Thursday, January 30, 2014


Dale Favier, visiting Marcel Hatch and Norman Hathaway in Seattle, circa 1974. Photo Norman Hathaway.

How places accumulate shadows, over years and years! I find it difficult to imagine Seattle as an ordinary place in modern time, a place I could drive to in my own car in three hours. Avgolemno soup at the Continental Cafe; bare apartments of philosophy students; the confusion of water and snow-capped mountains on both sides of you. I've almost always lived in the trough between the Cascades and the Pacific ocean, where everyone knows: the sea is West and the mountains are East. But in Seattle, the Sound or Lake Washington or Mt Rainier or the Olympics show up, a trompicones, over every ridgeline. Snow and water; water and snow.

I was trying to think when I was last there, and kept coming up with ridiculous answers such as "twenty years ago? Thirty?" Nothing happened in Seattle. I have no history there. No reason it should frighten me: except -- except that it's a different place, and it's a place where one of the lives I didn't choose unfolded. I guess I'm afraid I'll meet that life, and it will shrug impatiently and turn away.

Thin sunlight. Always sunlight, in Seattle, in the rain-shadow of the Olympics, but a fragile sunlight, coming slantwise. I am afraid of Seattle.

I was a teenager, and I got off the bus in downtown Seattle, the biggest city I had ever visited then. I was alone, and the skyscrapers downtown were vast, and blind at street level, and a dusty wind howled through them. I had friends in Seattle, so I believed: but Seattle was not my friend.

Yet I do have some sort of history in Seattle, though it pieces itself together slowly, slowly. I even had a lover in Seattle -- or did I? We dallied, and got so far as bare chests. A doorway curtained with strands of purple beads. I do remember that, or believe I remember it. Shadow follows sun, though, and sun follows shadow. I was lonely then, unendurably lonely. I don't know how I stood it. Loneliness like that would break me now.

I plan to go up there, at the end of February. Just for a couple days. I never go anywhere, but I'm going there. I'll stay with Kim, who brought the orange flowers, and I'll take my massage table.

The Makings of a Drum

Rise up,
you sleepy, wayworn worm,
shrug off your crusty jacket,
lift your eyeless head
to the beating sky.
Ten thousand hands have held you –
wake or sleep or dream –
and still
you seek the friction ridges
of yet another palm.
What is it, then,
that one blind snake
can teach another?

Light moves
(cautious, delicate)
between the shutter and the wall:
I have heard that daylight begins
in just such a tremulous,
uncertain commerce.
Somewhere, behind the mountain and the cloud
a sun is struggling in the nets of snow;
somewhere a heart has found 
the makings of a drum.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I'm three quarters of the way through Bone Worship. I want to write to the author and say: you had better not make anything bad happen to Jasmine. If you did, I want you to write me a different ending.

I have lost all sophistication about novels. I don't know if I ever really had any. They're too big: you can't memorize them, you can't hold them in your mind all at once. All I have is a deep tenderness toward the protagonist: she's been made into an American, but she doesn't belong in America, or anywhere, and she takes the most preposterous stories about who she might be dead seriously. How not? She doesn't have a story, and she has to start somewhere.

And novels take place in time, except that it takes me so long to read one, now, that I begin to worry that I'm not doing it right. 

I worry a lot, these days. All the confidence has dropped out of me. I no longer think that I'm smart, or wise, or funny. I feel like a piece of river trash that is snagged on a reedy margin. I look up, and little brown birds look back. The current has left me behind, and it will only take me again to sink me.

Like that. Silly. But I worry. I can't tell people what they want to hear, and I'm not as good at concealing my thoughts as I used to be. As my confidence dwindles, my conviction grows: not that I know the truth, but that other people do not. It's an ungenerous, ungracious frame of mind, and I wonder sometimes why people put up with me.

