Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Happily Ever After

A new morning, after a good night's sleep: a strong sense of convalescence. (A word I've never really thought about: I guess it parses to "a coming together of strength"?) Anyway, after many days of short or broken sleep, it is a blessing I know how to value. To close my eyes with no burning, and no sense of uneven relief!

Hammering away at the forge. "It flows from the shoulder; there's a sort of music to it, when you do it right," says Coll. I've always wondered where Lloyd Alexander got that from; if he'd ever actually held a blacksmith's hammer. Anyway. Feeling strong and well. It's possible to feel strong and well. One forgets. 

We drove yesterday on old ragged highways in the hills beyond Corbett and Troutdale, some of it raw with logging, some of it industrial farmland, some of it pretty enough second-growth and pasture. We came across a number of old rusted out trailers and cars, VW buses rusted to earth color and covered with moss. Also church camp after church camp. It's a country suited to the ill-considered, semi-spiritual impulse to bolt and hide. 

I start to mull over retirement, in all its senses. Another ten or fifteen years, and I might be ready to live by some mossy rock, someplace where I could walk in the woods every day. Martha and I -- in what we now recognize as, if not depressive thinking, at least depression-related thinking -- had decided to live in town, rather than out in the country: because we knew we couldn't stand to love a place and then see it overrun with tree-cutters and 7-11 builders, paving everything in sight and stringing wires all over the sky. But the longer you live, the less you need to worry about what twenty years will bring. Even odds that we'll get so far, even now, and decreasing as we go. We might find a quiet corner yet, in view of a river or a mountain or two, and live happily ever after. We might.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


The answer came to me at about three, this morning:
nothing. There is nothing to be done. My work 
lies within these bounds: it is to be as kind
as sense and time allow; to think as hard 
and as generously as I know how; 
to meet each person's eyes 
with an honest gaze. Such commitments as I've made
to the grand world, honor them; but make no more. 
It is one of the corners of middle age (a land 
full of corners): the world is no longer mine to fix.
I am drifting out of it. I belong more and more
to the forgotten times, times that no longer bend
when I push them: they and I are setting, hardening. 
We become the past: the play of light is history 
caressing our long stone faces: the patina
already gathering, the features
already blurring.

Friday, April 24, 2015


Sometimes, returning to a zipper, I find
I have forced its teeth to mesh above a fault
and what looks like a life is a long improvisation,
ready to split and open at a sideways thrust.

Even unzipping to the fault is a risk:
there's no way to know how bad the wound --
teeth irreparably bent, twisted, even broken? --
and how to get the runner past at all?

Still, I advertise myself as clever with my fingers,
strong when called for and deft, quick or slow
depending on the tempo of the need:
if not me, then who? So I set to work,

working the little interlocking teeth,
peering, kneading, forcing when I must,
fitting bones to sockets (that I can't really see),
guessing my way, against a rise of panic

that everything is broken, nothing fits again,
that zippers all are false, and nothing holds its form.
Then there is a shift, a smoothening, an ease, and suddenly
the runner slides, like a fish into lake.

The flaw vanishes, leaving behind
a faint kink, a hint of weakness
easily ignored; forgotten, maybe,
until the next strong, unconsidered pull.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Morning: I left you sleeping with the daylight on your face. In the window, not-quite blue contends with not-quite white for a mastery neither seems to care much about: the day feels flaccid, unstrung. We are tired of trying, I think. We need to get out into the hills and the free air.

It is the sort of day that makes you question every decision you ever made: when the fact that you have attained the age of fifty seven without having learned to play the castanets or read Arabic is clear evidence of a wasted life. When the sun does push through the clouds, it arrives with a metallic, ominous glare that's more like summer than spring. My uneasiness increases.

My life is crumbling underneath. It was never built on stable ground -- not something to blame myself for: we all of us start building where we find ourselves -- but I do wonder what happens when it gives way entirely. Not necessarily anything bad. Something new, perhaps. I'm ready for something new.

In the meantime, the dogwood flowers magnificently, and the Spanish bluebells continue their reconquista of the lawn. The solitary crow that visits us now sits in the maple and practices her new call: a clear, ringing "tok!" like a percussionist's wood blocks. Maybe she's been listening to the flickers.

