(Note: written several months ago as part of the recovery process.)
Hissing down Highway 1
in the rain,
Baltimore in the rear view.
Brushing against old pain
repressed for 20 years,
but suddenly bleeding
through my chest,
three grey hours ahead.
I wasn’t the one
who was sick, I said.
Not the one who died.
I was just the supporting cast
the nameless crew member
in the red tunic.
Disposable. Unimportant to the plot.
Everyone saw the patient,
Not the one holding the bedpan.
So it didn’t matter, I said,
Pretending to believe it.
I told myself
I didn’t matter—
So keep quiet.
Keep it quiet.
Be the good soldier.
Do what you must.
Six times, the same refrain.
You’re not the one who got sick,
the sneering voice said.
You’re not the one who died.
How can you think
But I did. I do.
The habit I fell into,
of automatically deferring,
balancing the demands of justice,
on the point of need,
took deep hold.
Justice parses, examines,
denies and diminishes,
but never tells the full truth.
And oh, my dear,
to hear the robin’s call,
the cardinal’s challenge,
the excited chatter
of all the returning
migrants, full of stories
about tropical fruits
and sunny days and
nights among the
trumpet vines and
on the Gulf of Mexico.
And Oh, my dear,
I’m a changing
mixture of contentment,
happiness and power.
With every day you’re
both further away and near.
Like water, I find
I’ve let the shovel handle fill
my hand, and bent
my back to the bloody work
you left for me,
stabbing deep in
pain’s dark soil
’til the blisters broke,
again and again.
I am here. Standing.
And oh, my dear, look:
Spring has come again
Note: This is from five years ago. A lot has happened since, and the woman I was talking to here has died. We were together for 50 years, and my life is a stranger to me now. But I’m back in a similar frame of mind. Perhaps this is just me, needing the solitude of exploration and the wild mountains from time to time. Actually, there is no “perhaps” about it.
Remember this: I still love you.
I still love you, but there are times, like now, I bleed inside, realize I’ve forgotten myself,
Or left chunks behind, or sold pieces of my soul
Too cheaply and must go and find and buy back,
No matter how sad and worn they are now.
I feel like the Tin Man with joints rusted in the rain;
The Cowardly Lion tired of being afraid;
The Scarecrow wanting to burn the bureaucratic straw
That’s stuffed in my head instead of brains.
Weary of those around of shocking dreariness,
Shallow people obsessed with silly things, fearful drones.
I still love you, but want to be alone sometimes;
I still love you, but I wonder these days what I’ve missed,
What one thing I can still do well.
I still love you, yet want to beat my wings against the cage of comfort
And embrace everything, and everyone, and taste each moment.
I still love you, yet know you’ll never share why I am drenched
In awe by the terrible beauty of deep space, of Shakespeare, of solitude.
I still love you, despite things you don’t understand, because
You are still there, loving me as you have forever.
We know each other deeply, truthfully, with
Forgiveness and amusement and tolerance and passion.
But that makes me uneasy, too. Guilty. Resentful. I don’t know why.
Comfort is a trap, sometimes;
Resistance is the Enemy.
Not you. Not ever you.
I still love you, even though I may move on ahead for a while, out of sight, through the mountains.
I still love you, though I need to know that who I am exists without constant validation.
It isn’t always good, and can be a distraction like the song of any
Of the Muses, sung at the wrong time.
I still love you,
So do not be sad.
I may be lost at times, and I will stumble
And happen onto strange and beautiful things.
I came from a place of fireflies,
where men were reasonable and tall,
Where people knew me by who my grandfather was, and his, and his.
Where farmers didn’t block views with trees,
To see at a glance from the kitchen window
How the corn was doing, the soybeans.
Where cemeteries were so old they had no one living who cared
and the raspberry bushes
And groundhogs had taken over;
Where being a child meant living outdoors, year-’round.
Where you waved at a passing car
Because they probably knew your parents:
And you didn’t want to hear at church on Sunday about being rude.
I came from a place where my nearest playmate was a cousin, a mile away;
Where going to hang out meant
Riding the old fat-tired-hand-me-down bike,
With one gear, but was great for
Popping the tar bubbles on hot summer days;
And watching the big grasshoppers and flies whiz by,
the birds calling from the trees,
And watching my dog chase another rabbit.
I came from a place of spirits, haunted by the land,
by deep roots down five generations;
Where uncles and aunts would come over
for summer dinners after the milking,
And sit outside after dark in our yard talking,
And how those adult voices murmering made things
Safe somehow as
My cousins and I would chase each other
through the darkness, making up games
Hiding in the bushes and the darkness
on the edge of safety,
Thrilling in the freedom to roam, to be children;
In awe when the fields and grass would
Erupt in a billion fireflies, and we would put
dozens in quart canning jars
For study, and marveling at yet another mystery.
I came from a place, a very common place, that had an order
Of season and harvest, planting and animals, birth, death, renewal;
A place where the farm animals taught
about sex very early, but also about stewardship,
pragmatism, kindness and death;
There were the late nights wading through
snowdrifts to the barn in February’s lambing season,
Fields draped deeply asleep in white under hard,
cold moonlight and wicked winds;
Of helping with the births—which only seemed
to come in bitterest cold—
cleaning newborn lambs off with
old burlap feed sacks
Holding the newborns under heat lamps
until their mothers licked them clean,
Made sure they found the teat and began to nurse,
coats still steaming, tails wiggling.
