Wednesday, January 30, 2013


This post of Gretchen Leary's made me wonder again about touch and aspies. People on the autism disorder spectrum are often thought of as being averse to touch, but I've been struck by how many massage therapists (I among them) seem to be over on the aspie side of things: a bit geeky, fascinated by how things work, a bit literal minded, a bit peculiar. When we're lonely we're often very literal about it – we want a hug. You don't need to chatter to us or make promises you might or might not keep; you don't need to map out a whole delusory universe in which we understand each other perfectly and our thoughts will never diverge. Just a hug, huh? It doesn't need to go anywhere or mean anything beyond itself. It's not a binding declaration. It's just a fierce, loving clasp, a spark of the sun brought to earth, a moment of communion.

For ordinary folk, it must be a little weird and a little unnerving. We may hug slightly too hard, slightly too long. It means both more and less to us than it does to you. The Christian mystic Charles Williams was notorious for hugs like these.

People – especially people who don't get it – will tend to construe them as sexual, or perhaps as displaced sexuality. And of course they can be infused with sexuality, like anything else. But it's as often the other way around: for us sex is often a displaced ecstatic hug. Eros in this case is just one more of those metaphorical interpretations, replete with social obligations, with which neurotypicals love to saddle raw experience.

God, how I craved touch, when I was growing up! My mother was very physically affectionate, but no one else I knew was. I used to love going to the dentist, the doctor, the barber: I was going to to be touched by someone else!

I knew, of course, that this was very wrong and weird of me, that it was something to be ashamed of. I would not have dreamed of telling anyone.

Then came the revolution, the hippies, the alternative free school, encounter groups, all that. I was delighted. Everybody was like me! it was just that some people were, like, way uptight, man. And my mission in life would be to get them to hang loose and be cool.

It turned out not quite to be as I imagined, and over the years I gradually faced the fact that I really was weird, even if I needn't think of myself as wrong. Not everyone needed a hug as much as I did. Some people didn't need them at all. To some people hugs were inseparable from a whole encrypted universe of meanings and repercussions, which was downright scary. I grew somewhat wary of touch, though I craved it as much as ever.

Well. You know how the story ends. Fast forward to to seven years ago, when I finally filled out the application to massage school that had been stowed in my sock drawer for years. I was too old, too fat, too male to be a massage therapist: I knew that. I knew I'd never be able to make a living at it. I knew I'd be a pariah at school. I knew it would be one more stupid mistake in a life of stupid mistakes: but I did it anyway.

Once again, happily this time, I was very very wrong.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Morning. The coffeemaker is bubbling happily at one elbow, an apple with two bites out of it at the other. The dishes from the bacon and eggs are washed up.

Eating at home. I'm restless, uneasy, trying to pretend it's all right, that my soul is not in peril. I'm not sure. No windows to the world. I get up and try the blinds – this window looks only onto the porch, but still, that's more outside than this – but it's still pitch black out there. That won't help. It's outsideness that I need, not my own reflection. Maybe I need to go for a walk first thing in the morning?

I return to the little table, and the coffeemaker, which is nearly done. The perking has stopped, but it's still dripping a bit. It is a friendly little machine. Black & Decker, half off at Fred Meyer: $20.00. I feel a little guilty about spending money on such a thing – which is funny, given that eating breakfast out every morning is a much more expensive and luxurious proposition. But restaurants hire young women whose job it is to make you feel like the expenditure was a good idea, and the most natural thing in the world, and they mostly succeed, with me at least. Black & Decker hasn't gone to the trouble.

Still. The little machine has already paid for itself: here I am, eating breakfast at home for the fourth time this week. I am restless, disturbed in all my habits, and anxious, as I said, for my soul. I have been telling myself, souls that eat breakfast at home do not necessarily die. But I haven't convinced myself yet.

So I will simply rest in the anxiety, until it goes away, or achieves clarity. Or until my soul dies. Whichever comes first. It's the adventure God has sent me: appropriate to the diminishing scale of my life.

Still no light outside, although it's nearly seven. This is intolerable. There. I've opened the blinds anyway, and turned off the overhead light: now at least I can see the loom of the trees against the night clouds, in the oblong bounded by the porch ceiling above, and the windowsill below. That's better.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Day Begins With Women

A brave concourse of crows,
asseverating something,
and beyond a clotted mess
of branch and wire begins
the thaw of darkness; light
in the standing pools of the sky.

I would not begin to say
what raw, scraped arms might circle me,
what lips might brush my ears and
tell me this or that, take up maybe
the selfsame topic that so moves the corvidary:

but I know the day begins with women
heaving red earth
and hauling themselves out of quick-dug graves.
Their skin is painted with the clay of sleep,
but their eyes are licked clean:
they glow like flaws
in the glass of old windows catching the sun.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Somebody Else's Story

Ambulance. Siren: a quick stutter and then a slower whooping. Through the intersection – red lights flashing – around the bus, and then disappearing down Division Street. Somebody else's story, with any luck: not mine.

