Thursday, January 31, 2008

Dear Paisley

Dear Paisley. No, it is not enough, and it is not all.
But it is dangerous to talk about God and joy.
The Jealous One is waiting for an indiscretion,
A misstep, to seize and pull us under. If God
Is real, the Devil is too.

People think that shamans work to call spirits,
But mostly they work to keep them away. Keep
The gods asleep. Don't wake the powers. Keep
The dead in their graves. That's their daily work,
Their bread and butter.

This morning, before sunrise, in the metallic dark
Drenched with rain, I watched the light
Pouring from streetlights and headlights like steam,
Huge plumes of light, hanging, like giants' breath,
In the cold air.

Who was breathing there? Don't ask, don't tell;
Keep your head down. How many of the dead
Are waiting to speak to us? Admit that, yes,
You have been introduced, then how many audiences
Must you have?

Evangelicals are a foolhardy lot,
Urging everyone, unprepared, unblessed, unwatched
To open his or her heart to God, to pray,
No matter who might be listening. Open your heart
To Jesus, they say,

And he will come. True enough. But you better be
Damned sure it's Jesus you are calling
And not the casts of envy, pride, or greed.
Any of them will come, if called. It's not just Jesus
At the stand.

Still. Beyond the sodden filthy blanket of the sky
The sun walks in the shining air. Every flaw
Is filled with love, the world aches with its burden
Of divine desire; two slippery hands are not enough
To hold it.

The cup wobbles, and the hot fluid
Runs down the sides, burning, burning, burning
Scalding us with love; we are branded, blistered,
Shocked and wounded, bitten and torn
With the love of God.

Dear Paisley. No, it is not enough, and it is not all.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Or, as the Brits call them, braces. The prompt was to write a villanelle about clothes: I've done my best, but I don't think intricate verse forms will ever be my strong suit.

The wind turns the corner, and the time is gone.
I've refused all my life to wear a belt;
I'm wearing my jeans with suspenders on.

My beard is white. I'm hale and strong,
But the prime of my life has begun to melt.
The wind turns the corner. And the time is gone,

When my hips formed a shelf for a leather thong.
A pot belly is not improved by a welt,
So I'm wearing my jeans with suspenders on.

I could wear a dress, disguised with a sporran
And pretend to be more than a quarter Celt.
But the wind turns the corner, and the time is gone

When I cared if I looked like a Dilbert cartoon --
That Unix guy, pompous, and not at all svelte --
I'm wearing my jeans with suspenders on.

Strapped over the belly, I'd look eighty-one;
Below, like a salesman, egregiously stout.
The wind turns the corner, and the time is gone;
I'm wearing my jeans with suspenders on.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Why We Are Here

in response to this week's totally optional prompt

Because in the dark before time the Lord
Drew the contours of our eyelids, fashioned
The shapes of our toes, designed
Each hair upon our legs with exquisite attention;

Because proteins in the sea were sunburnt,
And fish left stranded in the mud, and thunder
Lizards brought down in their pride
By the dust of Yucatan;

Because since beginningless time
We have suffered and sinned and suffered again,
Lifetime after lifetime in the slow
Unrolling of a thousand monstrous kalpas;

Therefore our task
Might be to discover what God intended,
Or to be ourselves the emerging intention of God,
Or to free all beings from suffering.

But you know as well as I
That we are here to wash the dishes
And kiss our children good night
And worry about money;

That we are here to see the fog
Caught in the branches of the douglas firs
On the hills across the river; that we are here
To fall in love with inappropriate persons;

That we are here to fret and plan and avoid
And be unworthy of ourselves, to lose
Keys and checkbooks and birth certificates,
And to write poems about it all.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Tall Girl and rr both objected to my characterization of the psychologizing cosmology (in Subversion, below). I felt that uneasiness, as I wrote it, that indicates falsehood, that little twinge that tells you you're repeating words, rather than really thinking. Or at best, that you're using a private shorthand for something too complex to be laid out in full.

