Letters Come and Go

After a while I stop counting apples and just wonder what the right word for their particular shade of red might be, which my wife – who is busy picking – suggests isn’t a better expenditure of time. A storm is coming, west to east, each breath of wind a little more electric than the last.

Context is helpful, until it is not, and one has to be sensitive to the difference as it occurs. Waking up at three a.m. and entering the field is a kind of pilgrimage, or you can – if you want to – see it that way.

Struggling to read through broken glasses, Macbeth, John’s Gospel, Sylvia Plath’s early poems which yesterday I recalled in conversation, suggesting they reflected a kind of informed bravery mostly missing from today’s poorly-read imitations of that particular confessional mode. Geese crossing from time to time, their oratorical V’s ever a harbinger of what makes me most love the Abrahamic God.

Last night while I wrote, C. sewed buttons on various articles of clothing, catching up on side projects, both of us remembering old pets long gone. Last of the bread dipped in crushed tomatoes and dried basil, a little feta added just to clean out the fridge.

Focusing on word counts is okay at first but leads increasingly to confusion about the difference between quantity and quality. One thinks of Emily Dickinson in the 1870’s, and is not alone, ever.

At night, standing under the stars, you perceive your life not as a series of personal events held together by a narrative self, but as a single stitch in a vast beautiful fabric ultimately incomprehensible to our limited (and limiting) minds. I have called death a darkening but that is only from this side – from the other it is a lightening, in at least two senses of the word.

I woke at 3 a.m. to the neighbors fighting, slurred insults just audible through a late summer welter verging on rain. A dead cardinal come to unexpectedly, gone when I passed that way a few hours later.

We are one movement, which is so hard to perceive and which – once perceived – tends to inspire all sorts of creative resistance and antipathy. J. asks for pancakes and I accommodate, but not without gently observing that most breakfast experts consider them mainly a fall and winter meal, to which he replies matter-of-factly, almost kindly – as if seeing better than me the fear of love from which my wordiness emerges – “then don’t eat them.”

What is it about mystery (other than the satisfaction of solution) that we so love and covet? Letters come and go but language lasts forever.

E. brings a few pounds of cubed lamb by to say thank you for my writing his son’s college application essays and we marinate it in olive oil, lemon juice and oregano, then barbecue it on skewers with cherry tomatoes and red onions, then smear it with shaved cucumber and yogurt, then eat it with a kind of home-made naan, until our gratitude floats away as high as the trees. What I am always trying to say is that one day follows another, or seems to, as if we are loved beyond our puny ideas of love, as if we are fed by a God who relishes our joy, and as if our joy – here, now – were Heaven itself.

Categorized as Sentences

In Her Glances

There is no “without you” though this is admittedly at present mostly a matter of language.

All day the breeze tumbles in from the approximate west, redolent with smoke, reminding me somehow of trout frying over an open fire at twilight, river humming a few hundred yards away, both of us bundled in sweaters.

Love the silence that asks nothing but your presence.

Most of what we do must later be undone though sometimes – no warning – there is a grace, an insight, there is a single maple leaf spiraling down through the dusk.

Oxen bellow in the far field then lumber over to us, restless and curious.

All morning clearing trails, coming back tired and sweaty, drinking cold tea and eating salad tossed with cider vinegar and a splash of red wine.

Some days your eyes are so far away it doesn’t matter what I do.

T. said “my wife sure does love Florida in winter” to which I replied “mine sure does love working with fiber.”

Pending decisions are merely opportunities to learn again – perhaps for the last time – that God provides.

And after I come into the side yard – shadow of maples and poplar, the old lawn chairs and table picked up at a tag sale – to write, exhausted but wordy, torn as always between the dual inheritance of hard labor and language.

The few years I lived in cities, I smoked, and my poems were long and almost always featured a mountain, the top of which I could never quite reach.

Last week I spent half a day in Vermont, mostly driving but here and there stopping to walk an old trail, seeing at last that so much of what I call spirituality is simply my resistance to relationship with writing.

Yesterday J. and I carried cold sausage and bread into the forest, working all morning near the brook, eating by the old cellar hole, and walking back without talking, as sometimes we do.

Distance forever consumes itself, as if to remind us that all means of identification and measurement are merely a convenience and should never be mistaken for reality.

Dragonflies, deer tracks, old nails in the riverbed, and an effort – surely not the last – to write a long poem with Jesus.

