For I Grazed your Hem in Passing

All writing is effectively a search for the soul, which is our self-realized identity in God. The ideal reader is a symbol of this soul, and is often a specific person. For me it is has almost always been a woman.

It is important not to confuse the symbol for that which it represents. This is an old problem. If one is not clear about the distinction, the writing can become claustrophobic and cramped. We are never writing for her, but for that which she represents so nearly.

Sometimes when it is late and it feels as if the world is asleep I go for a walk. I visit the horses in their pasture, sometimes going past them to the river. The space defined by my body widens like a soap bubble, expanding as it rises. Edges blur. Even as I remain aware of body here/river or horses there, the lawfulness of those boundaries softens. I float through them and look down on the sea or out across the continent. The whole universe is home in me.

In that experience, distance is not an impediment to any union, because one understands – the way one understands how to look when their name is called – that it is possible to reach all the way through time and space to the other who – when joined, when gathered in, when entered gently – ensouls you by being ensouled with you. There is no other.

I first experienced this in 1988 (following five years of intense study and practice). Regrettably – heart broken and under the spell of certain family demons in Burlington Vermont and Galway Ireland – I rejected the gift in 1989 through early 1990. In April of the latter year, in Northampton Massachusetts, I repented and began a penance which did not end until mid-October, 2019. For nearly thirty years I was on my knees in a desert of cut glass, writing and writing for the one in her various forms and the One who was ever present. When I realized that my suffering and alienation was also the Lord’s, I was forgiven. The easy grace of union was restored in my living.

On this view, writing is the cry of the sinner for the One who will forgive her her sins (to adopt one kind of language), or the cry of the fragment for the whole from which it is estranged (to adopt another). I had fallen out of Love, confused the image for the symbol and the symbol for meaning, accepted as real the division between subjective experience and the appearance of the objective. How one says this is less important than saying it without reservation or condition. You have to go all the way in with your willingness to find authenticity. As Emily Dickinson said – who went orders of magnitude further than me on this trail, clearing and marking and making safe the way – why favor the crumb when you are given the whole loaf?

Anyway . . . in late November and early December I had a series of meetings with King David addressing the gravity of bearing the gift – of bringing forth love – in one’s late middle age. I confessed that I had slept with four women whose beauty and songs were entangled with my writing. He was patient but clear: four is too many. He counseled against embossing memories in favor of focusing on the marriage in which the possibility of writing is made new each day. I was embarrassed to have not seen this myself. He said an advantage of age is right perspective on the body’s many desires, and the ability to go past them in order to live in the disciplined solitude from which all psalms emerge.

When I talked to Jasper about this, he listened carefully then said, “not for nothing Sean but knowing about your childhood . . . isn’t this all just elaborate mother, abandonment, adult child of alcoholics stuff?”

[How one says this is less important than saying it without reservation or condition. You have to go all the way in with your willingness to find authenticity.]

I explained to him (as it had been explained to me in early November) that mother (and related family) issues, as such, are simply another reflection of the possibility of ensoulment through union and are not to be understood as a cause. A possibility of healing, yes, but an origin story unto themselves, no. It was pointed out to me (and I pointed out to Jasper) that a lot of light and water go into creating a rainbow, not to mention what goes into creating an observer of the rainbow. The search for causes is a distraction. We shouldn’t be afraid of joining a story midway, or of preferring one story to another.

And what about publication? Earning a living?

The angels say: think circles, not lines. Souls, not sales.

We cheapen that which we reduce to a mere effect, and we cheapen ourselves when we reduce creativity and love to products we think can be marketed. “God will not be mocked” doesn’t mean we’ll be struck down for going commercial; it means good luck finding peace or joy in the arms of ambition. Any emphasis on survival overlooks the fundamentally recursive shared nature of our living and, in particular, the void in which all living and dying begin and into which they spill, over and over and over. The void is God, but God cannot be named. Like falling in love, when you know, you know. And then it’s just you and love.

Thus writing, this writing. This writing here: the writing you are reading. Deepening, challenging, ripening, teasing, teaching, inspiring, satiating. It has been this way since I took the vows in 1983. And notwithstanding the brief but nontrivial fuckups which nearly derailed my apostleship, I have no regrets. The vows supersede my marriage and fatherhood and the shared homestead on which they are enacted. This minor but not unblessed scribbling is prayer, and the prayer is gratefulness, and the gratefulness pure manna.

“To please a young man there should be sentences,” said Gertrude Stein, who now and again lays a strong hand on my shoulder, and does not object when I add, “to please older men, too. Even old ones.”

For it was the old ones who perceived the Order of Love and the One – the Father and Mother, the Light in the Darkness, the Beloved – in which that Order remembers itself.