I left out important pieces. What I called the psychologizing cosmology bears no necessary relationship with psychology as practiced today. "The bounded view" is perhaps implied by a therapeutic model that places heavy emphasis on the personality (and its disabilities) having been formed in childhood. But it's not just "the bounded view of human existence," -- the view that consciousness arises as an emergent property of brain, and dies with it, and that in the interval between those two events, it sits locked inside the cranium. (It's worth remembering, even within that view, that the organ of thinking is properly the nervous system, not the brain, and a great many complex perceptions and nervous command decisions are made in places other than inside the skull. We're cosmologically, not scientifically, committed to seeing the head as where consciousness is located. -- But that's another issue.) It's not just that. It's also a sort of naive realism, a belief that the way we perceive the world corresponds exactly -- or even closely -- to the way the world is. It's the combination of these two things that is so suffocating. The former is emblematic of the latter, and so I use it as a shorthand; but it's the latter that's really deadly, regardless of what cosmological views you hold. If you believe in how you imagine things, and you sternly restrict how you imagine things to the bounded view, you create for yourself a very tiny, very cramped world indeed. The world Freud inhabited was a very small, airless world. It's no surprise to me that towards the end of his life he found himself unable to read poetry. He'd convinced himself that all the things that poets -- even Shakespeare, that most worldly of poets -- spoke of were unreal. Nothing was real but anxiety and desire, playing out in a world that was exactly as it appeared.

All this is commonplace enough, and most of us pay lip-service to the idea that the world is not as we perceive it, nowadays. But that's not enough. It's not enough to let the thought cross your mind that the world is larger and more complicated than we see it to be. Because in our heart of hearts -- and especially when the chips are down, which is when it matters most -- we really believe in our perception of the world.

Which is why tantric practices can be so important. It's of only minor importance, if any, that I practice believing (for instance) that I have a thousand arms and a radiant white body and that I am infinitely compassionate. But it's hugely important to have the experience -- the experience, not the thought -- of inhabiting a world that is utterly different, and being a person who is utterly different. I am not "really" Chenrezig. I know that as well as you do. But after having had the experience of being Chenrezig, I know -- in a far deeper way than just having the opinion -- that I am not "really" Dale, either.

Meditation on emptiness, of course, is the other commonly recommended way of undermining naive realism. Most of us find it less embarrassing. More intellectually respectable. But it takes a lot longer, for most people, and there are people who don't take to it easily.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Friday, January 25, 2008

Two stanzas of Hoccleve's Lament for Chaucer, rendered into Modern English

I loved these lines, so full of love his mentor, il miglior fabbro, and so colloquial and to the point (rare virtues, in 15th Century verse!) So I tried my hand at -- what do you call it? -- translation? modernization? Hoccleve's English stands about midway between Chaucer and Shakespeare, but it's still old enough, I think, to be difficult for a reader who's never learned Middle English

Death has little more consideration
For the sober man than for the plastered;
No more for a man of kind deliberation,
Than for a consummate and vicious bastard;
In a pile, every man is mastered
By her, the rich and grinding poor the same;
The shrewd and discerning like the stupid and lame.

She might have delayed her vengeance for a while,
Until some man into your equal grew --
Forget that! She knew well enough this isle
Could never produce another man like you;
Like all of us, she had a job to do,
God gave her orders, I hope, for the best;
Oh master, master, God give your soul good rest!

Here are Hoccleve's stanzas. The verse form is rhyme royal, which Chaucer used for the best long love poem in English, Troilus and Criseide, as well as for some of the Canterbury Tales.

Deth hath but smal consideracion
Unto the vertuous, I have espyed,
No more, as scheweth the probacion,
Than to a vycyous mayster losel tried.
Among an heep, every man ys maystried
Wyth here, as wel the poore as ys the ryche;
Leered and lewde eek standen al iliche.

Sche myghtte han taried hir vengeance a while
Til that sum man had egal to the be.
Nay, let be that! She knew wel that thys yle
May nevere man forth brenge lyk to the,
And hyre office nedes do moot sche;
God bad hire soo, I truste as for thi beste
O maister, maister, God thy soule reste!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


readwritepoem 10

In the dark kitchen my unseen hand
Lifts a jug from the lighted refrigerator
A dim white sail.

By feel I choose the last tall glass,
Invisible. Then I pour
And in the moonlight

The inside of the glass takes shape
As the fluid fills it, and the moon
Claims her own.