A good dictionary matters, as does a firm grasp of Latin and Greek roots, because we think in language – words shape our reality – and only in relationship with them – which is a question of attention, gently given in a sustained way – can we at last discern what is true.

How happy apples make me!

D. comes by with a wooden spoon he made, a gift before he leaves for California, and I hug him despite his aversion to touch of any kind, and he says quietly – as if surprised himself – “thank you.”

Piano notes ascending – or flowing maybe – are forever the music that most intimates Heaven to me, as perhaps Chopin intended, my confused and beautiful brother who, like me, was never quite at home save in her glances.

The minutes pass while watching goldenrod in late summer sunlight, dreaming of a bear we might one day see together, and writing writing, this writing, for her.

Categorized as Sentences

The Shadows of Falling Veils

Walking old trails past the gravel pits – remembering the old dog – and crying hard, blubbering really, like the sad old men I was scared of growing up. We are not what we think we are, nor what we long to be, but something else that neither changes nor knows what change is. How easily the miles fall away in late summer!

We stopped to watch a turkey vulture circle away from us, its vast wings deepening our breath, the way life often does when one understands the nexus between luck and attention. We are saying the same thing but differently and pretending that “differently” matters. We stop at the brook to soak our feet and end up sitting there for hours, not saying much of anything, but happy the way that you can be when you relax your reliance on thought.

One begins to perceive how wanting Jesus is related to defining Jesus and how both obscure – fatally though temporarily – actually learning from Jesus. I still cannot find the words to describe how birds sound when they rise as one from the hay field. Calf bones buried forty-two years ago at about this time may yet be the color of moonlight.

One becomes a traveler by relinquishing their investment in arrival. Often while sitting quietly in Center Cemetery – acres I have mowed, graves I have dug – I reflect on the nature of acquisitiveness, striving without irony for understanding. Eschew theology.

Bear tracks discovered just as the sun rises, a “big ‘un” as my grandfather might have said. One says it – makes it manifest in language – and only then perceives their obligation to undo it. Late – but not too late – one learns the sacred art of clearing trails.

The self perceived through language – study “me” and “I” in particular – arrives later and later, doesn’t it? The dance floor filling with the shadows of falling veils. She whispered “yes now yes” and it was a sweetness, it was a right settling of one into another.

You pass some towns and others you stop, you buy bread, you walk around in the twilight. I am in bed later than usual, sunlight ascending the northernmost wall, so grateful and happy it came to this.

Categorized as Sentences

Never Enough Praise

Rain at 4 a.m., for which there is never enough praise. One drags a lover into the field to watch the Perseids only to find they are not there (despite a wool blanket, despite the old canteen sloshing with wine). The history of coffee and maybe the story of you.

I mean the magnificent lens of which we are all composed! And closed bridges which we cheerfully circumvent, lost in conversation. “So that’s why they call them white tails,” she said after, buttoning her shirt.

Where “after” is where we are headed, no matter how lovely or sexual the interim. No visible stars means a different kind of morning walk, a subtlety lost on most of us now, but probably not you. Motels in New England daring me to write a particular poetry which – as a matter of fidelity – I won’t.

Well, oxen, to which I am always offering a kind of longing most men reserve for abstractions like honor and justice and “too drunk to kick the dog.” The mower spares frogs – or allows me time to spare frogs – and so I do, thoughtfully, as if Life itself were giving such close attention. While replanting the Christmas tree, we talked about speech defects and being the youngest child and how often what you do wrong rights itself in time.

Just when you think you hit bottom you discover you can always fall a little further. One spends hours in the drugstore picking out just the right card. Thank you, Jesus, you stubborn but generous bastard!

The mail bears nothing but distractions, in the way that getting everything you want is never really what you want. Actually, there is not “always another hand.” What I am saying – or trying to say – is that making love in the forest, while personally preferable, may not be any more sacred than a bed.

The dream of better days dying while he inventories his wallet! Oh fisticuffs, oh whiskey, oh distant angel of the word.

Categorized as Sentences

The Clear Light of Fixable Sadness

Backyard goldenrod reaches higher than the fence, yellow blooms peeking at the neighbor’s doomed hens. At the end of summer the sky widens and becomes an envelope into which mortality is pressed, its fragile petals decorating a letter few of us want to receive.

Friable earth in the shadow of headstones welcoming bulbs that may well live longer than we do. He means the cool dark of a zealot’s heart, open but mapless, still but always moving.

