Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Inner Lamp Burns Cheerfully

The terms remain unclear, as terms generally do. Food equals love, fatigue equals devotion. There is a morning in Spring when all the rivers are in full spate and you hear them rushing even miles away. Where the trail ends I hesitate, surprised at how many lights are on in the village. Well, we turn back, we go home.

Farm workers of the world unite! One waits a long time for the mail and it's a good thing, a necessary thing. To your body, chairs and cheesecake and sex-while-exhausted will always be real. Meanwhile, the inner lamp burns cheerfully, and the so-called dead attend our lessons, urging us on. Special texts abound.

One remembers certain students and appreciates now their confusion. At 4 a.m. geese pass overhead, as dim as ash sprinkled at a distance. In a way, there is no such thing as a stranger. The organist wakes up, worried her arthritis will confound the Easter hymns. Welcome back Kotter, welcome back Jesus.

I nearly fell again, trying to skip on the ice. How much work remains and yet - seen another way - what else is left to do? What is the value of vulnerability? The last desire - to be held, to be savored, to be lifted as high as the body can lift - is truly the hardest. Or so I think in the early hours, writing writing, and thinking of all my loves, here and there, wordy and otherwise.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Be Patient Please And Wait

As is so often the case in Spring, the dog and I walk farther than expected. Through old fields - past the old homestead - through the forest - and out to the airstrip which extends south for half a mile or more. In late March, the waning gibbous moon still illuminates the landscape in a way that is called - with justice - magical. One hears the faint music of stars, one senses at last the interior hill.

We give assent to some teacher, we assume a learning posture, and so - reasonably enough - the lesson begins. When attention fades, a good teacher waits. As on the distant fire pond, enough ice has melted for the geese to float, not as quiet as you'd think before dawn. The man without shoes listens a while, then hefts his walking stick and continues.

How little we know for all our wandering! And how forgiving daughters are, ever circling the divine well. For three days now, an owl - I think it is an owl - waits patiently in the tall pines just past the house. Hunting is not as precise a metaphor as I'd like, but perhaps you know what I mean?

What I am saying is, learning matters. And kindness, too! We all want to be brave and smart and holy and strong. So lead me then a little further into this cave you know and if I pause to build a fire, be patient, please, and wait.

He asks: are you the owl? I can't count the miles I've walked nor the sentences I've written after all these years with Jesus. I laugh a lot while walking alone, which people either get or they don't. The fire is not for warmth - anymore than you are - but for the light, chosen in lieu of the distracting - the borrowed - kiss.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Others Are Blessed Differently

One cherishes an ideal of non-reaction. One works in the wrong office on the wrong project for twenty years. One wakes up at the usual time and notices that the curtains have dust on them. One writes, one does.

Leaves that survived many months beneath ice and snow now dry up, now get pushed by wind. The owl waits patiently in the front yard maple for the rabbits to come out. When turtles pull their heads in, do their spines buckle or contract? I take poetry seriously, really I do.

It's a blue feeling, from time to time, like Simon and Garfunkel in the early 1970's. We live inside bubbles and yearn for an external push. The thirteenth sentence is always best. As a child, swimming made me happy, and walking alone in the forest.

One makes a religion of loneliness, ones write a million words about a book in which they don't actually believe. In late March, the moon has a certain quality as the sun rises, as if unsure it belongs anymore in the sky. Coffee, not tea, and whiskey, not wine. Who can forget Sandburg's little cat feet?

We are all going, all along. Praying for others is good, even when you don't mean it. Certain works of art were meant to be held up while others are blessed differently. The dog curls up on the bed to sleep, content.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Neither A Map Nor A Lantern Nor A Plan For Going Back

This is for you. A few minutes ago, walking home, the moon surprised me in a cold but not-yet-frozen puddle. How happy a little celestial light can make me - like syllables falling into a sentence.

I can't decide: do I need to see you naked in your body, your thought or both? In spring, when ice and snow have melted away in the river, I study the new rocks, I look for polished glass, and I forget who walks beside me. Earlier, in the forest, the dog got away, and I wondered who your "you" is.

