Friday, January 31, 2020

Presentable Metaphors

We glimpsed swans on the road I chose, but the road I chose was still considered wrong. Circling Boston, clover-shaped off-ramps, and always the rain that never quite makes it to snow. We are blossoms, not machines.

Old people arguing about why young people don't go to church. She insists that come summer she'll still be able to drive  to Cape Cod and of course you know better than to underestimate her. Castration fantasies, Electra complexes, and a sense that knowing the way is not by itself sufficient.

We build our maps on other maps and with other maps: it is important to see this, lest we think we are a) alone or b) experts at cartography. In my head, David Gilmour solos, especially the second one in Comfortably Numb. It is not that everyone is lying but that everybody is telling the particular story that works for them, and who exactly are you to declare your story better?

I wake up late and write and the writing is hard, the morning sliding out from under me, my plans for the day dissembled. What does it mean to be related is similar to asked what does it mean to share narrative proximity. Snow glitters on the back porch roof, smooth and fine, and one admires it without insisting on presentable metaphors.

Yet all morning there was a pervasive sense that a way to bear witness to love was possible and already given, if only I could structure myself (locate myself?) in a way that would allow for its expression. We no longer argue but we are not at peace either. You learn a lot noticing who you are tempted to mock.

I don't have answers, only a cheerful willingness to give attention to whatever questions surface. Pausing where the road turns to study a flowing river where hours earlier seagulls had scavenged muddy flats. Deer with broken necks dumped unceremoniously off the highway.

I thus float in a dream of wellness, a honeysuckle blossom borne by rain gathered in a black bear's paw print, a wordy man whose wordy entanglements are brief visitations of vast ahistorical currents. Remember: there are teachers who arrive late and some who never arrive at all.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

A Posture of Compliance and Submission

It snows at the beginning but by late morning I am closer to tidal flats, wind ruffling egrets stradding shallows laced with sunlight. It is family all the way down.

When lost, we orient according to corporate landmarks - McDonald's, Starbucks, Ocean State Job Lots. She puts on lipstick, talking about how sad it is to visit friends in nursing homes, and I wonder what my life would have been like had seagulls appeared less exotic.

He was discharged from the army in 1957, a fact I learn only because certain medications make him talky. Turtles surface, stoic reminders that inquiry (and the complex social fabric sustaining it) is not forbidden.

These days when I catch myself praying I stop and try instead to notice what is going on that intimates a posture of compliance and submission is viable. The dog was scared of the sheep (who were mostly curious about the dog) and so we structured our walks accordingly.

Yet later, storm clouds began to bunch up on the horizon, swollen and gray, like furious angels utterly convinced of their cause. Lunch is not quiet at all, not at all.

Over photographs with heavy frames one begins to piece together their own sense of the family story, which hinges on understanding how all stories are merely constructions. Lost in the carpeting, loose purple pills barely larger than rice grains.

Sometimes you think there's a lot to say and there actually isn't but the laws do not demand you be quiet. In the bathroom I realize how unmotivated I generally am and wish he were here so that we could commiserate.

What does it mean to be related? Sometimes I feel small, want to hide, don't know the rules that underlie our shared equality, et cetera.

By afternoon the coffee is cold and budget restraints prohibit replacing it, so it's cold coffee all the way west up the turnpike. Or is it just that as we grow older we are less tempted to insist on the primacy of this particular experience (against, or over, that other experience)?

A quiet stillness passing familiar hills, snow falling in wan moonlight, yet the road ahead clear. Ten thousand gods my dear and you chose this one.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A Vermont of Our Own Making

Biting off the distance. Eyes are windows behind which the soul lives, yes, but the actual living the soul brings forth is mouthy - breathing and chewing, kissing and licking and swallowing, saying and singing and praying. Snow falls and for once I don't go barreling through it at four a.m. in search of poems but stay inside, bundled under quilts, drinking hot coffee. Naked was the previous incarnation, now I'm dressed for the choir loft. If you ask Jesus to show himself, Jesus will show himself, but you'll probably miss him in the crowd of your preconceptions and their offspring expectation. In my dreams now, there are frequent references to skillful navigation of difficult situations - car crashes, burning cities, churches built like mazes, altars doubling as slave camps. Yesterday I allowed myself to imagine a date with you - a long walk around the lake talking, bread and cheese and tea at a little table after, then going home to make love, slow and intense, Dylan's Planet Waves looping in the background. Of course we lived in a Vermont of our own making. How happy we can be! The snow falls so softly I can hear it a mile away. Beloved, ask instead to recognize Jesus. There is nowhere we are not as one.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Caught in Repetition

Perhaps I am aging out of discretion, or is it that each morning has its own light, its own way of being new. Holding the coffee a long time before sipping, cats padding around the downstairs, neighbors opening and closing doors. In my dreams, a cardinal kept circling the yard, as if looking for a place to land, but then I realized it was caught in repetition. Sometimes there is a sadness it seems we will never reach the ends of.

Noticing over coffee - between curtain and window frame, partially - the waning moon, further south than one would expect. Nature abhors both vacuums and straight lines yet both exist. One struggles to find what is worth struggling for before briefly surrendering. Dawn, again.

Sean again? On Thursday I'll drive four hours to the sea and then four hours back, a kind of service or possibly martyrdom. In dreams, there were fires everywhere and I navigated them carefully, saving things that were worth saving. A habit of waking before the alarm in order to triumph over alarms.

Or is not a game at all? We make shopping lists, careful to avoid saying what cannot be said: that we can barely afford food now, let alone the gas to go buy it. You wonder sometimes did Jesus ever long to cease his peripatetic wandering and settle down with a nice girl? I miss you, I'm not okay, et cetera.

Living always with "or else." And? The requisite coupling continues to elude me. The light, it is so much dimmer than I remember.

Monday, January 27, 2020

If Ever We Climb Ascutney

The specific way that breakfast can be sacred. One gazes into the pasture where boundaries appear that a year earlier did not exist and wonders when if ever they will be free of conflict. A few weeks after his stroke, my father tried to apologize for not supporting me as a poet and we both cried but oddly the issue was not resolved.

Walking up Main Street with Chrisoula, clouds laying flat on the near sky like rotting fish, here and there a glimpse of soft blue, like the light in a dog's eye right before it dies. If ever we climb Ascutney together, do not let me forget to tell you about the first time I climbed Ascutney. Warming our hands by the fire, sharing both a blanket and a sense of what's possible.

You can stumble for hours through snowy forest before seeing a cave mouth glowing in the distance, and all your stumbling will suddenly serve a purpose. Who thinks about death, who does not pause to ask why they think about death. We demean Her when we do not acknowledge Her anger and unsated sexual hunger.

Remember that house in central Vermont we looked at, lingering over an aerial view that somehow calmed the discontent that rises in us when we think about going back to Vermont? Once meant cannot be undone. I return the saw to the barn, pausing to note how cluttered the barn is, a mess alleviated by the sweet and comforting scent of hay.

What is given to be said aloud can now be said to bluets and stars and trout without fear it will be mislaid or fail to propagate. Coffee, scones, yesterday's clothes and nobody injured thereby. What is the difference between night and later that night?

We "take down" Christmas. A sense one has of looking for the next sentence, as if it were circling the room like a speck of dust straddled by pillars of sunlight. Yesterday's mud freezes, our telltale prints dusted with snow, reminders of how rarely life bothers with straight lines.

We rise to a last kiss and linger in it without intent. Coming home I hear church bells, car wheels against the rainslick macadam, and birds I do not know the name of singing in trees I cannot see.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Yesterday is not Different

Temperatures drop, skies clear and I walk to the river to star-gaze. In the distance, traffic groans where Route Nine slopes west. Can I tell you a secret?

Yesterday is not different, not even a thousand yesterdays are different. The larger horse's feet are like diving bells or coffins. Your nipples rise to my kiss.

Night is a manger, the soul a bale of hay. If you are quiet in certain places or with certain people, you can hear the Lord profess His love for you, soft as rustling moth wings. I am working through my problem with what it means to remove one's belt.

Trout rise even in winter. After my wedding ring was lost hunting pheasants on the Jones Lot we went to a little Hindu store in Brattleboro and bought a replacement for ten dollars. The difficult illusion that we call "choice."

At a late juncture one contemplates the maneuvers implied by a long-distance love affair. A tendency to see the world as if it were watercolor. Forgotten glasses of wine emptied in the morning.

Sin with intelligence, intention, with grace. A thousand years didn't lessen our devotion, it's hard to see how a thousand miles can do any worse. So I'm confused sometimes, so what?

Moonlight exacerbates our habit of seeing meaning where there isn't any. We hold hands under the table, we profess our love in ways that nobody else can see.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Just Another Strategy

Butterflies dreaming they are little boys dreaming they are butterflies. What winds carry us? What love undoes us?

At a late juncture I return to the swells of need, rising and falling in concert with the body's mute expressing. Winter stars reflected in frozen gravel almost half a century earlier continuously reappear. A story we tell that we realize too late is telling us.

Yet at four a.m. (and earlier when necessary), the monk-who-is-not-a-monk rises and makes coffee and sits quietly in darkness. Thomas Merton eschewed emphasis on form (sit this way, sit that) but that was just the culture talking. High atop the tallest apple tree, a single apple remains soldered to an otherwise bare limb.

