Friday, February 28, 2014

Drawing a Heart


Drawing a heart is particularly difficult, because
you must pull the left hand curve into a right,
and pull the right hand curve into a left.

All very well to reach for anatomy;
try to finesse the difficulty with atria,
ventricles, chambers, anything bloody

and (therefore) supposedly real:
but the fact is that life and we are
stylized, and it is a matter of anxious care

that the left should pull to right and right to left
and arrive at a symmetric downward thorn.


Just so, the past must be pulled forward
and the sweep of the future pulled back,
while my massage therapist's eye

considers the set of the shoulders,
(the habitual purse of the orbicularis oris,
the buccinator's telltale grief.)

Friendship must be drawn to love
and love to friendship, each curve
inverted at the same time and in the same degree;

left should pull to right and right to left
and arrive at a symmetric downward thorn.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

While the Sun Checks her Make-Up

God knows what all these things mean to all these people: we know so little, and we try so hard. Scuff and a pebble skits right over the edge, and falls without a sound. Good night! Good night! Dream of ragged ships coming in over the bar; dream of cinnamon and sunlight; dream of wet shirts laid out on the rocks to dry. More things are in play than ever we imagined: of that, at least, I'm sure.

A pause, while the sun gathers her courage to climb up over the hill. She's packed her lunch and taken her meds, and she has her to-do list sketched out, but there always that little pause before throwing herself into the day.

I don't need to know. It's frustrating sometimes, the slow decay of the senses: not being able to read fine print, not being able to catch the ironic asides muttered by younger people. But it keeps me aware of the distance, of how much I don't know, of how much I'm guessing; of how much more serviceable it is to maintain an intention of love, than to try to understand everything. I used to think that if I just knew enough, paid enough attention and took good enough notes, I could avoid looking stupid and being caught off guard. Ha.

Still. Surprisingly often. I reach out a hand, and a hand reaches back, out of the dim, unintelligible world. And it makes me glad that the sense I placed my bets on was the sense of touch. It is, I'm told, the last sense to go, and so far it is as clear as ever. My left hand cradling the neck, the jut of its wrist snuggling up into the suboccipitals, the fingers working their way into the upper trapezius, and my right hand listening to the shoulder, watching for the breath. Blind and deaf, I could still do this work.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Blue Clay

A wandering line of blue earth
showing through the shale:
precious stuff from storybooks --
gold for armbands, or nickel
that will make a famous sword:
and you stand clayfingered, trying
to haul a net-full of soaking denim
up from a stubborn mind --
what was it? Forgotten now, along
with skills: smelting, hammering,
plunging the hot blade into cold hissing water.
You never knew
how to do any of them, you know.
Start again. Begin when all the rest had left behind them
headlong death in battle or at sea --
No, that again
is someone else's story. Not mine.
Where does mine begin?
Well, there was a mixer, an egg beater,
and if you took the paddles out
and put it at the stern of the top bunk
it became the motor of a boat
and you could twist it for fast or slower rev.
Three children blonder than possible
would slowly throb through brilliant
aquamarine lagoons, and gaps in wicked reefs,
and when the sharks came -- full throttle,
clinging to the sides,
the urgent whine singing above our heads,
and the spray flying!
Is that my story? One of them?
I let the sodden mass go:
I'm out of strength, or courage.
I want to go now naked of the stories,
I want to go on light bare feet
over the hill where waves of wind
scurry through the grass. Is it too late?
Turn back, and the sun is rocking backwards,
the city's lights already gaining strength.
But even at twilight,
blue clay: the riverbank
of stories told before the words were known;
it is not inside the stories that you want to look.
It is inside the clay. Thrust your fingers deep.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Get Real: You Are Poor

I get worried about my American friends these days. I don't think they understand how poor they are.

We grew up with some truths about money and working that aren't true any more, and I don't think we've quite realized it yet.