You have to be honest when you fall in love with strangers or you'll never get to the far side of joy. A one-handed man often struggles to make music. I drank a silent toast to you tonight in our town's only bar, and walked home on the back trails, skipping and smiling.

Your name belongs on a book cover, mine on a scrap of birch bark picked at by crows. I want to know what your voice sounds like, how you like to be held, how far you can walk without talking, whether you like apples, if your hair really is the color you say, and what you would do for the sacred silence. If you read this, write back a little recklessly, and send a picture, and also your favorite bread recipe, and maybe a tiny poem too.

Just now I regret choosing three-sentence stanzas but it's the riskiest form I've found for this project, God knows why. I'm sure you could figure it out (it has to do with the couplet at the end, right?). Writing is like following a woman you just fell in love with - whose voice you've never actually heard, but whose phrases nevertheless echo and re-echo in your mind - into a cave, carrying neither a map nor a lantern nor a plan for going back.

Well, we are all looking for guidance. Look at it this way: it is not possible to make a mistake, only to think you made one. There are happinesses - very deep ones, very serious ones - that I am only just beginning to question.

Meanwhile, all around me, the New England landscape evokes your pale shoulder. Tell me, sojourner, fellow almost-elder, so bent on sustaining a dialogue, what is it you will carry to me when the Forget-me-nots blossom - the flowers themselves or the darkness they come from, year after year after year?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Thirsty Beside A Well


Bergamot oil. Certain trails come to mind, mostly in New England, mostly near the tops of mountains. We think there is something that works or doesn't - like an equation - and we matter to it. All conflict is born of belief.

When I am greedy for praise and admiration, it is an evasion of responsibility. For punishment, I walk farther than usual and sleep in my clothes. The rhythm of the writing is the most important thing and you can't teach it, you can only point it out from time to time. Rabbits decorate the snow with pellets and foot prints.

How many conversations with a cop can you imagine before somebody actually says, let's talk. The life we live presents itself as being alterable and tangible, both of which are lies. Pause by the river and pray for those who are still asleep, then push on to where it's darkest. How many more songs do I have to sing that praise your ability to murder those who see your face?

I covet broken shoes. I collect stone turtles and bear sightings. I question our cultural conclusions about the native people of New England. I dream of Emily Dickinson and it is never pleasant and I never want to talk about it.

This was written while water boiled for tea. You want somebody to walk with you - I just need somebody to help me stand. If you think kisses are confusing, try not needing them anymore. You think you're scaling a spiritual mountain only to wake up thirsty beside a well.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Holy At A Distance

One assumes direction. But we are called to question, which is the advent of knowledge. A light breeze at 6 a.m. stirs the old chimes, mingling with his piss burning tunnels in the snow. Is it the self he perceived in her presence or the way she wrote about it after? Oh how words reduce us to a hostage.

Merton stayed up late at the monastery phone, thinking of her and wanting to hear her voice. As he wrote earlier, the last desire is the hardest. In truth, falling in love is simply another means by which to keep what is holy at a distance by insisting we are special. A heart, being made of muscle, cannot really break. Observe the dog who patiently waits for the many sentences to resolve.

You have to know what the world is for, and what you are for in it, and the answer to both questions is the same. That which privileges the self has no idea what privilege means. He wanted to kiss her - still does - and yet wants more what lies beyond kissing. Or wanting altogether. How can one think of these things without sadness?

Eternity binds nothing, which is how it differentiates from desire. We grow older, surprised at what a relief it is, and see the virtue of making no demands. On the one hand, question everything, even questioning itself, but on the other, don't worry, be happy. Aim for teacherlessness. And: allow unraveling its place.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Thousand Notes of Thanks

The road at last empty of snow, the creases from yesterday's travelers pliant underfoot. Fields to the north lumined by the moon. South and a little east, the halogen glow of the distant city. One longs for the past, and a future, too.

Broken shoes, spongy socks. Warm tea and the sound of the old cat, trying to make himself comfortable. There are advertisements everywhere. And long walks to the tops of hills in order to see the moon, chalky but bright behind fingerling clouds.

