Streams of Running Water

I sit quietly in the back room writing, now and then looking at the sky. The Teacher does not hide Himself but allows me to see Him with my eyes. Earlier I drank coffee and watched cardinals fly back and forth over the snow. Plath’s blue light forever a nurturing plenitude, pushing me ever deeper into the luminous heart of Augustine: “When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine.” So the hours come and go, so the temperature rises with the appearance of sunlight, so the Advent readings scatter their seed, nudge the coarse soil I am, and float away. It’s okay. What I can give away, I give away, and what I can’t yet give away, I use to study the nature of justice and mercy. Was Love ever more or less? Half-dead and broken but still bent on streams of running water, still turning to moonlit mountains, still listening to the still quiet voice saying “this is the path, child – walk it.” Oh, thank you Jesus for the cardinals, who are my heart another way. Thank you Buddha for the quiet, which is my song from the inside out. Thank you Sean for writing, which is my joy in threads and spools. And thank you Lord for not hiding anymore, which is my walking stick and my shoes.

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Last Summer’s Hummingbirds

A thousand mornings pass but this morning does not pass. We are many things but we are not mourning doves on the crest of a storm, we are not shatter-proof outside Christmas decorations swaying in a storm-coming breeze, we are not leftover homemade pickles, and we are not socks lost behind a hissing radiator. Does the ocean deny you? Did last summer’s hummingbirds deny you? Can you imagine any bluet ever in the so-called future denying you? The voice and the word are not one thing! The latter endures – lives on in Augustine’s famous heart – while the former does its job and then fades, like an envelope or an A minor chord. Let us all praise the wholly holy envelope! Let us all sing sad Irish folks songs in a minor key! You might ask if we are talking about appearances in comparison with nonappearances or the coming-and-going coming and going or Tara Singh’s Helen Schucman’s miracle. Maybe but can we be real for a minute? These word games are one thing but the Lord is another altogether, yes? I mean, if Sean didn’t live in New England he wouldn’t be the man without shoes, he’d be the man without something else, and sooner or later he’d see as clearly as I do that this lovelily life gives itself away – literally infinitely spills itself all over itself – and what else could anyone ask for? Ten thousand mornings made this morning possible and – say it with me brother, say it with me sister – this morning is all the morning there is. The tea in the mug is so beautiful I cannot bring myself to drink it (but I do drink it – of course I drink it), and the wind against the north walls is the Christ who – even when made welcome by degrees (which is the only way I know to welcome anyone) – is made welcome all the way.

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The Shimmering Lard

Driving to the butcher down a long hill not quite a mountain, tired but not too tired, and only relatively alone. We who allow ourselves to be troubled by ghosts must still pick and choose our haunts. When I wake at 4 a.m. I am neither gracious nor alert, yet words are still there and – in an oddly predictable way – prayer is still there as well. “You can eat everything but the squeal,” he says, helping me carry the divided body to the car, and I laugh out loud, rousting crows from a nearby pine. One is tempted to call the world itself the face of God but resists, knowing all too well that the face of God is that which does not need translation (and thus falls outside one’s particular skills and ambit). How hungry we are after three hours of writing! As if the bowl in which yesterday dried rose petals lay had been subjected to a great wind and was now in need of replenishment. To say nothing of the writing, nothing of the voice, nothing of the ears with which one hears. “I’m sorry” I say happily to the bacon jitterbugging in our old cast iron pan. “Thank you” I say to the shimmering lard and the many fresh eggs frying in it. “Oh won’t you stay or turn just just a little?” I say to the Lord, who as usual does not reply, but whose passing remains both legible and a comfort.