The vesicles tug, and there is a hotness
At the corners of my eyes: She pulls
All flowing things

To her side of the world.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


The moment comes of a sort of false balance, when the forces of clarity are matched against those of confusion. False, because it must topple one way or the other. This is not homeostasis. It's more of a standoff. But perched up here on the rail, uncomfortable though it may be, I have a pretty good view of the disputed country.

I can see especially, how the two modes of being feed each other. Sitting for half an hour, at four in the morning, rather than getting online -- surely that operates for clarity? Well, yes; but it also wakes up the impulses of confusion. My virtue, I find myself thinking -- doesn't it earn me some indulgence? Is it to be all work and no play?

And of course, it is the indulgence that brings me to grief, and the grief to clarity. And so it rolls along. Sometimes writ large, sometimes small, but it has been the rhythm of my life.

No point in this cycle is unmixed. The closer indulgence gets to love, the more it looks like clarity. The practices of clarity can turn into indulgences (though not so often as those looking for excuses not to practice would have us think.) In a way perhaps prudence is the enemy here, because it slows the rhythm down, and makes the alternating ways of being seem both like forms of sanity. Neither, perhaps, is. The more rapidly I'm flung from one to the other, the more vividly the fundamental insanity of my life appears.

But. A suspicion that the whole thing needs to be dismantled, that a deeper subversion must be fomented. This subversion must happen, not in the heady landscapes of esoteric practice, but at the kitchen sink, the checkbook, and the bedroom. I have been both too patient and not patient enough.

I live in a welter of confusion. I always have. In the physical world, I mean. My home. My bedroom, when I was a child, was always an almost unbelievable chaos. And now my whole house is. My own room, the shrine room cum exercise space cum massage studio, is perhaps the least so -- but only because it is, in a way, the most public space of the house, the space where adults I don't know well come and spend time when they get a massage. So my pride is involved in how it looks, and I tidy it regularly.

"Going into Dad's room is like going into another dimension," said Alan. "It's like it's not even in the same house."

There's another space like that. The gable Martha designed and had added to the house, which she made partly with her hands, and entirely with her mind. It stays orderly, more or less.

I wrote the above some time ago. The conviction grows in me that it is all about the house, the space in which I live. I have always camped, not lived, in my houses. Always ready to leave; always more concerned to make sure that there's a path of escape than to make a home.

I could psychologize it: speak of my childhood, of shuttling from one house to the other, after my parents' divorce; of always needing only to stick it out for a determinate amount of time before entering the new dispensation; never putting all my eggs in one basket. If there are discomforts -- well, one need only wait, one isn't staying long. If the persona pinches, well, it's only a temporary one. This is only the face I wear for Dad; I can take it off when I get home to Mom.

But I don't take much stock in psychologizing, with its cosmology of the soul that grows into existence at birth, and vanishes, like a candle going out, at death. If that's true, and if history is the matter of mechanistic determinism that cosmology suggests, then my childhood is of overriding importance, and it would make sense to parse it out in excruciating detail -- in one sense, it would, though if volition and freedom are illusions, it hardly seems worth the time to parse anything.

In the Tibetan cosmology -- which I find equally improbable -- I chose my family to be born into precisely because it was what I was already used to, because it already expressed my propensities; and at death -- if I'm so fortunate as to be reborn a human being -- I'll choose another for the same reasons, and do the whole damn thing again. There's considerably more space, in Tibetan cosmology. The Dalai Lama, visiting Merton's monastery, was deeply struck by the Christian cosmology (the third player here, more improbable still) -- "they have so little time," he said. One life, one chance to get it right, and that's all. No wonder they were so serious and so desperate.

And the psychological cosmology is far more cramped even than that. If you don't get it right by middle age, you might as well give up; there's not much life ahead of you anyway, and it will be largely taken up with managing the disintegration of the body, to no particular purpose but that of stalling the final annihilation.

In any case. Whether my propensities were written by circumstance on the blank slate produced ex nihilo in 1958, or were created out of infinite love and obscure intention by the Lord God at the same time, or have been shaped by the endless rolling of this pebble in the surf of millions of lifetimes, since beginningless time, they're here now, observable now. Hidden in plain sight. I need not inquire of the past. I need only look at the panic that rises in me, when the sky grows light and I'm not yet out the house. I might be caught: caught in the web of others' desires and expectations. I might be held to commitments. I might be confined within the persona that lives at home, that mild-mannered, unambitious soul that vanishes into game and blogland, into endless repetition and gnawing hunger. The idea is intolerable to me. I must, must get out.