We settle into patterns, eschewing reflection. At last one identifies the critical smell as lavender. She looked older and recognizing him exuded bitterness but did not speak, a decision he admired. Think of all the people asleep in their houses as you walk, head down, dreaming a critical dream.

Many readers complicates writing. One longs to know you're okay but swallows hard the inclination to write and ask. We are joined in a spiritual way but remain confused at its manifestation? He writes "when I see a  sign of Spring I think of you and your longing for the sun."

And really, even that little bit is troubling. Was it the Buddha who taught that expectation is the death of happiness? Backed into a corner, what remains but explanation and defiance, however masked? A thousand blessings on you, your Maine lakes, and a thousand notes of thanks.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Single River Bent On The Sea

He adjusts the light, draws the curtains and the dog watches it all unfold, tired. Later he will lecture - that is the word - on the relationship between silence and faith. A dozen minds slowly converging on a single idea equals what? The brook hums quietly beneath late winter ice.

Stars make music, too, but you have to have the ears to hear (whatever that means). He is relieved that so many women are telling him they are through with Jesus, though he can't say why. Another conversation about writing when he would rather pursue an end to conflict. In a way, we are always falling in love.

The prophets who went before him gather now in a tired assembly, welcoming yet another windy bastard to their bloated and ineffective ranks. You can take your pen everywhere and it won't mean a thing. Certain roads matter more than others, and all brooks eventually converge in a single river bent on the sea. Yes?

When the self falls away it is most natural yet also incredibly new. He wonders who reads and whether and how they will ever meet. Boundaries matter but transgression matters too. Just how comfortable are we allowed to be when it comes to loving what is infinite?

Maybe not very. The room brightens slowly, the dog leaves to sip some water and, in the other room, the woman who saved him leaves the bed in order to see how his poems are coming. He has the same dreams as everyone, emerged from the same cave, and that was all she taught. We walk around as if there were more than this vital - this lovely - this shared - singularity but it's enough, it really is.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Faintest Of Faint Stars


The hardest lesson to learn is that there is no lesson. Or that Love is what is given. In his dreams, he can just barely make out some internal truth, like the faintest of faint stars. Politicians sell out, priests hoard praise, and cab drivers want to sell you their novel. Thus we sit in circles drinking bad coffee and encouraging one another to "keep going."

But where? And how? We are so good at building bridges that we have forgotten how to evaluate this side of the river vs. that. In his dreams, people are in a constant state of conflict, and he can't see how to end it, only keep it going. Ah, well.

How is the weather where you are? Yesterday, in the distance, a pair of fisher cats appeared to flow over the snow, going the opposite way of the farm. Pileated woodpeckers abound this spring. He stopped trying to please people with poetry ten years ago and it remains nurturing, inspiring, mystifying. Clearly relationship matters.

He lets certain people go, knowing finally that he can't help, not the way they need. All trails become clearer because that's what trails do. Sometimes the world is like the other side of a rain drop. Emily Dickinson is firm and instructive. We make arrangements and for a little while they seem to work, that's all.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Another Plea In Verse

He walks at dusk - twilight perhaps - which allows for an old clarity. It is like standing inside a bell, like laying down beneath centuries-old maples. Explanation is a crutch and he can't seem to communicate otherwise. Thus the woods, thus stopping to let the dark settle around him, thus composing yet another plea in verse. Properly understood, Walden is an interior space.

Or so he says, prone as always to what language helps work out. The hens scratch at bits of lettuce and coffee grounds, the compost sinking in slow-melting snow. Earlier, hunched over on a zafu in an empty house, he began to laugh quietly, uncontrollably. There is no such thing as endings. Nor is there any such thing as sad.

He reads young adult fiction from the 1960's - letting it read him too - and stops here and there to catch up on what the many poets he knows are doing. Last week the dog refused a walk, a first, and it got him thinking. There are trails in Vermont where twenty years ago the old dog ran through misty fields, barking at turtles and often leaping what seemed like twenty feet in the air to get at disappearing bears. You never know when you're going to fall and not get up or only get up slowly. Also, you wait for a miracle the way a drunk waits to vomit.

