Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

I regret nothing except my occasional half-hearted gestures towards making myself acceptable. There was a time when I thought might find a home among like-minded people: I'm grateful to them for making clear that it will never happen, and so keeping me from wasting my time.

There is so little time. My awareness of that deepens every day. No: you can take me as you find me, and that will usually be gazing at the sky, while points of rain or starlight patter on my threadbare scalp. The riddle is written up there, and I stop and puzzle out a few phrases, and wait for the lightning or the sunrise. And still the sphere turns, and turns, and turns in its faint wash of darkness. There is nothing else, not really. We are traveling at immense speed, even in simple terms of the earthbound physics Newton propounded: we are falling toward the sun at somewhat more than 67,000 miles per hour. Once you actually absorb that fact, the speeds at which we creep around our falling home take on a comic aspect. In the time it takes us to walk to the store we have also traveled ten thousand miles through space: yet the quarter mile's incidental movement on this blue-and-white marble's surface is the movement that impresses us. Well. Not so clever, for all our airs.

No. Stars and rain are real, the silky hair threading between my fingers is real, the pulsing heart that lifts my fingertips is real. The rest? Toiling from speck to adjacent speck on a marble that's been thrown off a cliff? No: not so real. Not so real at all.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

This Time of the Year

Morning comes. This is my favorite time of the year, when the days are short, quiet, and tender; when the nights are long and fierce with stars or rain. Not even the so-called holidays can entirely ruin it. For all their desperate music and laughter, their garish lights and sweet wine, their candies and rich sauces, their gatherings where they earnestly assure each other that everything they think is dead on correct -- they know, they know that this is my time of the year, when the forest is most awake and you can hear its deep, intent breathing, when the rain comes long and hard and the light comes only in glimmers. They hold their loud, noisy festivals now, because they do know it, and are trying not to know it. This is the time when the old world is near and undeniable: cold water, damp wood, hard stone. This is when slow, deliberate creatures open their eyes and consider them: not with contempt -- that is a motion of the spirit these creatures have never known -- but with slow, impartial curiosity. You can meet their eyes, and learn something about yourself; or you can scuttle indoors, switch the TV on loud, and make all the lights in the house blaze. Well: it's no secret what most of you will choose.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bad Religion

"I don't care for Bad Religion, never have," and it took me
two heartbeats to realize it was a band. Of course. A band.

And there, where the hills meet, in a smudge of eye-shadow,
just where the edge of your hand would settle

on the breastbone of the forest; where the fog glows
with a certain latency of sun, and its tendrils open

(still generous, after all abuse!) to the warming air;
there where a person might pause, resettle packstraps,

and make sure of direction: well, there,
we don't much care for bad religion either.

There is too much at stake: there is the brightness
where the sun might or might not clear the mist;

there is the fold of garden-smelling earth
running down to darkness.

Friday, December 13, 2013


You said you were afraid always, all the time,
and yet you play it like a matador, you make it
plunge this way first and that, and then 
you stand tip-toe -- at the last --
your shimmering edge held high --

Oh, you uncoil as if you had a millions limbs, or none --
glistening black, oh you dear segmented woman

(how you fold into my arms, as if each limb
was made only to nestle in some hollow of my flesh;
and how you flare your supple, beaded wings:
they open like a huge intake of breath.)

Your heart is cased in oiled leather,
and leather frames the love lock on your cheek.
The blue square window lets in winter light --
beetle-shapes of mercury --
to crawl and skip and trace  
the contours of your iliac crest and thigh.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Sometimes the sound of a faulty airlock hissing,
sometimes the wail of stars walled off by cloud,
sometimes spiring grains of iron gathered in by frost:
sometimes salt water subsiding through the sand.

Listen, dear, I hear her song
all day, though it's never old,
she sings to me daylong of absence and regret,
she holds my elbows in her cold hands, she steps between
me and the bank cashier whose mutter moves the air.

She stops
even old friends, and new ghosts, with her
sudden, flattened face and her finger at her lips:
"Quiet there, can't you see he's listening to the god?"
For I am stepping out of line
and turning to
the sun behind the sun, the moon behind the moon.

It is the song of nothing, conceived of by a knot
or not of neurons, a flare of melody; it is the hinge
of darkness, the silver of unsaying, it is the rising,
falling tone of whatever can't be said.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Rising Fish

My friend Lekshe once expressed the wish that my troubles would become so dire they'd drive me back to the cushion. She's a serious-business Dharma girl, not a dabbler.

Snowflakes dart sideways across the douglas firs like swarming insects over a river: I expect some enormous fish to rise out of the ground and snap them up.

Fifteen years before I'm seventy. I have never much minded decades going past, and I've been a little impatient with people who fuss about thirty, forty, fifty. But seventy is a sobering thought: the three score and ten allotted by the Bible. Nowadays, when I find myself dreaming up schemes for a new life and a new way of being, those fifteen years rise like the fish. If all the years hitherto haven't brought the new life, why should the next fifteen do it? Is there time to hammer out a whole new frame? No, this is it, this is my life, to adorn or embellish, but not to really alter. I have set my life upon a cast, and I must stand the hazard of the die.

The phantoms that have crowded so thick begin to disperse, and the light grows: it occurred to me yesterday that there are only two probable turns to my story now, towards joy or towards freedom. There are evil chances, of course: my country has become uglier and less safe than it was. But mostly, the paths lead this way or that. And either way, I'm content.
It tikleth me about the herte roote,
Unto this day it dooth min herte boote,
That I have had my world as in my time.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Dishes

It was a little more than an hour's work, to clean the kitchen: wash all the dishes, pots, and pans, wipe down the counters, even scrub out the sink with the Bar Keeper's Friend. I could feel Martha's worried eye on me from time to time: she hates it when people get heroic. She fears that when the fit passes, the backlash will be all the worse: or that horse and rider will come down, trying a hedge too high, and she'll be left to put the pistol to the horse's head.

A sensible fear, living with me, but she was mistaken. Sober joy: joy at having survived, joy at being back in a world in which effort has effects, in which facts are true or false, in which light spills over the edge of the world in the morning, and drains away at night, in which there is fresh air and unbeholden creatures roaming at their own sweet will. Oh, it's not fair, it's not fair, but I associate that house with everything suffocating and artificial, and with every mean thing in my soul that answers to them: the craving for endless repetitions, desires and gratifications piling so thick and nauseating together that they lose the name of pleasure and just become the sea, the endless thirsty sea. 

So I now at home I work, I clean and scrub, I dry rack after rack of dishes. I grow tired: but it's not the bone-tiredness of spending all day avoiding the plain tasks before my face. It's just the ordinary tiredness of cleaning a well-used kitchen. And it makes me feel as though there was still a glance from the goddess of hope falling on my shoulder. Every once in a while, a glance. I don't ask for more than that: I don't ask for that much. But I'm grateful. I will sleep tonight.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I wanted to lift the haunted water
to that faint shield, no bigger
than a man's hand,
of the Pleiades.
I found a photo of you, as a girl,
scowling at the camera,
at the future, at me:
you were trying to see
the lens, that scissor of darkness.
I reached out fingertips to brush your cheek
but you were wilder then
even than now;
you vanished with your sisters
at a thickening of the cloud.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


As if we any of us came into focus
more than once or twice a month: the whirr
of the camera and the rasp of the shutter
giving news of aperture, the quick
opening of glossy black, the widening pupil,
the short-breathed sobs of coming or of grief;
and then the shutter falls. A quiet comes.
We pull on snaggy knits and clumsy button shirts;
we dry our eyes on anything at hand. Before
our hearts return to their horizon note
we are forgetting and our eyes are filming over,
sticky with the kitchen grease of days.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


A craving for potato chips. I don't bar eating potato chips, though I bar having them: I don't keep them in the house. So I walked over to the 7-Eleven and got a bag, and brought it back, and ate it. Feeling a little icky now, but it will pass.

