An Otherwise Gentle Infidelity

Grateful – always grateful – to Emily Dickinson. All our strategies converge thusly: Friday night, the house empty, writing by a single small lamp. These are the dream times and they will not come again, so let us conduct our affairs accordingly. What is evoked and by what ritual is the evocation wrought? One goes into each sentence as into a country they have not visited in a long time. Repetition is not without purpose, which one learns over and over and over. Buffeted these days between the self-image and the one who creates – and then judges, often quite harshly, almost always unfairly – the image. Dishonesty marred an otherwise gentle infidelity and so we repair to back rooms and local bars, the better to nurse our bewilderment and regret. Whole continents unfurl on the bed sheets, political movements and their histories insert themselves in our clumsy sexual coupling. Those back-and-forth walks on Main Street mean always passing the old church and knowing the certain angle at which its steeple blots the stars. Home is an act not a place and it’s high time to stop self-instructing otherwise. In a sense, we were always preamble, we for whom the Lord appeared as a certain narrative impulse, a way of looking back and saying “it could have gone one way but instead it went this.” This emptiness my love, it will not let me call it by any other name.

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As Worthy a Traveler as Jonah

In a way even reading is a form of breaking faith but then one has to risk infidelity in order to meet the Lord. Ten thousand regrets are my wedding party now – I could wash a glass city with my tears. Night after night sprigs of dried lilac appear in my dreams attended by choruses of unseen birds. For the life of me I don’t understand this peace nor why it should have been offered to so unloyal and trite a suitor but here we are. The honeymoon suite, the bridal chamber, the threshing floor.  Meeting his widow at the transfer station one leans into offering condolences even though we are collectively moving away now from treating death as more than a simple transaction. If you are here to be perfect then you are in the wrong place but if you are here to love, then love and let the rain fall where the rain falls, am I right? When the old ones talked about light, I think they knew from candles and lamps, don’t you? What a poverty we become when we are fixed on our own becoming. This summer let’s go back to the lake we camped at in 1994 and swim again at midnight listening to loons in the moonlight. Who says I don’t remember how to worship? Marriage is a stone on which two strangers carve their names then throw as far into the sea as they can. Once you understand all distance is a mirage, then Job becomes as worthy a traveler as Jonah. How lonely I am yet how grateful! How wide the door opens when you no longer insist on seeing it only as an entrance or an exit.

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Translation is an Act of Love

Somewhere after the second kid you stopped wearing a bra. Your hair grew long and silver, always as if the wind had passed through it or the moon given birth to it. Death puzzles but does not frighten you but the grieving are made to be consoled and in this you are expert. The text we comprise is not unfamiliar to those with eyes to see but the prayers in it are oddly indifferent to their object. So it goes with a grain of sand! You arch your back coming, always a little surprised after, like remembering you like a certain kind of poem. In the story, a man makes pancakes from scratch, eyeing the horizon outside the kitchen windows. In his mind, a wedding is the beginning of a marriage and marriages are microcosmic unities with paternal gods whose blessings are contingent. Yet farther back than he can see, a woman opens a black cloth her mother gave her and uses it to bundle moonlight, dried violets and ladybug wings. In the City of Ancestors – which is the capitol of the Country of Turtles and forbidden to all outsiders save one – a widow smashes her favorite flower pot and buries the shards by her husband’s grave. I insist that translation is an act of love. I maintain that infidelities are bruises that can heal. You open your cupped hands to reveal a thousand nesting chickadees. My throat, my ocean, my shoes. My folded sail: my love.

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Radios Who Think They Invented Music

Yet was there ever time? So many roads are empty of everything now but echoes and nobody ever gets anywhere anyway. In my mind, Judd Nelson is always walking across that football field at dusk, pumping his fist, briefly not doomed. How tiresome the world becomes when you’ve stopped believing in magic or God! Between sanding the driveway and fixing the fence, my hands freeze into bluish claws and for two hours the world is one in which I cannot write. How do you tell folks that angels have taught you to fly, errant but vast hops over the pasture to the river, the horses calm beneath you? Something unloving, something that won’t trust. Do keep your eye on the chickadees who will miss me when I’m gone. Coffee softens the inevitable blow but can’t undo it altogether, yet really, what does? In the old days we studied the sky and read the air, now we’re like radios who think they invented music. You turned from me once to remove your shirt and then kept going, through the window over the valley and gone, leaving me to self-soothe by folding and re-folding laundry. A dog gnaws a bone, cancer gnaws your gut, absence knows your soul. Look at us pretending we’re one with the whole story! Look at the moon getting drunk in a bar only a handful of people know exists.

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Fragments of a Misbegotten Fairy Tale

Let us go into this.

[May I go into this]

It was a law that if I dreamed of something – in the sense of longing for it with embodied intensity – then it was thereby made impossible. To dream was to be denied.

Yet I could not stop my dreaming.

[Can anyone stop their dreaming]

[Is this dreaming]

I wanted a horse, a guitar, my own cookbooks, to cook, not to have shoot a gun, not to have to always read inside . . .