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On the Way to the Well

All these women I meet on the way to well – are they distractions or the reason I travel in the first place? We who forgot our bucket in a glade, who are yet writing her name on the water tower’s side. I remember making love to you in the forest. Perhaps roots are the sky another way or is my ongoing confusion not confusion at all but wisdom cheerfully consigning itself to the lowest rung on the ladder? Donning work gloves, reading John’s Gospel, wondering what she looks like in three – not two – dimensions. Under the weight of so many metaphors and analogies and euphemisms – aka wordiness – it can be hard to remember that it’s okay to make others happy, to let the little things go, and to fill and be filled by the world’s salty gushing. Yes, I know, in December the rivers darken and maple leaves freeze in the gutter. Won’t you come closer or should I eat the distance between us? You for whom travel is both permissible and kind? Tell me again what you need. And can you hear across the miles my warming hymns of praise?

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A Penchant for Previous Centuries

Well, I wonder about suffering, I really do. Strange songs are not a sign of madness and my shoes miss me when I go a long time without them. Chrisoula points out – wordlessly but not signlessly – that the moon is never not in the sky when I go looking for it. On the other hand, my father and I both had well-trained memories and a penchant for previous centuries. This morning the mist floated above the river, a sort of blurred white trail pointing east, putting me in the mind of sex, gentle happy sex between lovers who have known one another a long time. We for whom the kisses after are all the reason now to get – and stay – naked. On the highway, one sees a lot of Jesus, albeit mostly in passing, and begins at last to no longer demand any greater presentation. This this! So we were wrong about some things, so what? So the ladder doesn’t reach all the way to the gutter, so what? I come back slowly – like surfacing, like a man who has discovered there is no such thing as a horizon, only the appearance of one. What a diet these assumptions make! What a stew of prose and half-assed imitations of half-assed interpretation of Rumi poems! No wonder I’m so hungry, no wonder I can’t stop talking about what goes in the other’s mouth. It’s okay, I tell myself, doing a little dance on freezing hardwood floors. Or it will be? I do wonder about despair these days, I do open the interior cupboard to negotiate again with the darkness there, and the soup.

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Bereft of Scrawl or Scripture

The loveliness of dawn facing North: green lawn, brown pasture, grey trees, mallow sky, all of it as if emerging from some willing-to-compromise darkness. Or is it that I stand alone on the lip of a great canyon and everything I say is carried away by the wind and heard by nobody? The horses approach: a woman a thousand miles away genuflects for another man: and the last leaf falls from the mostly-fruitless apple tree. You make tea, you forget where you left your feet, the pigs are dead but not silent, and in your dreams homeless dogs renounce your studied casualness. It is as if my loneliness compounds itself with every effort to end it, as if the silence becomes drier and deeper with every thought and utterance. There are no footprints behind me now: mine or anyone else’s: both desert and frost-covered field are blank texts bereft of scrawl or scripture. Everything fades: the possibility of blame, the possibility of healing, even the possibility of saying so much in words. For I do not know anymore who it is that suffers nor who the author of that suffering is to whom complaint or cry for redress might be directed. Another log splits in the fire, another heron starves standing upright, and another clove of garlic insulates itself from the kitchens of the soul. The man without shoes asks how he got here while his feet sing from the afterlife a song they wrote called “Nobody Goes Nowhere (And The Lord Goes With Them).” Even the language in which the questions are posed is foreign, like words from a kingdom from which I have been exiled, and from whose memory I have long since faded. So the horses turn away. So the hangman with a familiar face whistles where he waits braiding rope beneath the crossbeam. This fructive Advent, this crowning absence, this dull and plaintive script I yet again am called to edit.