I talked to myself as I walked through the night streets. That little store is maybe a dozen blocks away. The potato chips cost over four bucks -- don't remember exactly -- and the clerk, in a English so heavily accented I had to ask him to repeat himself, told me I could get two bags for five dollars. "No thanks, just the one," I said. Even one was more than I wanted, since I knew I'd eat them all. A strange thing, this compulsion to binge: I don't know what to make of it. I'm glad it comes less often than it used to.

As I walked, I talked aloud to myself. It's been so long since I've taken a walk and talked aloud to myself that it was like suddenly getting back in touch with an old friend. Oh yes, you! We used to talk all the time! It was nice, and I realized I've let blogging and social media crowd out that sort of time. For me, blogging began -- back when this blog was named "Vajrayana Practice" -- as a cross between keeping a journal, and talking aloud to myself as I walked. It turned into communication, and even community, for a time. (My other blog, the massage blog, has always been an uneasy combination of soapbox and billboard.) But by the same token, gradually, private rumination was crowded out. It was queer to hear my own voice in my ears again, with no public in mind but myself, and to hear what I had to say. I had a lot to say. I think I'll walk more often.

It's easy for me to get lost, to get thrown by an audience. That's okay: it's a feature, not a bug. But it means I need to have to maintain some private space, and listen for my own voice. I have been too quick, too clever, lately. I have let too many alien filaments work their way into my soul: there are too many interruptions. I check for responses too often, and do creative work too seldom. I don't blame technology or social media for this: they're just the current mechanisms of fidgety, unhealthy habits of mind that predate them entirely. They make them easier to indulge, that's all.

Ten years of this blog. A decade of water running swiftly under the bridge. An epoch of my life has washed by these pylons. And it has been an extraordinary decade: my life and habits have changed beyond recognition. Whole galleries of online friends have arrived and slipped away. The joys of being understanding and being understood are less intoxicating than they were, but they have transformed me. 

Still. Walk out under the night sky and the prickle of stars, even here where the city lights wash so many away, and I can feel a deeper throb, the pounding of a larger mind, the lure of understandings that are more important and more decisive. I have no wish to go beyond the human and the natural -- God and das ewige weiblichkeit have no purchase on me, and I want nothing that my hands can't touch -- but I'm not done with traveling, either. I breath deep -- my overfull stomach resentfully following my breath -- and a small skitter of laughter, unless it's leaves in the wind, runs ahead of me in the dark. Yes. I will be walking some more.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Some Were Sprung So Tight

Some were sprung so tight --
do you remember? -- it hurt your finger
to drag the nine or zero clear around.

But all things then were heavier, more real,
less apt to disappear or to transmute
when you moved your eyes away.

In this world now all things
lift to your touch as you reach for them.
All things but the frightened, glimmered flesh
of those reluctant incarnations,

the people on the street:
their faces close like sea anemonies
against the unfamiliar light of day.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


And yet the joy recedes, its murmuration vanishes in the shifted sky. I am left with these two hands, pale in the winter light. I turn them palm up to receive what may remain:

the cold white winter, a heart which hesitates and coughs when I start it in the morning, and the ache of feet that have stood too long on concrete floors.

And if I remember adding a drop of menthol when I rubbed your temples, a smear of comfrey to your knee, I remember it only as dream, tasted on the side of the tongue.

You resurrect the scaffolding of heaven – to build again? To bring it down? – and invite me to climb again. I, who have held your beating heart in my hands, and now

hold the light of winter, the dust of a fading sky.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Water Ouzel

One of several reasons I was a bad teacher: I dislike repeating myself. When I know I'm repeating myself, that is. Like everyone, I tend to say the same things over and over, but that's okay, as long as I've forgotten that I've said it before. When a former version is still resonating in my mind, though, and I try to say the thing again, it kicks up a feedback-storm in my mind – very like what happens, I imagine, to a stutterer, and with a very similar effect. I begin, hesitate, lose my place, and have to start over, only to have what I've just begun add to the confusion. A teacher needs to repeat things a lot. I find difficult, if not impossible. So when someone kindly suggests that I make a book out of my blogs, – as people do from time to time – something about embodiment and massage and meditation – it kindles a flutter, a minor panic, under my breastbone. Deliberately repeat myself? Oh, no.

Yet I'm thinking about it, in my ponderous way, and I'm even doing a little something like it, in that I'm starting to pick up old posts from the archives of Mole, refurbish them, and repost them over on my massage blog, where someone might actually see them. I do this against a lot of psychological resistance, which is why it's happening slowly.

Meantime: I am mortal, so very mortal. I gave a massage in a tea house, yesterday. I know nothing about tea houses – I'm utterly ignorant of all things Japanese – so I simply accepted that I must wear the white socks given me, in that space. I'm all in favor of taboos of place, and of ceremony and ritual that sets certain places apart; so I was quite willing to put on the socks. And massage is, itself, a sacred space to me – a place with its own rules, requiring a certain discipline of intention – so it felt appropriate, in one way: in another, I suspected that it was ludicrously inappropriate, and that somewhere Japanese spirits were cringing. Sorry.

Sorry, but that's my calling and my trade: going where people are, and working with what they give me. I'm a water-ouzel: a queer fish and an odd bird. I belong everywhere and nowhere; follow everybody's rules and nobody's. I don't know if I could do something so very drylandish as to write whole book.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


The emptiness of the past is what most disturbs me. I remember my childhood home from the outside: a small low suburban house among others of its kind, surrounded by expansive, flat, close-clipped lawns of yellowish grass, dotted with low shrubs that we called... junipers, I think? – low, squat, dense, prickly blots of dark green. Nothing you could explore or hide under. All dull: all exposed and yet confined. I realize that it's subjective fallacy, and a failure of imagination, but to this day I can't picture a bodhisattva, or even a happy person, living in such a neighborhood. A graveyard of hopes. It's where my parents' marriage went to die.

When Martha and I first got together, she tells me, the thing that most disturbed her about me – and I was a queer enough young man, in all conscience; there were plenty of things to choose from – was that I remembered nothing of my childhood. I seemed to have emerged into a vague and partial consciousness when I was eleven or twelve, and to have almost no clear memories from any time earlier than that. Which, since I was only seventeen when we got together, did not make much of a remembered life. From time to time, small memories, preserved like specimens, showed up. But compared to her riches – she seems to remember absolutely everything, in Dickensian profusion – I was remarkably poor. I had lived in my head, not in the world. I remember the books I read and the pictures I saw. I remember the girls I had crushes on. That's about it.

It was Eros that brought me to anchor in the world, that gave me motive and memory. I really don't seem to have existed before that, in any substantial way. I drifted somewhere, but I don't know where. And if I contemplate a life with the erotic fading from it, my imagination turns up the same emptiness my early past does: a formless, uninhabited, uninhabitable flatland of dry lawns and junipers.

It recurs to me: I need to build a place. I need to make my house into a home, to fully inhabit it. I have thought this before, said it before, but there is an existential urgency to it now. The erotic may have been the only vividness my early life provided – the bright thread to follow – but it's only a thread, a guide out of the labyrinth. It can't make a home. The other impulses to make and mark are only adumbrations of this first, primary need: to make a place, a real place, one that will take the impress of memory and give memories back in return.

I don't even know if it's possible. For a long, long time my primary response to the houses I have lived in has been the imperative need to secure my lines of retreat from it. How do I get out of this place? How do I know I'm not trapped here? How do I keep my freedom of movement? Can I, really, live in my own house? I really don't know. Maybe I can't.

But whether I can or not, it becomes clear to me that nothing else comes next. I either take this step forward, or stay where I am.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Color of Shells

A cold white morning. Even the crows were silent: when I walked down the drive, they glided overhead towards their morning gathering without a word.

My life is very quiet right now in all its externals, but my mind is a boiling hive. All of my past is vivid to me. There is no long ago, no blue distance. Everything is here, now, urgent. I feel I have never settled anything, never closed any account. Anything might break open again.

I lay my hand on your chest, and roll your cheek into the crook of my elbow; the other hand makes one long stroke over the collarbone, the throat, the face. I end with my fingers tangled in the hair of your scalp, gently pulling your hair. Coda.

