What causes do we not discover for the ills which befall us! What will we not attack, rightly or wrongly, rather than go without something to skirmish against?
montaigne, “how the soul discharges its emotions against false objects when lacking real ones”
The blind hallucinate. In a story I heard on the radio, one blind man could hear his eyes singing to him. I was driving and pulled over to listen. The guest neurologist explained that the brain is a glutton for sensation; when one sense goes out, the brain turns on itself, just as it does when a limb is severed, and haunts the site of its severing—phantom pain. Loss also causes hallucination: The Pythia of Delphi each lost their names, their bodies, before they were worthy of Apollo’s breath. Some say the volcanic pneuma beneath the shrine, built at the axis of two fault lines, caused their oracular hallucinations. Some say they could speak the god’s chaotic will because they were pure, they were lonely. The radio show ended and I pulled onto the road, the name of the street as blank inside me as my knowledge of the engine beneath the hood of my car, that richly oiled machine fretting against its own parts. On a billboard above me, there was an image from the Pompeii exhibit on display in the city museum: a human form, thrown down by the weight of ash, faceless, details erased, a solid, untranslated secret. Sometimes I hold the box of old letters I found written in code, a cipher I invented with a girlhood friend to conceal our secrets, though I can no longer read the symbols and that girl whose hair once fell across my face is lost. There’s no one left to utter the signs, no priests to mediate the meaning. As a child, I was always a passenger in a car, left to watch the gray city shifting around me without any knowledge of where I was led. At intersections, I’d look into the windows of other cars, wonder where they were going, why I didn’t know who they were, though they looked familiar, though I might have mistaken them for someone I knew, like Mrs. Blue, who after her husband’s death called each passerby by his name. He was stabbed by a thief in their front-yard garden and lay down in the cool, loose earth. She’d lived with him for sixty years, and in the months between his death and hers, she wandered through our yards in her wrinkled dress, weeping on our porches, already a ghost. All the neighbors shook their heads in pity, though they never opened their doors to her, because that kind of grief is contagious….