But why was it a law?

My father taught me how to be easy with death – how not to cower before its finality nor presume any theology could undo it. He favorably quoted Uncle Ed who, when asked what he wanted for a funeral, said “stick a bone up my ass and let the dogs drag me away.”

[God, my father said, hates a coward]

Dogs, cows, chickens, ducks, turtles, deer, snakes, kittens, sheep, geese, squirrels, foxes, trout, crows, mourning doves and bear: some I killed, some I buried and some I watched others kill.

Much of what died I prayed would live.

What I tried to save was killed.

I lived on the verge of tears but never cried.

I became an expert with secrets. Hardened against loss.

I rejected the salvation offered by the religion of my fathers.

Yet it was also law in part because of the mysterious need my mother had to make sure nobody was ever truly happy, never truly satisfied. This was our shared penance for the horrors of her own childhood, which I would not wish on anyone.

It got to where all you had to do was know you wanted something and you heard – echoing in whatever recess a mother’s grief carves in us – “no.”

[I rejected the comfort of women]

Yet I questioned all of it.

In time I questioned all of it.

Alone and without any clear sense of the risk or why it mattered, I questioned all of it.

Learned to play guitar.

Learned to cook.

Gathered cookbooks and read them at night in bed with Chrisoula, who was amused but supportive, saying try this recipe. Try that.

Got horses for the girls.

Gave the guns away to be destroyed.

Gave the fucking guns away and thanked Christ for their destruction.

Gathered the fragments of a misbegotten fairy tale and told it less broken. In a way that allowed for beauty.

For holiness.

[What is sacred, how shall we say it]

Treasured violets, chickadees, quartz rocks, prisms and the early hours conducive to whatever passes for prayer in the heart of the confused, the heart of the lost, the heart of the not-yet-forsaken.

Insisted on happiness, however dim, however half-assed.

At midnight go out to the horses who in moonlight step gracefully to me. As if I am not broken but healed. As if in a dream where I am not broken but healed.

In a dream with you, where I am healed.

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Back to the Well

And begin.

We shall let what is holy be holy.

We shall make no assertions that contradict holiness, ours or anyone else’s. We shall not worry about the moon in the sky.

When the horses gather at the gate to be fed, we shall bring them hay and speak to them in low tones of our gratitude and amazement. Love shall be the lantern of our shared Greek dawn.

We shall let our childhood be healed by not insisting it be other than it was.

Where mountains rise like cut stone into orange skies we shall kneel, and where the waters lap green and leafy banks we shall stand and open our throats.

The two-note spring song of chickadees becomes us.

Wind as it rustles in the low tangle of violets becomes us.

For have we not asked and been answered? Have we not opened our hands to make a home for the light? Have we not read the bible in full, each page going blank before our eyes?

Do we not have eyes?

Beloved. I will not worry that I cannot say where the moon will next show up in the sky.

I will not worry do you see the moon as well.

All appearances are blessed. All appearances are themselves the light in which they are perceived: this is the blessing. There is no seam. Division is the Lord another way.

It was ever thus. We leave the church for another church and learn there are no churches.

Walt Whitman caroling, determined to leave out nothing. Thomas Merton listening to himself pray and loving what he hears, despite knowing how fractured the prayer is.

Emily Dickinson listening to the Lord, humbled by what she heard, ruined by what she learned, going over and over back to the well, even after it had crumbled and blown away.

Writing.

Dandelions, milkweed. Snake skin.

Every mile between us has more than one poem to it now. This is the distance we made: the highway we cannot cross for every step lengthens it by one more step. This is the mansion in the sky where we run from room to room crying.

This is Hansel saying “not again.”

This is Gretel trying in vain to remember what she swore she would never do again.

This is my heart, this is my prayer, this is this morning’s writing.

This is the hungry witch, her tea cup filled with moonlight, crooning a song the tulip bulbs taught her.

This is the dark that knows it is light.

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Something in Me Uses the Art

Late afternoon and the house uncharacteristically empty and so I write and go on writing and the writing is oddly unsatisfactory. I want something from it that I struggle to allow it to give me, and cannot yet allow it.

Afternoon: this afternoon.

The house is quite like a monastery yet the neighbor can be heard running a tractor, somebody shouting at kids to step back followed by thumping of hay bales being tossed to the frozen ground. What do I want to say or is it a question of what do I want to hear?

I turn a light on to see better and wonder if I am being reckless by writing and not preparing dinner – sweet and sour chicken with rice, spinach salad, toasted baguette with garlic. If I bring my attention to the writing in any other way than slant, the writing begins to perform for me, it begins to seduce me.

Something in me uses the art to distract me from what the art wants to say.

I go askew.

The bit of sky visible from where I sit to write is clouded but still full of light – we are slipping towards Spring notwithstanding the coming storm. I give myself to you. Before you I fall before you helpless.

Finnie and Chrisoula are at the town hall collecting paperwork from C’s office or else visiting neighbors along the way. Jeremiah is in the hay loft playing guitar.

Sophia is in her bedroom writing, Sia playing low enough I can’t say which album.

