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.”

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Hound of June

Dayrise: the high vault of June light, casting noon glints and reflections into the most sheltered places. The whole world is pulsing with light.

I breathe – twice – three times. Vanish, and appear again. A little insubstantial, but not bad. Real enough to do the work I have to do.

I bow my head, let the wind ruffle my fur and tick my ears: then stretch, arch my back, let my hindquarters rise; and I feel each glistening bead on my vertebral necklace shift into its sweet spot. I stand and sniff the air. Dozens of stories come from the windward country. Only a few will have to do with me, though. I rub my snout with one paw and sniff again.

That smell. Musk and a hint of blood; paper dust hanging in the bar of sunlight that slips between blinds, and crosses a library rug. That's what concerns me today.

I run. Run, run, and run, following that signature. One more day, alive and in the sun.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

A Closed Curtain

The Lord of the Rings, of course, is not about the ostensible Lord of the Rings, who never even appears on stage. It's not even about Frodo Baggins, who is the other person Tolkien might conceivably have meant by the title. It's about Sam Gamgee and Gollum. Without those two figures at the heart of the story, it would be just another romance: captivating enough, but hardly a book you'd go back to again and again for sustenance.

Sam who knows how to love, and Gollum who does not; Sam who is in his right place in the world, and Gollum who is in irremediable exile. Sam who has what Christians (in perhaps the most unfortunate act of religious nomenclature ever committed, even including “Emptiness”) call “Faith”; and Gollum who has only desire; desire, and the few tattered shreds of love that the years have not yet torn away.

If you want to know what Christian Faith is, I'd point to the Lord of the Rings, and say, “it's what Sam has, and Gollum doesn't.” It's the conviction that there is goodness, somewhere, somewhen – that there is or was or will be something worthwhile, something worth fighting for, even if it's lost to us, even if we can't find it. It has nothing to do with immediate certainties, or personal fate. Sam is pretty sure, from start to finish, that their mission is hopeless and that it will turn out badly. And it need have nothing to do with anticipating a life after death. No one in Middle Earth, so far as I can tell, believes in such a thing.

It does not confer magic powers. It does not, whatever the Bible says, move mountains. It does something much more important: it gives a person the strength to put one foot in front of the other, even in a dark country, even with impossibilities ahead.

I'm not a Christian, so I don't have much business poking about in their medicine cabinet, but that's my take on it.

Cool air on my sandaled toes. The bare arms of a girl driving a pickup truck, its windows all rolled down: she stretches, while stopped at the light, and the cool air coils around her skin, as well. Or so my skin tells me. The sunlight is bright but fragile. It's not summer yet, and the spring might fail yet again. None of us really believes in this weather. The cars drive by, endlessly, like surf, or like endless squalls of rain coming in across the ocean. It feels like no summer could ever root out this chill.

Still. The bedroom was so warm last night that we left the window open a while. And the newly varnished oars are curing on the back porch. The sun is creeping back from its southern excesses.

Sometimes when you pick a book up after while, you scan for where you were and find nothing: nothing familiar enough to be old, and nothing strange enough to be new. I pick up my life like that, searching for my place, but I can't find it. I toy with the pages, and wonder. Maybe this is the wrong book. Maybe I finished it; maybe I never started it. The certainties, such as they were, have all deserted me.

All except for massage, my one anchor to the world, the one thing that seems real amid all these shadows, flickers, gleams. I rub the table down with bleach, wash my linens, refill my oils. Washing my hands in hot water; the smell of lavender or sandalwood, flannel sheets contrasting with warm skin: those are real, and I come back to them with relief. The rest is just a play of light and dark on a closed curtain.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Catching My Breath

I have let myself be dragged a few extra laps around the hippodrome -- a detour of a few years -- but that's all right: such is my character (fate, destiny). I'm soft, as Leks used to say: I've tended to just go wherever others wanted me to. But I've cut myself loose now, and hauled myself clear of hoofs and wheels. The red maple is in leaf, and I am old and battered: and I know precisely where I am going. Just catching my breath a bit, here by the side of the track. Then -- the next journey. Not feeling so openhanded with my time and effort; you may see less of me; but you'll be no less in my thoughts.

Thank you for everything!

Love, as ever --