… So here is the fisherman
who never caught a thing, having moonlit
conversation in the reeds. She
is covered with scales and sinuous as
brocade. She listens
but will not grant
a mansion for his wife…

-- “Parable of the Fish”, Luisa Igloria, The Saints of Streets

This poem goes walking with me, up the strange little bluff with its terraced, impossibly-named streets (Billingher Drive, Beyrl Terrace). It follows me from the hondonada of 82nd Avenue to the little upland where Dale and Martha are making their last stand.

His hair is fading to the color of shells: so it is, too.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Another Fir

Here is a spiral notebook, water stained,
its wire unthreading from the pages
to make a jabby wayward serpentine;
here is a pen from the dashboard of the car,
where we keep it to endorse a check or
work a crossword puzzle. The old
technology of writing, half forgotten,
peripheral and quaint. Then will I write a poem?

It will not do. I have two
bathtub sponges standing in as kidneys;
an antique bellows, black and salt-stained,
rigged up for a heart; two
clammy pale filters from an air duct
to do the work of lungs. They gasp and shudder,
and the whole machine works, in its way.
But don't mistake me for a person. Hilarity
will not ensue. Out of the window:

nearer hand, a cedar, almost clear --
behind a fir tree lacking in detail --
and further still and dimmer in the fog
another fir, a phantom full of grief.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Secret Lives

I had to confess to Elissa that I hate this cover. First there's the painting style, which sets my teeth on edge. I associate it with LeRoy Neiman, who did so much illustration for Playboy Magazine, and who set the style for so many book covers in the sixties: it says to me: Cold War, doublespeak, and above all naughty. I don't do naughty. And then there's the grim, menacing, masterful man, having his way with someone: the stereotype of masculinity that made my life a misery, when I was young, because I was a gentle, tender, and shy person, not at all what was wanted in a boy. I was – up until I was saved by my wonderful, hippie-free-school high school – completely wrong, non grata, weird. I bear the scars of that still.

But I love this novel, and I think it's an important one. It's about submission. Not submission as an act, or a state, or a perversion – submission as a drive: as a fundamental human impulse. It runs from the sweet chivalric devotion of the first protagonist's Russian husband – a totally socially acceptable form – to the totally socially unacceptable work of the professional submissive, Nan, whose devotion lights up the other main narrative of the book. In between these two magnificent characters, the two protagonists, twin sisters, are making their way: what sort of submission, at what cost, with what limits? There are two very poignant love stories in this book, one of finding and one of losing.

The predominant mood is forlorn. Perfect submission, it turns out, is as unachievable as perfect equality. The intense joy of fearful service is something hard to obtain and impossible to keep, like everything else our hearts most desire.

And in the meantime, we have other things to do: we have jobs to keep and children to raise and homes to keep. I can't pretend to have read many BDSM-themed books, but I'd venture to guess that none or few others end like this:
He poured two flutes of champagne, nudged one of them toward me and lifted the other.
To family,” he said. And we drank.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Touching the Air

Shah Jahan
"After a period of time they'll dry out, and then the phosphorous will contact the air and start burning again," said Detective Howard Greer of the Oregon State Police. "If people are near these things when they start burning again, you can get some very, very serious burns."

“That's why you're safe from me,” you said.

As if any of us could ever be safe from each other:
we are like those tubes of white phosphorus
that wash up on the beach, submarine markers:
it's all a matter of when we touch the air.

May this hand be full of light
may this heart be tipped in the morning sun
may the bowl of my skull be scraped
and clean
and microwave-safe: 

a vessel for morning oatmeal
for coffee
for slanted light
for two hunched crows on a maple limb,
waiting for kibbles and a kind word.

Kartika and kapala
(skin flail and skull cup)
in the bathroom cabinet with the toothbrush
and the razor: maybe the jumbling
becomes richer with age.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Rooster Rock State Park. Standing on what, in Spring, is the riverbed: this time of year, with the river low, it's a wide expanse of drying sand. The wind blows steadily. We lean into it and walk upriver. Rivulets of dryer sand come flying over the surface at us, staying ankle-high.

Turn and look back. Down on the river, the kite-sailors' wings rise and fall over the horizon like monstrous birds flocking. The rivulets run away from us.

I remember to tell Martha about the vultures a couple weeks ago. Above the 82nd Avenue train station, I counted 46. Not wheeling, as they usually do, like in a cowboy movie -- they were more rumbustious than usual, like crows mobbing together, flapping their wings, going every which way. And not anchored: they were drifting south. I've never seen them do anything of the sort, and I don't know what to make of it.

Now, worn out with the wind and the sun. Wondering.

We walked back, carrying plastic water bottles, a quart Pennzoil bottle, two small plastic bollards, an energy drink can. Martha took a stick and threaded the bollards and and cans on it, and carried it before her like a scepter. "I'm a new age shaman!" she said. "Woo."


Good night.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Settling of Bones

Sometimes it's bittersweet, to drive away
with a gibbous moon groping
over the crowns of dusky trees
and dragging her game leg.

We held hands in the dark
(not what you think)
and I could have made up a thousand
stories, but I chose not to be the last sad man

on the shore of a long sad sea.
If it's true, and it is, that I know more ways
that hands can fit together than
even the moon before her wound,

then the interlace of fingers,
the ball of my thumb
wearing your palm like a hood,
might be only professional skill:

and that gasping creak
might be only
the settling of bones
preparing themselves for winter.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

One Swift

I nearly typed, "do I exist?" as a Facebook status update, but I realized that no answer I received there could be convincing.

No answer here could be convincing either: but here there's room to unpack a little. To ask, for instance, "why do you ask?"

Well, obviously, because a sense of unreality is growing on me. The gears of my soul are stripped. The wheels are turning, but nothing is happening.

So, well -- just stop, then.

Take a few breaths.

Think about it. What do I really want? There are a number of shadowy people lingering here, who want a variety of things, but I think that even when they seize the steering wheel, the conviction that they are not real is altogether appropriate.

It is not any particular falsity about myself, however, which produces these phantoms. It is the unreality of this life. No one could feel real in these circumstances.

So. Therefore?

Therefore, do something real. It's pretty much as easy as that.

There is no changing the falsity of the modern world. But that's finite, and I am not. Not by any measure. Mortal, yes, but that's the answer to a different question.

This, actually, is a start. Just to write it down. Even if it is like picking out one swift to follow, from the swirl over Chapman School.

The house where I did a couple massages today looked out over the Valley, with the trees turning, and a bit of river showing like a steel plate under long grass. The sky a patchwork of grays and whites and silvers. And my client lying on the table like the statue of a crusader on his tomb, with his hands crossed on his breast, his bones too large for his flesh.

Later, when I lifted one from under the blanket -- such large hands men have! He asked for more pressure. "It hurts, but it feels good," he said. I wondered, he was so thin, if he was ill. Or -- my imagination running somewhat wild -- if he had been captive and ill-fed for many months. I suppose my medically-minded massage friends would consider me remiss for not pressing him, and finding out. But sometimes people don't want to be pressed. Sometimes they want to drop their identity and leave it behind, like their clothes, for the duration of the massage: and why not? I've never wanted to take on a medical role. Not qualified, not by education, not by temperament. Even when I know something, I don't know best. I have no intention of knowing best: not now, not ever.

Friday, October 11, 2013


Sagittaria Latifolia: Wikipedia Commons

Morning. Across the street, the new gas station is framed, and clothed in plywood. It is actually, right at the moment, a pleasing and well-proportioned object. Sober concrete steps go up to the rectangle where the side door will be. Soon, no doubt, it will be uglified with advertisements and decked out with lurid pictures in (as the Spanish would say) shrieking colors: but right now it's a testament to the extraordinary, underappreciated building skills of my people: modest but sturdy. It will stand easily through storm and earthquake: properly painted and maintained, it should last practically forever -- certainly longer than civilization that built it seems likely to.