What would have to happen for the house to be place I didn't have to escape from in the morning? That's the question I'm turning over in my mind, now.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Two Young Men

...every man wyth one voys cryed that the toure sholde be dylygentely and manly kepte; where afterward the knightes bothe of Latyn tonge and Grekys tonge dyd worshipfully as ever dyd Achylles or Hector. But two yong men soldyers of the sayd toure threwe downe their harnesse in the see to th'entente to be Turkes. And afterward, when thys was knowen, they for their synnes and defawtes were byheded.

That's all John Kaye, in his 15th Century account of the Siege of Rhodes, has to say about them. Two young men, soldiers of the Tower of St Nicholas. "Young" probably meant "very young," by our standards -- not twenty-year-olds, but fourteen-year-olds.

The story is very strange. It haunts me, and I keep trying to piece it together. Were they simply cowards, who despaired of winning the battle? But what good, in that case, was throwing their armor into the sea, unless the Turks saw them do it? And if the Turks, why not anyone else? Why was it only known later? It sounds more as though it were a conversion. Or were they raised as Muslims? Were they returning to their faith? Perhaps to someone better up on the history of the Levant the motives of the young men would be obvious, but to me they are obscure.

We can be confident that it happened. It's not the sort of thing Medieval writers made up.

It brought a vivid picture into my mind: the two young men -- boys -- at night, tipping their shields and swords and breastplates over the walls into the moonlit surf, full of fear, or of unknown devotion. How did it become known? When they were summoned to arms in the morning, and appeared in their shirts?

And I think of all the boys, haled into the adult world and made to start killing each other, over the centuries, by men who were absolutely sure that it was necessary, beautiful, and fitting, that they should do so.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


As if through the wrong end of a telescope. Very small figures move in and out of the circle.

It is a life spent chasing shadows.

Michael said, and then you come to the dharma, and it's even worse. Because you discover that, not only are your plans for worldly happiness never going to work, but also that you can't abandon them. Stopping believing in them by no means ends their power over you: they still run your life.

But there's light leaking in everywhere, joy welling in in through the seams. Yes, the ship is going down, but that doesn't mean what we've been taught to think it means.

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, said the Christ. Not because Caesar is right, but because Caesar doesn't matter. We have more important things to do.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Voyage to Dulcarnon

I am, til God me bettre minde sende
At dulcarnon, right at my wittis ende.

--Troilus and Creseide

Mr Tate, in a parlous state,
Sailed away one day;
And we who dwell by the Longest Sea
Have never been able to say
Why a man in the prime of his milking time
Should suddenly up and say:
"I must sail away from the Longest shore
And the waters of Longest Bay;
For the sight of my socks, confuddled in flocks
Of blue and black and gray
Is a sight that has become, to me,
More grievous than I can say.

"I have studied the knees of philosophy
And many legs of lamb,
And watched the distant spires of smoke
Rise from the learned ham;
But the knotted locks of my twisted socks
And a softly whispered 'damn!'
Have poisoned the lees of my breakfast cup
Down to the dreariest dram,
Have unraveled the sleeve of all I believe
And tainted my morning jam,
Have shivered the snores of my slumber at dawn
With the dread that perhaps I am

"A laughingstock to the gapes and gawks
In the land of Dulcarnon."
The mermaids, singing for Mr Tate
Hastened his ship along,
Spurring his crew to all they could do
With snatches of amorous song,
And combing the seaweed out of their hair
With a slender ebony prong.
The eventual fate of Mr Tate
Was debated for long and long
By we who dwell by the Longest Sea
Far from Dulcarnon:

For some men say that Tate was fey
And now he will never grow old,
And the fishery women note that for swimming
The waters are deathly cold;
But some contend that the gods will defend
A man who has been so bold,
And they say an ungartered spirit
Will never be bought or sold,
And the moral of the Longest story
Will never cease to be told:
There was a man who stood for socks no more
And now will never grow old.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


One thing at a time; one thing at a time. The miracle is that she still floats at all.

