Like Myrrh

It is just bearable, this sweetness that is also pain, or is pain masquerading as sweetness so I’ll bear it longer, or perhaps I am just confused but in a harmonious way. When I was young I went for long walks in the forest alone listening to an inner voice that insisted it was me but also clearly wasn’t. Waiting by wild crab apple trees with an unloaded gun, so you could tell him after, yes, I hunted, but there was nothing to shoot. When I met you, I was poor and my poverty was identified with cathedrals and other distractions that would eventually unravel. A sentence can be uttered with countless inflections, and thus mean what we mean together coming together, but something else happens when you write it down. How the other’s face narrows and tightens, how the object of their study recedes from you. We call it a prayer, this loneliness in aging bodies longing to meet, but really their meeting is a church welcoming refugees, so many and so often that the regular congregants take up their bibles and their sense of order and leave. I did not know where I was going, nor do I know now, though I now know we are not allowed to know, we who keep meeting the Lord in chickadees and violets, and in the one who believes us when we say we have met the Lord, and doesn’t ask for proof, or otherwise insist that we market the experience. There is a conflagration in me that you learned to write poems by, even if I don’t recognize your odd but beautiful voice. Her sweaters stacked on the bed, remaining there all week, a weighty comfort at our feet while we sleep. Sometimes walking in Northampton I hear Him still, and clasp my hands and kneel, regardless of passersby or what I am wearing. Whatever time is left, do take it. Envelopes divested of letters can still be used to write notes reminding ourselves to buy milk or slice lemons or call our mothers who are sad this Christmas. Meanwhile, late at night drinking tea, my body out of sync with itself and with the world, I think of you, and this slow quiet dance we are enacting in brackets of time and space, and wish for something simpler, or clearer maybe, like the sound of you washing dishes one room over while I put on my boots to feed the horses, or you not looking up from writing when I bring you bread and wine. The dark, it deepens like myrrh.

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The Mirror’s Gross Objective

And then it is night and then we begin. And begin. A type of sentence that functions as a flame: lighting the various darks, heating the various colds. Hours pass with poetry and the Lord and the constant inability to differentiate between them. One misses owls when one thinks of owls but otherwise nothing is absent. Going to the front door, pulling aside the curtain to gaze at the parked cars lining both sides of Main Street. We make allowances, conditions, entrance examinations and thus the possibility of failure, our dubious crowning achievement. Those long walks in Worthington are gone forever and my heart is broken. The fox in the far field turns to study us and we see again the fluid loveliness of dying, that perpetual smokeless fire. Dickinson’s routines, habits, inclinations, dreams. Driving to the grocery store ashamed because we can only afford discounted items. Our shared goal of helpfulness dissolves utterly in this unexpectedly early winter. Be careful of the ongoing urge to repeat yourself, both in the large and small – small to the point of invisible – patterns. That poor bittern! It is impossible to make clear (let alone refuse) the mirror’s gross objective, thus our emphasis on textual intercourse. Not one, not three.

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Working at Falling in Love

A space in which you understand why they outlawed magic yet would decline to go so far yourself, if only to avoid pronouncing sentence. Our mothers are always watching, even when they are not watching. In winter the chickadees come in from the forest and I pretend it is because they miss me rather than to do with any base hunger. One indicates not this dim interior but another, one in which the criminals are quicker to repent and the judges less secretive about their longing to be priests. The snow is crusty, caked on the dead grass, sustaining the last of the fallen maple leaves and not much else. Avoid repetition or know why repetition matters, was one of his more frequent lessons. How far one drifts from the shore when one is working at falling in love and ignoring the various cries about steering, taking on water, do you know how to swim, et cetera. Her voice is the part I am least willing to recall, as it is the one part with which I am familiar that cannot be restrained by an image. Yet what if he was wrong all along, seems to have been a question certain of his biographers were willing to entertain. We look up to see stars and instead see the apparent enormity of space between them, as if all along it was darkness to which the light was pointing.

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Without Even Closing Your Eyes

At five a.m. if I lean just so the moon appears where the curtain doesn’t quite meet the sash. All these odds and ends that somehow imply a whole. Poetry and notes and notes towards poetry. She doesn’t indicate whether his apology was accepted, which oddly doesn’t lessen his joy for having made it. Out back by the horses we suck coffee grounds from our teeth, chew them then spit, and our fathers and grandfathers nod approvingly in the perpetual dusk and dawn that framed the heavy anvil of work and now serves as the afterlife. Cigarettes, lifesavers, whiskey, bread. Dogs bark and you see black, all black, even without closing your eyes, and it makes you want to light a match, hold the flame to a lantern, and heft the lantern. Here boy. Everybody loves the man who mows the lawn without complaining or raising his rates. At five a.m. sometimes sheathes of frozen snow go sliding off the slate roof, a sort of rattling crescendo that ends with a crash in the driveway. Your frozen gravel, my reflected starlight. We all want to meet the builder but he’s gone, no forwarding address, leaving us to a sense of place that’s nice but never quite devolves into home.

