Some critics tend to believe in progress, that one form develops out of another and is appropriate to its place and time.
– Douglas Glover, The Enamoured Knight
It is only traveling takes us home.
– Robert Kroetsch, The Studhorse Man
I would tell you his name but what would it matter.
Don Quixote tilts toward the gutted building; tilts his head the windmill of his joints and kinks. The red brick tavern with two floors of rooms for rent, the building bare bone, empty, stood there three years after the tavern closed. Don Quixote as another man, a younger man, a pint in his hand in the Lockmaster Tavern, watching his afternoons away and Sancho, Sancho, what else he had listened to, the Celtic rock of Jimmy George. Don Quixote, or the man he was, a years ago game of pool and tilting, tilting at corners and the angled green of sorcery and math, the unbelievable deep. But that was past.
Don Quixote tilts outside the building bare and empty and a shell of what it former, almost caved in for lack of structure. Tilts and he tilts. The heritage building nearly torn and even as the intervening courts.
Don Quixote writes his name out on a scrap of paper and folds it into mouth; consumes it.
Don Quixote writes his name out on a scrap of paper; his old name, his previous, almost foreign to him. A name now separate from his body. Removed, as it were. Don Quixote writes his name out on a scrap of paper and he lets it fall from his open fingers, drop from where he stands on the sidewalk to the pavement. He lets it fall like letting go. He has released his former name, his foreign name. He has released it and thus given it permission for a new life. He has allowed it finally to live.
He breaks himself in places. Don Quixote in marble, leaking granite skin. His whole frame veins in cavernous breaks. It is only a matter of time before step upon step will shatter him completely. Don Quixote the joke that he never quite got. Sancho looks at his watch and won’t answer. Where are they now, Don Quixote still asks, and he wonders. Don Quixote and Sancho their long open road and he’s wondering.
Who is Dulcinea del Toboso? She is the most beautiful woman in all Spain. Don Quixote knows, there can be no one else like her. Her soft, olive skin not a scar or a blemish. The water rises, and becomes, but Quixote doesn’t notice. The woman who is Dulcinea del Toboso who is not Dulcinea del Toboso passes by, but Don Quixote doesn’t notice. He is focused on his quest, his prime reason for adventure. He will quest for her, and win. He will do whatever is required of him, all in Dulcinea’s name. He tilts, Don Quixote does. The giants and the villains and the evil king don’t stand a chance.
He thrusts and parries his lance, like Robin Hood and Little John both, warring only with himself. If he knew the difference, this would be how we’d distinguish his frame-of-mind, whether or not he saw himself as the inevitable winner against himself, or the inevitable loser. Is there a difference?
Don Quixote’s story is more than one about errant knights, and the end of chivalry, but about one of books themselves. Of how text caused the world to lose meaning through memory, but replacing oral histories and memories with that of texts that no-one reads. There is the brush-stroke, and there is the white that remains untouched, unblemished. This is the quest, Don Quixote tells himself. Where is his horse? It doesn’t matter. Where is Dulcinea or Sancho? It doesn’t matter. He starts on down the road.
A fire in his belly, Don Quixote in his basement suite, his suite, positioned against the strain of his own self. Positioned against the strain of her hands and his mouth dry, down the length of her spine. Is this Dulcinea? She is not Dulcinea, but she is. More than a distraction, but almost enough to make him forget. I forget, she says out loud. Have forgotten. Isn’t it?
Put her mouth in the rum and the rum around him and the rum was the skin and the silver between her soft mouth and his, her fingers on him working hard and then working, pushing deep into her, again and again. He tilted, pushing open what was ever asleep.
Heart knows what it knows, heart wants what it wants. Don Quixote knows, what it wants. When will these journeys end? But there is something missing, something else. Like a deck of game cards and the missing queen. How does one play incomplete?
Burnt almond her skin and the taste of it almond-salt-soft, the taste of her skin and her mouth, even before all the rum. She runs down his sheets. Is this love? Is this something like?
Stop talking, she says. He didn’t realize he was.
