Kisses: An Essay

I wrote this in the late Fall of 2021 when the grim tide finally turned, and it was clear I would be allowed another winter or two at the fire with you. I don’t know why it languished in my drafts. 
A name I will not say. 
What was lost and what can never be lost. 
What are weddings. What are dances. What are kisses. 
Morning sunlight on hemlocks, a roseate glow that make my throat ache. 
This poem is for you Chrisoula, Helen, Denise, Jessica and Dan.
I remember dancing with her, surrounding adults pleased with how we followed the steps. I could not stop feeling her hand in mine – soft, warm, a little moist – while marveling how our bodies executed identical moves. It was like gazing into a kind of mirror, one that reflected movement but not a discrete self.
A decade later, reading the Dungeon Master’s Guide, I learned that mirrors need a light source to work. This was offered with respect to Medusa, i.e. douse your torch and hope for the best. Yet for me, having never once feared but rather always coveted a woman’s gaze – as if outside rather than inside it one dies – Medusa was not a threat but a lifeline.
We walked in a circle side by side. When I lifted my arm, she turned in another circle.
I remember how happy she looked when she looked at me, the two of us alone in our perfection, a thousand miles and lifetimes away from the ones who applauded and praised us. 
That night – by where I later learned her father buried the horses he shot – Watts Brook gurgling in darkness – we kissed. 
That kiss was forbidden though how I understood this remains a mystery. It lasted only a moment; it was never repeated; we said nothing. A few months later, at the end of summer, her family moved to Kentucky. I never saw nor spoke to her again.
My mother taught me about secrets and the difficult loneliness inherent in keeping them. 
My father taught me that pain was a privilege, a sign of God’s favor.  
I learned early what words were for. I saw even earlier the oldest paradox of monotheism: how can a loving God allow pain and suffering?
I did not run from answerlessness as most do.
Nor did I redress it, as the few do.
Instead, I collected quartz, licked the sap of leaky maples, and talked a lot to the moon. 
I did not deny my breaking heart.  
When, decades later, I learned gassho rei, I practiced gassho rei as if my life depended on it.
A crow followed me everywhere telling me a story about a fox who couldn’t decide what to do when he was cornered. 
I turned myself into ten thousand sentences and each sentence into ten thousand poems.
I always know exactly what to say.   
Kisses are mirrors in which the one shared gaze grows still and quiet as quartz in moonlight  
So these were some factors leading to an early equation of God with (or as) Light, kisses as forms of divine revelation, sex a vital ritual of communion, all spiritual metrics that would last until my early fifties when crisis forced me into an interior swale from which I did not surface alone. 
In a cave established by Chrisoula – decades after the wedding, in a Greek village that was five thousand years old, before a space in the air where an altar might go – I learned that light and gaze are one.
God became Goddess, Goddess emptiness, and emptiness, essence.
There is nothing. This is it.
We dance slower now. We are practically still. Other bodies move around us like satellites, coupling and uncoupling. The world appears and disappears. Life and death pass unconcerned. 
The cosmos in its indivisibility has no name for us. 
(Socrates wondered about the man who named Her). 
I was confused when I thought I suffered and even more confused when I thought I was healed.
Over and over She reveals Herself and in revelation offers Herself.  
Says yes to Herself with my mouth which fills with kisses but not Her name. 
Proscription is the ritual by which we remember Her. 
And even then, my lovers. Even then.
Categorized as Essays

Manifesto: Talking with the Holy Spirit

I like winter fires, don’t make them as much as I used to. But still. Sometimes I drag a plastic lawn chair over; mostly I stand by the flames alone. It is what it is.

If the Holy Spirit visits, I ask questions. He answers or he doesn’t. How come people get divorced? Same reason they get married. I’m confused. You have said it. What if my son doesn’t respect me? Are you sure you’re not really worried that he does and now what? 
He says a lot: “tell me what you really want.” Eventually I realize he isn’t being rhetorical; he really wants to know. Or rather, really wants me to know.
Taking my cue from Peter Maurin, I want to help create a world in which it is easier to do good and to be good, by supporting others in their (natural serious) happiness, e.g., they are safe from violence, they are fed, they have clean water, their work has meaning, there is time to play, they can see a doctor if/when they need to, they can go to a church of their choosing or no church, and so on.  
I want to know the world as a village and everyone I meet as a sister or brother doing their utmost to remember – with me, for me, through me – our shared Creation in Love, by which Love we are all of us sustained. 
In order to live in that way, my mind has to heal. Here, I take my cue from A Course in Miracles. I need to see reality as God creates it, not as I in my separated state would prefer it. This means discerning between what is true and what is false; it means becoming responsible for projection and denial; and it means valuing according to love and not fear. 
I want us each to be the other’s savior. 
Stir the fire, throw another log on. Gaze shifting from stars to fire and back to stars.

