As the hand held before the eye conceals the greatest mountain, so the little earthly life hides from the glance the enormous lights and mysteries of which the world is full, and he or she who can draw it away from before one’s eye, as one draws away a hand, beholds the great shining of the inner worlds.
Rabbi Nachmann of Bratzlav
Days and months are the travelers of eternity. So are the years that pass by… I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind—filled with a strong desire to wander… I walked through mists and clouds, breathing the thin air of high altitudes and stepping on slippery ice and snow, ’til at last through a gateway of clouds, as it seemed, to the very paths of the sun and moon, I reached the summit, completely out of breath and nearly frozen to death. Presently the sun went down and the moon rose glistening in the sky.
I feel like a blind man living inside a kaleidoscope;
A glutton with but one taste bud left;
A monk who’s forgotten what he knew of God;
A tin-eared drunk waking up just as angels
burst across the heavens in song.
I’m a coma patient wrapped in wool,
strapped in a closet in a blackened room
in the back of the basement.
The blind tick only cares for butyric acid’s smell,
and the exact temperature of blood.
Then it falls into blackness, hoping
it will land on the fur,
feed on the blood of a passing deer.
It can smell butyric on mammals’ fur,
and sense just the temperature of blood,
which is exactly 37 degrees Celsius.
The small part of the world it senses
is its umwelt. Nothing else is real to it.
Nothing else needs to be.
For the black ghost knifefish, it’s electrical fields.
For the echolocating bat, it’s air-compression waves.
For us, it’s a narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum
our eyes are adapted to see, the wavelengths
that have the highest energy in sunlight.
The colors of ripening fruit and food, as it happens.
Our other senses are just good enough to get by.
We can’t compete with a bloodhound’s
olfactory genius; we’re pitiful in that department.
Such is our umwelt. We sense a tiny sliver of the world.
We don’t know anything beyond our reality,
Our umwelt, out of which we construct everything
like a sacred myth, what we think we know, but do not.
Is it possible, can a young person understand what real loss feels like?
It takes the heartbreak of puppy love; a betrayal of trust once…. or twice…or thrice; the death of a beloved grandparent, a classmate ripped from this world by being in the wrong place at the wrong time on a Friday night. Personal failure and the recovery of confidence. Or not.
If we’re not too self-centered, an awareness grows that the world is a complicated place, that people are not all good– or bad.
Time teaches the hard lessons. Losses accumulate like a negative balance in the account books, offset by the joys and happiness that are piling up, too. Life is a double-entry balance sheet. The numbers seldom lie as much as we do.
No one else can really make us happy. No one else can break us without our help. Things are beginning and ending all the time. The world was before us, and will go on long after we are gone. Even the most famous of us will be forgotten. Do you know the name of the Mongol general who fathered many of the children of conquered Russia from captives who were brought before him–in tears, or fears, or with calculating or admiring eyes–night after night? Even the descendents don’t know him.
Or the name of history’s first real musician?
We are both unique and utterly the same: the first and only us that ever was. But others like us wandered the forests of prehistory, or the markets of medieval Paris, or leapt off Viking boats with flashing steel and a roar, or cowered inside during Roman raids. Generations of our line may have labored anonymously in slavery, or murdered and plundered and raped. Yet some of them had the same nose, the same way funny little laugh as we do. The same aversion to yellow vegetables. The same taste for wine. The same eyes.
Those of us who have spent time on the downslope think about these things. Most of us are fools who haven’t learned a thing, too.
If you are young, how will you write this entry when you are my age? Will you be any wiser?
Everyone but God, if you believe, is
Innocent of tomorrow.
Caesar, full of swagger, innocent of the daggers of friends,
Mary innocent she’d see a son murdered, slowly, while she watched.
Me, innocent about everything, including
whether a satellite will fall on me, or
I’ll get a certified letter that
immortality, six virgins and a chocolate cake
will be delivered on Saturday by 10 a.m..
