The time was, we thought we had a handle on time,
but our time here is so short that there’s no
time to really understand what time is–
or even if we ever will.
There just isn’t enough of it for anything.
The pharaohs sat their fat asses
firmly on a people who could not
remember a time before this curious arrangement…
Before there were these arrogant
bastards who thought they knew best,
who thought the world worked best
as a pyramid with them at the top.
In the times of the pharaohs,
time had a different meaning…there
in the dull, slow heat of the desert
in between floods and plagues and
the brief, beautiful springtime.
After a while, the parasites tricked the people,
who were bored and out of work
and likely to cause trouble,
into piling millions of
blocks of rocks in magnificent piles as if
to say to the gods, “See, we can
build mountains, too!”
It also proved the Pharaoh
had the right to be in charge
since no one wanted to go to the trouble
of tearing all those rocks down.
But where are the pharaohs now?
Like real mountains, their piles of rocks will
end up as grains of sand,
blowing across the expanse of eternity
until they drift up against the
base of some other fool’s monument.
I once had an uneasy relationship
with time, in the person of clocks.
I couldn’t wake with the sun, or sleep when
it got dark, and my soul was always
out of sorts, and anxious.
But at least everything didn’t happen
all at the same time…
They say time-keeping changed when
railroad people needed to make things work
across vast distances. For commerce.
Speed made organization and precision necessary.
Then factories needed everyone to begin
making things all at the same…. time.
There’s that word again.
I don’t worry as much about clocks any more.
I let the computers keep track for me
and watch time rush past as if
in a hurry to join its siblings in the distant past
where it can get away from clocks.
There it can sink back into the black
cloud of being, where everything has already happened.
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.
everything here seems to need us –Rainer Maria Rilke
I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
“The only things that matter in this life are effort and simplicity,” the monk told me. We sat a short distance apart on an ancient wall made of massive, moss-covered hand-shaped block of stone as big as coffee tables.
At least, I seemed to be me.
I was different. Completely different, but still me. Dreams are like that. Dreams from another lifetime. I didn’t seem to care. I knew. And I gladly sank into the world of long ago.
I was eating the only meal I’d had that day. There was a deep pool of clear water beside the wall. I could see to the bottom, where, a foot or two under the still surface, two hand tools someone had lost, or discarded lay. I reached down with water up to my shoulder and retrieved one and set it dripping on the flat top of the wall. It seemed important to pull it out and let it dry. Someone might need it. That’s when he came to sit beside me.
I was exhausted, but exhilarated more. Whatever rice and sauce I was eating was hot and good. I shoveled it into my mouth with my fingers.
The day had begun far away, hours earlier. I had been in a race of a sort, with what seemed like hundreds —certainly many dozens— of people. That part seemed kind of changeable. Some looked like Westerners, Continue reading “Effort, Simplicity”
What are the odds
Of that one seed
Falling at that precise instant
(Not a second earlier, or later)
On that particular day
On just the right side, facing the sun,
In just the spot where there was an opening
Where there just happened to be enough soil
Where the mason had left a gap last year
Because it was time for lunch and
He was in a hurry.
When the breeze randomly moved in just the right strength,
In just the right direction
And stopped at the right moment.
So that when the rain came by
in just the right amount
And then, just in time,
The impossible became probable,
And mere potential became actual.
One seed out of millions.
It rained in the mountains last night.
The forest came alive, from the laurels and ferns
To the tops of oaks and maples 60 feet above.
And through it all, the whispering chatter of the stream,
Full of itself, full of energy, falls endlessly over
mossy rocks on its long journey to the sea.
You can feel the eagerness of everything, sense the tree
Roots grabbing harder, drinking deep, their tops waving the news in the wind.
Sunlight finds its way down through gaps
And flares on dancing leaves as it glints, sings silently
Of the joy of life reborn, of thirst quenched, of balance restored.
Seven kinds of birds sound their challenges,
Race through the canopy harvesting food
For pinfeathered chicks urgently waiting in shadows.
I come here when my heart is dry, to feel the moment.
I come here after the rain to sink my roots in, too,
And soak up the voices of the Earth, of the birds, of the sun and wind singing. Earth Mountain
No proof, no guarantees. No winning lottery ticket. No rescue in the nick of time. No heroes to fix everything in a perfect 42-minute format, just after the last commercial.
Just hope. Just the kind of desperate courage that comes from nothing left to lose.
Maybe it’s the days in late winter when it begins to feel like nothing is going to thaw. Something quickens despite all the evidence, Despite all the weight of cold experience. Something feels the long rhythms, Something stirs in the depths of cold nights. Something that has been asleep, but shivers awake, when the moment is right.
