A Jester in the Chapel

More rain. Coughing and tired, stomach the way it sometimes gets when I get too close to the old way of doing things. I’m not a monk, and I know that, but still. We are where we are – broadly understood – for a reason, possibly a good one.

Earlier, after walking, some words came, the ones I have been resisting for a year now, and of course you were implicated. But so what? Cold nights don’t have to beg warm bodies and the muse is hardly specific. There are other ways, even if we are only just beginning to intuit them.

The corner chair bears me up and will so long as I ask it nicely. In my dreams, doves, and in the doves, light, and in the light, you. I mean You. See the difference?

Actually in my dream someone kept trying to get me to visit a psychic – to see the mystical mysterious prismatic and spiraling connections binding us all – and I insisted on simplicity, on just meeting it – call it God if you must – without drama. Tepid broth is the new sexy! A little ice on the maple dissolved readily beneath my thumb and so I will teach, or try to. The dog came after, wet and tired.

My New England yes means I remain cipherish, a jester in the chapel you would bury with your poetry and zeal! How many cherry blossoms have to fall between us, dearest of dear sisters? There are kisses and there is the Kiss and one needs to be clear which one is it is they’re after (please read this sentence – I mean the part outside parenthesis – literally). The old author had it wrong, see – J. was wrestling with the idea of God, not God, and only after accepting that fact – thus bestowing upon that wangly argumentative egoic self forgiveness (which is only right seeing) – was J. at last given to see the perfection that abounds – within and without – independent of and contingent on – us all.

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The Only Here There Is

One perceives a watery landscape, not silver so much as gray, and talk in the house grows quiet as well. A day for swans, a day for building replicas of nineteenth century whalers in glass bottles (tinted green). An interior alarm sounds again, as it has been for almost a month now, and I stumble for the corner chair to give attention thusly. It is time to get serious.

More serious? Living room stacked with books to avoid the basement deluge reminds me how much poetry and theory I’ve read over the years. Where do we go when we die is not an unimportant question though one learns in time the answer is not as interesting as originally thought. One writes happily through their conflicted feelings about eternity and arrives at the only here there is.

We pile ripe pears in a white ceramic bowl, scoop beet hummus with homemade crackers, and drink sweet tea in bed. For a couple bent on simplicity we are oddly luxurious with socks. A profluence of deer mistaken for shadows? I drive slowly as if trying to recapture a previous life’s wagon ride.

Midnight is a frame of mind. Sri Aurobindo’s notion – here somewhat paraphrased – of God as continent (i.e., container) solves a lot of problems, not the least of which was Emily Dickinson’s odd – even strangled – perception of architecture specifically and space generally. The dog gets up, turns in a circle that leaves her a little closer to me, then curls up tighter, a comfort. Finally I appreciate Gilbert’s insight re: “And it dwindled away into definitions.”

One approaches God on their knees only to learn (after lifetimes maybe) they have no knees and God wasn’t anywhere anyway but where they always were. I remember many years ago telling Jeremiah a long and complex adventure story at bedtime, one that went on for almost a year with all sorts of narrative threads and directions, until one night we agreed to arrive at its end, and did, and he burst into tears then and remained inconsolable for days, even when I tried to revive the story, because he understood better than I that you can’t go back into what is over, what is ended. Rose petals swim in the vase on the mantel, a loveliness I return to almost hourly. Here comes one day, now one day is here.

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Like Wind, Like Moth Wings, Like Dust

Two days running now with a slight fever and all the rest of it. Brassy sunrise and rain clouds dim my bedroom prisms. Yet another life spent clutching at delight.

Yesterday a cedar waxwing rested briefly on the baby pine I will plant in a few weeks and I remembered Robert Francis’ fine poem and read it again, glad for the company. Who isn’t with us is with us is thin gruel for those of us lost in the body’s lusty welter. The tea grows cold while I write.

There are so many ways to be lonely and only one way to be found! Don’t confuse the multiplicity of Brahman with the essential unity of Brahman. It’s a way of seeing I’d like to share with you in order to better learn it myself.

Yesterday I watched a bear fumble in the snow on the far side of the pond and bowed to her even thought it was silly (but not too silly). I tell myself I won’t see Paris again but of course I said that twenty years ago too and look what happened. Smoke tangled in slow-brightening skies makes me happy, as do squirrels running along the fence, as does denim that faded while you wore it.