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Given A Bowl of Soup

Rain falls at the beginning of December and I ponder again my lifelong difficulty with prayer. What is the fox in the far field if not a sign of my death in a previous life? And yet there are still those who can say with honesty that nothing is absent, including longing for the end of absence. How briefly the candle sputters then straightens when someone opens the door and early winter wind swirls briefly into the kitchen. We who opted for apartments made of books should not be surprised to discover that we are mostly made of stories. If you love me, don’t read this sentence! So much just seems to happen but noticing what happens never changes, or so it seems. For a long time I was the man who, given a bowl of soup, gulped the steam and when the steam was gone (because the soup had cooled), believed he was fed because of something he’d done. All your accomplishments are belong to me sayeth the Lord. Here I am in a rocker by the window writing poems, and there you are in a rocker by the window writing poems, and are we not together the most perfect poustinia? A thousand miles apart and seven years gone, all in order to learn that her shoulders were made for the burdens you are only just now understanding are yours to carry.

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Both Slyly Autobiographical and Utterly Fictive

Early snow jars my sense of intimacy, leaves me angry in prayer and indifferent to the untidiness of my surroundings. At dawn brook trout leap briefly from dark currents, plashing back in a brief flash of silver. If only I had planted more pumpkins! The letter grows paragraph by paragraph by paragraph until it resembles a novel, one that is both slyly biographical and utterly fictive. Meanwhile, smoke unfurls from the crumbling chimney, its faint shadow crossing the barn like Heaven pleading its case to an agnostic. You wonder what they think about and how their thinking appears to them and yet you can’t wonder too much or too deeply or else you’d never kill them, let alone eat them all winter long. It is a yet a dream to meet her but in dreams now all we do upon meeting is hold one another and sway quietly fully clothed in an unlit room on the second floor of a motel in western New York that next week will close for the season. I’m cold – are you cold? And all the other ways we have of confusing the signal for that from which the signal came so clearly, once upon a time.

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Our Long Desired Conjoinment

n my dream you were a window through which sunlight streamed like an fulsome tide, knocking me to the ground, and in the sudden horizontaling I saw that I was in the highest room of a tall tower, and that the story I had long told myself about imprisonment and suffering was a lie. Despite the midnight cold we go outside to gaze admiringly at the moon, its light doubly reflective on early crusted snow cracking like a rifle underfoot. Impatience as a form of self-defense against psychological pain at last evaluated for the pain it causes others. While everyone laughed and played word games at a pie-covered table, I drank tea in a corner and looked at pictures of my dead father post-stroke. What do you see when you see a prism and is the prism an observer too? Frost flowers ascend the north-facing panes, witnesses to an order that it is not indifferent to beauty, and thus implies that love may yet assume our long-desired conjoinment. Twice in the past week I turned west and thought about just driving and twice I said no for good-enough reasons. One pities the many dead animals and yet cheerfully gorges on their roasted bodies, doesn’t one. In terms of love, the trick is to not rise too quickly but rather cherish falling, and see who – if anyone – joins you on the rough boards.

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One Compensates for the Absence

Well, broken. Hunter comes by to look at the fallen maple trees for firewood, doesn’t think he can get his truck in but says yes anyway. At 4 a.m., the moonlight on the front stairs appears soft and bunched like cotton. We who shiver, who never send word.

What can I say about birds that has not been said before and does it matter and does mattering matter and who will say? The poem is always closer to a river than to a fish in the river. Goldenrod leaning in a northerly way, a winter-is-a-coming way. Belligerence, vigilance, disco dance, ants.

Unable to read the alarm clock and so getting up and only later – putting on glasses, pulling on jeans – seeing that it’s hours too early for waking but you’re up, so. You say it a certain way and those for whom it resonates come closer and ask you to say it again. Rethinking certain cities in western Massachusetts, the ones you drove through in your late teens, drunk and angry and wild with language. Geese angle away from the corn field for reasons one can only assume are practical.

We push against the various constraints and call our pushing freedom, yet it’s not so simple, hardly so clear. The ring left me by my grandfather, one I have never worn. She does not visit, which is okay, but still: one compensates for the absence, one does. In the hayloft, briefly brought up against a light that can only be called holy.

We to whom the new songs are not given. After midnight, walking past the garden in order to listen to the river, and to admire the mountains which are clear and nearly blue in moonlight. Our teachers have grown tired and ask only to be left alone. Stale bread with hard cheese, last of the coffee, and an apple sliced with Dad’s pocket knife.

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