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