Working on a Song

The old dog turns back but I don’t – can’t – and some mornings are like that. Held up by crusty snow all the way out to the old fire pond, herons on my mind, and the sudden clarity of stars which is a kind of insistence, a kind of loveliness that – I am only just seeing this – does not lift me but rather asks to be lifted. Is that right? Ideas of beauty are weights to be borne? Well, maybe. One does grow tired of thinking and the way that language seems to endlessly classify the undivided given. Gertrude Stein remains a radiant proctor! Poking along the shore I find a fire ring (cold to the touch) and few dozen beer cans, which make me tired for reasons I am on longer obligated to share. What folly the pine trees are witness to! And yet how patiently they go on growing, as if the sky and the earth were not separate at all, but mutual benefactors working on a song. Back at the road, the old dog was sitting quietly, waiting without waiting, and I spoke to her in low tones as we walked home together. “Love is the easiest thing/& uncontingent on a ring.” For a long time emptiness was a risk I could not face, but now it is simply the way being sifts, here and there, coming and going, never altogether this or that. I am saying: ask what longs to be expressed. Express that.

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Seven Miles Alone

A little rain at 2 a.m., not enough to discourage walking, that particular loveliness. I stand beside snow banks dissipating in buffets of warm air and consider again the sadness with which I am so intimate. A glimpse again of what is always given away, thankfully. Lovers come and go across the exterior landscape: train whistles, pickups, owl feathers, dogs. When you don’t write, the emptiness I once tried to fill with you yawns and howls. I can’t keep calling it a prayer, and I’m tired of trying to explain that “God” is only a word. “You” is a pronoun that divides the collective yearning to know itself at last as whole and okay. A cup of coffee, the dog wandering from window to window, and writing. Writing writing. My tiredness is nothing, and my jealousy is nothing, and my joy is nothing too. Let pass what passes and give attention to what stays. I walked seven miles alone yesterday, from the front steps through open fields to the bank of a river I hadn’t seen in months. Of course it was still there, and the crows were there, and the red-winged blackbirds, and every thought I ever had. You see? Let Jesus be now. Let the Buddha be. We come back slowly from the old haunt, body by confused body, amazed at how simply the knot untangles.

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Seeing New Englandly Alone

Not quite three and the dog and I leave the house, quietly so as not to waken the others. A softness stops me on the stairs: the sound of the brook in Spring freshet stops me. When is the sky not filled with ten thousand stars? When is the maple tree not a response to sun and earth and water? I walk slowly on a rough line mostly east, happier than I can say with the spongy road beneath me. She studies the bayou in a country that terrifies me, and I shoulder what I must to keep looking at it. When you find a resonant language, learn it, and when it directs you to a space beyond language (which it must), set it aside and go. In the photograph, she is looking down at something, aware of her beauty, but sad as well, and you have to choose: one or the other. My feet are cold despite my shoes. The work now is not to place myself anywhere, not to exclude any landscape. I mean, don’t covet the relationship and don’t enter into it as it is offered, when the offer is merely an extension of your own projected needs. Oh for the one who understands this, and oh for the one has no fear at 3 a.m., and oh for the one beside whom I grow still at last. Desire broke me at the crossroads, so it’s come to this: stumbling and muttering a half-remembered prayer: seeing New Englandly alone. We come back slowly, a single star flickering when and where the clouds part. It will rain soon. It will be light soon, too.

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Along the Warm Ridge

Some roads are longer than others. Some paths. And at night the moon seems to move slowly through certain swathes of sky, while you can imagine the stars singing sad songs like those from France in the early twentieth century. Each note lasts at least a thousand years. Maybe you can’t ask a bird to leave a bread crumb alone – and sooner or later we all have to sleep in an unfamiliar clearing, blankets covered in frost. There are lonelinesses I still ask for, and women who provide them, as surely as cardinals are sure of red. Well, we are all trying, or so I tell myself at 3 a.m., studying drifts of snow in faint-and-growing-fainter moonlight. How tired I am of my inclination to praise, and how tired I am of pretending to be interested in what has never held my attention, and how tired I am of pretending anyone is broken. Travelers come and go across the exterior landscape while we rest in God. Can I say it that way and mean it? At last? Coming in later for tea, sitting with the dog by a south-facing window. It’s never about us only, is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn. How happy I am – briefly – to be alone in the dark, my fingers trailing slowly along the warm ridge of her spine.

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