The air is cold in my nostrils – no heat today – but the coffee is warm in my throat. My mood shifts between melancholy and savage bitterness. I am a bit dangerous, these days. But I recognize that I am in one of those precious bardos, in-between times, and that I dare not waste it. I found myself writing on Facebook, the other day: I feel like my life is responding to the reins again, at least some of the time. I was afraid maybe that last fence had finished it. I wonder what the devil he meant by that? I like reading that guy's posts, but I do wonder who he is, and what he means by it.

Sun just scraping her way over the OHSU building, there. I hope her breasts are not too abraded from dragging along the wet grit of the rooftop, poor soul. It's a hell of a job, crawling along the squashed ecliptic of the southern sky, this time of year. I imagine she took the job in high summer, thinking it was all going to be splendid chariot-driving on the Empyrean highways. Bad luck, sister.

Still. My body is deliciously sore from various impromptu exercises, and I have an odd conviction that I am a beautiful, gleaming, half-lit creature, vanishing from the water to be glimpsed in the air. There and gone.

I stroke your hair, hold your face between my hands. Just a short winter, this year, dear.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Against Inauguration

I wonder if anyone will have quite gotten what I meant by yesterday's poem. As I read Barack Obama's inauguration speech, and read Blanco's and others' inaugural poems, they're all about the ideology of America – its “dream” as we like to say, infusing the word with various ironies; but whether we declare the dream reached (reachable – semi-reachable – nobly unreachable) or abandoned, we all seem to agree that having one is a good idea. I'm proposing (in that poem at least) that it's actually a curse, not a blessing. That we should dedicate ourselves, not to propositions, but to each other, whoever the hell we are and wherever the hell we came from: that we're Americans, not because we hold any particular set of beliefs or ideals, but simply because we live within the borders of the United States. I'm proposing that rather than start over again and get it right this time – the immigrant's perpetual yen, and his downfall – that we work right here right now with what we have: that we accept our history and all its implications, rather than repudiating what doesn't fit “the dream”: in short, that we try – for once – gentleness, acceptance, and staying at home. And looking after all our inconvenient, needy, irritating relatives, rather than opting to ditch it all and start everything all over again.

PS: For an almost exactly opposite, and much more thought-out, response to President Obama's second inaugural, see Peter Stephens' wonderful essay.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Jar of Poison

A jar holds summer’s peaches, summer’s sun
As if no time has passed: so hold the dream...

Marly Youmans, Inaugural

“A new nation” – what is that
but for a married man to mutter,
“a new wife”?

Perhaps any man
will conceive with liberty if he can;
but isn't the better part of him

dedicated to the awkwardness
of those bonds which connect him with another,
rather than to any proposition?

A jar of summer peaches, you said,
but maybe it is a jar of poison
we are keeping on our shelves.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gray Silent King

“Do you want some of these?” asked the waitress, displaying a handful of little plastic coffee creamers.

“Yes, please,” I said.

“What for?” she demanded.

I had to think. “Because they make my coffee less bitter,” I said.

“OK,” she said, a little grudgingly, and dropped the lot on the table. Six of them; one more than I usually consume in a morning. Because another reason I want them is that I track how many cups of coffee I have drunk by how many little creamer-corpses I accumulate. I nest each empty neatly in the last: when the resultant structure has five circular ribs, it's time to stop.

Fog and a heavy frost: so heavy that it spurted from my scraper like a jet-ski, as I cleared the windows of the Honda. The tops of the doug firs are barely visible – pale ragged turrets against an even paler sky: sometimes they fade away altogether. I am uneasy this morning, full of doubts. I need to stop and think.

January: the month of the gray silent king.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Now the sneaking serpent walks
In mild humility,
And the just man rages in the wilds
Where lions roam.

I dunno. I just don't do justice. Justice requires evil. I prefer compassion, which does not require indifference. It doesn't require anything. You can do it at home in your night-clothes. But maybe it's just that I know I'd never qualify as a just man. I am compassionate though. That's like falling off a log.

The Order Of Their Going

It was snowing in tiny flakes - 
albino gnats - today,
but the ground swallowed them.
Its dark wet tongue 
took them all. On the river

barges are dusted with snow; 
gulls are hunched on the pilings;
snag branches rise and fall
with the breath of winter. 

I gathered brass flakes as a peace-offering
and opened my shirt at the throat:
but it seems I am sorry 
for the wrong things, and in
the wrong order.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Context of the Second Amendment

What was the second amendment about? Two things. One is that the early Americans wanted to always be in a position to overthrow the government. They had done it before and they might need to do it again. The other is that they wanted to secure their right to fight the Indians, locally and at once, without getting permission from any central authority. Much of the bad feeling between the colonists and the British Crown stemmed from the Crown making treaties with Indian nations and attempting to enforce them. As the colonists saw it, if they were liable to be murdered in their beds, then they shouldn't have to wait for any central government's permission; they should be able to call up a local militia and go clear the savages out.