And I have time. For once in my life, I have time. The very worst thing I could do is stuff it so tight with expectation that I didn't realize I had it till it was gone. I can take this time, this morning time, reflect, grieve a little, think a little.

"This season of repair," I wrote, elsewhere.

I love the accounts, in nautical fiction, of refitting. Limping to an unknown harbor in an uninabited island on the far side of the world, and working to get every sheet and halyard rerove, the fished yards made whole, the shot-holes re-planked, sails renewed or replaced, guns resettled on remade trunnions, shot freshly chipped and new cartridges sewn, stove barrels operated on or cannibalized; a time out from war, everybody laboring to restore their floating world, all that knowledge and skill being put to use, in an in-between time. a bardo, a truce, an interstice.

We make too little of the in-between times, I think. The fact that our culture has forgotten how to grieve is one indication of it: one's lover is hardly a week in his or her grave (or new apartment), and our friends are all urging us to get out and date and forget about it. It's seldom good advice.

There is blue sky today, for the first time in what seems weeks. A pale blue and very distant heaven. There is a gentleness in how people are talking in the cafe today, as though we had all been through a very dark time, and come out the other side. Which we have.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Such a Fucking Useless Saddo

You are such a fucking useless saddo.

It's a good sound line of trochaic pentameter. It has the pleasing property of pentameter that, if you walk in time with it, the lines alternate which foot they begin on. So it feels almost like a waltz rhythm.

You are such a fucking useless saddo, left, you are such a fucking useless saddo, right, you are such a fucking useless saddo, left, you are such a fucking useless saddo, right. In 4/4 time no doubt the mind would at some point get bored; but this rhythm will keep it going for quite a long walk.

An English friend remarked a couple weeks ago that I was a bit of a saddo. I was a little worried that it might mean "sadistic," but it turns out that it simply means pathetic. "Socially-incompetent geekiness as well as general, um, sadness and inadequacy," she explained, when I asked for a definition.

I realized today that I made a stupid error at work, omitted to do something on December 31st, which will have tax consequences for a member of the board. A more stupid and visible error could not well be made. So this little mantra began chanting itself in my brain.

There are several interesting things about this earworm. One is that, in the first flush of anger, my whole person participated in it with a kind of joy. As I got ready for the day, banging doors and slamming drawers, there seemed to be no part of me that wasn't savagely, exultantly chanting it. It wasn't until I was a half-mile down the street, walking under my umbrella in the rain, that mild dissenters began to appear. "Granted," one said, "that you are fucking useless saddo, in what way is that your fault?" Another said, "By repeating this, you're storing up suffering for yourself and others. You know that's true." And a third said, "Shantideva, you know, says: wait."

My friend thought I should want not to be a saddo, as I understood it, because, as a saddo, I was unhappy. I don't know. I usually find discussions of happiness slippery and unsatisfactory. Most of the time, I really don't know what people are talking about. What's the subject of discussion? Happy compared to what? How do I know that my limited capacity for happiness isn't maxed out already? It simply comes and goes, in its own rhythm. The set-points shift according to my circumstances, but over the course of week it all pretty much evens out. I'm going to be happy for a certain amount of time and unhappy for a certain amount of time. That's just how it works: that's the basic design of human consciousness. I can no more alter it than I can sprout a third arm.

There is, maybe, a different kind of happiness, one without set points. People whose discernment I respect think so. There is wordly happiness, they say, and that indeed just rises and falls, in an irregular but inevitable rhythm. But there is also spiritual happiness, which you can view as either negatively, as freeing yourself of the burdens of ego, or postively, as experiencing joyful communion. Well. Maybe so. I have a hard time picturing what wordly unhappiness in the midst of joyful communion would look like, but it's not an obvious impossibility, to me. It might be like the experience I've had, when I've been meditating a lot, of of having the physical sensations of depression without the usual concomitant hamster-wheel of depressed ideation. There's the sense of being borne down upon by a huge weight, the difficulty in initiating movement, the sense of being unable to take a full breath, but the bitterness, the self-blame, the endless rehearsals of bleak futures, are not there. It's okay. The depression is physically present, but I'm not invested in it.

So maybe it's something like that. I'm not ruling it out.