A sad dance performed by old women whose sons are buried in another country. All afternoon slicing just-picked Jonagolds and drizzling maple syrup so that quart jar after quart jar of apple sauce might be stacked on basement shelves, a kind of hedge against the looming dark of winter.

At night I dream of her naked and in the morning awaken with an altered grasp of hunger. Knocks on the door echoed through the afternoon, each hour longer than the last, and yet we did not answer, because sometimes you can’t.

Soon the brook will be too cold to swim in, and the mind will turn – regretfully or otherwise – to hunting deer and bear. When I think of you, I am at peace, and when I am at peace, I miss you, and when I miss you, I think of you in the clear light of fixable sadness.

She perceives in labor what is most profitable so that her lamp might not go out when night comes on. Guard your steps when you approach what you believe is the House of God.

Refusing an audience is often the only way to find the right word. M. asks if I want to buy her mule and I actually consider it, I actually picture it out in the forest dragging felled trees into the swale.

Sustained attention is its own gift in that one perceives at last that attention is all there is. We found Grandpa’s farm journals – notes extending to the early twentieth century – buried in the attic, half of the pages chewed away by mice, and you said, “well, they live here too.”

Spiritual growth and improvement – like all forms of becoming – are an illusion so shift your focus accordingly. Pancakes are never not a blessing, in the way that certain small kisses are never not welcome.

Beggars come and beggars go but what goes on forever? I mean, threats of rain mean nothing to the maker of umbrellas.

Categorized as Sentences

All My Days A Wordy Slippage

The lake pulls me into something I barely understand, as dogs demand I learn yet more about forgiveness, both implying depths I have never not drowned in.

Wine through afternoon and after midnight: that bleary stumble, that ancestral blessing, that cry-that-is-not-a-cry-but-something-harsher: and no fucking other.

In a dream I recall her phone number and all day wonder who would answer if I called.

“That forest ain’t going to clear itself, son.”

The first leaves on the maple trees are turning and I ask again: what have I become that I should be so lonely and dangerous beside her?

I cannot face what is broken in me, in part because my brokenness is what does the looking.

Kicking through shallows at dusk, aware of those who think I am already too distant, even damaged, but ready to go deeper, as I decided a long time ago you have to be.

The answer, in part, must be: a man who sold his chainsaw in order to hear better chickadees while working in the forest.

Should Christ call me brother and the band be willing I will waltz with her into the clear dark of midnight and beyond.

There is a clearing I am working on where I intend to lay you down and discover what no path has yet revealed to either of us.

Grace forever underfoot, hence my habit of looking mostly down.

Oh you eighteen wheelers singing your sad traveling songs on Route 112, how many petals of the fettered Christian soul have you scattered to get where you are?

Deadheads, hummingbirds, a dented mail box.

And suddenly a photograph in which I am – not unsurprisingly – more interested in the tree than the woman who chose it for a visible perch.

A burning intends to claim me – soon enough will – and for once I am not terrified but accept that going is not going but something else, cleaner and hardly permanent.

All my mornings are lonesome and all my days a wordy slippage of boys-don’t-cry.

I lost my eyes a quarter century ago in the kind of crash you don’t talk about and only now am starting to wonder when I might consent to see again.

That damn cricket under the window wouldn’t leave until at last I said “okay, fine, Jesus Christ” and got up and wrote the sad stuff, the really sad stuff you can’t share except with the ones who are gone, who are gone and aren’t coming back.

Slicing Tomatoes While Drunk is the title of today’s mini-memoir while yesterday’s was I’m Glad I No Longer Punch Complete Strangers In The Face But Still.

I mean don’t fake it, don’t call it a prayer, just rest your head on the glass and whisper the Name again and again, again.

Categorized as Sentences

A Restrained Yes

The twenty mile walks begin to add up, like turkey vultures hunkering in summer’s yet-green maples, and people ask: what are you doing exactly?

I keep forgetting to put the lovely bobolinks in the twenty sentences!

One begins to understand at last the possessive nature of the image: what it demands of those who covet it: and faces again the terror formerly called unbearable.

Jugs of wine at midnight mean laughing alone at stars winging slowly north to south, kind of like pinwheels, kind of like a disco.

How sweet forgiveness tastes when one no longer makes it conditional on this or that kiss!

The red-tailed hawk passes in a fierce descending arc heading roughly west, and we stop walking to watch it disappear into the hollow.