One longs to fill a sentence with buffaloes and does but knows instantly they’ll have to do it again. Bounty is library visits on Saturday. How I hate not leaving bed!

Resolve to know choiceless awareness and accept no substitute (of which there are many). We come upon old cellar holes, dig around for nails a couple centuries old, talk about the nature of loam. We are all  blossoming, ascending spirals home.

Writing clears a way. Love’s offer floats and settles, here and there, always impersonal, like wind, like moth wings, like dust.

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What Is Always Being Born

One proclaims again (sick in the library) the loveliness – the ecstatic expansiveness – of Cooper’s sentences. What a joy the eighteenth century was for language! “It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered, before the adverse hosts could meet.” Also, “My day has been too long.”

Still, one inclines to the sweetness of unheard melodies, threads of song perceived the way smoke is perceived on a moonlit night, intimations of the Grecian urn. We call it love because we have to call it something, or think we do. Silence receives everything if only we will offer the necessary (liberating) allowance. The Romantics – Keats in particular – were looking in the wrong direction for the right insight.

Well, it happens to all of us, sooner or later so might as well get ready now. The road opens up as we drive, a black ribbon surrounded by pine trees and thawing ice-slatted rivers, slow bends in morning dark, no lights for miles. We share the way with everyone or we share it with nobody (or something like that). T. saw a bobcat two days ago and wants to see a moose and knows I know how to find them but I shied away from the implicit invitation to be her – or anyone’s, really – guide.

The problem in a nutshell is wordiness confused with religion, and religion confused with maps, and maps confused with the territory, and the territory confused with any landscape other than Heaven. I’m nobody’s dog which, if you think about it, is kind of a sad thing to say. Won’t you be a blessing in an otherwise rainy day? I spent hours fixing her favorite rocking chair, the one she rocked in for hours before F. was born, and it was a gift, and more than a gift, and not only to her.

In late spring I am always yearning to go deep into the woods and watch what is always being born be born. The darkness broken by little fires that so long have gone unshared. She taught me that poetry was a way of making notes for later, and that later was simply the present recognized, unaffected by the seeming lengths we go to alienate it. How grateful I am to those who came before, on whose beams I rest a while, puttering and singing like a half-drunk carpenter on the verge of a bigger more intimate calling.

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Erupting in Soft Creases

By the brook there is an unfolding. Who listens carefully always perceives the next level and – in time – the absence of level altogether. Above the winter bare crab apple tree, clouds, and above the clouds, stars. The emptiness of which one is composed at last presented in a way that is neither frightening nor in need of defiance. I will go to you and be whole.

As the roads now buckle and sink, frost erupting in soft creases down which melt runs. Have we said all there is to say about sap? At four a.m., having walked many miles, far beyond the reach of houses, I come back and drink tea and laugh quietly at how simple it all is, and how hard I make it. “Why” is the least interesting question you can ask! When I whistle, the sound echoes sharply against the forest, and one or two trees creak heavily – certainly – in reply.

That dream and not another. All things are thoughts, and all thoughts are echoes of the Voice for God, and nothing is that isn’t God. It’s true that for many years I longed to be broken, and carried myself that way to considerable effect and good enough company, but it’s also true that was all a big lie and so now – kind of the way something in the lilac bush awakens and begins to blossom months before we see a fleck of green – I can be whole, and happy, little bits of which sail off of me and find you, and other you’s too, and we are all a little happier, all a little closer. That was a long sentence! But not this one.

One begins to realize that the chapel they have alternately called a woman’s shoulder or a kiss or the sound a shirt makes falling to the floor in shadow is in reality just another way of remaining outside the only monastery there is. Clever won’t do! But there is an action of Love that will, and to enter it – to meld with it – one need only relinquish the idea there is anything else to hold or undertake. Before this morning’s walk, I set out turkey giblets so they’d be room temperature for Song when we returned. That, then this, and all.

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A Happy Goat

Out back the snow remains stubbornly piled, crusty underfoot. Chickadees cross it gracefully. Transience is the destiny of the transient. Beyond that, who can say?

