Saturday, December 31, 2022

Poetics/Poiesis in the Country of Turtles

I've always wanted to write an essay about the poetics that ground this writing project but it's never come together, ha ha. I've been writing daily since I was about sixteen - forty some odd years now! - and while I love theory and criticism, love analyzing writing and speech and stories generally, I've never been especially effective at applying critical thinking to the craft as I live and practice it. 

Here is the thing: writing saved my life without telling me, and it did so by keeping me close to you. I was in my fifties before I understood that the function of writing in my life had been survival and that - most critically - it involved others. Writing is relationship before it is anything else. It is communion. When you realize this, it creates a responsibility in you that is a joy to uphold.

When I met Chrisoula, I fell fast, hard and deep into a living metaphor that has the name The Country of Turtles, of which Chrisoula is the Queen. I wrote about fourteen hundred poems for her in the first couple years of our relationship, outlining all of my hopes and fears and dreams et cetera. She received all of it but was mostly interesting in how it cashed out in action. Chrisoula has always understood that the level of the body is both utterly meaningless - a shimmering illusory reflection - and also the only game in town because it is the text - it is the site - in which Love both reveals itself and cries out for revelation.

She is a Buddhist who believes in angels.

When I say "poetics," I really mean "poiesis," and what I mean by that is close to what Plato was getting at in his third example in Symposeum: poiesis is the creative work of the soul as it cultivates in and of itself virtue and knowledge, which together are Love. 

Writing is poiesis, it is learning how to be coherent, it is learning how to be helpful in a context where help is needed. 

Readers help by telling you what works and asking you for more, or by showing you what does not work, and nudging you in a different direction. And here is a critical thing in the poiesis of this writing project: I, too, am a reader. We are all readers and all authorship is rooted in our shared reading. The cosmos publishes us, not the other way around. You can only be so serious.

Of course, taking myself too seriously is the subtitle of my autobiography, as the many therapists, counselors, sponsors, teachers et cetera who have helped me over the years would be only too happy to tell you. It was a great gift to learn that taking things seriously was not a problem, so long as I do not also take them literally. That's the part that lets you get creative and playful, because you know none of this is real. That is another thing writing does, it lets you lie in a way that makes clear to you what the truth wants, which is to say, what you want.

"Only truth is true." I feel like I read that somewhere once.

Long before Chrisoula and I grew our own food and began integrating in sustainable ways with local agriculture and local economies, I was reading and writing about it. I am still writing about it because I still have a lot to learn. But that is okay. The important thing is that the writing gave birth to a practice, it said "this is the way" and then it gave me courage, hope and strength while I began taking faltering steps, hand-in-hand with Chrisoula.

Be a student of your own writing. Give your writing to the Teacher who knows the Author of the Cosmos. Take it seriously but not literally. Don't sleep with anybody who isn't actively trying to help you give birth to what is beautiful and true in you. Befriend them, yes, but don't fuck them. I'm not sure how that relates to poieisis but it does.

I'm kidding. I know how it relates.  

Writing and sex are adjacent practices in my life, flowing in and out of each other in instructive ecstatic ways. I had a girlfriend once who commented - complained? - that I'd rather write about a blowjob than receive one, which was - and is - true. I mean I like blowjobs of course, who doesn't, but writing really is . . . exquisitely communal in ways that sex is at best a poor approximation of. 

Which is to say, I believe writing is a creative practice by which we bring our living into alignment with Love, in which we seek coherence with that to which the word "God" has always pointed. Chrisoula would talk about harmony and rhythm here. I would counter with "coherence, cooperation, and communion" to which she would gently reply, "yes those are all nice words Sean, to what do they point?"

She means that the more abstract the language becomes, the harder it is to have it cash out in a lived practice. "Rhythm" and "harmony" point to the day, the body, the season and the earth. The garden doesn't weed itself! She is interested in the praxis that any poetics brings forth, and poiesis is for me - as her husband, her helpmeet, her half-assed lover -  a way of letting the writing direct me to the garden. In this paragraph, "garden" is synonymous with Life and Love. 

Poiesis seems to require one have a magick, the "k" indicating that we aren't talking about anything supernatural or chaotic or tricky, but rather what is deeply powerfully natural while also dwelling mostly outside the domain of what can readily be languaged. If you don't have a practice that takes you away from words, then it's hard to be a good writer. Orgasms can do this but magick - for me it is Tarot - is a kind of ongoing low-level orgasm one can access at any time, without obscuring (by wanting more of) the healing message ecstasy is designed to extend. In other words, sex always wants more of itself for itself but magick wants to give itself away. I've tired out a lot of lovers over the years, not because I'm a stellar lover - I'm a cheerful and clumsy lover - but because I can't stop talking - and writing - and asking questions - about life and love. Sapiosexuals of the world unite, indeed. 

Pace yourself, says Chrisoula. The heart never fits the journey, says Jack Gilbert, my brilliant elder brother.  Together they help me breathe and do what's in front of me, rather than dream about what once was or what may yet someday be. ACIM's holy instant is no joke.

In my early twenties, I read an interview with Robert Bly in which he said that the point of writing poetry was not to publish or have a career - those were distant and unremarkable secondary effects - but rather to be healed of fear and hate and the belief in differences, et cetera. Like a windblown mustard seed in the mouth of Jesus, this landed in and blossomed in me, and has guided me by becoming me ever since. I don't say it's correct or true or helpful for anyone else but I do know a lot of well-known writers who are selfish and miserable, covet the accomplishments of others, et cetera. Are you happy, in a natural serious way? Because nothing else matters. Really. 

My mother read a lot of poetry (among other things) to me when I was a kid; she loved the Romantics in particular. She also loved John Denver, which still does not seem strange to me. I take both men seriously as artists. I think we're kidding ourselves if we don't. Wordsworth's insights about happiness and love are not different than Denver's. There is only one heart!

Anyway, my mother was my earliest language teacher, which was both good fortune and also nearly destroyed me, and may yet. Children who are asked to enter the forest in order to die never truly leave, though many do survive.  I remember a therapist saying to me once in exasperation, you have this facility with language which allows you to take anything I say and turn it ever so slightly away from the light. Who taught you how to hurt yourself and others this way? 

The answer of course is my mother, but if you think that means she is the wicked stepmother or the witch or even a bad mother than you have lost the only thread that matters. She is also Gretel, the one who saved me. (Side note I wish I could develop better: both my parents asked me to save them, to "fix this," and I did not understand this as a cry for love until I was in my early fifties). My mother's love of language and poetry, which was not separate from her incredible rage and destructiveness, or from the vast body in which all destructiveness and creativity lived, and which - like all mother bodies - we never truly leave, was the means by which I at last realized she was the same as me, that we were equal in our pain and suffering, and that there was a way to be healed, and held, that was not forbidden but allowed, encouraged even, and that this healing pleased - by harmonizing with - divine order.

That reminds me of something I am not allowed to say, and won't, save to say that we cannot write effectively - as healed healers - if we do not know and honor in a real - a tangible, embodied - way the One Who Cannot Be Named. 

What else?

I'm with Frank O'Hara on the technical aspects of writing. If you buy a pair of pants, you want them to fit well enough that others want to sleep with you. Same with poetry. Does it awaken in the other a desire to heal and be healed? Rhyme, meter, theme, symbolism, et cetera. I mean, yeah, that stuff matters but it's more intuitive than not and the measure of our facility with it is not what some poetry teacher or journal editor concludes but whether we are in the deepest sense of the word coming in and with others. 

On the other hand, form does help constrain what we are allowed to say, and since nobody is beyond the trickery of ego, some relationship with form matters. You can write a lot of shitty poetry by thinking that because you can write it you should write it. The limit of twenty sentences (thanks Harry Matthews (and later the paragraph, thanks Hayden Carruth)) became vital ways of letting ego know I wasn't available for simply venting toxic bullshit. You have to make a room for the Lord to visit, you have to make a space in which the spirit can come, literally and figuratively. Read Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson, everything else is a fucking footnote.

Everybody says that writing is a form of order - or of bringing order to what is disordered. That's too grandiose. We aren't situated or constructed to evaluate order in the divine or even the cosmic sense. What works in your living to make people feel a little safer, a little happier, a little more willing to create with you a world in which living is just, equitable, merciful and joyful? Nothing else matters, truly.

I am not saying I am that guy! The guy who's got it figured out, the guy who's living the dream, the guy who heals because he's healed. I am saying that writing reminds me I am sometimes that guy, and being more and more that guy is a good thing. The metaphysics don't interest me even though I'm relatively facile with them. Am I hurting people less? Am I helping people more? Which nearly always means, just get out of the way.