My uncle who did not die but lived on the beach in Normandy that awful day, why was he drunk four straight decades after, and why did he make us all laugh so hard and why am I asking these questions now?

The little while you held my heart in your cupped palms was like riding a horse through low tides on the southern coast of Ireland, sun setting, in the days before electricity.

I am saying that what works may not always work and so you have to be ready to dance in unexpected ways.

Wordiness passes, as day passes, as certain women pass, and I intuit again the silence I have so long feared to leave unbroken.

One cannot seriously consider Sappho without seeing that something has been lost (and I am not talking here about the balance of her lines).

Poetry is an emergent quality of those bent on God, broadly defined.

“You are so attached to being wounded, it’s like there’s nothing else left to you.”

Near dawn I wake and stumble outside to pray, pissing on what remains of the tiger lilies, and telling the neighbor’s dog “it’s okay, it’s okay” in the quiet voice I taught myself to offer all dogs.

I offered to cross the river to pick  morning glories for her, but she said no because “there are only one or two left.”

I prayed for sleep – got sleep – and dreamed of a glass coffin sliding down hill towards a muddy river named after my dead uncle.

My beautiful sisters all watching from a distance, as if propriety matters in days and nights like these!

All morning walking through three towns, brain repeating “What is love/baby don’t hurt me/don’t hurt me/no more.”

I know we said no but would you consider a sacred, a restrained yes?

Yours, your light, Emily.

Categorized as Sentences

Word by Wandering Word

Sooner or later the body lies down, the way a single leaf falls in the forest unseen, or a drop of rain on a blade of grass evaporates at dawn, and it is okay, it is more than okay.

The brook hums quietly, insisting on nothing, and one recalls the (mostly) helpful Heraclitian fragments.

Blueberries come slower this year and yet already crab apples drag tenuous boughs earthward.

What requires secrecy is merely the attempt to force Love to accommodate this story instead of all stories, and it never works, so why bother?

On Saturday I walked twenty-three miles straight, until my feet literally bled, to learn again that nothing external is real, that what we have to deal with is our internal representation of reality, and that help, properly understood, is always given.

Often, I mistake dragonflies for hummingbirds, mad desire for Love,  crows for ravens, and deer in the far field for deer in the far field.

And robins settle a little on the phone wire, and rabbits huddle near the marigolds, and on Route 112 the eighteen-wheelers groan and roar, the miles beneath them singing the old sad song.

Holes in the screen let in mosquitoes, who circle us droning as we make love the way you do when you’ve known the other a long time, know where to touch and how softly, opening and enfolding, muffled cries coming in darkness, and after lying in tangled sheets remembering again – gratefully, happily – that you are always home where you are, this body with this body, this room in this landscape, each sigh narrating again the wholeness forever inherent, the perfection we so naturally embody, and recollect, and offer up, over and over, kiss by salty kiss, word by wandering word.

However slow I go, God goes yet slower, and right now that is the lesson, right now that is what is there to be learned.

Life, from which we are not separate, despite the evidence of form, goes on, both endless and beginningless.

And the egg song of the chickens not interrupting but seamlessly inflecting my clumsy morning prayers.

It is not a mistake to make kindness our function, to seek the potential of service in all things, even the apparently disadvantageous.

I know: what is there to know but that there is nothing to know?

And somewhere the sea rises and falls, and the moonlight elongates all silver and bright, and someone is born and someone dies, and cities turn to dust, and mountains too, and we forget it all: Beethoven, Dickinson, fathers and guns, the first time we held her hand: and still what is Love goes on.

It is August and the first maple leaf turns red, and the grackles begin assembling in flocks, and the nights lengthen, like blankets in the hands of a benevolent seamstress, who dreams while she sews of kisses when she was young.

“I can’t face another screen/I can’t stand what they do to me.”

Each sentence is given, and received, and because it is received, is given, and this circularity is Life in which is implicit, Love.

Imagine you are the inhalation and exhalation of Love, or God.

Imagine roses at the foot of the cross, thousands of them, or butterfly balm maybe, or pale wild morning glories ascending gently his broken legs, while he nods happily, forgiving thieves and soldiers simply by knowing that he is surrounded only by beloved brothers and sisters.

Neither last nor first, nor my sentences nor yours, nor this nor that, but how light seems to rise in the east and set in the west, or how the stars are still there even when clouds gather and obscure them, or the little rain that falls for all of us, a little while, so soft, so perfect, so welcome.

Categorized as Sentences