Well, I say, and all too often, cheerfully babbling like a brook that can’t stop dreaming of the sea it will one day join. We pad around the house barefoot at night, taking temperatures, making tea, whispering reassurances. Your dreams are intelligent in a way that science is not. All I really know is how to walk attentively, the rest is just blather begging for attention.

It’s possible I turned away from Jack Gilbert too quickly, was too defensive of Mary Oliver, and made too many allowances for Brautigan. On the other hand there is always another hand. For all my talk of sex and sacred silence, I’d probably just talk her ear off and then fall asleep, snoring and farting like a happy goat. Holiness is what you take with you and allow the fullness of God to enlighten.

Dreams of my grandfather walking up stone stairs. One longs for the old days, when men wore hats. How I love shopping for candles with you! One transitions from tea to coffee and it’s like circling the Alps in a train.

So take heart, you who so easily surrender your heart, and stop pretending you still need a teacher. The cardinal is God’s smile, as are pancakes with maple syrup and Canadian bacon on the side, at least two thirds of Bob Dylan’s songs, the salt smell of the sea after a storm, and certain sentences. We go together, like Hinduism and nineteenth century New England! You shoeless dancer, you rose petal falling from on high.

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A Sort of Dogged Prayer

With Spring comes wordiness, as with winter a sort of dogged prayer. Don’t think you aren’t on my mind, but don’t think that’s an enviable place to be. Bowls of stew in a dark restaurant after hiking Mount Mansfield, a long debate about Bob Marley’s legacy. Please see that anticipation is a form of resistance.

As a kiss is a wild blueberry bush? I brush my teeth a long time now squirrels are visible in the pine trees again. Where are my beloved bluets right this very moment? Obviously somewhere in thoughtwith you, rhapsodizing on violet bands of the spectrum.

Write when you don’t want to especially. Think in terms of melody, Chuck Berry or Beethoven or my beloved – my tremulous idolatrous – Chopin. I crossed a dim field to find her, put my arms around her and the rest you can read about it in my memoirs. Her shoulders, the dulcet tenor of shyness.

Those were good years, lost in Vermont, language establishing a base in me. Social skills are overrated! Oh well, my happiness is yours if you want it, but my body belongs to flowers and moose calves, pine cones and birch trees, and any woman who’ll bare a shoulder beside me. We are always winning the wrong contest and contesting the wrong activity.

How utterly full of shit one can be and still perceive the underlying – the stratifying – grace! Two months and I’ll be out all night, sitting up by a small fire, listening to peepers and coyotes, maybe getting head, maybe not. What a lovely life to so briefly occupy! See how the firelight extols our one body, stars replacing our mouths for a kiss!

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A Kind of Solitudinous Joy

The chairs and table we bought at a garage sale a few years after moving back to Massachusetts. Grackles attend, the cool gold of their eyes visible even twenty yards away. Snow falls away, daffodils pose their elegant interrogatory, and now it is twilight. One cannot breathe when faced with so many stars.

The obligations of service bear down on me, rendering the body weary, and a decision is made to put the soul “over there” and get back to it later. Books, letters, promises. I think of all the ways a landscape can be desirable, each of which is yet another reflection of the trickster in who we invest. I’ve moved on so you move on too.

Or else what? I remember discovering apple trees deep in the forest, later seeing my first bear while alone, and wondering – I was five years old at this point – how anything else in life would measure up. This was all about seven miles that way, a thousand years ago, and countless thoughts. Thought, by the way, is more like a renegade army without commanders than an ally in our search for ultimate truths.

Herons approach now, trout take different cognition of their hunger. For a while – in Spring – the trails are loose and crumbling, and one walks slowly, always looking down. I am talking about the decision to remain ungrateful, or only partially grateful (which is just ungrateful in semantic frippery). When I killed the goats she tried to help and it was then I cried, sagging against the barn wall, tired of knowing so much about death, and tireder still of always dealing it out.

Find the source of your conviction that God demands sacrifice and question it, that’s all. Blue sky behind slow-moving streaks of white, and farther north – possibly over Cummington – storm clouds, bunched and dark like the devil’s idea of blossoms. We move past the mating dance into the real work, which is simply correcting the mistaken dream of subject/object, and it’s not necessary to be together to do it. Far out to sea whales surface under glittering stars, drift between swells, billowing compositions who witness a kind of solitudinous joy, not unlike – even now – ourselves.

