Tuesday, March 31, 2020

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.

Monday, March 30, 2020

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.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

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.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

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.

Friday, March 27, 2020

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.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

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.


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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

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.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

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?"

Monday, March 23, 2020

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.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

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.


Below the Metaphor

What prayer, what god? At five a.m., the quiet in me unfolds into something wordy. Thusly comforted, thusly settled. We are not bodies precisely but guests, and not guests precisely but strangers given to teaching the collective how to love what it yet doesn't recognize. When the wind blows one thinks of the horses bearing with it. One thinks of loose hay skating across the frozen snow. If I grieved once, I do not grieve now, and if I laughed once, I do not laugh now. The ceremony, begun a long time ago, at last becomes my attention. A great river is our love and if I sometimes flail as it flows to the sea, well, like the rest of us I am learning. Jesus visits often now, vast and specific, willing into the languaging brain a previously forbidden dialogue. Shall I sink below the metaphor? The dark is a fructive soil and we are seeds not calculations. Something stirs on my left shoulder, something else insists it is finished. Are we were long ago or are yet to come? Between this breath and the next, Her unique alleluia and my nontrivial - presently borrowed - wings. This world, Beloved, it is made of moonlight.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Beyond the Horizon My Body Defines

Yet ask: can anything in fact ever be ruined? Hours after morning prayers that were haunted by an angry and displaced angel, one cleans the kitchen and reheats tea, humming Dylan tunes from the 1970s. What we name "rain" and what we name "loss" and what - deeper yet - cannot be named for it is itself the origin of naming. Fill one tea cup with moonlight and it becomes a spiritual practice, one you can't stop indulging as if God or the ghost of your dead grandmother was made unceasingly happy thereby. Begrudge no woman her honor and due. We kiss in the foyer, dry old lips grazing drier older lips, the movement rich with apology and promise, the whole history of love, each the other's help-meet unto eternity. At noon I go off to teach, adopting a stance towards the world premised on half-remembered readings of the Rule of Saint Benedict. You think you're getting somewhere, or getting away from something, but mostly you're going in circles, mostly you're pretending you can do more than just float. The chickadees say "welcome" as if I've entered a church but I don't remember seeing any doors. "Oh yes," she breathes in the vault of my attention, enshrined with Jesus and Henry David Thoreau. "Now bow," she says in the bells of my adoration. "Now slowly turn and behold the world," she cries from beyond the horizon my body defines as unapproachable. I mean this Heaven of possibilities here: this together we never aren't in.

Friday, March 20, 2020

A Non-Trivial Salvation

What is grim in me passes and what lives in me asserts again we are blossoms not machines. Satan wasn't the only angel, just the most aggressive in refusing to study his error. Can we agree that love at least feels better, even if it's only making the bed together or deciding to shop on Tuesday rather than Wednesday? Rehearsing nonstandard liturgies has become a de facto career, against which my poverty no longer needs to defend itself. The visible mountains are gray against grayer skies, all blurred by February rain trickling down the window an hour before noon. My family of origin and its sundry tentacles mock my obsession with glass, my collection of bottles and goblets and prisms, yet the loveliness I have discovered in the company of the breakable has been a non-trivial salvation. So I was born and will die, so what? This marriage abjures the wedding in order to hold me through uncountable nightmares. Mercy abides in the antique heart. I thought my suffering was private or necessary but look! When I crawl towards the light, the light expands to include me, exactly as if it were home all along. This poem - a poor note of thanks at best - is a sacred warrant, sufficient to us both.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Another Noose

Struggling up through watery depths in order to breathe again, standing on the edge of a cliff awaiting a stiff wind, star-gazing under cloud cover that shows no signs of abating. How and with whom shall I think about this body?

How we take our clothes off at night when we are tired and ready to sleep vs. how we took them off when we were young and hot and ready. Fourteen books on the bureau, my reading list through early May.

One chooses among many options without realizing it, commits to the one chosen as to a religion, else what is childhood for. The cows came up from the pasture to greet the little boy for whom their presence was a metaphysical condition related to God's mysterious love.

Luciferian pride begins to gleam through rips in the moral fabric of me. We are selves in part but not in sum.

