Friday, August 22, 2014

He Neglects to Come

It is the splintering, maybe, that is hardest to understand;
when one comes to us, in the guise of some
ordinary, off-hand goddess, we do not at once realize

who came or what they intended --
listen, then: suppose she came carrying in her hands
everything you ever wanted, and she said: the price is,

you will have to carry it forever. I think 
even the most cavalier would pause. And then 
with a lurch of thunder and a whiff of lightning

the goddess would leave in disgust, and you saying,
"wait, that God?" -- I am sorry to be flip, 
but these things are unendurable if serious,

and I still hope to sleep tonight. 
Listen: the full sweet song of
the crickets. If you woke, here, now,

the enormity of trust might daunt us:
as if I stepped forward, meaning to hand you
some sweet morsel from the pot, and

I stumbled and the whole tureen of my heart
dumped scalding in your lap. Stay sleeping, dear:
we are already learning more than we dare know.

-----


"I will explain in detail. It was a religious song. I placed myself in the position of a milkmaiden. I say to Shri Krishna, 'Come! come to me only.' The god refuses to come. I grow humble and say: 'Do not come to me only. Multiply yourself into a hundred Krishnas, and let one go to each of my hundred companions, but one, O Lord of the Universe, come to me.' He refuses to come. This is repeated several times. The song is composed in a raga appropriate to the present hour, which is the evening."

"But He comes in some other song, I hope?" said Mrs. Moore gently.

"Oh no, he refuses to come," repeated Godbole, perhaps not understanding her question. "I say to Him, Come, come, come, come, come, come. He neglects to come."


-- E.M. Forster, A Passage to India

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August

It's all right, you said:
all your life you have been hurt.

All this sky
and the wafts of winter that come
from gray canvas clouds, like
exhalations from the lobbies of hotels
when you walk sweating by the doors
in August (this month, the month
when the guns spoke and were silent) --

A cool air, a vacancy
where the heat has been taken away,
and you lean in toward the riches
that can afford to spill even this
absence of heat --

As the better sort of servant
I have been everywhere:
the dressing rooms, the spare
refrigerators full of champagne;
the poolsides with fires that dance
on top of sparkling heaps of white quartz.

And I know this: that under the silk
and the terry robes, there are bodies just the same,
scarred and suffering, written over
with the charact'ry of pain.

But this sky, where we began --
this August sky speaks
of winter high up and long ago;
of snow sifting down, and its light
has no kindness.

The fine white criss and cross
might have been written anywhere:
I learn to read with difficulty,
sounding out the words with my fingers.
It's all right, you said. 
All your life you have been hurt.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dangerously Full

A dark gray morning, promising rain. We have not had a good heavy rain for a long time: and though that's not a really a problem here, at this time of year, it makes me deeply uneasy. So I'm hoping the rain will really come down when it rains, and wash the whole world. I have superstitious conviction that all those unrained rains are accumulating up there, weighing heavily in the sky: something somewhere is getting dangerously full.

It's a strange interim time, neither this nor that. Everything rolls along. My massage schedule is full of regulars that I adore; things go like clockwork at the office. Whence this unease? I accidentally took a video of myself with my phone, and it revealed a grizzled old man with something of the Badger about him, rather than the Mole: loose-jowled, unshaven, bright-eyed; amused and ornery. I have no idea who he was.

In this phase of my life -- whatever it may be: this will be one of those chapters my biographers will fret about a title for -- I have largely given up needling myself about whether other people are right after all. No: they're just not. The way I see it is the way it is.

I can't read novels these days. I think to really fall into a novel you have to have the conviction that its author, at least in his writing persona, has a deeper understanding of the world than you do. I can't find that conviction. Nobody knows shit. I read history, which is a humbler endeavor, and I read poetry, which is humbler still. But before I'm going to read several hundred pages of dense prose about something the author just made up out of his head, I want to know: so what makes you so special? What makes your made up world more worth paying attention to than mine? I've lost that curiosity and humility. I really am a different creature: my phone saw true.