My hands are stronger than ever. I am full of love and tenderness for my clients, my friends, my family. I am deeply ignorant and impossibly young, and it's April.

Monday, April 20, 2015


Blackthorn in flower: endrino, prunellier;
Schlehdorn say the Germans (the Schleh being sloe),
meaning, to the Proto-Indoeuropean,
bluish, blue-black; skin-colored
for some Africans. Sloe gin being actually,
if you care about such things, a liqueur;
add enough sugar and anything is sweet.

And never mind whether black means
the mat black of the bark --
for canes of authority and beating boys
into whipmasters on their own account --
or the dark, bloom-whispered midnight
of secret fruit among a brawl of thorn, blossom, 
sucker and snow. Who can choose or know?

We must go further back, falling backward,
jolted by the concrete stair of time,
to the first slender wand, the first white star,
whiskered as a kitten and dotted as the script
of Arabian princes, in the first spring, 
before any fruit
had stained the yard.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Your shawl hangs blue and gold
and green in the rising sun,

so still that the world
rocks around it,

and the light seems more 
of evening, and the end of time

than of any morning
we will know again.

There are these times
when the light comes level,

through an overmounted press
of time and distance,

but lockedand still
when I am afraid to look up,

afraid to see what the sky may be doing:
it is too far, too high, too cold.

Muted teal, the gold 
of pollen scattered on wet sidewalks,

the green of ancient copper fittings:
to hang so still now

as if your shoulders
had never shrugged against its weave.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Canyon Road
We call them the West Hills, and pay them little mind, except possibly if we're in a newfangled car that will tell us how just much gas it takes (a sobering amount) to roar up the steep slope, at freeway speed, from the tunnel to the Sylvan crest. But on maps they're the Tualatin Mountains, a rugged spur of the Coast Range blocking the way from the Tualatin basin to the valley of the Columbia and its deepwater ports. 

Time was you had to follow the Tualatin River to the Willamette, round about Oregon City, and then head north, past the Falls. It was a long trip, and Oregon City was in the pricey hands of the Hudson Bay Company. So in the 1850s the territorial government, with private backing by Portland powers-that-be, built a plank road, where the Sunset Highway is now. Then you could go straight from the Tualatin farmlands to the Portland docks. One in the eye for Oregon City and Hudson Bay. And probably the reason why I (and most of the rest of us) live here, rather than ten miles upriver at the geographically more sensible Oregon City. Meanwhile, Hudson Bay is quaint history, and Oregon City drifts into the past, a vision of Old Oregon, with a strange sunset patina to it: a vision of the pleasant small-town Oregon I knew as a boy.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Quixote at Sunrise

But I chose this. I chose to be undermined: why?
Because I too was afraid. Because secretly I too
thought the stories were too good to be true,
that there was a dark vein running through the marble.
I wanted a scoffer at my side, someone to explode
my extravagance of cheer, Panza to my Quixote.
And so we have traveled, decades in company: 
I supply the hope, he the despair. It works
in its fashion. But there are times, 
on the windswept crest of the hill, overlooking
the camp of our enemies, when I wonder,
have I chosen wisely? Would it have been better
to have a squire who believed my foolishness,
and handed me my lance with shining eyes?

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Palaces of our Ancestors

A pale morning: white sky, slightly triste; the firs so still that a crow launching itself makes a startling sway in the branches. An equal and opposite reaction, just so, but you don't often see it so clear.

Last night I cradled your head in my elbow and worked your neck with my other hand, and suddenly I longed to be done with service. Always the tenderness: but as time goes I understand better and better how little I can do, and how quickly it fades; or worse, sometimes, how it turns on itself and runs backward. We are strange creatures, with our little monkey desires and our fits of orgulous grandeur, our loneliness and our long parchment checklists for determining under what exact conditions we will accept comfort: checklists so long they get underfoot and trip us, as we peer at their fine print. We go stumbling along the halls of the palaces built by our ancestors, hankering and dreading; terrified of cockroaches but comforted by loaded machine pistols, seduced by glimmers of anything like admiration in a new eye, and indifferent to years of loyalty. 

