Our disappointment, our emptiness, our loneliness, our grief, our fear — each is a friend in disguise, with infinite patience and confidence in our ability to understand ourselves and be free. Pain isn’t failure, it’s a perfect remedy. And, like the true friend it is, it always arrives at the right time, when it’s most surely needed. The wealth and beauty of life is never hidden. It is we who are in hiding. But hide as we will, our pain knows where we are. Drugs, alcohol, work, and all of the other time-honored forms of distraction might bring temporary relief. They might even kill us. Or we might kill ourselves. Quickly or slowly, it amounts to the same. But to delve into our pain — to embrace it, to love it, to sit with it and ask it what it’s trying to reveal — is an act of courage, grace, and humanity. It is an act far more powerful than the things we run from and rail against. To put it another way, how can we expect our lives to flower if we aren’t willing to accept everything love has to offer? How can we live to our potential and be a positive force in this world if we aren’t willing to examine, each according to our own lights and experiences, that which makes us uncomfortable or miserable? And so I ask, shall we run to our graves, or go singing? Shall we pronounce judgment on what we think are the shortcomings of others, or rejoice that they too are tormented by these divine messengers and angels?
Thursday, May 25, 2017
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Ninety-five, eighty-nine, and sixty-five degrees, along with windswept clouds of yellow pine pollen. When I reached the corner stop sign, a large hairy shirtless man rolled by in his rundown pickup, as casually as if he were crossing the street to get his mail. Three days. What is the name of that tall spiky flower that looks like a hollyhock but has different leaves? I never carry a mobile phone. I don’t have one. I have shovels, rakes, and hoes, and a little claw-shaped cultivator for when a flowerbed wants its back scratched. A pile of sticks. Some cucumber cages. Clippers. Sweet peas. Several worn out brooms. Old jeans. Church bells. The noon whistle. And by have I mean in the lightest possible way. A ghost-having. A floral cloud-spray. A kind of graveside sparrow-singing tree-breathing seed-sprouting now-where-were-we, love? kind of way. All for the nonce, here but once, forever and never kind of way. A work that is play kind of way. And suddenly, your hand is held.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
One thing we can learn from flowers
is how to meet one another
with an open, welcoming face . . .
Imagine young parents pushing strollers
filled with flowers . . .
Through gardens of children
blooming in the last May showers . . .
And an earth rejoicing in the human race . . .
Monday, May 22, 2017
Friday, May 19, 2017
One hardly needs the “weather people” to tell him there’s a patch of warm, dry weather ahead. The sudden eruption of anthills tells the story. The sidewalk cracks are loaded with them, and their groundbreaking trails run off into the neighboring flowerbeds, as the cry goes up to get back to work after the long layoff brought on by over fifty-five inches of rain. Hard hats, jack hammers, ant railroads, “Tie up the boats,” I hear them cry, “we’re going ashore!” Naturally, I step over them. “Thanks, Bill. How are things up the street?” “Well,” I answer, “the neighbor was awfully hard on her son this morning as he was getting ready to peddle off to school. I felt terrible about it. The morning is so beautiful, you know, especially in this early hour. Her voice sounded like a sad trumpet, and the boy, who is about fourteen, was obviously embarrassed for her and ashamed when I happened by. I tried to make myself invisible. It worked for her, but not for him. The scent-laden hush of the atmosphere was lost to her. But let’s hope it’s temporary. And you? How’s the family?” “Hard to keep track of.” And so on. Now. Where were we? Oh, yes. Tomorrow is my birthday. We’ll be away forever or for a few hours, the computer will be off, the spirits will have full run of the house, and I will be even more out of touch than usual. In the meantime, think good thoughts, or, better yet, don’t think at all. Sing. Dig a hole. Be kind to a child. And remember, that child is yourself.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Iris, my love, if you’re willing to pretend,
the powder on your skin will be the way that I begin
the afterlife! Oh, foolish boy, if the fragrance
that I am persuades you to this end,
I bid you stay, and for today,
I will be your wife!
P.S. I find each color arrives with a different scent: one, of an almost soft-edible rubber; another, of a dear old piano teacher; a third is something innocently erotic, as if naked angels were attending one’s bath. What need have souls for clothes, and newborn babes for sighs? Ask the iris. Ask her with your nose. That is where the sweet-sky grows, and where her color goes at night. As for this silly poem, forgive a boy who’s not that bright!
This world I see, feel, taste, touch, imagine, dream — is my consciousness. And so my early-morning walk, with its chimney smoke, irises, and crows, is my own private mirror. A quick glance, and I see what I think I see. But a deeper gaze reveals eternity, and thus the futility of all thoughts mercenary, by which to the loser goes the spoils. To hate someone is to hate myself. When I choose who and what I love, my choice is inevitably a selfish, petty one. I can divide, oh yes. But who is conquered?
