The Secret Is Not To Linger

I was twenty years old when I discovered the importance of following – and studying – the moon. D. had fled to England and I was entering what turned out to be a nearly twenty year tutelage in grief. It ended on Mount Ascutney, though it took a while to see this.

The pace at which one plays Fur Elise naturally shifts the psychological focus. We have all navigated the stomachs of bears, we have all grasped in vain at the whale’s baleen in passing.

Paradox is simply what nonduality looks like to the unhealed mind.

Rather than work I sit by the window and watch Juncos, once my favorite bird, pick through crusty snow for seed. Sentences, not lines, and the distinction matters. Listen.

Frost flowers on the bedroom window, begging a magnifying glass, and begetting a kind of happiness I imagine would frustrate most scientists. Snow piles on fence posts and in the gray distance – where mind eclipses what is otherwise measurable – the same old crow rises and falls, rises and falls.

She is cooking with duck eggs again. Clotheslines, winter goldenrod begetting wrens, and undoing mistaken for failure.

So many books piled in every corner, some with dust, others stuffed with makeshift markers, falling over, spilling out, pushed aside to make room for more, forgotten and rediscovered, part of the I-don’t-want-to-wake-up dance of which we are all now mortally tired. And yet.

Yes is not always the answer! At the level of the body we are not one but many, and the fantasy we are otherwise is merely another way of keeping awareness of true oneness at bay. Spirit willingly devolves backwards to reach us – through cheesecake, orgasm, sunsets, art. The secret is not to linger where the call is heard but to follow.

Hence the dead bury the dead and the living go on – in spirals, on trails, over the burnishing sea – to Jerusalem, and Home.

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What Lies In Us Untended

I love the crescent moon so perfectly situate in the dawn sky and my love for it is God’s love for me and the two are not separate.

We all learn to pray and prayer – like loving in darkness, like soft kisses fumbling – is intimate and cannot be reduced to ritual. It cannot be repeated.

And we stopped where the trail was thinnest and crumbling and made contact briefly with silence.

For what is perceived as external is internal but disowned and Truth in communication is contingent on this fact.

The dog waits patiently by the little brook. The little brook sings following the hill down to the larger but still unnamed brook which goes underground in Tyler’s field two miles that way. Yes, “sings.”

We love in others what lies in us untended.

All attention teaches us is that we have everything but remain attached to the idea that we don’t. Thus beauty, thus coincidence, thus hunger.

How scared we are! And yet – paradoxically – how open to learning the way to love (the secret is to give – not pay – attention).

The stars I see are the stars you see, and the thought I hold of you is the thought you hold of me, and that is not love but simply mind obeying the laws of creation which it did not make but nevertheless honors.

The new teacher insists I play guitar more, so I do, and it is like falling through folds of green and violet taffeta, and each chord is a silken glove that facilitates walking sticks, and vistas open and maps are offered.

And the chickadees come as the sun rises and I welcome them, and my welcome is the same greeting I extend to God, and my happiness – which I cannot hold the way I cannot hold a river – is God’s reply.

How fructive the mind when given to its natural mode! How thusly!

And yesterday’s snow flakes, and T. storming away angry, and a burlap-colored mouse watching me from atop the cracked corn.

And this and that, and you and me, and so on and so forth and all.

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Rehearsing Old Conversations

Oddly the dog lingers far behind, circling trees on the old field’s perimeter, while I follow the slick road, steering by a crescent moon nearly lost in thinning clouds. All day you will not be here but all day your substitutes will drift in and out, mostly in the form of women, mostly bearing cradles of language. It’s okay. Nothing happens we do not ask for.

Though closer to the brook – still sniffling from four days cold – I begin to perceive the evaporating veil and see through it to the Light of which we are all composed. The dog catches up, limping a little, and we stand beside snow banks peering up into the sky. Someone somewhere is calling on Jesus and this is His reply. How readily the mind turns to bluets and beyond to those we love on their account.

Well, home is west, and that’s the way I go, slowly up icy hills, rehearsing old conversations. Snow-crested pines creak in soft breezes and sinking temperatures and I long briefly to enter the forest and go to sleep in its forever gathering center. Be still in order to give attention, and give attention that God might do so as well. I miss the mail, and other things too.

