We Can Hear Miles Davis

Dedicated to the Spirit of Philemon

- A Greek writer of comedies who became so engulfed in laughter 
over a jest he had made that he died laughing.

There is another man. This one is blind and confined to a wheelchair. He sits all day at Les Amis, a local café. He has his own corner and the waitresses take care of him – more or less. I write more or less because he is clearly a burden to them. They treat him like a child and their general attitude is one of disrespect. I see them roll their eyes and laugh at him behind his back.

He knows all about this but what can he do? He is dependent. And he is lonely. All day long he sits in his wheelchair in the corner, listening to other people’s conversations. Occasionally, I see him laugh at someone else’s jokes – or stupidities. Every so often he gets either excited or courageous and tries to get involved in the conversation.

He sort of announces something in the general direction of the people talking and waits, hopes, for comment - that they might include him in some way. Most don’t even hear him.

I think that he must know music well; for the other day there was music that I could just barely hear above the hum of conversation, and he announced:

“I can hear Miles Davis!”

I listened closely and, sure enough, could hear the faint, but distinctive, sound of Miles Davis.

He announced again, a little louder:

“I can hear Miles Davis!”

A few annoyed heads turned to see that “it was only that weird guy in the wheelchair” and turned away.

After a moment more with no response, I heard him say almost to himself:

“I really can hear Miles Davis.”

The world is a wound. Rather, it must have once been. What caused the wound? I don’t know. But it seems clear to me that the once beautiful and bright face of God was violently cut and opened up.

This social reality, if that even makes sense, that we thrive within, bled out of that cutting. It must have been a sublime vision to behold: this world as a hot red rich liquid oozing slowly out of God’s face. The fine threads of our social fabric streaming out of dark of the stars and pooling upon the floor of space-time. And then it all just coagulated and congealed and the wound scabbed over.

No one – perhaps no one – had the presence of mind to keep picking away at the scab in order to keep the wound fresh. Not long after the scabbing over, the scar began to form. And the face with the scar was taken for granted, as natural.

The numbness upon the thick red tissue; the heightened sensitivity around it; the complete aesthetic of it, was accepted as the norm. There was no conception of beauty, indeed “reality,” without the scar.

So what am I talking about? Tragedy and culture. Somehow, I am trying to bring the two together into some perspective. At the core of our being is this tragic wound. By recognizing it, we come close to grasping a key to the mystery of our being, something that we try all too desperately to keep hidden: that the once open wound has become a scar. We are no longer thriving upon a vital source but have become used to a numb, even calloused, way of being in the world. Most sadly, we believe it “natural.”

I want to stand up and scream out:

“I can hear Miles Davis!”

I want to take hold of the lonely and ignored man in the wheelchair and spin him around, turning and turning, to Miles Davis. I want to take him out onto the Drag and run behind him, pushing him along, shouting and singing:

“We can hear Miles Davis!”

I want to mow down people, stampede through the gaping crowds, crash through windows, mow down telephone poles, street lights, tear up chunks of concrete, burn with belief, bathe in the hot blood of God, lift off into the skies, past the silence of the moon, over the rumbling rings of Saturn, through the blue moons of Neptune, rocket out to the whistling razor edge of the Milky Way, spinning always around the wheelchair man, and shout with him:

“We can hear Miles Davis!”

But I don’t. I sit here at my table, calmly sipping my cup of coffee, pondering this life like Jonah stuck in the belly, trying somehow to take hold of my skull and shake it into some real and authentic act. Just one act. One solitary act that might give vital substance to my life. I sit here utterly empty of action, trapped within a maze of riddling thoughts.

I would grab him, the wheelchair man. I would try to dance and sing with him. I would. But I still have enough sanity to understand that such actions would only frighten and upset him. This man doesn’t want any earth shattering experience. He just wants a friend who might treat him with respect, with whom he might talk or listen to music, with whom he might relieve a bit of his loneliness.

I believe it to be one of the great ironies of this world that when you try with all your heart and soul to do something, anything, that might give you a sense of authenticity, it will most often have the opposite effect.

You want to reopen the wound and bathe in the blood of God. You only succeed in making it more calloused and impenetrable.

You want to help another being and you only further their complications and difficulties.

You want to save the world and you only seal the fate upon its doom.

You want to reach out to love another and you end up slapping them in the face.

You try to make everyone happy at the expense of your own happiness and you only make everyone hate you.

You cry out for god and make sacrifice after sacrifice and you only feel more alone, more desperate, more anguished and more forlorn.

You try to make life a comedy but your laughter is only tragic and haunts you constantly.

These days I feel like a child running after a rope. It is always just out of my reach, always tantalizingly close, teasing. The instant I step after it, it pulls quickly away, stops and waits again for my approach. I am beginning to suspect, and do not believe that I am so wrong in my suspicions, that this rope is somehow connected to me. I am pulling it away from myself. I am chasing always after what I already possess. I just can’t find where it is tied on to me.

And so I stumble on like a fool. In the end, it all makes me laugh – even though it is certainly tragic.


I think I was fairly off my rocker when I wrote this piece. It was during the year or so that I was homeless and attempting to live “at degree zero.” While certain qualities of myself became “hardened,” I developed an almost incapacitating sensitivity to bizarre aspects of my immediate environment. Stray dogs and broken winged birds invariably drove me to tears. Starving dragworms and wacked-out bagladies only made me laugh.

The now vanished Les Amis was my homebase of sorts and I spent many hours at those worn tables wondering if I was going insane. I was obsessed with wounds and vulnerability to the degree that I attempted, unsuccessfully, to fashion a make-shift ontology out of them. Even now I don’t see it as being quite as hair-brained as it sounds. My fascinations in such notions, however, soon found a more fertile ground.

The man in the wheelchair did exist. And we did once hear Miles Davis.

A Glossary

scar – noun: 1. A mark left on the skin after a surface injury or wound has healed. 2. A lingering sign of damage or injury, either mental or physical: nightmares, anxiety, and other enduring scars of wartime experiences.

Etymology: Middle English, alteration of escare, from Old French, scab, from Late Latin eschara , from Greek eskhara, hearth, scab caused by burning.

vulnerable - adjective: 1a. Susceptible to physical or emotional injury. b. Susceptible to attack. c. Open to censure or criticism; assailable. 2. Liable to succumb, as to persuasion or temptation.

Etymology: Late Latin vulner bilis , wounding, from Latin vulner re , to wound, from vulnus ,vulner- , wound.

wound - noun: 1. An injury, especially one in which the skin or another external surface is torn, pierced, cut, or otherwise broken. 2. An injury to the feelings.

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English wund .

zounds - interjection: Used to express anger, surprise, or indignation.

Etymology: Shortening and alteration of God's wounds! .