Hope. That’s all there is. That’s all there’s ever been. Foolish, delusional, ridiculous, irrational. Just hope. Something no one can steal. When everything else is stripped away, When everything is gone, and you don’t even have a psychic quarter left to make a phone call (and there aren’t even any pay phones left, anyway.)
But there’s something…. something down there.
There are these moments every January
Like the one that hit at 4:42 PM
East Coast time today,
Usually after a string of crappy, cold,
Grey days with a Nor-easter in the forecast.
On the weather channel,
They’re having impressive,
Fully clothed group orgasms, apparently stimulated by
A couple of winter storms…
Doing what storms do.
(You can check if you want to.
Their stamina is truly amazing.)
Now to an electrician working outside—
It’s a “This Old House” segment,
Where a guy is Putting in a new outside light pole—
That flipped a switch in my head.
I kind of got emotional after that.
T-shirts, tool belts. Jeans, warm weather work gear. Fixing stuff....Green grass, trees swaying in a breeze.
It was the sunlight—I felt the warmth—
That hit with a surprising flash of longing.
And the shadows, too.
The shadows jumping and playing across
Everyone and everything, transmitting the dance
Of Maple leaves in the warm breezes,
Of another, distant July in New England.
The shadows danced over the scene in that
Careless way the world’s wonders do.
They perform effortlessly for us, for free,
And we don’t see them at the time,
Focused as we are on
Getting the job done.
Early morning is the best time to see the distant, busy world come awake.
Before dawn, with the sun finding them before he finds the world,
The criss-crossed ribbons of smoke five miles above
Are turned to neon ice from behind
While we drink our coffee, sit on the step and smoke,
Looking to the east. To the coming brilliance of another dawn.
At the dozens of contrails already streaking the sky, turning reddish and pink and
Changing shades of pastel fire.
In one of the busiest flyways anywhere, all the overcrowded metal tubes
Leaving Newark, Philadelphia, La Guardia, Kennedy, Boston for
Tokyo, San Francisco, Seattle, Beijing and LA. pass silently overhead, and are soon gone.
But sometimes sleep won’t come, and I also sit on that step in the quiet hours.
The day’s high travelers are still somewhere else, and the sky is serene,
The crescent moon is already nearly set, the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades wink
In their cold, virginal nunnery, wanting to pull a cloak around themselves for warmth.
Orion is in its winter place, militant, telling me the cold months are coming soon,
As if the bite in the air weren’t enough.
But sometimes this time of year, an hour or two past midnight, when the trucks
On the distant interstate are finally silent, the hum and puzzle of restless
Humanity staggers into fitful, resentful sleep,
I can just make out, faintly, tweets and calls, carried on the cold air
From hundreds, or maybe a couple of thousand feet overhead.
Some nights there are none, but some nights there is a steady feeling of
A dark river moving above, and, sometimes,
The noise is clear enough to tell that
Last night, it was a flight of Canada Geese ploughing the air to the south,
To winter feeding ponds in Louisiana,
In the rich mangrove swamps of Florida,
Near the Sea Islands of coastal Georgia.
I don’t know all the calls, and at night there aren’t a lot of them.
It’s a serious business, after all. Nothing to sing about, flying on
Through the night, thousands of miles.
But there is some calling and response. Just enough to make sure that
The flock is nearby, and safe, that you’re safe,
Headed in the right direction.
Save the energy for the trip.
Do nothing more to let a lone human–
Sitting in the dark far below, looking up past you at the stars,
Wondering what one has to do to get some sleep–
Even notice, most of the time, that thousands of you are passing.
But I imagine buntings and Baltimore orioles, scores of streaky brown
Song sparrows, and dozens of jewel-toned warblers–
Northern parulas, black-throated greens, magnolias, and all the rest.
I’ve learned that songbirds migrate at night, in great rivers,
But they do not sing. Not then. Singing comes later.
But for now, they’re leaving us, heading to warmer waters,
Plentiful food, easier living and rest.
Singing is better on a branch in the warm sun of the tropics, sipping the
Sweet juices of some overripe papaya, or tasting the white meat of a succulent nut,
Feeling the thrill of life, the search for a mate, the joy that bubbles up unbidden
When wheeling above a sun-splashed sparkle of blue and green.
I can sense them flowing past, tonight, and it saddens me.
There aren’t as many as there were a few short weeks ago.
I know what’s coming, and there’s no changing that.
But they’ll be back, full of tales of adventures,
They will sing the story of the great Wheel of life, of the turning
Of the seasons, of renewal that comes after a testing.