Saturday, August 31, 2013

Corpse, Crows, Gull and Vulture

Early morning: a crescent moon high in the pale blue sky, with Jupiter trotting happily behind his shoulder. Some of the beach in the clear, some still in dense fog.

The weather cleared yesterday, and we had one of those rare, early-fall days here: there's no sense of loss or decay on this coast, with the onset of winter, for the simple reason that nothing is preparing to die. Winter here is nothing worse than a long cold shower. So when the light goes golden, and the spray from the surf is hanging in the air, lit up with the setting sun, you get the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” without death behind it: you could believe that war has vanished from the world, and that no parent and child will ever be parted. The pelicans framed their antediluvian profiles, black against the gold, slowly flapping their ancient wings, with their pterodactyl heads drawn well back, and the quadrilaterals of their wings shifting from diamond-shapes to Tennessee outlines and back again: each with its neck proudly bared to the knife.

In the Middle Ages it was thought that pelicans tore open their breasts to make themselves bleed, and fed their young with their blood: hence the pelican was an image of Christ. There is something about the deliberate motions of the bird that makes this plausible: it does not seem quite of this world.

We paused on grassy bluff, where we could look back at the cliff above which our condo is perched, and the little beach at its foot. The corpse of something was there on the beach – a large fish? – a small seal? – and a couple beach-crows were at it, dodging the surf from time to time. A seagull watched them, perched on a rock a couple of yards away, but never disputed the corpse with them. As we watched, a turkey vulture came slowly, slowly down, in great circles, till he was skimming the little beach and practically brushing the rock walls with his huge wings. Eventually he settled on the gull's rock, a little farther back, and observed the crows at their work. He was remarkably small, with his wings folded: not really much bigger than the gull. We expected him to drive off the crows, but he just watched, for a long time. Eventually he stepped down, going carefully behind the gull, and sidled up to the grey lump, whatever it was, that occupied the crows. He never pecked at it, or interfered with the crows: all three of the bird-kinds resolutely ignored each other. He just looked it over, a long, patient contemplation, while the crows darted in and out. He did not seem to like the surf much, and retreated from it a couple of times. And then he took to the air, unfolding again into a huge, magnificent bird, and rose in circles, as slow as he'd come down. He circled a while and then vanished. The gull never moved.

We went on our way: when we came back that way, an hour or two later, the tide was was slightly higher, and everything was gone: corpse, crows, gull and vulture. Not a sign of any of them.

The numen seems to be coming back into the world. I am still at a sad loss to know what exactly I'm doing here; I've run far past the end of my marching orders, but the emptiness that distressed me yesterday has passed. We're going home today, and I'm glad of it: I have massages and painting to do. But it's clear as the morning that I must do some hard thinking, over the next few days.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Butter-Colored Dots

No, the trouble is not Facebook, nor the work I'm trying to get done around the house, nor what anyone else may be doing to hinder me. The trouble is the quality of attention I am bringing. I am scattered, distracted, and worried: and hence dismissive, judgmental, and small-minded.

Once again, I have to admonish myself to slow down, to do less, to take more time. Bring my full attention to bear. The craving for quick reassurance grows by what it feeds on: wasted time will lead only to wasted time. Enough.

Last night we swam in the pool, and sat in the jacuzzi, with a cold rain pelting down on us. Not really very cold, but cold by contrast, and not one's idea of an August beach vacation; not unless one is a native Northwesterner.

I have been down to the beach only once. It worries me that I view the sea, this time, with no awe. It does not even seem particularly big. It doesn't draw my eye. I reached yesterday in my poem, trying to find my way to it, but there's really nothing sillier than trying to force an awe that I'm not feeling. It will only jeopardize my future responses. I called the water “obsidian,” which is pretty enough, but it was just poetizing: the water I had been watching earlier was cloudy gray, freckled with butter-colored dots. Not a bit like obsidian. Stop, Mr Dale; stop before you draw yourself into further absurdities.

Restless, restless. And Seamus Heaney gone now, how can that be?

I see that makaris amang the lave
Playis here their padyanis, syne gois to grave;
Sparit is nocht their facultie:--
Timor mortis conturbat me.

I see that poets, among the best,
Play their pageants and go to rest,
Rhyme they never so skillfully:--
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Leaving the Sea

The waves are gray, running in, and the sky
is gray too. Light rises from water and wind,
obliquely. The tide is past the flood.
I'm still grateful, but I'm puzzled.
Why was I sent here, with an empty envelope
to deliver to a bad address?

There won't be many more,
and a grand love now would only ruin me:
I am leaving the sea.
Now the spine of my life
must be the making of small
and intricate things; the replacement
of a rotting window-sill
with good sound wood;
the call of a thrush
from the red sunrise.

The foam slides in long, ghost-white garlands
down wet obsidian slopes, whispering
of promises long unkept. When I woke this morning
the light of your eyes was fading from mine:
my arms were empty.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Numbers

I'm sorry, but the numbers matter, they really do. You can't hammer a perfect world out of a few happy incidents. Things have to add up: demand has to meet supply. The numbers are inexorable.