Two cups of tea, half a dozen shots of cider vinegar, four cloves of raw garlic, crystallized ginger cubes and finally a banana. The dog kisses me when I sit in the corner on a zafu as if grateful. Stories unfold, memorializing a self, and once you see it that way there is nothing left but to leave it. Wind in the hollows kicks ash down the chimney.

This writing, this way? As always I sing – cracked voice rising – the only songs I know. The prayer goes with us everywhere, as the only altar that matters cannot be broached by any body. What secrets we know who pretend to be rent by longing, as if the way were not already mapped by the One Whose Love created us!

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The Secret Hiding In Soft Sighs After

Ice sliding off the eaves holds back the morning light and so my bedroom feels like a kind of cave (but not Plato’s cave). The black bra strap nearly did it sweetheart but the subsequent references to ice only reminded me of our vow. On the wall, prisms elongate and slide and the shadow of the cross grows thin and wavy. Thus this, this way.

One begins to appreciate the illusory nature of accomplishment without quite being ready to change the way they live. How happy I am when you sleep beside me, dreams above your brow like a soft rusting light. Who studies the moon in all its phases studies God but may or may not know it. Desire is an impediment because it implies – argues quite forcefully actually – that we do not already have everything.

Tea to ward off a pending head cold, hours of poor sleep, and an odd obsession with J.W.’s comment decades ago about good years for icicles. Elongate and slide until they are gone, or are only remembered, or return to merely potential. How sad I am after two years of studying Bohm to learn that I was wrong! Well, we can wander a long time in the forest without quite coming to a clearing suitable for naps.

Suitable for making love I mean, which in the forest without blankets always owns a particular heat and intensity. Who comes in the presence of bluets and birch trees sees creation from inside – with eyes that see and ears that hear – and thus understands the secret hiding in soft sighs after. Yet even that joy passes, as stars appear to wheel steadily through the darkness, and one accepts the joyous paradox inherent in talking to chickadees. Not yet, but soon.

For a long time whiskey helped, then prayer, then a sort of reckless lust and now I just want to write in the presence of trees without a woman. Gifts given and not received – not accepted really – are given again which removes the pressure of ever getting it “right.” Kiss me because I want that and tell me what touch makes you forget even the idea of the past. He wrote happily, laying up sentences like firewood in winter, hoping they would warm her too.

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This Sad But Beautiful Interregnum

In the morning I wake up and my teacher is back, sitting quietly on the floor in the corner, a yellow scarf tucked about her neck. “Good morning,” she says. Her voice as always sounds like paper crinkling when you drop it on embers. I kneel beside her instead of walking and we watch the dog’s dreams float slowly towards the window. They are like tendrils of violet smoke trending to gold.

There are things that need to be done and it is time now to do them, she says. As always I only want to know what she requires. In whatever space I share with her there is never any room for argument. She tells me to practice seeking less pleasure externally, especially with respect to food, and to simplify – again, even more – my relationships. “What attention you don’t give God, God cannot give you,” she says in the hallway before she leaves, and I stand there quietly crying after, smell of yucca rising around me.

Later I go to the co-op, parking in the far corner of the lot so that I can enjoy the sun and the melting snow and also because I don’t feel like driving any more, even a hundred yards. Two women start shopping around the same time I do and we sort of track one another through the store. One buys granola while I stock up on spicy pepitas, another lingers at the yogurt, studying the labels for each brand, while I fumble through the nut butters. The first one keeps meeting my eyes in what I perceive is a kind of dare but the other keeps to herself after a first friendly smile and that makes more sense as a spiritual practice so I accept it as the morning’s lesson. By the time I stop at Tim’s (on the way home) for chicken feed – pellets, crumbles and cracked corn – too many hours of no sleep begin catching up with me and the car slows to where I might as well be walking and I roll the window down and practice the two note spring song of chickadees, which the kids love because the chickadees answer which nobody believes can happen until they’re out in the woods with me and it does happen and then they are amazed, which I understand, because it is – like so much else in this sad but beautiful interregnum – amazing.

Did I write that last stanza or did Jesus have a point to make? I drift into early evening on raw garlic and ginger and spoonfuls of bee pollen and writing somewhat dizzily, the sentences spilling from me like pine cones. I keep waiting for her to say “stop writing” but she doesn’t, not yet anyway, and in fact all her suggestions seem bent on clearing space for even more writing. What do I know? I fold the blanket around my chilly toes and write this sentence and then another which – under the laws of this project which I did not make but only gave assent to, years before I knew what saying yes meant – you cannot read but may infer, given all that has gone before between us.