It doesn’t matter how lonely we get. It doesn’t matter how impossible happiness with a woman or man seems, nor how distant the Lord appears, nor how foul and unfair the world in which we are mired becomes. Distance is nothing; time is nothing. Bodies come and go, even coming-and-going comes and goes.

And yet.

Here – in this sentence – here – in the way this sentence is written – here in the way it is offered and received – you enter me and make me holy. You lift the one who does not deserve to be lifted; you listen when he tries his voice.

For I grazed your hem in passing once and in that touch was healed. I write it – this is the writing – and your grace goes through me forever.

Categorized as Exposition

A Woman Being Briefly Prismatic

You step into a void or is that I cannot function without a woman being briefly prismatic? That damn manger, that penetrating star. The day after Christmas is perhaps the night in which we remember that even the idea of order is predicated on order, however obscure or effaced. I think of you who are as yet unsettled in any geography I can name, and wonder what you will do when you realize my not-unearned skills in cartography. Spirit is what the body does when its goal is to see the spirit. To what music do we dance when even in early winter our legs won’t work? Our ears hear but at such a distance everything sounds like a whisper or a flock of pretty birds flying away. Nobody is as cold as they say but that’s because words are to truth what a shirt is to skin. Let it slip, fall, let what is revealed by revealing be revealed. When we are correctly naked and only then no song but sharing will do.

Categorized as Paragraphs

Sunlight Falling Westerly and Slant

Sometimes you write just to write. Or are we always the exterior remembering itself? The words are like snowflakes, the sentences like limbs of trees bearing their own cold approximation. When you visit now, I cannot for the life of me sexualize you. We laugh quietly, we try to understand. It’s like some veil has fallen or, better, been drawn back in order to reveal . . . what? The other day I limped through the forest dragging a sawed hemlock hoping it would please my youngest daughter. Lungs a hot coal deepening and a sense of failure insisting on its own prerogative. Now and then I’d look up and see sunlight falling westerly and slant through pine trees decorating this nineteenth century sheep farm. You said “apple” once and I listened, said “quartz” once and I traveled. Beyond that I’m just doing what’s apparently given me to do. What else? At a distance, my mother watches, alternately confused and scared. Further yet, angels worry their unbreakable bows. You know. And know you know.

Categorized as Paragraphs

The Proper Role of Parenthesis

Morning breaks, a slow seeping of yolk and albumen, mountains like cut stone against brightening skies, and moments later, the raucous scraw of blue jays. Three cups of coffee, a brisk walk up and down Main Street at 4 a.m., and the ability – subsequent, apparently – to say “oh” without drama. You were always a mystery until I allowed for the possibility of actually meeting you, and then you settled into something familiar to which even the idea of clinging did not apply. Or is it that afterthoughts arise as secrets, or are we yet confused about the proper role of parenthesis? Writing that, that way, is a way of writing about my father’s grave, which is too far away for worship, which is to say, for any useful contextualization, which is to say, some “we” somewhere is going to have to come up with a better definition of holiness. What works? Who will say? As years pass, selves pass, as passing passes. There is always a particular prayer, as there is always a memory of dogs going away to die, as there is always a quarter moon slipping into the jagged maw of southwestern treelines, a fleck of mica spilling downhill in late winter runoff. One cries out a little coming. “There are no kings” is the end of kings but the old stories still beg to be told, as if some story somewhere can’t find an acceptable conclusion. Autonomy ends, say our mouths, if they say anything at all. Hymns, fairy tales, poems, psychologisms. Love letters, ransom notes. Somewhere far away the inspired transgressive slips over the wall of his monastery and instantly transforms into a mendicant teacher confused about boundaries. All hail the available light! And also the requisite shadows. Who will remember the spiraling yellow maple leaves? I mean really and truly bolster those still consumed with this or that bank of the one river? Who will sing – in days and nights as bloody and cold as these – for those who have ears to hear?

Categorized as Paragraphs

The Destination We Were All Inevitably Bent On

Grackles appear, dismembered clouds of them undulating over the horse field, hills in the distance blazing early orange. Moving clock hands with my fingers, not worried exactly but not not worried either. One drifts, one does, doesn’t one? We walk together to the river, lean on the bridge, letting what inside of us can settle, settle. So much happens after, doesn’t it? Late at night going back to the familiar structures – five lines, twenty sentences, journal entries that in the morning you throw into the stove. Picking tomatoes and the last of the onions, pausing at the parsley to see if the swallowtail caterpillars are there. Girls with glasses. Remember when “all the way” excluded the destination we were all inevitably bent on? One confesses their longing for salty alternatives, one gets surprisingly definite. I mean look how tired I am, look how happy.

