We No Longer Speak of Guns Here

Old men talking about their knees at the dump. Chrisoula asks if I’m getting a fishing license, I say no, she says gently lucky fish. Grackles picking through dewy grass together. How angry my father could get!

Childhood is a museum.

We replant my mother’s azalea by the remaining hemlocks, unearthing broken glass as we go. Goldfinches soar by. One hand on a stack of bibles, the other in my pants.

Apparently the blue glass bottles I’ve been collecting are officially worth something, though “they will never be worth in the marketplace what they have always been worth in my heart” I say, liking the phrase so much I tuck it away to tuck into a poem later.

Writing cross-legged in the over-stuffed rocker, my toes a little numb. Groundhog scootches out of the raspberries and nibbles the dewy grass, freezing when he notices me noticing him, then going back to feed but with an eye on me. I’m less like a snake and more like a weed.

Something is missing, is it sex? Nobody knows this but Bob Dylan named one of his tours after me, the “Why Do You Look At Me So Lonely” tour. Reconfiguring the compost according to an evolving understanding of how gardening and horses and the land works.

Blowing cannabis smoke at the stars, the stars burning a little brighter. Oh holy maple tree.

Naturally we no longer speak of guns here. Chrisoula asks me to help her carry old kid bikes, baling twine and feed bags to L.’s house where they will be gloriously repurposed.

Eating just-picked strawberries and snap peas at the kitchen counter, becoming something familiar, winged, beyond argument or place, grace-filled, gone.

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A Plastic Rosary

Desolate, bereft, without consolation, or else it’s pantomime, masklessness is the mask, et cetera.

I read a Holy Book once, it was pretty good.

Something insists on us.

I remember falling in love with nurses in my mid-twenties, working through law school at the hospital, shifts at odd hours, kissing in supply closets, sharing coffee in the mostly-empty cafeteria or out front on wooden benches, dark all around, the beginning of a long and troubled sleep.

Childhood is a plastic rosary, blue for boys, pink for girls, black for the ones who will become soldiers.

The sun rises behind banks of low cloud, mist hangs still and low in the meadow.

Her dogs bark and growl as she passes, and I don’t want to talk but she stops to talk, and briefly the heat of mid-summer is more oppressive than I can stand.

What do you call it, this honey-colored quartz, and why am I always wishing for names but also oddly not bothering to learn them.

A package of cigarettes.

Glow-in-the-dark bones.

Plastic whistles in the shape of birds that you filled with water to get the right trill.

Feet up on the chair to write.

A catbird hopes through the ferns, aware of me as a danger, a nontruth I cannot convey.

History is too much, all those beautiful stories fighting the weight of facts.

Imagine grace were the top button of a winter coat and it’s always cold.

Chick peas with tomatoes and onion.

Cauliflower dipped in teriyaki sauce, eaten standing in the kitchen, talking about our youngest daughter’s passion for gardening.

And the coffee gets cold while I write but it’s that kind of poem in that kind of life.

He did not rise from the dead and yet he is here, and that fact is more amazing to me than if he had actually risen from the dead.

Back to Abhishiktananda, the luminous spiral tightening, or am I being gently held now the end has come, over and over reminded it’s okay to say goodbye and go.

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After All These Years I Really am Shoeless

There were many shades of green that morning, and lots of unfinished poems. My daughter walks away with an umbrella, and I remember that photograph Dan took of me walking away from our apartment with an umbrella, and fuck if I don’t still miss him. We kneel, we pray, we rise and bake bread by lamp light, we eat and give thanks for our eating.
The point is, some things work and some don’t, and it can take time and energy to figure out what. Greek columns on falling-down houses in towns where property values are all anybody talks about. Lack of epistemic humility is an actual problem, trust me.
What if we hold onto our compass and chart, will that work too? The rain falls earlier than expected but we’re not complainers, we’re gardeners. I don’t want to think about what happened to the chickadees who were nesting in the pear tree because they’re probably dead.
What happens behind churches does not stay behind churches, as what we write in our early twenties does not stay in our early twenties. The ape becomes an angel who cannot for the life of her let go of the ape. Reruns again.
I remember he told me not to worry about titles, which confused and frustrated me, as I loved titles, felt like they were ermine stoles you draped across your poems to emphasize their divine, their royal lineage. Cross-stitch patterns, cannabis smoothies, unmade beds in which the various folds and wrinkles are like something out of Saint-Exupéry. Fanning ourselves with the missals.
Remember when Dad gave up on animals and also basically disappeared from your life? Trying to seek  the origin of a certain phrase she uses leads directly to the National Gallery of Ireland’s show of paintings from the West of Ireland between 1800 and 2000, in which for the first time I see Mainie Jellet’s “Achill Horses” series, in which, I can’t say why or how I know, I know all the horses went blind after being painted. Kneading red pepper into breakfast sausage, talking about what it was like to grow up in Greece.
I wonder what meal was invented first – breakfast, lunch or dinner? There is a stone in my shoe, or else the laces are broken, or maybe after all these years I really am shoeless and this is what it feels like to die of love.
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In Mailboxes, Under Apple Trees

Don’t even think about the pearls, son. Ticks will remain, cowbirds will remain maybe. What I can’t say begins to leave me, like how years ago we left a Jackson Browne concert early to get a jump on traffic, saying hours later on 91 in southern Vermont, it wasn’t very good, was it. 