She is Luna when we settle outside the familiar subject/object frame. A hill in Ireland that each time I climbed it grew taller, until at last I fled to a city without any hills at all. Who holds us by the fire, who follows us into the night.

Reminiscing about when we were convinced oneness was the answer, which it was not. In early January, a two-day thaw returns to our bodies a memory of green, which is not useful at all. Long drives, at least one of which I will not see the end of.

Investment is just another strategy. Rice with a little salt and butter, a few thin slices of fried steak, a mug of beer growing warm beside the fire. A promise is a tellerless story, gestating in a sacred womb.

If anybody asks, I'm out walking and can't say when I'll be back. A quiet near the river to which we will one day surely return.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Journey Exceeds Their Lifespan

This was never supposed to be an essay about Hansel and Gretel, and in a way, it is not. But in another way, it goes very deeply into that fairy tale in an attempt to understand how deeply that fairy tale went into me. I am trying to understand healing without making unjustified assertions about my own experience of healing. Along the way, much like the migration instincts of Monarch butterflies, this essay orients towards a new story that suggests another way of thinking about parenting and growing up. Healing.

Parenting is a kind of correction, a sort of cosmic do-over. You aren't your parents but in nontrivial ways your healing directly implicates your parents. The decision to have or not have children, and then how to raise them, is a form of repetition which allows for endless healing possibilities that flow not just to you and your kids but also to your parents (and their parents et super).

But wait, you say. My grandparents are dead. And I didn't even know my great grandparents, let alone my great-great grandparents. And no matter how I raise my kids, my mother still repeats patterns of neglect and hostility and whatnot.

That observation - true as it may seem - misses the point by locating healing solely in physical organisms. Healing also occurs at levels which are abstract and not confined to a particular body or bodies.

You carry your ancestors (parents on back) with you. What drove them, drives you. You live in cultural and geographical environments that would be foreign to them, to one degree or another, but still.

The spark of all life is in you. You carry it as it carries you. And the spark is unaffected by culture and landscape, even though culture and landscape are the inevitable canvas on which it is expressed.

Think of Monarch butterflies. The generation that migrates south will not necessarily arrive in Mexico because the time it takes to complete the journey exceeds their lifespan. Yet somehow, their descendants know precisely where to go. And where to return as well.

I do not suggest this is a mystical process, even if we have not yet fully figured it out (Sun compass? Gravity-sensitive molecules?). I merely point out that knowledge is not limited to a body, even when the knowledge is very specifically helpful to that body. Living is always evoked in broadly relational ways that often exceed a particular organism's capacity for total understanding. Don't kid yourself; in a lot of ways, you're just like those butterflies.

Family errors in extending love, and cultural errors in extending love, are not limited to bodies. So when we heal those errors, even a little, the healing is not limited to bodies either.

And here I will talk about Hansel and Gretel.

Hansel and Gretel is a story that endures because what it says remains viable. The ones who first told it did not envision our world or situation. They were not trying to create art that would last for centuries. They were trying to entertain their audience sufficiently enough to pass on certain critical information about living.

My father took my sister and me to see Hansel and Gretel in a theater in the early 1970s. I believe this was the 1954 Michael Myerberg version. All I remember now was utter fascination with the possibility of being lost in a forest. I spent a lot of time in forests in those days; "lost" was inconceivable. How did that happen?

When we drove home, I closed my eyes and leaned against the dashboard, burying my head in my arms, maximizing darkness. Could I tell when we made a right or left turn? Could I discern when we left the paved road for dirt? How does one become lost?

My father thought I was crying because the movie was over. He patted my shoulder and said we'd see another one some day.

[Perhaps one way to become lost is to be parented by men (like Hansel and Gretel's father, and my own father in that moment), men who cannot see the actual problem and so try to solve a problem that isn't actually there. Your Dad mistakes your deep spiritual inquiry for cheap grief and twenty years later you're drunk in Galway Ireland playing Hank Williams songs for free beer and hoping somebody wants to take you home because it's raining and you have nowhere else to go.]

The other part of that movie was the possibility of being eaten by a witch. It was deeply sexual for me, even though I completely lacked any language or imagery to know this at the time. I felt being eaten by a witch. I wanted it. The Tooth Mother showed herself - declared her intentions - and I wanted to be possessed by her.

I went all in, right away. I fell in love with "lost" because it seemed to invite the Tooth Mother into your life where she would consume you, black widow style. I had watched snakes slowly swallow toads, robins drag worms out of the lawn. I understood this was a painful way to die. And I understood - because all animals resisted dying - that death reflected at least the possibility of oblivion.

[Was it perhaps also possible that the Tooth Mother - even then - was patiently instructing me (beyond the grasp of intellect) that living was only possible through death, and that autonomy, as such, was a lie told by bodies to other bodies?]

For I did not question  her. I did not fear her.

Around that time I began to notice that things could vanish from my mind as if they had never existed. I would go for hours not thinking about the cows and then have to rush out to the barn to make sure they were still there. I wondered what happened to things that I forgot and then didn't subsequently remember. Could you forget a dog? A parent? Could you forget yourself?

I experimented with memory's grasp. How long could I hold a certain dandelion in mind? There was a white stone by our driveway - I made a pledge to remember it forever. So far I have. But what I have forgotten from those years is . . . not coming back. And that "one" dandelion is now an idealized dandelion (it is all dandelions), and so it, too, is gone and not coming back.

The Tooth Mother is a destroyer but it is an error to think that her power is always given to evil. For example, Gretel is a Tooth Mother. She uses the witch's problem-solving tool - murder - to save her brother. The Tooth Mother was going to kill in a way that ended Hansel forever, but Gretel learns that killing can also save life.

You can burn a forest to the ground and within a few years, the forest is visibly growing back. Life rushes into death, colonizing it. We don't have to be scared. We are children of a living God who does not go by the name of God (nor bear much resemblance to the God of our mother and father).

The witch reminds us that death and life are conjoined and that we have to be intentional with respect to their conjoinment. When you sleep with the Tooth Mother, your dreams are full of blood and you wake up with a vague feeling of discontent. It's not that she wants to eat you. It's that she is hungry and you can be eaten.

You are apt to get confused here, as Hansel and Gretel's father got confused, and as Hansel got confused too. You think you have to go to war with the Tooth Mother and defeat her. Or you think the Tooth Mother wants you to worship her with terrific sacrifices, the bloodier the better.

But the Tooth Mother just wants you to be alert and make deliberate choices that bring forth life. She will eat some of her children and let others live, and this is not evil but fructive. It is true of everything that eats. Hunger is not special and eating is not a privilege. On both sides of the plate - eating and being eaten - we commune with the living God.

If you are stuck in a cage, look for Gretel to save you. She may assume some form outside of you, like a lover or a therapist, but she may be inside you, too. She isn't always a girl. Witches, like God, go by whatever name gets the job done. They don't distinguish between worthy or unworthy. Perceiving the utter equality of all life, and acting accordingly, they are truly in love.

This is not an essay about Hansel and Gretel so much as a story of my first meeting with the Tooth Mother, and what I learned (and some of what happened along the way). Perhaps it can be summarized by telling (adapting, really) another story I have always liked.

Once upon a time a little boy and his grandmother walked into a field. It was late afternoon (but not too late) and there were butterflies everywhere. Mesmerized, the little boy leaned into his grandmother's strong arms and fell asleep.

While sleeping, he dreamed he was a butterfly in a field, fluttering near an old woman who cradled a sleeping boy.

When he woke up, he told his grandmother about his dream.  "Grandma," he said. "I dreamed I was a butterfly."

"No my child," his grandmother replied. "You are not a little boy who dreamed he was a butterfly. You are a butterfly dreaming he is a little boy."

Thursday, January 23, 2020

In Massachusetts Again

I first used the phrase "Tooth Mother" in the gap between leaving Vermont and beginning law school in 1990 and 91. It showed up in some very disjointed poems that despite their abundance basically went nowhere. I wrote a lot at work in those days, filling up scraps of paper. It was strange to be living in Massachusetts again. And sad to think I only briefly made it back to Vermont, despite my vow to live and die there forever.

I think "Tooth Mother" goes back to Bly, who I read carefully in the year before leaving Vermont. There was a phase of his writing - prior to Iron John - where he was very into the dark mother stuff, which I think was his attempt to honor women. They can be violent and crazy too! I seem to recall it in both essays and poems. Sleepers Joining Hands maybe? I don't remember and the boys are practicing in the loft so I can't go back to check.

That characterization may not be fair to Bly. It maybe oversimplifies. But Bly is frustrating that way. He was - like me in many ways - a puer, alighting in this or that domain and deciding that because he's glimpsed it, he's an expert and can start talking about it. But you can err in the other direction, too - get so lost studying and ascending ladders of merit that you forget to share what you're learning. What do I know.

I use "Tooth Mother" now for two explicit reasons. First, because it is an alternative to "witch," which evokes some horror movie energy I don't want and also has religious connotations for friends whose sensitivity I want to respect.

But second, also, "Tooth Mother" syncs up with a clear focus on being eaten (and eating, I guess), which I have mulled for decades and which in recent months has leaped to the front of the image line. Use me! Use me!

And I don't especially want to use it. I don't want to "go there," as the kids say.

What happens in the writing when you allow a word or image that feels a little troubling? When its provenance is a little less than ideal? Yet which insist on its place in the work?