At the end she breathes hard, and deep and quick after the shudder of catch, release. Don Quixote knows. But a ways before dawn, she kisses him deep as the ocean floor, and dresses, back to her own bed and the man that then waits for her. Even his lovers have lovers.
Don Quixote looks for a way out but he can’t. It is never the same as the way he came in.
Don Quixote stands in the middle of the intersection of Bank and Somerset, unaware of the car horns honking, curling around like snakes or water around him. Sancho rushes in, and pulls Quixote off to the corner, to the safety of sidewalk and pedestrian stares.
Where are the windmills? Quixote asks.
Where are the windmills? Don Quixote asks of his Sancho. Where are the trees? Where are the mountains and the footpaths, lined with dust? Where are the maidens, the damsels in distress? Where is the street down to the river? Where are the sheep? Where are the bees? Where are the clouds? Where are the huts all lined up? Where are the villagers? Where is the King? Where are the birds? Where is the cage that could hold them?
They are all here, master, Sancho replies, and reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a flask, handing it to Don Quixote, who takes a quick, healthy swig of an unknown liquid.
There is a sweep that comes over him. A flush. It begins at the pit of his stomach and pushes up to his throat. He flushes, and begins to sweat, feeling it move all across the outside of his body, crawling up along flesh from his feet to his scalp. The beast in his belly, Quixote bites down hard on his will to keep from being sick on the sidewalk. Don Quixote staggers, and retches, but nothing comes. Nothing comes. There is nothing inside to come up.
Don Quixote knows there is no rest. He knows there is a king and a queen, he knows there is a princess too, but not where she lives. Or even where she might be, if she had been kidnapped or otherwise captured. Shouldn’t Sancho be working on information gathering, to help him on his quest? This should be the job of any good companion, but he knows not where Sancho is, either. He feels his information slipping from him, unknown and unknowing. How can he be knight without purpose, an errant fleck on the surface of earth wandering aimless and alone.
Where have all the knights? With the streetlights and lack of stars, it becomes impossible to distinguish dusk from dawn from whatever used to happen in-between. The night. There is no longer darkness, there is only a haze, and the constant trickle of bodies walking up and down these city streets, cars and buses, and shopkeeps willing to sell almost anything to anyone, depending. He pulls a cigarette, and he lets the smoke stay. He pulls a cigarette, and pulls it again. He tilts, he does. Don Quixote. Don Quixote tilts, and he tilts and he sways. He stands still.
Don Quixote wonders about the nature of story. Are these problems that need to be solved, tales told as distractions at the Inn or around the fire as entertainment, before the beginning of what follows, what eventually comes next? Is this mere calm before storm?
Don Quixote wonders if the world has no more use for story; new versions of old, boiled down and cleaned, the Weavers taking the morphine and suicide out of Woody Guthrie’s “Irene, Goodnight.” Do you know what your children are listening to? Do you know where they are?
Don Quixote isn’t sure if he ever wants children. What would he do with them?
There is the rose, and the dream of the rose. Don Quixote wakes up in a haze, and searches the room for his Dulcinea, but she is gone, if she were even there. But the smell. What lingers still is her smell, the slight mixture of vanilla and wildflowers, and the fresh scent of cold. Canadian air, where the freshest still lives, she would tell him. What is this, Canada? Don Quixote is like the smoke at the tip of snuffed candle, still able to fire up, given the line and length flame.
The author knows there are skeletal bones that hold all stories together, shaped and filled out in so many ways that they are bodies in disbelief. There is no way.
What is Don Quixote if not an invention of his own mind, his own place, his own situation, his own time? Sancho holds his joke hands in the air and the conversation stops. All eyes in the tavern fix on him, and through the act of mocking authority, he commands it. He leaves the confines of Don Quixote’s story and opens up into his own. The sole German tavern in the city with its bratwurst and Oktoberfest and every stereotype known to what is not known, and it is his. Sancho lifts his hands and enters fully into his own story, a mere parallel in Don Quixote’s eyes, to his original own.
