Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Frosted Earth

Reading Barbara Guest's biography of H.D. It's a strange book -- she apologizes, rightly, for not being a professional biographer -- but illuminating in all kinds of ways.

It takes me back to Yale in the 1980s, which I recognize now as the center of everything I dislike about contemporary poetry in English. I took a course in "Modern Poetry" there -- by which of course they meant poetry which even then was two generations old. The only poets I much liked were T.S. Eliot and H.D. and William Carlos Williams. There was much, frankly, that I loathed, though I read it conscientiously. I didn't, and don't, understand why moral, political, economic, and sociological questions were all ruled out of court (tacitly, of course, no one ever said so. They just looked pained, as though you'd farted at the dinner table.) And the contemporary poets that were admired, at Yale -- above all, John Ashberry -- I could not read at all. I'm someone who reads difficult stuff. I read Derrida with pleasure: I still think he's nearly as smart as he thought he was. I read Hegel and the Frankfurt sociologists. I read Eliot's Quartets with great pleasure, and Blake's Zoas. I'm not an idiot. It was not Ashberry's difficulty that impeded me: it was that he said nothing that interested me. Nothing at all. I got to the end of an Ashberry poem with relief: it was never, "oh, I must read that again!" or "oh, I must memorize that!" -- it was always, "oh thank God, I'll never have to read that again as long as I live!"

And I wonder, now, what might have happened if I had been exposed to good contemporary poetry at that time, thirty years ago. I might -- who knows? -- have undertaken a career as a poet. Instead, it put the seal on my conviction that poetry was dead, that contemporary people just didn't have it in them. It was a silly thing to think. But there, after all, I was, at one of the great literary centers of the world, and they were presenting frosted earth as their version of cake. So screw it. I'd learn other languages and read their old poetry. English was a lost cause.

So I have come to contemporary poetry -- the poetry of my own American generation -- very late and haphazardly. I don't know if I have any talent for poetry, really: I seldom write poetry that seems as good to me as my offhand blog prose. But there are flashes, here and there. And I wonder if I could learn now, late as it is. This isn't swimming or opera singing or ballet, where you have to take up the discipline early. Poetry is more a collection of magpie nests. And I've been picking up shiny things for a long time. So maybe. We'll see.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Mud Room

I have much, much further to go than I ever thought. That's clear, now. The loneliness is crushing, sometimes. Often. Usually. And I really didn't know that. I used to be scornful of people who were afraid of being alone. Now I realize they were a step ahead of me: at least they knew they were afraid. I hadn't even got that far.

They tell stories of the old yogis who would meditate alone in a cave for ten years; think they'd achieved enlightenment, and come on down to the village, only to realize, after five minutes in the company of others, that they'd fooled themselves again. All the obscurations, all the fear and desire, returned with a rush, in the presence of others. Back to the cave, back to the meditation.

And I could not care less about enlightenment: the word has no meaning or allure at all, to me. I really have locked myself in the mud room.

I am so tired, so tired. I don't want to start again. But there is a little tune beginning -- there is someone picking out a tune on the piano, hesitantly, with one finger. If I'm further behind than I ever thought I'd be, in this life, it's also true that there's more occult help waiting than I ever expected. Further behind: but that means the way is better marked than I had thought, and that there's more company ahead than behind.

From the house, voices and laughter; from the woods, what might be calls or cries. And I with the boots and the coats, unable to go in or to go out.

But Spring, or whatever it is, is building up under the clouds and making little mumphy noises on the south slopes of the hills; woman are braving the cold in elaborately patterned stockings. There's tiny daffodil on the front lawn, alone on the moss, looking a little desperate. It's hard to settle to any work. I keep reviewing my life, as if there was some lesson there. I turn it inside out and backwards, just to see. What if there was a villain in my story, and it wasn't me? I keep trying to unwind, to untwist, but it ravels again, faster than I can unravel.

I live in dreamscapes, now. Maybe I always did. This jail, this neither-in-nor-out, will vanish with a waking, or a falling asleep: I'm old enough now to know that much. You don't get in, or get out: the world refolds itself, somehow, and what looked like an interior becomes an exterior. You become uncertain, and move to the other side of a heavy invisible curtain, and you realize that the air has changed, and the season.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Seven of Wands

I drew the Seven of Wands twice, which I could tell disconcerted my reader, though I couldn't tell why. Once with the Tower, and once with the Fool. As far as I could tell, she thought the message was "damn the torpedos!" and it perturbed her.

A pleasing result, since as a rule I am, as Humphrey Cobbler would say, rather inert. Maybe I'm going to turn my personality inside out. Upon discovering a young man siphoning gas from our truck last night, I found myself (vainly) pursuing him, with the clear idea that I was going to cuff him and tell him that I was going to blow his brains out if I ever saw him in the neighborhood again. I do not, of course, possess a gun, and I would not blow out someone's brains for a few gallons of gas, if I did. So it was startling to have the words form so clearly in my mind, and to discover such aggressive intent in myself. The idea that he might blow my brains out -- a much more probable event -- didn't occur to me.

