Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On Going Out To Breakfast With My Partner Of Thirty-Nine Years

We hold hands across the table,
laughing at something, gazing at each other
as we do, with infinite fondness.

A waitress chugs up, breathing heavily.
“Aren't you sweet!” she exclaims, and smiles brightly.
Meaning, perhaps, we are inappropriate,

adoring each other while white-haired:
we should be distant, grumpy, bored.
Some people like to see it. They're not the ones

who comment: beneath the voices
of those who do, there runs a trickle – a gleam
on the basement floor – of hate.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Camas Lily

Fields of seablush and camas lily;
Fields we knew when the world was young.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Extremely Wrong

L. Leslie Brooke, early 20th century

They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,
   In a Sieve they sailed so fast,
With only a beautiful pea-green veil
Tied with a riband by way of a sail,
   To a small tobacco-pipe mast;
And every one said, who saw them go,
O won’t they be soon upset, you know!
For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,
And happen what may, it’s extremely wrong
   In a Sieve to sail so fast!’
      Far and few, far and few,
         Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
      Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
         And they went to sea in a Sieve.
I have been thinking hard, over the past few months. Probably harder than I have thought since I was a young man. I have been changing my mind about many things – always uncomfortable and distressing – and I have come to conclusions that I don't think much of anyone will like. This leaves me curiously faceless and inarticulate. I don't want no fight, and I haven't got a lot of time.

Having a public face, and being liked for it, has gradually wriggled from the luxury category to the necessity category. It's time, I guess, to try to trap it and put it back. I don't need to be a public person: it actually has many more discomforts than comforts. I am ready to drift back into the radar grass.

I will write, of course. I will always write. But I am going to have to be elliptical, to talk around things, or through them. Poetry will come in handy for that. As soon as you introduce line-breaks, most people stop reading, and those who do keep reading assume that you don't really mean it.

I will miss my old friends and my old community. But I was wearing out my welcome anyway. It's time to go to sea again.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Position in Sales

An echoing “clop” on the door, the sound
of a horse slowly crossing a wooden bridge
at twilight. His hopeless voice goes
into a rhythmic spiel. My wife's
sympathetic one interrupts
as soon as decent. We don't want any.

I glimpse him trudging back down our
long, long driveway: just my age,
just as stout, slack-faced, the cloudlight
pale on his skin, which is
just the color of the flesh
of a well-baked potato.

I am reminded of a night forty years gone
when a drunk girl knocked at our door
late at night, a stranger to us,
and walked straight into my arms.
I held her as she wept and told
an unintelligible story: all that rose to clarity
was that she was desperately sorry:
sorry to intrude, sorry to weep,
sorry to exist.

The walls are fragile.
No suburban wall
will stop a bullet any more: if you hear shots
the basement is the place to be.
And yet with years the walls
are all too strong;
and they thicken,
thicken with time.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


The morning opens, and the waves run away in all directions: I take a deep breath, and release it, and the warm air spills over the hand that props my cheek, like a murmured benediction in an unknown language. I glance up at strangers holding toast, chewing, chatting. I hear many different voices, but no words. A faint, accustomed isolation. It's like the chirr and click and buzz of insects on a summer evening. It's fortunate for me that this sort of loneliness is comfortable, familiar from long use, stretching back to childhood. Understanding and being understood – in real time – are luxuries to me: a little rich for daily fare.

All the major transitions of my life have worked this way: a sudden oblique shift, a step sideways into the wings. Never a stride forward in full view. That is not, apparently, how my life was designed. “Am an attendant lord, one that will do / To swell a progress, start a scene or two...”

Across the street, faded prayer flags sway and shiver, mapping out the chaos of the air, as falling snow, or a field of long grass, can do: suddenly I'm aware that all that turbulence is the usual thing, that every reach of the air is whirling and bucking and shifting. Fast or slow, maybe, but never really still. If I scan for every moving leaf, ribbon, thread, fly, bit of paper, puff of exhaust, with my eyes in soft focus, I get a dim sense of the surge and billow, the continual restlessness.

Another deep breath. I will pack up my things now, pay my bill, drive to the store. I am waiting for the bell, for one clear stroke of silver, to make sense of the hour. God bless you and keep you, my dear.

Friday, April 11, 2014

In Which I Destroy Civilization

My dear friend Kim gave me a wonderful book, "An Everlasting Meal," which is making me realize I have been taught to think that vegetables are dangerous, temperamental, edgy, easy-to-ruin cookstuffs, rather than the amiable, durable, almost-impossible-to-wreck home buddies they actually are. You can effing boil them and mash them up if you want to. You can eat them hot, cold, or room temperature. You can reheat them without being a Goth and destroying civilization. All this crap about rushing them home from the store and lightly steaming them at the last minute and eating them hot, well, sure, that's good, but it's a lot of trouble and fine timing; and fact is, at the store they've just been sitting in the refrigerator (if not the freezer) for days anyway.

