Christian Peet

from The Nines

[3 6 9 7 4 1 2 5 8]

    For a while, Renoir and Monet successfully sustained their excitement by choosing more and more brilliant subjects. Renoir painted gardens, which gave him the added problem of local colors, while Monet saturated coastal scenes with the intense light once reserved for a forced aperture or hopelessly dilated pupil.

     I availed myself of the last hours of our trip by trying to improve my backspin, having discovered that the more tightly I curled my legs in toward my head, the faster I could whirl.

     Sisley alone continued to fret. “There are a few difficulties,” he felt compelled to remind the group, “which remain unresolved. We do see mathematical things, like small numbers, in physical reality. And that seems to contradict the idea that numbers are social entities. Never mind there remains considerable uncertainty regarding the mass, radii, and density of Pluto.”

    “When pigs squeal about the trough,” said Renoir, never taking his eyes from his canvas, “they are not asking anyone to get their food for them, Sisley. They are doing their best to get it for themselves.”

    “Right,” said Sisley, “but while you have been painting that thing, you have converted at least a thousand calories of ordered energy in the form of food, into disordered energy in the form of heat, which you have lost to the air around you, through convection and sweat. And this, my friend, has increased the disorder of the universe by about twenty million million million million units—or about ten million million million times the increase of order in your brain.”

     Ever the peacemaker, Monet set down his brush and knelt beside Sisley. “The only thing you need worry about, my dear brother, is your power of observation. Intuition comes later. And though much can be seen from a train or boat or outer space, intensive looking usually involves some walking—without a map.” 4

    But Sisley was not content. He said he wanted a rubric. He wanted specific descriptions and expectations of what a particular performance looks like at various levels of quality. He wanted to determine what he required in order to achieve a specific score or letter grade. And then, mid-tirade, arms flailing in a plume of smoke, he simply vanished.


4 Robert Duncan, in an address at Naropa, offered this explanation of Monet’s words prior to Sisley’s vaporization: “The Food-Gatherer Intuitionist doesn’t want to keep things straight. If he has a map he’s already gobbled up everything on the territory he is going to. So, the Food-Gatherer Intuitionist has to go out there with no map, man, or he’s never going to stumble on a new group of mushrooms, not at all.”