For William Gass and Alan Davies

Essence, the essence of bricks and street a few minutes after daylight. Easy really, to emerge from a wrought iron door after drinking all night, to find oneself in an alley, the light white but still soft. And to sense that one’s purpose is to catalogue the discarded objects—a shoe here, a rusted crowbar there, soaked and distended brown paper remnants of boxes, a huddled homeless person asleep on the fragmented pavement. There are no others here, a silent deliquescence of the city, the human complexities removed.

Does this rubble speak, or is that merely the sound of your own nervous system? Is there any reason to speak, ever? The night is the master of its own existence, but the morning, the morning disappears into itself. This is beauty, surely, Platonic beauty, minus the commentators. This is the essence of the city, the essence of poverty and of wealth—we are the items we discard, our broken toasters, rusted bedsprings, smashed electronics. Isn’t that the point? Isn’t the supreme goal of civilization, any civilization, to produce objects that decay? Smashed, cracked, short-circuited, aren’t these all terms for the experience of existence? The perfection of decay and of obsolescence speaks for itself.

Naturally, there are entire modes of living that have disappeared. Then, have they really? Isn’t it true that they come alive again in altered form after midnight, an ironic commentary on themselves? Phantoms, ghosts, they are there as one takes a single step then another through this secreted alley. Then, doesn’t one become a former version of oneself? Not the future, not even the past, but something else, something that eludes definition. Perhaps this moment is the essence of who we are, sliced into infinity.

Steven Fraccaro