The Same Book

by Sam Liu


Everyone who writes in the overcoming of suffering writes the same book. Didn’t you know that the mighty who fight off their own death do so by the same everlasting spirit? Didn’t you know that those who hurt themselves, who hurt for mankind, who longed for their friends to live and prosper, had the same quiet stigmata in their voice, the same wry shining in their eyes?

It is not coincidence that the legends all had dry wit and were sad. As for us, having suffered deeply and survived it with willpower and right medicine, two by two, with the anger of small bitchy girls and the pragmatism of desperate young men, we wrote something whose standing-tall would be removed within a few years by the sands of wind and time; we wrote a book that we liked. And this book was so tremendous, so simple and clear, so infused with the deep cure of an honest spirit alive in an ironic prose, that in a surplus of feeling only barely gathered in again by good sense, we left off our hands and left it without title. Likewise, ebbing with the same cosmic waves and within the earthly duration of the same pages, holding each other’s hand under the table and wishing only to be read by those we loved and who wrote beside us, we forgot to sign our works; our names faded away. We took vanity in the excessive-to-reality pride we had in one another; we forgot what we wrote and spent all our time marveling at each other’s penmanship. Indeed, we were so glad just to hold pencils, glad that our willpower and medicine had prevented our hands from shaking, that our eyes were clear and could enjoy colors, that we could hardly bear to stop talking about our instruments, sharpening them without using them.

With all of society and mankind resolved by willpower, right medicine, and the burning everlasting shrub-spirit of sometimes secret, sometimes common feeling, we had nothing left to resolve. We spent our willpower in games of endurance; we felt unfulfillable hope only when we wished to feel especially human; we felt desire so that we could know how the ancients used to torment themselves in anguish. And when it grew too harsh, when we too came within a step of self-murder, a friend would run into the room and burn a scent soothing and sniffing to our smells; the everlasting spirit would waft from an open window to another open window; the skyscrapers shone in the vast city below. We would have to sit down and write, lest we fly away in a floating world. Out of our hands poured a torrenting prose, loose, turgid but held within the bounds of a rolling river…in short, we engaged self-murder as a Muse, as a loved one who must be loved a bit cautiously, who is sensitive and easily-offended, and in the shadow of whose anger we live and desire to live because we love her for the gifts she brings and the excellence she sears into the mind, a self-aware acuity, a danger in a time of peace, a violence in the sleep of the body.

Thus understood, even the first writers returned from the dead in order to melt away in our giant anthology; the asphodels of old libraries opened up with the brown smell of evocative pages which have known the sovereign kindness of living in neglect; the soul is a smell and the smell was strong. The gods were pleased. In a shimmer of the eye, they withdrew into the text of the pages, releasing into the air, like dandelion balls, a breath of angels, androgynous and bisexual; their wings silvered and spread about the room a metal tang of poetry and revelry until they tired like trapped dragonflies, landed on the pages and became the pages themselves. We smiled and understood that these were the echo of butterflies that years ago we had pressed in as bookmarks and had lost their way and had ceased their struggling and now belonged as the very rest of us. It is well known that now and then, an insect trapped between the levels of our various pages, long decayed, even fossilized, as within the various crusts and layers of the earth, may glow a little bit with volcanic warmth; it wants to prove itself, to show off in the air; it wants to show that it is something apart from the influence of our book, as its own entity. Such a one, by evolving violently and mutating with a splendor of dissolved colors, upon the cessation of its struggles when one child or another smushes it by pressing together again the pages of our book, returns to enrich the scent of our ancient decay and multitudinous nature.

Out of richness you came; to enrich it you shall return. The soil of the pages grows, and the warriors above fight and go to war so that in holding onto each other’s arms in a tragic leaning-together they may fall into the mucked turf in a voracious struggle, consuming each other’s flesh with the anger of passion, just to suddenly blush and die and be buried side-by-side, fitting perfectly into each other’s armor…like the son of the king and the king’s rival, one weak, the other his protector and master. We are each of us not very good at what we do; let another master us and, rather than show us the way of their glory, teach us what to eat or drink, what to wear, where to clean, and where to kneel. The young boy has his master, the young master has a book; one teaches, one learns. So as to do what he loves best: wrestle with his master, and lose. Thus is the agon of our eternal age’s canon; thus one alters so as to hear the truth in the flower-song of Bloom.

Samuel Liu is a writer living in Cambridge, Mass., whose pseudonym is “Samuel.” He is an Assistant Editor of Criticism at The Marginalia Review. Reach him at sam.e.liu [at]