One faces the classroom uncertainly, desiring to be loved yet unsure of their commitment to the requisite ideals, and thus risks a damaging exposure. Artists with a gift for self-promotion, artists whose work elides the self altogether.

Chickadees perch on nearby pines for all the world studying me as I pass. When I kneel I do so swiftly with efficiency and when I rise it is only because the other is sated and no longer needs me or any receptacle in a posture of submission and when I leave after it is in silent fury like a loaded gun that cannot die.

To call wordiness "given" is to create expectations and obligations where none naturally abide and this too is an error to be avoided. That diner in Vermont where we ate Saturday mornings, sharing each other's pancakes and coffee.

The old dog's grave is a mountain that I climb at least once a year. One enters the forest aware of what changes when one enters the forest, which includes the awareness that one cannot be aware of everything that changes when one enters the forest.

At bedtime we could barely speak owing to fatigue and stress yet at three a.m. were bound in a shared pocket of warmth in which something that does not love us was vanquished, if only temporarily. One takes their grandmother's tea cup outside and holds it over their head so it will fill with moonlight, determined to enact every possible ritual of grace.

We who were raised to gaze unflinchingly into the barrels of guns, to accept unconditionally the ruthlessness of the God of Jonathan Edwards, we for whom every death of an animal was another noose we were made to walk by before risking a fretful sleep. Abide with me now in the wreckage, console me in this vale of snot and tears.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A Plastic Emphasis

A last swallow of tea. Hills to the south emerge from dense clouds, morning rain fades, and I walk two houses down to apologize for Friday night's outburst. We have to help, and we have to allow ourselves to be helped, or is that just the way we were told we had to say it.

One begins to sense the presence of Lucifer, especially over the first cup of coffee in pre-dawn darkness. Muddy snowbanks seep into the road, forcing traffic to go slower and pull to the side. We share but not happily and bad things happen.

An early insistence that ethics was always situational, as if. Half a century passes with nothing to show but glossy metaphysics and a plastic emphasis on joy. Ferrying hay to the horses at dawn, surprised when they linger looking at me rather than going on to eat.

A tea cup filled with moonlight. Four a.m. or so waking from a dream of my mother demonstrating compassion for her own mother at a picnic table, a family reunion of some kind, a late afternoon full of blank faces and unarticulated expectations, and thus the day becomes a long slog through shitty applications of intellect and fake smiles. Submission, always submission.

Exhausted by caring for sick children we can barely face one another in the kitchen at breakfast. Who cares how frozen apple slices fare in winter pie? Psilocybin-fueled escape fantasies dominate now.

Yet immortality remains a theme, one we are bound to explore. Mutual recognition eschewing equality? We who were given the sky but opted instead for low pastures and cows, a happiness that in retrospect was a bitter settlement enabled by already-dying fathers.

Buddha chokes saying grace at the table and some of us thump his broad back and some of us just laugh. The Man without Shoes hoards shoes, seduces the cobbler's daughter without considering her own needs, and does not pray the way he tells you that he prays and really - I mean really - can you say you are surprised?

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Stones in Our Shoes

Four a.m. is not sacred but at four a.m. what is sacred finds itself in me and is not scared to blossom. Best decision ever was putting the old green couch - scavenged from a Cape Cod house-cleaning fifteen years ago - into the kitchen facing the stove. Sometimes the poems write themselves and sometimes the loneliness won't even let you remember that you write poems. Throws its tendrils into still morning dark? A point at which pajamas no longer mattered, at which sleep and sex began to commingle in deliberate - if not always satisfying - ways. The church steeple in gold light in Burlington Vermont in summer '88, reflected in broken glass in the driveway where I knelt crying. Bamboo bird cages, turtle shell combs, diaries in German covered with dust. One does not rebel against that from which one cannot meaningfully or otherwise separate, and yet rebellion runs its viral course. Dreams of absolute certainty break upon waking, like dropping a tea cup in winter. Hand-delivered ultimatums? The mail was never for us anyway. A fever, a favor, a fortune, a fall. A thousand years pass - ten thousand years pass - and neither the gift nor the giver change. Why do we go on troubled, stones in our shoes, unsure of our companion? Waxing poetic under winter stars, cardinals asleep in the pines. The absence of Jesus is Christ but what is the absence of Christ?

