Saturday, January 31, 2015

Winter Things

Everything of summer slips smooth into its grave,
but after a hard frost 
we winter things move still: we limp grimly down
to check our traps along the creek.

Oh my dear
you are ugly like the ugliness of winter;
shatter-iced; broken like a windshield. You are fat
as a she-bear, glutted with huckleberries,
when the sun slants at four. You are old as
those knobbly inconvenient hills, bruising 
to the knees and hips; you have tarnished
the cold blue of long-neglected silver, and
you are as fierce and deft as any cruel hawk.

You must have a body of winter
to fuck with the gods: their secret ink flows only
when rough parchment rubs against the nib.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Palos Santos

The ribs are cleverly sprung
knotted to the spine at one end
and clinkered to the sternum at the other:
even when the heart is struggling like a fish
they only sway, at ease,
thinking of the wind on a high ridge
far away.

We are advised to cast a cold eye.
Well, and I do, or do not; the fingers
lay in with the ribs like the good silver
in those joined velvet pockets, and the heartbeat, 
plain beneath,
lifts and lets them fall again;
while the breast laps against 
the side of the upmost finger,

Of what? Why even ask? Of sex
when sex was important of itself, if
you remember that far back;
or of the surgeon's knife,
and a dark blot on a ghostly film;
or of piano keys played cleverly
one idle afternoon, a life or two

Hush. Here is the palo santo oil,
cousin to the frankincense and myrrh;
here is the homely, undyed flannel
(the color that cream used to be);
Here is the eddy of air
where our breaths meet, 
a pinwheel galaxy that unwinds
unseen between us.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Three Things

Someone asked me what I treasured, and three answers presented themselves. 

The first was what I call dalliance: making love and lingering, attending and being attended to. 

The second was walking at dawn, under the variable skies, whether beneath a sunrise, or a slow diffusion of uncertain light, or a harsh clear sky. 

And the third was words in beautiful patterns, words that take me to strange countries, words that strip away certainties: words that make intimacy but also disclose enormous, unbridgeable distances.

That's all. The rest rises and falls with the breathing world. I'm easy to please, for the most part. I like people and things. The world is full of agreeable experiences. But mostly, I'm as willing to let them go as I am to greet them.

Friday, January 16, 2015


"Mountain Bluebird" by Elaine R. Wilson - NaturesPicsOnline. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

I first walked in the pine woods on the far side of the mountains, that summer: the prickly, crumbly duff underfoot, the smell of resin, the intimation of fire.

You asked, "They feel different. Are you sure these are your hands?"

"I'm sure," I said. "They're my hands."

I thought a while and added, "they might feel different for a couple reasons. You've just reset millions of synapses, so your perceptions are bound to be altered. And I'm feeling especially tender towards you, so I might be touching you especially tenderly."

"Thank you," you said, and tears started in your eyes. Whether for the present tenderness, or the lost hands, I didn't know.

I saw a mountain bluebird for the first time, that summer, by the Metolius River. So fragile, and so beautiful. I had never seen anything so blue; I didn't know anything could be that blue. But I had no one to tell.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

That Book by Merwin

Sometimes you come down to the stepping stones, and the fog is so thick the other side is just a guess, and you think about all the faith required to believe in something like the grocery store, or apples from New Zealand.

Sometimes the wind is cold on your face, and the tears come, and the grief comes with them.

Sometimes equations have many solutions, and sometimes none. Just because you've solved it doesn't mean you have the answer. It means there is at least one answer, that's all.

Sometimes a discomfort in the lats feels like swollen, diseased kidneys, and a backache is an intimation of death.

I did a massage in a crazy tower, like a treehouse, surrounded by stacks of books. The topmost one was a book of poems by Merwin. One of the skylights was not a skylight but a mirror, and the odd light in the sky was the nightlight by the baseboard, illuminating a little potted plant.

In the room below, a man was grower weaker, day by day, such that all rescheduling was tentative.

Sometimes everything is a door, the smooth skin of the belly or the rough skin of a palm. Everything opens in time. But sometimes your exit comes first.

I have not read that book by Merwin.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Driveway of Copernicus

It's not often that you get to see the rain start, in these parts: to hear the rain patter and look out on the dry cement of the driveway. In a few minutes it will be wet and dark, but -- not yet! -- not yet!

Here, when things do dry out -- which is not all that often, in the wet season -- they usually get wet again slowly, imperceptibly: a mist, or a heavy dewfall before dawn. You don't see the turning: you just go out to find it wet, which is after all the natural order of things. But every once in a while you do get to see it.

And just like that, the joy has come back into my life, the joy that's ordinarily there, but which had been achingly missing for a few months. It fell on my dry heart, settling the dust, hurting a little, making the brittle supple, making the dead live. These phases follow their own logic, wandering in strange teasing patterns, like the planets before Copernicus made sense of them: you can see it's a pattern, you can know it's following rules, without being able to say what the rules are.

By analogy, you could make a quick, unsatisfactory guess: the center is not where we think it is.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Older and Wilder

I love the short winter days and the long, nuanced nights: I love getting up in dark, and picking my way to our little sun room, to squint up at the clouds packing themselves around the moon, or at the few stray stars vanishing westward. Sun is all very well, but a little goes a long way with me.

It's partly because I love this time of year, the long dream time, that I resent the holidays so much: all that aggressive, brassy cheer, all the noise and glare, which the perpetrators themselves confess is the expression of their own fear of the quiet and the dark. I like the quiet and the dark. I don't need the sun's company first thing in the morning every day. I can find my way about the house by feel, or the odd reflection of moon or streetlight, slantwise through beveled glass. It perplexes me that the same people who love being up late at night -- when, in case you hadn't noticed, it is also cold and dark -- make such a fuss about the cold dark winter mornings. It's supposed to be cold and dark. It's January. The earth has tilted this way for a long time.

I love walking, morning or evening, in the dark, with the towers of cloud swaying over my head, and slowly tumbling down to the horizon line. The glimpsed stars, marking the wheeling heaven. Not the boasting sun, which blots everything else out and pretends to be walking alone. The night sky obviously wheels in concert, every star inset in some larger movement. The sun encourages us to believe in its agency, but the night sky invites us to acknowledge that it is we who are moving, we who are whirling around and around and around. Everything seems to be falling down the slippery west of heaven, until you see it, actually see that it's the horizon climbing. Once seen, never forgotten.

Or you can crouch inside your house with all the lights on, and your garish lighted Christmas tree, and pretend your little human story is the fixed center of the universe. But it's still out there, the stars and the surging horizon. It's all far older and wilder than we are.