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
The tomato plants are growing like weeds in the rain. This morning I walked in a dense, heavy mist. The robins were out. Some starlings. A towhee. Silence emanated from coy-hidden crows. Crow silence. Black-ink silence. The atmosphere, it seemed, was deep into the process of paper-making. A calligrapher’s dream. A mark here, a mark there, and thus a new language is born, and is off to test its new wings. Redwoods make fine brushes, don’t you think? And irises? And dreams?
Monday, May 15, 2017
I have no grand purpose or plan. If I wake up in the morning, I give thanks that I can still see and feel and ache and eat and walk and work and imagine I am here — here, without needing to know what or where this is, or if any of it, including myself, really exists at all — here as a butterfly is here, created by the need of color and pollen and breeze and dream — here as a god, here as a child, here as a lost soul and here as one found, here as the mist, here as a signpost, here as a deep musical well, here as a gravestone and epitaph, here as a boy, a girl, and their clumsy first kiss, here as the next breath and here as the last . . . and isn’t it a lovely, wonderful thing, the miracle of my blessèd ignorance and helpless imagination in this grand meeting place, this urge to communicate, to whisper whatever comes to mind into the nearest and most kindly attentive ear? And who is it, really, that answers? You? Or have I imagined you as well? Are you but my own selfish echo? And when I answer you — what then? How beautiful it is not to know! How fortunate it is! However you care to define love, whatever it means to you, whatever you sense or dream or know about this divine moment of our meeting, I want you to know I am grateful for it in every fiber and cell. And if you are not grateful, I am grateful on your behalf. I am grateful even if you don’t really care, and I have been but a moment’s distraction. I don’t mind that at all. Does a butterfly worry about such things? A star? A snail? Why should I?
Sunday, May 14, 2017
The youngest of three sons, I moved away from home under entirely normal, peaceful circumstances when I was eighteen. Many years later, when my mother was on her downhill slide, she said that for quite some time, she couldn’t go into my room without crying. I was home every weekend, but I never knew. On one hand, it’s possible that something that had happened once or twice became momentarily exaggerated in her mind. On the other, blinded by my own ego and good health, it’s possible I was dense enough not to see it. Even then, we had already been friends for years, going back to my earliest memories of us being together. These memories are woven through “The Painting of You,” and many have been recorded elsewhere. Now that I think about it, there are hints, even, in “A Listening Thing.” At any rate, the friendship continued even after she wasn’t always sure who I was, when she thought I was my father, for instance, or thought I was her sister, or simply a steadily reliable abstract visitor and caretaker she called “Bill.” Who’s to know? A gift is a gift, and such we were to both.
Saturday, May 13, 2017
I love the thought that she might say, “You can come home any day, and help me get the clothes up on the line.” And oh, that valley sun, not five paces from her door, as if her home or clothes were needed anymore. And I love the thought that I might say, “We still have your thimbles and your cookie jar, and plant sweet alyssum by the walk.”
Asked what he thought was the greatest tragedy he had witnessed during his long life, the old man answered, “That tragedy was myself, every time I saw something as being ordinary.” Then he laughed. And his laughter was his childhood, taking flight in my mirror.
Friday, May 12, 2017
Thursday, May 11, 2017
As one who readily and willingly acknowledges his limitations, I offer the following observations with love and good intentions: It seems to me that the current political turmoil, which is angering, upsetting, and frightening millions of people, is the best thing that could be happening. All one has to do in order to be thankful for it, is to see to what degree the sorry side of our nature is being revealed. The assault on the environment and disregard of our common humanity in favor of profit in the short term, reminds us of the need to find and dig out the roots of the same arrogance and ignorance in ourselves. And it must be there, or this ugliness would not manifest itself on such a large scale. Evil men in power are the brazen puppets of our hidden desires, who dance on the stage for an hour, until the stage becomes a scaffold. And then we cheer when they are hung, and this satisfies us, and in that satisfaction, the deadly cycle is renewed. I’ve said many times before, in many ways, that the monster in us is not to be hated, and not even vanquished, but recognized and understood. When it is understood, when light is allowed to shine on that part of us, we see that what we were scared of in the dark, is only a helpless bully in the light. No longer enabled by our fear, the bully becomes a human being subject to the same eternal needs and laws. Now, that said, the present troubles are also showing the vast amount of good we possess — good that we had forgotten, and that perhaps we were even unaware of. It is like a beautiful fairy tale, in which are awakened countless brave, loving heroes of our better nature — heroes who march peacefully side by side; heroes who have learned once again to look directly into the eyes of the people they meet and speak kindly to them; heroes who, in their natural capacity, whatever it may be, work and contribute to the common good; heroes who know love is the single most powerful force in the world. To me, this last is what we have all not quite learned yet from history, and this is why our tragic past is always present. What we are seeing isn’t new. But the opportunity is. And the best opportunity is always the one before us, because we are here now, and might be gone in the very next moment. This life is a beautiful riddle each person must address himself. And the fact that millions can’t, or won’t, or are presently unable, does not make them bad. It means they are frightened. It means they aren’t ready. And yet their need remains the same. And that need is for love. And so the question for the individual remains: Will you withhold that love? Because if you do, you withhold it from yourself.