So that is the other thing writing does. It gets me out of the way and leaves a big space for you to do what you need and want. You can read or not read, you can take it to heart or not, you can be in relationship with me or not. You can be guided in your own writing and living or not. It doesn't matter. The writing is offered because in my fucked-up way I love you and the world so deeply it terrifies me. I can't stand what we do to the earth and to each other. Writing for me aims at truth - not literally true like will it stand up in a court of law. On that level I'm a liar and a cheat and a thief and I mostly always will be.

But at another level - more abstract, deeper down or further out, up high in moonlight, whatever - it is possible to love, and to extend love in gentle ways that are inclusive and instructional, bringing more and more of us (broadly defined to include sunflowers, blind horses, vexacious neighbors etc)  into the Circle of Light, which is just the same old fire before the same old cave. All we want is to sit with each other, gaze into the flames, tell some good stories over a shared meal, then lay together to tell with our beautiful bodies a quieter, older story. At its best this writing project is a way of sharing with you that older, quieter story. In it, we complete each other, and in our completion the whole cosmos - its gods and goddesses, its maths and philosophies - come gently home to rest in us as one.

In other words, here is my battered and broken heart, open for you, best as I am able. Thank you, always, for helping me find a way back to the light. 

In the Country of Turtles

This writing project has had a bunch of names over the years. Twenty Sentences, Worthington Rag. Sentences. I am renaming it The Country of Turtles. Or was it always the Country of Turtles. See below for an important point about pointers, and words generally. Names matter less than we think, maybe. Differently?

Anyway, this is not really about names but relationship. There is a love letter, which is the love letter of the world, Love calling and Love responding, and this project is my minor but nontrivial contribution to it.

I am endlessly grateful to the one who invites me to share.

In the dense cosmos of the living in which I find myself with others, the Country of Turtles is the condition of grace, peace and joy I discovered in and with Chrisoula. She is the Queen of the Country of Turtles. She doesn't actually care what I name it or her but she does care about the world any nomenclature brings forth. We are responsible for love; there is no other way to bring forth peace. Words matter. Be nice, be helpful. Self-efface. Et cetera. Love is the law.

That is how she puts it, when pressed. Mostly she acts.

Language and praxis are not separate but inform each other, give rise to each other. I understood one half of this principle; Chrisoula taught me the other half. Together we lean on each other as we bring into application what it means to know we are not separate from ourselves, from others, from the earth and from the cosmos. 

The Country of Turtles is the condition of knowing and practicing Love with another.

A long time ago Chrisoula and I sat quietly together on a large flat stone facing Fitzgerald Pond. We were watching the light change, that was our date that day. We were content in and with each other in a way that we had both believed would not be possible for us in this life. We surprised each other. In our relationship, a certain form of confusion was ending yet what remained or would take its place was not yet clear. We were young, et cetera.

In summer sunlight Chrisoula put a hand on my heart, eased me down on the rock, and kissed me. 

When the kiss ended and I opened my eyes, there were turtles everywhere. Everywhere. On logs, on the shore, floating in the water, on rocks. Before the kiss, I was alien and confused about my function. Turtles meant nothing to me. After the kiss, I lived in the Country of Turtles and my only function was to serve its Queen. 

More prosaically:

Prior to the kiss, my life owned two phases: a painful childhood I was grateful had ended, and a young adulthood given mostly to drifting. Person to person, place to place, practice to practice. The former gave rise to the latter in which there was less pain but I was still lost. I wasn't happy so much as surprised I had survived. Not everybody did. 

After the kiss, I was found. Home wasn't a place but a person. It wasn't even a person so much as a peace and happiness that asked nothing of me, which the person - Chrisoula - embodied. 

The kiss was an invitation from the divine to remember what I was in truth and to live the truth of it which, years later when theology finally caught up with me, means to love in a loveless place. 

It is a gift to be loved by one who understands and lives by the law that love cannot be possessed, only given, over and over and over. Truly, in that moment, I uttered the only prayer that has mattered in this life: Lord make me worthy of your daughter. I urge this prayer on all men.

Between that afternoon in late August and the next couple of years, I wrote approximately fourteen hundred poems for the Queen of the Country of Turtles - notes, prayers, hymns, questions, lists, myths, fables, complaints. Chrisoula read many of them, never indicating she preferred one to another. Her focus was always on the praxis the writing brought forth. If the praxis was love, then the poems were welcome. If the praxis was fear, then they needed to be rewritten or set aside.

It was Chrisoula who first brought me to what A Course in Miracles calls the holy instant, in which we know ourselves and others as God does. It was Chrisoula who taught me to give attention to the way that only violence, not love, can be personal. 

It was Chrisoula who said, stop doing this to yourself. Do something different with yourself.

We moved to Vermont, had a baby, got a dog and some cats, bought a house. The poetics shifted. I began anticipating sentences rather than lines. We went for long walks together. I went for longer walks alone, climbing mountains, sleeping in the forest by tiny fires. We read difficult texts, and talked about them. We carried the relationship to an unfamiliar place, a dangerous place even, and left it there to fend for itself. Seams appeared. Around the time I became serious for the last time about Catholicism, our drifting became chasmic. 

It was a lonely and difficult time that lasted for decades. 

I remember one night sitting by my fire on a ridge overlooking the Black River. Bears hooted in the distance. My dog, Jake, sat beside me, patiently alert. Stars wheeled above the breezy pines. I fell asleep wrapped in an old blanket and woke up  . . . where exactly? Chrisoula and I in ladderback chairs an arm's length apart, facing an old woman who sat in a similar chair knitting a scarf. The room itself was plain and clean, like a Shaker bedroom from the nineteenth century. The scarf was the history of the world; it was the self-creating cosmos creating itself in the hands of a woman who was herself outside both creation and destruction. She neither looked at us nor spoke but only stared out the window while she worked. 

A pale moon neither rose nor fell in a sky that was neither light nor dark. 

I was fine with this at first; of course I was. I made a showy pretense of accepting and explaining it. I was effective and clear - of course I was - but for the first time since we'd met, Chrisoula ignored me. In that room, with that woman, she gave attention only to the woman. It wasn't like I was incidental; it was like I didn't exist. 

I grieved this loss of attention. I raged at it. I wish I could say otherwise. There was no grace in it. I pleaded and begged, I threatened to leave. I broke things. In beautiful stillness and perfect creativity, in the company of the holy, I acted the spoiled frightened child. My hurt and anger was revealed for the failure of love it had always been. 

This went on for what? A thousand years? A thousand lifetimes? 

One day - exhausted, empty, beyond misery - I surrendered. There was no honor in it, there was no wisdom. I merely acknowledged the obvious defeat. And yet, in that moment, I was lifted beyond victory and defeat to what is. The secret to salvation is that we are doing this - all of this - to ourselves. At last it was perfectly clear: in the presence of Her, you can only be in the presence of Her. There is nothing else. Choice is an illusion.

I was in my mid-fifties when I finally left that room. Psilocybin helped; penance helped; prayer helped. A Course in Miracles helped. Writing helped a lot. But mostly, Chrisoula's attention unto the old woman helped. It was the final pointer, allowing me to pass beyond pointers, pointing and points altogether. When I try to write about this experience directly, or about the old woman specifically, Chrisoula gently redirects me. 

That is not the work, she says. This is the work. 

The work is becoming clear so that the light of Love can pass through us and illuminate the world in beauty and meaningfulness. Poems help, but they are not all that helps. Sex helps but it's also not all that helps. Chrisoula and I grow food together. We leave some of the harvest for wild animals. We let parts of the garden grow wild. This is a metaphor and not a metaphor, both.

We name our errors and our enemies and give them to the Holy Spirit to be undone in us. 

We are not afraid of each other.

Here is the thing. In the Country of Turtles, there are no Queens and no Kings. There are only servants, whose joy is to help the other remember that they too are servants in the Country of Turtles. In a world of servants there is no conflict, there is no loss, there is no sacrifice. There is only peace. Nothing ends and nobody needs or wants to run away. You are home; you are always home.

These poems (in conjunction with other writing) reflect my ongoing half-assed attempt to invite you and others to join me and Chrisoula and all our brothers and sisters in the beautiful difficult work of becoming still enough for Creation to flow through you in the only way that will truly bring you to happiness and restore the world to peace. 

It is possible, I promise; this is my witness.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

November Interim: Poems

November . . .

I wrote some poems in November. I wrote some notes about the poems, too. Like, we are never actually alone. And, it's not a calling if you can say no. In general, it's not the past or future we're concerned with, it's the way time functions as a screen upon which certain narratives are cast. Certain spells? The whole thing is basically a distraction from the caster (the projector (the poet)) but why?