But listen, in order to write the way you want you have to be rigorously honest with yourself. It will show in the writing, even if what you write is technically a lie. He cannot ask for what he truly wants: to walk with her beneath the ten thousand stars they threw into the sky before time had gathered steam. You have to ask what everything is for and not be afraid of the answer. Or so he writes in the larger lacuna, the one that wrote him what seems like ten thousand lifetimes ago.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Mistaken Gesture Of Atonement


A wellspring certainly. The world is ready to be healed. It is time now to will with God. He wakes and has no idea what that means but he likes it. This particular religious order he's envisioning may not be a bad start.

And yet and yet. The pine trees are all trim with yesterday's snow. In the hush before dawn chickadees try their little song - the two note Spring song - and it is lovely and courageous and lifts him. Efforts to avoid pronouns are - as they are almost always - unsuccessful.

"I cannot do this without you" is true - he thinks - yet he is poorly disposed to the particulars. But so what? On the phone the day before his mother sounded sad but also grateful and he was reminded as always how much of what is strong in him came from her. Bit by bit the world emerges from darkness, bit by bit we return to the sacred river.

He has never liked the squeaking sound one's boots make against fresh-packed snow. The son aims for the father and the father accepts it in a mistaken gesture of atonement (for what did he do to his father?) and thus we're back to the same old linearity. Part of the problem is that a sentence can only bear so much and if you're not attentive (a kind of loving, really) then they verge on unhelpful, another word for ruinous. Take the risk where others can see you do it: there is no other way to learn.

Ah, but in the end we come back to this: this writing, this way. If you don't know God, it's okay, you will. Get clear about resistance and work at seeing everyone as equally deserving of your love. In many ways, he is still a broken young man trying to assuage the familiar loneliness and you - you have still not decided whether and how to help him.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Tentative Way Of All Saviors

He wakes early to move snow, worried for the dog whose gallivanting takes her into the path of plows. He watches her go though, grateful as always for evidence of joy. He listens to the distant engines, not louder than the scrape of his shovel, neither of which is more clarified or lovely than the sound of falling snow itself , precisely a susurration. Physical labor helps separate him from thought, those nontangential wanderings that are nevertheless like webs of steel in which we all flounder, bound in traps of our own making. When the dog returns, whole and hale and dusted with snow, tongue lolling from open jaws, he bends to whisper, kind words that are not precisely English.

To write is to be in love and to explore love's boundaries. He writes that and smiles - later now with hot coffee, the fire beginning its sporadic smoky crackle. How many men and women he knows who would reject such sentimental, such outrageous pap! And yet later no doubt wonder: what am I doing with all these words this way? It's a good - it's an important - question.

Well, we don't wake up - call it what you like - alone and we also don't choose our companions. That becomes clearer and - like desire itself - yet another hurdle to ascending the invisible mountain. In the other room, the woman who saved him for this work sleeps in the tentative way of all saviors. There are others, and other ways. But he has chosen now and so the terms are set.

Yearning is simply lust gussied up and pretending otherwise doesn't help anyone. As a child, he enjoyed washing the pigs in buttermilk, ignoring the fact that in a few months time they would be shot from behind and hoisted with the tractor, their blood spilling to crystallize in snow. He has become excellent at love letters but lonely among their recipients. When did he agree to clear the sacred trail on his hands and knees, blindfolded, a broken spoon held between his teeth? And why did he waste so much time being fussed over, pretending it was his idea to find the cross and keep going?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fear Of Losing You

He writes "I woke thinking of you at 2 a.m. and could not sleep nor wanted to (for fear of losing you in the self-righteous theology that lately fills my sleeping mind) and so slipped outside to walk. Single digit temperatures, bright stars. Maybe a hundred yards from the house I realized I was under dressed but didn't feel like turning back. I never do, once I'm going. Crusty snow bore the dog well but I kept slipping through it and so returned soon enough to the road, passing houses in which people slept - people do that, don't they? - and dreamed. I imagined I could see their dreams rise like gaseous bubbles, shimmering and effervescent, like gasoline trailing through rain puddles. Metaphors were no good - they never are really - and so I insisted on returning to the moment, seeking the clarity that you seek too, and allowing that we might seek for it together, even though we cannot talk about it. Part of the problem is we think we're special and know we're not but know too that knowing we're not does, in fact, separate us a little from the proverbial spiritual herd. All of which simply means that the brain - like the rest of our so-called body - is no good at this sort of thing! Or is too good perhaps. At least I can laugh, which sooner or later I always do, walking like that in the darkness alone (but am I really alone if you are there (in thought) and if the dog is there too?).