Well, you use it, yes? You use it and see what happens next. As the Tooth Mother would herself.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Turtles Began Surfacing

What was her name, the married nurse I fooled around with in a supply closet in 1990, first year of law school? It happened twice and we were friendly after yet for the life of me I can't recall her name. I do know saying it aloud had to do with the alveolar ridge. She was rail-thin, a runner, murmured "you" a lot between kisses.

I was living with my parents then, an embarrassment but there were no other options, and you do what you have to do. They laughed at my stories about the old men at work, went away a lot on weekends. I'd sit on the little porch and write structurally complex poems that went nowhere but held my attention. I was reading deeply the literature on birds, walking alone for hours at Fitzgerald Pond, trying to square poetry and the law, bird-watching.

In one of those poems I used the phrase "Tooth Mother" to describe Ellen - that was her name, Ellen - because I had an intuitive sense that what we were doing was dangerous for both of us, albeit in different ways. The poem didn't blame her, just went into the question of why desire acts so privileged. I couldn't find a draft now if I wanted.

I went on a couple of dates with another nurse, flirted pretty hard with two more, but something in me with women was slipping. There was a lot of space between what I imagined and what kept appearing and it wasn't clear what could change. Somewhere around that time I saw my first mockingbird and began piecing together the difficult posture of worship my life was about to assume. I remember in late May thinking seriously for the first time about celibacy and then meeting Chrisoula a few days later. The night we met I sat out back with a camping lantern, welcoming moths.

Our second or third date I took her to Fitzgerald pond. We held hands on the trails, ending up on an east-facing rock. A bunch of turtles began surfacing and climbing nearby logs. They were like allies or messengers. It was like that moment before church begins, the priests and deacons and altar servers gathering. We couldn't speak. We knew something significant was happening, we knew it was about us.

Chrisoula put her hand on my shoulder and eased me back on the warm rock. When she knelt to kiss me, her hair framed my face. It was like a veil behind which we kissed gently for a thousand years. When at last we stopped and straightened and looked around, not one of the turtles had moved.

That was how I arrived at last in the Country of Turtles, solidified my poetics and spiritual intentions, and began a long apprenticeship in Love.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

What Cannot Be Derived From Distinctions

In mid-January, the weather briefly slips its icy shroud and a thousand borders (which are distinctions) appear - melting snow against not-melting snow, green grass on brown, green grass against white snow, quartz visible here, schist over there.

The world is always in a state of spilling, or shifting appearances, or so it seems to the observer. The one is here for whom all this beauty is given is here?

For an hour or so I walk around with a camera taking pictures, as if memorialize something, or capture something. Or am I still just trying to understand how I should be so blessed?

Gefter suggests all this is what the inside of nothing looks like, but that implies yet another boundary, and I'm past countenancing what isn't here to countenance.

Oh, how I wish I were not still the man who always says "I love you but . . ."

On Sunday morning when we're out of flour and butter I drive to the Creamery to buy flour and butter. The store (I wrote "story" in the first draft) is mostly empty but full of sunlight and somebody has Neil Young on. Sometimes when I was confused it was a way of opening a space for the other to go deeper into their own confusion, whatever they wanted to call it. I mean, you can't not love.

One tends to divide the day with beverages. The prayer of the first cup of coffee which eventually slips into writing. The writing of the second cup of coffee, which eventually slips into reading. The first cup of tea - which is generally a decision not to drink a third cup of coffee - and the blander editing and rewriting and sketching plans for the next day's work, which must be done. After that, homemade kombucha with cinnamon, ginger and stevia, and the usual half-assed attempts to improvise manhood in a crumbling empire in a late stage of capitalism (basically managing the horror by clutching certain Romantic ideals).

The desire to express oneself in a certain form (like that idiot in New England with his sentences, paragraphs and essays) is a fine way to begin but it can't last any more than you can remain at the wedding forever and pretend it's a marriage. You have to let what wants to spill, spill, and you have to be okay with what cannot be derived from distinctions. If not you, beloved, then who?

Here, in the twentieth sentence, I get down on my knees and beg.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Nowhere Near the Luminous Grail

The man who loves to argue is not the man who wants to reach the end of arguing!

Personal pronouns are a kind of magic, a deft interior signal to and from the sense of what matters, yet also in love with their own referencing, and thus prone to deception.

Let's be honest: coloring inside and outside the lines are equally incorrect because both are contingent on accepting the line's purposive existence in the first place.

I was not actually in Albany until years later when it was impossible to go back to Albany and from that point on leaving Albany at all was a fantasy, like the prisoner who knows he's only getting out in a casket but likes to dream of horse-drawn carriages, limousines, state-paid cabs, etc.

A nagging sense that personal experience, as such, is nowhere near the luminous grail it presents itself to be.

Given to landscapes that are riven with gullies rather than canyons (and somewhat late in the process realizing the significance of owls).

The Lord says "you can be right or you can be at peace" and Sean says "define right and peace, pal."

Catholic before anyone said there were options, apostate when it was first clear there were, half-assed Buddhism when one began to intuit that apostasy was not actually helpful, Mertonian Catholicism when the confusion began in earnest and then - in the Country of Turtles, with Chrisoula as my guide - the deluge.

The magnitude of communion that sex can't even pretend to reach.

A gray t-shirt I can't throw away even though it's barely wearable anymore, as if I were a pantheist, or at least pantheistic, or maybe just poor and realistic.

Counting implies order, is one way to understand the origins and ongoing fructivity of this and other writing projects.

In my dream, two robins studied a fallen nest in the yard, yet precisely when I wondered should I go outside and try to place it back in the tree, risking intrusion in order to maximize helpfulness, they flew into a nearby maple tree with a perfect nest in it and a female voice somewhere said "to wit."

Well, I sleep well for once and can't even pretend to be unhappy upon waking and reading and writing so the sentences skip like hummingbirds over the watery swale I so often so willingly sink into the heart of and I'm not sorry, not sorry at all.

The bureau is piled with books (seventeen) and over-stuffed manila folders (four) while underneath it is a cardboard box with the ninety-seven essays/articles/etc that were most helpful in the 2017 - 2018 epistemological speed-up, all of which I am now trying to organize into a curriculum I can teach from (though where and for whom I can't say).

There are alternatives to ways of thinking that produce undesirable results, one doesn't have to "suck it up," one doesn't have to "stand it."

A fine mist where the river flows past the horse pasture.

But you see, a point comes where it's clear that you're duping yourself, and that the duping isn't always noticeable, and so even when you conclude you're no longer duping yourself you might still be duping yourself.

You are not allowed to say "the insight can't happen in a bowling alley" and when the insight happens in a bowling alley you are not allowed to say "the insight happened in a bowling alley."

Like that mockingbird on the phone wires in Florence Massachusetts in early summer 1990 and the man who saw me gazing at it and said kindly "it's a mockingbird," knowing precisely the worship to which I aspired and the gaps in my knowing that falsified it inevitably.

At what point does Hansel realize his fate is in the hands of his sister and what effect if any does the realization have on his mental conception of witches?

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Prizes that You do not Covet

Perhaps hell is the bowling alleys of which we spoke ill, at a time when we were being asked to look forgivingly on all bowling alleys.

Where do you reside when at night you travel to this vast open space - neither warehouse nor amphitheater, neither desert nor field - and trade shoes for other shoes and close your ears to the sharp thunder of wooden bodies crashing into one another, hour after hour.

At night, who comes out to inspect the quiet. In the morning who sweeps the lanes.

In Albany, who traveled to Fall River, and in Fall River, who went back and forth to Ireland.

Whose son are you and who is your son.

A room full of prizes that you do not covet, a room where you can order hot dogs and fries, where you would be sick if you ate, and on Fridays and Saturdays a room where you can drink beer, which you long ago swore off drinking.

Your son goes with you and you are the son of one who was gone decades before he died.

I bowled with him once in Northampton on my birthday. Four years old? Maybe five. I remember nothing but the volume, the sticky soles of the too-tight shoes, and not understanding the rules.

We were neither winning nor losing, nor preparing to win.

A zero-sum theology which asserts heaven and hell exist as equal possibilities.

Only when you believe it is possible to die and still be punished can you speak so disparagingly about bowling alleys.

You who long to be healed.

You who refuse all cures.

All day, waiting to go back.

All day forgetting you can choose when to go back and how long to stay.

Are you working or playing or something else altogether in this bowling alley frequented by Christ and what is not Christ.

Are you winning or not winning in this cavern of shadows, under the watchful eyes of the Father of Bowling, Whose Father is the Father of Games, Whose Father is the Father of Sacrifice, Whose Father is the Father of Fear.

Whose Mother has been away a long time?

I drop Jeremiah off, buy groceries, and go home and cook. Hours later, friends return him. He is happy helping himself to food and telling us about bowling.

I am so happy I don't know what to say.

Did you win I say.

He looks at me as if I am speaking a language that he wasn't asked to learn, as if I am struggling up a varnished trail, dodging murderous balls, begging for mercy.

As if mercy were already given.

He looks at me the way you look at the one who feeds you no matter what.

Saturday, January 18, 2020


Every time I take off my belt I remember every time he took off his belt.

Every act of oral sex is tinged with his anger and violence (which did not end when he stopped beating me with his belt).

No matter how carefully or gratefully or expertly we go down on each other, the hurt is never not there.

Yet the dream of healing is a seed buried deep inside my tongue that this one time - this one use - the belt will neither appear nor interfere.

I do not pray well on my knees.