Ask and it shall be given really means that we do not need to fear desire, and the end of fear is the remembrance of Love, which never leaves, so nothing remains to desire anyway. Technically! Without time, there can be no distance and vice versa, the whole apparent structure of the cosmos indicates a lawfulness upon which we can rely unconditionally. The forest is not only trees and rivers and scrub brush but also creatures and paths, i.e., home is a network not a place. All expressions of the earth are multivalent and holistic. Fire is not flames but it's not not flames either. What is a system is a good question.

The answer to the question of loneliness (which question is an answer to another question) is "not really but it feels that way sometimes." Much grief is obviated by honesty. Some of the poems are more related than others, i.e., it's possible I'm mistaken, hence my ongoing commitment to learning. Leaning? Well, listening anyway. I am grateful to and for you, I really am.  

I've always liked the phrase "promises promises," both as a pejorative and an insistence of some original benevolence. In general, the whole twenty sentences project aims to rethink locally certain rhetorical strategies advanced in the twentieth century, e.g., use of the word "baby" and "babe" to refer to women upon whom we depend. We all know what's going on, right? The projected object of desire is a cover for fear and we don't know what we're scared of and what we're scared of doesn't want us to find out. Sex with holograms is not as fun as it used to be! Did I mention screens? 

There is no way out - knowing that is the way out. Related: crucifixion and resurrection are distractions but distractions from what? And for what? If you answer at all then you don't know the answer. But if you don't answer, then the question can't even be asked.

Anyway, November poems.

Tired of Pretending

There is a moon at the beginning of November that I have to look at alone. Not alone but with the God you alone could teach me to see. The truth of this works for nobody so far as I can tell but there is a Light beyond triviality. I'm trying, woman - does it matter at all? 

It's getting colder than makes sense, as if winter were looking for a sacrifice and I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time. I study the garden with my whole body now because doing so hurts and the hurt reminds me not to fuck around. It matters - of course it matters. 

Who let the dog in? Who let the calf die? 

Why is it so hard to make a good soup? 

A child learns some fucked-up lessons and some good-enough lessons, and it's on them to figure out which to live by. Yet why force yourself to make decisions on a breaking limb? Why not pray to the God you're okay not understanding? 

She puts her hand on me in a way I am tired of pretending matters. We are all beautiful is the winning move in the Game of the Image. Of course it's about the Mother, of course She is the Cosmos, what nightmare did you think I was waking up from? History? Plato's stupid cave?

Midnight on my knees in moonlight, alone again. Thanking with all my heart the one who dreams me into existence over and over. All that fire in the divine furnace she insists I insist is not her body. 

Apostles of Love

We are homesteaders, contemplatives, we are not fucking around, the whole marriage comes down to this. Tea cups full of moonlight on the back porch. Polished quartz behind the barn. More rain, less rain. No rain but snow. Trimming back the raspberries, raking the pasture. The world is an orchard untouched by God. What is eclipsed, contained, what cannot be ever. What is created. It hurts less when you pray - what hurts less - if you have to ask - . Morning sunlight glides across the floor, opposite nothing. Across the cosmos, the Apostles of Love rise as one to minister unto uncountable Merchants of Death. My brilliant dangerous mother, my distant beautiful father. Their shared heart a fire by which everything lives, in which everything dies. 

Prior Winters

The wedding and the garden getting more so all the time. Preach, herpetologists! In dreams I am no longer lost, my wandering serves a purpose by never concluding. The church comes to you, not the other way around. November is colder than we remember but then again we never speak of prior winters. Bread in the oven, money in the bank. Grunting coming inside her. A difficult love forging a cosmos in which it only gets harder. You ask if my heart is broken, why do you always ask that. An envelope large enough for all the love letters ever, and a love letter to that envelope. There is no misunderstanding here, there is no mistake, only the absence of promises. As high up and far away something beautiful and vast flies hard into the distance, breaking it once and for all.

One More Theophany

Morning is quiet but productive. Some of us were not allowed to sleep it off. On the other hand, you have to want the crisis, you have to secretly covet the trauma. Peace wants to be found, is what one finds when they look. Pushing sixty, remembering childhood, amazed I survived, got as far as I did the way I am, et cetera. Now what is the answer not the question. Chrisoula knitting while I read Merton's Contemplative Prayer yet againNo more hypotheticals please. Clearing around the potato garden, watching sparrows in the compost. One more winter, please, one more theophany. Something given, something taken, something mistaken but what. Bald eagles hunting up and down the river. Glistening quartz near the fire pit. The poems empty out into my heart, my heart empties out into my soul, my soul empties out into the cosmos, the cosmos has a secret name, yours.

Measured by Crows

Does anybody ever really win the game of Survival? Then maybe there is a better game to play?

What if everything isn't an iterated extension of the Prisoner's Dilemma?

What if you're not hungry?

And begin.

Rising earlier and earlier, called by Her. You have to get better at pattern-matching, become excellent at it, you have to go all the way to the laws by which pattern is even possible, i.e., you don't fuck the Goddess, the Goddess fucks you, and only when it serves Creation. 

Distances measured by crows. The river out back is a silver thread flowing through my heart into the cosmos, which is our shared heart learning how to share. The gray death of goldenrod, hollowed-out stalks through which next winter's wind blows. I don't have a baby, I have sisters and a mother. My brother, my killer. My not-so-secret lovers on their knees beside a river, behind churches, in restaurant bathrooms, et cetera.

What if there is no subtext, nor even context, what if there is only this: this this? Up early to pray, devoted to work and writing, given to healing - even these must go, even these. To be ready to die is a form of longing to live, keep digging son.

This is not loneliness, not anymore. This is not suffering. As high up storm clouds race through the sky. The bald eagles, they do not think of me at all.

Focused on the Flames

The hills are a horizon, not a jail cell, stop playing a foolish game - what game - the game of pretending you aren't doing this to yourself - I don't understand - you have said it.

Here a sacrament, there a ritual. Everywhere a therapist modeling effective modes of dialogue, demonstrating ways beyond the sucking vortex of death. The cathedral in which we were married creeps out of the city and visits the messy glades and gardens of our falling-down monastery. Sing with me, sister, pray with me. Eat with me, end hunger with me.

The sun rises, ice on the windows is gray, then diamantine, then so bright you have to look away. Between trees, narrow fields of snow through which horses pace, the moonlight lingering all day. You want to keep a secret, you forgot we don't have secrets. 

Forgive me, I was focused on the flames, not the Body from which they arose. My hands are empty of everything now, including emptiness. Will it do? These ashes bread, and these tears, wine.

The Last Workable Prayer

Woke up knowing my fate, no use pretending otherwise. How cold the floorboards are in early winter, shrugging naked into yesterday's jeans. Lost in a bedroom itself endlessly shifting in space, the world is basically unfindable. What ends, what begins. Or rather, what ends and does not begin.

This again.

Sky was the first text. I think of this often in winter, when Polaris is as bright as childhood, and long walks a return to whatever inside me once longed to find a way back to Her. The upward gaze is the gaze that extends us, or did you think that Heaven was just an idea?

One disregards most of history, ends up with a new name and backstory, but don't kid yourself, nothing changes. When is it not the third of May 1808? There is only one river and it makes no provision for time or space.

Pausing on the stairs to listen to traffic on Route Nine, eighteen-wheelers leaning on the jake brake. You can't pretend it's four a.m. when it's four a.m..

What do you think the early travelers noticed most? Or is the question why did they travel at all. How long do you have to look at something in order to decide it's not worth pursuing? "Don't think about it" they said about the first dead dog and fifty years later I still can't think about anything else. Sextant, schmextant. But not map, schmap.

Blustery winds come down the river, maple leaves tremble in concert at dawn. Feeding the horses in darkness is the last workable prayer. We are in the garden late into November, spading compost, harvesting kale, we are devoted to nothing if not continuity. Imagine telling God your dreams, and God telling you none will come true, and yet still dreaming.

Imagine choice really is an illusion.

I am alone in morning darkness making coffee by feel, trying out sentences, discarding the ones that contradict the conclusion I insist on coming back to. The argument is over, the conflict settled, and here I am, secretly resenting the plowshare we crafted. Those storm clouds, they never stop to tell me where they're going, they just go. 