It was there I learned about birth, and
the miracle of it.
I came from a place that has slowly died since then.
I feel an ache of loss of a place
that gave me my sense of who I was,
Where the places I roamed with my dog
are now owned by Arab sheiks,
where even bigness did not guarantee survival.
It is a place where the invisible glue that once
nurtured communities evaporated from
change and neglect and globalism and meth and, now, heroin,
Where people stay inside and hide from themselves,
Surfing the web for porn, and never once see the
Fireflies rising up in the June nights,
calling children to mystery but with
fewer there to hear the answers.
I asked for the superpower of “Folding” for my birthday.
It cuts out the middle man:
Gimme a calendar with tricky bits, I said.
I’d fold weeks, months, years, centuries together,
jump to any time, past or future.
The first would be hanging with
the first human band to walk out of Africa .
I’d wait in the shade of a date palm, by the Nile,
bounce rocks off crocodiles, watch the south trail.
I’d cook hot dogs and hamburgers,
and have beer chilling on ice.
History’s first tailgate.
I would show them an iPhone, photos, movies.
Order something from Amazon—
Wouldn’t that be a good trick!…
Maybe a slinky, some bows and arrows and knives.
A chemistry set. Aspirin. Cargo pants,
broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
Trail mix. Snickers.
It’s in our interest that they survive the trip.
I’d tell them to be kind to one another,
Let them think I was the Great Spirit, then disappear.
I remember once I ran after you and tagged the fluttering
shirt of you in the wind.
Once many days ago I drank a glassful of something and
the picture of you shivered and slid on top of the stuff.
And again it was nobody else but you I heard in the
singing voice of a careless humming woman.
One night when I sat with chums telling stories at a
bonfire flickering red embers, in a language its own
talking to a spread of white stars:
It was you that slunk laughing
in the clumsy staggering shadows.
Broken answers of remembrance let me know you are
alive with a peering phantom face behind a doorway
somewhere in the city’s push and fury.
Or under a pack of moss and leaves waiting in silence
under a twist of oaken arms ready as ever to run<
away again when I tag the fluttering shirt of you.
I wanted to be Steve Jobs
I wanted to be Joni Mitchell
I wanted to be Leonard Cohen
I wanted to be Carl Sagan,
I wanted to be that person, they’ll say,
“yeah, whatever happened to him?”
The way people do, about certain
Rare, shining talents, like Joni, or Steve,
Mysteries that can’t be explained.
I have heard about the civilized,
the marriages run on talk, elegant and
honest, rational. But you and I are
savages. You come in with a bag,
hold it out to me in silence.
I know Moo Shu Pork when I smell it
and understand the message: I have
pleased you greatly last night. We sit
quietly, side by side, to eat
the long pancakes dangling and spilling,
fragrant sauce dripping out,
and glance at each other askance, wordless,
the corners of our eyes clear as spear points
laid along the sill to show
a friend sits with a friend here.
The City of New Orleans pulls out of downtown,
setting the ground rumbling, gaining speed,
steel nose pointed hard north,
toward the coming night.
Like a thousand times before,
she finds the scent of the line away from the party,
leaving street-corner musicians,
Heavenly beignets and chicory coffee….And joy.
Leaving Joy, behind—despite misery under freeway overpasses;
Falling away in the rear window down parallel bands of steel
The party goes on, the music getting
fainter, but stuck in my skin like a vaccination scar,
in my ear like an old love song playing soft.
Despite the worst that could happen, the People endure.
God bless the People.
The train rolls north, but carries the place with it.
The passengers carry the place with us.
Old Bourbon St., Canal St. with it’s clackety trolleys;
flood-stained Poydras, Gravier, Decatur streets.
The bars and the shops and the throngs of
sun worshipers on Jackson Square
who lounge and dance to a saxophone player
and drop coins and bills in his open case on the sidewalk.
Or listen to the tolling of the cathedral bells.
The steamboat down at the dock breathes
a hot, breathy calliope tune, luring passengers to the
Big Muddy to taste something old, something new
Something borrowed, and some Blues.
The blond woman, on her cast iron balcony above
The traffic and crowds, waters her flowers, looks
Down at me and smiles. It’s OK, Honey, she seems to say,
Life is good. Isn’t this a great place?
It’s New Orleans: Laissez les bon temps roulez, after all.
Let the good times roll…
So we roll. The horn blasts again and silent
steel wheels start to turn, gathering speed.
Number 58 follows an old steel line up, up,
slowing now and then but
Always up, up, up, past
Metairie, Kenner, New Iberia, the old names.
Hugging the shore of vast
Lake Ponchartrain, goddess destroyer,
Up, up the steel magic carpet ride
In dusk’s gathering, into the
dark memories of Delta country,
Past fields greening with winter wheat,
into the Mississippi night,
A stop at McComb, then Jackson,
then all the way up, up to Memphis by midnight.
And as we sleep, the car rocks unevenly,
the engine horn blows warnings
Into the darkness, the stars move slowly past.
The conductor’s voice comes over the speaker, tinny,
An hour and a half to Chicago.
“Get your things ready. Breakfast is served.”
Dawn comes early in places like this,
A mist covers the fields and coats them out of focus.
At breakfast, a retired doctor traveling with his daughter
Back home to Chicago
Tells about strawberries
(they’re on the menu this morning)
And remembers tending strawberries
on his father’s farm in
New Orleans, and how sweet
they were, and how he hated
Working in the beds, but loved
eating the sweetest berries in the world.