I struggle to reconcile ignorance and innocence.
Do I care about what I can’t, don’t know?
Do I need more than this one, infinite moment?
Meanwhile, they say the snow will stop soon.
In a world of white, quiet and cold,
finches empty the bird feeder
and wait for more.
I am still innocent of Spring.
I tried skipping in and out of a
And learned I could not
Touch the same water twice.
Asleep for 50 years,
More or less, and, now awake,
I fear there is not enough time for the work.
We don’t have time to be clever,
Show me what I have missed.
We use the idea of time
To pretend everything
Doesn’t happen at once,
And judge it by our own puny lifespans.
Barely able to cry “I am here”
And we are gone,
Like fireworks shot to the stars
On a cloudy night.
All around town, on lampposts, hang
Boys in uniforms who went to war
in 1941, or ’42 or ’43 or later,
who never came back from that
sunken transport ship, or that
awful night on Iwo,
or who stepped in front of a truck
outside a bar at 1 a.m. in liberated
France, having dodged all the bullets
but not a truck full of supplies.
Maybe it’s that people who live in
mountain towns like this
Just have longer memories than most,
surrounded by the rounded remnants
of a once-great mountain range.
Rocks have long memories.
Or maybe we have a need to hang
onto the deep grief longer than is fashionable
in these throwaway times.
Time and memories intertwine
like a ball of earthworms.
It’s hard to know where one starts
and the other ends.
They say we cannot remember things
before a certain age. The wiring is still not right for it.
We may see pictures and know
we were alive earlier, but that’s just
the picture album version of life;
the real switch in us is still not on.
Mine came on when I was two-something years old.
My parents tore down the old chicken house.
It was in the afternoon of a slightly cloudy day.
I had a coat on, so it must have been
still early in the year. Late March, maybe.
The grass was the vivid, exciting green of spring.
Old boards stained with decades of manure
ended in a pile that would be burned.
Dust and old feathers liberated from hiding places.
A fixture in my world changed.
We can change things,
Even old things.
That was my first memory.
It’s funny, but I cannot remember
my parents that day. Just the scene in front of me.
My dog guarded me, stayed by my side until
the demolition exposed a rat’s nest.
She attacked with a speed and ferocity
that was both thrilling and scary.
There was a brief, violent battle
just feet from me, with screaming, then silence.
She came and sat beside me again.
I felt safe with her there.
And knew the difference
between life and death.
The switch was on.
And I knew why the grass was so green.
My spirit is starving.
How can it be fed?
Not by pain in the predictable future
more the pain in the past
but understanding the invisible flower
within the flower that tells it what is,
the soul of the tree that does the same.
I don’t seem to have a true character
to discover, a man slumped on his desk
dozing at midmorning. I’m an old poet.
That’s it. Period. A three-legged goat
in mountain country. It’s easier in the woods
where you have trees to lean on. There at times
I smelled bears right behind the cabin
coming to eat sunflower seeds put out for birds.
This dawn it’s primroses, pension,
the trellis of white roses. On Easter
Jesus is Jesus. When did God enter him or us?
Bubbles in the bathtub, bubbles in the news,
Bubbles blown from fantasies, others made of blues.
The farmer’s bubble in the field
The bubble of the boy, forgotten
by the girl he can’t forget.
The doctor’s hero bubble that pays for that Corvette.
The bubble of the longhaul trucker, and
The Mercedes, passing, teasing with a flash of thigh.
The angry white guy’s bubble,
And the angry black guy’s too.
The bubble of a poor girl who wonders which must do.
And over at the Pentagon:
the soldier’s bubble marches, the sailor’s, the Marine’s.
The small-town bubbles of porches and shady streets,
And bubbling battles brewing over things like flu vaccines.
The tribal identity bubbles fought with high school games.
Bubbles of teenagers sleeping rough in the park,
A generation on mental benches, living in the dark.
The city’s bubble, the country’s, the village’s and the farm’s.