Prior Witnesses

Or did I mean to say prior witnesses? Sunlight at dawn decants into the river, the river rises near the bend, and the bend reminds me that all horizons are permeable. Permutative? Breaking skim ice on the trough, the horses waiting patiently nearby. Fly away, crow. Some seam or fold is near unraveled but refuses to be named. It is what it is? Two nights ago the crescent moon was so bright my heart ached - it dragged me through the Heavens like a discarded scapular - but last night there was only darkness. Secrets kept from those who take the vow are how the vow becomes sacred, don't complain and don't take credit, just keep the fire lit. For a long time it was impossible to be satisfied, no matter how many lost travelers I tore into pieces, but then I realized the nexus between childhood and hunger and nobody left or died again. Snow flurries at dusk, Fionnghuala and I gathering stones at the river to make an Advent wreath. Dad loved the Lukan nativity story, read it aloud every Christmas, it became like history to me, it became like family. I don't remember breaking up, I never do, is this why I'm so lonely? Midnight with its ebony wing, the sacred heart exploding all landscapes, and the one who wants us taking us by hand behind the church to take us roughly in the dirt there. What else could justify this excess we call poetry?

Nobody's Baby

Chrisoula suggests a new title for the twenty sentences, "It's All About Me." Everybody laughs, it's okay, I'm not the joke, I'm the reason we can laugh together, i.e., it really is all about me. Sidling in bed later, touching each other in darkness, full and hot like summer. Imagine being nobody's baby, imagine not being seen the way she sees me. Seeks me? Well, saves me anyway. Falling asleep with the taste of her in my mouth. 

Earlier, Northampton is full of light - half-hearted holiday decorations - as if the collective were finally coming to terms with its gross failure to love. Two hundred bucks cash, when I was a kid it would've felt unbelievable. Willow trees in late November remind me of poets who want to be loved more than they want to write good poems, i.e., I'm finally okay with mirrors. Clearing the attic, re-roofing both porches, scrubbing last season's Mason jars. What happens when we realize we are doing this to ourself?

Anonymous monk graves dusted with snow, half a mile from the shrine, a clearing in the woods, the only reason I visit. I became lost to myself in your glances, which would have been healing if it hadn't been so much of what you wanted. Sail on deep river, all the way to the sea. 

Laying down with her means our shared cry for love quietens, and the silence glows like a furnace. In the Country of Turtles, in this fine house that marriage built, neither sacrifice nor loss obtain. Fear, at last, owns no dominion.

Monday, December 5, 2022

No More Dirty Silver

Waking later than usual, pausing at the top of the back porch stairs before chores, gaze shifting from Main Street to the gardens and pasture and back. Time passes. Everything is still and quiet, touched with frost. Rainbows everywhere, prisms are the way. I will die one day and that day will not be the end so tell me again what I should fear? I miss the moon when it's not visible. Was Kimberley helping or hurting when she told me that story about childhood and friendship? Between light and dark, both of which are predicated on gaze (which itself cannot be seen), this: this this. No more holidays, no more dirty silver, no more making her pay behind the church. Moses got it backwards, the subsequent anthologists were also all confused (i.e., Ex. 33:20) but it's okay, I'm here. "Why do I insist on pretending I'm alone when I'm not alone" is not the question, it's the answer. In other words, my turn. My turn to sing hosannas, my turn to linger in your low valley and tea fields, my turn to live prayerfully with Her by the river. This tongue, it tasted Her once, and has been burning ever since. 

Yet Another Theophany

Another window at which to linger, another landscape to translate poorly. It's funny until it's not: there is only this and it's all there is. Tea candles - an afterthought - fade as the night deepens. Only one of us ever sleeps. Day before Advent, remind me again why we celebrate that which neither asks nor wants for celebration. As at another juncture the plea was, write or don't write but for Christ's sake write. Cold pie in the kitchen, cheapest wine I know. What slips, settles, what floats away without looking back. "Forget me not," she demanded, she whom the Cosmos could not help but obey. Yet another theophany, thank you Jesus, thank you Buddha. Thank you Bill and Helen. What is on fire goes out and what remains serves no one and yet is not not sacred. It's not amen, it's something else, what something else, I don't know. Look at November, here and not here, and fading either way. Like the local diners of childhood? Yes, exactly like those diners. Forgive me not? Before Emily Dickinson, my imagination fails. Are you saying the world really is a sacristy? I'm saying what she said. The garden put up and snow falling all morning. The heart fails, Life goes on. I'm saying that. 

Only One Trail

I'm failing again. Fading?

I'm floating again.

And begin.

Livid sunrise throwing hay to the horses. Acceptance is the end of both want and regret, adapt accordingly. Tea while we talk about family. Weeds that heal, flowers that distract from the pain of not healing.

Stars that guide us.

Tell me again about the fear

I had to choose a direction but choosing was a pretense because the direction had already been chosen for me. 

Tell me what happened when you and _____________________  _________________________ and found your way back to _______________.

We agreed we wouldn't call it acting. 

The books Chrisoula doesn't read, the ideas she will not help me colonize. Om shanti shanti shanti. Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha. Sharanam Ganesha. 

Walk with me, star gaze with me, lay down naked with me in the dark.

Is it okay to ask for another slice of bread, it is okay to ask for another slice for bread, we want you to eat.

You see, there was only one trail through the forest, and she put it there, and it led to her, and when it led away from her, if it did, going back was all you thought about for the rest of your life.

An Incident at the Temple

Say it: there was an incident at the temple, he brought it on himself, he did this to himself. Not turning on any lights, making coffee, going outside with coffee: dawn in early winter. Gunmetal sky, the earth frozen. Sunday an excuse for what mode of longing. What can you not let go. Past the horses to the garden covered in frost. A man broke twenty-five spades breaking ground for his beloved who died anyway in the house Love built. The world is a field of graves, every grave is a broken heart. Snow flurries and wind, sheep bawling. Chickadees on the fallen apple tree. Is it praise you're after, is it obedience, is it choice. Toasting bread, frying eggs. The Great Mother prays in our kitchen, the Great Mother naps in our pantry. The Great Mother moans with us on our altar made of moans. Earl Gray tea with maple syrup and cream. She pulls me away from the window, she lays with me naked in our narrow bed. What fits, what is felt. What is freed. A sound the flames make going out. I wanted to hear it one last time, the story about the boy who saves his sister so she can save him and together they can find a way home. I wanted to say aloud, fuck crucifixion, I wanted to build that world, but it wasn't so simple. In Chrisoula's arms weeping, later praying and later yet, sleeping. Turn turn to the rain and the wind. Hush child, close your eyes, the war is over, your father made sure of it. 

The End of Weddings

The weather ring around the moon widens, becoming almost imperceptible. Gassho brother, gassho sister. Clouds float low along the river murmuring before dawn. How cold my feet are! God doesn't know the word "choose," nor that to which it points. I'm alone again, thanking Christ again. I'm carrying hay to the horses again, lingering to ask them questions about my daughters, all daughters, and the world I've helped pit against them. Again. There is no silence like when you let the Holy Spirit teach you how to hear. Walking slowly back to the house, back to the marriage, there is nothing else. The world below the world of woe is . . . what exactly? Towering hemlocks, ornamental birch trees. Fox tracks in frosty grass before the breaking-down chicken shed. Sharing the way to learn that sharing the way is the way is the way. Back to what cannot be left because it is the cosmos? Welcome to the end of weddings! The heart beyond begging, and nothing left to want.

Monday, November 7, 2022

October Interim: Poems

These are some poems written in October. I wrote and rewrote them a lot. I don't know if they have twenty sentences or not. I stopped counting. 

I write because it brings order to my living. Tara Singh also says this but about A Course in Miracles. Bumpersticker idea: "If the poems you're writing aren't saving your life, then you aren't writing real poems." I'm not saying these are real poems, by the way. I'm saying I'm saved. 

No, I'm kidding. Saved is a fantasy I write about elsewhere. But there is increasingly a kind of satisfying order. It has to do with communication. I remember as a homeless drunk visiting my parents' house and nobody was home so I sat on the back porch and listened to crows. For a little while I wasn't lonely, and my heart worked.  

A crow cries
and closer
one answers

That was the poem by which I summoned her: the Queen of the Country of Turtles, who later agreed to marry me. Got sober, got my shit together, learned how to bake bread and and how to keep a dog alive, and married her. People ask what the secret is, it's easy. I painted it the day I met her. 

Now I'm tethered to the only promise she asked me to make: never say aloud nor write the name of the Goddess by Whose grace we live. It was worth it: our little fire never goes out, no matter how many times we share it.

Anyway, the poems. On the blog they'll show up in reverse order - this here is the order I think they should be read in. But you do you :)

My Long Sweet Fall

Chrisoula beside me in darkness breathing. Footsteps in the hall. The Last Night on Earth passes suicidally, what did you think was going to happen? Every blow of the hammer constructing the gallows can be heard inside the prison. This again.