The sweetest in the world… his voice trails off.
Watching him, his eyes gone soft with old memories,
I wondered if their sweetness was more than rich soil,
But rather some small consolation to the People for
Enduring the swamps and fevers and mosquitos and the hurricanes.
The old doctor remembers the flavors
of strawberries on his father’s farm
In the French Quarter, 70 years, a lifetime ago.
He can taste the past again, and smiles.
The miles evaporate under the clicking wheels
as we talk, and eat
And the car rocks and rolls.
The waiter flies up and down the aisle,
Used to the way the car bucks and pitches on rough spots,
Never spilling the coffee.
The eastern horizon begins to glow.
Through fallow fields and past naked trees we fly.
And like the Resurrection, the sun is up and claims the day,
Keeping pace, rising in the east, burning bright, banishing darkness again.
And out the window,
over the frosty stubble
of an Illinois cornfield,
the old promise rises,
runs alongside, keeping pace.
We race the sun to Kankakee,
yet the faint music still plays,
Note: republishing one from a couple of years ago. My friend Pete sent a new picture of the mountain where my favorite coffee comes from, the slopes of Acatenango in Guatemala. The volcano is active, and there has been an unusual snow in the tropics.
I awoke early. Too early.
Before the light came, before the day.
This is happening often these days.
I set the water to bubble, the grinder releases aroma.
My eyes barely see. Continue reading “On Acatenango”
How long the winter has lasted—like a Mahler
symphony, or an hour in the dentist’s chair.
In the fields the grasses are matted
and gray, making me think of June, when hay
and vetch burgeon in the heat, and warm rain
swells the globed buds of the peony.
Ice on the pond breaks into huge planes. One
sticks like a barge gone awry at the neck
of the bridge….The reeds Continue reading “Walking Alone in Late Winter”
So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Conflations of attraction and connection,
So many confusions of sex and love
So many dear diary’s, soulful sobs, self-pity,
So many anguished tears on so many pillows.
So many tearful gazes over the waters,
Like so many before, like your great-great-grandparents,
As though tears alone justify, define poetry.
As though that’s enough.
So many odes to aimlessness,
So much self-indulgence,
So much teenager-like angst,
So many assumptions that
The most common feelings in the
History of the planet… the galaxy, maybe…
Are at all insightful, fresh, helpful.
I’m sorry for your pain.
I am. It’s real.
But you’ll also have more. Lots more.
And you will survive.
Because you’re tougher than you know.
Welcome it. Use it.
Grow from it.
My right leg hurts. Nothing new there.
I need coffee, soulful kisses, and more…so much more….
I’m getting old and that pisses me off.
I’ve loved deeply and lost, have known death,
You will do both, maybe already have.
I’ve held my babies, watched them grow,
I’ve seen mothers lose theirs.
We win and we lose, sometimes more loss than gain.
I’ve been around the track more than once, but in the end
It, writing, boils down to answering this question:
That’s the question I put to us all.
So fucking what? Everyone has a sad story.
Answer “so what” and make me care. That’s the job. That’s what I want.
That’s the reason for poetry.
I want more than the lazy, the easy;
more than the ordinary,
more than common oatmeal,
(With or without raisins and sprinkles).
I want to know how those oats grew, and where,
What they felt when they were harvested,
I want to know if they screamed, or just magically
Floated into your bowl, mere reflections of your sadness.
I want to see why I should care about your oatmeal.
It isn’t all about you, you see, but about all of us,
And I’d like to know whether you can see beyond–
I want you to show what’s beyond the
Rustling of your jimmies, beyond being sexy,
Beyond, beyond, beyond.
Jesus H.! I want you to stop settling for less.
Less than you can do. Less than you will do.
I want you to get knocked down,
get up, and get to work
Over and over and over.
To show what it meant. Show me the answer: So what?
There’s no time to waste, you know, Less than you think; no one knows the future.
Youth is wasted on the young,
Which I know now, and pass it along.
Maybe you’ll listen, but if you’re like I was,
You won’t get it and will go on
Thinking the world is here just for you,
Thinking that mere deep feeling is enough.
I have a newsflash from the other side, y’all:
It’s not enough. Not by a country mile.
(And stop rolling your eyes).
I want to feel you turning lead into gold,
I want you to show me– not tell me about– a growing soul,
I want to taste, to see, to feel what you do,
I want you to hunger for something always out of reach
I want you to tap the universal, to move us forward,
I want us all to connect the dots, do the hard work of humanity.
For our own precious humanity,
do the hard work.
do the heavy lifting.
I want you to read the best, then emulate them.
Then be better than them.
Sweat the details, then shine a new light.
Do hard and holy things.
Hard and holy things.
That’s what we signed up for, you know.
Not the ordinary. Fuck the ordinary.
But most of all, right now,
I want coffee.
So much more.
snow flurries in the sun.
I’m encountering many me’s, from many times,
in various stages of becoming.
It’s as though I walk into a Greek amphitheater
in Corinth, and my many selves are sitting on the old blocks
of stone, twitching, and I point to one and say
“OK, come on down.Today’s your turn to whine about your life.”
And we all lean in, ready to pounce,
evaluating the honesty, the growth,
knowing that one of us
will be judged next
and found wanting.
It was in the fall of seventh grade.
A bunch of us piled into a friend’s car.
I remember lots of laughing, goofing around.
Nearly new teenagers filled with the thrill of being alive.