But anyway, I'm going back on the bupropion. The last week has been an experiment in not taking the drugs. It's been interesting, and a little disheartening, to see how much of the past resurfaced. I'm not strong enough, even with work I love and am suited for, even with a regular meditation practice, to get the upper hand of depression without the medicine.

It would have been a hard week anyway, of course, with so little privacy, and the stress of having too much to do at the Foundation, and the holiday slow-down in massage business. But that just made it a good test. If I could have sailed through it, I'd have known for sure that I could do without the meds. But not yet, I guess. I'm not sure how many multi-hour sessions of a voice chanting "you are such a fucking useless saddo" inside my head I could weather, without permanent damage to myself and to those dear to me. If the voice motivated me to change anything, that would be different; but those of you who know depression will be able to verify that it does nothing of the sort. It insists that saddo-hood is my perpetual, inevitable, and richly-deserved condition, for ever and ever, in the sight of God and men, amen.

I hope someday to be able to do without the meds. But if I can't, it's okay. Maybe next life.

Friday, January 11, 2008


We're having our floors refinished. Old fir floors, which were painted when we moved in: apparently the paint is old and too dangerous to sand. We had a crew in first to blowtorch them and scrape them. That was the Mexican crew, not an English-speaker amongst them. Now we have the Anglos in, big strapping guys, twice the size of the Mexicans, with lots of heavy equipment. They've sanded everything down. Today they start putting on the urethane, or verathane, or whatever it is. Three coats, over a week. So we camp in the living room, for now; our bedroom is one of the rooms being done. I woke this morning at five, and sat for half an hour, by the porch light glowing through the front curtains.

It is exhilarating to have empty spaces in the house. Step past the plastic sheeting, and there are bare floors, bare walls -- uncluttered space. I did not know how deeply I was yearning for empty space.

Martha and I are moved by the same impulse. We are selling books and throwing away files. It's time to jettison things. We don't need much for the last stage of the journey. We have some twenty years left, probably. The only books to keep now are the ones I'm sure I'll want to look into again in the next year or two. Old journals, old letters -- they should all go. All this detritus. Why leave it to perplex and oppress our children?

Among my stuff, a file of poetry. I had been dreading it. Most of it dates back to the year I went to Lane Community College, when I was sixteen, and it was mostly, as I expected, awful. But it was so bad that sorting through it was easy. It almost all went easily into the roundfile. Of it all I saved four poems, which I'll post here eventually so I can get rid of that paper too. Here, in fact, is the first of them, in its entirety:

Valerie, O Valerie, I sing one song for you;
This river is a river that one tide could well undo.

Who was Valerie? Well, I have to admit that I'm not quite sure. I tended to fall in love, in those days, with women with oceans of dark hair. Probably she had a great mane of it, and an engaging smile, and let me join her at the cafeteria tables and memorize the way her tresses foamed over her shoulders. But it's not one tide, but thousands, since then. Who knows where in the wide world she is, now, or if she's still with us here at all?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Look, you guys. I'm trying to get rid of stuff, right? Trying to pare things down. Including my blogroll. But I've discovered so many incredible blogs lately, that despite my best efforts, the damn thing is growing rather than shrinking. And my criteria are very strict now. It's not just blogs that I think are great -- those are all over the place now. It's blogs that I can't bear the idea of not visiting again.

So anyway. New additions to the blogroll. If you do the poetry prompt thing, readwrite poem or totally optional prompt, you'll probably already know a couple of these:

Florescence. Jo Hemmant's new digs. Okay, so apparently I have a thing about British ex-journalists. Sue me. Beautiful, disturbing stuff, rooted in the complexity of family life, spinning out in all directions.

Polka Dot Witch. You'll need to get the password to read the poetry. Do it. Terrific stuff.

Old Girl of the North Country. Just take a look at it, at the black and white drawings she's been doing lately. Criminy.

Scorpoiess. Now this one, I'll wager, you've never seen. I was randomly wandering through Portland blogs and hit this. Rough edges and infelicities, sure -- but God, such flashes of poetry. My favorite so far is "Octopus", which for my money knocks Tennyson's "Kraken" right out of the ring.

It is with huge difficulty that I kept it down to just these four. I rather think there's more to come. There is just so much good stuff being done.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Made to be Broken

This is in response to the prompt at readwritepoem

We do not know how to make resolutions,
That is the problem. Not that there is anything wrong
With resolve. But making a resolution
Is not so simple a matter as we think.