The one who "gets it" vs. the one who "reads me." You again, again. Times I've stood in the rain waiting, times I've said fuck it and gone inside. There's only one goodbye, what else did you think was playing on a loop in the background? Think of the distance between our grandparents, think of the mail. Think of all the distance in all the time ever.

Blue collar drunks, failed priests and farmers, brothers all: let us lift a glass to the ones who went ahead, may they hold the gate to Heaven wide a second longer than the devil has to spare. Chrisoula beside me in the darkness, my dead father trying to clarify something about prayer. Those who know, those who don't et cetera. Was there something you meant to say but didn't?

The calf didn't get buried, the calf didn't even die. There were no answers because there were no questions.

When something breaks, the game is let's find and punish the one who did it, and I am always the one. 

I didn't think we were playing for real, that's why. I forgot it was a game.

My lover, my helpmeet, my long sweet fall into nothing.

Licking Braided Wildflowers

The man without shoes married a cobbler, the cobbler married a black hole, now what. What is clear now, what is not clear. Sunlight in maple trees almost empty of leaves. Sentences written both for and before an audience. Did you know that licking braided wildflowers is encouraged by the cosmos, yes I'm coming all the time, why do you ask. One's memory of burlap transforms them and the transformation asks a question which must be answered. What if what we are doing and what the moon is doing is a dance and it's the same dance, does knowing help or hurt. A dandelion is surprise another way, as the laundry drying outside in October is our shared body being carried away. Rivers and lakes are recursive, they are commentaries on the divine original, please for the love of what is sacred in us understand this. If you meet a storyteller whose stories make you want to fuck him, ask if as a child he dug a lot of graves, and if the answer is yes, then prepare for dirty knees behind the church and not much else. As when looking down from a mountain, the pumpkin fields were easily identified many miles away. I am alone again, figuring out why I'm alone again. God my love is easy to please. 

Walking Away from the Cathedral

Crescent moon, frost on the tall grass, I'm neither here nor there.

Memories of the wedding grow dim, as if we were running not walking away from the cathedral. Before the decision to write is made, what has to appear and to whom?

I did not ask for a heart yet I do not have to choose how to love – somewhere in that paradox is the secret to happiness. Vultures swarm my dreams, distant but clear. Something is drawing connections throughout the cosmos – the connectivity is accelerating - but when everything is connected, there is nothing to distinguish, and then who will give me a blowjob?

When I was little and got slapped the pain would crystallize - it was many lights, many points - and I was dazed by it, confused by how pretty it could be while also being so bad. A few weeks ago we cleaned under the back porch, wondered what the original builder intended for this space - no known photographs of this angle exist from when it was built. 

The canoe fills with rain water and fallen maple leaves, feral cats sip from it. You say my father failed me in ten thousand ways but you did not know my father, can you say that? 

Rivers murmuring all night in the dark. 

Women were easy in a way, men less so, but after a while even sex stopped working. Ambivalence about suffering is itself a form of suffering. Question: when did you start calibrating speech according to the gender of the listener? Who taught you how? 

Out back with the blind horse at dawn, sky lightening, choosing between sentences. Last night Chrisoula murmured another man’s name in her sleep, and I wondered if he was murmuring hers or ever had. Something hallowed in me now I no longer consent to be haunted by the invisble past. All night holding myself - and by extension you - tenderly, like a mother.

Losing the End of Us

You want me to stay so you change into Mary Magdalyn and ask will I go to the river. Not the Jordan this time but the one behind the horses. Is it love or are we desperate and other questions nobody ever wants to learn are answerable.  

Still, after dark, when everybody is asleep, I go outside. Down the back stairs, past the barn, into the field. The blind horse watches me pass. The moon is a waxing gibbous, my least favorite phase, but moonlight is moonlight, beggars can't be choosers, etc.   

I give a wide berth to raccoons rooting in the compost, not wanting to disrupt the end of hunger, and linger by Fionnghuala's garden where dead sunflowers lean over the brick path she started and abandoned. I miss growing up. Owls cry downriver, are they beginning the hunt or is it over. When you know you don't know, you know. It's hard to explain. 

There's a buried calf around here somewhere. There are tree stumps I mistook for Buddha, there are mistakes I declined to name. Why wasn't it enough? Why isn't it?

You know there is nothing I can say yet you persist with the Isaiahan fantasy there is. Tell me again which one of us is confused about resurrection, you who never met a crucifixion you couldn't pray at on your knees. Chrisoula dreams of a man at the edge of a vast water, gazing into darkness at what she cannot see: me losing the end of us all over again. 

Forced to Lean a Certain Way

I want to say something about prayer. About how the birch tree is forced to lean a certain way because of towering hemlocks. Another dead cardinal means what for the happy ending I am still trying to write? Pulled over in Goshen to look at deer in a far field and remembered again learning how to forget. The house smells of lentil soup and bread with sage and butter, October moonlight spills into the kitchen and my daughters refuse to entertain old promises. In a dream Jesus asks is it okay if he works with a woman in Plattsburgh now. What exactly did you think was going to happen? Chrisoula turns in bed to save me, she doesn't care at all about God or my poems or getting anything right except this: this this.

Confused but Happy

We visit my mother and I am confused but happy. She feeds us tea and muffins. I hate she has to die some day. I love her the way the dogs loved me: deeply but carefully. Some things you have to get just right. But later it falls apart. Chrisoula brings a box of books down from the attic to sort and right away I start trembling. I run into the bathroom and throw up. I'm scared my dead father is angry because the only thing he said before he died was take care of your mother and you can see she's growing old. When I come back, the books are gone, I don't know where she put them. Chrisoula explains it patiently. My father didn't trust me, an error I do not have to repeat. We've been here before but we're not unhappy. It's late fall but not so late you have to think about winter. I go upstairs to take a nap, the neighbor's kid is blasting heavy metal stacking wood. I can't sleep, I love him so much.

Over October Hills

Sometimes there are no words, just the moon rising at dusk over October hills. Cardinal feathers under the porch where the cat eats what he kills. How far away Hank Williams sounded singing "The Devil's Train." When I want her most, Chrisoula becomes most distant, but never disappears. In my twenties I changed "world below" to "world of woe" but it's possible I copied someone. The Jordan is more than a river the way a prayer is more than words and how they go together. I am defeated when she finds me but lifted by our agreement not to let the other die alone. Canadian geese fly south before dawn, their guttural cries as much a language of desire as anything I've ever managed. And it works. For a little while longer it works. 

A Promise to Forget Everything

Wind rustles the blonde corn stalks; chickadees fly in and out of fallen sunflowers. There are grasshoppers still. Leaves sail through the cold air. In October, the light reveals a later stage of marriage than we anticipated. Sundays pass digging potatoes. Nobody wants to talk about last winter. Every time we look up, the sun has moved another three fingers west. It bears repeating: everything ends. I think of you often - you would have appreciated the corn stalks; you would have recognized the light. Potatoes want to be found, is what one finds digging them. Are we perfect because we allow ourselves to feel the pain of Her absence or because we are confused and She is not actually missing? Either way, we are not doing this alone. Hawks circle distant hills, moles scuttle deeper into grass. Can you hear the river a little farther north? Will you walk with me after midnight as far from the village as our legs will allow? Finally I remember how to pray. Why do I need you to remember me at all? Silky milkweed prisms float above the garden, the earth is a giant seed share. Imagine a promise to forget everything, up to and including the promise. This happiness, it becomes us. 

Nameless Even Now

Sometimes I try too hard. Like the time I listened to Handel for six months and nothing else. What was the point? Nobody cared and it's not like U2 hadn't just released The Joshua Tree. In the end I crawled back, hungry for the familiar on whatever terms it offered. Mostly she didn't get it but she did ask once "for what is the forest is a substitute?" We both thought the answer was my mother but it was actually noticing what clarifies when your church is trees. Suite in D Minor, HWV 437 is a lifetime in certain darknesses. Lifeline? You can stumble a long time before you realize the problem is insisting on signs at all. Ramana Maharshi had it easy! I used to say scatter my ashes on Ascutney but now I say mix me with a bright tempura, paint some rocks and leave 'em here and there in the woods. It's not the notes nor even how they've been arranged but what passes between them nameless. Even now. Even now.

We Didn't Hurry (Even Though it Rained)

The end will be grotesque. Endings always are. 

What I remember most about our first date - coffee in the Fire and Water Cafe after seeing Little Buddha at the Pleasant Street Theater - is you humming walking back to the car. That and how we didn't hurry even though it rained. 

