Tuesday, July 28, 2009


The end of July. As hot as I've ever known it in western Oregon. I sit in Tosi's, the sweat from my bike ride prickling on my forehead and running down the back of my neck, at 8:00 in the morning. I knew if I didn't get some exercise in this part of the day, I wouldn't get any at all.

Weather like this forms its own bardo, its own in-between time. There's a sense that nothing really counts, until the weather breaks. We're on hold.

I've spent a lot of my life in these dream times. It's a blessing and a curse, to slip so easily from one world to the next, to be so unrooted in any one reality. It keeps me from building in any of them. Just passing through: no need to fix anything or establish anything. According to some versions of reality, I've squandered my talents by wandering. But I believe in those less and less, as time goes by. Insofar as people are meant to do things, I was meant to wander. There are ivy-shrouded doors glimpsed in stone walls, painted-shut windows in old factory buildings, ladders vanishing into sewers. And you don't really know where they lead: you only know that they are elsewhere, and that the people who built them and used them originally thought differently about them.

Harold Bloom once wrote that he read for consolation. I found that statement astonishing. At first I didn't believe it: I had to return to it over and over. Finally, I managed to believe him. And I realized, after that illumination, that people read for all kinds of reasons. But I read, really, for just one reason: to pass through doors that are ordinarily shut, to enter hidden worlds, to walk in vanished places. In some ways, the harder and more alien the text, the more deeply it calls to me. One reason I've never become a real scholar of any of the languages I've trifled with is that I don't want to master any of these places. I don't want them to become completely known. I want them to be lonely, half-lit places, empty ruined halls. The last thing I want is to string up floodlights in a deserted cathedral.

bed before bright moon shines
think be frost on floor
raise head gaze bright moon
lower head think old home.

or more Englished,

The moonlight beside my bed
Is bright as frost on the floor.
Raise my head and look at the moon:
Lower my head and think of home.

-- Li Po, or Li Bai, if you prefer: Thoughts on a Still Night. The nice thing about real poetry is that it's never completely known. You can study it forever and it's still half lit. And when you write a poem to a living person, and read theirs in return, you can even have companions in those dreamspaces. I used to think you could only visit them alone, or with the dead: but it's not true, though the company is, in some senses, not real.

--How do you know that your sister's story is not true?

--Well, sir, if things are real, they're there all the time.

--Are they?

And Peter didn't know quite what to say.

The senses in which the company is not real, I think, are none of them very important ones. How real are all these relationships in the real world that we take so seriously? We're all precariously perched in life, a careless step away from violent death, a heartbeat away from a stroke that will make us wordless and motionless. It's really not so real, here in reality. Not so real at all.

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