Monday, March 16, 2020

Off the Fulcrum

Gritty eloquence bearing me forward on hot black coffee at the strangely comforting four a.m. Or was Dylan in the Chelsea Hotel channeling Emily Dickinson and not knowing it? Back then it rained less in winter, back then when we were cold we didn't complain. Technologies function as metaphors the way God functioned for our ancestors (who didn't know from metaphors but that's a different story). One cherishes guitars, knives, ceramic elephants and prisms, doesn't one. My body has many parts, each with varying degrees of utility, and the whole as such ceases to matter the way once upon a time it did. We have followed dogs deep into the forest, the joy of those travels marred only by regret for the discomfort we brought to black bears. I sit up all night with Jeremiah who sleeps in throes of sickness, moaning and tossing, and remember doing the same with my father as he died, and wonder when I will finally slip off the fulcrum attended by a man. Who argues with me that moonlight is not blue has yet to reach the preferential garden. Shadows of maple trees elongate over snowy lawns. Quietly saying "I too dwell in possibility," hoping she will allow the reference. So night passes unto day, mansions unto homes unto restoration projects, and bones unto crystals in which emptiness rehearses yet another role for the interior critic. My umbrella is broken my love - would you mind sharing yours?

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Outside Sparta

I am always trying to "get away." It is like visiting Vermont and discovering Vermont is trying to hold onto you for reasons of its own. But always, words are convention-dependent assignments of meaning and thus evidence of that-which-is-not-us. I mean, who shall I praise if not you? We are now that juncture where we make better bread, pizza, muffins, fudge, stew with dumplings et cetera than one could buy anywhere, and so we are no longer safe for the market economy that is our Lord and Master. Remember the ruins of your great-grandparent's camp in the olive grove outside Sparta which we hiked back up to after everyone went to bed so we could see it again in starlight? Something happened, something else happened, and so on. Or are we someone else entirely over and over. One walks through the forest visiting graves of dogs and brooks where the dogs splashed and muses on the way one uses landscape to assert identity. Beginnings are helpful in calculating probabilities, regardless of the ontological status of "beginning." Curtailments are what narrative is. Poor monkey, somebody stole your typewriter and won't say where it is.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Certain Kinds of Happiness were Briefly Possible

"It has to do with" and then you just add whatever shit you feel. Fire-red guitar picks (medium) on the dresser in the foyer next to fingerless gloves and mail for the woman who lived here well over a decade ago. When you insist on anything, it becomes a part of you, and eventually begins insisting on its own prerogatives.

I remember a long time ago walking through an enormous hay field to a small but neat apple orchard that followed a gentle slope into a forest predominated by old maple trees - a forest the nineteenth century and its resolute emphasis on sheep-farming had left alone - and felt something close to holiness which I could never regain or replicate. One studies the mostly rotten beaver carcass, getting a sense of how deep those teeth reach into the skull. This man wades in the shallows but never swims and this man longs for someone to tell him the secret isn't hiding at the bottom of the lake.

One gets up to stir the soup - dried peas still percussive in the broth - and then comes back to write this sentence. It seems like we make allowances but life just happens and we just float - butterflies on a breeze, milkweed dander in a brook - telling stories in which the teller is always the center of narrative gravity. Leaving the church on Friday night before anyone else, struggling a little with how utterly confused I am about almost everything and yet - hours later at midnight, going downstairs for a glass of water - glimpsing the moon, its silver light illuminating swirling frost blossoms on the west-facing window, and swimming - drowning, really - in impossible-to-measure joy.

The bread she made! One's dreams are clunky now, slow and jumbled and always on the verge of dying, sort of like those old cars from the 1970s our Dads made us drive, a rite of passage that mattered mostly to them. A woman I knew a long time ago with whom certain kinds of happiness were briefly possible and then unconditionally not.