Anyone can make a list of what
A better person would do, or would
Refrain from doing. To wish we were not
What we are, is a skill we need not cultivate.
We are all too facile at that.

No: to make a resolution
Is to build a box of intention. First of all,
The bottom. We must decide exactly what it is.
No vagueness. No "more of this," or "less of that."
Numbers. Three cigarettes a day, or none, but not some.

Then the sides. Every day you must repeat it
Aloud. A resolution spoken or written once is nothing.
It must be said over and over, affirmed again and again.

And then
You're wrong
We do not make a top.

We watch for the first time
We do not stay in the box.
If it's a real resolution, one that matters,
We almost certainly will not keep it.

And now, now is our chance.
Now is when the resolution means something
Now is the payoff.

When it's broken, we must look
For the hole in the box.
There is an intention we have not understood
A consequence we have not reckoned on.

And that is what resolutions are for.
Not for keeping: a resolution that can be kept
Need not have been made in the first place.
What a resolution is for is to bring our attention

To what we are driven by
But have not acknowledged.
To what we intend
But will not see.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Asking the Body

I finally found a book about Trager. Not the sort of book I wanted: it's called Trager for Self-Healing, and it follows all the conventions of the self-help book: it's really a short essay larded with exercises, repetitions and anecdotes, and it is, as books in that genre generally are, so sprightly as to be a little irritating. But I was anxious enough to learn about Trager therapy that I bought it.

For all that -- I'm gleaning something from it. The bits about Trager himself fascinate. The story is told that when he and his brother, in youth, were practicing acrobatics, his brother's question was always "who can jump highest?" But his question was always, "who can land softest?"

And the refrain of the book is Trager's set of questions: "how could it be lighter? How could it be softer? How could it be freer?" With the understanding that it's no use asking the questions if you don't listen for the answers. I've been doing bodywork just a short time, but already I'm frustrated by one response I get. "You're carrying your shoulders a little forward," I'll say.

"I know," they'll say, in a sort of desperate, confessional rush. "My mother always told me to pull my shoulders back."

But I have no wish to join a pantheon of scolding elders. There's no use in reiterating something you've already been told. The point is not what I, your mother, or anyone else -- including you -- thinks about how you hold your shoulders. The point is, what does your body think about it? It's doing it for a reason. You have to inquire of it, and listen for its answer.

And the bodywork is not to fix it. Bodywork doesn't usually fix anything: that's not its job. What bodywork does is ask the body questions, and let it try out hypothetical answers. Suppose the pecs lengthened out, and the shoulders settled back here? Or suppose the traps and scalenes let the head roll a little, like this, in response to movement, instead of clamping down -- what then? What would it feel like?

Sitting on the bus, or walking down the street, or working at my desk, I've been asking myself Trager's questions. It's remarkable how often there is, not just an answer, but an obvious answer. Once brought to light the puzzling question is "how could I not have noticed this?" It's analogous to the way meditation makes anxieties and cravings obvious, and makes them workable. There's nothing subtle or abstruse about it; it's not like listening for distant whispers; it's more like discovering that there's a voice at your ear shrieking "I want people to approve of me!" at fifteen second intervals, and that there has been for years. Likewise the way my body clutches and binds, the way my shoulders hunch and my toes curl. It ain't rocket science.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Day, 2008

A photograph of you, turning from the camera
Pouring your grace on someone
Outside the frame.
Still, severed as I am,
I see you,
And still, there it is, there, still,
The lovely upwelling of the light.

Light around the corners of
There it is, still.

The Willamette gleams
Like a flake fallen from the peeling sky,
Like a mirror held between the bridges.
Patterned like a sword blade,
And inlaid with precious lights;
The dimpled water, the whirlpools,
Cold-burning vortices spun by the pylons --

My ankle turns on river rock,
Sickness comes quick into my throat,
Fever crawls over my flinching skin,
To remind me I am old.

Suppose I slowly drew up a coat sleeve
And laid a hand in the water,
Reaching for blessings, reaching for conclusions:
Nothing for me here. You are gone,
And the river is cold in its bed.

You would think it was the end of the story --
Nothing more to say:

But there it is, still, there, still,
The lovely upwelling of the light.