What is Don Quixote but an invention of his own mind? Too much reading of romantic literatures and superhero comic books, he hears them whisper, looking for what is noble in himself, a Superman searching out his Lois Lane, a Spider-Man searching out his Mary Jane (here, we do not speak of poor Gwendolyn Stacy), an incredible Hulk searching out his Betty Ross. A Paris, his Odysseus, his Tristan.
There is no romantic in what romantic lost; there is no lost. Don Quixote knows, that through whatever else he knows, or won’t or doesn’t yet, that he will find her, still; love is its own inevitability.
Through what else, Don Quixote, transformed by what he somehow lost, in moments of strict inattention. It is not for the tilting he tilts, hands thrusting deep into the thick air. He would make the air itself bleed. Don Quixote tilts and he tilts. He strikes so hard at nothing that it can do nothing else but to respond.
It only breaks because you fix it. If you left it broken, it wouldn’t break anymore.
You’ve got to look after your things.
Why do they leave me, Don Quixote wonders. Where do they go? Why do they not come back?
So much for glory, he thinks.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness, Don Quixote tells his Sancho. I know nothing, my master, Sancho responds, about the shape of the world. The sun shapes echoes through saffron.
Sancho the Governor of an island, the leader of no men. If the island were false or abandoned, but the houses. Don Quixote looks sideways for his Dulcinea. Where has she gone? He remembers seeing her there before. It was like that at the beginning. He will find her again, he knows. Where has she gone?
What he had promised him, Quixote had, his own governorship of an island, and Sancho has accepted it. Quixote is saddened, but understands. He will leave him to it. But now what of Don Quixote, how long has it been since he had come upon the noble King, to be knighted by his Royal sword, in his own great glorious Presence?
There is a tavern, and there is a jar of pickled eggs; there is the hardwood floor and the dust of the labourers, working their way through; there is the man at the door keeping watch on them all. There are the squires and the maidens and the free flowing drink from a row of barrels on the far wall; the maidens and barmaids and the stairs down the hall. How he loves the richness of it! The loud music and conversation. He wonders if he should find some poor wretch and bestow upon him the honour of squire, in Sancho’s stead. But he doesn’t. No, he isn’t ready for another companion yet. The time will come.
Don Quixote an accumulation. With the slightest turn, potentially as lost as Orpheus or Biblical Lot’s wife, lost even to her own naming. Lost to her history. Salt is a funny business, Don Quixote thinks, it takes like nothing else. It tastes like itself. Her hand on his hand, her hand on his arm. Keep Heaven on Hold, the sign says, advertising yoghurt. A bacteria cured in a vat. Her almond hands. Is this Heaven, made up as the finest concoctions of toxins? He begins to lose his vision, slips lightheaded only such, and shudders, feels his body lose balance and lance. He is no longer a headlight in the dark.
There is a darkness. Don Quixote finds that dark place in himself, crawls in and just stays there. Isn’t that the song from the movie Midnight Cowboy? He always liked that song, even from when he was young. Does he remember being young? There is a pit and Don Quixote is in it. There is no bottom, it gets only deeper. If joy is infinite, than too, its shadow, engulfed his whole body and made him strong in it, this fallen place. He can already feel the damn of his skin fall away, desert and stripping him dry. His body like a sand dune in sun; he already feels his skin begin to grain and to sweep.
Find me, find me, I am here. I am here, I am here, I am here here here here here here. Dulcinea, can you even hear me? Have I hidden myself too well? How could you not know to find me? Dulcinea, find me. I am here, I am here. I am here. Come find me.
I apparently have no willpower, Don Quixote thinks. And he thinks and he thinks and he dwells and he sets down to rot. He sets down to root.
There is a story Don Quixote remembers about the errant knights, and their passage through history, not realizing the brick wall. Passing into.
Don Quixote stares out the window, waiting for her to walk by, unable to concentrate on anything else. He is constantly staring through windows. He is constantly staring, forever waiting. This is not how it happens in any of his stories.