Sitting on my couch is a booklet, published in 1909, I believe: the 15th edition of a dictionary of the Chinook Jargon. Its own introduction confesses that it's useless for any practical purposes: the last Chinook speakers had died recently, and no occasion for the use of the jargon would ever arise again. Still they published it then, and I leaf through it a century later, finding place-name elements that I know -- "chuck" means "water": of course, I should have guessed that! It gives me a queer and salutary frisson of transience. I and mine will pass too, without the hills paying much mind. Seeing the name of the river I was born beside, and have lived beside almost all my life -- Portland being simply a hundred miles downriver from Eugene -- spelled "Willamat" gives me a twinge. And Sauvie's Island referred to as Wappatoe Island: which makes me think -- as I do periodically -- that there is something impious about living here on the Lower Columbia, where sixty thousand Chinook, drawn hither by the wapato, used to live, and not to recognize the plant, and never to have eaten the root.

P.S.: this site quotes Lewis & Clark:  “in this pond the nativs inform us they Collect great quantities of wappato, which the womin collect by getting into the water, Sometimes to their necks holding by a Small canoe and with their feet loosen the wappato or bulb of the root from the bottom from the Fibers, and it imedeately rises to the top of the water, they Collect & throw them into the Canoe, those deep roots are the largest and best roots”.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


Gestures are not love, but what is love
without gesture? Once an almost imperceptible moue
told me you'd thought of kissing me:
was enough.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Song Again

I don't know. The grief goes on, running under the surface of things. I've pretty much conceded that it's just going to be the way it is. It will never be okay with me. It will never be closed.

Now that I say it in so many words, it seems both obvious and right to me: why would I want it closed?

But still: how to explain it? And who to explain it to? And is there really a reason to explain at all? After all, I have learned nothing, have come to no conclusions, have solved nothing.

Shall I, then, go backwards or forwards? There seems little point in doing either. I am pretty sure that I am somehow faced in the wrong direction. Stuck in one slot. Whether I go forward or back is of little moment. What I need to do is get out of the slot.

Fallow, yellow; fealo, gealu. The dapodencia of Fall, the rattle of seeds in their cases. Gold and the value of men. Something does not quite line up, here. I'm missing something.

Just do the next thing, I used to tell myself, in the bad old days, when I could not bring myself to do anything at all. I thought it was such clever advice, but it wasn't really. Because it was written on the blackboard of despair. Just do the next thing, because it doesn't matter what you do. Nothing you do will change anything, so why fret about which one to start with? That wasn't really going to prod me into motion.

Now, you know, despite my frustration, I have to acknowledge that I have left that behind. The things I do matter, now. I may be confused and grieved, but I'm not hopeless, and I'm not powerless. "I did not know I was so empty, that I could be so full."

I suck up this autumn sun, like the juice of nectarines, through a thin straw: it goes straight into my circulatory system, and flickers of bright yellow flame run under my skin, tiny pulses of intelligence. There is something to be done, something to be said, whether I can identify it or not: there's something being written, in a fine solar script, on the walls of my arteries and arterioles. I spread my hands, palms up, and the sunlight skates across them: and something inside answers too, an equal and opposite brightness. Lift the song again, in our time; it is not too late.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

My Brush with Fame

A little embarrassed by how thrown I've been by my little brush with fame. I knew it would pass, leaving hardly a wrack, but every time something like that happens it takes me weeks to recover from the sense of exposure. It's so destabilizing. There's a wild hope that rises: this might be it, this might be when it all comes true, when everyone realizes my brilliance, when all the fascinating people want to sit at my table and all the beautiful woman want to lie in my bed.

What would I do? I already know more fascinating people than I can find dinner-date time for, and there are already as many beautiful women in my bed as I will ever be able to cope with. People already tell me I'm brilliant, with embarrassing frequency: if I don't believe it now, what makes me think I would believe it then?

Its promise of a different life is as obviously bogus as the (deeply Christian) Nigerian widow's plea that I let her park eight million dollars in my bank account: yet that doesn't diminish its force, its almost wholly baleful force. I eat anxiously, forget to exercise, haunt the social media. I go to check the preternatural run of the page-view counter. All those people are reading me. It must mean –

Well, you know, it means only that I hit a nerve, this once: it was short, sweet, believable, and inoffensive, and it said something that people badly wanted to hear. It was true, too, which is nice, but that's not why it's popular. And my point here is not to fish up compliments about it being well-written: sure, it is well-written, but so are hundreds of others of my posts. No, my point is that it's very peculiar that it should matter to me, in quite this way, with quite this much force. Perhaps I am of a uniquely, squalidly weak character, but actually I don't think there's anything unusual about this response. When I ask, who cares what strangers think of you? The answer that comes back is, I do. And so does everybody.

And really, you know, it's odd that it should be so. Of course you care what the other primates in your troop think of you: the people at work, the people in your family. Your economic and psychological security depend on their approval. There's nothing mysterious about that. But why care what the others think?

I suppose it's because we don't stay put all our lives. Almost all of us eventually move out of our parents' basement, eventually get a new job. And every time we shift, or are forced to shift, we are at a moment of high vulnerability. Are we still wanted? Do we still matter? And that's why we care what strangers think of us. Because somewhere, in the back of our little primate brains, is the dread and desire of the new troop. Maybe we'd be more important there. Maybe we'd even be alpha there. Or maybe we'd be the cringing, scrounging, perpetual outsider. We don't know. But there's a piece of us that never, never stops wondering.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

On Reading the Essay of a Friend

Litera scripta manet, so we're told
but words written on the flesh
must move when the body moves;
words written on the heart
must beat.

The scrape of metal on stone fades
into silence. I almost think I will
set myself to unwrite every word –
my tongue at the corner of my mouth,
my pen filled with white ink; that I will carefully
trace every line you wrote,

until the words gleam only like
old scars, caught by a chance
change in light: weals of meaning
to be traced by a lover's hand.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


It's as if I had a silk streamer tacked to the back of my head, and every time I stop quickly, or turn to look at something, a long colorful trailer floats across my field of view. It's my own motion, but it seems alien, colorful, distracting: and how it comes to be attached to me, I can't well say.

So. It's a small thing, but it jives all too well with feeling deracinated. I am awkward, ill at ease, at once too formal and too confidential. A species of survival guilt, maybe, though I don't honestly know if I've survived, nor if anyone else has perished. And anyway, melodramatic gesturing does no good to man nor beast. What's wanted is sober work.

I suppose. One of my clients always brings me a glass of water, and she or I always place it on the same corner of the same bookshelf. Sometimes I drink it all, sometimes I forget it: but that's our place. I feel like the pieces of my life that still work are like that spot: a bit of territory marked out by time and custom, comfortable, familiar, assumed -- and yet, it could be gone forever, in one flickering shift of intention. Nothing, I feel, is very stable or very assured. I have built up my life out of these little habits, these concessions, and one by one they will drop away again. I want to memorize that shelf, photograph it, versify it. But I don't even know if my memory of the wood is to be trusted. In my mind's eye it's raw, unstained, unvarnished, unpainted, but that hardly seems likely. In what sense, then, can I think of it as mine? But I can think of nothing I own in any more convincing sense. The silk floats in front of my eyes.

I want to reach out to people, but the old people are too old, and the new people are too new. I breathe in the scent of raw wood, and of the rain-beaten vines behind the house, and of my massage oil. This is, simply, an in-between time, and no good will come of denying that. It's like that moment in meditation, when I have settled my attention on my breath, and my breathing stops, and for a moment I am fighting an absurd panic: what if it never starts again?

What to do? Easy. Wait. The breath comes again. It always does, in the space of a few heartbeats. Or anyway, it always has so far. And the panic dissolves, and the swirl slows, and the sand begins to settle at the bottom of the glass. "Wait, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing."

So I will wait, and let the folds of fabric fall into place around me. The breath will take care of itself. The love I have set in motion will rise and fall again, lifting my ribs and my collarbone. There is not, in fact, any stopping it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


On the other hand (I think) who could know
less about love than I do? And the blinds
rattle closed, and the light fails again.
Each step would be a stumble.