Wicker baskets in which months-old chocolate are gathered, remnants of holiday excess which embarrass us now, yet which we cannot throw away. The conversation at breakfast turns to the garden, possibly expanding it to plant more potatoes, with no decision being made save the general sense that potatoes are good. Ambiguity even here in the marriage, arising as always from my inability to manage the many losses forever reminding me the Lord is neither presence nor absence nor paradox.

What does it mean to live religiously? The students push me to where the fractures in my argument become obvious, even to them, and we end up laughing and agreeing there should be cookies next class. The calendar is not your friend and it's not making anything easier, no matter what you think.

Ghosts of dead sheep haunt the ghosts of ghosts of ghosts. We are built for something simple yet here we are, you and I in the twentieth sentence, throwing ourselves yet again on the (as yet unbreakable) logjam of distance, prayer and desire.

Friday, March 13, 2020

A Sort of Cosmic Orgy

Pea soup thickens, the house grows quiet.

Second Saturday of February given to composing this love note to the anniversary of my death.

If I look up and a little right the steamed windows show faint blue behind a still-blossoming Christmas cactus.

My cold toes, my shoulders.

Traffic is dense near the exit where the hotel I worked at in 1987 is visible, a near-daily reminder of the only time I made out with a man, Luis from Columbia, whose mirror sunglasses folded in his breast pocket were what instructed me "not this."

Cumin, salt and smoked paprika.

If I lean a little right and narrow my eyes, the soup pot blurs and fingerprints become visible right below its handles, as if someone had deliberately refused to use them to heft the pot.

The Heath Fair on Sunday last August, the heat making us silly, the ox draw making me angry, which was hard to explain in that context.

What healing is contemplated by her visit, is brought forth or stifled by her obvious frustration with how the visit goes?

One confronts their inability to use a camera, wonders how it relates - or does it relate - to their ongoing infatuation with image to the exclusion of sustained narrative.

He does not write, he does not call and we do not forget him, ever.

The Man without Shoes is married to a woman who collects onion skins to dye loose cloth she will later use for patches on his tattered jeans.

Picking blueberries at dusk as a child, staying close to Dad because of the pistol he wore on his thigh.

Among the many things money measures, power.

Yet in the 1970s one glimpsed something that was a relic of the nineteenth century - and lacking at that age any understanding of how relics actually functioned - was able to enter (in a way that was to some extent irreversible, as most spells are) the deep past.

Stained coffee mugs on top of mostly-unused coffee mugs on the shelf below tea cups stacked on tea cups on the shelf below the shelf where all my thumbprint goblets and 1940s-era matching cordial glasses are kept.

Tra la.

Forces of nature against which we hurl ourselves, our own selves forces of nature, the whole experience a sort of cosmic orgy of intention, adaptation and confusion.

If I ended it, it is not ended: that, too, is a law.

Open-ended travel plans, open-minded travelers.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Sharp Shock of the Cut

The full moon hidden behind gusting wind or is it my hunched shoulders make it hard to look up. In winter the river is quieter and one can imagine a space in which the river does not sing at all. What questions must I consider, what answers must I set aside. Lorenzo Snow said that "as man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become." Grating ginger for tea I drift and drag my forefinger over the blade, blood leaping into awareness right behind the sharp shock of the cut. Yet in the morning, some wind still abides, so I gather loose hay behind the barn where it's less likely to blow away. One does lean towards rituals that are fairly described as Christian, yet eschews so much else of what the label implies. One avoids the dance in order to study the band and, by extension, learn better where one's own healing work is compromised. Be careful of measuring progress simply by comparing present to past, lest you confuse any amble for a direct stroll. The icicles are nearly gone despite the cold and one briefly allows a dream of green and bluets and forget-me-nots. Aquarians are only sometimes excellent lovers? My heart circles an invisible God, a hummingbird of mind, a temple whose doors refuse to be locked.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

I Stand in a Corner Watching

To call anything harmonious is an assessment, yet happiness is not imaginary: be not deceived. Without icicles or raindrops or quartz or dew or sunlight, who would have dreamed the idea of prisms?

All night strong winds battered the old parsonage, windows rattling in nineteenth century frames, and yet we slept soundly, folded into one another like loose scraps of cloth in Chrisoula's "et cetera drawer." To lay down and gaze at the sky and realize one is simply seeing home another way - that joy.