I prefer those Tuesday evening circles I visited years ago at Saint Mary's, the women earnestly praying on rosaries, welcoming me in a non-sexually-companionate way.

Yet which I left.

I remember driving home from Cape Cod many years ago, emotionally shredded by a family collectively unable to acknowledge shredding anyone, let alone their son and brother. I prayed the rosary all the way.

The rosary I pray when I pray a rosary is the rosary owned by my mother's father. I never saw him pray a rosary. Indeed, he used to mock arriving early to church as "time to pray the rosary."

I don't know why I rather than anyone else have his rosary. I must have grabbed it once. I must have insisted.

One does become an expert at being punished: slapped, belted, sent away without eating. Mouth washed out with soap. Told over and over, with varying degrees of intensity and publicity, how bad one is and what happens to bad boys.

One does become an expert at hoping God is love and secretly knowing God is not, not at all.

Held up to the sky, the rosary is a kind of noose. It is a kind of opening one can see through.

Damaged boys limp into their adult bodies intent on not hurting anybody, which is nice but rarely works as planned.

My grandmother asserted that my grandfather beat her and that once, when her leg was broken, he refused to take her to the hospital. Nobody talks about this, or acknowledges it was ever said, even though we were all in the room.

What didn't happen cannot have any effect so you can understand the impulse to wash it out.

But nothing washes out perfectly.

Every one who has ever washed any laundry ever knows this.

Damaged boys limp into their adult bodies and try out its voice. It's scary to believe you're little but can make a big sound. The temptation is to whisper, or only talk where everyone agrees you can talk, and only ever about what they agree you can talk about.

Sometimes you climb trees deep in the forest and shout that you're not afraid to fall and then let go and see if you're right. Sometimes you practice seducing people who are too far away to touch.

The violence in me knows itself but not as violence. It wants a new name. Or it wants me to remember its actual name. It says, "hey you - you're a poet. Tell us what our name is."

"I'm waiting," I say.

"For what?"

It's a good question, one I decline to answer. But why?

I'm scared if I use my voice, Gretel won't find me because she isn't attuned to that kind of asking for help.

I'm scared that Gretel will find me but won't be who I remember and so I won't be saved at all.

But really because a woman is telling this story now.

You see how I balance between sentences? Give my body wordlessly to holding itself in uncertainty?

That's how quiet she is, letting what comes next come next.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Mostly Ash

Faded tie-dye t-shirts on hippies whose brains are permanently ditched by acid, whose arms flail precisely the way Jerry Garcia's fingers did not.

Monks who are so terrified of their bitterness and loneliness that they no longer dream.

Old men who don't admire any young men and young men who despise age in all its forms.

Poems about grandfathers that are basically vast canyons pretending to be deserts in which serious sanctified men write poems about the Lord.

Rosary beads stained with semen.

Getting and giving head on the floor of an apartment in Burlington Vermont as a means of intensifying one's personal experience of irrevocable loss.

Scavenging dumpsters.

A studied disinterest in cures pitted against an avowed commitment to healing.

Walking all night in Dublin Ireland, Bloomsday 1989, exhausted and exuberant.

Incapable of sleep.

Incapable of imagining but pretending otherwise.

Sure of the Lord, beholden to the Lord, abandoned by the Lord.

Playing guitar in Galway Ireland to respectful audiences, walking hours after alone in the dark summer night, learning for the first time that the only gift I had was the gift for not being lost no matter what the exterior landscape.

Learning how not to be lost in a landscape by entering every landscape alone without any plan to return.

Confused about mothers, homes, hope and love.

Confused about work.

Good at burial, good at not freaking out around death, good at cooking peasant food, good at being slapped and spanked and punished.

Partial to soap bubbles, snowflakes, antique glass, prisms.

Mostly lost, mostly gone, mostly ash.

A late juncture where one says it at last.

Miming has Actual Emotional Content

It is hard to avoid assertions about ontology. Even when I'm careful not to make them, they are active somewhere below the level of observation. Indeed, by the time you're thinking about asserting/not asserting, some degree of assertion has already taken place.

But maybe "ontology" is too abstract here. Maybe that word isn't reasonable in my vocabulary.

What I mean is that I often experience a temptation to assert that I know more than I actually know. This temptation is probably roughly equal to the extent I suspect I don't know.

But also, there is a difference between saying "I don't know" and "I can't know." And the distinction matters.

Also, there is a difference between thinking about these things in a studious way - a scholastic morning here, a scholastic afternoon there - and then actually trying them out in your living and observing the results.

So writing can be a way of seeing what you are doing with gaps in your knowing and evaluating it. It is also a way of seeing how what you say about the gaps is compromised because you are not actually doing anything with or to or in the gaps.

Johnstone points out that "we have strong resistance to being overwhelmed by gifts, even when they're just being mimed" (Impro 101). I've been thinking about this ever since I read it, wondering if it will extend beyond the range of exercises for actors. The subtext of Impro is that it's not just a handbook for actors but a handbook for living for all of us.

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by gifts. But not always. Sometimes I am covetous. Sometimes I am mostly interested in gifting others.

What's really interesting about that Johnstone quote is how miming has actual emotional content. That is, things that are hard when we do them for real are also hard when we mime them. Feelings don't distinguish what is "real" from what is not.

Thus, you can't say - based on your feelings - if what's happening right now is reality or just mimics reality.

Am I a mime? Is this an act? Am I pretending it's an act when it's not? How would I know? My emotional response can be the same in both instances.

You don't know what's real; you only think you do.

It all seems real but you don't know what's real.

Every conclusion you reach - every decision you make - is based on inferences you make between what appears (which includes your ideas - including these right now) and a proposed external objective reality that you are certain exists in the form you are certain it exists in.

But those inferences are not justified; others could be just as valid. Because you don't actually know what's real; you only think you do.

How will you know? What game will you play to find out? What game will you stop playing?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

It Is A Woman Who Tells The Story

Why is the moon where you are. Why are we surrounded by a storm.

Writing from before dawn to just after and forgetting to feed the horses so Chrisoula wakes earlier than intended and feeds the horses.

Why do we forget who we love. Why do we consent to be carried away, over and over, like a leaf on a river.

Why do we think the sea cares so much about getting.

It was not the white pebbles that saved the lost children but the willingness of the boy to think in spite of his fear and thus come up with a plan to sustain them in their time of abandonment.

Yet it was Gretel adopting the witch's methods (you're not hungry, you're supper) that ultimately saved them.

The boy plots and learns nothing but that some plots work and some plots don't.

Gretel kills and learns the value of living and death.

In my twenties I sought the witch mother and was given a relationship with bluets, pretty little flowers which I secretly named "Mother's Anger."

I don't remember my thirties and forties. They are washed out by good intentions and half-assed applications of Christian theology.

Why do you think it matters where the moon goes in the sky. Are you looking for a trail. Who are you reassuring. Who is reassured.

The step mother, the witch mother and Gretel are the same woman. It is a woman who tells the story, and a man who says later, at a different fire, "the story means this" or "the story means that."

The boy who wants to understand becomes the man who believes he understands. The man who believes he understands believes a witch can be defeated. He thinks you tell the story because the witch has been defeated.

In the jaws of a snake, the man looks for something to eat.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

What Works

I am rarely lost.

Write it ("I am lost") and then see if it resonates, see if it is true.

[Who says what truth is]

Gretel and Hansel were lost in different ways, but only Gretel was allowed to change, to be transformed from one kind of living to another.

How have you changed. What have you learned.

Say: truth is what works. Real is what works.

What works.

Times I have actually been lost are vivid and clear. Not images but movies.

Times I have actually been lost are narratives which are scary but which end happily.

Do they end.

Sometimes I have been what others would call lost but which I do not. Because why.

Because the Lord goes with me everywhere.

Because I am never not here.

Yet ask: what puzzle am I trying to solve now, in this writing, this way.

Am I lost. Am I only just now realizing I am lost.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Known Chapels are Exploded

Whatever it is, it's imminent. Even you, who wouldn't know love if it undid your jeans on Main Street, are caught up in preparation. As the day lengthens and the isolation intensifies, the writing acquires a specific momentum. Not healing exactly but a sense of possibility, however dim, begins to glisten. I knew a man once who loved prisms because he convinced himself that pretty things which don't last are an antidote to dying. There are no more easy harmonies and all the known chapels are exploded. I was born in January but I don't hate January. My mother was unconscious when I was born, my father off driving in a snow storm. The unattended invite many gods and goddesses, and I am one. Now let there be light. Now let there be dark? Well, let us eat anyway. Our autonomy depends on countless deaths. I am one.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Damaged and Misidentified

With respect to dinner the other night, nobody said grace, and those of us waiting to begin fell behind.

Maybe the moral is if you're hungry, don't wait to eat. Or: if you want a little prayer, then pray a little prayer.

Either way I was sick for days after.

Writing clearly intimates not giving up reading on Johnstone, so I go back to Johnstone and carefully read fifteen or so more pages. Are we actors? Are we co-creating narrative? Is it a question of understanding method?

Many teachers get improvisers to work in conflict because conflict is interesting but we don't actually need to teach competitive behavior; the students will already be expert at it, and it's important that we don't exploit the actors' conflicts. Even in what seems to be a tremendous argument, the actors should still be cooperating . . . (Impro 93).

