The Veil

When the tide lay under the clouds
of an afternoon and gave them back to themselves
oilier a little and filled with anonymous boats,
I used to sit and drink at the very edge of it,
where light passed through the liquids in the glasses
and threw itself on the white drapes
of the tables, resting there like clarity
itself, you might think,
right where you could put a hand to it.
As drink gave way to drink, the slow
unfathomable voices of luncheon made
a window of ultraviolet light in the mind,
through which one at last saw the skeleton
of everything, stripped of any sense or consequence,
freed of geography and absolutely devoid
of charm; and in this originating
brightness you might see
somebody putting a napkin against his lips
or placing a blazing credit card on a plastic tray
and you'd know. You would know goddamn it. And never be able to say.

Denis Johnson, "The Veil" from The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly.  Copyright © 1969, 1976, 1982, 1987, 1995 by Denis Johnson.  Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc..
Source: The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly (HarperCollins Publishers, 1995)
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