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The Moon Wants to Marry Me

Oh morning you are always there when I wake up!

The snow sparkles at 3 a.m. and tucks itself into the holes in my shoes and frigid air rushes my lungs and I burst out laughing.

The dog and I go east at different paces, perfectly aware of one another.

The pale gold weather ring in the sky widens as if the moon wants to marry me because I am serious but in a fun way, like reading Gone with the Wind in one sitting, and so I say “yes.”

It is so quiet I can hear the dog rooting in snowbanks a hundred yards away.

I can hear the ringing in my ears from not enough sleep and too much reading and that makes me laugh because it’s not annoying but more like a sustained xylophone note played by someone who understands that spontaneity arises from strict discipline.

“I will marry you too,” I say aloud to the birch trees, who are very sensitive and always have been.

The crows mutter insults as I pass beneath their nest but I remind them which one of us eats raw potatoes in muddy fields while farmers stalk us with shotguns and it gets them going like my drunk Irish uncles.

Jesus is a snow bank and a single flake of snow and also now this sentence.

Who understands necessity – meaning what is it for? – understands love, at last.

I slip near the brook and bang my knee and grow still a few minutes and the tears on my face – from the cold and from laughing – freeze until my cheeks hurt.

Back home I shovel a little, stopping now and then to study squirrel tracks in the yard, which are suprisingly deep, so much so moonlight does not reach all the way to their bottom.

Is this really the last cup of coffee I will ever drink?

Often when I pray I try to repeat what worked previously but it never does, as if God despises repetition.

How else can we explain snow flakes?

Instead of meditating I mentally walk the familiar trails but in early summer and say hi to the lovely flowers and they all flutter and sway happily except the dandelions which are arrogant and proud and accept praise as only what is due and so before them I genuflect, and hold the bow, because what is yellow and bright is right, always.

Do you know what bluets do when they see stars?

She has a small field of freckles to the left of one eye – each as distinct as Orion in February – and also a little smile that says “I see you noticed my freckles.”

Robins wintering over means what?

What say we slip out behind the chapel you and I and kiss each other a couple thousand times and get naked in the tall grass and moonlight there all sweaty and exhausted and – still wanting more – call it metaphysics?

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Who Has Always Guided Me

Wordiness takes over and I slip towards indiscretion. Where do the chickadees sleep when it snows?

Flakes of snow melt in my coffee. The neighbor’s rooster yowls throatily and all foxes prick their ears, nestled in sweaty burrows.

You. How much of my life revolves around that lovelily pronoun.

Candles exhaust themselves and waxy tendrils of smoke curl towards the ceiling. I remember her tattered brown sweater and charcoal sketches and my happiness there, that way.

The steaks marinate in a thrown-together teriyaki sauce. If you are aware of the spiritual level, then simply concentrate all your energies on that, and don’t worry what happens in this vale of shadow and dust.

Tired after walking so far in the worst storm in four or five years, I lay down and dream of the old woman who has always guided me, especially in my times of greatest need. Also mirror balls.

Purple finches at the feeder, smell of mushroom omelettes rising. We are painting old chairs the deepest of blues, we are giving ourselves wantonly to the god of our dreams.

And the flakes thicken and slow. And D. at the dump says “that’s an awful lot of trash,” meaning what am I doing throwing anything away.

I remember with Sophia seeing a bald eagle in the pines off Briar Hill and how quiet we were then but after how talkative. Bears rumble through my sleep, making the usual demands of my energy and time and earning again their sentence.

Consider the possibility that in a very literal and formal way I am not here to save you but the other way around. As word after word gathers and burns, each betraying the only prayer any savior requires.

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From the Dog’s Perspective

At 3 a.m. I wade through snow drifts up to my thighs, enjoying a sense of peril, but also tired of having cold wet feet in winter. All habits – including reading habits – are there to be undone. At 5 a.m. a rabbit visits the bird feeder, the dark shape of it picking seeds from the snow, and I remember how happy certain guests can make us. Tea, green candles, and another layer of self, which is the same layer of self only seen another way.

The work is always before us, as is the joy its doing entails. One learns to see slowly, and relearns constantly, as if wheels really do need to be invented over and over. The waitress asked what I was writing and I showed her and she asked could she show me her poems and I said sure why not and they weren’t bad, not bad at all. Sentences are natural as anyone who listens knows.