Early January has been a difficult time for years now. I'm not teaching, the writing is not satisfying, reading is not challenging (but see the previous few paragraphs and some recent observations on this site). It's like coming face to face with a toothy demon but declining to be its dinner. "Look, I'm not going to exile you and I'm happy to talk about what you'd like to talk about but no more swallowing me whole, okay?"

Well, a certain gift for taking care of one's own needs has not exactly been unwelcome over the years. Yet loneliness is neither a worthy destination nor an effective way to travel. I mean, yeah, I'm folded into the shape of an apple under quilts writing writing that somebody somewhere's going to read, but . . .

But what?

Two or three days ago when I actually applied for another job it was like falling headfirst into a grave that had been dug for another man. I felt doomed and damaged and misidentified. The tendency in a hole is to cry out for help but if you don't want to be a bother (or don't trust who might show up to "help") then sooner or later you just start digging. Do what where you find yourself does? I don't want to quit teaching but it's fair to say in certain ways I never really started. You get dizzy staring up too long at the light. I seem to remember remembering that.

Johnstone argues there's an answer to this particular quandary but for the life of me I can't work it out (work it in?). He's using a vocabulary that doesn't frame a familiar dilemma, yet the vocabulary itself is not alien. If you don't exile the demon, and you decline to be its food, then the demon has to collaborate with you, is that it?

Well, one writes in order to see what if anything might help. Bring on whatever hurts? There are no promises, and the prayers often fall in love with their prayerfulness. A mirror is useless if all it shows is what it loves to look at. What I said was okay is not okay but it's not okay to take it back. I see that now.

And I'm not sorry. And whatever's next can just damn well come. Imagine Hansel griping that he needs more time to think, and Gretel fretting nearby, as yet unaware that she can think for herself, and a big wind beginning high up in the sky above them.

Sean: it's not a demon, it's a witch. And you're not hungry, you're supper.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

On the Shore of the River

What kind of cold? In this house, sometimes, the doors open and close on their own accord.

Mass-produced Buddhas, mass-produced Christs. The bedroom becomes a secret place, doesn't it.

By sixteen I'd stopped trusting adults but couldn't find my way with kids either. We kissed on the shore of the river, sailing between uncertain and unsure.

In a dream, all three of my children were made of crystal. The man with abandonment issues develops an acute sense of when to perform and when to slink away unnoticed.

Slick shorelines in northern Vermont where I paced for hours dreaming the idea of a woman I could never meet outside of dreams. The tool makes the project, not the other way around.

Outside becomes a web of neighborly concerns and demands. She confesses and many implications float between us, neither grabbable nor not-grabbable.

Horses are not objects. Meaning is a relational dynamic, the bounds of which are impossible to identify.

Over time I began to understand my fear as an artefact in a family museum, but as yet more time passed I began to wonder who the curator was, and then I got bored and began looking for exits. Driving as a stand-in for oblivion, an acceptable zero.

Driving west generally means ending in Pittsfield, with a sense of Albany (and the ruin it engendered) not far off. A yearning for the sea that never quite goes away, almost as if it were inherent.

Making afternoon tea. Leftover maple leaves appear to shiver on empty trees because early January is unaware there is such a thing as Spring.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

That Kind of Lost

Driving is a kind of oblivion, a permissible one. Jade turtle stares at me from the bureau while I write, three-legged quartz elephant goes on with its silent trumpeting. What I said was okay is not.

Other stories feel more compatible with this deepening depression, this shared watery swale, but nobody asks to hear them. What we never get around to editing is not thereby converted to a shrine to "first thought, best thought." Packing our shoes, packing our shirts.

He didn't say much at the end but in a way, he didn't say much in the middle either. Doors open and close on their own, indicative of haunts. For a little while the whole house smells like bacon.

In the morning when I feed the horses I am acutely aware of feeding the horses. Later boundaries are not so pristine. One writes ten thousand poems at least, only a handful of which can be remembered at this late - not terminal necessarily but late - juncture.

It's cold and there doesn't seem to be a lot of possibilities. One day we won't wake up and then we really will have seen our last winter, last spring, last summer, last fall. It shrinks the world, or makes it seem traversable.

Some folks thinks in terms of what is least and most but a better practice is simply to study clouds. Stop reading? When I was sixteen and still hunting, I used to wonder what it would be like to be lost in a forest, as I had never been that kind of lost.

Woe to those who stifle Emily Dickinson by citing to versions of her poems that are not faithful to her own careful formatting! Uncountable frost blossoms on the west-facing window.

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Thing with Teeth

I'm having a very hard time getting through Johnstone's book Impro. I'm about halfway. I found the section on creativity that references Schiller which inspired me to read it in the first place. I carry it with me everywhere, put it on the to-do list, but it remains peripheral.

Peripheral may be the wrong word. Or am I more confused than I realize.

I am mostly turned off by the resolute physicality proposed by the text. It is about the body, about using the body, being in a body, and I can only manage the body in terms of sex and enduring pain. Literally every other thing a body can do feels stiff and unfamiliar and awkward to me. Outside of torture chambers and bed I am basically crippled. I don't like thinking about this, or reading books that bring that kind of thinking forward.

The thing about enduring pain is that I had to take it because of who was giving it and the only meaningful - the only possible - rebellion was not to give them the pleasure of seeing me cry.

And the thing about sex is that I am able to be vulnerable in it, and I am also constantly grateful in it, so it becomes a space of incredible openness and healing. It has to do with going slowly, wordily, finding some rhythm that is not only in this or that act, but the overarching whole comprised by all the acts that make "making love."

With the one with whom you are in that particular relationship, when are you not making love?

[There is - for me - no  place for physical pain in sex. Sex is where you go to be safe from physical pain. Sex is the body helpfully wholly.]

As a nontrivial aside, when I teach, I am very physical. I move around a lot, often dramatically. Flop on the floor, sit on desks, windmill my arms. Always pacing, shifting, relocating. It's performative energy, not nerves. It doesn't always work but it mostly always works.

I really enjoy teaching. Not just the performative aspects but the sharing of ideas - how they shift, light up, fall away, expand, morph I miss teaching when I am not teaching (as now), and am sad that my life got so messed up that I can't teach full-time somewhere. And more in alignment with what interests me (i.e., constructivism, monism, new age spirituality, et cetera). What a hash I made of that with which I meant to be more elegant.

Oh well.

Yesterday I wrote about something rising through a lake in Vermont (Champlain, connecting to all those old poems from the late 80s and early 90s, Denise coming and going, Albany in the distance, homelessness, playing guitar in Europe, et cetera). I think Johnstone's book is part of that - is related to that, albeit in a nebulous way - and so asks for sustained attention (was that phase the last time my body worked?).

Always worth giving attention to the thing with teeth.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Something with Teeth

The moon appears in the wrong part of the sky, or is it simply that in winter I am less attentive? It's not quite 4 a.m. but the body requires what the body requires. One treads spiritual water, turning in slow circles, looking for land and seeing mostly mist and other non-standard walls. When I ate peyote, nothing happened save another story that like all the other stories featured a very familiar protagonist. What tells on itself to itself and expects to be congratulated? A bowling alley is a specific kind of lonely, one that I can only just find my way through and maybe should not risk again. Or did we just just ask questions that a long time ago were answered and the answers forgotten and the forgetting naming itself love. Wan light slips through the west-facing curtain drawn tight across the frost blossoms' glass canvas and I dress quickly, everything cold and stiff from a night on the floor. So I'm a little bitter, so what? Perhaps Jesus calls our bluff, perhaps Satan really does prefer a Saturday dance party to work. Writing and rewriting writing as if repetition were the one solution to the many problems implied by repetition. Libraries remain a viable altar but reading has become habitual rather than ritual, and so some new way of living asks to be born. Sings itself awake in mid-winter? Well, insistence anyway. Something is rising from the bottom of a Vermont lake, something with teeth and confused ideas about privilege and hunger. Who cares who extends the invitation, who cares if our locks are brittle antiques. I'm not grooming anymore, I'm not pretending this isn't a corner, and I'm not kidding myself that these prayers are the world in a dew drop in a dew drop. Come, ghosts. I remain a welcome landscape only so much longer.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

A Therapeutic Disco

I think the insight in Cambridge was that no more insights are necessary. And yet, even that was an insight! And was duly celebrated as such, without irony.

Well, habits are hard to change, easily subsuming even our understanding that they need to change. For example, my half-assed meditation practice goes on studying itself, talking to itself, with me listening not as a student or novice but a teacher, boss of the novitiate, frequently interjecting. Have you thought of this? Tried that?

When will I learn to shut up? To stop assuming that everything in my skull means something that others need to hear? Or at least see that loving my own voice doesn't require constant public consummation?

Well, if you have to speak - if you believe that's what's asked of you - then say something that's hard to say. Say something you don't want to say, or in a way that you don't want to say it.

I learned how to live with physical pain at an early age, and part of that learning meant living with loneliness, often in settings that were scary. For example, I didn't like the snakes in the barn, or the barn itself when it was even a little dark or cold, but my mother didn't go in the barn so . . .

It pleases me to use holy books (the bible, ACIM) as coasters for my morning coffee. I never used Emily Dickinson that way. Her collected poems is so broken now that it's hard to read (like there are a limited number of readings left in it) and I can't afford to replace it. I get why that's okay (i.e., don't shun libraries or interlibrary loans or books that you have to share with folks you'll never actually meet - all of this is a form of love, one of our species' most impressive accomplishments), but still.