What you are describing takes work, hard work. Work that requires discipline and willingness. That requires faith, goes on in the face of not-knowing, goes on in the space of un-knowing even. You have to be strong and humble; you have to give everything away; you have to give away your identity, you have to give away even your right to an identity. It’s hard to understand let alone apply. There are lots of ways to fail, lots of ways to go astray, lots of ways to quit. Almost everybody does.   

Stillness and peace are effects of remembering oneness with our Creator, by knowing ourselves as an extension of that Creator. This means – among other things – accepting that only loving thoughts are true and that there are only loving thoughts – that everything else is an illusion. 

Love holds everything. You either know this or you don’t. Either way, you can’t fake it. 

All fires are altars, all flames a grail. I hold my hands up to the starry sky; smoke trails through my fingers. “Love holds everything.”  

When we accept that Love holds everything, then we know Love’s effects in our life; in that way, Love becomes the foundation and the light; it becomes the word. It becomes us. On that day, Love is all that we bring forth because there is nothing but Love to bring forth. 
Night comes on. Starlight recreates itself in beads of melting snow. An owl cries on the other side of the river, murmuring in darkness. Now and then a pair of headlights where Route Nine bears down into the valley. Loneliness comes on.
I want to remember that there are no favorites anywhere, that God knows one creation, not many. Therefore, there are neither enemies nor competitors. A holy relationship is any relationship which recognizes the other’s fundamental equality because it shares that equality, because it is that equality. 
What do I want?

I want you to transform my confused mind, turn it into a prism unto the light of Love, so that all it brings forth is whatever is most good for all Creation, so that all it wants is to bring that goodness forth. 

Teach me to remember what I am; let me be the light by which I remember that the only peace is the peace I bring forth in, with and through you.   
Silence then. The fire dead, the night heavy and dark. Imagine you are the only one in the world. 
Imagine you are not.
Categorized as Essays

Everything went Under: January Poems

January was watery, everything went under. When I looked at the stars, they didn’t look back for the first time in forever. I understood the specific loneliness of childhood from which we all must necessarily flee. Flee and find again? Well, heal anyway. 

We are the stories we tell, is one way to see it, but if we don’t from time to time also see the way in which we are the teller, then our happiness is going to be compromised. It’s not a crime against God or nature to be unhappy, but there is – there is always – another way. 
Also parenting, not only in the local sense, but the cosmic too. I thought about this a lot in January. (I wish I wasn’t such a slow fucking learner which, if you’re reading this means, I wish you weren’t such a stingy fucking teacher). Great Mother, God the Father, et cetera. Our models are inherent. What is inherent isn’t a trap nor even a mirror but a mode. You can’t help but be an author, why author your own suffering let alone anyone else’s? 
In January I fell out of falling in love, saw the way in which sex is basically a failure of communion because it rests on the confusion of seeing “I” as this or that body/object, became willing to live religiously (but did not live religiously), understood death is not “the end” but “an over,” in the sense of, I’m grateful for Deleuze, Barthes, et alia, but I’m also over them. You have questions, I don’t have answers. What is hard to explain may not need to be. The one thing I can comfortably say re: the Holy Spirit is it’s not my place to speak for Him. But I do think a relationship with Him is worth nurturing. Also, if it’s not scaring the shit out of you then you’re not nurturing it, you’re playing at nurturing. Mother up. 
“Nothing matters.” Or everything does, right? When you see it’s the same thing, a lot of joy and peace automatically attend. The party is ongoing, we’re just too busy being too busy to notice to notice. Once or twice a year I dream of Emily Dickinson, the dreams follow a familiar pattern: there’s a house, the house is haunted, she’s the haunt and it’s my job to teach her that she doesn’t have to be scared anymore. Most recently, she could move through walls and I could not. How grateful I am for this mind!
In January, the poems were hard to write. I doubt them. The art doesn’t erode so much as reveal itself eroded. Now what indeed. I’m not who I think I am and neither are you. And we never quite go away.
Categorized as Poems