The calf died choking to death on brandy. My father forced its head back while I watched from the basement stairs. I was not allowed to be near the calf while it died, much less hope it might be saved. I did help dig its grave. It was wrapped in burlap and we laid it on the wet grass while we worked. 

Dad himself died slowly over several weeks, mulling and dispensing orders about minor things we all promised to obey (e.g., who should get this pocket knife, who should get that crucifix). It was pathetic but on the other hand only a liar would promise to do better. He was given the same order I was as a child -  you fix this - and since kids can't fix anything, he learned how to stand a continuous wreckage. 

The trivial becomes nontrivial, what else.  

A day or so before he died, Dad mumbled "water" and I thought he said "God." I know, I know. But for a moment it seemed the whole promise of his suffering - which by extension and long-standing argument was the Suffering of the World - was about to be dissolved in God, Who is Love. 

In that moment, Dad's expasperation with me briefly animated the corpse he was almost finished becoming. Everybody laughed at me the way you do when the only other thing to laugh at is death, which isn't allowed. Every now and again somebody will bring it up: the time Dad was dying and asked for water and Sean tried to make it about religion. Only now do I get it, i.e., everyone's doing the best they can, maybe it's not your job to fix it.

My own death involves a diner where everybody leaves me alone because they know I'm only there to write. The waitress, who is my age, never says a word pouring the coffee. I just write and write and write until one day there is nothing left to write. A light goes on and it begins to rain. The waitress takes my hand and we leave together, the end. 

Elision is not a Crisis

Can we agree to at least try to have no secrets?

Earlier this week the moon was a faint sliver behind rain clouds. Sophia and Fionnghuala were talking about racism in YA fantasy and I was happy listening even though I was often confused. This was near the bend in Route Nine where the river deepens and people sometimes park to fish. 

My favorite time of day is about 6:30 because that is when Chrisoula and I sit with our tea and talk. Actually we stand (and one of us drinks coffee) but our souls sit. Our souls sit side by side at an ancient stone table and all the red birds and turtles we've ever known gather round to bless us. The kitchen is warm and full and we are both very happy.

Robert encourages me to try something new with the twenty sentences (sort of like Jasper asking what happens if you make it twenty-one). He suggests less emphasis on form and more on narrative. He says "tell a different story" a lot. Something is being elided but elision is not a crisis. I said that, not Robert.

When I asked Chrisoula about the Man-without-Shoes she said "who?" In that moment it was clear that the cross was optional, a self-imposed crucifixion fooling nobody, so I gave up and climbed down. How lucky to find the one who does not wish us crucified but how much luckier to find the one who doesn't even know there is a cross!

Related: when I was little and had to wash dishes, the water was scalding so I asked which spigot made it cold. My grandmother refused to show me, saying "Reagans know how to handle pain." In my family that is a story about love so I washed dishes that way for fifty years until this morning when Chrisoula said impatiently "your grandmother was a mean drunk" and turned the cold water on. 

Can I tell you a story about love
you just did 

Heart Broke Anyway

tell me about the fear

What was ordinary terrified me. I understood early that evil was banal. It didn't have enemies, only accomplices. The calf died because my father was indifferent to its survival. Nobody taught him to notice, much less fix, this incapacity for love. I was four when the calf escaped into the forest. Why didn't we look for it? What prayer to what god brought it back the next day trembling with fever? Who decided brandy was the medicine? I watched everything from an assigned distance until it was time to dig the grave and then I learned what my father couldn't face. How bad does it have to get for a man to forget he has a son? I dreamed of a world that existed beyond the reach of this one, a world where nothing died or ran away. Those dreams buffered me against losses that were otherwise unmanageable but my heart broke anyway. Here I am, half a century later, wondering how to end this poem. Thinking it matters. Missing what does.

october sky
kneeling at graves
nobody visits

Friday, September 23, 2022

All the Family Shoes

You once asked why I was the Man without Shoes, the answer is because my great-grandfather hoarded all the family shoes. Hurricanes have no mercy.

We drank beer mostly, the one time it was gin and tonics Denise made them for us in a thermos we shared, standing knee-deep in Lake Champlain, I was never that happy again, I don't regret anything that happened since, I forgive it all. Hemlock trees are never not in my prayers, chickadees forever in my mind. 

Burlington in mid-Fall, our shared heart so bright and livid even the moon is compelled to genuflect. Cape Cod wind chimes, the past is forever a melody recreated in the present.

How happy I make others sometimes, as if the stories about me being broken and bad were just wrong, totally deeply entirely wrong. Imagine not liking your father.

Will trains last? I am focused on one last winter, nothing else matters now.

My taxidermied heart, my skinflint soul. A bridge away from death one built in their early twenties, made mostly of poems by suicidal women.

Lifetimes cutting cigars on the devil's train are finally gone, may I never cease to praise the Name of Jesus. What happens behind the church does not stay behind the church.

Used to get drunk and wander for hours at night, sober thirty-five years, still wandering around in darkness, star-gazing, happier than the odds once suggested was possible. Spent a lot of time swimming through wrecks of ancient ships trying to find something that wasn't skeletal, eventually surfaced, returned to shore.

Kneeling at Emily Dickinson's grave, hopeless and helpless in mid-September, i.e., how long does it take Gabriel to blow that fucking horn? This train is bound for glory - yeah, sure, whatever.

Framed pictures of the wedding in our bedroom make clear we have not yet gone beyond the marriage but let's not give up just yet, I feel lucky and there's something about this place. Fell shy of love, got back up and tried again, this is what I want, this is my only function, om shanti shanti shanti, alleluia alleluia.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

I Don't Remember Agreeing

Monarch butterflies passing by the goldenrod, we are all going somewhere. What is the relationship between hunger and love?

He visits in the bright middle of the day to remind me the way will not be easy but also it's too late to back out. Something happens far away - two thousand years ago, say - and all the fear of it is here. 

Towering hemlocks may I finally learn what these hands and arms and eyes are for. Sailing over the landscape in Lukas Geer's hot air balloon, the old dream of never having to give up dreaming.

Screw any list of guitar solos that does not include the final one in Sultans of Swing. Something went wrong early in my life and it turned out there would never be a fix, who knew.

The new therapist asks why do I insist on finding ways to argue I should be punished and we both know the answer but only one of us has the courage to say it. Geese in the distance, everything ends.

No more highway blowjobs, I don't remember agreeing to that but okay. We hang a Happy Birthday sign together, we don't know ourselves anymore outside of characters and narratives we didn't write.

I mean how much more rapture does one really need? When licking you was like licking marble in clouds of falling ash. 

It made me happy watching the turntable, it taught me something important about forgetting. "More mushrooms" cries the Man without Shoes, whose feet are now clad in Steve Hamlin's higher-priced clown shoes.

Mothers and Others, may I never forget to be grateful. Needy magick. 

That little farm in Vermont we could've bought but didn't, all to end up in these prolific gardens a stone's throw from the river, thanks Jesus, thanks God. The guy whose favorite poet is Emily Dickinson, whose favorite novelist is James Clavell, who invited that guy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Love Itself Immolating

A little moonlight on the floor, apparently Jesus never gets tired of showng me Love Itself.

Remember the Country of Turtles, how one kiss became the cosmos, and the cosmos this: this this?

Sex is just power playing with itself until you see how it is actually communion, i.e., Love Itself entangling with Love Itself. 

Digging potatoes with Chrisoula, stars coming out, fingers cold on cold spades, finally the wedding reaches the marriage.

Deconstructing old loves so as to forgive familiar errors. 

Under the ferris wheel looking up, was there ever any doubt?

Saturday morning waking early for chores then brewing coffee while the kids argue is "parer" a word and then going upstairs into the sunlit bedroom to write, this.

Flirting with disaster, who's kidding who.

West-facing hills on which mile-long bands of white pine are dead. 

Sifting through hatred to reach the fear, offering the fear to her alchemizing love, om shanti shanti shanti. 

Leaving Albany forever because Jeremiah taught me that all along Love Itself was my companion

Falling asleep under a blue blanket, thinking of Mary crying at her son's execution. 

Everything we look upon because there is nothing to look upon but Christ. 

Be mind.

She smiles when I knock on her office door, something frozen in me softens, my heart weeps a lake onto her feet.

Friends who became teachers, teachers who became lovers, lovers who became symbols of Love Itself, immolating every relationship but one. 

Walking around the back yard at night, slowing down when a skunk lumbers by - hey brother - staying out until the quarter moon crests far hills full of deer and other dreamers. 