A client in tears about Robin Williams' death: I put my arms around her and told her things would get better. I don't know when I got so clumsy: that's the kind of comfort Ron Weasley would offer. I used to walk around thinking I knew how other people could be happy: now I know that I don't. I don't know that. Oh, I can see it clearly enough: "you are locked into your suffering" -- as Leonard Cohen crooned it -- "and your pleasures are the seal." But diagnosing is one thing: curing quite another. It's probably good that I no longer think I have anything to offer people: that man, Mole, with his squinty glasses and his velour coat, was genuinely dangerous.

Trucks and buses rumble by on 39th; a bearded man in a tattered parka pushes a grocery cart down the sidewalk; a girl wearing khaki shorts and a backpack hitched high, who no doubt thinks her bottom is too big, walks rapidly but unsteadily across the crosswalk; a young man with three-days' growth, carefully cultivated, and a neckerchief --  a neckerchief, for God's sake -- lounges against the telephone pole by the bus stop and manages an apotheosis of fatuity. No, I am not in a generous frame of mind: I'm not inclined to ask my fellow-man for answers. I have my own fields to till.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Scrawled Heart

The trouble with feeding baby mammals
with an eyedropper or a syringe
is that the formula is likely to end up in the lungs
and pneumonia ensues.
The pet clinic gave us a smaller syringe free.
One cc. Easier to wield. It was wrapped
in pink post-it: "for baby squirrel,"
followed by a scrawled heart.
He is naked, the color of
a pair of gray velour shoes,
and his snout is strangely dragonish:
he is blind and ungrateful,
but he wants desperately and entirely to live,
and maybe we are hoping he will someday tell us why.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Dragging the Map-Lines

A life gets slowly out of tune, imperceptibly, till the sound of your body -- you suddenly realize -- is a distressing discord: you are lost, because you've been tuning all the lesser strings to this one: every reference is tainted, as if your ship had been dragging the map-lines behind it. What to steer by?

This is not some haught philosophical proposition: this concerns a sink full of dirty dishes and a crisper drawer of broccoli with an assortment of little flowerheads winking to yellow -- a pointillist painter changing his mind -- and the drift of treats into necessities. (I will die if I do not have a blackberry milkshake. Really?)

And so -- a half-waking, a lift of my shaggy head, a puzzled shrug. I put my long orangutan arms up to the branches and pull myself higher in the tree. What one wants, at such a time, is a vantage point, and a breath of cooler air to clear one's head.

Out of tune I may be -- I am -- but the muscles ripple under my fur: I am hugely, hugely powerful. There is time, still. There is time.

Monday, August 04, 2014

The God of Slats. Broughton Beach, July 2014

Say, then, come along, we'll sit by the windows while the sun goes by. Shadows crawl up and shadows crawl down: the blinds swing, and their multiple mouths smile, or frown, twenty at a time: sketches, gestures in time and sunlight.

Forget all that I said. Forget wondering why my heart still snags when a woman takes off her dress at the beach, forget "born to guilt and working towards innocence," forget even the battered straw hat I hold in my hand while the wind cools my scalp, forget the sand that made its way into my shoes.

What I want is as simple and as far away as that -- that touch, your worn hand in mine, and the slowing of the clock. I never wanted so little so much. And the whole day empties, empties. If I could put it into words I wouldn't be here, would I? I'd be holding your hand in the banded lightfall.

It seems simple -- that's why people do that "born innocent" thing -- but it is enormously complex. You used to be complimented when people said you were a complicated, you said; oh, it seemed dark and interesting. But now you just want to be simple. Realizing maybe for the first time what a complicated project that could turn out to be. It's often easier to tie a knot than to untie it, though we're seldom clever enough to remember that at the time.