The Butterfly Conservatory

Sitting on the front porch, listening to snow melt. Tibetan peace flags gray and mangled. The sun falling behind the hill beyond Route Nine. 
I am inside something but what. 
There are no windows or doors, why. Weeks pass without a poem until at last I write one just to do it, remember that I can. Remind myself I can?
Who is with you in the dream you are alone? 
Irish Setters in memory running hard along the trail. Pine forests and mountain brooks crystalline and pure. Snow storms in memory, being lost in memory. 
Not lonely so much as confused about how to accept and extend love, same problem we all have, and not the worst problem to have either. 
It gets better? The guy who cries at the butterfly conservatory and, later, the guy who laughs with the wife of the guy who cries at the butterfly conservatory at the guy who cries at the butterfly conservatory, is the same guy, me. 
Who is angry, hurt, who is helping. The invitation to prayerfully deepen flows through the cosmos, is in fact the cosmos, but is often received in unnecessarily strictured ways, why.
We all live on unceded land, call it home, is there something else we should do? Beloved, the beast is everywhere, you cannot through effort extract yourself from its clutches, act and adapt accordingly. 
Moonlight on snow at two a.m., we are not bereft. We are not saying no, we are remembering alternatives. 
Categorized as Poems

Fitted Perfectly

The Moon of the Sleeping Bear floats hidden in clouds, I study it carefully after morning chores, perceiving in my heart – which as Emily Dickinson makes clear is the world calling itself home – a sense of driftiness on cosmic seas. Call it prayer if you must but when you are ready there is something prior to language and outside the universe. What is rose-colored, amethyst, what is the interior of a shell months after its meat has been transfigured in an oystercatcher’s gut. One doesn’t look at the sky, one is in the sky, one is made of what the sky is made of. There are no secrets, there are no mysteries, only truth coming forth as through a prism. Act and attend accordingly. A thousand-petaled lotus, a crucifix made of light, a ceramic Buddha wreathed in ivy. Snow melting under apple trees where in summer we made love beneath the watchful eyes of a blind Appaloosa. What chooses, what accepts. What helps, what does not, and by not helping, helps make clear what does. Resting in Love with Her always now, getting better at not denying it, allowing even its utility to be undone in me. I remember gathering stones on the beaches of Cape Cod with you before the wedding, they are in the hay loft in glass containers now, symbols of spiritual ballast, witnesses unto the one shared journey we are learning how to share. Equals making clear what is the same and what is not? Look at me writing yet another poem in this briefly outpouring light, look at Chrisoula studying the melting garden, mentally planning rows of kale and spinach. January is four syllables fitted perfectly to the tongue, God abides no less. Look at Christ dancing happily in the shallows, splashing my face with tears of joy.

Categorized as Poems

A Little Dance

Becoming unrecognizable. Sitting on the back stairs with coffee, watching yellow clouds skate across the moon. I have not been a child for a long time, now I am not even childish.
And begin.
Rain falls hard all night, I sleep on the couch, nightmare after nightmare, yet later, driving west on Route Nine bleary-eyed and unsettled, recall a dream of Dan giving me a letterpress chapbook of his insights on Dōgen. All day remembering the soft grain, and none of the words. My brother, my lover.
Half a dozen crows in the far field obscured by fog. Nacreous clouds, the inside of oyster shells. 
What is moonlight to those who have yet to learn they are not imprisoned. How we are lifted beyond mystery into the neighborhood of bells, domains of joy attended by angels.
Remember Aunt Muriel’s sewing room, all the colorful threads, puzzled how anyone could ever choose between them? Fingers trailing over every spool, lingering where coveting grew especially intense. Of course I love to watch you suck my cock, of course I like to caress your hair coming.
Roads following the river between hills. What staggers, flows. What never leaves nor ever arrives.
Bring your awareness to Sahasrara, the thousand-petaled lotus of the crown chakra and begin. 
Falling asleep with Paul Watzlawick’s How Real is Real on my chest, waking up to Chrisoula setting it down on the bureau next to A Course in Miracles, asking myself is this a dream.
Arguments passing, griefs abandoned. The devil undone over tea and a couple sentences of Wittgenstein. How happy I am in winter darkness! Between snowflakes growing old. Dancing a little dance the lesser goddesses teach to those who – without virtue or intention – remember at last the beginning. 
Categorized as Poems

Old Currency

Unexpected snow, you never know when or how the heart will break. Last breath, last vow. Journeys that reach mountains and end, journeys that reach deserts and forget something essential.
What begins, what cannot, ever.
Throwing hay to the blind horse, who in certain critical ways sees better than I do. What we place in the river – bits of the past, good intentions, confusion around fidelity, half-assed confessions – and how the river carries all of it away to the unknowing – the endlessly forgiving – sea.
What are promises, promises are old currency.
Toppling through forgettable dreams, waking to pee, shivering peeing, coming back to bed grateful, so I’m getting old so what. There is no such thing as death, there is not even such a thing as life. Winters around here ain’t what they used to be. 
Settling old debts, facing North a last time again. Visiting my dead father out back – he likes the horses, likes the gardens, doesn’t remember what winter is – to let him know what I’m doing with loose ends floating through the hereditary thread shop. 
We who travel, transgress, we who are transformed by our commitment to transformation.
Suddenly understanding how sex is the opposite of communication, becoming troubled then, deeply, but then – after midnight, alone with the stars in January – a distant light appears in the interior and jogs closer – it is Dōgen with his lantern! – and I am free then, we are all free. 
Visiting the fallen apple tree. The devil folds easily, he wants to fold, he wants to be enfolded, it took me lifetimes to understand this, I’m sorry.
My brother, my killer, my face in the mirror.
Snow falling in the swamp opposite the transfer station, on hills on the other side of the river, and far away in ways I cannot name or place. Never less, always this, and yet.
We who – becoming responsible for becoming Christ – learn we are Christ, who knew.
Categorized as Poems