"The dog longed for the woods and I felt sad withholding it. I fear something in me breaks or goes sour when I refuse to meet even a single need of my beloveds. And so part of the walk, as always, involved sadness which is a sort of bittersweet way of sustaining our uniqueness. Look at me! Teachers, of course, abound. Closer to the bridge where thirty years ago A. and I first kissed and she said quietly after 'please promise you won't tell anyone' and I was so happy - truly as close to ecstasy as ever before or since - that I could only mumble a few disconnected syllables in reply, I saw how happy she (the dog) was, literally gamboling from snowbank to snowbank. That is to say, she had truly forgiven me for not entering the forest, by which I mean she literally no longer remembered that such a so-called wrong had existed only minutes before. It's hard to even imagine the intense love a dog bears for anyone. To A. - now practicing law in D.C., who recently wrote to remind me of that kiss (how different the past is in memory, which is reason enough to set it aside altogether!) - and to you - I simply say forgive me, in the mode of dogs if possible, and human beings if not. What else is there?"

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Naked And Happy

He makes coffee in someone else's kitchen, admiring as always the collection of antique pots, and watching chickadees pick at the last of the firewood tumbled on the porch. Two years ago he read Merton on contemplative prayer here, waking at midnight in a dull panic and reaching for the woman who owns the place and who, from time to time, invites him to spend a few days reading and praying. When the weather allows, they carry a scratchy blanket to the far pasture and make love just before the forest. So close to the earth you can hear the cows pacing gently up and down the hill. Usually she sleeps after and he ambles over to the cows, naked and happy, scratching their thick heads and talking to them in low tones about God.

Yet today she is outside, shoring up fencing, and he is turning his mind in the direction of "theological fidelity," surprised as always to learn what he already knows. Earlier, waking beside his wife, he wondered again what it means to "give only love." The dog looked grumpy near his feet, upset that someone else had found their way into the bed. Yet he was grateful for her company, the long talk about what is going on with the minister at church, and the neighbor's daughter who looks suspiciously pregnant, and then later going down on each other, one after the other, almost as an afterthought. When she thought he was asleep she got up to sit in the dark living room and it made him sad, the interior space that she can not - or will not - share with him.

Well, he has earned a certain rebuke, that is true. Or so he tells himself, going outside with the coffee and walking up the hill to take a look at the taps to see how the sap is running. The temperatures will drop later, and later still snow is coming, and he can't help but laugh as he always does at how misplaced is our reliance on nature. You can take what is given, sure, but you can't insist. Also, you can't depend.

He thinks of his father, as he does often these days, a dairy farmer who died too young, one of the last in this part of the state. The funeral left him queasy inside, like he might throw up, but when his mother auctioned off the cows - saying it serves the bastard right - it broke him, and he ran crying into the empty silo, scattering some rats. Years later it makes him smile, that memory, what it shows about his father and him, and he apologizes out loud to the displaced vermin who no doubt had it worse. Some lives are harder than others. Some lessons you learn by repetition.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Running Only Helps You Escape


He writes "I would like to tell you a story, one that is mostly true, and to the extent it's not true, it's only because having never once told it I'm a little out of practice. What it is, I saw two angels once in Saint Louis. It was like seeing a rainbow - a really bright clear rainbow that was right there within arm's reach.

"I was still drinking in those days and the woman I was sharing a motel room with had some wine so we were drinking that and listening to the radio - Chopin, I think, and then Debussy - and I was writing poetry on motel stationary and some blank pages torn out of the Gideon's. Every time this woman said something I would hold up my hand for silence which I now regret but I wasn't trying to be a jerk. Poetry has always been sort of hard for me in terms of sustaining my concentration.