A girl with jet-black hair I’d known since first grade squeezed in
Next to me and the entire length of her thigh
pressed into mine by the crush of bodies in the back seat.
I fell in love for the first time.
Just like that.
We never dated, and it wasn’t long before my
family moved overseas and our paths never crossed again. .
“First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you. Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had. …And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”
I AM worn out with dreams;
A weather-worn, marble triton
Among the streams;
And all day long I look
Upon this lady’s beauty
As though I had found in a book
A pictured beauty,
Pleased to have filled the eyes
Or the discerning ears,
Delighted to be but wise,
For men improve with the years;
And yet, and yet,
Is this my dream, or the truth?
O would that we had met
When I had my burning youth!
But I grow old among dreams,
A weather-worn, marble triton
Among the streams.
Maybe it is time to forgive God
For the hundreds of women
who have rejected me over the years,
Starting in third grade,
(theoretically, of course, whether they knew it or not. And for the one or two who didn’t, but should have).
I’ve reached the point in life
too late where I
Would actually be of some
use to them,
Could gently walk forward with them without harm,
And be remembered, I trust, with generosity and a little fondness.
But I have reached the age
of their fathers,
And so, instead, have become,
And over there on the coasts, maybe it’s time to give hip irony the
last rites and heave-ho,
And just admit that it is as
empty and useless as
Yet another beer or Viagra
It’s a rant. A rant about poetry. But I guess it hit a nerve. @Spillwords made it a featured post this morning…AND put a trigger warning on it. 🙂 That made me smile. But be warned: it might bruise your peaches.
I think you can handle it, though. (Photo: Pat Mansell)
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy….
I didn’t think it would be like this.
I could have been convinced, mind you,
But I was skeptical, in a benign way.
Unmoved except by facts, I said.
“Show me a ghost; I can’t take your word for it. Continue reading “A Ghostling, in Training”
I stopped to listen, but he did not come. I begain again with a sense of loss. As this sense deepened I heard him again. I stopped stopping and I stopped starting, and I allowed myself to be crushed by ignorance. This was a strategy, and didn’t work at all. Much time, years were wasted in such a minor mode. I bargain now. I offer buttons for his love. I beg for mercy. Slowly he yields. Haltingly he moves toward his throne. Reluctantly the angels grant to one another permission to sing. In a transition so delicate it cannot be marked, the court is established on beams of golden symmetry, and once again I am a singer in the lower choirs, born fifty years ago to raise my voice this high, and no higher.
–Leonard Cohen Poem 1 (“I stopped to listen, but he did not come …”) from “Book of Mercy”
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
I used to be your favorite drunk
Good for one more laugh
Then we both ran out of luck
Luck was all we ever had
You put on a uniform
To fight the Civil War
You looked so good I didn’t care
What side you’re fighting for
It wasn’t all that easy
When you up and walked away
But I’ll save that little story
For another rainy day
I know the burden’s heavy
As you wheel it through the night
Some people say it’s empty
But that don’t mean it’s light
You left me with the dishes
And a baby in the bath
You’re tight with the militias
You wear their camouflage
You always said we’re equal
So let me march with you
Just an extra in the sequel
To the old red white and blue
Baby don’t ignore me
We were smokers we were friends
Forget that tired story
Of betrayal and revenge
I see the Ghost of Culture
With numbers on his wrist
Salute some new conclusion
Which all of us have missed
I cried for you this morning
And I’ll cry for you again
But I’m not in charge of sorrow
So please don’t ask me when
There may be wine and roses
And magnums of champagne
But we’ll never no we’ll never
Ever be that drunk again
The party’s over
But I’ve landed on my feet
I’ll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street
“I know men who are healthier at fifty than they’ve ever been before, because a lot of their fear is gone.”
“Tonight the first fall rain washes away my sly distance.
I have decided to blame no one for my life.
This water falls like a great privacy.
Letters sink into the desk,
The desk sinks away, leaving an intelligence
Slowly learning to talk of its own suffering.
The muttering of thunder is a gift
That reverberates in the roof of the mouth.
Another gift is a child’s face in a dark room
I see as I check the house during the storm.
My life is a blessing, a triumph, a car racing through the rain.
The dead need light,
As much as the living need music.
They crave the kind of light
That brings babies’ faces to mind again, and
Spring blooms, and waves dancing on a beach they once knew.
Eternity is a long, long time,
The darkness is all.
But still… they remember
The way the stars sweep across
the sky on a clear night,
the way a bumblebee looks as it
lumbers around, amazingly.
They need the lights of Paris,
twinkling with promise
drawing a halo of innocence around
young lovers by the river.
The dead crave to see, again,
your two eyes, open, soft and
moist with tears, catching the light
of a streetlight in
breathtaking flecks of gold and green.
The dead remember, with a hopeless ache, the way
moonlight played on the lover’s
hip as you slept, a fleeting memory of touch
burned forever in light,
of no more than a hand lightly stroking
just to make sure you were real.
Your beauty, nude
not naked on the bed,
is far more a gift
than I ever expected.
I watch languor recline
1n your wise grey eyes
while slate hummingbirds
carved as earrings
dangle from golden hooks.
I quiver in your breath
and the ceiling fan halts
in that instant.
We look at one another
with both eyes open and close.
An intimate wind,
the cause of auroras,
moves north and south,
east and west,
then we swim
into one another.
And so we must ask ourselves:
What is freedom?
Do we decide when to wake?
When to sleep?
