Often I think of cookbooks, which cannot be written outside Love, or so I like to believe, the way others believe that Jesus died thinking of their sins. What an accounting we will someday make! The Shakers haunt me, as does the impossibility of imagining a world in which I am not. What happened that Awareness should have been so contained? In truth there is nobody – and no thing – to receive the accounting but that’s not a comfort either. In the morning the winds are mighty like castles falling, or armies gathering, and the last leaves fall around me and Ursa Major rolls on his back, hooting at the deeper sky. Coffee and prayer and then the remembrance that we do not live by bread alone. “Such a repast, eaten in the light of a roaring fire, was pleasant enough in the simple long-ago.” One moves in the direction of Love, stumbles, and rises again, lost. Lost! It is as if I want to be here on my knees weeping, or perhaps I was hungry as a child and nobody thought to feed me. Or is it just that we all must face a lonely season? Lost again. Still. My heart given to God, my hands wandering from project to project, pilgrims in a vast spill of darkness learning the hard way not just any light will do.
Reheated coffee, the dog sighing on her carpet nearby, and faint violet of the sky before dawn. The window I am opens. Blue jays at the front yard maple stripped of leaves reference the hunger we are yet learning to abide. I want to use the word testament in a sentence. Witness? Also I am tired of all this lying. All day driving south, map sliding around on the empty passenger seat, remembering back when I drank and that was how the days passed, and still do. A disconnected phone is not a contradiction and drawn blinds made him feel safe who so often went where it was scariest just because. In the morning buffets of warm air put me in the mind of November mainly because they’re not. The dog grows old, and I grow old, and the bluets come and go, but something is always there and nobody can refute that. How hard I have tried to find the one who will contradict what I know to be true! So many teachers who learned they could not grade me! Ruined in my bones and mostly shoeless but never not working the pedals. There are no hidden chapels, there are no secret chords. When I was a little boy I believed photographs were the core of God’s plan for salvation because in so many instances they were all that remained. Words like dust drifting through sunbeams putting us in the mind of eternal. Go where it is darkest and wait? I mean beyond sheets, I mean beyond shoes. Now.
The sky arches from one line of trees to the other – maple and pine-lined hills in the center of which I write and read and gesture vaguely in the direction of prayer. Is it honesty that separates sinners from saints or simply the willingness to step into a fire? I ascend Sam Hill amazed as always at what a self-righteous and insufferable prick I can be. “If you want to walk with me then keep the fuck up.” Well, the dog still loves me, or seems to, which may be why I always keep them handy. It’s no use complaining you’re alone when you refuse to give anyone a reason to stay. Demanding, brooding, mocking, whining . . . “I got your list of reasons she left you right here.” Most of my teachers have observed that we don’t really need to know more than that one step makes clear the next yet I still can’t stop preferring this one to another. Grace begets a pilgrimish lust, as splotches of green moss extend across a dozen roadside maples, each more ruined than the last. Oh roadside salt, what price have we paid for our so-called certainty? So I stop and turn back, so what? It’s raining and I’m lonesome and I don’t want to die alone.
One wakes at an unfamiliar hour, nudging the day before them the way a canoe gently shifts the lake even as it is carried towards the center. Trails of mist, a bass-eye view of surfaces and a sense one spent their midnight pacing marble balustrades. Oh moonlight tell me how to guide my kingdom home! I no longer want what I once wanted is now all that I want. The quiet deepens and something settles the less one subjects it to study. For example, the backyard dogwood tree altogether leafless and blue jays pocking the suet Chrisoula makes. Lessons hardly abound. And what I don’t know becomes the elision in which definition yet readies its tangle. Inclination towards complexity as a form of love? Boughs of pine lifted, mergansers making a line north, sunlight after how many days rain? Awareness now of the risk inherent in both biography and history, clocks and calendars, which is to say the impulse to do away with them itself is gone. Is mediated? Lust wrecks the directive longing forever offers. There are dances, there are loaves of cinnamon bread, and there is the mail which though it never quite arrives is always here. Perhaps service is the willingness to be still in the face of ontological difficulties, in which stillness wordiness makes a not-unhelpful legend. Still. Maybe? I am saying not steps, but feet. Not maps but where we are, right now, together.
I always knew there was another way but couldn’t find it. Wouldn’t walk it? Oh, who cares at this late juncture: rain and wind at 3 a.m., dog growling at the window. Foxes of the world be warned: we will not tolerate your thievery. In the basement guns whisper that haven’t been fired in a decade or more. Our capacity for nothingness remains unoptimized. Just because I know my way around a Ruger .22 doesn’t mean I want to use it. Three times before 5 a.m. I get up and look for stars and seeing none burrow back into a warm hollow of blankets and sheets. Better to rest than plumb the darkness and call it prayer. Coffee beckons but it’s always been a shitty excuse for sleep. The truth is, I like a space where nobody calls on me, nobody wants from me. And is that grace? Is that service in the spirit of Christ, which this time around I’m bent on following? One can become very silly when insisting on the prevalence of a separated self, its prerogatives and appetites, its lists and stories. Oh me, oh my indeed! But bluets remain instructive, even in Fall when they’re yet a dim longing. The pilgrim dawn finds me bleary-eyed and wordless in a barren landscape I can neither describe nor traverse. Prisms witness unto a language that remains elusive; bluets talk to me in my dreams. They say, The other way looks: the other way sees. It’s okay, they say. And: it’s more than okay.