Should I, then, lift my voice? I don't want to.
It's late. And yet I would like for you to know,
since we have come this far together,
sister of my heart: there is more to say

than has yet been said, and in a queer way
there is justice to be done and there may be
speaking to be done for those
who have no voice.

And if, having come the bewildering circuit
of the water-glass's lip, an ant should find
his own scent before him, we might
forgive him imagining

that by hurrying forward he might find
company for the road ahead,
the homely speech
of his own people.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Blessings beyond their Writ

Careful now, careful dear...

None of this is going to change anything.

Parnell came down the road, he said to a cheering man
Ireland shall get her freedom and you still break stone.

Grateful, grateful for Neva, grateful for the violent rain. Grateful for a book arriving on my doorstep, while I was reading a library copy of it:

Grateful for blessings that run far beyond their writ: for the stormy skies clearing long enough for Vega to appear, and to lance me under the collarbone, cold and blue as shadowed ice. "You are still blessed," she told me sternly. As much as to say, "don't get any ideas about slipping out the back door, bucko."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Putting the Sun to Shame

And if I tire of the weak, restless striving? And if I shake myself,
like a dog coming out of the river, like a god coming out of the river,
spraying a fiery light that is pregnant with my own breathing musk?
Well suppose. And if the flare of my nostrils takes in the valley and its hills on either hand,
and if my breath lifts the dust, if I snort the Willamette like a line of cocaine?
And suppose what comes into my hands is everything that ever longed to surrender;
and that the ferocity of my eyes
is putting the sun to shame.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Sea Creatures, Crowding Pinkly

At the end of the sea – where the white curls stiffen,
far away from toast or jam –
are the sea creatures crowding, pinkly.

At the end of the sea, and the end of the sky,
their humid lungs are heaving; the wheeze
and spume of their vasty breath
makes a fume shot with scarlet twinkling.

At the end of the sea, where the drawer of the world
snicks shut, and the water quivers –
there the emotional sea creatures crowd,
and the anxious anemone shivers.

See Niya Christine's story painting, Emotional Sea Creatures.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Leaving for St Helena

The chaff turns out to be
straw colored maggots of fruit flies
overflowing from the compost box;
Napoleon, the suicide attempt
when the opiate was past its sell date
(a tummy ache, no more)
the attempt past, I say, the morning audience
underway, had snuff all over
his blue cutaway. Strutting
was by that time all he knew.
There is only one spooky thing
and that is, for something dead to be alive:
I watched the chaff crawl for three heartbeats
before I understood. Just so, the snuff
would have crawled
on the simple blue
of his civilian suit: just so.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Corpse, Crows, Gull and Vulture

Early morning: a crescent moon high in the pale blue sky, with Jupiter trotting happily behind his shoulder. Some of the beach in the clear, some still in dense fog.

The weather cleared yesterday, and we had one of those rare, early-fall days here: there's no sense of loss or decay on this coast, with the onset of winter, for the simple reason that nothing is preparing to die. Winter here is nothing worse than a long cold shower. So when the light goes golden, and the spray from the surf is hanging in the air, lit up with the setting sun, you get the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” without death behind it: you could believe that war has vanished from the world, and that no parent and child will ever be parted. The pelicans framed their antediluvian profiles, black against the gold, slowly flapping their ancient wings, with their pterodactyl heads drawn well back, and the quadrilaterals of their wings shifting from diamond-shapes to Tennessee outlines and back again: each with its neck proudly bared to the knife.

In the Middle Ages it was thought that pelicans tore open their breasts to make themselves bleed, and fed their young with their blood: hence the pelican was an image of Christ. There is something about the deliberate motions of the bird that makes this plausible: it does not seem quite of this world.

We paused on grassy bluff, where we could look back at the cliff above which our condo is perched, and the little beach at its foot. The corpse of something was there on the beach – a large fish? – a small seal? – and a couple beach-crows were at it, dodging the surf from time to time. A seagull watched them, perched on a rock a couple of yards away, but never disputed the corpse with them. As we watched, a turkey vulture came slowly, slowly down, in great circles, till he was skimming the little beach and practically brushing the rock walls with his huge wings. Eventually he settled on the gull's rock, a little farther back, and observed the crows at their work. He was remarkably small, with his wings folded: not really much bigger than the gull. We expected him to drive off the crows, but he just watched, for a long time. Eventually he stepped down, going carefully behind the gull, and sidled up to the grey lump, whatever it was, that occupied the crows. He never pecked at it, or interfered with the crows: all three of the bird-kinds resolutely ignored each other. He just looked it over, a long, patient contemplation, while the crows darted in and out. He did not seem to like the surf much, and retreated from it a couple of times. And then he took to the air, unfolding again into a huge, magnificent bird, and rose in circles, as slow as he'd come down. He circled a while and then vanished. The gull never moved.

We went on our way: when we came back that way, an hour or two later, the tide was was slightly higher, and everything was gone: corpse, crows, gull and vulture. Not a sign of any of them.

The numen seems to be coming back into the world. I am still at a sad loss to know what exactly I'm doing here; I've run far past the end of my marching orders, but the emptiness that distressed me yesterday has passed. We're going home today, and I'm glad of it: I have massages and painting to do. But it's clear as the morning that I must do some hard thinking, over the next few days.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Butter-Colored Dots

No, the trouble is not Facebook, nor the work I'm trying to get done around the house, nor what anyone else may be doing to hinder me. The trouble is the quality of attention I am bringing. I am scattered, distracted, and worried: and hence dismissive, judgmental, and small-minded.

Once again, I have to admonish myself to slow down, to do less, to take more time. Bring my full attention to bear. The craving for quick reassurance grows by what it feeds on: wasted time will lead only to wasted time. Enough.

Last night we swam in the pool, and sat in the jacuzzi, with a cold rain pelting down on us. Not really very cold, but cold by contrast, and not one's idea of an August beach vacation; not unless one is a native Northwesterner.

I have been down to the beach only once. It worries me that I view the sea, this time, with no awe. It does not even seem particularly big. It doesn't draw my eye. I reached yesterday in my poem, trying to find my way to it, but there's really nothing sillier than trying to force an awe that I'm not feeling. It will only jeopardize my future responses. I called the water “obsidian,” which is pretty enough, but it was just poetizing: the water I had been watching earlier was cloudy gray, freckled with butter-colored dots. Not a bit like obsidian. Stop, Mr Dale; stop before you draw yourself into further absurdities.

Restless, restless. And Seamus Heaney gone now, how can that be?

I see that makaris amang the lave
Playis here their padyanis, syne gois to grave;
Sparit is nocht their facultie:--
Timor mortis conturbat me.

I see that poets, among the best,
Play their pageants and go to rest,
Rhyme they never so skillfully:--
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Leaving the Sea

The waves are gray, running in, and the sky
is gray too. Light rises from water and wind,
obliquely. The tide is past the flood.
I'm still grateful, but I'm puzzled.
Why was I sent here, with an empty envelope
to deliver to a bad address?

There won't be many more,
and a grand love now would only ruin me:
I am leaving the sea.
Now the spine of my life
must be the making of small
and intricate things; the replacement
of a rotting window-sill
with good sound wood;
the call of a thrush
from the red sunrise.

The foam slides in long, ghost-white garlands
down wet obsidian slopes, whispering
of promises long unkept. When I woke this morning
the light of your eyes was fading from mine:
my arms were empty.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Numbers

I'm sorry, but the numbers matter, they really do. You can't hammer a perfect world out of a few happy incidents. Things have to add up: demand has to meet supply. The numbers are inexorable.