Do not authorities order our
Or our partners do?
“You have to get up early!”
“Why do you stay up so late?”
Order belongs to the day,
Unordered things, the night.
Nakedness emerges in the night…
Bodies come together, touch, in the night.
What is put aside during the day
And only implied at dinner, or the theater
Finally takes place in the secrecy of the dark.
We trade freedom for order in the hours of light.
We reclaim our freedom in secret, in the night.
Sometimes a picture will ping a part of me, and capture a feeling I didn’t know I had. As I get older, I realize that most of what passed for desire or ambition or striving earlier in life has left little trace. Maybe it was necessary to go through it all, to raise a family, to satisfy whatever seemed to be the urgency of the day, but I can’t remember most of it now. It just seems not to matter. I do remember feeling that it did, once, but some mysterious process of living has worn it all away. It’s like reading a story about a battle in the Boer War. I know it all happened, but I don’t recognize the people and cannot touch their lives any longer.
Now, what seems most important is to find spots like this, in the gathering night with people who matter, and focus on the moment. To listen to the waters bubbling past, savor the way candles glow in the windows, and watch how the flickering light plays over the face of loved ones, leaned in to taste the food, leaned back to sip the wine and laughing. Those moments have an immortality that means more with each passing, precious day. Why did I not see this before?
Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.
Jib sweeps the horizon, wake’s a long bubbling flow,
Storms uncounted I’ve weathered, bleak terrors I’ve known.
My passage, I see, leaves no trace at all.
What good is’t to linger, then the words: “Let it go.”
The ship sluices onward, destination unknown,
Taut cables weave ’round me, they sing, snap and moan,
Mast bends, prow plunges, new gusts arrive,
The water’s hiss climbs, the sea knows her own.
Through the darkness she takes me, my eyes crusted blind,
Brine’s coated me, it seems, for three times out of mind.
I pray for the sight of rare stars thru mist,
And dream fitfully of old friends left behind.
Each dawn brings the thought, despite what is past,
We’ll find calm water and fair shore at long last.
Still, my body is one with the ship ‘neath my hand,
Both battered and worn, we’ve done what was asked.
by Ted Kooser
He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.
A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.
Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm-a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.
I remember the summers of tall corn, and Princess,
Running, face slapped and cut by green leaves while she
Dashed in and out of the alien-looking bases of the stalks
laughing, daring me to follow.
I remember feeling the darkness close in, alone in the tall corn, stalks closing over me, afraid.
Closing out the sun, closing off a sense of direction,
By a laughing dog who found me, asked-why-I-was-standing-still…
Running away, free among the stalks
Until I followed, redeemed, pulled into the unknown, laughing, too.
Summer days among the tall corn, lost, found, redeemed,
Long rows curving into mystery, terror, fear and salvation,
A friend who never left me, always came back, refused to let me shrink from the unknown,
A dog who kept me anchored in the now, in experience, in friendship.
A dog and a boy. A dog is a savior for a young boy, too frightened to know where to turn.
The land, the island wilderness, the endless rows of corn eight feet tall,
Twisting, curving, full of weedy vines, rocks and in a burst of fur and dust,
a laughing dog who
Never let me lose myself, always called me back, mocked my adolescent timidity,
Made me follow, explore and, eventually, to laugh with her.
The land, the land…. way more than just a summer’s day
In the tall corn with Princess. My puny fears, yes, but my foundation.
A link to a thousand ancestors. In my insignificance, still stronger by connections.
The land…. a family memory, stretching into antiquity,
The land… a sense of place, of time, of belonging, of self.
The land.. passed along now, my connection cut, but not quite.
The land… a sense of place ended, but not quite.
The land… a place to put my face into, my fingers digging deep, holding onto… but not any more.
The land…. a place that birthed me, shaped me with a laughing dog, long ago,
The land… a place that infused me, called to me, supported me, made me, set me free.
The past month has been one shaky step after another across a river full of undertow and old, unhealed wounds. But each step has led me away from the comfortable, known, safe, stupid and dull, toward the unknown, risky and exciting; toward the resurrection of a sense of mystery, of the smell of a new place at dawn, of winds out of the north with hints of Spring or Canada, and the distant call of wild things hunting in the night.
I know that doesn’t tell you the facts. Not the external ones, anyway. But, it’s all I’ll say for now. I suspect, though, that these are the most important things.
But every moment means taking a step into growth, or a step back into safety. I’m learning that all over again. And you know what? It feels good. Scary good.
This is terrific. A small image that opens a door onto something big.
by Donald Hall
White roses, tiny and old, flare among thorns
by the barn door.
For a hundred years
under the June elm, under the gaze
of seven generations,
they lived briefly
like this, in the month of roses,
by the fields
stout with corn, or with clover and timothy
making thick hay,
grown over, now,
with milkweed, sumac, paintbrush.
winter drifts, the melt in April, August
and men and women
who sniffed roses in spring and called them pretty
as we call them now,
walking beside the barn
on a day that perishes.
You few, you happy few who spent time in the purgatory of a newspaper news desk writing headlines on deadline will see this and feel a pang of joy and jealousy. “Lucky bastard,” you may mutter.
For a desk editor, this is the equivalent of the hanging fastball over the middle of the plate. This is better than Babe Ruth pointing to the center field wall with his bat, challenging the pitcher to bring the heat. This is better than Yukon Pete hitting a gold nugget the size of a Volkswagon Beetle with his pick.
