Friday, September 25, 2015

Sweetness of the Rain

My feet sank into the wet lawn,
my toes into the mud.
Such a relief:
and my soles drank the water.

I stood there
swayed by the wind but not by wanting,
and the tips of my fingers tickled;
just the budding of leaves,

the slough of flesh, the bones
more slender all the time,
long whips that swished the sky.
and my toes finding their slow way

into softnesses you can't imagine
in your animal hurry. Oh, 
the sweetness of the rain! And the wind
of heaven in my hair.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Lines Poor Euclid Dreamed Of

6:00, and first light has not shown itself yet. The clock ticks. I sit in the glow of my laptop: yonder is the light of the landline screen, a hazy greenish smear, with the winking lights of the router beneath it; and beyond it the bluer, sharper numbers of the microwave clock shine in the dark of the kitchen. Above me, the red light of the smoke alarm appears a moment, and disappears.

At one of those periodic stands, when I can endure neither my ills nor their remedies: as usual, these happen with no apparent reference to the circumstances of my life. They seem to follow their own rhythm, a slow building frustration with my spiritual insufficiency that takes years to crest, culminates somehow, and goes quiescent again. 

I remember in grade school sometimes having a pencil I could not sharpen to a point without snapping the lead. I could either write with a dull pencil (which I hated: the fat lines and the sloppy glide were repugnant to me) or sharpen and break, sharpen and break. I wanted a pencil point so fine that its line was absolute, dimensionless, like the lines poor Euclid dreamed of. I could consume a whole pencil that way in the course of a class period. The shavings would wad up in the little clear plastic holder, like the clippings-bag of a lawn mower, with which my sharpeners were outfitted. When I got the lead sharp enough for my liking it would sometimes tear the cheap exercise paper we used. I preferred that to the glide of a dull lead, though. I wanted my writing to cut.

Now hints of light through the sculptured glass of the front door. A lightness at the window blinds. I am glad that the dark is easing, though I'm not ready for the day, and I hope to get more sleep yet. Perhaps I will try it even now: lie down on the sofa and see if I can unmoor it from this wakefulness, and take it out to sea.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Old Copper

I had a revelatory moment, a couple decades ago. I was experimenting with an antidepressant, effexor, I think, which damped down my libido. And I suddenly discovered an obvious truth, which had been hidden from me by its sheer ubiquity: that I ordinarily had a lot more desire than other people. Because now I was having responses that were more like the mass of people, who had always puzzled me. It no longer took all my will power to tear my gaze away from someone I found attractive. Something disgustive -- loudness, unkindness, poor hygiene, stupidity, even poor dress sense -- could trump sexual desire. My desire wasn't gone: but it was only one player on the stage of my mind, competing with others.

I walked around in wonder for a few days, savoring the unusual experience of being normal. My moods, also, had stabilized. No more surges of ecstasy upon reading a poem or seeing a cloud mountain slowly toppled by the wind. No. Good poem: nice sky. Next, please. And no sense of ominous looming presences, of shapes speaking just below my hearing behind my back, foretelling disaster and desolation.

It was deeply instructive, and went far to help unbuild much that was harmful in my habits and my personality. I'm grateful for the experience. But it wasn't where I wanted to live. I discontinued the drug. I went back to the world as I knew it, albeit with a hint of transparency. It was the world as I knew it, but it wasn't the world as it was.

(Not that the normal world was the world as it was, either. I'm still Buddhist enough to hold the conviction that the world "on its own side" is inaccessible to us. What we have is the world of appearances.)

But. Now my own chemistry and personality, as I age, is running its own new version of this revelation. Fortunately the clouds and the admonitory presences remain largely as they were. But the desire has dwindled, and changed. Young women no longer engage my attention much: they often strike me as ill-informed and self-absorbed, and sometimes even vapid. Presumably it's my cathexis, and not the young women, that has changed. 

Last week I saw a woman of my own age, with a fierce, strongly marked face, and a mass of iron-gray hair shot with black, padding across a parking lot like a great cat. I was surprised at the depth of my response. I would always have found her attractive: but now she is an exception. Her image retains its intensity in my mind, when most others fade and go dull.

What does it matter? What do such things have to do with me, now? But it does matter, nevertheless. I have nothing to rewire with but the old copper. Whatever the current that makes this consciousness play, it's the same as it ever was, and I can only draw it in the fashion I'm used to.

