The Undiscovered City | Patrick Sheehan


             Imagine the shuttered mystery of a beautiful girl's life to an admirer who can never discover it.


             I sit in a café near the university, and students pass up and down the street, beautiful and eager, and buses full of them, and professors in their long coats, their wrinkled shirts and loose ties, their rumpled brows and eyes focused on the inner text. An old man with bottle-bottom glasses and a wispy white goatee leans on his cane. And the young women demonstrate in motion the perfect shape, the swoop and swell of the bell curve. And the baker arrives in his mini-truck, delivering baguettes wrapped in brown paper.


             To love liberty, one must know deprivation.


             When he travels now, he notices the absence of the eagerness with which he traveled then. The more he travels, the less he hungers to travel. As if by traveling he can satisfy his hunger for travel. At least until he returns home.


             In every new city he discovers the foreign women. They emerge from the rain and return to the rain, leaving only a glance, a trace of perfume, an evaporating memory of an imagined kiss. Each woman an undiscovered city, asking to be known. If he can find the liberty to discover her, he might find in each woman a moment's satisfaction. As if by knowing her he can satisfy his hunger to know all of them. At least until he returns home.


             But one city remains always undiscovered: Knowledge arrives announcing its inadequacy, functions by reflecting on its absence, prevents even a moment's satisfaction. Philosophers today dwell on Plato's mistakes; scientists, on their own. The more you know, the more you know how little you know, the more you hunger to know more.


             I sit in a courtyard now at the university. The students were here, beautiful and eager, with sandwiches and cigarettes and telephones, but they returned one by one to the classrooms. There was one professor here. He had a briefcase, a cup of machine coffee, a cigarette he puffed with each breath. He left when his cigarette died. Only some marble professors remain, in great coats and ruffled shirts, looking down on the courtyard with, it seems, satisfaction. I try to read where their names were chiseled, but the rain has worn the marble smooth.