A Study of Agony

For a few minutes there is no body, only rain falling in the pasture. Barn owls sailing in low arcs across Route Nine west. Now we are nowhere, now we are nothing. Deep in January, stillness owns the flavor of salt, and you remember how a righteous king makes decisions. Unable to sleep, I devote myself to a study of agony, and find in it a lonely, not unsterile joy. You walk a long way alone long enough the question what do you want evaporates, even want evaporates, but something does not evaporate, and that’s what I want. Winter is in so many ways not the end it pretends to be. A single hill in the interior made of lifetimes choosing not to climb a single hill in the interior. All night rain falling, notes arriving from a country I was not allowed to visit. The world a cell nurturing prayer, surrendered without a hitch. How happy one can be in the fluvial darkness, no clock or calendar, no aspirin or bible, God so big and unpredictable.

Categorized as Poems

Loneliness Obscured

You have always been here, Christ has always been here, if you investigate the beginning this is what you learn. There are no secrets and nothing is holier than anything else. Nothing is hidden that will not be found. Let it be, don’t worry, be happy. 
Walking outside at three a.m., moonlight on sparse snow, grateful as always for the chance to remember silence. One or two stars visible from beneath the apple tree, I try to see them as tiny diamantine fruits and briefly they are, how lucky I am! Slowly the stillness in me recalls itself, and what cannot be spoken of gently arises, undoing fear and unhappiness through a process for which I don’t and never will have words, oh well. What is the way is the question obscuring the way, the river is not other than the sea, et cetera.
What is the end of hunger, what is the end of war.
What is the end of fear.
Jasper comes back from Israel talking about the Temple Mount, how beautiful and old, what it felt like to be there, a nexus of Abrahamic monotheism, like that, and all I know is that it too shall pass.
When I drank whisky, when I stunted with cocaine. When I stayed up until dawn night after night reading Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, cigarette after cigarette, when I stumbled to The Other Place for gin and tonics at noon, my whole body trembling, my loneliness obscured as it so often was in those days by my desire to destroy myself but not before finding a plausible rationale for self-destruction which – thank Christ – I never found but found the opposite. 
Jeremiah brings me a rock he pried from an Icelandic glacier, and a couple of dice with Viking runes. Maple taffy from Quebec City. I wake early to roast a turkey on his birthday, writing at the kitchen table while everybody sleeps. Notes toward letters I no longer need to send because the other is not distant, there is no distance, there is not even an other. 
What I used to have to imagine I no longer have to imagine. 
What I am saying is, I suffered once, but do not suffer now, and this is not a credit to me nor to anyone, not even God, because it is not an accomplishment but a revelation of what I am in truth, which was not born and cannot die, and dreams it can suffer but cannot in truth suffer.
Chrisoula over my shoulder says I don’t think that’s the way you use commas. How we lift each other. And you, always you. 
Categorized as Poems

Feeding not Eating

There are pancakes. Thank God there are pancakes.
My father strapped a gun to his hip to pick blueberries in the morning, I believed then he needed it, I don’t know now, but still. 
Is this a poem about pancakes? 
Is this the end of fear, is the end of fear the end of hunger.
We are here now together in ways we can barely contain our joy at being. Our hearts are cardinals in the remaining hemlocks, our minds are rushing rivers intuiting the sea. 
We walk fast, shoulders grazing, we ask if we are doing enough. 
We agree yes is not the answer yet.
Is this a poem or an essay. Is it an argument. Will it destroy the universe, should it.
What is love, love holds everything. 
We make love in the bedroom, late afternoon, laughing together after, we are like old black bears sharing a last summer together, happy in a way that is rare in application but not possibility. 
Nothing left over, nothing not given.
The pressure drops, snow is coming. Sparrows take more risks at the compost, the horses trod up from the lower pasture to the run-in. 
Well it is almost time. I tell Chrisoula when I am gone there will still be pancakes and she says yes but still. I think about that while the others sleep and I work out the remaining hindrances to teaching, one of which happens to be death, another how feeding not eating others is the end of hunger. 
Categorized as Poems