Anyway, L. wrote a public note yesterday asking men to stop making war and I got that strangled feeling in my throat that usually resolves by talking over everybody or arguing until everybody is too weary to argue back. But instead I stumbled through the night - walking up and down Main Street in light rain, reading Shogun in the upstairs rocker - and by morning saw clearly that mostly I was a) mad that I didn't say it first and get credit and b) hurt that L. doesn't know I agree with her.

And neither of those sorrows are healed by abusing my gift of eloquence in order to dominate a collective dialogue. I get that now.

Which does leave me not knowing how those sorrows are healed, but at least I didn't make anything worse, or hurt somebody who has better things to do than get sucked into my confused and confusing narrative about favorite sons, lost boys, unfaithful shepherds, et cetera.

It's good to be quiet and just take care of what needs to be taken care of, what is given to you to care for. Yesterday I made chili, today I'll bake bread. Sand the driveway, cut stray wood for birdhouses for spring, help Jeremiah figure out the next guitar . . .

I mean, it seems like it's not enough but what if it is enough? How will I know?

When I say that King David told me "living is inflorescence," I'm being hyperbolic. It's just a way of talking I dreamed up in one of my famous exaggerated night-long ritual communions with the many demons and angels who visit when I ask them to visit. What a therapeutic disco we make! It means simply that an Old Testament order feels presently clarifying. Love is what works.

Thus, this woman, this home, this writing, these chores.

Or: yes, Sean. It is enough.

You could imagine the Lord visiting - perhaps as the blue light before dawn, winter a widening billows softened by feeding the horses - and saying gently, "Sean, everybody wishes life were otherwise. What I ask of you now is to live in a way that demonstrates that wish is an error premised on an illusion. Oh, and you have to do without words."

But I think that last sentence - that final condition related to silence - is not given by Love but by that which would obscure love because it is jealous, greedy, guilty, angry. In a word, it is hurt. And however imperfectly, however slowly, however ineptly . . . I am healing.

I will not be hurt forever.

Having imagined the Lord directing me so, I go ahead and live. And living, remember the peace that is the all our shared foundation. And remembering the foundation, see where the balance is askew (in me and you, in the world) and how to right it effortlessly and naturally. And then write it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Yet Another Discordant Hallelujah

The sorrow that infiltrates all bowling alleys . . .

I learned things in Albany that I never forgot, but I also never forgot the woman who taught them to me, and the effect has been crippling and ruinous. Or is it that Johnstone is right and we're addicted to the idea that we are personally morally responsible for what we imagine?

[How is the world brought forth? What does it mean to love or be in love?]

At dawn in winter there is a soft blue light before the sun rises that is possibly the only thing in the world that truly calms me. The horses whinny softly when I approach in the dark with a flake of hay in either hand. They jerk their heads annoyed when I talk before feeding them. Low tones that mean nothing, disappearing even before they are uttered. There is no law that one has to say grace before eating! So you can recall old hurts, so what?

So you are still hurt. So you hurt.

Last night driving home from Pittsfield with a few groceries and a pervasive sense that something had gone deeply wrong - beyond the range of correction wrong - the roads were unexpectedly icy. How expert I am at certain forms of navigation! And how clumsy and inept at others. The world often separates into countless altars - some desecrated, some revered, some as yet undiscovered. The one who longs to worship but can't settle down long enough to pray, is that it? First we define the man, then we make the mask, then we go to the dance and execute our clumsy arabesque?

[Do you not see how one word is every other word in waiting? How one sentence brings forth the next sentence in a fluid way, an unbroken way, like a river dashing merrily to the sea?]

The motel room was dim and smelled faintly of piss and we were in it because her father forbade her to see me, which was stupid but a fact. Many men don't like me and I've had to balance accordingly. I piss on your guns and your money, your unholy alliances and unhelpful laws! Something in me does appeal to women who long to be free but still companionate. Peering through blinds west was the first time I perceived the world as smeared on a canvas and thus impossible to enter. Until that moment I hadn't realized how scared I was, nor how difficult my life would become. When she knelt on the carpet, my loneliness became so vast and expansive - like a universe, or maybe the universe - that I lost a critical internal bearing that I never regained. "Like sprouts," she said, swallowing, but nothing green was in me ever, nor will be again.

Jasper laughs when I tell him this, says go write it, and then we talk about his father who is dying. Get him to talk is my best advice, because certain silences don't fill themselves, and there is something very quiet about death. About never again? I was useful in the rebellion she had to enact to get away from her father but altogether not useful in where she was going after, which meant I was quickly unceremoniously discarded. Albany is all bloody, always. It took me decades to see this and "seeing" did not equate to "accepting," hence the many ghosts. Men who are haunted this way are a kind of crippled, and it's not a kind of crippled that fits into stories anybody wants to hear.

Get him to talk. Get him to talk.

Two nights running while falling asleep I ask for some helpful visitation. I offer my dreams to the Lord and the Lord sends an angel who is still learning how to scale figures to imply distance and who - when confused - uses more red than is necessary.

This again.

Oh well. I learned how to walk in the rain and how to read Emily Dickinson. Black bears are totems (owls and trout a close second). The woman whose shirt will never fall for me blurs and fades like sinking in a lake. There is always a strangled hymn, always a muffled psalm.

And yet.

Am I now the man who - choking on yet another discordant hallelujah - spits and keeps going? Into wildernesses, silences, lonelinesses? Swinging a prism, content to simply rhyme? As she is perhaps the woman who says no more kneeling and steps a thousand miles deep into her life, a mystery to me, one that at last I can live with?

Monday, January 6, 2020

A Text One Cannot Traverse

A story I want to tell backfires. Or are the ghosts simply showing up another way? In my dreams, I stand beneath towering maple trees on College Street in Burlington Vermont, gaze through the green canopy at a small blue hole in the faraway sky and ask: why am I not living here. Eliot's misogyny, as if any of us should be surprised, and the sad compensations of late middle-age. The cross is not a lie unless you think it can make you do something you don't already want to do. A text one learns from, a text one cannot traverse, and a text one uses as a door stop. I wait quietly in the recently-dusted foyer for her to leave, enjoying the strange light of winter dawn, in no rush to be less angry or sad. Being the man who is torn between the desire to be the only one noticed and the desire to be eternally unnoticeable is not working out so well! My shoes are untied, my right arm is stiff from sawing lumber for birdhouses. Oh well, I say. Oh well, you agree, and raise up the sun, and make rivers flow to the sea.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Attendance Shifts Accordingly

At last it is winter in ways that are not alienating. I walk for hours through buffeting winds, snow flurries skating over patches of dark ice. One begins to understand the specific role fear plays in their learning. Strangers call back their barking dogs and the loneliness tightens like a spring. Where we played once, now we ache? The dead begin to take their place around me in ways that suggest the afterlife is closer to a choir loft than anything else. I press briefly against her in bed - the warmth, the welcome - but horse cries float through pre-dawn darkness and our attendance shifts accordingly. Pulling on jeans stiff and cold from a night on the floor, "miso happy" t-shirt, light flannel (yellow & gray stripes), sneakers bound with duct tape. Johnstone is right that we've gotten confused about the difference between mediums and creators but hell if I know how to fix it. "Keep it simple" I mumble, stirring boiling coffee, and wondering what the first sentence will be, precisely as if it were my choice to make.

Neither Confusing nor Confused

I don't ask my dreams to do much, though from time to time I do. A couple weeks ago I asked Jesus to appear in them and of course he did, in the form of a child's drawing. The emphasis was on innocence, with the underlying logic that impossible-to-bridge cultural gaps are readily bridged by love, and love is neither confusing nor confused.

If I listen now, the Holy Spirit is a still and calm and certain interior voice. In its presence is peace and the end of "nothing is missing but the confidence that nothing is missing." My life has been driven by a need to understand, especially the early familial chaos where so much of what I loved was destroyed, and the ones whose job it was to explain and protect and restore neither explained, nor protected, nor restored.

Late but perhaps not too late I begin to sort through what it means to have been raised by alcoholics and adult children of alcoholics.

Out walking last night I kept trying to find refuge - that's the wrong word, a better word is stability but even that's not quite right - in von Glasersfeld's refusal to countenance ontology. I'd work through the first couple of steps then drift into whispery conversations with folks who were dead, including some I'd never met. Is that a thing? My thing? When I tried to stop and get back to something more rigorous - more adjacent to explanation/protection/restoration - there was an interior feeling like a puzzle unmaking itself. It was as if somebody somewhere were saying, why not let me use your thought the way I want to use your thought?

Well, I do like a strong hand to guide me. Absent that guidance, I start coloring outside the lines real fast. And sure, who cares, lines are there to be crossed but I'm not a model of either happiness or freedom. It's like what matters is not obedience or disobedience but rather choosing in a deliberate way, an informed way, a way that harmonizes with the cosmos, which is itself intentional.

In this way, the many forms of rebellion - the many infidelities - are seen as the distractions that they are.

Yet I argued my way out of prayer three summers ago, and meditation is like sitting at the bottom of a pond. I mean, sure, sit quietly doing nothing but don't pretend that sitting quietly doing nothing isn't doing something. I'm a terrible gardener and the women tend the animals. When I pick up saws - as years ago when I picked up guns - somebody always gets hurt, often me.

A few nights after the Jesus dream - in the sloping billows between sleep and not-sleep - I thought clearly: you can step out of this corner any time you like but you have to say it clearly: I want to step out of this corner.