The young woman on my table today was so slender that with one hand under the small of her back, and one on her belly, I had her almost compassed. All lean muscle. Radiantly beautiful, with the winter light falling across her face and her shoulders. Sometimes I think my table is a boat drifting by Avalon, half-submerged, carrying the lady from one world to the next; and I am one of those fixtures, the old waterman who steers it, neither of this world nor of that; and my straggly gray beard is threaded through the buttonholes of my coat. When I speak it is like the twitter of birds, or the splash of water, or the snapping of dry reedstalks. I belong to the boat: I have no story apart from it.

And that will do. A little winter sunlight: I can live on that for months.

I hope things work out for Jasmine. Good night now, dear.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Imaginary Lines

White sky: blue-tinged and shadowy to the north, brighter by infinitesimal gradations as we crane our heads and trace a line through the zenith and down to the low southern shelf where the sun is stowed -- somewhere behind the sheets -- in deep winter. But all white, and all pulsing with diffused light.

I think of the rope of flesh, the rope that ties everything and nothing: how frail it is, how uncertain: how driving the need and how crushing the disappointment. How do we bear it, just the ordinary life, let alone the disasters and the calamities? Making love, you have to imagine that the line continues, like our imaginary line in the sky: from the root of the tongue through the central channel of the body, to where the cervix of the womb kisses the tip of the penis, on down through the kinked turn at the prostate, and up channel to the other tongue-root, also speechless. You draw lines, hoping that none will fail. You celebrate the solstice because you're not sure, not quite really sure, that the sun ever will climb again.

So far, so good. I may well walk on grass of Mt Tabor, on the concrete sidewalks of Portland, for my 56th summer, with the sun pouring down, and heat pouring back up from the glowing ground. The shadowed north will seem pleasantly cool. But there's a shelf there too, for when the playthings are all put back in the box.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ash Tree Down

Once I believed in you; I planted a fig tree.
Here, in Vermont, country
of no summer. It was a test: if the tree lived,
it would mean you existed.
                                                -- Louise Glück

The wind blew down much of our old ash tree last night. If I was a better citizen I'd be out there right now sawing off the branches so as to clear the sidewalk, but instead I'm at Tom's having my usual leisurely breakfast. I'll get it later. I reckon I make up sixty percent of the foot traffic on our sidewalk, anyway: our neighborhood is not -- in that sense -- very pedestrian.

The ash is not one of my favorite trees. I've never been very partial to ashes, and this one has been moping and dropping limbs ever since I've known it. It has supported a surprising number of fungi -- always something new popping up -- but I'm not grieving for it. It still has one ramshackle mast standing, but we might just give up on it and plant something else there. I wonder if a birch would do well?

I'm often passionately attached to trees, so my indifference to this one troubles me a little. But there it is. I may not make friends with many more trees in my life: I find my ability to form firm attachments is dwindling. I am a little mopey myself, maybe: the long march through the giving season is beginning to tell, and I feel I've missed my footing several times, this winter, coming down hard on unexpectedly slanted surfaces that have given way. I grow circumspect, with shrewish, waspish impulses that surprise and trouble me. I don't want to go that direction.

Trying, perhaps, too hard, too much, too long.

Other things have opened, meanwhile, unlooked for: unexpected late blossoms. And I am slowly gathering strength. Winter and its clarity have come late, this year, but the rains are building up over our heads even now: we should have a real downpour this afternoon, to wash the world clean. I am ready for it.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

That Particular Green, And No Other

Jessie hangs her coat back here, a yard from the half-booth that is my usual table. A deep green pea coat with wooden toggle buttons -- those clumsiest of all fasteners, pinkie-long pegs which hang by thongs and have to be threaded through another dangling loop of thong. Preposterous, but I love them, and I love, as always, Jessie's sartorial extravagance. She is raffish, ridiculous, adorable. The sort of girl all those pop songs of my youth were about. Apple Scruffs. Ruby Tuesday. Everyone-Knows-It's-Windy. I let my gaze linger on the coat, from time to time, since I'm too polite to let it linger on Jessie.

I have wondered sometimes why she doesn't hang her coats in the kitchen. When she comes on shift she walks over to my corner and hangs her things on the standing hat rack here by the window. But just now I realized: "Dale, you idiot, you'd think you'd never worked in a kitchen. She hangs it out here so that it won't reek of fryer grease by the end of her shift." Of course. Nobody with any sense would keep garments they cared about in a diner kitchen.

