Valid Photo Identification Required


I don’t understand myself, nor do I know myself, nor
can I explain or prove who I am to anyone else.
All I know is that I’m a man who let his out-
of-state Driver’s License expire and who
does not have his original Social Security Card,
(issued at birth?) or a copy of said document,
to obtain which one must have an unexpired
Driver’s License, which requires, of course, a valid
Social Security Card. I needed something to get me
on a plane at LaGuardia. I did have a Birth Certificate,
and when I slid it tentatively under the bullet-proof
Plexiglas window at the Brooklyn Social Security Office
and said “What about this?” to the unexpectedly
sympathetic and ontologically sophisticated young
Asian-American man scanning my application
for a replacement card, he looked at me and said:
“This doesn’t help. This just proves you were born.
We need proof of your continued existence.”
I threw up my hands and looked down at my body,
as if to say, Well, I’m standing here, aren’t I?
I admit I have not done much with this life.
I have failed at love, let down my friends,
ignored my best instincts and given my worst ones
free play, but for better or worse I have continued
to exist. Because if I hadn’t continued to exist
I wouldn’t be contemplating all the joys and deep
satisfactions of non-existence, as I am right now.
I don’t imagine the dead are required to show papers
at every river crossing, or that only those with valid
photo ID are allowed into the caldron, or the
harpsichord concert, as the case may be. Often I wake
at 3 a.m., I wanted to tell him, with the night terrors,
scrambled fears of death, which would be one
of the privileges conferred exclusively upon the living,
and often I wish I could forget myself completely,
forget the fragile, worried, rabbit-hearted self
that seems to run my life, forget the whole
nightmarish mess—I wouldn’t have that
feeling if I hadn’t continued to exist, would I?
It’s true, I wanted to confess, I have no children
to mirror me into the future, and mostly I only
half-inhabit the poems I’ve written, a ghostly
uneasy absence floating just below the lines.
In fact, from the Buddhist perspective
I don’t exist, but neither do you, nor any of this.
A luminous emptiness is all there is.
Instead I tell him I just want to visit my parents,
for Christmas, in Nebraska, for christsakes.
Which was no help.


–from Help Is on the Way; first published in The Gettysburg Review