Categorized as Paragraphs

Both Ways Finishing

The tribe of those who cannot sleep, the hand-carved drums they beat through the night. Blue glass curved just so. Yet ask: for what is anyone waiting anymore? She sighs after, deeply, and a few minutes after that, rolls away a little and sleeps, a faint smile floating just above the blankets. Jewelweed after night rain is especially beautiful, especially against the northeast corner of the barn. Checking traps, both sad and anticipatory. Drinking coffee at 3 a.m. on the front porch, listening to rain on the maple trees and Main Street, shivering but happy. Matthew comes by to talk about the Vermont Castings Defiant circa 1975 which we aim to sell, unexpectedly expert. In a dream you look up and smile – your lips glisten, your chin glistens – and move your hand, wanting to meet my eyes – the light there, the gift there – both ways – finishing. A long walk before the sun rises to try and get clear on who it was those poems were for, the ones I wrote in 1992 and 93 leaving Vermont, which still intimate uncharted territory, mountain summits on which moonlight trembles. Sunlight clarifies and detoxifies and makes things grow. No I will not retire. At our fingertips, stars.

Categorized as Paragraphs

Loveliness Is Now A Warning

Apples in the tall grass beneath wizened apple trees, cardinals on the stone wall between our yard and the neighbors. You with your excellent poems and sentences. Things that are red we can touch, things that are red we cannot. Or is it simply that when we name things a world appears and we cannot go beyond it, save in speculative ways that rely on our handiness with language? Grackles gather into flocks and what was once a loveliness is now a warning. There are better questions to ask perhaps, but who has the time? Afternoon passes in a steady sweat, working first in the dirt beneath the back porch, later mowing out back as far as the orchard, and finally restacking firewood that slipped in a recent rain. All we can notice is evidence of cognitive conflict. There are spiders everywhere, even in this wacky dream of local ruin, rivers in full spate roaring in the distance. Take me with you! And: I will not forget you when you’re gone! In one place I uncovered an ax head, in another noticed that groundhogs only eat a part of the apple. It’s not necessary to visit or send a letter, love. Eden has no plural.

Categorized as Paragraphs

As If We’re Bodies

Giving welcome. At night, the river is perceived differently than in the day. Yet why do we begin by alluding to a landscape at all? As once we insisted on including in every poem a description of the weather. . . It’s as if we’re bodies, animals working their way from one end of a life to another. From one body to another? Well, movement anyway. Meditation is challenging precisely because stillness prefers not to be looked at (what’s looking is what’s looked at). One risks foolishness, always. At night, out back near the horses, the stars appear intelligent and kind, and the moon sifts through faint clouds like a lover who has come a long way to lie beside you. One night only. I’m lonely in a way but in another way I’m not. Margaret Livingstone said of the Mona Lisa, “she smiles until you look at her mouth, and then it fades, like a dim star that disappears when you look directly at it.”

Categorized as Paragraphs

No Word For Water

All of us bent on getting something right, which means all of us scared of getting something wrong, which means all of us confused about what it means to just be. Well, I, too, spend hours sitting on a zafu through end-of-night dark and then the half-light of dawn, counting my breaths, visualizing the open heart of Buddha, and pretending that I’m not fantasizing about fucking you in the barn, or writing this or that essay, or baking this or that cake/loaf of bread/et cetera. Whatevs, as the kids say. A soft light in which horses move as through a mist and it’s all okay and always was. If you ask what softens, you’ll get a kind of answer that may or may not facilitate softening. The eroticism of removing our shoes because of how it means everything else is coming off soon too. That dance and no other. Blue jays are hectic in the early morning in ways that I specifically am not, but one should not draw any conclusions thusly. Show me before and after – bring it forth clearly my dear – lest I die of thirst in a country where the people have no word for water.

The Fullness of Saltless Provision

I don’t fit any longer in this body, or don’t fit in it very well anyway, and worry what this means for the love we are bringing forth. Thunder rolls west up the valley, far enough way that nobody worries, but close enough to make us hope it’ll cool things down in an hour. Across the river, sheep bawl hungrily. How much time is left? What machinations are as yet untried? There are always other ways for living to be which sometimes it is. We dreamed a dream of salt – reckless in our hunger – and years later turned away from those dreams in order to know the fullness of saltless provision. Don’t say please, just help yourself and be sure there’s enough to go around. People make up games all the time, don’t they, and some of us have an easier time than others divining the various rules. Perhaps we will simply lean into each other, watching swallows over the barn, or work together at a shelter feeding the poor before walking home hand-in-hand. At night in summer I light no candle, given fireflies and the heat, but only plod through the house darkly, contemplating what it means to go without and to live without, and how understanding this “withoutness” is a way of possessing. The humbled among us evoke a new prayer. Possibilities abound, my dear. You too.

Categorized as Paragraphs