I pat the old man's shoulder in lieu of a hug and later wish I'd risked the hug, asking internally will I or am I that kind of lonely forever. A blonde woman in tie-dye dances close to me where I stand in a corner watching Jeremiah hunch over his guitar getting the solo just so and the distraction, while inevitable and possibly even on some level invited, displeases me in a religious way.

"Wanting anything to be other than it is is a form of violence" is a form of violence. We talk quietly in the foyer of the old church, preparing to go deeper into something real come Spring.

The many ways she risks - and also fails to risk - Kenya. Gendlin on low idle, a sort of mental soap I use to now and then remember my body knows things and so oughtn't be ignored.

In a dream, I stepped through a window into crystalline clarity, only to see yet another window opening unto another crystalline clarity opening unto yet another window endlessly. "Death is the end" strikes me as an error though I can't always say what kind, let alone how to fix it.

Walking after midnight on Main Street, turning onto dark side roads going all the way into towns in which I am a stranger. Notice the themes, let them teach you what to write, and always write for the one who notices.

Working the sourdough so that later Chrisoula can make her famous pizza, frying bacon and onions in oil before adding homemade bone broth and split peas, frying chicken with chilis, all before allowing myself to write, this. Mornings the horses are waiting vs. mornings they linger in the run-in.

The facet is judged by other facets which together are the whole but judgment is not rendered moot or unhelpful thereby. So it is settled then: we will grow old together, we will build a secret Vermont by hand and bury it in the forest, and when we are both dead we will live there happily, each the other's help-meet.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Terminally Incapable

It's cold and my stomach can't bear even mild tea but I'm wordy so here I am, writing writing at three a.m., listening to rain, wondering how my ancestors made it through the night since I seem so terminally incapable. January allowed for an interior green to assert itself but February - which is usually a brief hallway - has become the sort of organ Bach couldn't leave alone. Nobody has ever asked am I okay which is mostly a function of me learning to live in a way that deflects the attention of others, especially when it is kind, soft, welcoming, et cetera. At night by the river a longing to topple - to fall forever - overwhelms me. Can you imagine how a letter feels when it's folded and tucked into an envelope? Our living is messy in the way of the poor, folks for whom appearances take a back seat to just making sure the kids are fed, one toilet works, et cetera. Something went wrong in Fall River that 1970s Worthington attempted to correct and I am the ongoing possibility of healing albeit fading. Imagine this poem against a bright yellow background. Imagine something dim struggling out of the clouds. High atop the highest mountain, God turns Her glaucomic eye towards us. Armies move across the earth. Smart men make persuasive arguments, horses go out of fashion. After the wedding comes the marriage. After the marriage, this.

Monday, March 9, 2020

A Winter Turtle's Dream

It's hard to get the lights right at 3 a.m.. The kettle hisses and spits, embarrassing me because it reminds me of sex two nights past, unusually intense and messy, like when you're twenty. Metaphors are clunky mostly. Both shoulders ache and my right arm can barely move. What I am not telling anybody has become a kind of novel, one that at last appears to be nearing its end. These long walks are my life, these unread poems are my life, and my life is far away now, like a black bear's birth. It's hard to get the body to settle in a way that doesn't feel like a couple horses ran over it. You lose this or that dialogue partner and only later realize it as the best thing for them and your job is let that be okay. I slip a little on the stairs and blame it on the ice. Don't kid yourself: deadlines are not an illusion. Maybe something is wrong in a deeper way than we thought? Who can say they are not a passing image in the far corner of a winter turtle's dream? In the eyes of the Lord I am free. And still the roads all beckon.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Picking Up Where One Left Off

How to begin?

At one a.m. a skunk ambling up Main Street pauses when it senses me ambling the other way, and when I pause as well, it decides to keeps going, taking a left into the Historical Museum parking lot. When it's safely past, I walk again.

At an early age I detected a fundamental lawfulness in living that was baffling, given the obvious - often personal - pain that filled the world. God was no answer - God was the question.

There are other questions.

