I’ve held this inside for more than 40 years. I think you’ll see why.
It was a hot summer Saturday afternoon. The humidity was heavy, and it was like breathing through wet gauze. The leaves of the oaks that shaded the grounds moved with a discouraged droop from air that provided no relief.
I have no witnesses to what happened, but it was something that to this day, more than 45 years later, I cannot explain. Or deny. I’ve tried both. Now it just has to be.
All I know is that I walked into that room alone, my mind on something completely different and ordinary and mundane. (I was checking supplies for the evening meeting.) I was walking through a typical Midwestern summer afternoon in Indiana one moment, and the next walked into another world.
I was a relentless swimmer as a child, more at home
under water, popping up only for air, wishing for gills.
In the pond’s murky realm a few feet down, the big bass, motionless,
eyes swiveling, waited for someone’s last mistake.
In the muddy shallows, the sun warmed the water most,
small things hatched, safe from mouths in the deep water.
Forests of fronds and grasses stretched toward the light,
and died, becoming the black ooze where biting things lived.
I lost it along the way, that simple way a child observes in wonder,
accepting in wisdom, the heavenly song of the world everywhere.
My job these days is to be the archeologist of my life, diving
over and over and staying down, wishing for gills and more time.
On soft summers’ nights, lovesick bullfrogs boomed at the edges.
A muskrat swam in the moonlight, wake effortlessly symmetrical.
_____________ *An attempt…. About the Ghazal form:
The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets—and typically no more than fifteen—that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous. Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning.
Traditionally invoking melancholy, love, longing, and metaphysical questions, ghazals are often sung by Iranian, Indian, and Pakistani musicians. The form has roots in seventh-century Arabia, and gained prominence in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century thanks to such Persian poets as Rumi and Hafiz. In the eighteenth-century, the ghazal was used by poets writing in Urdu, a mix of the medieval languages of Northern India, including Persian. Among these poets, Ghalib is the recognized master.
“For this, that now was coming, he had very little curiosity. For years it had obseessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself. It was strange how easy being tired enough made it.
Now he would never write the things he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them, either.”
–– Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”
I self-published a book of poetry recently.
(Technically, it’s the second book I have published, but the first was a children’s picture book designed for the iPad. I’m old-fashioned and have this prejudice that it isn’t really a book unless it is printed in ink on a page made of paper.)
Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, I published my first book.
It’s not important to anyone else, but it marks a milestone for me. There can never again be a first one, and I’m letting the feeling settle in slowly and warmly. You never forget your first one, they say.
An itch that I haven’t been able to scratch for more than 60 years has to leave me alone, now. I still feel I can get better, and there is still beauty and meaning to be explored. That is what keeps us young, after all. Always feeling there is more to learn, to do, to feel. Truly young, until we die of old age.
It has only been a couple of days, and a few copies have sold. I don’t have any expectations– oh, maybe to break even on the costs of marketing and buying author copies, perhaps. But that’s about it.
Practice. That was one reason. But for what?
Confidence. That was another. I needed to build my confidence. But again: for what?
I saw the Hemingway quote above, and all of a sudden realized what this book, and all the work over the last two and one-half years was about.
I hope I have not left it for too long. I could have another stroke and be unable to move or write, of course. That’s a thought I carry with me each day. It worries me, but I have had to learn how to move on, and into deeper places in me, in spite of that fear. I found out how to use it for motivation.
I don’t want to be caught short like Harry in “The Snows of Kilamanjaro.” But I also know that anything might happen. And I have to be ready for whatever comes. We all do, whether we like it or not.
(The story: Harry, a writer, and his wife, Helen, are stranded while on safari in Africa. A bearing burned out on their truck, and Harry is talking about the gangrene that has infected his leg when he did not apply iodine after he scratched it. As they wait for a rescue plane from Nairobi that he knows won’t arrive on time, Harry spends his time drinking and insulting Helen. Harry reviews his life, realizing that he wasted his talent through procrastination and luxury from a marriage to a wealthy woman that he doesn’t love.)
So I will press on, take care of myself as best I can. I want to sit under an apple tree in late summer for as many years as I can, and listen to them fall, wasting their sweetness. But I want to make sure I taste as many as I can.
I will keep writing, and write the things I’ve been putting off. “You pays your money and you takes your chances,” as some old friends used to say. There’s no point in waiting any longer. None of it is 2far–until it is.
Besides, I published a book! A little, self-published book of poetry. Just look at me.
Please call if the Pulitzer Committee tries to reach me. 🙂
Einstein lit a cigarette
and watched the violet and pastel afterglow
of the first bomb
fade over the desert, inhaled
a bit of radioactive dust,
and wondered if God was
capable of having second thoughts.
I may look normal, but I’m not. On the outside, my life looks conventional. But this is the kind of place I live in my head. It’s a constant battle between doing stuff I’m afraid of and running away. Out on the edge….
“You think I’m insane?” said Finnerty. Apparently he wanted more of a reaction than Paul had given him.
“You’re still in touch. I guess that’s the test.”
“Barely — barely.”
“A psychiatrist could help. There’s a good man in Albany.”
Finnerty shook his head.
“He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded, “Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first.”
What is “Dark Matter?”
No one’s ever been able to catch any
in a quart canning jar, as we did as kids
in the summer nights with lightening bugs.
As nearly as my math-less writer’s brain can tell,
it is the power of something unseen, deduced only
by observed gravitational effects on stars, on galaxies.
Something very big, but still a guess, in other words.
Subject to experimentation. Grants. Scholarly papers.
Astrophysicists say this is important, which may be true;
I also suspect sometimes they’ve been smoking weed up
there on the high, cold mountain outside the
telescope house, huddled around campfires,
telling math jokes and giggling, high as fuck.
Found this morning on Writer’s Almanac. Men– if we’re completely honest–are envious of women, as a group, in some rather superficial ways, but particularly in the birthing abilities she talks about–that we will never have. It is a power that is beyond us. We know it. And you know we know it. And we know you know we know it.
This is such a good metaphor for the job of poets and writers generally: snorkeling between two tectonic plates. Speaks to the job of exploring places where big forces grind together, places where it’s sometimes hard to breathe.