Inflation. When I was at an impressionable age, inflation sometimes ran into the double digits. In that environment it made all kinds of sense to borrow money, lots of it, because the money you were going to pay the loan back with was going to be worth less than the money you borrowed. My grandparents' horror of debt vanished. Everybody was borrowing money. Everybody is still borrowing money, but now they're going to have to pay it off with real money. Borrowing money is stupid now.

Furthermore, when money was dwindling rapidly in value, employers had to keep giving raises to keep up. We came to expect raises of ten or fifteen percent as a matter of course, just the way things worked. Well, they don't work that way anymore. You make what you make, and if you don't like it, there's plenty of unemployed people who would be delighted to step into your shoes. Suck it up. There's no reason to think you'll ever make more money than you're making now. You might well make less. This is it.

The balance of power has shifted decisively to Capital. Pensions, unions, benefits, all those Western European style things, are vanishing from our landscape. Labor, with a few dwindling exceptions, is passive and powerless. We grew up with the vague expectation that we just had to earn a living – make our daily expenses – and everything else would be taken care of. That's how people in France and Germany live: if something awful happens, the State will take care of you.

Not here, not now. You're on your own, and if you don't have money saved for your incapacity or your old age, you're going to be out on the street. In the age of inflation, saving was for suckers, and making a few percent on your capital was a mug's game. Now it's working for a living, just meeting your expenses, that's for suckers. The overriding priority, in this economy, is to get yourself over to the Capital side of the equation, where people actually get ahead.

How do you do that? By saving like a motherfucker. 'Scuse my French. All that stupid crap about saving five percent of your income? Forget it. You want to save half your income. Half of it. Get that through your head. When you have paid off your debts, and what you have saved equals 20 or 25 times your annual expenses, then you can ease up. Then you can live off your capital, and you're not a slave any more. Till then, it's going to be hard.

But that means I'm poor, like really poor. Yes. It does. You are. You have to live in a shit place. You can't afford lattes every day. You can't afford a car. You can't afford vacations abroad. You can't afford to eat out. You are poor. You're not “middle class.” There's no such thing any more: there's rich and poor. I don't like it any better than you do, but not liking it doesn't make it go away.

Save radically, as much as you can. Stick it in an index fund and leave it there. Don't try to outsmart the wolves: just get in amongst the pack and try to blend in. This is survival we're talking about. Get real.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Young people seem so very young, nowadays. Their bodies are absurdly pliable, and their problems seem so very far away from mine. Real enough to them, of course. You wish there was some way to tell them: the grand things they're angst-ing about are not what's going to matter to them in the long run; not nearly so much as the habits they're forming while they're waiting for the Dreamboat Boy and the Meaningful Work. Those habits will outlast both, and become the real fabric of their lives. 

But I was one and twenty,
No use to talk to me. 

All the world seems dark, with the colors rising vividly against it, since the snow melted. We're living in a black velvet painting of a world. Startling reds and greens and yellows glow in the gloom. Even the dull purple paint so mysteriously favored by Portlanders has an eldritch gleam and richness to it. The first madly reckless crocuses are placing their bets, and the leafless whips of anonymous bushes have gone scarlet, or mustard, or spring green: the shrub equivalent of rolling up their sleeves and spitting on their hands. All hell's going to break loose pretty soon.

I quietly grow stronger, every day, in body and in mind: I love it that if I lay my hand on my belly, when I'm sitting up from lying on my back, I feel a sheet of hard muscle there, despite how well-marbled I am. I love that I can spring lightly up from there without using my hands. I love that I can make myself do one more thing, and another beyond that, before my will crumbles. It's nothing and it's everything.

Up at Dabney, on the Sandy River, we wandered in the first snowfall, with the ducks and the kingfishers. A woodpecker – what was he? We forgot to look him up, and he was so distinctive, all black and white bars and stripes! – rappelled down his rotting tree a couple yards from us, either completely unworried, or so focused on his meal that he never noticed us. He probably thinks that slow clumsy primates are the least of his problems. We all make mistakes.