Liminal green haze in mid-summer, running at the park, then detouring to the river for a “dip.” Stars fall into tall grass by the pasture. If I dreamed once, I do not dream now.

Disclosures which end marriages, marriages that are themselves the site of disclosures about power which naturally deepen the couple, enabling more and better disclosures. But who is listening? One gets confused about the meaning of “literary,” wanders away and then back, like seeing did the party get better in their absence. 

Hiding in mailboxes, under apple trees, and in behavior designed to obscure my fear and basic goodness. Suddenly all this hostility. At four a.m. listening to thunder in the distance, my dead uncles limping around the garden in the dark, confused by how Chrisoula doesn’t plant in rows. 

Watching Mike Tyson videos, knockout after knockout, thinking of my grandfather, and how we all have to learn what to do with our pain. Vodka shots, drawn blinds, fantasies involving guns. There was a little room over the library, with Civil War uniforms under glass, and she took me up there and kissed me, holding me against the wall away from the window.

Ham steaks. Something slips past the filters, reaches awareness, and we name it, we welcome it like the prodigal, but at night when we sleep it watches us from the corner, awaiting orders from its maker, who does not mean us well. Funeral songs.

Cold apple pie and maple sausages for breakfast, hot coffee to go, getting on the road before it’s light. Who are nothing if not obedient, for whom God is all the glory.

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A Mythological Birth Story

She declines the bonnet my grandmother sewed in piss-smelling Fall River tenements, I pass on her collection of African art. We papered one wall with pages torn from a bible, but somewhere in that joyful altar-making we fell apart and drifted away, and it still hurts, it is still felt as a loss. There’s sand in the sheets, the oyster shells are broken before we collect them, and the grave of the last dog was missing for several hours the other night. If you listen, the bellowing goats remind you how everything comes down to hunger. I was lied to a lot, there’s no getting around it, and have become a skillful if reluctant deceptor. At dawn, when everything is soft and luminous, you can most readily perceive the one life behind all appearances but oddly still miss the final step which is realizing that life does not love the way you were promised it would love. Leaping off the quarry wall, carrying the sun down with me down. Mice eat through the floorboards of the barn, and the barn leans dangerously west, like sliding off a sheet of ice into the sea. Oh look, we’re mixing our metaphors again. There are so many uses to which a sentence can be put, why do we have to choose just one! As I am writing and this is the writing I am writing. As what is broken is very close now, like a rough beast or a mythological birth story. My love, my secret, my unnamed and never kissed. 

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Happy in a Way We had Forgotten

Why did I care so much about Thomas Merton’s little book Contemplative Prayer? My family in those days were scattering far and fast, and I chose the road another had chosen for me, and ended up with lots of questions and no real interest in answering them.

The skill of knowing how to make a fire, how to kill an animal and prepare it for cooking, and the skill of knowing how to know these things at a late stage of the world. We who are still making up for it.

In darkness the amethyst speaks.

At night she visits when I am watering the garden, coming down the hill in loose pastels, her long graying hair pulled back, and we talk about our day and what our friends are doing, and it makes us happy in a way we had forgotten was our own. None of this should be understood to exclude the moon.

There were more fields growing up but fewer cows, and nobody understood what my father was trying to do, and nobody helped him do it.

Beneath peonies, already falling to the dewy earth, dead chipmunks grow stiff, their dark eyes gazing in opposite directions. Even the word game at which I became so skilled was not itself the answer, as any corpse reminds us.

Any mystery can be solved, any knot can be untangled.

Cup after cup of lukewarm tea, reading that self-impressed prose, and realizing what I cared about was possessing that level of confidence which I learned too late came only from indifference to the fate of those still yoked to observation. There is always hospital drama.

How happy the old dog was around water, sitting in it, paddling around in it, lapping at it while I walked slowly through the forest, still working on the first problem in a little text I like to call “The Sermon on the Mount.”  

There is always another drink, always another night in which we will rise and use the earth’s bounty to briefly overthrow the patterns and rhythms of our body, the better to catch a glimpse of the soul. I have known one ghost and her feet did not ever touch the ground, and she was entirely uninterested in me, making clear in the end that I was the one haunting her.

Square-dancing steps I still remember, can still execute, a little smile on my face, as if my body were remembering something and saying hey, this makes us happy, can we do this – really actually do this?

Hand-whittled black bears with salmon in their jaws, their legs and ears chipped. A couple three doors down lives the hippie astronomer I’ve known since I was nine-years-old, whose gracefulness and kindness have been important cosmic mirrors in my life.