I tell him about the time my mother threw a knife at me and he refactors his internal model, may I never forget to be earnest.

How sometimes we stop working, smile at each other in shadows sinking into the garden and say, "hey, remember when the summer sky was full of swallows?"

You don't read these poems Chrisoula and yet they are all for you, and it doesn't matter you don't read them, I will write them for you until I die, I will write them for you when I am dead, I will write them for you until you say "rise brother into the Heaven we create together." 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The One who Refused the Wings

You never read my poems and yet you are the one who made this life safe enough to write them.

Unmade bed, are you thinking what I'm thinking.

Gathering goldenrod for the neighbor's goats, leaving some for mid-September bees.

What I won't do for certain women.

We sit quietly watching the moon between maple trees just beginning to turn.

He asks me to be in my body in a way I find terrifying but I try, for him I try, as we both know only another man can truly understand this particular fear.

Cartoon demons, watercolor angels.

It's all forever now!

Learning with K. it's okay to let certain lessons go, it's okay to be happy and free.

Once I decided to no longer be lonely, the brief moments of solitude became diamantine, a light piercing it from all directions at once.

The hay loft becomes a chapel in which sex is gently forgotten in favor of communion.

At an early age I swallowed a compass, how else do you think I managed the difficult landscapes I was forced to live in like a rat? 

Oh Fall River thank you for existing for without you I would not have understood how deep and slow the River of Beauty truly is.

Not Icarus after all but the one who refused the wings and then cried a long time on the beach watching his father fly away forever and his brother die, crashing into the sea. 

Who or what is behind this, I want to say thank you.

Suicides whose calls I did not return in time, forgive me.

Made feral by a mother who had seen more of hell than one would wish upon an enemy, and a father whose eyes were stolen by a decades-old hurricane. 

Chrisoula knits while I read Sarah Hrdy, now and then reading aloud this or that sentence, may I never forget to be grateful.

Coming to terms with Tara Singh again.

There is only one love, thirty years after the wedding we reach at last the marriage, and even then, even then. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

Suddenly Swathed in Gray

We stood together near the stage watching Mike Campbell play guitar - scarecrow-like, excellent still - and several times I touched Jeremiah's shoulder and he turned to smile at me, a man with whom I do not need to assume any pretense, and in this way something about Albany changed forever.

Who or what is behind all this.

Crows before the sun rises, heading north.

It seemed there was a path that involved painting once, it seemed there was a dream of getting something just right, where "just right" meant creating an image that conveyed a feeling rather than any technical accuracy related to how things actually appear. 

People ask why the rose became so ubiquitous an image and symbol - practically bereft of meaning at all according to Eco - and the question strikes me as a failure for the answer is quite simply: look.

Early evening, between sips of the last cup of coffee ever, a heaviness settles on the valley, and the soul - which lately is attuned to the throat chakra - is suddenly swathed in gray.

Images and ideas I would rather not put into a sentence, or the same sentence anyway, and so do not (but did in a previous sentence - can you see which one).

Vision in the right eye slowly failing, a haze descending as if an angel were gently lowering its wings.

This is not the sentence I meant to write, this is the sentence I actually wrote.

Walking in Albany again, all these years later, remembering the past, and letting it go.

We were broken, that was why.

As if praise were not enough.

Getting curricular.

We pause beneath the hemlocks, we draw chairs and talk about the kids, we talk about moving, about cutting back the berries, we talk about what we are becoming together now we are not trying to become anything else.

The void giveth and the void taketh away.

Remembering William Kennedy's novels, how hard it was to get Dad to appreciate them, how I read them endlessly for years, delighted with the prose, the familiar characters, and always the untiring romance. 

We who are refused over and over - denied entry unto the temple, not allowed to touch his robes - pushed away and rejected - whose dreams are fed by wild angels, emissaries of a God who has not yet decided is He interested in our salvation.

Obedience, who knew.

Getting to know the narrator, going slowly so not to spook him, that path.

And will there be another snow storm, now I have been granted another winter in which to stand quietly in quiet forests amid all the snow falling in all the cosmos?

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Lost Children in Previous Centuries

Okay, I give up, why do we die? Burning straw dogs, the ruins still smoking after dawn. After rain, sunlight in the lilac, and after sunlight in the lilac, moonlight. Obligate sexuality, who knew. 

How do we recognize sentences? Here is the secret to happiness, you are related in nontrival ways to apples. Death and sex are intimate, let us not live elsewise. Chipped bricks falling off the chimney in high winds.

A deliberate choice to speak of "cosmos" rather than "universe," sensing in the decision something promiscuous, risky. The body is a site of negotiation between agents trying to remember how to cooperate. Chess, too, is a helpful metaphor - why. Spank me.

Hours pass or seem to. Once I was a lake, once I was a woman who could walk on water, once was I was a child who spent many years swimming through the wrecks of ancient ships. Chris Fields' point that "biology is all about recycling." I cannot bear another horizon. 

Licking semen off the fingers of the seraph who gave me a handjob in the pantry. Seams in the poem where understanding appears. We are together a response to the cries of lost children in previous centuries. A leaf falls, Chrisoula reaches me, I will see another winter.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Back When I Was Still Pretending

She visits in a dream - a desert, we are very poor, we have no right, we are meeting far from our homes - and says "longer sentences, please."

Driving into Albany with my son, the moon shrouded, my head full of memories I want to share with him, how I have loved three women, made a life and family with one, cannot always find myself in time, and want nothing anymore but this. 

Falling asleep with the taste of her in my mouth.

The heart is a useful metaphor but must be deployed intentionally hence my poor use of it as such, I am what is led by language not the other way around. 

In the distance the city was colorful, we were both relieved to see it, and I remembered driving through it with Denise in 1988, not wanting to let go of her hand, I was so happy, I was so happy and knew I would never be that happy again, and the knowing did not impair the happiness, and thirty-five years later it still does not. 

Remember making love on futons in hottest summer, going out after to drink gin and tonics on North Beach, stars falling one by one into the vast lake.

Sad Jesus walking in a meadow full of cattle who are only weeks away from being slaughtered.

This is my heart when it remembers you, this is my heart when it forgets.

Vakra-Tunndda Maha-Kaaya Suurya-Kotti Samaprabha / Nirvighnam Kuru Me Deva Sarva-Kaaryessu Sarvadaa.

Near midnight, lost.

Chrisoula comes back from her pottery class happy and laughing, and something in me is lifted and lightened, and something else - hurt and angry since before this body was born - goes away to plot in secret against love.

Ways to see it does not matter, what happens or does not happen, ways to see that even suffering is not suffering, only saying so is suffering.

We share a joint near dawn - everyone else fallen asleep, embers only, instruments set aside - and our knees touch and stars settle in the lilac, one after the other after the other.

Pushing the canoe out and then - possessed by who knows what - not climbing in but swimming behind it to the center of the lake, cold in the cold water, apparently needing to be closer to what is dark than the surface will allow.

Loneliness, not solitude, has been my path, please God let me not pretend otherwise another day.

On the back roads I remember absence. 

Oh I would leave this body to all the hungry dogs, I pray their hunger does not last much longer. 

Poets I read who cut me, carved me into a specific site of loss and grief, sex and writing, joy forgotten and joy remembered, who opened in me an intensity and awareness that is all the treasure there is.

Light rain all afternoon, part of which I sleep through, waking to the phone chiming (a three-word text from Jeremiah), and a headache that was laid on me back when I had enemies, back when I was still pretending I wasn't full of hatred and anger. 

He says quietly there are no bargains, you must love and you must let yourself be loved, and you must live in the world this shared - this difficult but shared, thus this beautiful - loving brings forth.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Crucifixion Notes

Sheep cries echo across the fields.

Saturday wasted, again. 

Sun appearing here, moon appearing there.

Sentences shorten.

Stonehenge was progress.

Dangerous evaluation.

No longer recognizing the argument but still recognizing winning.

Inverted turtle shells.

It gets bad sometimes, who doesn't know this.

Carrying Dad.

Men whose stories falter, fall off.

Little Wing, broken wing, hallowing.

Glimmering web threads floating off rafters in the hay loft.

Who trembled mounting the gallows. 

Perpetually drawing aside curtains.

A sickness traced back to guitars.

Always Kali, always Perses, always this self-righteous fury ending in crucifixion.

Notes coming out of the void.

We are not observers.

Imagine new alphabets.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Missing Nothing and Nobody

Rain fell. What was precious became more so. A paragraph is not a feature of speech but can be spoken, this is not important anymore but I wanted to say it.