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The Unexpected Familiar

In the dining room where lately I write, a map of the United States torn near Maine, twelve yellowing snowflakes cut three winters earlier, bunches of dried clover on shelves and in vases, potpourri made from last summer’s roses, a brass tea kettle and brass candle holder from early twentieth century Greece, hand-carved wooden geese I bought Chrisoula in Vermont when so much of it was still before us, or seemed to be, three yogurt containers piled with assorted rocks from Bronson Brook, a picnic basket the cats like to sleep in, a heart-shaped jewelry box filled with mostly blue marbles, one drum, one hand-carved statue of a pregnant momma from Kenya gifted us a decade or so earlier, a dozen home-made candles in various stages of melt, and on the wall a 2012 calendar which I refuse to take down because December’s painting was of a cardinal alert on ice-encased holly branches looking back across his shoulder toward me.

I tell my writing students that when all else fails, make lists and go deeply into them. There is always another level! It’s more fun that it looks, kind of like leaving the trail to poke through unexplored forest and finding – here is the title to today’s twenty sentences – the unexpected familiar.

In other words, the specific yields the general – it is the nature of spirals – including God. Thus, attention given to detail is never not toward awakening. Thus Dickinson, letters and poems. Thus this, this way.

In my dream – one of them, close to waking – I sang “hold on, hold on” with such power it was like there was no I, only a voice moving through me gratefully – and then – realizing I was singing that way – completely lost it and sang in the same scratchy self-conscious tenor I never don’t manage, a reminder that one cannot will authenticity but only allow it.

Aurobindo instructive as always: “In reality, all experience is in its secret nature knowledge by identity; but its true character is hidden from us because we have separated ourselves from the rest of the world by exclusion, by that distinction of ourself as subject and everything else as object . . . “

Wind still howling as last night when Sophia and I locked the chicken shed, talking about the importance of context in any piece of writing, and how hard it is to work it in with subtlety, and how in the end it’s a matter of trust, which is not our strong suit, and we laughed because what else can you do but be what you are, writerly and otherwise, and our laughter was caught up in the gusty wind and blown a couple hundred miles east to the sea.

Redwinged black birds crowd the feeder. In a couple weeks they’ll be homey in swampy reeds abutting the fire pond, building nests and tending eggs. I’m trying to let them be this spring, not symbolize them, not freight them with the burden of my misplaced – still! – identity.

A new combination of tape and glue seems to be holding my glasses together, facilitating a  less-precarious reading experience. Hold on!

All we are really doing is saying again what was said before, trying to adjust it for new listeners lost in their own particular shared dream. Writing is grace when given to that purpose, attended not by angels but by the pure nature of Love, which is in you but not of you, and longs to extend through you, your writing.

We frame the lovelier paintings as if product rather than process were what matters. The pine siskins remind me if I want to find North I have to keep moving, keep writing, keep feeding others, let sky be sky and sing from even the lowest branches.

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The Space in which All Loveliness is Witnessed

Four a.m. clarity fades. I have to call it back, not unlike working with dogs, that hard-to-manage blend of forcefulness with love. Does tea help? Yes, tea helps.

And thinking of you, too, who gift me at odd hours without asking a thing in return. How happy “how happy chickadees make me” makes me. Well, wordiness. The way geographic distance inhibits the expression of a certain longing while laying manifest another.

Cave amans! Yesterday’s lentil soup emptied into Mason jars today reheated and served with slivered apples. I mean the translucent red of the cardinal’s wings in flight would break my heart if such a thing were possible (outside the nonsense of metaphor). Dried rose petals stain my fingers and the nights are full of rain.

But would you? The soft maroon fuzz of maple buds at a distance, the plenary warble of the brook in early spring, the first tentative thrust of daffodils. Be with me the space in which all loveliness is witnessed? Or are we – like wandering pine siskins – beyond that now?

Eschew code (he wrote). Some stones were meant for the garden, others the river, while I was meant for Latin. Shreds of birch bark cross what remains of the snow, nearly invisible, the perennial condition of those who consent to be Love’s penumbral light. Mercy, beloved, mercy.

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