We had our fallen ash tree cut down level to the ground, this spring. What was left was flat splotch of spongey, damp, crumbling wood. But all summer long, through the long drought, with not a leaf to its name, the roots of that ash kept wicking up water from some deep underground source. It was always damp. And I don't doubt that we'll have stubborn shoots to cut back for some time to come: maybe even years.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why One Becomes A Massage Therapist

You take me down long roads dusty with grief
and show me: "Just there. The water used to fill a little pool
and spill over: you could cup your hands beneath."

I cup my hands beneath. Your shoulders rise 
with hesitation now, born of pain so automatic
that no joint moves without a grimace. Still

I pull the whole arm up straight and reach behind
for a spot that's hidden by the scapula else,
I let my fingers settle into the flesh, like

the bare feet of a happy four-year-old
in wet beach sand. I ponder the empty feel
of the house: I ponder the echo and the silence.

I heard the beginning of your apology
for not being cheerful. Forget it. The gift
of good cheer is cheap: use it once

and throw it away. The gift of plain suffering
is a gift that will guide me in the parched hills
when all else proves worthless. This

is the gift I came for: this is what my hands drink in
when I cup them under the little stream of light.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Law that Shatters the Pot

There are days when everyone seems to be dying;
others, divorcing. You lay the porcelain pieces together,
but they don't fit, and the fish are fleeing: 
a wriggle and gone. Scales and flakes
are what we have left: a gleam on the ground,
a flash in the water.

Still, you heft a sleepy little one over your shoulder
and carry him up to bed. Asleep before you lay him down,
and the moonlight signing the floor,
sealing a contract you never knew you wrote.
Knowledge of the law is no excuse, they say:
but they have to say something. Deep down
nobody knows the law that moves the moon,
the law that shatters the pot.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Unaccustomed Worry

And here, the startlement of September, deeper than ever before: nowadays every season comes before its time, crowding the one before, pushing and shoving. September of course was always a longed-for surprise: but now it's a sudden split in a rock face, with the sun splashed across, and no reasoning changes it. The wind has the upper hand. If you don't have deep roots, you better hold on.

I go cloaked in unaccustomed worry. I no longer understand the wheel of the seasons or the moods of the sky. The aquifer of love, the one thing I've never doubted -- is it running out? Is that possible? And if so, what becomes of me? I am dwindling.

At the same time, I can hear the knock and rattle of percussion instruments, the long roll and rattlesnake buzz of sticks on a drum head, clear pings and whip-cracks. Someone is playing. It's not the music I've attended to for most of my life, but maybe it's been there, waiting, the whole time.

So it's time to stop -- buffeted though I may be by the wind, and unhomed as I am -- and just listen. Listen and try to make out the time and the beat. Honestly, what choice remains to me?

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Fierce and Graceful

"I am not fierce or graceful," she said.

Well. So autumn is coming, after all: whatever autumn means now. We'll find out.

When you come up the slope the the Vista House, and the Gorge opens up below you, the row of hills behind each bend of the river gets its own color, and the farthest is a featureless slate gray: a smooth cutout against the breathing sky. Maybe it's always that way: its the transition from terrain to geometry, and back again, that entrances us. God writes in shapes against the sky, and if you could just find the proper focus, the right distance, you'd be able to read it.

(She is fierce and graceful, she is nothing else. That's the geometry of it, though; and she sees herself, up close, as terrain. These things are as they must be.)


Jarrett took a picture of the Three Sisters, stripped and despoiled, from his airplane window. "I have never seen the Cascades so bare of snow," he wrote. If you think they will not exact a price for this humiliation, you don't know much about mountains.


Handling my poems, and sending them out for publication, I find that they are not very good: they can be tightly woven or they can have verve, but they almost never have both. And a poem should have both. I think maybe poetry is a mistake, for me, but I'm not quite sure. It doesn't matter.

My neck and cheeks are all bristly. These days I have an insuperable resistance to shaving and getting a shower before breakfast. It always seems tremendously important that I get out of the house, and leave fussing with my appearance for the trivial parts of the day: mornings are far too important to waste on primping and trying to disguise the fact that I'm actually, in my soul, a slovenly old man. Or maybe, further than that, it's as a slovenly old man that I have anything to say at all. A tattered coat upon a stick may have something to say: but whoever heard a word worth hearing from a brand-new coat in a shop window?

September. Whatever September means now. Every season is new and terrible: impermanence with a vengeance.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


Where the thumb of its own accord comes home
in the hollow between two hills of bone,
between the second metatarsal and the first,
where the grief of standing upright is the worst:
there is the fons et origo of love,
whatever they may say above.

Christ washed the feet of each disciple
not to display his archetypal
disregard for hierarchy
or humble future patriarchs. He
soothed the flesh that split and flaked,
and rubbed, because their insteps ached.