One of these can make your month—or more. And your colleagues will clip it out and put it up on the office bulletin board and you can bask in the acclaim for a while—almost long enough to make up for the lousy hours, illiterate junior flip reporters, starvation wages and insane managing editors.
The work must be done. It must be done and all the tricks to avoid starting eventually have to be unmasked and ignored.
The beginning of the new year is as good a time as any to make promises to myself. Most of my promises are bullshit, and I know that about me. But I can’t let my self-deceptions keep me immobilized. So, the work must be done.
The feeling I have brings up an image of a cat, muscles twitching and bunching, feet feeling for purchase, something to push off of. You know the look of coiling springs when a cat is about to launch itself at something? That’s how this feels. We all have our own rituals. One of mine is to read good writing, sometimes for days, and letting the ideas and the words wrap themselves around something inside and get it excited.
So it is when the work must be done. I find words like these and use them to pull me back to the chair, fight the resistance with action, ignore my own whining, and pounce.
Hello again, “Running Girl”. Let’s go do interesting things to each other, shall we?
Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.
When you’re writing, you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know. The whole language of writing for me is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out. But something forces you to anyway.
I posted this in June, during recovery. I apologize for the repeat, but this is one of two things I’m adding today in honor of the New Year. I don’t usually wish a Happy New Year, since nothing really is predictable. But I do hope that we all get some wishes answered, and pray you all wish well.
When I was younger, I desperately wanted to see my future, to know what was to be. In my arrogance, I thought I knew everything, and as it turns out, I know next to nothing. Less than nothing sometimes. My ignorance grows with age.
Now, looking back at what things litter the path of my personal journey, the triumphs and the broken bodies, I’m thankful that I didn’t know what was to come. Even the good things, but most certainly the bad. It would have been too much. It would have destroyed me, and, I suspect, it would destroy most of us.
I don’t know much, but think this much is true. We’re here to get through it somehow, and to learn what we can, but only one day at a time. Or, sometimes, just one hour at a time. That, and it’s important to learn how to be kind.
More knowing would fill us with grief and fear and tear us apart. We just aren’t strong enough to handle it.
Let the young believe that they know everything, though. We need their optimism and energy. Life will teach them too. It always does. But we should not wish to see the future. We should wish to live each day to the hilt, we should hope we have the courage to face what comes, and the future will take care of itself.
From a scene in “The Passenger”, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and starring Jack Nicholson as reporter named Locke:
Locke repeatedly asks the girl, as she looks out the window, “what can you see? what can you see now?”
And he tells her this story:
“I knew a man who was blind. When he was nearly 40 years old he had an operation and regained his sight….At first he was elated, really high—faces, colors, landscapes. But then everything began to change. The world was much poorer than he had imagined. No one had ever told him how much dirt there was, how much ugliness. He noticed ugliness everywhere. When he was blind, he used to cross the street alone with a stick. After he regained his sight, he became afraid, he began to live in darkness, he never left his room.
“To the threshold of silence” by karezoid michal karcz
Imagine the fun, If, on my last journey (which I trust is far in the future), I could order up my final ride… Whether with wheels or wings, with keel or hoof, With steel on steel rail, or teleport onboard the
Or drive off in a British racing green ’63 Shelby Cobra (with the small-block Ford V-8) ….
or even, or EVEN…
By God! An antigrav surfboard with a built-in wet bar and wi-fi all the way into the great beyond….
But there’d be nothing grander than
A long, slow ascent up the face of one of
Nature’s most awesome sights, A slow goodbye to soak in the immensity, And a grand review from above the curvature of the
Earth. One last time.
Rising higher and higher, getting colder and colder, gasping for breath, seeing further and further, until it finally all made sense…
pinned by the stabbing light of eternity, up…
up there, not far now…
and, to be perfectly honest, it bums me out.
So many great ones! —libidinal heroes,
idealists, warrior-chieftains, revolutionaries,
fabulists of all sorts, even the great Irish pig farmers
and Armenian raisin growers —and who,
I ask myself, am I by comparison? Calmed
by Valium, urged on by Viagra, uplifted
by Prozac, I go about my daily rounds,
a quotidian member of the quotidian hierarchy,
a Perseus with neither a war nor a best friend,
and sink to the depths of despair
on the broken wings of my own mundanity.
If only some god had given me greatness,
I surely would have made something of it—
perhaps a loftier, more humble poem than this,
or some übermenschliche gesture that would reveal
my superiority to the ordinary beings and things
of this world. But here I am now, one of
the earth’s mere Sancho Panzas, leading
those heroic others through the world on their
magnificent horses, merely turning the page, dreaming
my own small deeds into their magnificent arms.
It happens. The dry spells drift in around my ankles like sand, and before I know it, I can’t seem to move my feet.
Oh, well. It happens. It will pass. In the meantime, I read your posts and silently urge you on. Don’t worry about me. I’m resting, that’s all. Getting down to basics. It happens. It will pass. I’ll catch up later.
Stories of loss, regrets, anger and pain,
Humanity sloshing through gray days, numb to what might be,
Stuck in what was. Second thoughts always.
Dreams gone first sour, then withering.
But then hope reappears,
Wiser, cautious, tentative,
But hope nonetheless.
The past lingers like the smell of dead mouse in the walls,
Gradually fading, but sickening. Hidden, but everywhere.
But hope says…maybe….
Maybe it can end.
It’s not rational. But it just may be true.
Open the windows and doors,
Feel the sun on your face,
Embrace the pain and fear,
Hold it close and forgive all your mistakes.