I wonder how many people besides me have been driven away from them by the stigma associated with – quelle horreur! – overcooked vegetables? There is something far, far worse than overcooked vegetables, and that's no vegetables at all. I have been microwaving my broccoli for the last few days, like the wicked old man I am, and I'm perfectly happy with it. I am never going to be a foodie. I enjoy my food enormously, always have -- I can savor quite horrible junk food -- and generally speaking this capacity for enjoyment seems to me a quality to be cultivated, not destroyed. I don't want to have a delicate palate: I want to eat my food with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of health and get on with my life.

Monday, April 07, 2014

I Think It Must Be True

I think it must be true
that when the membrane tears
and the drenched butterfly
hauling with all her strength
leaves her petrified skin behind
I think it must be true that for some time
she does not know 
if what she's done to herself
is mortal.

Sunday, April 06, 2014


What do I most regret, looking back on 56 years? (about which I regret very little, all told, I should say.) I most regret not having given up sooner.
I see lots of inspirational slogans about perseverance, but not very many about recognizing defeat. I wasted a fair amount of time not recognizing some things that weren't all that hard to figure out: that some ambitions were unattainable, that some expenditures of time and energy were unsustainable. The trouble is, of course, that "give up" appeals most to the people who should persevere, and "persevere" appeals most to the people who should give up. So, why I'm writing this, I don't really know. Personal reference, I guess. G'night!
There are goals that you can't really give up and remain human: the goals of being happy and useful, it seems to me, are non-negotiable. “To love and to work,” as Freud said. But there are goals that people commonly mistake for these: the goal of having a certain sort of love life, say, or of having a certain career, become so identified with “happy and useful” that it seems to them that in talking about giving up one, they're talking about giving up the other. No wonder they resist any talk of surrender so fiercely. But in fact there are many, many ways of being happy and useful, more ways than any one person can imagine. The ways that are handed to us by parents, storybooks, and movies may not be possible at all; or they may not be possible for people of our particular propensities, abilities, opportunities. There is a time to stop beating your head against the wall.
Here is a list of the major surrenders in my life, in roughly chronological order:
  1. I gave up on establishing utopia (on even a small scale!)
  2. I gave up on writing fiction
  3. I gave up on being an English professor
  4. I gave up on attaining enlightenment in this life
  5. I gave up on being a computer programmer
That's a lot to give up, and that's only the major ones, and only the ones I feel comfortable talking about in public: I gave up on other things too, such as achieving fluency in Tibetan, and becoming comfortable making phone calls to strangers. I should be miserable, right? In fact, each major surrender – difficult as each was: each resulted in weeks or months or even years of distress – marked a palpable increase in my happiness and usefulness.
And – this is maybe the most interesting and unexpected thing – each surrender has been followed by a sense of expansion, not contraction. The world seems wider, the possibilities greater, the future less limited.
The losses are real, don't mistake me. I mourn all of them. But as I say, I regret none of the surrenders: I only regret having delayed them. I regret the year I whipped myself to write fiction, grinding out a few short stories at the cost of incredible self-inflicted suffering. I regret the years I spent (not) finishing the two dissertations I started; I regret the years I spent trying to make myself into the sort of person who makes a successful career at IBM. None of those things were going to happen; nor – it becomes increasing obvious to me – would any of them have made me a lot happier or more useful.
What makes me happy and useful now, insofar as I am, and so far as I can see (which is not at all far, and that's one of the lessons) – what makes me happy and useful now is writing my blogs, doing my half-time work as a data entry clerk (mostly) at the Library Foundation, doing massage, and going for rambles in the Gorge with Martha. None of it is distinguished, or remunerative, or special; none of it figured in my youthful ambitions; none of it will leave a mark. But I only wish I had found my way to it all sooner.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Hawthorn Pome

for Katherine Mayerovitch
pomaceous /pɒˈmeɪʃəs/ adj
  1. of, relating to, or bearing pomes, such as the apple, pear, and quince trees

A pome is the fleshy fruit of the apple
and related plants, it consists of
an enlarged receptacle, enclosing
ovary and seeds.

The hawberry,
though you might not think it,
is a pome.

Chinese hawthorn pomes
are used to produce
jams, jellies, juices,
alcoholic beverages;

In Mexico, hawthorn pomes
are called tejocotes: they are
eaten raw, cooked, or in jam
during the winter months;

in America
we do not use the pomes
at all.