What appears is always unexpected, even when one thinks one has been waiting for it. Even when it has been approaching from a distance for a great while, growing closer but so slowly as to be invisible. An unexamined speck in a clamorous landscape.
What vanishes is always sudden and tearing, even if this leave taking might have been predicted for a long time. One cannot reconcile the sense of absence, an essence palpable as monolith. The disappeared take on ballast in the realm of memory.
Something might be extant for a long time before it is noticed. Once noticed, it is said to have appeared, but this in fact describes the attention of the seer, the timing of one’s cognition. A new planet, though just discovered, did not just now form. What formed instead was the ability to recognize it.
Similarly, an object or a state of being might be departed for some time before that disappearance is observed. Driving an oft-traversed street, one is confronted with a hole where a house, white with yellow awnings, has stood for years. How long has it been gone, one wonders. Surely it wasn’t razed overnight. Just as one might wonder, how long have I been sad?
Now that this celestial body has been spotted in the night sky, cosmology must change. One’s ideas about the universe must shift to accommodate the changed landscape. A new, expanded story will be spun, and with it, a new role for oneself in this altered territory.
And what of the deaths one learns about long after the fact—what do we make of those days spent in faith that someone is still alive on the planet, only to find that the world was a little less than we believed? The guilt of our inattention, how could I not have known?
And the deaths of the unloved that go unobserved for days or weeks until the odor of rot alerts the attention of some hapless neighbor. A life has winked out, but who sees? If no one witnesses the death, does the spirit then escape its mortal fate? If the life itself was unseen, is the passing a kind of un-vanishing?
And what kind of life is possible on this newly observed planet? Can it somehow remain uncharted, elude the restrictions of history? Or does our tardy and unwelcome attention in itself condemn the future of this world-come-lately?
The vanishing process, like death, can be a slow erosion, difficult to pinpoint its exact moment of genesis, impossible to chart its progression. There are those who would say that vanishing begins with the first spark of emergence. Others would argue that comings and goings are themselves an illusion, that all is always.
Once a thing has appeared to vanish, it is eventually forgotten. The thing, loomed large at first, large still in non-existence, will gradually recede until we no longer remember that we have forgotten. This, too, will change us, transform our psyches into havens of ghosts.
How long did you hover
in my peripheral vision
before I learned to train my eyes on you?
How will I hold you steady in my gaze;
how long might I prevent your vanishing?