"It was pretty late and it started to rain and this woman finally said she was going to get a drink at the little bar next door where people were at least speaking to one another. Probably that was supposed to goad me into tagging along but instead I said I was going for a walk which didn't make her happy. It was strange how badly at that moment I wanted to get out of that motel and be alone in the city.    

"Anyway, it was raining quite hard - much harder than I expected - but I refused to rush. I decided to be the one person in Saint Louis who wasn't running on account of rain. I had this idea I would stroll down to the Mississippi river and listen to it and maybe even taste it but I got lost. I was cold and wet and started to run but of course that didn't help. Running only helps you escape something, it can't help you find yourself.

"I ended up in an alley, vomiting and shivering like crazy, and when I looked up I saw them. They were very pale but also full of light and they were watching me. They were shaped vaguely like human beings but they didn't have recognizable faces so I don't know how I knew they were watching me but they were. We stayed that way a long time, the three of us in that dark smelly alley, not speaking or saying a word, until some decision somewhere got made and I wiped my mouth and walked straight back to the motel as if I'd lived in Saint Louis half a dozen lifetimes. The woman was gone and she didn't come back but I stayed up until almost dawn having a ball of a time writing poems.

"It's funny what you remember and carry with you and call a life, isn't it?"

Friday, March 15, 2013

Not Alone But Always Home

The writing teaches him, which is mysterious but true, and very difficult to explain to those who haven't had at least a similar intimation. It does indeed have to do with silence, especially the difficult extremes in which soap is useless and even clothing seems excessive. He considers writing "our voices rise together" but realizes he shouldn't, because it is essentially a distraction, coming the way it does from desire. How hard it is to give that space to a sentence!

At his grandfather's funeral they played Be Not Afraid but he was and mostly covered it with beer and those little nips of whiskey that seemed like a waste of bottle. Later, back in Vermont, he drank even harder, and sang old Irish folk songs wherever he was allowed, and fucked strangers on his one blanket on the floor, waiting until they fell asleep to rise and read Stein, his back against the wall. For a long time he secretly credited himself for not dying in those days - or fathering a child, or contracting AIDS - so many of those he walked with did - but now knows the futility of believing one is special. Death is never not a stranger but nor is it an end. We have to ask: what is the work?

What he learned was that salvation - call it what you want because it's not amenable to words - is given and our only task is to see it as such. Everything in the world bends to make this one lesson obvious - from winter lilac bushes to muddy quartz to gimpy dogs to bare shoulders to Fur Elise. Nothing is that isn't God. The waitress from the diner - the one whose fiance died being chased by cops on some lonesome curving back road - was the only one who did wake up to sit next to him smoking but she never talked nor asked what he was reading. We need each other but not the way we think was what she taught him, and even today he gives thanks, and their paths cross in funny ways, and much is said without being spoken.

He is often compared to a cat or a predatory bird, which amuses him. That was true of men from whom he is descended - maybe - but he sees himself more as a moose, large and graceful (in probably awkward ways) and solitary save for that one desire, that one need, and thus lovely in the lovelier woods, lovely enough anyway, and sufficiently unthreatened to allow for life to compose itself as prayer. He's never been good at explaining anything, except what he learned years ago, and is thus no longer germane. Krishnamurti observed that the observer and the observed are the same, which does sum it up, though Bohm's glosses still feel necessary, almost beautiful. Decisions are in fact continuous.

He recalls too - now as the others awake and begin to stir in nearby rooms - Krishnamurti's critical observation that the truth is a pathless land, which means - or can mean, if one is so disposed - that all we can do is remind one another we're not alone but always home, always loving the only way possible.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Misdirected Effort And How It Might Be Corrected


This then is the new mode. He wakes early - earlier than usual and after pissing and realizing he isn't going to fall back to sleep - takes the dog out. A light snow falls, barely obscuring pinprick stars that glitter in the vast darkness he has always compared to a soft fabric undulating in cosmic winds. He thinks of the women he knows, and will know, and it makes him feel old. The last desire is always the hardest.