You develop an appetite for Barthes, which is an appetite for a text, for an author and a reader, and then you spend a lifetime gazing at the world, singling this or that element out for special attention, sometimes putting parts of it into words. Wrens in the hemlock, welcome to early fall. One sleeps longer than usual, wakes up tired. 

What happened. Something that could not be saved, I have been angry for fifty years, now you tell me it's time to grieve, why don't you tell me how it ends. The river so low we can find no fish in it.

Four a.m., drifting through prayers Christ shared with me years ago in my father's old bedroom. Failures, a sea of them, swimming in them, coming up through them to an unfamiliar light. Precious surface I will break you in the name of love.

Long gone dogs, my life in ruins. Rain fell and fell, decades became sunflowers, I stopped being able to breathe, and still there was only this: this this. The affair ends, you haven't changed, you betrayed the only one who can save you, this was apparently what you wanted, a way to fix what appears unfixable, may you never forget the ones who went with you to help you remember.

Little bells beneath apple trees, i.e. rain, all night missing nothing and nobody, the back porch a chapel, God a cosmic billows. Lost in the only forest, swimming in the only river, chanting with ghosts in the name of the unnamed father. Moonlit genuflections. 

I wasn't supposed to be here, was supposed to have gotten out years ago, what happened. The Author of Hope will see you now.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Away from Ourselves

I've strayed but not too far vs. I'm back and won't leave again. Tomatoes falling from falling vines. The cosmos is lawful, what else do you need to know.

The question of what is sustainable is harder to answer than it seems. Stopping outside Washington D.C. for breakfast, we are not traveling the same way anymore, we are taking different roads, we are farther and farther away from what we eat. Prayer again, always.

How far away Dan went in the end, and how lonely I became and have remained ever since. Refried bread with maple syrup for breakfast. This is the 1970s, this is the 1950s, this is not something older than that.

No more what? The garden happens under laws of attention I am only just now learning to notice, let alone obey (or is it the old game of wanting a certain woman to want me). We who become the refused.

Trains full of drifters, low-down grifters. Perhaps I will be here folding and refolding the quilt on which we make love for all eternity, perhaps I already am. A sound the river does not make this year.

You want to be happy, I want to be happy, but we are not happy, what is wrong with us? Letting go of certain readers, the writing shifting accordingly. Goats crying out next door.

There are old ways that still work, I am their witness. Becoming one with the biography in order to end biography.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Only I am Allowed to Dream

Old texts.

Outside at night silence.

Suffering no longer. 

They asked me to go home, they reminded me Ma was there, alone with bad dreams only I am allowed to dream, and so I lived in that house for nineteen years. 

Queen Anne's Lace all up and down the hill.

What happens when you leave identity out of it, can you.

The voice that is negative and fearful is trying to argue it is reasonable.

Please don't take away the peace.

A church for beggars.

The Judge who declines to be seen, who will not make his argument in public

What blurs.

Enlarge the space of agreement, make it at least possible, find others to help.

Sinners watching the sun rise yet another day.

Resistant to sharing, going into it, finding something unpleasant traveling north outside Hatfield, but what, and why now.

It has to do with specificity. 

The lake full of ice, neither one of us wore clothes for days.

Rainbows indicating what about boundaries.

September sunflowers, maybe dying won't be so bad after all.

An aversion to using the world "only" and "reflection" in the same sentence. 

Brattleboro taught us how much we had left to fear, and how wrong it would get before it got better.

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Oldest Apple Tree

A dream of better questions.

Dreaming the other into existence.

Willingness becomes a burden, a duty, it becomes the opposite of what it is.

Disrupting hummingbirds at the jewelweed, Sunday mass put off another day.

Leaves on the lilac turning now, early September, something rust-colored in the suddenly cool air. 

Cirrus clouds where yesterday the moon passed.

Cardinals at odd moments as if the red bird is finally returning, no longer bound to the body of another. 

I am trying to justify optimism, who knew.

Train engines hidden away.

Going through old photographs, finding the ones that are hard to separate from what actually happened, and taking them. 

Spells are not irrelevant here.

Morning sun, neighborhood cats following me to the oldest apple tree, sidestepping fallen fruit. 

Where the horses were buried, where we began rehearsing for the war.

Or not, as always.

Replanted lilies alive the next day, may I never take a single breath for granted.

Star-gazing at three a.m., bats dipping back and forth, if you were here what would I miss.

Those who got away.

Missing the hint.

Sometimes you see the cave mouth shine, sometimes you find your way by feel.

Winning the argument and the argument goes on, one of us wants this, who. 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Seduction is an Agreement

Night belongs to us, the day is forbidden.

Searching for a tea kettle.

Something Christmas-y in me, something maternal.

Finding roads with you, finding ways.

Lovers are the site of remembering what mattered at the beginning.

You bookstore, you, you library.

Take me, that's how. 

Seduction is an agreement to be bound by lies in order to remember what is true.

Say again what we learn together.

Sunlight on the only birch tree with which I have a chance.

Faking it sometimes, sometimes improvising, always in it though.

Butterflies make me cry, tell me again what this means for our relationship. 

Telling K I'm lost in what resembles a Peanuts cartoon.

Near the bottom sex is merely power but past the bottom it's pure communion, which is about everything, including sex.

Refusing sleep - refusing forgetfulness - paying anyway.

Becoming carefuler.

Icarus rising from eternally smoking embers comforting Hansel and Gretel coming back from the witch, the teller pleading with her audience to get something right about who serves who and when.

Never really had a home, was never really homeless, nor did I travel. 

Nothing ends, there's nowhere to go, that's how.

Pumpkins ripening in tall grass by the garden, another summer gone, another ring of Heavens. 

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Those Hills in Greece

Questions I regret asking, answers I only recognize too late.

Moons in you, miles in you.

The solitude with you.

A loss that cannot be categorized every day. 

Men who hoard clues, who don't know it's only a game. 

The new therapist observes that Dad was better at politics than I am, which I did not know.

Tracing her skin, collarbone to shoulder, then pulling her close, her body thin and hard, always reminding me of olive trees in the hills above the Greek village where she was born. 

What do your feet know that the rest of you does not?

Two dead foxes in five days, I have forgotten how to end things.

Sharing a joint on the back porch, knees touching, starlight in the nearby lilac.

Long gone dogs coming less and less to mind. 

What is observed at a distance, what is identified because of how it draws nearer.

Cosmic gift-givers. 

The mushrooms are still here I say to which Jason replies maybe, maybe not. 

Writing in this constrained, in this mythologized way.

We live differently, what does this mean?

Was I sent away or did I get lost or did somebody find me and teach me a secret I am only just now remembering to share?

Icarus wakes up drunk, no idea where the church is.

Going down on her in a Boston hotel, how she slammed the mattress with her open hand coming.

This map you keep insisting belongs to me, for real, I don't think it belongs to me.

Friday, September 9, 2022

What Makes it about Love

Still that feeling while fucking there is only this.

Pickup parked outside Hruberic Orchards in late summer, Tom Petty on the radio, we are laying in the bed on a blanket holding hands gazing at stars and I am learning that if I don't write it down I will lose what makes it about love.

After the gospels, after the God spells.

She wakes early to find me, knowing my mind, we are becoming together a prism, we are becoming together a light.

Another day born in me with you.

We agree the vagina is more nuanced than the penis, more responsive to language, but we disagree which is more beautiful to look at.

Museums are not helping maybe.

Outside alone an hour or so before dawn trying to make sense of dying.

Two dreams running Dad is content, unworried, silent in a good way, or am I just finally letting go of the need to win the argument.  

He described giving up on an old friend and it made me sad, I heard in his story the voice of those who have spoken of me that way over the years. 

We age out of monogamy, it's okay, sex is just another way of communing, shall we.

But who taught me to argue instead of carry weapons, who taught me to get sober, who helped me find a good woman to teach me how to let go of everything, even this.

Route Nine at seven a.m., driving to work in relative silence, surprised at how happy I am, at such a late and unfamiliar - at such a difficult - juncture.

Remember parking at the fair, not going in for a long time but finishing the conversation we were having about John's Gospel, I died that day, became a ghost that day, I was saved that day and you became my savior, om shanti shanti shanti, alleluia, amen. 

We choose favorites, it happens, but there's another way.

There was nothing sweet about sixteen.

She asks about my obsession with trisyllabics, tries to locate it in childhood names, favorite stories et cetera, and I go along with the inquiry, equally curious but less committed, i.e., being happy doesn't always need an explanation.

Roads we know, roads we do not.

Falling asleep a little after nine, she says it's okay, so okay, it's okay. 

I have a father now, who knew.