The panic of being stranded away from one's tribe: when I arrived, it was all pale skin, tee shirts with eagles and American flags, belt buckles, bill caps. I was wearing jeans and suspenders too, but the suspenders were in a harlequin-check, and there were sandals on my feet, and I wasn't fooling anyone. Deep relief when some brown-skinned people showed up, and men wearing what we used to call Bermuda shorts. (What do they call them now, I wonder? I haven't heard “Bermuda shorts” for an age. Maybe just they're just “shorts” now?) In aggregate, the tribal markers are overwhelming, even when all intentions are benign. I must remember that, when I'm in the heart of Portland, among my own, and I meet an outlander: special kindness and attentiveness is called for.


Much to do today: the end of summer and the advent of the rainy season are looming. If it's not painted in the next few weeks, it's not painted till next summer.

Maybe I'm trying to change too much at once. But I'm so tired of temporizing and shilly-shallying. I just want to point the boat in its final direction and row, row till I drop. Still that deep respiration, under every other sound. And the years are too short.

Friday, August 16, 2013

In the Dead-Letter Office

It gets more difficult to write, in some ways -- or rather, to bring myself to click the "publish" button. I tire of hearing my own voice, for one thing. For another, the burden of my failures weighs on me: so much of my writing has been of the preaching and exhorting sort, and I'm feeling less and less that I have any standing for that. Who am I to advise anyone on eye-motes?

And then, I am ever more acutely aware of how very little time remains. I used to write to kill time. I'm not feeling so spendthrift, now.

And this weather, this dark, sullen, sultry summer overcast, is weighing on me. I want to reach up and sweep the clouds away. Where is the sun?

But: this is valuable for me. To stop and write. Even if I start by writing the same old thing: even that will nudge me towards replying to myself, to taking it further, to going beyond. And I am, maybe, learning how to write in my own house. Dangerous; difficult; long overdue.

I run a hand over the tickle of my beard, the rasp of my unshaved throat, listen to the whirr of the refrigerator and the keen of my tinnitus. There's a sound just barely audible beneath those: the respiration of some gigantic creature under the ground. I am still surrounded by messengers and messages. I need to attend, for me as well as for them. I have to let it be all right, if the letters are dead ones. That's not my business.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Today's Blessing

Am I the only person troubled by the fact that Vladimir Putin, former KGB colonel and master of the gangster paradise that is present-day Russia -- and so, obviously, an exemplar of mental and spiritual health -- might just wake up some day and decide he wants everyone to die? Because, you know, he could make it so. I think of that every day. So far as I can tell, nobody else ever thinks about it at all. Stephen Covey would approve -- after all, there's nothing we can do about it; why trouble our little heads? But given all the much less likely and smaller-scale catastrophes that people obsess over -- oh my God, there's a puddle at the North Pole! -- it seems odd to me. It's true that it wouldn't be in Mr. Putin's rational self-interest to do it, but if that brings you great comfort, you have not read very much history.

(I do worry about the established fact of global warming and the train of disasters it's going to cause. But I only hope we avoid the Last War long enough to have to deal with them. Really, you know, things are far worse than most people think. We're storing up a whole raft of environmental disasters for ourselves. If I lived in Africa or the Middle East I would be doing anything, anything at all, to get myself and my family out: I think the disasters will hit there first and hardest.)

I am, of course, much given to gloom, when thinking on a large scale, and I must remind myself that when I was a teenager I confidently expected ecological disaster, and a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and China, and other wars over the remaining stores of potable water, to break out within a decade. Most of that didn't happen.

Dave Bonta commented, "you are the most cheerful doomer I know!" I guess it's because I start from such a dark place. Also because I'm just a pretty cheerful person by nature: I wake up to a new day and think "Oh my God! It's so beautiful, another day of amazing people and a breathtaking skies, and there's eggs and bacon and coffee, and women so beautiful they make you trip over your feet on the sidewalk, and friends who just won't stop writing heartstopping poems and painting gorgeous pictures, and -- we made it another day, Vlad got up on the right side of bed too, apparently. How's that for a blessing?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


"You don't need to decide what you're going to do next with your writing," he said. "You just have to make space for it to happen."

Well, that was smart, I thought, and colorable. Has the koshtra trademark all over it. That guy can be so very plausible, you know? Winning smile, and he seems to have read every single book that's ever been written, but sometimes you wonder if he forgot to let the centerboard down.


"Nothing about human thought, feeling, and behavior can be understood without acknowledging that humans evaluate events, others, and themselves on a good-bad continuum and try to acquire the personal features they judge as praiseworthy." -- Jerome Kagan, An Argument for Mind.

All categorical statements are false, of course, but I ran into this, quoted in The Twenty-Four Hour Mind, and paused on it for quite a while. For a Buddhist, it takes some mulling over.


Joy comes drifting down, like floss from the cottonwoods.


The aged opossum who lives under our shed, like so many elderly creatures, has lost track of the days and nights: he walks slowly, stiffly out to get a drink from the water Martha leaves in the front yard, in broad daylight. Then shuffles back to the shed. "I can't worry about crap like dogs any more," he mutters. The cats and crows watch him attentively, but make no move.

Saturday, July 27, 2013


Wikipedia Commons, Whipsaw
The teeth of a whipsaw (more frequently used in a sawpit than up on trestles like this) were in ripsaw fashion, i.e. they only bit on the the downstroke. Made it a bit easier on the topman. But God, imagine how sore a day of sawing planks would have made you! According to Wikipedia, these guys were probably up in the Klondike in the 1890s. I wonder how long it took to saw a plank? And how often the planks and logs came down on the pitman?

I was going to post about feeling raw, and the word "whipsawed" occurred to me, followed closely the the realization that I've been using the word all my life with no clear and distinct understanding of what a whipsaw was. So I looked it up. And after looking at this picture for a while, I've decided my own troubles and labors are not very burdensome, after all.

And turn no more aside to brood
Upon love's bitter mystery:
For Fergus rules the brazen cars
And rules the shadows of the wood
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all disheveled, wandering stars.

But still, you know, the wind comes walking up from the river, and the little cemetery stands on the hillside, five blocks to the northeast of us, and the cat comes in for dinner in the evening.

Today we worked on the boat dolly a bit, and I got a trade-massage from the fabulous Neva. Martha went to a birthday dinner, and I stayed home, and now suddenly the day is over. A cool breeze coming in the window, and the streetlights coming on: the sky a shadowy, fading turquoise.

A moment of panic and wanting to binge, but Martha had the car (& I don't drive the truck), and the nearest store is ten blocks away, and by the time I'd walked most of the way there I'd talked myself down. The panic is a funny thing. I'd let all day go by between my modest breakfast and my dinner. I tell myself a story sometimes, which I'm pretty sure is not true, but which I find useful: the only time our ancestors made themselves refrain from eating (goes the story), it was because the tigers were down by the fruit trees, or maybe because the alpha male was down there in a crappy mood. So what we're programmed to do, when it finally does seem safe to eat, is to chow down for real, get it while the getting's good. It feels like that. Quick, quick, eat before the tigers get back, before the Alpha catches on!

I told myself this story as I walked, and then I just turned around and walked back home and made myself a sandwich. Even though I had just eaten: I was still a thousand calories shy for the day, after all. And now the panic has gone away, and Martha is back. And night is falling. The passing of the day is still mysterious, though.

I close my eyelids and feel the midday sun still wounding them. Tender, a little swollen. The sun and I, despite our detente of recent years, will never really be friends.

Good night. I think that's all for now.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

How to Stop Eating Too Much

I dithered about whether to post this here or on my massage blog, but I'm tending to put my health-related writing over there now. So it's over there: a post on how I'd reform my eating if I were starting over again. I like framing it this way, "stopping eating too much," rather than as "losing weight." Losing weight is a temporary project, of dubious health value, which doesn't address the real problem at all: so long as your metabolism is screwy, you have an eating problem, regardless of how much you weigh.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


A pause, a deep breath, before the new life. It took some reckoning, and I'm still piecing it slowly together. But basically, I'm going to become a handyman, and I'm going to spend a few years doing things as cheaply as possible. We're living quite cheaply now, but we're making no headway, and we're not going to make any headway if maintenance expenses keep periodically dinging us for hundreds, or thousands, of dollars at a time. I have to learn to do my own work maintaining the house, to fix the place on the south side of the house where shingles are coming loose; dig out the earth & possibly pour a little concrete to keep the house walls up out of the dirt & of course to scrape and paint, scrape and paint, scrape and paint.