Perhaps there is no 4 a.m.. Or so I think at 4:16, listening to Debussy in bed, the dog waiting patiently near my feet. Again one enters the divine again, again one ascends the lightsome spiral. We go outside in darkness, no stars, no moon, not even a breeze. “Oh westron wynde, when wilt though blow?” Rain is quietly polysyllabic in the welter of sentinel pines. One of the neighbors is up (and out) so we talk briefly about the recent influx of dead coyotes. “Enjoy your day” indeed. Water sounds where the road dips, and coming back, chickadees like tinsel rustling in shadows. Gifts abound though I often confuse them with lessons. Coffee as prayer, morning as church and me as the covetous minister. All relationships are holy or none of them are. Is that it? Some mornings nothing settles while others arise before you, gentle and sure as mist floating in off the river. I write and write but it doesn’t always help. You want to get somewhere or is that you just want me to take you? Three hours later, a dozen or so sentences and still. Still.
In the morning I scrub the eggs of shit and straw and saw dust. Slice an abundance of not-quite-stale bread. It has been a lovely fall for falling leaves, but now my heart must travel the bare branches and raw winds that nearly killed the pilgrims. The path emerges is one way to say it. The path is always there and at last we see it, is another. How quietly I scrounge the cupboard, looking for cinnamon while everyone else is asleep. Coffee nurtures a familiar prayer! Well, I am getting on, or going by, as we all are. Find a way to say yes to those who want to help, okay? A little rain spits hard on the glass, and I step outside with the dog to pee. There is no path, really: there is only this. How lonesome they must have been, but for the God they struggled to please. In the end it’s better to let the truth be true. Soon it will snow, an old dream seeded with light, but one we are allowed to dream together. As hours later I make French toast, leaning over the warm stove, listening to the kids wonder who discovered maple syrup and how.
Suddenly – unexpectedly – the last of the month’s moonlight.
And suddenly, dawn.
One imagines the interior of the echo of church bells.
One allows oneself to be written anew, again.
Whatever happens, direct all your thinking towards the one God, she says.
We walk past the old feeder ponds as the sun rises.
Fingers of red light extend from the east and the water glows faintly where the wind veers across it.
I tell her I am losing faith in the mail, which is to say I am losing faith that anything will arrive that will save me.
She takes my hand in her gnarled own.
I am silent now but for tears.
The fishermen we pass look away.
“You have chosen to become a traveler on the road that leads only to Peace,” she says.
When I try to swallow my tears she tightens her grip on me, as if to say it is time to allow for crying.
The path is not easy, she says quietly.
Nor is it brief.
We turn slowly east, stopping to watch bass plash the shallows.
A heron steps gracefully through the water as if writing itself in the air.
You must give consent to the interior pilgrimage to where death does not exist and all beings in their wholeness are present.
She points to a birch tree leaning far out over the water, its pale reflection just visible on the rippling surface.
That tree was created so you would remember your sacred vow, she says, and for the rest of the morning is silent, still.
Some lessons are about letting go, but not all of them. Some are about holding on, or holding on differently. Decidedly? Discerningly. It’s hard to say when you’re in what it is, which is why sometimes distance can nurture clarification. Last night I kept stopping on the old airstrip to watch the moon behind clouds, a little light, less light, then suddenly all the light one could imagine. Seems is okay, but is is better. Though she was not with me, she was with me, and for the first time in maybe my life I understood that love is not contingent on bodies. What a sweetness one encounters at 2 a.m., what a stillness. Perhaps now my hands can build that cabin, write poetry by the stove, and die without making a thing of it.
Often when it rains I walk further than usual.
The ponds are impossible to read, and the tracks of deer soften and dissolve.
To be human rightly is to go with fortitude, which is to insist on clarity.
And patience always abides in the heart of the willing.
How long must I refuse umbrellas?
Water seeps into cracks in my shoes.
The deer grow still as I pass, waiting.
The badger ducks behind a fallen maple.
And patches of bluets fold their violet petals, as if to say I am not ready to bear the grief they bear.
Obstacles are the mother of patience, she says when I return to her too quiet.
A hidden complaint is still a complaint.
We bake bread in the kitchen without talking.
Four kinds of flour, sugar and salt in our cupped palms.
We make tea while it rises and pray.
Or rather, she prays and I watch her, stealing glances with downcast eyes.
Her mouth moves a little, often folding itself into little smiles, as if angels are whispering to her.
In the forest I wanted to be done with it: the spiritual search, the form it has taken, the wordiness that seems forever to attend it.
She is always quick to say that our yearning for peace is a gift, as is the means to make it the singular fact of one’s identity.
She opens her eyes and says quietly, “patience is a form of charity and it is the only gift your brothers and sisters require.”
When the bread is done and we slice it to eat, I ask if she wants to bless it, but she is already handing it to my daughters – everyone is smiling and happy – and she laughs and says “it is already done.”