You fall with me, you go with me into my helplessness. In my weakness, you are weak, and in our shared weakness we become not strong but rather no longer weak.

Stars fill the sky: a song eclipses my lips and tongue.

When writing, it is important to study carefully your relationship with pronouns, to notice their effect on the writing, and what readerly presence they tend to evoke. All writing is invitation: all invites are unto the Lord. The quiet becomes a kind of emptiness in which not even writing can bring you forth as a solace.

In your absence, even absence becomes holy for it reminds me of you.

When writing, it is important to locate oneself in the specific mythology in which one is brought forth as a living creature. Nothing else satisfies. I cannot be fulfilled but with you.

Earlier, driving back from Holyoke, I found myself reflecting on the psalms and wishing I could read them in Greek. Or listen to James muttering as he worked and reworked the fluid prose. When my thirst becomes acute, you pour yourself into my throat, and when my hunger twists me into dross on the threshing floor, you soothe me with dreams of salt and buttered bread.

Listen: He comes out of the sky to profess His love for all appearances in the singular light of being, and I am lifted with Him above the pasture and carried forward to the starlit river.

My tongue shall be your tongue and you shall sip the river from the well of my cupped hands.

For this body shall pass away.

And this storyteller shall pass away.

And this story shall pass away.

But you will not pass away.

Passing away will not pass away.

Grateful in the low station you made for me I enter the kitchen. In the silence, I wait for the sounds of you who are my life.

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The Chickadees Came Along

Morning coffee, three a.m., moonlight slivering the room in ways that deepen my prayer. What is Jesus but the one idea that brings us to stillness, the whole fulcrum of self perfectly balanced. There is only this: this this.

Yet one does go about repeating themselves, being more like a parrot or a mockingbird than not. In my early twenties, not without notice but certainly unaware of the long-term consequences, my life assumed a certain posture of worship and adoration. We laugh making love because our hips hurt and because I say near the finish, “it’s more fun to make sandwiches.”

Things we assume because long ago someone we trust asserted them. Bronson Brook rolls through old forest, fed in part by a tiny feeder that tumbles through old sheep pastures down into the dingle. Maple syrup on snow, pickles, hot chocolate and brandy: we were outside a lot in those days and we fed ourselves simply.

In moonlight the horses – who are the heart of my daughters – remind me of the little boy who dreamed of horses despite knowing that the very fact of dreaming them meant they were impossible. In other words, who shall we trust? The reverence we feel beside bodies of water is simple recognition (they really are mirrors) and can – but needn’t be – gussied up with theology.

A legacy of Greek mountain women pervades my living, especially as we age and begin to care for one another in an old way. One loses touch with what turned them to brandy and acid, and yet what one learned while drunk and tripping remains viable. Back then Linden Street in Fall River still had old trolley tracks running up its middle and my sense of what matters and what is possible and what is not is informed accordingly.

One works through their biases, one rearranges the various interior shelves. Around eleven snow begins and I wander up Main Street onto Plainfield Road pausing now and then in the pure susurration. Someone asks what my favorite Latin word is and Chrisoula answers quickly “fellatio” and everybody laughs, it was that kind of gathering.

Of course, it is possible to be happy without perceiving a deluge of sorrow about to come crashing, isn’t it. I thought I’d figured it all out when I said don’t build churches with doors that lock, but then the chickadees came along saying, “why bother with doors at all?”

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Both Nakedness and Bread

Our hunger and tears, our favorite books, and the secrets we share with only one or two others. Orphans and witches know the forest in a way you don’t which is why dogs were for so long necessary. A last gust of wind sails through the sky and one contemplates yet another apology. Long ago it was clear that not withstanding our gift for words, the work was to consent to an interior transformation of which one would likely not be able to speak. In fact, the devil does keep his promises – it’s you and I who like to tease the future with cheap transgressions. Twice in the past week I have flown over the pasture as far as the river, Emily Dickinson clapping in delight. The firmament is a shared dream and this is why we have tongues. Oh do plunge your hands in the cold river, make of them a fleshy bowl, for I am thirstier than words can say. I walked back shivering but delighted to have seen so intimately what the Lord longs to give. How confused I am by both nakedness and bread! Our hearts are less bellows than vocal magisteria. Even this poem is not so mysteriously the light by which it is read.

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A Brief Note of Interruption

These prose poems are published daily but were written some months ago. They should not be read as reflections of what is happening today; what is happening today will appear in the poems that are published in early May or so. I say this because glancing at the poems this morning, I saw that current events do not appear in them, and I don’t want anybody to think I am being cavalier or trite or insensitive. Our living is very affected by COVID-19 – a lot of hunkering down, a lot of helping others when and as possible, and a lot of plotting spring, summer and food production with an eye toward extending our self-reliance and – as Tara Singh often said – thereby extending our capacity to help others. Yet these poems are dear to me, and if you are reading them, even a little, then you are dear to me. I offer a prayer for your wellness. I am here, wordily. I’m glad you’re here too.

Love,
Sean

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