I will enjoy this work, I think, if I go into it mindfully and deliberately. I've always liked working with my hands. I only ever shied away from it out of embarrassment, a conviction that as a man I ought already magically to know how to do all these things. But with the glory of the internet -- how-to videos about everything under the sun -- and the recently-discovered resource of ancient hardware-store guys, who basically know how everybody in the neighborhood has rigged everything, from boat-dolly wheels to curtain rods, for the past sixty years -- I think I can get over that hurdle too. What's the point of being a whiz at learning things if you can't learn to do what most needs to be done?

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Bay Candles

Coming up
from long underwater, still dark,

a snorting breath in the quiet
under the bridge.

The water ticks on the pylons;
outside, somewhere, the sun.

Play fair, they said. And as I climb
hand over hand, the beams creak,

and a kingfisher streak of sunlight
crosses my eyelids. Above, now,

leaves boil in the Spring wind,
and cotton glides to the roadbed.

I pitch over the rail, with the sky revolving,
my eyes still blurred with water,

and two feet, mine, land
on the wooden planks, prickled

with the long needles
of the ponderosas.

Say, dear, what odds now?
Your thick dark hair

smells of olives and
of bay candles on a snowy night;

we are never
in the right place,

we are never
at the right time.

Saturday, July 06, 2013


I don't know why I come up with these little mottos and slogans. A Lichtenberg manqué, I guess: I imagine my trove of pithy sayings being discovered and my genius suddenly flaring up to light the world. But anyway, the one I'm thinking of now is: never a new beginning.

And, back when I was surer of myself and my place than I am now, I pronounced America to be plagued by new beginnings. We are, after all, a nation-full of people who picked up and left to start over. Don't fix it! Get a new one! A new home, a new wife, a new life. Now, I don't know, that sort of thing sounds glib and trivial to me. And anyway, what do I know? I've spent my life here: I can no more tell you the qualities of America than a fish can tell you the qualities of water.

But I do know that reincarnation is the Buddhist teaching that sticks most often in my throat, and it's because of that ambivalence about new beginnings, or cutting-and-running, if you prefer. Some people -- mostly people who've never thought hard about it -- think that reincarnation is a reassuring doctrine. Well, it's not. What would be reassuring would be an end: a guaranteed end to suffering, a time when the burdens are lifted, when the bets are all off. Having to do it again -- and again -- and again -- until we get it right? Oh, Jesus. I'm tired already.

And. It means, say the teachers, that you never really get to leave any relationship. You don't get to start over. You come back and take it up where you left off. That's why you connect so intensely with some (apparently) new people: you were in the middle of something when you left off with them. And you still have to work it out with them, for good or ill.

It's at this point that you begin to appreciate the enormity of the Buddhist world-view, the vastness of its time-scale, and, at the same time, the terrifying constriction it implies. The world is huge: but there is no way out of it. The kid you pushed on the playground, the spouse you divorced, the home-town you ditched: they're all waiting for you. You are slowly, but inevitably, cycling round to meet them again -- and again -- and again. Are you tired yet?

No, no, I don't believe in reincarnation. I don't believe in believing in things, for one thing, and for another, I don't see the mechanism. I think we die dead as a doornail. But that's not the point. Who cares whether we die dead or not? The point is what we do when we're alive, no matter how many iterations we have. And dying dead is not an escape. It's not a liberation. It's just -- nothing. It's really no help at all.

No, the only point of any cosmological notion is not perceiving ultimate reality -- which I'm convinced we are utterly unfitted for in any case: we have no more hope of understanding the universe than an ant has of comprehending Beowulf -- it's not for perceiving ultimate reality. It's for perceiving this reality, this one right here, where
The noise of life begins again, 
And ghastly thro' the drizzling rain 

On the bald street breaks the blank day.
And what the notion of reincarnation says is: there's no getting away from it. Starting over is an illusion: you may think you're walking away from these relationships, but you're just putting them off. There is no real choice but to fix them, here and now. There is no "away" to get to.

Believe it? No, why would I do a silly thing like believe it? That's not what it's for. But I will use it. I will use knowing that this is not just one thing here now, a one-off relationship of no importance. This is the whole pattern of my life, the basic confusion of my mind: it's the longing and the revulsion that marks out the minutes and hours of my ordinary life. The more I turn away and back off, the longer it will haunt me. I had better, far better, deal with it now, here, with you, in this fleeting shape.

But even if we say, we will not start over, we will clutch at no new beginning: still, there is the sweetness of night and the healing of sleep: stars casting shadows over closed eyelids, and water running underground. Rest, rest is real too.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


They melt away when you try to reach them, my mother says. And perhaps there's not much sinister about them. “I think they were probably just looking for a warm place to stay the night,” she confides to me. Still it's a whole crowd of them, in a house that's supposed to be empty. Well, it's not supposed to be empty. But it's supposed to be empty of strangers, anyway. Her husband is overseas, getting his mother settled in a nursing home. No one knows exactly when he'll be back.

Three children playing on the floor. And a tall, shadowy couple that called her name through the door. She doesn't know who they were.

In the hospital, they think it's the UTI infection. Fair enough. She can catch their conversations, though. And sometimes she can see their emails, scrolling down the whiteboard where the nurses write their names. There are two groups of them, in conflict. Some of them want to kill her, and some don't. Dr Phil comes into it, at this point, and she carefully tics off his list of different sorts of people. There are baiters, and helpers, and traitors, and... she frowns at not being able to complete the list. But anyway, there are no “baiters” in this group. That's her point. She smiles at me, winningly. I smile back, and take her hand.

They won't believe her about the people. It's hard to know who might be in on in and who might not. But there were some of them riding on top of the paramedics' van when they picked her up: how could that be imaginary?

But something happened Sunday night. That's when the whole scam began to come apart. And that explains why some of them were trying to get into the house. They were just looking for a warm place to sleep.

I consider remarking that the evening outside of her air-conditioned house that evening had been a particularly warm, even sweltering, summer night, and decide against it.

A great sadness and weariness comes over me. There is a whole crowd of them waiting for me, too, I suppose. They come at sunset, when the shadows are long, and shapes move on the windows. Every obligation I failed to meet, every lover I disappointed, every deadline I missed. Everyone I ever failed to attend to when they needed me. And now, with the light draining out of the world, it comes to me to make arrangements, to know what to do? It's laughable, a fantastic notion, far more ludicrous than gangsters perched on top of an ambulance. Someone has made a mistake.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Sweet Dear Love of the Clear Blue Sky

Sweet dear love of the clear blue sky:
turn, lay a finger in this cradle,
the transverse metacarpal arch
of my palm: I will grasp it
and pull myself up out of the ground,
a self-plucked carrot, with earth
still clinging to my hips and feet.

Sweet dear love of the clear blue sky:
suck the air until your ribs catch, and then blow
with such violence
that all my clothes fly clean away,
across the valley and the river
and the creosoted bridge; over the freeway,
not stopping till they gently drop
into a box marked "free" at the curb
of a quiet street.

Sweet dear love of the clear blue sky:
lay one each of your four white hands
on my wrist and my wrist and
my ankle and ankle: pull, oh pull, pull dear!
pull the balls from the sockets, the bones from the flesh:
let drops of blood form perfect spheres;
let strings and nets of nerve float on your breath.

Sweet dear love of the clear blue sky:
darling, set each vertebra apart
where it has always longed to be, let
the new wings of each dry out in the radiant sun,
let its arteries fill
with your gasping sapphire fluid
till every wrinkle is smoothed
and their glistening sails
lift with your luminous breast.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Cautiously groping my way forward to the next stage. I had to pause and absorb the fact that nobody is going to help me in this: I am quite alone, and I will have to be very deliberate, focused, and at times rude. Or at least abrupt.

