Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Milarepa's Flokati

Tiny errant sheep
wandering under every piece of furniture; 

a question-mark twist of wool
between one's toes, or blown

by the wind of a fan to tremble
against a the prong of a doorstop.

Here is where the
voluptuous white begins,

but where it ends
is anyone's guess.

Milarepa said a flokati rug
was the emblem of the soul:

dissolving and giving
itself, fuddled

by its deluded unity,
fluff wandering, flying

with every ticklish waft.
I'm lying, of course,

like rug. Milarepa
said no such thing, but

his singing is caught between my toes
and the whiteness of his eyes

shines from his nettle-green face.
Perhaps an untidy room

is a small price to pay
for a thousand wisps of song,

for such a softness
under bare feet,

such a ramifying complicating
whiteness, drifting

under the dressers and the armoires,
the over-neat compartments of the heart. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Elsewhere, I wrote "I am far, far happier than I was when I was younger. Probably people who had happier childhoods, youths, and young adulthoods find it harder to leave them behind: mine were full of death and dismay and a great deal of pain. So I come out on to this clear sunny sunlit water with a feeling of extreme gratitude and relief. I can't see or hear as well as I could, my mind is a bit duller for cutting a mathematical equation or learning a new language, but there's a constant upwelling of happiness in me, which either was not there, or that I was too anxious to feel, until I was well into my forties. I'm steering towards sixty now, with not a whisper of regret for temps perdu."

I thought perhaps I should say that here, since I do so much mining in the vein of "carefully caught regrets," here; I do so not because I am filled with regret, but because I, like all writers, am a shameless opportunist. I dig where I see something glitter. But my primary, overriding emotion is joy, a sense of the extraordinary abundance that surrounds me, the luck that has haunted me almost all my life. I have a knack, a talent, for happiness, that exceeds that of pretty much anyone I know: and I have been handed extraordinary materials to put that talent to work on. And so I wander out at first light and look at the sky, the perpetually astonishing sky, and it is the first morning that ever was, and I am the first person ever to look at a sky, and it is open, open all the way up to the stars, and past them. And I hear the morning birds as well as I ever did.


Image found by Lori Witzel & gothicked by Andrea Lipomi: thanks!

you can hear the weariness breathing,
where the air
changes direction --

if the nave
under the crust
is crossed and the air

turn at the transept -- if
folded hands
webbed with stone,

frog paddles
are not enough to reach
the spill of light

the stone eye,
we still are obliged
to use such breath as we find:
to heave

such sight
as we have
the half remembered sky.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


The sadness of high summer: hot blackberries crushed underfoot, evoking
at once the vinyl of long-vanished car seats, and milkshakes from before
anyone thought to call the ice cream real. Above, a whiteness, a glare
that in simpler times was the sun:  a hovering power, far older, far less reliable,
far more wicked than we were taught, wobbling on its long wire:
the interrogator shines it in our faces, and waits
for us to ask the questions ourselves. Any confessor knows
you have only to be silent.

listen here, there, once, gone: the creak of insects
briefly and intolerably alive, breeding desperately in the face
of dearth to come. The shadows are brighter than winter daylight,
and even the reflections blind me. I have come too far,
too far into the sunlit world. I will dry out on the sidewalk:
a curled twist like an apple stem, or like the umbilical cord
of a kitten when it finally drops away. And like the blackberries,
too rife to bother avoiding: thorn and apple stem, seed and pulp,
all the litter crunches alike, germ and husk, self and soul.

Summer. Look, you that have eyes to see
beyond the lamp of confession: what stars were printed, in a kinder season,
on the fields? Before the poison oak began to sweat, all gleamy-faced,
between the rocks and their namesakes? If you can remember that,
then all is not lost, whether all is lost for me, or not: it means
there is a way back to winter,
a way back to the rain.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Liberace and the Scent of God

Liberace: Allen Warren
Seeing the perverse is central to understanding people, if only as a corrective: ordinarily we start off with "this is how people ought to be, what ought to motivate them, what ought to satisfy them... things that don't quite fit this model, we'll ignore when possible and vilify when not." Starting with the perverse is starting with what's real: what are people really, what actually motivates them, what actually satisfies them?" We're all too apt to keep passing on stories about how we all ought to be, ritually reinforcing each other -- even as our strategies for motivating and satisfying ourselves fail and fail and fail.