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I Cry to the Mist in the Pasture

One wakes before the alarm for no particular reason unless a sort of aimless happiness counts. There are no dogs in the house so the sense of being attended – or needed even – diminishes accordingly. With what shall I praise thee if not this weary tongue, if not this stub of lead? We for whom the Lord is words, for whom the semiotic impulse is itself the requisite – the longed-for – holiness. I reheat coffee in a.m. darkness, loving the hissing blue light, which is to say, loving that which makes loving possible. Clues and symbols abound but in the end even the hidden texts – even the sacramental texts – offer neither solace nor sustenance. Gain the mountain, lose your feet! Yet later, stepping outside to pee, to visit the horses, to walk as far as the empty-but-for-memories pig pen and then back in time to leave to teach, one remembers all the reasons to go both shoeless and alone. Let us leave nobody behind this time I cry to the mist in the pasture. Slowly one sinks into the abyss, slowly one stops trying to find its bottom or regain its crest, and slowly – slower darling slower – one perceives a dim light that is the faint – and getting fainter – trace of the God whose presence is forever passing.

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An Imprecise Eraser

In November one wakes to no snow, noteworthy only because at bedtime there was snow. Weather as a welcome if imprecise eraser, indifference as a kind of radiating SOS. While the others sleep, I drink bad coffee and navigate – that is not the word – a two-year-old depression (which is the word). We who cannot win but can go deeper do so only to discover a new “we” who cannot swallow all of the watery swale. First they ask how they can help, then they tell you that you need to get professional help because they don’t think they can help you, and then they tell you that you have to leave because you’re not getting better. Wind, snow flurries, sun against far hills the color of certain gun barrels. One rediscovers their fundamental homelessness and it hurts – oh how it hurts – but on the other hand, what else allows for hope? This and other park benches on which I have slept, spent hours pondering something from nothing while people passed without looking at me, and generally kept faith with the Lord as I understood him. Is it Sunday already? Are those bells dissolving in my gut or am I still a little bent on religion and salvation? Where you can’t breathe, you can’t ask for help, but you can be still, you can make the way you travel a light unto other travelers. This loneliness wants to know itself better, a tether if one is needed, and a familiar tether, if familiarity matters. Yes, the sun rises on dead pigs and many others who will never eat again but what else is new? My dear, my departing, my lovely – my willing – eclipse.

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A Continuous Rehearsal

This life appearing as a continuous rehearsal I can neither modify nor end. The stars are not looking back at us – not the way we understand “looking” – but it can be helpful sometimes to think of it that way. At midnight in November one visits the pigs a last time, their breath rising in the moonlight, dense and white like pools of semen. Pilate was a menace long before Jesus showed up, bound and determined to enact his public swan dive into history. What is prayer, what is love, what is forgiveness and who decides – these were never irrelevant questions – and their answers still matter – even if we are no longer a willing or ideal respondent. I wake and stagger down the hallway at 2 a.m., surprised to find myself on the verge of understanding nothing yet again. What is gallows but another word for stage? We aren’t brave because we feed the poor, and we aren’t right because we’ve decided the pigs will die, but the pigs are dying because we are still confused about the precise nature of hunger. I can’t get away from Jerusalem, nor the death penalty, nor this studied reliance on women who calmly wash and wrap the dead. Morning arrives like pipe smoke, the invisible hand curling into a fist. It does come to this, doesn’t it? At the last minute we refuse to agree and so begin again: first we study emptiness, then we plant a garden, then we look for bodies looking for other bodies.

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The Light is Another Form of Darkness

Insisting others read Wittgenstein or Husserl is not where it’s at, not anymore. It’s possible the gift isn’t for being a pretentious asshole but rather this ability to see all sides, to share in all sides. We really are composed of wow. In the end, it doesn’t matter if there is “many” or “one-appearing-as-many” because you are still bound to response, and your response is bound to love. See if it isn’t so! Hours pass on the highway, the moon disappears in thickening clouds, and the only voice I hear is the only voice I ever hear. Shall we gather at Emily Dickinson’s grave and leave a sheath of daisies? Shall we study in the hay loft, completing the other’s sentences? Shall we undress carefully and give attention to what remains at this late – but not too late – juncture? I know that longing for the light is another form of darkness but still. Look at these hands, look at this tongue. Look at this museum I can’t quite leave behind. It is as though I am writing – writing writing – as if my life – or someone’s life – depended on it.

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