Grateful for friends, friends of the hand and friends of word, for sustaining me, interrogating me, steadying me while I scramble up unfamiliar slopes. Long, long ago I bushwacked up the Duckabush valley in the Olympic Mountains. Every crest disclosed a new world, in those steep, miniaturized alps. I feel a bit like that now. Everything new and strange.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Borrowed Time

The twined wire runs gracefully up over the white roofs like a thick-sewn seam: it follows the haunch and thigh of a giant, invisible model crouching over Division Street. It is the color of coarse-ground black pepper, and it shivers against the straight lines of the clapboard below. No human eye could bring that twine to focus, as it wavers against the straight-ruled paper of the walls. Certainly not in the shifting snow light.


You said you were warm, even toasty, with the table warmer turned to high: but the handsbreadth of shoulder I'd left exposed was cold when I came back to it. I rested my warm hands there for a count of three, while the blood and heat rose to my hands again, and I shivered: not for cold, but for way warmth runs to warmth and blood to blood. This is how we cheat winter. It's borrowed time, sure; but everything important is borrowed.


As a matter of fact I do count myself the king of infinite space, and my dreams are of shivered nut shells and glorious meats.

Friday, February 07, 2014


The checker at Fred Meyer was friendly, and judging by her accent, a native Oregonian like me. She spoke distinctly, and quite loud enough. But I could not assemble the sounds into speech. I stared at her. It's a familiar sensation, for me. My needle slips out of its groove, somehow: speech dissolves into a mere sequence of noises. I said, "I'm sorry?" and she repeated herself cheerfully.

Still just sound. "I'm sorry," I said, feeling old, fragile, and unnecessary, "I'm not following."

"Do you want these in double bags, or are singles fine?" she asked yet again. Still cheerful and patient. Part of the job, no doubt, is dealing with doddering, deaf, dementia-ridden customers.

"Oh, singles are fine," I said, "and you can leave the milk and the cat food out." The cat food was a boxful of cans. She duly lifted them into the little cart, and I added, "Let them run free!" You know, a little jeu d'esprit, to show that when I am tracking I am capable of playfulness. Not doddering at all.

Out into the parking lot, where the new snow was skipping on the pavement, twirling and eddying. Now I felt strong and vital -- I love the snow -- despite my inability to decode human speech. Sometimes the sounds just won't chain together, for me. It's nothing new. It's one of those human things, and sometimes I don't feel very human. More puma than human being: something that's used to the stillness of snow and the shadows under the heavy fir boughs. There are times, many times, when I don't feel all that invested in humanity. "The death of Jesus set me free: then what have I to do with thee?"

I watched the sky shaking out its white linens, the powder falling, and the wind made visible, its long white whips lashing and coiling on the street. But I was human enough to drive home, five miles per hour all the way, in a long line of worried cars pouring into the suburbs from downtown. We are not used to snow, here.

That was yesterday. Now, after all day at home, I am restless. "A caged tiger," Martha calls me, varying my cat-identity. I went for a walk in the snow at twilight: everything shadowy blue and white; and the snow cold enough to be light, thick enough to be good footing. So cold it didn't even get my feet wet. But now it's night, and I have not been out enough. I want something to catch: something to chew on and tear to bits.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Climate Change

Cold from the glass
beats on my forearms: the winter sun is
pooled but helpless. A failed brightness.

The breathing of the sky is deep, settled, old:
it ebbs and flows through weakness in the walls,
it drags across my blanched and lifted hairs

too slow for gooseflesh, too fast
for comfort. If it seizes the awnings a moment,
and shakes them, like a person folding sheets,

remember: it has no wish 
for completion. There is nothing 
it will stow or lay to rest. That is not its job.

That is what we are for, why we were brought
from the Rift 
to flood this grieving planet at the last;

we are here to fold what trembles, 
smooth it, lay it down in lavender,
before the shivering altogether stops.