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.

Categorized as Sentences

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.

Categorized as Sentences

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.

Categorized as Sentences

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?

Categorized as Sentences

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.

Categorized as Sentences

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.

Categorized as Sentences

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.

Categorized as Sentences

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.

Categorized as Sentences

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.

Categorized as Sentences

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.

Categorized as Sentences