurtling out from his stale lips, and every droplet of moisture in the air scatters into vapor…

Epics are easier because different sides must inevitably fight, and one must inevitably destroy the other; Grendel will burst through the doors of Heorot and Beowulf will tear off his arm, problem solved, but here amid the buoyant currents of reality, fraught with shades of gray and shades of moral complexity (and laziness), there will be no combat, no books fired like arrows against speeding fireballs of phlegm, and so I’m left to spin in the currents of the mundane, my arms beating the surf as, yes, the man continues to shoot phlegm through his teeth!—and yes! he did just hawk a loogie as I wrote those words! He’s still out there!

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