Beautiful towering cumuli over the apple trees, further hemming in our little farm. Perhaps Christ is observed relationship between ourselves and observing ourselves, and perhaps we all just need to go barefoot more.

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A Handful of Bones Remained

Wrens nesting in the run-in come out to pick at fallen hay. The neighbor’s sheep graze in sunlight, rest in the shade, come back to graze in the sunlight. How lovely to live in a way that allows one to notice clouds and the phase of the moon! Rhubarb growing “nicely,” already harvesting onions, the milkweed bountiful where allowed to grow.
There is a song I hear and when I do not hear it, it is not because I love the silence. At night the river says what it says between stars and darknesses. One psychic told me I would die from a wound in the throat and when I questioned this, grew irritated and ended the reading. Swallows at midday, another grace.
Yes I am counting. Yes I am cultivating.
Yes, I care.
We lay row cover over the squash, scatter fistfuls of mostly dried manure at the base of the tomatoes. Peel potato bugs off deep green leaves and flick them to where the sparrows hunt. Are there too many birds in the sentences? Is there not enough song in the world or are we just not listening?
Thérèse wrote the credo in her own blood in the pocket-size gospels she carried with her everywhere, and when her body was exhumed years later, only a handful of bones remained. I’m not a gambler but women who are attracted to gamblers – or who were fathered by gamblers – are attracted to me.
My hands in soil lifting rocks and setting seeds, my hands open to receive and not to kill.
At night when everyone is asleep I go outside to see what the daisies and ferns do under moonlight.
I’m not dumb, I know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace, I see how it’s falling apart, but I’m telling you, sometimes even the evil one is subdued and made happy and everything works out in what I’m not ashamed to say is love.
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I Travel East Alone

Chipmunks and sparrows nibble the strawberries, mice die reaching for sunflower seeds set just so in spring-loaded traps. It’s not okay really but what are you going to do. A lot gets elided by et cetera! We talk about Civil War photography, especially that one of Lewis Powell, e.g., Lewis Payne, about whom it was said – forgive the shitty paraphrase – he is dead and he is going to die. We bond, one way or the other, and thus deal in bonds. Shards of glass were scattered on North Winooski Ave, streetlights making them glisten like diamonds, all of the light blurred because I was crying leaving. Sliced grapefruit, black coffee. Penance. Horses grazing between leggy buttercups followed by cowbirds followed by a swallowtail. And if it were possible to make her happy, would I, and what would my living look like then? We plot to cut another hemlock, no way around it now the tree is mostly dead. Wind makes a big noise above the meadow. Wouldn’t you like to know? At the last minute I travel east alone, unhappy but accepting it, as in this late stage of love one does. When you go, I will hold a good thought for you, will once a year drink a coffee for you. The letter arrives and I don’t open it, wondering how we do it, all of us confused and the hour late. I mean lay down our burdens and go.

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The Failure of Love that is Our Whole Being

As one, the sheep move to the fence to watch two boys walk by with fishing poles, the river behind them, and no fish to show. Wind blows tiny clouds away from us – the grassy surface of unmown fields ripples and waves – and the moon is faint in the afternoon sky, like soap dissolving in water. I have to remind myself all the time that holiness as such does not exist. Slowly we begin to face the failure of love that is our body and see with clear eyes that we have not yet begun the journey we are always professing to have nearly finished. With your hand in mind? I make peace with Chrisoula’s occasional antagonism, contextualize it with my own emotional challenges, and end up wanting to be helpful without any earthly idea how. The shadow of the turkey vulture – so much larger than the bird itself – passes over the leaning peonies and I tremble, tremble tremble. In a dream I am lectured by suffragettes and cannot keep my cigar lit. Where is Mary now? To whom shall I address the poem? Bittersweet ascends distant trees, beyond our reach, thus not decoration? It would have to be a miracle, would it not? And other understandings hiding in the river where we cannot lay our hands on them.

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The Church You Sometimes Visit

Low-flying turkey vultures, sunlight on their wings at a certain angle making me blink. Buttercups, cowbirds. Cutting down sumac to no avail. Do shadows point to the object blocking the light or to the light? Heavy rain two days earlier still pooled in corners of the horse pasture. Goldfinches, chickadees. How happy a ripple can make me, how ecstatic I feel upon noticing eddies where the river softens in warm shallows. A mile or so away a backhoe grinds around an old barn’s foundation, folks with money rehabbing postcards. What’s green, what’s not. So much of what is gone is not worth missing, pulpy froth generated by misunderstandings of time and matter, and yet here we are. I remember making love in the fire tower overlooking western Massachusetts, five a.m., the sun just rising, knocking a thermos of chamomille tea with my left foot five stories down, the dent – like so many other effects – still visible, even now. Grazing sheep. And in the distance a willow tree I had not noticed before. Tell me again about the church you sometimes visit, the one you discovered as a child, between pigs shrieking as their throats were cut and your mother’s voice hitting all the notes of “Be Not Afraid?”

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