I am tired of playing the fool, but it's the only role I know. And everyone agrees I'm perfect for the part. (And that's true too, nuncle!)

Monday, April 06, 2015

A Poem For One Who Decided To Hate Everybody

A sudden check, a falter, almost a stumble,
oh my dear, for the loveliest eyes, and 
I reach for my purse to scatter -- what currency?
Nothing avails both here and there.
If I flung this gold over the river,
dead leaves would fall on the further bank.

The bridge can be neither yours nor mine.
Forget the silly arguments from design,
Plato's maunderings laundered by Aquinas;
there is an argument deeper than those.
Someone is building these bridges, or
hints of a crossing. I know it is neither of us:
who has that kind of strength? 

You asked how I could believe:
I could only answer, how could I not?
It is the impossibilities, the echoes 
of that beloved voice, the lives that have crossed
from here, to there, and back. You hear of them
in the beetle-backed gossip of old poems,
and you know it's true: 

There is not braggart or bluster 
in all the world, with heart to make that boast.
Still. We began, and we end, in the sadness
of a stranded shore, and useless coin.
Sleep, then. You see him more clearly in dreams:
walking carefully underground, holding his little lamp.

Don't try to keep up: you can't. It is not for this life
to catch the one who wanders in the earth, 
or even to find the bridge traced in the air,
the lines glinting where the sun catches them,
invisible else; you can look through a long lifetime
and still fail. But long after, the footfalls
echo in some other dream, and make a music

in the mind of another someone
maybe not wise, nor good
except at listening. But start there, and catch
a leaf that rustles from the canopy.
You cannot spend it on that side,
but you can know it came from this.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Her First Dread, The Sun

Consider cydia deshaisiana,
how her first task, on birth, is to gnaw her way
into a womb. The womb closes:
the cool darkness is grateful.

There she begins to weave,
using hooks on her anal
and four hind abdominal prolegs,
binding herself within.

Only a sudden warmth
will make her spasm, blindly,
seeking a change, a coolness,
a shadow she can only imagine as the inverse

of her first dread, the sun. And
with luck, say, her shudders, kicking at the walls
at whatever cost, may roll her
to a damp and cool place.

What makes her begin to wonder,
to dream about the outside? What
revolution, what reversal of polarity,
takes possession of her mind?

Carefully, she chews a hole
plugging it at once with silk.
She is not ready to leave, but
she knows that when grown to a moth

she will have no jaws.
The day comes
when she craves the light
and she pushes through the silken door.

She will live only a few days, outside:
silver gray, pattern-winged,
fragile and confused.
She has just one more yearning:

to find a place like home,
to pump her swollen belly free,
and to lay her wondering, jawless chin
on a sweetly-scented rind.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Captain's Log: Fool's Day

I have seen it before, surely I've described it before, the nearly lost ship rounding the headland and gliding into a sheltered bay, with water pouring from the scuppers: the sudden quiet, the gentle rocking, the empty shore: backing the sails and dropping anchor. Clouds racing overhead and tangling with the trees on the cliff tops. There, branches still whip back and forth with the wind, but here there is only the occasional gust. 

Much to do, everything to do, but the immediate danger past. Send a party to scout the shore, post a watchman or two, and send every man else to his exhausted hammock.

Where are we? I hardly know, and hardly care.

Oh, my dears, I have wrestled so long with shadows. I've worn myself out against phantoms and tricks of the light. I'm tired of fighting long wars on borders that no one else can see, defending countries that no one believes in. It seems to me that I have done my best to keep faith, but the conviction of failure, of dereliction, grows on me. I have understood everything wrong. Or I would not be here, stranded on an unknown coast. This loneliness speaks for itself.

Well. I tire of myself, and shrug all this ship-captain grandiosity aside. I command nothing but this unwieldy tub of muscle and fat: a temporary and unenviable command. When called upon I'll gladly resign this commission, but till then, I must order things as best I can, and even do some good, should the opportunity arise. Back to work, and the pitter patter of the day, the little clawed feet trotting over the deck, the ordering of small things for small results! On the bald street breaks the blank day.