Forgive all. That is your only escape.
Winter is but a season,
All things change.
I usually spend some prep time reading– books, poems, other bloggers, quotes — before writing. The quote at the bottom is one that hit me today as I was looking for something to help a young friend find the courage to plunge ahead, not knowing how things will turn out. We just move forward, into the mist that is the future, and if we’re lucky, we learn to embrace the unknown with love.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
If you want cheerful, you might want to move past this one. I’m not feeling morbid, just in the mood to sink into some things that will lead to other things. I’m like the person who hasn’t had enough sleep for days, but had to keep moving and now am a little crazy.
WHEN Abraham Lincoln was shoveled into the tombs, he forgot the copperheads and the assassin … in the dust, in the cool tombs.
And Ulysses Grant lost all thought of con men and Wall Street, cash and collateral turned ashes … in the dust, in the cool tombs.
Pocahontas’ body, lovely as a poplar, sweet as a red haw in November or a pawpaw in May, did she wonder? does she remember?… in the dust, in the cool tombs?
Take any streetful of people buying clothes and groceries, cheering a hero or throwing confetti and blowing tin horns … tell me if the lovers are losers … tell me if any get more than the lovers … in the dust … in the cool tombs.
I’m dealing with three things at once. I’m feeling a little guilty about it, too.
One is that we’re getting ready for a party tomorrow. Superficially, it’s to celebrate a wedding anniversary and a retirement (her’s, not mine yet, dammit) and an excuse to go to the wine store. But really, it’s just a big ol’ wet kiss to the fact that we’re both still alive. It always comes down to that for all of us in the end, you know.
But the advice to finish what you start applies to the writing work. I am working on the book. I haven’t been talking about it, because i found out that if I was talking, I wasn’t writing. But I haven’t done much yesterday and won’t today.
Yesterday was due to the third thing, which is the aftermath of that annoying little blood clot in a tiny part of my brain that is still making itself felt. Yesterday was a day it was making itself felt, and I wasn’t able to get out of the chair much. Today I feel great. It seems to go like that. So today is party prep, tomorrow is the party, and then “Running Girl” is going to feel my hands all over her again.
Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t wait. 🙂
But who, intact,
would Venus [de Milo] be?
ingénue. Give me
a woman who’s lived
a little, who’s wrapped
her arms around the ages
and come up lacking: that’s
the stone that can move me.
—“Truth in Advertising,” Andrea Cohen
Ted’s doorbell, which sounded like Big Ben, rang at 9 p.m. precisely two days, seven hours and 23 minutes after he left the old Mill’s bar floating on the updrafts of new love.
He had music playing and had cleaned things up as much as one can in a house that’s full of carpenter’s tools and stepladders, the smell of fresh paint and polish.
Rose stood outside on the porch with her hair down on her shoulders, and breathtaking in a low-cut but still modest black dress that ended just above the knees, a silver necklace and playful eyes. She fairly glistened under the light.
To say that she was well put together would be like saying Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” was just an OK little sketch.
And never in the history of little black dresses had there been such a little black dress.
His heart fluttered a bit and then flopped over. His mouth went dry. She was overloading his nervous system. He liked it.
Her hair glowed in the light of late evening and the porch lamp. She must have done some fairy magic with makeup, because all he saw were her eyes and lips, a hint of swelling bosom…and felt something break loose in his chest. Everything about her looked understated and expensive, and he forgot his own name.
Rose looked a little worried at first that he wasn’t saying anything. It had taken a lot of work to look like this, after all. But then she looked more closely and saw the wordless appreciation in his face and then blushed at what she saw behind it, and felt a thrill run through her at what that look did to her. She laughed, held up the bottle of wine she had in her right hand, and waggled it at him.
“Are you going to invite me in, or do I have to find another guy to share this with?”
That shook the spell off, and opened the door wide.
“Hi, Rose. I’m sorry. You … . You’re so gorgeous, I forgot how to speak there for a minute. Please…. Come on in.” She smiled up at him warmly and stepped across the threshold, presenting the wine bottle.
Their fingers brushed lightly as he took the bottle.
“You look beautiful, too,” she said, a little shyly, almost too softly to hear. “What say we get started on that wine?”
He took the wine and led her back to the kitchen, opened it and filled two glasses. Then, even though they both knew they were delaying the inevitable, he played tour guide to his pride and joy renovation/rescue project, all three floors. It took the better part of 40 minutes. Back in the kitchen, he refilled their glasses, pulled a tray of cheeses and olives and meats and crackers from the refrigerator, and tried to tuck another bottle of wine under his arm. She held up a hand, took the wine from him, picked up the open one and a cork screw with her other hand and he grabbed the food tray and led her up the winding staircase to the tower room with its 360-degree view of town and treetops, where he’d earlier put some candles.
The summer sun was just touching the top of the mountain to the west, filling the room with a golden glow. They had had a spell of clear, dry air settling down from Canada over the valley, with sunny days and cool nights, so the windows were open and a slight breeze moved through.
He sat on one of the couches as she took her time inspecting this last space, sipping wine without saying much. She took in the view of town below, of the mountains to the west and north, and the tree tops of the old neighborhood stretching to the east toward the gigantic old limestone open mine a couple of miles out in the forests that surrounded them. It was just getting dark enough that the glow of the university town 10 miles away over a ridge to the south could be seen blotting out the first stars. The street lights and the yellow glow of the lights below in the downtown looked more inviting. He took in her presence, smiling at how lovely she was, how she moved so effortlessly. She’d chosen the dress well, too, and he watched her body move under it, enjoying the swish and sway of the fabric falling from shoulder, and breast and hip, but stopping at two of the finest pair of legs he’d seen in a long time, bare, with no stockings.