It is raining, lightly, just shy of freezing, and my jacket grows heavy and cold, my shoulders stiffen. I am ice man, encased, slower with each step.

Is this anything like what it will feel like to die. Is there anything it feels like to die.

We are stories, not story-tellers. So much softens and settles when we realize this in a felt - in an embodied - way.

Looking up through tangled maple branches at dim clouds. One a.m. or a little after or did I say that already.

What did I say already.

We are the particular observer for whom this world arises in the particular way that it arises, and no more, but also no less. So much softens and settles when we realize this in a felt - in an embodied - but wait.

We are a way of deploying commas that has to do more with rhythm than with the structure of content in the sentence, but we are not just that.

The skunk was not alarmed by me so much as briefly cautious, which I took as a compliment, being that sort of man. Other encounters with skunks - when there is less time to prepare for the encounter, and less space in which to allow minds to assess and choose among various responses - have been less amenable.

All pain is nontrivial.

In a sense, there is no beginning but only picking up where one left off. And then what happened?

Insomnia again, the toxicity of no sleep again.

This again.

Nobody comes downstairs to ask if I am okay and the secret that I want to tell you - which you probably know - is that I wish somebody would. I don't know if I would know what to do if they did but I would like to try. I would like to ask for help and then accept help. I think I might be that man now.

Two onions left from the garden, a couple dozen squash, and what feels like uncountable pounds of frozen apple sauce and apple slices.

What do you get to, what do you let go.

I make tea and let the various narratives quieten, which they do. Something in me is broken and asserts itself by whatever means it can find, and I am listening, but I am also scared and not sure how to care for anyone, let alone myself.

So much of what we say could go unsaid without the world dissembling accordingly and yet here we are, writing and reading together, as if the last sentence were somehow related to the first in a way which is not mysterious and very much acclimated to love.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Promise of No More Mirages

You visit in winter darkness, remind me it's okay to bundle in quilts, take tea instead of coffee, stuff like that. If I lean a little to the left, where the curtain doesn't quite reach the window frame, one or two stars can be seen. Did I mention it is winter? Or how I look especially forward to mica glittering in early Spring runoff? The cold this year is a metaphor for how lonely and sad I am but I am neither lonely nor sad. Also, when I ask for things, you don't say yes or no, but nor do you leave. This is a prayer. "This is a prayer" is a prayer.

This is a sentence in a prayer which knows the one who reads it does so slowly, lips moving to bring it forth audibly, aware of the one who for a thousand times a thousand years believed he was its author. When you visit, something somewhere opens, welcomes me, and becomes us. When I say "light" I mean that which makes everything - including thought, including "light" - perceptible. Holes in my boots let snow in and my gloves are too small so I don't really bother. When I walk, it's a kind of wobble, as if something in me is no longer sure where it is going. Has already arrived and doesn't want to leave? Well, travelers gotta travel.

When I was little, open fires outside were a comfort, and when I grew older they became forms of seduction - vast wild bedrooms in which our bodies smoked and glowed - which means eventually you have to let them go. These days, the monks in my quirky order build their own cells out of the psyche's mostly-unreliable alignment with narrative. Denial and projection become rivers one sips from, then wades through and swims in, then foregoes altogether in favor of a desert and the promise of no more mirages. When I fell in love with you, I wanted something, and when I no longer wanted it, it was too late to explain or escape. We are many marriages, we are many weddings, no one of which suffices unto our deep interior longing to celebrate and be celebrated.

Fellate and be fellated? Well, something worth returning for! I learned a lot of lessons in Worthington that were mainly about surviving Worthington, and only late in life did I learn that Worthington itself was an illusion. "It's turtles/elephants/family all the way down" is silly but going down is not silly for where else do we learn the value and meaning of service and attention? Unfold me like toy origami and what remains are creases indicative of the original form. I'm not saying "lost" and I'm not saying "visit." I'm saying that angels can be terrible guests, eating all the pie, smashing thumbprint goblets, and never once remembering to relay the message their creator sent them to relay.

Or maybe it's a letter, who knows. Between the vanishing beginning and my dreams of a sacred finish, something small and ordinary goes about its business. Those who have ears, et cetera.