The cloudlight brings up soft blurs of lighter green where the angles of the coat face the sky: the edges of pocket and sleeve are the bright green new pool-table felt, and the shadowed draping is exactly the color of old fir boughs. For a moment I become Jessie, shrugging into the coat to go home, the hood heavy against my neck, my thoughts wholly taken up with the world beyond the cafe, a world Dale knows nothing about, but which I am anxious to enter. Today is the day -- what? I don't know. I'm Dale again, just me, with my own to-do list: massage at noon, then work, then home. Taxes to do, dishes to wash. The ordinary world. Not a loft apartment, close-in Southeast, with cloudlight slanting in and falling over Indian beadwork, belts with thick buckles, fragrant with spice tea. Oranges all the way from China, peeled by quick, slender fingers, scents that tickle the nose, candles, tapestries. Time coming slowly to a stop. Dalliance.

It makes me laugh: how quick each image runs to the next, how deep this groove is in the vinyl of my mind. It makes me laugh, but that doesn't free me of it. It's a dream of freedom, but it is as unfree as dreaming ever gets. It's the green, the green I should be lingering on. The familiar unfamiliarity of that color in the cloudlight, the stiffness of my old pea coat -- I did have one once: when was that, whatever became of it? I remember the silk lining, the abrupt transition to the rough old felt, the way the mist would bead up on it. Olympia, it must have been Olympia, where it was always foggy. And from there to Martha's pink trailer in the woods, and the woodstove, and the sunrise behind Mt Rainier. That was dalliance, if you like.

I have just missed something. Something has just run through my hands, too quick to catch: the brush of a cat's tail. I could catch up a sad nostalgia, if I liked, but there's something much more important. And it has to do with that green, that particular green and no other. There's a reason why doors are painted green, exactly that green. Let's run backwards, a moment. Rewind to the moment when the green was most intensely, newly green. There was something there that I must not lose.

Sunday, January 05, 2014


afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.

-- Louise Glück

Frost: cold blue sky. But balmy by comparison with the cold sucking the heart out of the rest of the country. Here on the fringe, everything passes us by -- we still remember the Columbus Day storm of 1962, which was a Pacific typhoon that got hopelessly lost and wandered up here by mistake. It didn't even qualify as a hurricane, but it's the only weather event we ever got, so we treasure it. I remember it, or at least I remember remembering it, unless I only remember remembering being told about it. It blew down the big old cottonwood in our back yard. Earlier, we had delighted in leaning on the wind -- it would hold you up! -- until Dad made us go indoors. This strikes me now as an improbable memory. Would my Dad have been so incautious as to let us out in the first place? But there it is.

I am prepared now to force
clarity upon you.

Are you, dear? Could anyone do such a thing? I doubt it. But edges do reach down from the sky: invisible razor blades. We had just arrived at the beach, and my small son was unwontedly quiet as we unpacked. Turned out he had found my razor, and was trying to shave with it: bloody criss-crosses on his chin and cheek. They cut, but they're so sharp you don't know it.

The mountain is brilliant in her fresh snow, every line of her a slash on the sky. I am uneasy. The timing is wrong; the rhythm is off, and everything is wound a little too tight. As I sat in meditation this morning thoughts clawed at me like a frightened cat. I'm pretty sure I have learned nothing.

Thursday, January 02, 2014


Alma, the trace of chocolate
on fingers imperfectly sucked:
heart, dear impossible heart,
the wild widening sky
of this gate-month, flying
from bone-standards bending
in the wind of your passage --
Sarah, sore with the rasp
of esposas --
Hart, dear impossible Hart,
this year will bring
fruit from forgotten trees
planted in happier times:
a banquet long preparing
only waited the cry of "uncle!" --
The white flag
will become an altar cloth.
What will be celebrated is not ours to know,
but the ciborium will be inlaid
with sweetnesses you dreamed before the grief.