I suspect von Glasersfeld would urge me to take on a specific writing project and not deviate from it. Wapnick would say something to make me laugh, something you can only say when you, too, have experimented with metaphysical self-imprisonment. Jesus doesn't care if I study ACIM or not. He'll clearly lay down another card if that's what I ask. Many are the paths that lead to the pathless heart of it.

But maybe it's time to stop with the familiar games?

Snow flurries dart through bright sun just broaching the eastern line of hills, that line of cut stone that never doesn't put me in the infinitely-faceted mind of grace. How grateful I am for this landscape! I've noticed this winter that the bedroom prisms are less viable than in summer, which is a function not of less light, but rather the angle at which light enters the bedroom.

Knowing makes me happy. Rather than move them (which was my first impulse), I decide to sit quietly in the season and attend whatever reflection its dominion offers. One woman or no woman, said King David, who also pointed out that living is inflorescent. Write or don't write but for Christ's sake, write? "Your word games neither please nor displease the Lord," says the Holy Spirit, adding a moment later, "but your attendance at their creation is a most worthy gift."

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Predicted Rain

Morning begins without me. It's hard to keep track of what I've already said vs. what's actually true vs. who I'm trying to seduce. She used the word "correct" in a spiritual context and I literally hopped liked a sexed-up robin. Yet later - walking up and down Main Street in a mist that never made it to the predicted rain - I used the word myself, so who's judging who. The insistence I not live in her gaze - that my life not be conditioned thusly - intensifies. The so-called year of engagement becomes a not so subtle request for divine extraction, the papers in order, signed in triplicate, notarized et cetera. Yet at 3 a.m. the Lord visits and reminds me of my training, importance of not deviating, everybody's upstairs is counting on you, I know you can do it and so forth. "Thanks, Coach," I mutter yet rather than get up and execute the familiar avoidance strategies, stay down until I can sleep. In a dream then it is given me to loosen my hold on a particular idol, worship of which has been ruinous, and the ruins somehow escaping my notice until now. Thank Christ for my daughters, Beyoncé's Lemonade and Whitney's "No Woman." In the kitchen making coffee Chrisoula makes me laugh and for a moment there is nothing to remember for what could be missing? Then a little voice says "remember this." Then it is day.

Friday, January 3, 2020

I Feel This Way With Bill Knott

A beloved poet is Bill Knott, whose lifelong commitment to dissembling a poetic career and obfuscating any static reader/writer relationship was probably an early harbinger of my own confusion in that regard. I don't think Knott was confused; I mean that his ethic helps me understand the way in which my own ethic is confused.

I read Knott for the first time in high school in I believe 1983. It wasn't on any curriculum but in a poetry anthology that I stole from the school library (yet more evidence of confusion). To this point in my readerly life, "poetry" was whatever teachers assigned (eminently forgettable as it's altogether forgot) and then my mother's college textbooks, which leaned heavily on the Romantics (Browning, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley) and a volume of Robert Frost that to this day nobody can explain how it ended up on the family shelves.

My ear and intellect were still developing in those days. I understood the Romantics in terms of rhythm and a vague spiritual yearning. Frost was a little more familiar in terms of subject matter. I regarded him - errantly but understandably, given what was available at the time both in terms of library and teachers - as an updated Wordsworth.

But basically, at that stage of my life, I tended to correlate poetry to song lyrics, music being the art form that most appealed to me. It was an odd juxtaposition given that I was listening mainly to AC/DC. But Paul Simon and John Denver were dimly in my ken, so there was a sense - however nascent - that lyrics could be more complex than "Goin' down/party time/my friends are gonna be there too/I'm on the Highway to Hell."

Knott's little poem "Goodbye" blew my mind because it attained a high degree of emotional intensity and clarity without music. I felt it. And, critically, I could imagine creating it.

If you are still alive when you read this,
close your eyes. I am
under their lids, growing black.

It is still a fine poem, characteristic of lots of his work: dark, condensed, relational, not unfunny . . .

Over the years I have come to understand that poem as a sort of awakening moment - because it stood to me as an example of what was possible in a very explicit and personal sense. It was generative, in ways that nothing else had been (and little would be again). This is what can be done with language. This is what I will do with language.

Even now when I read it I can feel the rush of creativity and openness. A life opened up for me and without knowing it, I stepped in and was carried away.

To that point, most of my writing had been song lyrics alongside clumsy attempts at music. I was then - and remain - a relatively inept musician, despite how much I love it and still play and practice. But after Knott's poem, I began to write poetry - typing it up, adding images, sharing it with friends (usually girls I wanted to impress but not only).

Earlier this year I destroyed all my journals from the years 1980 to about 1999. Lugging them around was exhausting, and it had been a long time since I'd bothered reading them. I culled the poems and songs worth keeping, and let the more diaryesque entries burn. It was a fine and liberating exercise.

In the process, I came across the poetry "books" I made in high school - typed texts with a lot of drawings and photographs - and opted not to destroy them. I don't think they're of interest to anyone besides me, and maybe the kids some day, depending on how their sense of paternal influence in their own art plays out, but it did feel like a matter of honor. I felt tremendous respect for the kid who'd worked so hard, frequently in secret, discerning ways forward without any real adult support or encouragement. We don't owe the world our creations, but we do owe our creations our gratitude. What I learned in those early years saved me in the hard and violent years of my early twenties. If nothing else - and it may well be nothing else - poetry is a lifeline, a nontrivial one.

Rereading those old poems reminded me again of Bill Knott. I do think about him from time to time, always with a sense of deep love and respect. I never met him and on this side of the bourn never will. But my debt is large. He was deeply committed to art, at the expense of career, comfort and attention (as I understand it), and I have no idea what price he paid for that. Lord knows it isn't easy. He is not a brother exactly, nor a father, but more in the nature of a beloved but mysterious uncle - a black sheep nobody in the family will talk about and only after he's gone do you realize how much you're like him.

When my Dad died, for a year or so I was plagued by questions that only he could have answered. This is natural and not a crisis. But it is a hard space to navigate; in a sense, we have to grow up and accept that there are things we are not going to know. There are gaps in the narrative that are going to remain gaps.

I feel this way with Bill Knott - a sense of sadness, a sense of loss, all of it leavened with the awkward grace and thankfulness that seems to ever attend my being a poet. So gassho to my long-gone uncle, and gassho to the anonymous dead everywhere, whose work sustains my work, and gassho to the ones coming after, whose absence reminds me of my duty, allow me to write writing, day after day after day.

Prone to Second-Guessing

Blue skies ask how will we manage?

Late morning - the writing tangling me in knots, and no end in sight to our poverty - I turn to the kitchen. Slice potatoes and onions, celery and kale and boil it all with spoonfuls of smoked paprika. Now and then stepping outside to see if the horses are okay and who - if anyone - is gossiping outside the post office. I hate where I live, for first time in almost thirty-five years, and the hatred eats me alive, like turpentine.

The only daughter at home moves through the house quickly, not speaking, between art projects, and sometimes curling up to read. She is most like me in so many ways and yet of all my kids we are most estranged. So much of what happens confuses me, which has led to a lifetime of seeking understanding, which has been edifying in one way but hasn't touched the confusion.

It's not a spiritual problem. That seems clear. It's like that time I stood high on a hill in Heath, picking blueberries with Chrisoula, and felt suddenly like my whole life meant nothing, and never had or ever would, and it didn't matter how I framed the insight nor whether I even responded to it. So I went on picking blueberries.

I decide I'm making soup, something Irish, the recipe conjugating itself from decades of reading old cookbooks focused on peasant diets and culinary habits. The poor are always with us indeed. I'm merciful but not just, vigilant but prone to second-guessing, and my prayers are laughably self-centered. How far does one have to drift before the drifting becomes intolerable?

It reminds me of that time I stood on a hill in Heath . . .

Yet her footsteps upstairs have a pleasing resonance to them, hollow and rhythmic, with a narrative quality like gourds and animal skins being played by old women in circles it seems helpful to imagine again. And the soup smells like something you could feed those women and not be found wanting. Truth is, I was happy on that hill, unconditionally so, and don't know why I pretend otherwise.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

In Residence at Golgotha

Words are coarse-grained, which I am only just learning, on account of a lifelong habit of not complaining about certain forms of discomfort. How poorly I express myself, how little you comprehend!

Dream Daniel Dennet's office was somewhere in Boston - and we were all dressed as if it were 1776 - but he lived in Pittsfield, or so he said after saying that I was welcome to study with him and offering to take me home. That which can be neither verified nor falsified should not be subject to speech later? It was oddly comforting but also not all about me. Later, a different teacher - a woman - eclipsed without asking my many physical boundaries, swept Dennett aside and demanded to know "how lonely it is inside you?"

One feels the burden of living a life in which they cannot effectively explain anything to anyone (despite knowing and having so much) and so constantly appear wounded, tormented, agonized, et cetera. As if always in residence at Golgotha? Our lives are pinned to the boards of others so our wings grow brittle and dull. We have to be liberated but how? One waits on Emily Dickinson to say something but she is brutally silent after last week's mistaken reference to her "littleness." Traffic streams irregularly up and down Main Street, the skies brighten and it's cold, it's damn cold. I sip a first cup of coffee, sad but alert, unmoving in the upstairs rocker. Working out the structure of an elaborate note that says both "thanks" and "no thanks" without hurting a single one of the recipients. I mean wallowing in yet another interregnum, alone.