It is Spring, obviously and undeniably Spring, here. I have known days this warm in winter, before, but I know in my bones that this is global warming: there's something in the sequence of this weather that I have never known in my home country. Something has pivoted, irreversibly.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

More Like Sky

for Nic Sebastian

It's only the dull ache where the spleen
and uterus used to be; the omentum
scraped away; so much ruin. We'll take
the peace we can get; the clay we can work
with stiff fingers. At the end of the day
they are blue with the cold of Raynaud's syndrome,
and the silver rings take their tint:
more like sky than humanity.

Still there is a candle burning,
lit for the massage, and the warm terracotta faces
with lips pursed in wonder or surprise;
the fine cracks in an ill-considered glaze,
the circus animals for a grandson's birthday.
All these things are stubborn,
human-colored still,
earthy,
and broken.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine

I know the walkways of your heart's garden: the little benches,
and the compost heap. I know where the flies cluster thick,
and I know the interlace of briars and the tracery
of bachelor-button stalks; 
I know the spiderwebs against the white sky. I know
just how the soil streaks your temple
when you push your hair back; how you wield a trowel
like Clytemnestra, overhand, putting paid to old King Ag --
but there are places, dear, where the paths climb up
and vanish under hedges, where the fenceposts stand
drunk and disorderly, and the wires are twisted,
tourniquet-wise, for ease of trespass.
What goes in and out of this garden? It's not for me to know.
I sit prim on a bench by the ordered path,
glad for a rest.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Sopesar

This New Yorker article on psilocybin, by Pollan, gave me furiously to think. "Existential distress" is probably the technical term for what I am undergoing. I am acutely aware of my mortality and of my inability to get a purchase on my daily life. Not only do I not know how to live my life: I'm going to lose it soon, and the whole thing will have been a botch from start to finish. "The food was awful, and the portions were so small!"

It's a disagreeable thought, and therefore one that I take out of my pocket often. I frown at it, weigh it on my palm, and put it back.

A mystical experience would probably cure what ails me, both the larger angst and the inability to carry out any of my numerous schemes for getting myself to eat better food and less of it. I've probably packed on a dozen pounds over the holidays, to the point where my shirts don't fit and my balance, when I stand up from sitting on the floor, is altered. I hate that: I hate it much more because it seems emblematic of being out of control, because it injures my vanity, and because it bodes ill. That's how it starts: you have difficulty getting up off the floor, and pretty soon you don't sit on the floor any more, and shortly thereafter you couldn't get up even if you did. And so on. 

The larger problem, of course, is that I believe in everything: I believe that I exist as sovereign and independent being; I believe that I'll be around after my death to regret it all (but not to do anything new); I believe that I have a free will that I can't exercise (how's that for a superstition? Roswell aliens are an excess of sober good sense, compared to that.) I believe all those manifestly false things. A good mushroom trip might do a lot to disabuse me of them.

The rain falls steadily: millions of pale meteorites glimpsed against dark firs, millions of tiny impacts on pavement and puddle. I stretch my orangutan shoulders and my wrestler's neck, take a deep breath, and manage enough distance to at least grin at how seriously I'm taking myself. I'm just one of those pale streaks. You could take each to be going to its own personal disaster and dissolution -- but why would you want to? It's a momentarily entertaining conceit, but there are more interesting stories to tell.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Rising Sky

I walked down past the five cedars, last night, thinking: "this is basically it: this is the last but one of the phases of my life. Now there's fifteen or twenty years, with luck, before one of us is dying and the other is caretaker. And that will be the last phase, because I don't imagine either of us will long outlast the other."

That will be a busy and heart-wearing time, whether I'm doing the dying or the looking-after. So this, really, is the last time to think, and to put straight whatever is remains crooked, if I can.

It is time, above all, to jettison everything I own or do because of the hypothetical future in which I will have come into my own. I've already come into my own, as far as I'm going to do it. And this time will pass in a twinkling, like an ace buried in a card-sharper's deck. Now you see it, now you don't!

So. Pass as much time as possible under the sky, with the moon and stars. Forget all the sowing and self-training and accumulative strategies. This is harvest time. Work hard to bring in what I've already planted, and feast when the work is done. Other people are doing the planting now, for other harvests.

(Of course, I could be wholly wrong. Life has a way of overturning expectations, and if new responsibilities come my way I hope I'll meet them boldly and wholeheartedly.)

Looking backward, it's clear how heavy the hand of necessity has been. Looking forward, I can imagine all sorts of creativity and bold movements of the will: but looking back I mostly see things that I was driven to do by fate of character. I could not really have done anything else. So pride and regret would be equally misplaced: I did what I had to do. I was a slow, deep-thinking boy, easily flustered and easily deflected, stubborn in my perceptions, deeply loyal in temperament. Bad at resisting carnal temptations, but good at resisting spiritual ones. The stories pretty much wrote themselves, given that. And here I am, the same boy, costumed absurdly in a pot belly and a white beard: if I'm in the script even as an attendant lord, the prompter seems to have forgotten me.

The tide's coming in, but that's nothing to fret about. I'll go on doing what I do best: appreciating what's beautiful and close at hand, walking under the stars, reading about far countries and distant times, and letting the rising sky lap against me.