That's the context of the second amendment. Here's the wording:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Short and sweet. We're talking about the security of a free state, not the security of individuals, and moreover, we're talking about militias. Protection of the home against thieves, rapists, or robbers was not a primary, or, so far as I can see, even a secondary interest of the law. It's about raising troops: and it has one eye to uppity Indians, and the other to uppity central governments. If you and your neighbors want to stock a local armory with some cannon and muskets, says this amendment, then no one can stop you, so long as you're well-regulated, which means, I take it, that you have a captain and officers and behave reasonably. You can't just tear about the country pillaging; you have to be responding to threats to the security of the state.

This emphasis on militias will strike the reader as odd, if he's not aware of one further piece of context, the one that makes all of this come into focus and make sense: this law was intended for a country that had no standing army. Early Americans disagreed with each other about as much – probably more – than we do, but on one point they were nearly unanimous. A standing army, they thought, would never do. It was an invitation to tyranny. It's difficult for a modern American to comprehend just how unmilitarized this country was, before the 20th Century. For all intents and purposes, in between wars, the army simply disappeared.

To my mind, the second amendment has been overtaken by events. The Indians have been thoroughly subjugated, where they haven't been exterminated. The second amendment, as license for local warfare, has been so thoroughly successful it isn't needed any more. Nobody frets about Indian uprisings any more, or is ever likely to again.

As far as overthrowing the central government is concerned, events have been even more decisive. As the speed with which an enemy could reach and attack us increased – it would have taken months or even years for any credible enemy but the Indians to bring an army within reach of us, in the 18th Century; now it would take a few hours – it became obvious that we needed a standing army, and moreover, we assumed an ever-escalating number of foreign commitments and interests that needed military weight behind them.

We now have, not just a standing army, but a perfectly enormous one. It's replete with intelligence and surveillance capabilities that are far beyond the means of any private citizen. Its equipment is the envy of the world. It could crush any internal uprising with ease, no matter what kind of small arms our civilians might be toting. We long ago lost the ability to rise against the central government. Even if we were a people of great hardihood, fortitude, determination, and discipline – and we are no longer notable for any of those qualities – we could not stand against the resources and expertise and organization of the U.S. military.

So the second amendment has lost its political meaning. It retains only those subsidiary meanings about the private ownership of weapons that it has accreted over the years. The right it was concerned with was the right to conduct local, ad hoc warfare. I don't know if I would ever have thought that was a legitimate right, even in the 18th Century: I have a rather conservative cast of mind, and a preference for slow and orderly decision-making. But in any case, I don't think it has much light to cast on present-day issues of gun control, which are not about militias, but about whether people have a right to own convenient means for rapidly killing large numbers of their fellow-citizens in domestic – and totally unregulated – situations. I don't think the second amendment addresses this. It's a new situation, and it requires a new conversation.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013



The days fly by, stiff and unyielding: I try to set aside the dread that makes its own disasters. I reach for you, and hesitate.

When you sheet home a sail and it fills? That feeling? It has been missing from this last week. I can get no way on my life. It pitches and yaws and spins.

But the fear is all for other people: I have none for myself. I am indestructible, a deep-rooted blackberry in the alley of the world. Let them go ahead and try to pull me up! They'll only tear their hands.

I broke a plate the other day, one of our four remaining Churchill blue willows. Now we have three, and one of those is cracked and due to shatter. I imagine adamantine dishes, formed of blue clay and fired in the deep places of the world. I am tired of things that must be handled tenderly. I want just a few things that will not break.

Still, sleep-short and sore-eyed though I am, never have I felt more ferocious, certain, immortal. I weigh ten thousand pounds: I am made of metals heavier than you have ever imagined.

I am not the solution to anything. I am not the door into summer. I can't be transplanted or remade. This is all, only, and every.

So much love, dear. Today and every day.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013


Cold, brilliant blue sky. At 3:00, when we left, the sun had already vanished behind the trees that loom over our little crooked house. But we drove off in brilliant sunshine.

Half an hour north we were startled to find ourselves in a snowy landscape, the doug firs all trimmed, the meadows and roofs and lawns freshly laid with white. The sense of unreality deepened as we turned off onto a snowy lane that led to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, drove up, and then down a slope to a maze of little lakes and marshes. This part of the refuge you can drive through, so long as you stay in your car. The waterfowl pay the cars no mind. Neither do the muskrats, who went about their business as if we weren't there, at times couple yards from the car, munching something they were finding in the frosty grass, or dropping suddenly into the creeks alongside, or popping back out. The eagles were a little more wary. We saw a pair of midsize bald ones, though, and an even larger, blond bird, that I can only suppose was a massive golden eagle, cruised directly over us, at roof-height. Are they moving south, again? I had never seen one here, until the last couple years. The water was half iced over, and it teemed with ducks, geese, and swans; the reeds and woods were full of smaller birds that flickered and vanished when you looked at them.

The sun set red through the trees, and strange lights rose from the water and the snow. We drove at a footpace, with the windows down. The beauty of it all was terrifying: so lonely, so unexpected. At times great flocks would rise from the water, all crying at once, and we would stop the car to listen to them.

So. A new year: a cold, lonely, and beautiful one.