The question of worthiness arises, putting me in the mind of turtles awakening in April. In a sense, I only have time now for those who are truly helpful, who alleviate the urgency that attends my every prayer. One must learn to be water. And also to ask the vital question what is it for.

The forest does not clear itself, and order is always a form of resistance. Sensei’s letters are at last relegated to indifferent flames. Deer tracks fill with moonlight and he longs to possess them but cannot and so comes home and writes it, which is different but not unsatisfying. “You make my soul sing,” she said and I said “now you’re just working me for a bigger tip” and she said “in a way yes but in another way – a better way – also yes” and that was interesting and so of course we made love later beneath a tall window through which the moon could be seen, clear and crisp and bright, rising like a cut stone that knew it owned the ocean’s heart.

For decades I have believed that only the just can sleep well, which is why I don’t, never have, and so often stumble bleary-eyed before dawn through whatever landscape I happen to call home. No more romance but instead a kind of steely pragmatism. The dog sleeps on my only blanket gently snoring and I sit shivering, trying as always to understand, and failing but – at least from the dog’s perspective – in a loving way. I mean that yes and no other.

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Toppling Through Dizzy Prayers

Snow flies and I walk through it slowly, thinking in lines instead of sentences. Wind pocks my ears with little nails and skates on cold blades down the back of my neck. These are not kisses. These are not soft hands, offering wordlessly in darkness what sometimes shows the light.

And yet an hour later – filling the feeder, clearing snow around it – I spy a cardinal in the neighbor’s sprawling leafless lilac, and so practice my imitation of his short sharp song. Inside are eggs fried in the same pan as ham steak and onions, and toasted bread with mountains of butter spilling with jam. Not for the last time do I wonder what a blueberry feels when it is pulled from the bush. Well, we are all in motion – I mean folding and unfolding – one way or the other.

And the morning’s writing unfolds in both lines and sentences. And my shoulders fold inward, aching after shoveling. I drink too much coffee, which makes me wordy but breathless, and everybody laughs. Later yet, toppling through dizzy prayers, I think of Tara Singh and the challenge of accepting – of meeting – one’s worthiness.

D. calls and asks will we walk his dog because his knees hurt because of the storm, and so we send S. over, and she comes back with two bottles of yeasty home brew as thanks and flushed cheeks. Briefly I smell roses. My dreams were filled with images of birds – paintings, sculptures, words and so forth. One hour after waking a crow surprises me by asking why I am always so surprised.

Well I am, and that’s how it goes, at least for now. Amends here, requests for clarity there and always the familiar act of translating (poorly or otherwise) what is learned accordingly. Chrisoula leans against me in the kitchen at noon and asks will I make her chapatis with black beans and plantains fried in oil and crushed tomatoes with cumin on top. Oh yes, I say to her, oh yes yes yes.

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Helpfully and Essentially Implicated

In the afternoon, a gibbous moon rises where the hills are steepest, and I watch it while writing, intent on finding the blue sky behind it. A healed mind takes no thought for the future.

Wittgenstein beckons, as Barthes once did, and before that Gibran. As the story goes, one does not have to wander far for love.

We light candles against the cold and bring out more blankets. Your kiss owns the tenor of Dickinson’s later letters.

Digging graves at Center Cemetery when I was fifteen was an early – and subsequently notated – experience of no-mind. Is it time at last to throw away Grandma’s letters?

The past organizes us and we are disfigured accordingly. Yet I remember the minty smell of your truck, and how we did not talk for nearly all of New Jersey, just smoked and thought about how we would explain things when we finally got home.

Seen just so, deer tracks are a narrative in which the observer is helpfully – and essentially – implicated. As many yeses as possible please.

The function of sentences is. All my beloved crows, not nearly as frightened of intimacy as I once insisted.

Though I can no longer remember her name, I remember walking with her in Dublin on Bloomsday ’89 and crying a little when she bought me a rose. Fox tracks up to – but stopping shy of – the hen house.

End-of-the-day sunlight glows in curtains my wife’s mother made for us years ago. The tea grows cold in a chipped cerulean mug, as lovely as Picasso’s blue nude.

Old photographs curling at the edges are no longer useful for the echolocating self. As movement is neither toward nor away and one travels and travels and never arrives.

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