I have always identified as queer, from the moment I saw Liberace's TV show long ago in the 1960's: the gorgeous sequins and extravagance, the lispy limp-wristed flamboyance. I loved it before I understood it as a sexual category. I loved it, even though none of those things are part of my own character; even though I am "heterosexual to a fault," as one of my friends remarked of me, and my tastes tend to be mainstream, boring, vanilla. But I understood, viscerally, what Liberace was doing: he was pushing the boundaries, he was saying "find room or make room, because I am exactly what I am. Remake your categories: don't try to remake me."

The Buddhist in me says: we are unhappy because we are on the wheel: because wanting by design cannot be more than temporarily satisfied: and the science guy says the same. We are not happy because we are not designed to be happy. We are designed for our happiness to melt away as soon as it draws near: desire is the mechanism that keeps us perpetually striving and edging out the evolutionary competition. But the pervert in me is not so sure. He says: "maybe we are unhappy because what we are taught to pursue is not what we really want to catch?" 

The questions may have nothing to do with each other, but they are twined, in my mind. The Buddhist answer is orderly, scientific, obvious, right. But I have always been prone to this swerve into revelatory ecstasy: what if it's God who is right, what if happiness is possible, what if there is some way that our secret desires do in fact map to the contours of the universe? What then? And it always resonates, there are always others who lift their snouts when that ephemeral scent is on the wind, and we exchange quick, puzzled looks.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Prayer for Those Long in the Sun

A peach pit long in the sun
abandoned even by the ants,
its sharp edges dulled with fondling --

all the flesh of grief and anger
eaten away: only the hard
core of vindictiveness left --

when the day of your death comes
is that stone really what you want
to be found, clutched in your hand?

They taught you it was magic,
and so it is, but not the way you think.
It will not

protect you from your enemies:
it will eat your soul at dusk
and deliver your children

(do you think they are not listening?)
to the same fate.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Being one who wanted always
to prod the polish of a painting,
and prick myself on its stippled skin;
to bury my face in a fall of hair;
to lay my head, entraining
to the thin cotton and the nippled hint;
to thrust my fingers in the floral foam
to feel its dry and grainy clasp –
given all this ache and lapse,
tell me again, bring it home,
tell me how it happened that we alone
must carry the weight of our people's sin?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

High Eighties in the Valley

Dreaming of the life departed, the life to come. It is disquieting, this trace of bitterness that has come into my life: I do not want to nourish it. Still it brings visions with it, and a certain understanding of other embittered people, an intimacy with them. I weigh it my hand, thoughtfully, as I would a handgun: not something I've ever liked or approved of, but an object of a certain fascination, nonetheless.

Put it aside. The day is brilliant, if foreign: a strong simple sunny day. The radio announcer said high eighties, with no trace of the usual incredulity in these parts. Just the facts, ma'am. High eighties in the Valley.

I breathe deep, let my shoulders open, pull the air up into my chest, push it down into my belly, let the ribs ease. I am ridiculous, as solemn and slow as a chilly insect on a twig, stepping carefully, once, and swiveling its antennae. Not at home in all the heave and thrust of summer: this season is not ruled by my gods.

Except, maybe, Vega. But then, everything reverses at night, all the loyalties. She comes out, comfortable and easy, riding up over the parti-colored pickup truck, ducking under the maple tree, cruising at last in the high fields of the sky. You are still blessed, she says. And I ask why, and she says, don't ask questions.

You know, I could become a Christian and pray to the Virgin. I bet she doesn't treat her people this way. Ha. Quaking in my boots. Ask a real Christian, boy.

I suppose she's right: she usually is.

Lots of love, dear ones. xoxo