Friday, March 6, 2020

A Certain Grim Assessment

The cemetery any morning can become. Fields of snow in moonlight, the moon narrow and bright.

Crows pick through the compost, flapping away when we come too close. In the side yard lilac, two chickadees are what I think happiness resembles when embodied.

A prayer that aims at quantifiable results is a plea or a plan, not a prayer. This pine forest that long ago was a sheep farm.

Yet is it possible death is in fact a process rather than an event? Two glasses of whisky argue that what we argue over is not what we actually want to promote or defend, and yet.

One fails countless disciple application exams, ends up in a little town on the edge of the desert teaching basic math to the cobbler's daughter, and unexpectedly discovers happiness is natural, already given, et cetera. The hard part is saying what you want because when you do the world instantly crystallizes and you have never been good at recognizing what is static.

Visits to where the sea is visible have a discernible effect on consciousness, enlarging it somehow, or maybe supplementing its natural light. Looking back to see who is entering, readying ourselves for what comes next.

Every teacher knows that some students are better than others, but only a few understand that this is a reflection of the teacher not the students. Chocolates wrapped in gold foil, roses on the floor of the shut-down factory.

God is a nontrivial idea, helpful or unhelpful according to context. We who balance risk in the interest of gains we would otherwise deny.

In a dream, a woman who troubles me appears happy and I sort of dance around her - mutual elision abounds - and we laugh and our eyes fill with blue light. One wakes at 3:16, mentally notes the gospel allusion, and gets out of bed.

Judgments were made, sentences given. At the bottom of a well, one executes a certain grim assessment, one learns the value of looking up.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Our Shared Insistence on Secret Histories

Laying down loose hay where we walk so that it will warm up in the sun and melt the ice beneath it. One plans, plots, prefers. In the distance, at roughly what's called the property line, maple trees rise leaflessly into the sky like the fists of witches. Art, you call it, while I say it's just passing time the way I taught myself, back when time was a thing you could escape. Women occupied a lot of my attention once poetry won the mostly-fixed race but now the tenor of my focus is shifting. Wind blows and I look away from it towards the river. A camera is an argument that one no longer needs to make, which is to say, one is confused about what made that argument seem valuable in the first place. An emptiness follows our shared insistence on secret histories, as surely as meaning derives itself from the past. Here, the stoves are mostly ornamental and the stairs unreliable. Loving chickadees is no defense against the darkness you allow by refusing to speak her name. How close we get to Jesus, those of us who sold our ears for a song.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Reasons for Letting Go

A thousand miles is poor sustenance for a man who can neither travel nor bear more than one sexual partner at a time. These shoes were made for praying!

Or so I say on Sunday afternoon in mid-winter, puttering in the kitchen making chili and writing poems. Chrisoula is sick upstairs, third day running, and the kids lean into playing nurse. If I was unhappy once - which I surely was - I'm not unhappy now. Though not every problem solves itself so neatly.

When we walk, we tend to take Flat Iron Road past the sheep farm down to the river bisecting Route Nine and then up Lilac Street between acres of open field. A familiar landscape allows you to forget certain indiscretions, while the bittersweet entangled in the crest of rotting maples - a red blur because you forgot your glasses - is a reminder you'll never be finished apologizing. The world is a thread sustained by other threads which together we call narrative.

Where the road dips, I take your hand. In one dream, we picnic by my favorite childhood lake which you call a pond, which amuses us no end. I remember her going to her knees the way I approached certain mountains and realizing that no matter what happened next I would always be alone. The radio plays Dylan and somewhere not here it is Spring, or nearly.

Do you remember in Ireland climbing hills between ragged sheep, our own breath ragged because of smoking too many cigarettes, going all the way to the top to get a better glimpse of the Beara peninsula? And you going down on me and later fucking, our cries whipping through the windy mist, and later yet saying "I know you're never coming back?" Thirty years gone and I can still feel your thin shoulder moving under my hand, which had its own reasons for letting go. What is the Welsh word for regret?