"Don't waste time," has become my mantra. It's a little surprising, even now, to discover just how often, in various obscure ways, I mark time, rather than using it: I put my productive life on hold because I am not, in my mind's eye, my own master: I am at work, or home, and therefore under authority -- on call -- not at my own disposal. So I just -- fidget. Hang about on Facebook, or read up on the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune and the Belle Epoque, check the current political and financial news. It's sheer nonsense, of course. I am as much my own master at those times as at any other. (How much that may be, well! I don't know. I take a Tostoyan view of the Imperial Self: whatever little bit of consciousness happens to have floated to the top at the moment takes itself for the grand Lord of Dalish Destiny, master of all it surveys, until another wave comes along and -- farewell king! But I digress.) I am, I repeat, as much my own master at those times as any other, and my extravagant passivity is a habit, not something imposed from without. I can do otherwise. Whoever I may be, I can do otherwise.

Listen: don't waste time.

I know. My self-image as an obsequious yes-man does not square with the impression other people have of me, as a willful, stubborn cuss who says exactly what he likes and does exactly as he pleases. I could be radically mistaken. We all know people who are horribly mistaken about themselves and what would improve their characters: cruel people who think they're too soft, and pushovers who think they're too selfish. It's possible to be very wrong. But still, I don't see what I can do but find the best lights I can and steer by them.

The truth is, I have far less influence over other people's emotional states than I imagine, and in fact nobody really gives a damn. If I don't do as they want or expect, they'll experience -- perhaps a brief annoyance --  perhaps nothing at all -- and they'll go on their way, pursuing their own agendas as before. It's time to free myself of the debilitating idea that I matter. I do not. I am, from every point of view, disposable, dispensable. Which, rightly viewed, is a radical blessing.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

His Numb'ring Clock

Life got easier when I realized that after composing the crushing retort to a perceived online insult, I could round-file my clever answer and go on about my business. No need to trouble anyone else with my precious dignity: it's not a matter of general interest. It's not even a matter of interest to any part of me that I want to cultivate.

A line from one of my own poems haunting me: "Listen: don't waste time."

Yet I do grieve, grieve for all the wasted time -- which is not, itself, very profitable.

Listen: don't waste time.

Not when there is joy condensing on every cold surface, a sweat of delight breaking on the this old, patched, paved world of yours; a shiver with every wingbeat. It only takes one, maybe two breaths to get there: and the grip-strength come back to my hands, the focus back to my eyes. The grace and the lightness return.

Now. Get your kit together, Dale: you have a massage tonight.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Whole and Full of Light

When the grief rises
because of
an archbishop shot and left
in the gutter, or because of
children –
(but no poem can stand that;
you know that story
even better than I. Start again.) 

When, on a soft afternoon
the light all washes away,

when I wonder
if any of the others
cast away from that same shipwreck
ever think of me, ever think of me
kindly – 

listen –
I am not, never was,
a symptom of your mental disease,
nor am I wanting to open
doors well closed for good reasons.
I am not one to get drunk
and send an email
as if nothing ever happened;
and if I am maudlin at times
it is only because, as a poet,
these things are incumbent upon me.

You said
(this was long ago!)
you would miss having someone
to write you poems.

Which was sweet, I think.

Now, when a bird whistles
twice with the same note
(like a gate shifted back and forth
by a worn man who wonders
if it's latched, and finds it's not)
twice with the same note
followed by a low, ancient,
complicated murmur,

when the leaves cast so many
shadows that
I think “I am underwater,”
and the sun is hidden
behind not only cloud,
but a drench of something
thicker and older than water;

well –

then, I find myself
considering that
the palm of my hand
once rested on your hair
when you were half-asleep,
and that stars, where no stars are ever seen
poured down
on our broken lives –

and then, I foolishly wish
for news from a far country,
for travelers' reports to say
they saw you laughing, that they saw you
whole and full of light.

Friday, June 14, 2013

What's Been Left Behind


you invite a witch into your house.
We've all done it. And too late, you observe

the oblique and lightless eye, the hunger and the rage:
you note the little pouch of corpse-powder,
and the uneven breath.

“It's a skinwalker all right,” you think,
and your flesh creeps: your hair rises.
Stories come to mind. You wish they wouldn't.

Somehow you get the witch out of the house, but then
you have to deal with what's been left behind.


The first thing to remember is that witches,
having set themselves against time,
are uniquely vulnerable to it.

They grow old faster than we do,
and the half-life of a witch's curse
is twenty minutes.

So when in doubt, you can simply wait:
each day is like a year, each year is like a life.
Time brings to us each sun as a renewal of hope,

each moon as an opening flower. But each spells death
to your wretched hurrying witch. When in doubt – just wait.


The next to bear in mind is this:
the details matter to witches, not to us.
Because witches have set themselves against meaning,

they must work instead with forms and recipes.
St John's wort culled at the dark of the moon
and cut with a copper knife – for them, nothing else will do.

But for us in cleansing? Sage to burn, if we have it;
cut any time in any country. But in a pinch
dead grass will do. Or paper matches from a tavern book.

We are working with the meaning, not against.
Anything will do.


And finally, remember the very act
of asking in the witch, the act you so regret,
weakens them fatally.

Hospitality deals them a wound
they do not understand, but which
works backwards in their blood

and multiplies confusion:
any curse they leave behind
may well turn into blessing.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


It all fades away again to this, to a boy walking down the suburban streets, talking to himself, sometimes arguing, sometimes agreeing; sometimes stopping dead to puzzle or admire; the sky a mottled white and silver, dizzying, above him: the warning barks of crows, the caution of cats. He is in love, always gravely in love. The objects of his love change: they move to other towns, or vanish to other classrooms. But he has always been in love. It's what he does, it's how his life organizes itself. Sometimes he walks in the rain, and sometimes under the cloudy sky.

(He avoids the sun when he can: it makes his skin redden and his head ache and his nose bleed. Cloud and rain are his native element. He scowls when the sun comes out, and keeps to the shade.)

He ponders the girl he's in love with, recalls everything about her, how she held her head, how her glance fell across him, the exact cock of elbow and hip as she leaned to the bookshelf. The lines of her face and body are incised in his mind: forty-five years later he will be able to call them up, instantly; they are the curves that appear as the silhouettes of hills, coils of snakes, branches of trees, in all his drawings ever after. The flow of line makes him catch his breath. It's not clear to him what he would want to do with her, should she return his attention. When in fact she does, in the third grade, they dash to the swings every recess, sit side by side, swing, and talk: talk solemnly about books and history and politics. He's happy for a the few months that lasts: as happy as it is in him to be. But mostly of course they don't return his attention. He is an odd boy, slow but intense: when he turns his attention on you it feels like a huge, ponderous telescope has swiveled around, aimed itself at you, and focused. Flattering perhaps, but disquieting.

A week or two has passed, since then. The sky has altered a little though not much. The clouds make towers more often now: and they carry, more often, the same slowly shifting lines that first arrested his attention as the lines of a curved cheek or a bare shoulder – the lines still haunt him. Hair has grown on his chest, and bleached to white. He still walks on the suburban streets at odd times, dawn and twilight, talks, explains, argues, laughs.

Is he still in love? He propounds the question, and frowns, and starts several mutually contradictory answers. He presses himself for a simple answer. He falls silent a while, and watches a cloud move obliquely, climbing gradually up the telephone wire like an albino sloth. “Of course I'm still in love,” he says. But feeling the question linger, he adds: “But this is what has happened: I can imagine, now, not being in love. It hasn't happened, but it's conceivable to me. And I don't know what happens, if I'm not in love. Do I die? Do I become someone who cares about something else? Or about nothing? It's the only mainspring I've ever known.”

He stops, crouches, examines a fir cone on the sidewalk: its flaking scallops, its fading petals and the pattern they make.

“It could be,” he offers, “that the lines remain, even when the women are all gone. That the watch doesn't stop.”

But he wrinkles his forehead as he stares at the play of the cloud. “I don't know,” he says. “I don't know.”