Gender’s bubbles mix it up: the myths, desires, the charms
Being sexy’s another bubble, yet you’re never quite sure you are.
The bubble of the man-boys, costumed in beards and plaid,
The laughing girl-herd bubble, strategically underclad.
Pastors in pulpits, Bible bubbles fired into the air,
Sinners in their secret guilt just recite the old Lord’s Prayer.
And all the rich folk’s bubbles… where should I begin?
They keep their teeth past old age,
With gold-plated dental plans.
Then new cars every year, parked in heated garages.
And vacation cruises in the islands, on floating casino barages.
They hire pricey doctors who lounge in those Corvettes,
And look in every mirror for new bulges in silhouettes.
Of course, all are in the bigger bubble, the one we call delusion,
Which only brings on worser woes, and more confused conclusions.
So look ye to the birds above, who neither reap nor sow,
Who– nearly as any ear can tell–
Choose song and freedom,
not a fake and freakish game show.
“I just want to see how long the string is. This never gets old. It gets more interesting, actually.” — Keith Richards, Rolling Stones
Each day is here then gone, a brief chance to
roll the salt and savor of it on the tongue, to enjoy
each passing smile and twinkling eye and lovely curve,
reminding me I am still alive.
Teaching me why, in the now.
Each sunset red on the world,
a hint at what becomes of us all.
Each day at 5 a.m. when the birds
wake and start yapping at each other
about territory and nests, about the
thrill of rising air under their wings,
the taste of freedom in the climb closer to God.
Each dawn when the sun
comes up like thunder
to set the edge of the
world on fire, and my mind,.
Each night, the deep comfort from my love’s hand,
slid under my clothes to rest warm on my waist,
and the times she does more,
or I do (which is none of your business).
It is so common to hear someone say,
“live like this is your last day”.
That’s harder than it sounds,
especially when you’re young.
And when you’re old, it’s all too real,
but it is still hard to
change the dumb habits
of a lifetime of mostly mindless routines,
of buying into the herd’s opinion
and preference for bland ignorance,
and migrating out of habit toward
a dreamlike future, always
scheming, fearing, guessing,
hoping you don’t die
in the swift waters of the rivers
the dumb herd seems to feel it
Then, after years of this,
you must pretend you’re not surprised
when everything turns out differently,
when few things actually work as planned.
When you get to a certain point, this happens.
At first, you make up stories about
a life of heroic triumphs, never
talking about more numerous failures.
Then, you will look around, and back, and
laugh at the absurdity of
a young fool who had it
all figured out.
That’s when it’s good to
pull a love close and
fall asleep under the comfort
of the touch of someone who
knows you, and likes the feel
of your skin.
“…And this the world calls frenzy; but the wise
Have a far deeper madness, and the glance
Of melancholy is a fearful gift;
What is it but the telescope of truth?
Which strips the distance of its fantasies,
And brings life near in utter nakedness,
Making the cold reality too real!…”
Lincoln’s Great Depression: “…In his mid-forties the dark soil of Lincoln’s melancholy began to yield fruit. When he threw himself into the fight against the extension of slavery, the same qualities that had long brought him so much trouble played a defining role. The suffering he had endured lent him clarity and conviction, creative skills in the face of adversity, and a faithful humility that helped him guide the nation through its greatest peril.Continue reading ““A Fearful Gift””
It has just struck me that I have left my old house
But have forgotten where the new one is.
Let me stand here for a moment,
Have a drink and pet the dog. Maybe
It would do me some good to
Listen to the sound of the big creek,
Scraping patiently along the banks
In November when the land is bare,
Not caring where it goes, or why,
Just going along according to it’s nature
Carrying secrets and dreams we toss in
Whispering its own deep ones back at us
Washing the fish and mud and secrets from here to somewhere else.
Maybe, if I listen hard enough, it will tell me
Where–or how– it is I need to be, to be more fully myself.
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose