Monday, February 26, 2007

One More

Never enough. And the long day limps to a close.

I have driven the gods away. Well, then, I just have to bring them back.

Clean the shrine. Light the candle. Take the time. Let go of the ambitions of the moment. I have become small, in the last few weeks, smaller and smaller. Wanting, clutching, fearing.

It's time to unwind all this. Enough.

I carry them both in my pocket, the skull and the bit of sea glass. But I'm starting to forget. At each turning, there's that risk. Though risk is the wrong word for something that's bound to come along. There's no turning that sharp. The whole crew of demons will be along, you can guarantee it. And if you judge whether it's worth doing by whether it drives them off, then -- nothing's worth doing.

Start again.

I have achieved nothing. I have gone nowhere. Which is good, because even to talk the language of achieving and traveling is to ensure that neither will happen.

The wind whips the Columbia into plumes of foam; at the coast the sea is plunging, and the trees fling up their arms in protest. The fishing boats that try to make it over the bar this afternoon will have their work cut out for them. It's a comforting thing -- if none of your friends are on those boats, anyway -- to know that even the Columbia, one the most tamed and manhandled rivers in the world, turns savage at the end.

Which is important, because to bring the gods back, you have to be somewhere that's out of control.

I get frightened, and I forget that.

I need to lift my eyes. I need to let the cold rain slap my face.

I have everything I need, right here, all the tools. Nothing is lacking but the doing.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Going to America

High above the shadowed walls
A bright fist of water
A flickering kingfisher
And the swallows flourishing from cliff to cliff.

Down the rutted dirt roads and across the yellow grass
Out across the open fields where the redtails hunt
Down the Hill, the old quarry,
The collapsing barns and barbed wire,
Down to the green glint of the McKenzie,
The eye still runs down the valleylands, old with use,
To the distant hills, blue and gray and green and gray
And beyond them, in sillhouette, Mt June.

I fell in love with you then. I heard your feet
Running on the paths. I knew that somewhere,
Perfectly beautiful, perfectly free, a girl
Was running, and someday I would meet her,
And by certain tokens we would know each other.
And all laws would be abrogated, and the fierceness
Of our love would feed us and clothe us, and we
Would build a house on the shoulder of Mt June.

To the west it would be made of honey,
To the east it would be made of blood,
To the south it would be made of leaves,
And to the north it would be made of grass.

Beloved. One gray stone after another,
And the glittering McKenzie.

In that house all creatures would be safe;
They would come for refuge, lost and frightened.
And we would take them in and care for them
Till they had their strength again, and then
They would go into the world, not really
Knowing, not really remembering. But they might think,
Before the thought escaped them, "I have been
To their house. I have been
To America."

High above the shadowed walls
A bright fist of water
A flickering kingfisher
And the swallows flourishing from cliff to cliff.

Great yellow caterpillars gnaw the ground;
The roads pool with mudspittle and motor oil,
And strange mishapen brutes waddle
In the half light. Chains tense and shriek,
Gears clash. "I have been," I whisper,
"To America."

We wake
From dream to nightmare.
Days draw long shadowy arms around me,
And breathe in my face, and ask repulsive favors.
Oh yes. I have been
To America.

High above the shadowed walls
A bright fist of water
A flickering kingfisher
And the swallows flourishing from cliff to cliff.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Better, & a Question from the Audience

Ah. I can take a full breath without coughing; stand up without my head throbbing. Life is good.

Still tired, but the emotional backspin, the inclination to snark -- always an early warning sign of illness for me, but one I never recognize till afterwards -- is gone.

I've been impressed in this round of flu without how much of its misery is muscular, and therefore mitigable. (Mitigable? Is that a word? Well, it is now.) I've been addressing the trigger points as they arise, and stretching out even when I'm shaking & miserable. With the result, I think, that I'm coming out of this flu with a lot less residual muscular misery to get through. Rubbing my back on a tennis ball wedged between me and the wall -- think of a bear rubbing its back against a tree -- is great way to address trigger points between the shoulder blades. And what I would have thought, vaguely, were "swollen glands," a year ago, were actually miserably knotted SCMs. Hurts to work them, but it feels wonderful. And besides, it makes me feel like I'm fighting back.

A person should get plenty of rest, but sheer immobility is not how to rest muscles. They need to move.

Sigh. I hate it when I take this lofty didactic tone -- especially silly from one who's come so late to taking any kind of care of his body at all.

So, just what is it, asks the reader in my head, that's going on with the voice of your blog?

Hmm. I discovered over the holidays that a member of my family has been reading my blog. And there's been increasing crossovers of blog relationships into "real" relationships, & vice versa. And on top of that there's the fact that the people I work with now are young and literary, and hence far more likely to wander about in blogland than my old coworkers. They could be showing up any time, too. I write with worried glances backward. One of the pleasures of blogging is having the liberty to -- probably I should say the illusion of -- completely controlling my persona, and of course people in the audience with other sources of information take that out of my hands. I haven't quite recovered a voice. Which in some ways is to the good, I'm sure, but I'm a little wistful for the days when I could present myself as, for instance, a more diligent and inspired Buddhist than I am, without hearing a faint snicker in the virtual auditorium. Possibly I write about massage school more, now, simply because none of my crossovers come from there.

I could always light out for the hills -- start a new blog, take a new name, start a new life. I regard that with suspicion. The Puritan in me thinks that my life should be all of a piece, presented whole and the same to anyone, with a glorious integrity. Why should it need to be spun this way and that depending on the audience?

Both my schooling in rhetoric and my Buddhist practice tell me that a) communication is always, and properly, spun according to an audience; and b) the integrity of the self is a delusion anyway. But that doesn't make me that much more comfortable with it. It dovetails too nicely with my psychological propensity for pleasing others, at the cost of no matter what internal meiosis.

So anyway. Since you asked :-)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tempting the Gods

I should have known better than to announce I had escaped the flu. It's got me by the throat now, (and, like Goldry Bluszco, by the nostrils.) I float along in a light fever, every once in a while dropping into a sinkhole of chills, spinning down the broad flow of the river, like Huck and Jim, supposedly on a mission of escape, but really drifting deeper and deeper.

Or perhaps I'm being punished for my incivilities, big and little. Hard to say.

My body is quite amazingly jacked. I know the names of all the muscles that are knotted and clenched up, now. Doesn't do me a lot of good, but it's always reassuring to have names for things -- it gives me a spurious sense of mastery.

And sinks down, down, like that sleep
When the dreamer seems to be
Weltering through eternity;
And the dim low line before
Of a dark and distant shore
Still recedes, as ever still
Longing with divided will,
But no power to seek or shun,
He is ever drifted on . . .

Dear Percy. It's you and me, kid. Listening to the tick of the clock and the slow faint rasp of Christmas's breath. One thirty.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ordinary Light

Suddenly a morning of ordinary light and kindly rain. Sheltering clouds, a light-soaked gray coverlet protecting us from the sun. My heart opens to the sky.

No longer the threat of a debilitating flu. I have just a cold, a little comfortable headache and a runny nose.

There are these times, when the clamps of dread loosen -- moments of sanity, little harbors in uncharted islands where a tattered ship can refit. The voyage isn't over, and we don't know where we are or what we face next, but for now it's calm. Everyone agrees that we can find this place again, if need be, of course we can, and everyone sleeps well-satisfied, each confident that somebody else has taken the sun and written down the longitude and latitude.

The candle lights up the battered, indecipherable wooden face of the Buddha. Far, far from home, after years of knocking about the West as a tourist trinket, he came to rest in this house of huge, stocky, pink-faced Caucasians. They reverence him when it occurs to them. He wonders what exactly they mean when they make their three bows. Not what his own people meant, that's for sure.

The draft from the hall stirs the unblessed Chenrezig thanka. Bordered by unravelling fabric, likewise far from home -- an impulse charity buy to benefit a down-on-its-luck community of Tibetan exiles in India. He carries a "jewel," in one of his four hands, that looks very like the sort of smooth, large black beach pebble that massage therapists use for hot stone treatments. I salute him when I come up the stairs, placing the snuff-surface of my hand to my forehead. I don't know where that gesture came from. Possibly it's just a variation on the greeting I picked up from a poster of Lenin when I was a teenager, a jaunty touch of the fingers to the forehead, and which I have used as a greeting and a farewell ever since.

Reading a book about Western advisors in China. An extraordinary bit about Norman Bethune, a doctor who worked himself to death giving medical care to the northern Communist resistance to the Japanese invasion, doing, at one time, some seventy operations in the course of forty hours. There are two photos in that section. One shows Bethune bending over an operating table with his Chinese assistants, a gaunt old man, looking to be in his seventies or eighties. (He was 47.) Within a year he was dead. His journal burns with happiness at being useful, at the mysteries of cutting up bodies, living at the intersections of death and life, the parts of bodies that can be kept alive and the parts that can't. Finally he knew what he was doing with his life. Finally he was expressing all of a lifetime's bound up love. Death was a trifling price to pay.

And then there is the picture of young Mao, his face alight with good humor, lolling somewhere with a friend, clearly also feeling himself useful, alive, and necessary. Nothing farther from the iconic, serene, impassive Mao of the posters could be imagined. This is a shrewd, mischievous young man, radiating vitality, kicking back with his buddies.

Somehow the two pictures go together. They form a set. A set of mutual incomprehension, of tangential love, of cutting and killing to make well, of the overwhelming impulse to have a life-story that makes sense.

Well. My story makes less and less sense, as it goes along, rocking ever more gently on the black water, gliding to some obscure resting place. I have tried fitfully to make some sense of it, but with no success. It is terribly beautiful, terribly incomplete. Love runs through me "like honey through a sieve." I am maudlin, unstable, unsound.

Happy Valentine's. Forgive a rambling love-letter. The gray light, the rain of my childhood, the February roses. You know.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Cold Coffee

No light yet this morning. Car headlights glide up to the intersection, and then glide on. A low murmur of male voices in the cafe. I wonder why only men have the habit of breakfasting in a cafe at six in the morning? Or is that true only of old-fashioned diners like this one? Women don't start showing up till seven or eight.

Except the waitresses, of course. If there's anything rarer than a female six a.m. regular, it's a male six a.m. server.

The present waitress exasperates me, because she insists on talking to me each time she comes to refill the coffee. She asks me for permission to refill my coffee cup. I'll be deep in writing, or working through my flashcards, and -- "would you like some more coffee?" And it's not rhetorical, either. She's going to stand there and wait until I completely switch my attention to her and give her an answer. Drives me crazy. So much for my Buddhist equanimity. As she walks away I find myself muttering "leave me alone, for Christ's sake!"

It's not as though this solicitousness winds up in me getting what I want. The truth is, I have no idea whether I want more coffee, so I always say yes, and what I end up with, after half an hour or so, is a stone-cold cup of coffee. How the other morning waitress makes her pouring decisions, I don't know; but I can sit here for two hours, when she's on, and never lack for a hot drink at my elbow.

Why, I wonder, am I utterly incapable of giving this waitress simple directions? If it matters to me -- and clearly it does -- shouldn't I just say, "please, when I'm absorbed in my studies, just make your best guess and pour or don't pour; I promise I won't be cranky if you guess wrong." But such a speech-act -- which would really be an act of trust and confidence -- is simply out of my range. So I try to train her by answering her without lifting my eyes from my work, which seems dreadfully rude to me, but is within my range. I murmur "sure" and "thank you" without looking up. This last time she spoke to me, but at least it wasn't a question. "I'll just warm this up for you." It's progress. But how much of the energy of my life, I wonder, gets drained out of my soul by my ridiculous diffidence and distrust?