The panic of being stranded away from one's tribe: when I arrived, it was all pale skin, tee shirts with eagles and American flags, belt buckles, bill caps. I was wearing jeans and suspenders too, but the suspenders were in a harlequin-check, and there were sandals on my feet, and I wasn't fooling anyone. Deep relief when some brown-skinned people showed up, and men wearing what we used to call Bermuda shorts. (What do they call them now, I wonder? I haven't heard “Bermuda shorts” for an age. Maybe just they're just “shorts” now?) In aggregate, the tribal markers are overwhelming, even when all intentions are benign. I must remember that, when I'm in the heart of Portland, among my own, and I meet an outlander: special kindness and attentiveness is called for.


Much to do today: the end of summer and the advent of the rainy season are looming. If it's not painted in the next few weeks, it's not painted till next summer.

Maybe I'm trying to change too much at once. But I'm so tired of temporizing and shilly-shallying. I just want to point the boat in its final direction and row, row till I drop. Still that deep respiration, under every other sound. And the years are too short.

Friday, August 16, 2013

In the Dead-Letter Office

It gets more difficult to write, in some ways -- or rather, to bring myself to click the "publish" button. I tire of hearing my own voice, for one thing. For another, the burden of my failures weighs on me: so much of my writing has been of the preaching and exhorting sort, and I'm feeling less and less that I have any standing for that. Who am I to advise anyone on eye-motes?

And then, I am ever more acutely aware of how very little time remains. I used to write to kill time. I'm not feeling so spendthrift, now.

And this weather, this dark, sullen, sultry summer overcast, is weighing on me. I want to reach up and sweep the clouds away. Where is the sun?

But: this is valuable for me. To stop and write. Even if I start by writing the same old thing: even that will nudge me towards replying to myself, to taking it further, to going beyond. And I am, maybe, learning how to write in my own house. Dangerous; difficult; long overdue.

I run a hand over the tickle of my beard, the rasp of my unshaved throat, listen to the whirr of the refrigerator and the keen of my tinnitus. There's a sound just barely audible beneath those: the respiration of some gigantic creature under the ground. I am still surrounded by messengers and messages. I need to attend, for me as well as for them. I have to let it be all right, if the letters are dead ones. That's not my business.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Today's Blessing

Am I the only person troubled by the fact that Vladimir Putin, former KGB colonel and master of the gangster paradise that is present-day Russia -- and so, obviously, an exemplar of mental and spiritual health -- might just wake up some day and decide he wants everyone to die? Because, you know, he could make it so. I think of that every day. So far as I can tell, nobody else ever thinks about it at all. Stephen Covey would approve -- after all, there's nothing we can do about it; why trouble our little heads? But given all the much less likely and smaller-scale catastrophes that people obsess over -- oh my God, there's a puddle at the North Pole! -- it seems odd to me. It's true that it wouldn't be in Mr. Putin's rational self-interest to do it, but if that brings you great comfort, you have not read very much history.

(I do worry about the established fact of global warming and the train of disasters it's going to cause. But I only hope we avoid the Last War long enough to have to deal with them. Really, you know, things are far worse than most people think. We're storing up a whole raft of environmental disasters for ourselves. If I lived in Africa or the Middle East I would be doing anything, anything at all, to get myself and my family out: I think the disasters will hit there first and hardest.)

I am, of course, much given to gloom, when thinking on a large scale, and I must remind myself that when I was a teenager I confidently expected ecological disaster, and a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and China, and other wars over the remaining stores of potable water, to break out within a decade. Most of that didn't happen.

Dave Bonta commented, "you are the most cheerful doomer I know!" I guess it's because I start from such a dark place. Also because I'm just a pretty cheerful person by nature: I wake up to a new day and think "Oh my God! It's so beautiful, another day of amazing people and a breathtaking skies, and there's eggs and bacon and coffee, and women so beautiful they make you trip over your feet on the sidewalk, and friends who just won't stop writing heartstopping poems and painting gorgeous pictures, and -- we made it another day, Vlad got up on the right side of bed too, apparently. How's that for a blessing?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


"You don't need to decide what you're going to do next with your writing," he said. "You just have to make space for it to happen."

Well, that was smart, I thought, and colorable. Has the koshtra trademark all over it. That guy can be so very plausible, you know? Winning smile, and he seems to have read every single book that's ever been written, but sometimes you wonder if he forgot to let the centerboard down.


"Nothing about human thought, feeling, and behavior can be understood without acknowledging that humans evaluate events, others, and themselves on a good-bad continuum and try to acquire the personal features they judge as praiseworthy." -- Jerome Kagan, An Argument for Mind.

All categorical statements are false, of course, but I ran into this, quoted in The Twenty-Four Hour Mind, and paused on it for quite a while. For a Buddhist, it takes some mulling over.


Joy comes drifting down, like floss from the cottonwoods.


The aged opossum who lives under our shed, like so many elderly creatures, has lost track of the days and nights: he walks slowly, stiffly out to get a drink from the water Martha leaves in the front yard, in broad daylight. Then shuffles back to the shed. "I can't worry about crap like dogs any more," he mutters. The cats and crows watch him attentively, but make no move.