Always Sexually Companionate is not Realistic

When I talk about God - especially in relation to the writing that I do, which I think is almost always either implicitly or explicitly related to God - it is an error to always talk about "gifts."

Because something is also taken. You lose something when you agree to worship at the altar of art, and it's a nontrivial loss. It's a required loss.

Over and over this loss appears in the art itself (even as the art), as if demanding to be recognized and integrated (i.e., we must accept ourselves as broken in order to heal and forever after that we limp).

Saying it that way feels very consistent with Robert Bly's attempts to think and write mythically in the eighties and nineties, which was when I first encountered him. I read Iron John several times, not because it spoke to me in particular, but because many men in my circle were reading it and I wanted to be fluent in the relevant language. The book itself always felt less substantial than Bly's critical writing about poetry.

Bly no longer feels challenging to me, is the thing. I'm grateful to him, recognize his craft, et cetera but . . . the resonance, the interior amplititude, is no longer there.

The writer from those seminal years who remains provocative - or is presently provocative - is Jack Gilbert, about whom I have been trying to write intelligently for the past year or so. I feel a lot of shame around reading Gilbert (both for reading him then and for reading him now), and so - I think "so" is the right word here - there is also a sense of being stuck at a site of unresolved poetics (where poetics is understood broadly to include one's psychology et cetera).

The problem is Gilbert's relationship with women (which is in many senses the problem all the male writers I read in my twenties had - save possibly for Carruth, though I will have to reflect on that). Gilbert pretty plainly objectifies women, sexualizes them, and leans into the objectification to see what it will yield.

And what does it yield? I think just more objectification and possibly the sour grapes of one who has missed out on some fundamental experiences of women accordingly. Does Gilbert ever once mention his mother?

While I appreciate the emotional honest of his later work, and his abiding commitment to an aesthetic, it felt sterile to me in the end and embarrassing even, the desire to be always sexually companionate is . . . not realistic.

On the other hand, Gilbert's steadfast insistence on western images and art and mythologies and rhetorical strategies continues to matter to me, as I feel my own "eastern flirtations" were just that - shallow flirtations that never remotely approached consummation, let alone relationship. A lot of the helpful clarity in my thinking over the past two years has been the result of deliberately exploring the western canon. It turns out I have a lot of mothers and fathers (and aunts and uncles and cousins . . . ) and nearly all of them are monotheistic (or victims of monotheism, i.e., western pagans).

Anyway, where did this brief expository essay begin? In the notion that when one consents to spend a life writing, they are not just gifted with a life of writing, but also to a life without . . . what? What is taken away?

Gilbert eschewed the easy comfort of western-style Buddhism and careerism. I remember running into him one time in Stop n Shop and he was studying decrepit, marked-down bananas, like looking for the least decrepit. Shades of Wendell Berry in this ruthless fidelity, though Berry conjured his comfort through a kind of right living (he can be very tiresome championing his way of life). Gilbert's crisp lines - like marble, really - were only possible because of the material deprivations he accepted (where is Gilbert's mother?). On that view, one can appreciate how much it must have hurt when he couldn't make love as reliably or ecstatically. It was the only sensual excess he allowed himself.

Anyway, this is becoming judgmental, unfairly so. Poet, study thyself! And if you can't manage that, at least notice when you're projecting onto somebody else.

Let's say - for now - that my pathology - as I have been using that word in recent posts - is conceptually related to Gilbert's pathology with women and strict attention to western intellectual and theological culture, and that if I want to explore this in a fructive meaningful way, then I might want to answer this question:

Where is the mother in Jack Gilbert's poetry?

[note that this may be related to a similar question: where is the mother in Emily Dickinson's poetry? But in Dickinson's case, the question is muddied because her fame has led to a lot of biographical data and interpretation that is largely unavailable with respect to Gilbert).

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Sunlight Fills the Kitchen

New morning. I wake up with a need to rewrite yesterday's post about what writing is - or at least write a correction for it, lest somebody think I think I know what I'm doing - and so forget to feed the horses. What compounds, what conceals, what concerns us. Chrisoula notes I'm working by light of the Christmas tree, which we so rarely remember to turn on this year, and her saying so feels like an opening of some kind, an invitation to dialogue or to one of our skillful hot couplings in the pantry, and so I flee upstairs, coffee in one hand, writing in the other. For Christ's sake, not this again. Or thank Christ, this again? You see, the point is not to avoid the pathology but to go deeply into it, using whatever language facilitates the going, and not worry about what it looks like after. Let go of everything, including outcomes, but especially let go of the emphasis on letting go. Safe in the upstairs bedroom (she always makes the bed, knowing it's easier for me to write in uncluttered spaces), fluorescent pink mare's tails float slowly in from the west and hover over Main Street which is dusted with snow and not yet marred by tire tracks. We who insist on perfection and also on marring perfection - who have yet to conceive of creativity outside that tired binary - are prone to infidelity. It's okay but there are alternatives (living is inflorescence). On the far side of yet another failed attempt to persuade the muse to leave the projected role I make for her and enter my bed (throwing back blankets, messing sheets, dampening everything, marring it), I realize that somebody somewhere knows something I don't about the role of symbols and right pathology and it's not who I think it is. Want it to be? Well, shared errors are okay too I guess. I stay with the text until it's a question of this word or that, then go back downstairs for breakfast. The family is there, pancakes are there, hot tea is there. It's late but not too late; sunlight fills the kitchen. "Did you finish?" Chrisoula asks and for once I can say honestly "I'm not sure but I'm ready to stop and eat."

Where "Cease to Exist" Means "Unable to Write"

But you see, the one who writes "All writing is effectively a search for the soul, which is our self-realized identity in God" does not yet fully understand why they write and so their writing - especially when it purports to be about writing - is shallow and ineffective.

[yet note the pleasure one can take in seeing through the author's claims to authority, and how this can beget empathy, and even longing]

The clue is in the phrase "all writing," which is unambiguously total and thus unsupportable. We can only ever speak with such certainty about our personal experience of writing. Everything else must be tentative, hypothetical, subject to confirmation after dialogue with others, et cetera. When I am in the mode of declaring X right beyond question, I am . . . not writing confidently. Or clearly.

This is what Jasper was getting at (who was nearly edited out of the previous piece and was effectively lectured for being confused in the part of his that remained): be careful of spiritualizing your pathology to a degree that reinforces in uncreative ways the pathology's capacity for ignorance, sacrifice, selfishness, et cetera.

I tried to avoid that mistake first by being blandly autobiographical (in 1983, in mid-October 2019 et cetera) and second by leaning hard into spiritual drama (e.g. visits from King David). But it didn't work.

I must have realized this failure at some point while sleeping, because I woke up at 5 a.m. with a pressing need to write this correction (and not a lot of doubt about what the correction was to say).


My writing is almost always an attempt to attract and then hold the gaze of a woman whose gaze is considered life-giving (that is, if she looks away too often or for too long I might cease to exist, where "cease to exist" means "be unable to write" but, of course, other forms of death are allowed, too).

On this view, the ideal reader has always been a particular woman who conforms to the image I make: highly sexualized, deeply religious, and obsessed with my writing.

As Jasper helpfully noted, the pathology as such involves a lot of alcohol, violence, implicit and explicit threats of abandonment, dead and dying animals . . . There is a reason Hansel and Gretel appeals the way it does!

So yes. The writing is an entry into the pathology and someone has to go with me (Hansel needs his Gretel). Yet consent is fundamental. The whole thing only works if the woman agrees to step into the role. For a long time I was puzzled by this condition, but I think it has to do with nontrivial recognition that we are equals, and so the woman is also working on her own pathology in an intentional way. Gretel needs her Hansel (as Frank O'Hara would say, "this is getting rich, isn't it?").

I think where my experience of the pathology becomes most creative (like the difference between clutching at someone and dancing with them) is when the relational aspect of writer/reader (sean/ideal reader) clarifies, and I actually become interested in the reader's - the woman's - experience of the relationship. In this way, mutuality is established, which allows for love in the broadest, most inclusive (least conditional) sense.

For example, there was a point when I realized that I was overlooking the technical proficiency of D's poems in favor of combing through her prose & paintings for clues about who or what was the object of her adoration. This was liberating because instantly the focus shifted from a single-dimensional view of her to something more prismatic, in which she was a creator among many creators with her own writerly concerns. I began to wonder: how has she lived the pathology? How has she made it holy?

In this way, it was seen that the gaze, as such, went both ways.

That is, when the other is freed from the colonial bounds of our projection - our insistence they conform to this or that image and symbolic ideal - then we are freed as well.

For me, in this way, writing has always been about healing. Sometimes it heals by actually making clear which was to go next (stop practicing EFT and start studying ACIM) and sometimes by allowing one's experience of writing and reading to actually modify itself so that the way one lives becomes gentler, kinder, and more loving.

This writing belongs in the latter category.

There is more to say obviously about the pathology. And Hansel and Gretel.

And there is potentially a lot to say here about Emily Dickinson (who was very close to the concern about what language to use in order to get as close to one's pathology as possible), Humberto Maturana (whose work on love has been clarifying at a late but hopefully not too late juncture, and whose feminism has stabilized a lot of my political wanderlust) and James Hillman (from whose conversations with Laura Pozzo my use of "pathology" is culled, ineptly for sure but not unhelpfully) but I let that "lot to say" stand with only this bare nod. Perhaps another day.