As someone going into a service profession myself, it's something I'm going to dealing with from the other side, soon. Everyone who does bodywork agrees that clients by and large don't tell you when something doesn't work, or when something makes them uncomfortable -- they just don't come back. Something as simple and easy to fix as an uncomfortably-placed seam on a face-cradle cover, or not liking your music, or discovering they need to pee five minutes into the massage, can wreck the session. Client doesn't come back; you never know why.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Thick black porter, black as pitch; but hold a glass of it up to the sun and you'll see its real color: in its heart it glows -- not black, and not brown, but deep blood red.

Mae lay on the Thai mats, half asleep, a badger-stripe of blond in her dark hair. I didn't put a hand out to stroke her and soothe her. I didn't tell her my opinion of her has steadily risen. She is someone who understands, while still a teenager, that only kindness is real. I didn't say that either.

Later she sat up, and looked at us with no trace of sleepiness in her face, and there was that porter-black, burning in her eyes; eyes not of a teenager at all, but the serious dark eyes of a woman, a woman who has taken losses that will not be made good. She studied us.

George and Andrea had been alternately squabbling and nuzzling, in that odd hurried way they have, as though their relationship had a deadline, and they needed to get through everything before it fell due. We'd been studying cryotherapy, the use of ice and cold towels and so forth. Andrea, who hates ice and cold water, declared that no one was ever going to use it on her, at any rate. Clint informed Andrea that next summer we would all go camping, and that he and George would throw her into the cold water of the lake. He insisted on it, in his slow rural drawl; for once his easy-goingness and good nature seemed to have rubbed thin, and it was easy to see the young Marine he was fifteen years ago, just back from the first Gulf war, full of trouble but looking for more. "You're scaring me," muttered Andrea, finally -- referring not, as I took it, to the threats, but to his insistence -- and he came back to the present and let it drop. His wide blue eyes, framed with black eye-liner, scanned us. I wondered again how he got here from there. And I wondered what made us so watchful a group. Only George and Andrea, absorbed in the egotism of love, were oblivious.

What I have promised, I will perform, says Eddison's Aphrodite. The infinite regress of longing. How many days, cut across the face with the same lash?

We both know, said a friend of mine, that you don't talk about anything important in your blog

Well, that's true too. But of the things that could be unfolded, so many are better left as they are.

Lisa came over to us. "Any questions about anything?" she asked brightly. She had her hair up in almost-pigtails, and was wearing an orange-red Sergeant Pepper tunic, with a high, tight-buttoned collar. The light winked on her slender gold nose ring. She's younger than most of us, maybe Andrea's age, and I wondered if we were an intimidating group to approach. The little knot of us who came from Debbie's class have kept somewhat distinct: we are older (except for Mae), more confident, more skeptical, more enterprising. Much of this class is -- well, not to put too fine a point upon it, bovine. They seem to have wandered in by accident.

"Yes," said Clint, energetically -- startling her, I think. "Are we supposed to know which muscles are synergists and which only assist?" I asked which authority we should follow, in the tests, when our course notes and our book diverged. Andrea had questions about shoulder assessments.

Now Lisa's eyes, they're as brown as honey, clear and uncomplicated. She is quick and responsive, an automatic smiler. She talks her way to answers for each of our questions, and moves on, flashing a brilliant smile. May all beings be without suffering, I find myself murmuring. I seem to worry slightly about everybody, these days.

High green curtains: faded daylight. Shoulders, clavicle, sternum; oiled skin, gentle hands. The end of a winter day.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Daughter of Mary

for TK

The wind comes down
The long bare hills

Of the high horse country
Far from Ireland

The wind comes up
The raw gray green

Of the Narrows
And Hood's Canal

Bloody-fingered dawn
Opens the sky

Prouder than Lucifer
And less afraid

Two riders meet
The turn of the light

Sunday, February 04, 2007

All I Want

The moon rode through the cloudwrack last night. Tamburlaine riding in triumph through Persepolis.