After she paused back at the beginning, looking pensively toward the glow of the western sky, he cleared his throat.
“What’s your story, Rose Tyler?” he finally asked, breaking the silence. She turned at the question, eyes dark and serious. He indicated the tray of food and offered to refill her glass. He stammered… “You know a lot about me — God knows I’ve been doing nothing but talking about myself all evening — but now it’s your turn.”
She didn’t answer right away, but took another sip of wine and held it to her lips for a few seconds, looking at him over the rim of the glass with unfathomable eyes. She moved to the seat opposite, but close enough that he could have touched her knee if he had just leaned forward a bit.
She held the stem of the wine glass with both hands in her lap with knees together and ankles crossed.
“Let’s eat first. I’m starving, and much more wine on an empty stomach and I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said. “But then you’ll get the whole sad story.”
Later, after the food and after they shared some more of their personal stories, they sat in silence for a while, sipping wine, neither knowing exactly what to say.
He put his wine glass down and leaned forward. Might as well be blunt, Ted thought.
“I’ve been thinking about you almost non-stop since the other day at lunch,” he said. “Truth be told, I’ve been thinking about you a lot even before that. And I want to kiss you,” he said. “Almost more than anything I can think of right now.”
She put her glass down on the side table and looked at him with a frank invitation in her eyes. “If you hadn’t said that pretty soon, I was going to,” she said, her voice a little husky. “And then I want to see more of that bedroom.”
Somehow– he later couldn’t remember moving– he was next to her and the room was lit only by a candle by the time they broke away. The sun’s glow was gone from the sky and the moon was rising, but it seemed as though no time had passed for the two of them.
They were both breathing hard. She put her head against his chest and ran her hand up and down, then back inside where buttons had been opened before. Her touch seemed infused with fire.
“Oh, my,” she said, voice husky and hushed. “Oh, my.”
He kissed the top of her head and stood, then moved around blowing out each candle. The moon was rising, filling the room with blue light, enough for them to see now. He took her hand and drew her up from the couch to him, kissed her once, touching her tongue with his. Without another word, he led her down the stairs.
The next week was a rushing memory. Rose left at mid-morning the next day and went to the restaurant. Ted met with a decorator and a plumber and some other tradespeople finishing up the upper rooms, and felt like he had a grin plastered on his face the whole time.
When he was alone he found himself whistling, something he hadn’t done for years. He also realized he wasn’t very good at whistling, but didn’t care.
Rose came back that night and brought some samplings from the restaurant, and also had a snack of cheeses at the big table in the kitchen. They washed it down with some German beer, and talked again for an hour about their lives and their losses.
She grew quiet after a while, and he could tell she wanted to say something. He waited.
“I like you, Ted,” she said. “I really do. Last night was unbelievable. But I need to be clear about something.”
“Um, Ok,” he said, wondering what was coming, fearing the worst.
“We’re both grownups,” she started again. “We know what we like, and what we don’t, and neither of us has time for games any more. That’s for kids. I’ve got issues. You’ve got issues. But I do love the way you use your hands,” she said.
“I know, I know,” he said, waving modestly. “My hands should be insured. I’m gong to call Lloyds tomorrow,” he said. “You certainly were vocal on that point last night.”
“Very funny,” she said, dipping a finger in her beer and flicking it at him. “But I’m not looking for anything permanent here. It might happen. I like being with you. We’re two people who need each other right now, who can make each other laugh. But it’s too soon for either of us to get too serious. I’m too scared about something bad happening again. The divorce was brutal. But I should warn you, I could very easily fall for you, and if that happens, it will be very hard for you to get away.”
“But let’s try to keep it loose for the time being, OK?”
As she said this, she reached over and took his hand and squeezed it.
“I get it,” he said, choosing to make light of it for now. He was feeling much the same. “You just want me for my body. And… “ he gestured at the shirt with a few cracker crumbs and the remnants of a spare tire under it…”I can’t really blame you. This is… well, it’s just irresistible.”
“Let’s just say that with the lights out, I can forget the cracker crumbs,” she said, rising and patting his stomach.
She led him toward the bedroom, although they didn’t make it all the way up the stairs on the first try.
The next hours were memorable. They dozed and then found each other again and again. At the last, she held him with arms and thighs, whispered urgently in his ear, made herself the safe habor into which the storms of his buried selves burst and were forgiven. At the final moment all of the grief and pain and doubt and anger stored inside from all those hard years of loss and disappointment left him.
Afterward, she lay quietly, fingers moving languidly over his skin, a feeling of deep contentment filling her.
They lay side by side, not speaking in the dimness of the giant old room. He let himself drift and wondered at what was gone from the day before— a darkness in his gut that he had felt so long that it seemed normal. He had a brief sensation of sliding down a warm slope. In an instant, he was deep asleep for the first time in months.
She pulled the sheet up over them and settled in under his chin, her head on his chest and one leg and arm thrown possessively over him. He stirred and murmmered something unintelligible and put his arm around her shoulder and then was still again, breathing deeply. With a strand of hair across her face and enigmatic smile at the corners of her mouth, she closed her eyes and followed him into oblivion.