They walk slowly east and turn into the forest a bit below the old homestead. He bows to the usual trees, pushing further until they reach the brook which sings loudly in Spring spate, rich and full like a man who no longer needs to ask anything of anyone. Then they come back the long way, up the steep hills, stopping now and then to look behind them at their tracks which are barely visible in the dusting but also filling. We are here and not here, not that the difference matters. An eighteen wheeler switches gears a mile away where 112 comes out of the rise and it quickens his pace, this reminder there is work to do.

He boils what remains of yesterday's coffee in the old pot that came from God knows where, rinsing it quickly of what is hopefully just dust. Kibble mixed with chicken grease and skin from the day before yesterday's dinner for the dog - a few scraps for the old cat who smells like the grave, no other or better way to say it. On the mantle in the dark living room he finds the jade elephant Steve gave him twenty-five years ago and feels the cool smoothness of the spine tapering off to the trunk, and remembers road trips to the theaters where Steve was performing - okay as Hamlet, best as Mercutio - and then at the end (in an Albany diner beset with rain) a long talk about what was possible and what was not and the question of whether desire - that desire that way - might ever change. Beside the elephant is the amethyst from Kirk, the clear quartz from Dave, and the hand-carved black bear his grandfather gave him one morning in Spring nearly four decades earlier. He has always known men with secrets and he has always been their faithful keeper.

And then at last he comes to this - the writing, this writing - feeling the melted snow pass a coldness into his bones. The twenty sentences were begun for a man but seem to better hold the attention of women. What we ask of others we cannot give ourselves, is the line he has been holding in mind all morning, and only know sees outside, and cannot say works or does not. He has spent a lifetime trying to tell others about the given - wanting them to see as he does the beauty of it, the ease of it - and only now begins to perceive the misdirected effort and how it might be corrected. The twentieth sentence is where the form declares an end but you know - and you know you know - what continues unhindered.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

To Want You The Way I Do


Once blessed, forever blessed? I live in such a way as to privilege - to make holy - indecision. Though later, steaming clams and drinking beer while surf crashed in the distance, it was allowed all around that second thoughts are not a crime. You do look good in that picture.

I stayed up well after midnight, from time to time going down into the basement to check the walls for the tell-tale weeping of spring snow. In other words, coffee. Pigeons fly in and out of the broken barn window and from time to time their feathers sift down to the level of our shoulders. I am not a pronoun and neither are you.

Your Russian accent makes me happy, as accents always do. We stayed up listening to jazz, sad the way you are when you know you are not your favorite's choice. In those days, I wrote poems for everyone, and delivered them with fresh fruit. Some acts are just a way of saying that what happened to the dog still matters.

Whose kingdom is the kitchen? Lately one longs to be worthy of the domesticity so long ago declared irrelevant. I don't want to want you the way I do and yet I do. Thus the mail, thus the long walks in which I wonder do you see what I see?

So the morning passes. So the red wing blackbirds gather at the Dogwood and urge me to a greater fidelity. God is. More and more these days I am coming to accept that all you really need is me to listen.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Unrushed Gentleness

You make plans - forbidden plans - and time passes. This project began with a reference to white sails confused with whitecaps, the two of us eating at that restaurant on the canal, talking about speech defects. You end up sitting on a curb, hands folded as if in prayer, as calm as anyone who knows he is dead and is going to die. And so on and so on.

I am always falling in love, always looking back in surprise, as if to say "you too?" The dog yawns by the door, turns in a circle. The he I am not quite yet keeps returning in memory to the dead whale, that moment alone before dawn, forcing himself to look into its withered eye, and later writing poetry amid scrub pine (the ones Del published) and trying not to cry. And rain sounds, train sounds, and sad sounds, love sounds.

It evolves and makes demands which is how you know it's real, or could be if you wanted. A bowl of salad in the saddle and she's off. Personally, I'm fond of any three-syllable word with an L sound in there but hey. Nine foster homes in two years, that explains a lot.

