Penguin Random House
Paperback, ISBN 9780593133644, 200 pages, $17.00
June 20, 2021
The experience of reading David Searcy’s The Tiny Bee that Hovers at the Center of the World is a delicious combination of lyrical interiority in an odyssey of introspection. Searcy unfolds a well-burnished, dusty roadmap of contemplation that spans rugged back roads and spiritual pathways limned by fragments of oral and visual memory. The journey is as uplifting as Kahlil Gibran only more gritty; visceral as Saul Bellow but without the angst, and intense as cloistered Barrett-Browning’s poetry.
On this contemplative journey, waypoints interlink, from the craggy Arizona dustpan to the pancake of west Texas to the red dirt canal of Mars, and the reader rides shotgun while Searcy soundlessly connects the dots and wrings truth from fragments of meaning and scraps of experience. It’s an immersive, mesmerizing daydream where the reader could be “the bee,” channeling the energy of Searcy’s epicenter.
The narrative is a virtual bricolage of extended meaning wrung from experiential touchstones. For example, comparing Lowell’s celestial discovery of shady canals on Mars in the astronomer’s time to the terrestrial phenomenon of Meteor Crater in Arizona:
About five miles away, back down the road from Meteor Crater to the highway, on a forbidden bleached and crumbling stretch of old Route 66, are the Tintagel-like ruins of Nininger’s American Meteorite Museum. He was here for seven years, from ’46 to ’53, until the interstate passed him by …[w]hat a curious situation—to have aligned himself out here on “the Mother Road” with all those gaudy institutions advertising relics, reptiles, mummified desert mysteries. I imagine it must have seemed a sixteenth-century sort of struggle to present the scientific as distinct from so much rumor, superstition, and sensation. (64)
Metaphoric descriptors abound like a quilt inter-stitched with colorful cloths, the visual and tactile memory, often faded but still penetrating: “there’s a photograph of a dead-straight white caliche road through scrubby nothing much outside San Angelo” (160) … [w]hy would he sit on a sheet of black plastic like a body bag laid out for him? Although dispersed in principle, unbaggable, his dusty fears and sorrows seem to collect upon it. What in the world is that about?” (40)
The inside-outside conundrum of the inductive questioning recalls the elegiac contrast of reclusive Elizabeth Barrett Browning versus the intense emotional landscape of her poetics. Searcy connects the jigsaw fragments of daily observation of abstract, sometimes incoherent scene and drifting thoughts, and distills a larger-than-life afterglow.
The story arc lands closer to home in Part 3, meaning emerging from the daily mundane, Searcy questioning—literally—what’s running in the background behind the presented, prescriptive cooking show narrative “(is the window real … the phony sky behind the phony tree … I know… it’s all so slight, so subtle”), refusing to overlook the smallest detail in order to titrate meaning from the larger visual it supposedly undergirds.
We leave Searcy once again at the telescope, looking outward, gazing inward. He inverts the lens, peering back through the telescope, through the eye of the viewer into the invisible interconnections that make meaning. That’s the center of the contemplative universe, fleeting thoughts like a bee’s wings beating two hundred times a second, keeping the bumbling bit of black and yellow aloft against all odds, at least by appearances.
Searcy’s gorgeous spun-glass of rumination is literary Crème Brulee, sweet, intense, delectable, in a world of chocolate pudding, predictable, gelatinous, lackluster. “Above all,” Derrida urged, “the language remains self-evidently secret, as if it were being invented at every step, and as if it were burning immediately.” This Searcy has accomplished and the transcendent experience for the reader is at once hypnotic and fulfilling.
David Searcy is the author of Ordinary Horror and Last Things and the recipient of a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Dallas, Texas.