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.
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.
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 swallow and so begin again: first we study emptiness, then we plant a garden, then we look for bodies looking for other bodies.
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.
“To leaven means to lighten,” a simple fact I borrow from a 1936 cookbook and take as the day’s homily against so much grief and despair. We should not overly miss the geese who so quickly disappeared beyond the mountain this morning, and yet the geese are gone who this morning we begged to be a sign for us of love. Sabbaths abound but there is one that neither comes nor goes, and it is that sabbath to which my attention is now given. We are blessed who forget our blessing and are compelled to reconstitute it daily out of work and family and weather and the mail. The rain doesn’t worry where it falls, and snowflakes don’t buy tickets for the museum. When I walk, I walk with you, and when I clean and repair old furniture on the back porch, I clean and repair it there for you, but you have no name and do not live anywhere. Is it clear now? There is this wind, there is this pasture, there is this moment where the two are one, and the one remembers how it all came apart in the flood.
On Wednesday morning Jeremiah writes “what the fuck just happened” on our family white board and nobody erases or edits it or otherwise suggests he could have said it less roughly. Chrisoula asks me to fill out cut sheets for the butcher because thinking of the pigs dead and hanging on a hook makes her sad. There is a sky through which we are falling but we are not defined by it. Goodbye moon, goodbye ocean, goodbye side yard lilac bush. When was I not waking early to drink coffee and write poems? Or stumbling drunk through Europe and Boston in order to get more intimate with the termlessness of salvation? I married her and learned how to make laundry detergent and soap, how to grow my own food, how to sit beside the dying, and how to write – and then extend – a wordiness that matters. Oh child, between birth and death – so dimly you could miss it if you hadn’t been created just to see it – love. This love.
What is this then where we find ourselves bereft and unsure but not untended and – critically – not incapable of tending? The window is impossibly bright but then a bucolic New England landscape emerges: or is simply perception sharpening one way instead of another? The work is to love – and to save oneself for love – but everybody knows this. What remains when conviction passes? The morning passes wiping away mold from corners long unvisited, writing when chunks of time – usually twenty minutes or more – open up, and sorting through the interior letterpress museum formerly known as guilt and hurt and anger. Ruins abound but we are not bound to wreck ourselves all over again. Be the prism you have heretofore only collected. Insist – however brokenly, however miserly, however confusedly, however stutteringly – on the prerogatives of love. Which we cannot know absent the study of both justice and the Lord? Well, we who so long went without shoes now publicly decline to cut off our feet. We are not alone and our not-aloneness can no longer be fruitfully denied. I mean precisely this poor and largely unnoticed gathering, regardless of the god or gods invoked.
Perhaps I am not meant to accept these gifts? Perhaps it is okay to say no thank you and instead sit quietly out back watching the horses? Would the Lord allow anyone to be injured by another’s misconception of love? Or is it that I am only just now remembering it was always my decision to make intimacy conditional on crucifixion? Pushing noon and the frost still hasn’t melted all the way so I put up the mower and drink coffee on the back porch. It’s cold but not too cold, breezy but not too breezy. Welcome brother cardinal! Salutations sister junco! For the first time since Dad died Chrisoula and I fight, and the sadness is like drowning in a river. What is this pain that seems to go wherever I go? There are so many currents, so many seams! Anyway, at 4 a.m. I dress with the lights off so as not to wake her, then forsake prayer in order to submerge myself in unfamiliar texts. How happy we are, from time to time, in spite of it all. How quietly the steam trails away from the mug.