She writes and you read and reading makes you happy. I want you in that motel outside Albany, the flowery bed spread, the unrushed gentleness, all that opening at once. Chopin in the front yard begging to be allowed back in. He never writes from Paris and yet my heart chugs along like a duck towards the shore.

What I remember of those long afternoons was kneeling at the delta, that shock of red, and how it turned a softer rust underneath. Working farms no longer abound. He writes how he cannot bear the madness infidelity breeds and all his dead drunk uncles laugh and his dead sad aunts just nod and turn yet another page of the family bible. Yours too.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lovely Encompassing Holy

In between reps, poetry. Only after we had stopped to observe the wrecked body of the field mouse and moved on did it occur to him that his emotional reaction was largely neutral. As horror recedes, we get a clearer look at guilt. What I'm saying is, this thing we do, it works. Like that.

Six, seven, eight, a life. The illusion of time persists, attested to by all these deaths. Though earlier, stepping outside to pee with the dog, one noticed a silence that was lovely, encompassing, holy. Sanctification precedes all walks. You want to sit by but can't quite stop and so you just write it: sitting by.

Students who savor Dickinson get a different sort of attention which signifies the ongoing struggle to stop trying to discover the eternal. Buddha chuckles, Jesus tickles him in the ribs. I who lift weights and eat a clove of raw garlic a day hereby testify that I shall not stumble on the sacred trail! Though I do want to be a wise janitor at a school for the newly-awakened. You see?

In my dream, you urged me to keep writing in a very specific way and your husband said no, don't bother, and I just sat there thinking you were both very beautiful in different ways. This all happened in a poem by Wallace Stevens. Who isn't trying to sort through the tyranny of order for the freedom promised - dimly of course - beyond? Last night's pizza was especially delicious, especially the pesto which we made together this summer. I mean like that - together - you see?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Other Side Of The Imaginary Darkness


One undertakes not to be regulated by externals. Yet at 3 a.m. the stars cascade and owls call to one another, obviously satiated. Do you know the difference between wind in pine trees and wind in the pasture? We are not waking up so much as remembering that we are already awake.

A little field mouse pauses by the door, nibbling some crumb or seed there, then continues into the pantry. We cannot bear the grace that waits on the other side of the imaginary darkness. Though I do not know you, I know you. Driving home last night I was strangely thrilled, as if hearing your voice - most familiar of all voices - for the first time.

This writing? We make love gently, trying not to laugh, and later push the curtains aside to see if it has rained yet, or rained and stopped. It bears us, actually, and we are learning to accept that. The dog paused by a certain snowbank, and I paused too, as I do for all my companions, seen and unseen. The distant river in mid-March, a freshet.

What seems to happen happens in stages. I dreamed you insisted on a particular path - a trail that went South and down - when all I wanted was to walk beside you a while on the only path there is. Even now, train whistles, a sort of punctuation in this sentence that I live. A whiskey bottle, inside of which a lonesome song forever highlights the quintessential vowel.

The ladle of the big dipper upending its silky nothingness. We have stood here before, in love with each other, unafraid of what it means to die. In a sense, the caves of Lascaux always beckon. The only reckoning is our reckoning, again and again, as if.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Yet Another Teacher

Void where prohibited. The snow bore me, the clouds parted, and a handful of star sparkled like silt in Spring. We are making progress, we are getting somewhere.

With time comes healing and also insight. Yet there is perhaps another way to see it. I mean Macbeth as a play about gender and power.

One dreams of the impersonal, one is photographed without clothes. Anger is a response to fear which is a response to guilt which is a response to what? Since Gary Gilmore I have imagined - and been aware of me imagining - that I did it.

You write and write and so I did. Life steps almost - ah, almost - straight. At a break in the trees I refused yet another teacher and kept going.

One thousand or so miles away you cannot sleep and I worry. The weasel crossed the yard - flowed, really - like a sentence with too many verbs. Movement matters.

Kindness matters. Half dozen phone calls, some returned, some not. I understand why he had to go and still wish somehow he might have chosen differently.

The couplet, the Capulet. And we are back where it all began.