That woman taking off her dress, even she aspired to simplicity, of a sort: she had the gestures that were supposed to say "unstudied" down, the gaze down and aside, the turn to the river -- as if the old man holding his hat, and the young men frozen like pointers, did not exist. Which to be fair we scarcely did: it was not anyone mortal she was undressing for.

We have to fashion our gods of the materials at hand: here is the sand god, the driftwood god, the god of rusted fire-barrels, the god of bottle caps, the god of broken glass. Here is the god of banded lightfall, who rules the holding of hands, and here is the god of slats that bend when the fan blows.

A quick gesture to avert the evil eye: so quick that if you didn't grow up with it you wouldn't catch it. And a real gaze of hunger, beyond the tall grass and the bike path, now: she wants a shadow to fall across her skin. That one, that one, dear, I know. Oh yes.

And when it does come, it flees, it scampers down the long steep sandy tunnel of time, till all you can hear is the distant skitter of little clawed paws, far below. What was it that came by so quick? Was it your heart's desire? Was it really? Did its shadow fall across you, really? It's too long ago even to know, now. You know only what you told yourself to remember.

Lift your eyes, and look across to the dim gray-green of the Washington side: there would be shadows under those trees. And maybe a frayed couple holding hands, there, where you could imagine a coolness coming off the river: a breath that belongs to both and to neither of you.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Apparent Motion

And embarrassing how often I find I have driven entirely off the rails, no longer moving at all, my eyes still flicking to some ancient jerking cartoon song, and I, I, alone and as lost as ever. I never knew what I was doing. How the sky wheels overhead! a waxing crescent moon setting, meaning it has been haunting the sky unseen all day. I have heard people, grown human beings with real jobs, wondering where the moon has gone that they glimpsed in the west at evening. They think because it's new it should be rising, I guess. I don't even have the heart to tell them.

The earth, the earth is round like a ball, or like a shoulder, or like a smoothed pebble, and as I turn it -- thus -- the moon (the which we figure as this fingertip of chalk) appeareth to rise and set. And so the sun too appeareth to rise and set, but all this is the spinning of this lovely blue and white roundness, and all the things that show shining in the west, all of them, are dropping from our sight. 

The moon sure seems a little slower than the others: because it really is travelling, right around us, going to the East: not so fast as we are spinning, not near so fast, but fast enough -- it keeps up enough -- to seem to lag behind the stars, a handsbreadth maybe per night. It is not lagging; rather, it is falling behind our spin more slowly than the stars, if you like to look at it that way. If you like to look at it at all. Do you like to look at it? Do you like to imagine that it's real? Do that, sometimes: because it is real. 

I too am real, a real animal, even if I am an untracked train car, a sometime wreck. My chest rises and falls some twelve times a minute, and my heart beats some five times per breath, falling behind, maybe, like the moon against the stars, or else -- you can always lay the string end to end the other way -- catching up with the unmoving flesh. And my eyes blink. You can tell I'm alive, no matter how still I hold myself: how the blood kicks with each squeeze of the heart! And that's not even to mention all the gurgling and fermenting in my midsection, more the work of my resident bacteria than of mine, sure, but still ordered and marshalled and delimited by my digestive tract -- yards and yards of smooth muscle, doing its work with no more than a casual nod to the voluntary motor system in passing. 

Now -- to the purpose of our rather speech -- supposing other people to be fixed -- they are not, I know, but suppose -- then my heart might be said to advance a handsbreadth, every day, though it appears to lag. So if you see it shining in the west, don't look for it later on at night. It will have dropped from your sight: it has been in the sky all day, but you've been too blind, my dear, too blind to see it. It is only an ocean of potassium and sodium, after all, washing against calcium shores. How I love you, and miss you! 

So I set one wheel after another onto the rails, heaving her up, under the stars. No, no, no moon tonight! You haven't listened to a word I've said, have you?

Rally and heave, heave O! we sing. Round and round and round she goes, back on the track and away she rolls!