Yesterday, Mae put my hand on her shoulder, and did a quick slanty penguin shuffle, revolving clockwise around me. She was trying to do a passive range of motion test -- horizontal abduction of the shoulder -- and since we're evaluated on body mechanics she didn't want to just hold my arm and swing it around at shoulder height. Very reasonable. But the effect was comic, Chaplinesque, and I had to laugh. "Not very professional-seeming, maybe," I said. "But very entertaining: I'd come back for more." She collapsed laughing on the couch.

Her laugh is always puctuated by a piercing squeak at each in-breath, loud enough to turn heads at restaurants; it makes everyone grin. It's irresistable. She's eighteen. She wears all black, punctuated with chains and skulls and silver-studded collars; and she brings pink-frosted cupcakes for the class, and confers affectionately with her mother on her cell at break times.

I didn't hug her when I left. She has a touch of teenage bashfulness and clumsiness about her still, and I carefully maintain a certain distance: I think she likes working with me partly because to her I, being ancient, am completely desexualized. I scrupulously leave that impression undisturbed.

The gated city, through the strung pearls of fog; giddy with the turning, turning, turning; one long finger stroking silk as green as grasshopper's leg. If I were to ask now? Nothing. The time is passed, the alignment is gone, the planets are scattering this way and that. I tell myself it's just as well, but I don't believe me.

What would we ask for? Oh, you know, we would ask for our doom and disaster, the end of our world, the end of possibility. "All I want is to live forever in the presence of the Lord," we would say, knowing -- if we thought half a second -- that the living universe, with that kind of dissecting pin driven through its wing, would tear itself to pieces. Not to mention that we would have to be ourselves, forever and ever, forever crippled and wounded and fearful. Do you think, that just because we got what we asked for, we would stop wanting it, and agonizing over the lack of it? Look at how we receive the gifts of God now -- do you seriously think we would receive that gift any differently?

No. If we must ask, before we have learned how to ask, we should at least ask for something that makes sense. Let us ask to be made into someone who could receive such a gift, without destroying both himself and the world.

But better, maybe, to ask for nothing at all.

I don't know. I am tired. The simplicities are escaping me.

All I know is that I'm aching with the wanting. I think of one Rachel, brought face to face, so young, with the mortality of all that burns so brilliantly within her. Of another Rachel, who taught me to see pink string and splintered benches, among many other things, looking into a well of darkness. And I want to protest, object to the very shape and texture of the world. They should not hurt. They should not be mortal. (And, of course, incidentally, they should be mine.)

All I want. All I'm asking. I have learned to view those words as the trademarks of insanity.


Saturday, February 03, 2007


Well, yeah. I've been gone, more or less. Checking in. Am I still in love with Paula? Sure. Desperately. Does Udge still delight me? Yep. He's commiting second-washbasin acts of rebellion, and adding prayer-vending machines to building designs, and posting in verse.

See, I've got this new used laptop, which accounts for the last little spate of posts. (I'm clever, see? new used? little spate? Clever boy.) But the wireless doesn't work. Not yet. So I'm connected very seldom.

I'm pretty well un-automobiled, now. I walk in the open air. Stand in the train for the short hop from downtown to the massage school, sit in the bus to work, to home. Sing -- I used to sing, as I walked. I'd forgotten that. But I find myself singing again. "Good night, Irene." "Going down to old Maui." Bits of poetry rise up. "Combing the hair of the waves blown back, When the wind blows the water white and black." I pace up and down, waiting for the bus. A sodden tangle of pink thread on dark pavement, a twist of rusty iron on a splintery bench, reach cold and electric hands around my heart.

Ancient anxieties and hopes arise, sepia colored and powerless now, but quaint and engaging. (I need to get back to meditating regularly, though, lest they take color and strength again and tyrannize over me again. Briefly noted. On we go.)

Again and again I find myself brimming over with love, for my family, my fellow-students, my fellow-bloggers. (Even if I am gone, I'm not, too. I'm reading TK's manuscript, and Natalie's book, and I just got Patry's book in the mail. Embarasse de riches (sp.?)). And I sneak looks from time to time, even if I don't comment.

I love you, all of you.