What is the best way to forget? Two glasses of whisky argue our bodies will go on walking a long time after what they remember has faded. Starry skies await all of us whose wandering was beset by a secret love we were for whatever reason unable to rise and accept and call our own.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Anything with Roots

Jasper comes by on Sunday with two six-packs of Narragansett and we drink to our fathers to just shy of drunk. His point is that why one apologizes is more important than what one apologizes for, which makes me feel like somebody somewhere is getting away with something. The front porch in early February at dusk, cars going slowly up and down Main Street, house lights blinking on both west and east, switching from one foot to the other to keep the blood flowing. How much one expects to be elided by et cetera! And the moment as a teen-ager when you realized that Latin and Greek mattered, that abbreviations were a form of sloppy thinking, and women a complexity worth giving attention to. Out back the horses whinny, aware that we're out and wondering why we're not "out back." I confide my intention to purchase a single rose bush and plant it by the apple trees, and confide too my reluctance to put down anything with roots. Stars come out and wind begins and temperatures in our shared valley drop. I've done things I wish I hadn't, not all of which were bad. Is it dark where you are too?

Monday, March 2, 2020

Not Red At All

I would like to tell you about an event that occurred in early spring of 1971, when I was four years old. I was at my friend John's house, swinging in the hay loft, when his mother called us. We went into the kitchen. John's mother - I forget her name but it might have been Jean - was standing by the stove with her back to us. She had a beehive hairdo which I loved. If you had asked me what color her hair was, I would have answered "red." She turned and took a single step toward us, which placed her perfectly in a ray of sunlight streaming from the west. "Sean," she said. "Do you want ketchup on your hot dog?"

And I could not answer. For in the light in which she stood her hair had become so luminous and beautiful that I forgot everything. Her hair was not red at all! It was mahogany and gold, livid like outdoor fires in winter, glassy and rippling and glowing like Bronson Brook at dawn. I felt that if I touched it my whole body would become a lick of flame of the sort that inspired the apostles. I felt that if I looked away I would lose the only thing I had ever seen that was worth seeing. Those who have eyes indeed!

In that moment - not wordily but with all being composing me - I saw clearly the poverty of language. What I had called "red" was orders of magnitude more complex. I saw that a word was dead compared to its referent. And I saw, too, the inherent unreliability of perception. For how had I missed this beauty? What games and other stupidities had distracted me?

I did not fall in love in that moment! John's mother was not then or after an object of my adoration. Rather, I learned that what we call "beautiful" is always the Lord, and that the Lord is always with us, but we have a bias against noticing this. What a gift to be alive and what a terrifying allowance, that one could overlook the gift entirely. Like prisms and chickadees, the external world was aligning with an interior map which pointed only at the Lord, if one would only vow to not forget. In this way, my course was set. And with only trivial exceptions, I have neither deviated nor turned back.

Of course this never happened, but telling you that it happened did happen - is happening right now, in fact. If you understand that I am not lying here but rather telling you the truth as it is given me to tell it, even though it never happened, will you hear? Between this sentence and the emptiness that by law follows it, will you say yes to the proffered light?

Sunday, March 1, 2020

You Could Miss Them if You Wanted

In a dream I lied but did not realize it was a lie until later in what felt like another dream. Describing my spiritual journey as "alchemy en route to chemistry" and not getting the expected response. What light allows this and other sentences to be evaluated? When we speak, the errors we make are not spelling errors and this too can helpfully inform one's writing practice. The chickens natter when I go in to the barn at dawn, a pleasant sound to which I almost always murmur "good morning" or "yes" or "hey there." The world welcomes us welcoming it? Maturana's emphasis on love was resolutely biological and in that sense, I have been a poor disciple, given as I am to the abstraction and idealization of romance. At a late juncture, one realizes that vows of any kind are a signal unbecoming those of us whose concept of love is necessarily entangled with our concept of the Lord. You see the problem? [The height of the hill is the depth of the valley] is less interesting when one understands the whole thing as yet another distinction and turns instead to the one who - or maybe that which - distinguishes. I've given offense, yes, but always in the service of trying to learn something that will be helpful to others. If my nose was glued to the map, it's free now. One looks up from writing to see snow falling, the flakes so tiny you could miss them if you wanted.