(P.S. Life is strange. Just as I wrote, “And that need is for love,” there came a heavy cloudburst. The gutters are overflowing. The water in the street is bubbling and flowing like a river.)
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Monday, May 8, 2017
There is moss on the hard ground between the east end of the house and the iris bed. There is moss between the irises themselves. And there is moss in the remaining narrow stretch between the irises and the neighbor’s house. There are some weeds, too. The neighbor sprayed the weeds on his side, and so now they are dead white tufts. I don’t use spray. When the ground is dry enough, I simply scrape the weeds away with a hoe. And in the process I sweat out my own poisons. The result: a weed-free iris garden, a less-sullied environment, and better health. This is my approach. And the moss dries out in the sun and fades away, and I dry out in the sun and I fade away, and the sun is the same sun that yields at night what it brings to the day. There is my childhood in there somewhere, and the neighbor kids down the road, out running between the vineyard rows, hiding behind woodpiles, throwing clods, all in a kind of endless summer — a horned toad, jack rabbit, pheasant-in-flight, buzzard-on-a-fence-post world of delight — and soon again soon, the irises will bloom. And everything is right, once you see it.
Sunday, May 7, 2017
George used to cut my hair. This was, as they say, years ago, much earlier in the dream. I woke up this morning at four thinking of him, remembering those warm summer mornings waiting outside the shop before it opened, that I might be his first haircut of the day. Quiet, he was. Quiet he remains. And quiet I shall be, in memory of farm mornings and previous lives. And if I were a tailor, I would hide all the seams. And you would be the thread, love.
Saturday, May 6, 2017
Friday, May 5, 2017
A heavy mist, and all the world’s a prayer.
Wet, the leaves, wet, the wings that bring us here.
A heavy mist, and all the world’s a prayer.
Wet, the things we used to fear.
A heavy mist, and all the world’s a prayer.
Wet, the love, wet, the joy, wet, the tear.
Thursday, May 4, 2017
There. We’ve planted the dahlias, two kinds of tomatoes, five kinds of peppers, two kinds of eggplant, zucchini, impatiens, and geraniums. The cucumbers — not yet, as well as a few other barrels and pots, which we will get to by and by. The strawberries are blooming. The irises will be soon. The jade plants are out of the warm garage and back on the front step. The hostas have all emerged from their muddy hiding places, as if their sole purpose is to laugh at the slugs.... As you might have guessed, there has been a change in the weather. Yesterday the thermometer raced up to eighty-four degrees, bypassing the sixties and seventies, and today it is eighty-one. But just within the last few minutes, there have been several rumbles of thunder, as cool air is returning — the cloud formations are beautiful — and tomorrow we expect to be in the fifties again. This is typical spring weather here. Until summer settles in, twenty- and thirty-degree fluctuations are not unusual. Let’s see, now. What else? Oh, yes. Now — is no time to be afraid of love. For we have tried everything else.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
There were eight sleeping bags at the east side of the J.C. Penney building early this morning, each inhabited by a sleeping homeless person. And there were others beside other buildings, where sidewalk meets wall, there in the quiet downtown dawn. Light by light, I motored on, through the haze and on to the errands I had, and still have, to run.... The other day, my wife and I were remembering the smell of the freshly mowed grass of the school grounds where we grew up in the San Joaquin Valley.... the same intoxicating scent we both noticed at the cemetery when we were there for my mother’s funeral in 2013.... and I mowed our lawns again yesterday: they were a foot tall. The old push mower came through again. I did the work a section at a time — a section being 640 acres — then raked each section, then mowed it a second time, and in some cases a third and a fourth. I was soaked to the skin. I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in. I’d just finished when the mailman brought the big box containing a set of books by Sidney Lanier.... he said he’d mowed his yard too, and found a boat. I think I heard him correctly. Or maybe he said goat....
Monday, May 1, 2017
Sunday, April 30, 2017
In the waking part of my dream, I’m on my knees in old blue jeans, planting flowers. In the sleeping part, I crumble sweet-aromatic soil in my hand, and, like a wise old chocolatier of a man, hold it up to the nose of my friend, and say to him then, “This, tells us everything.”
Saturday, April 29, 2017
He’ll get a little bigger if you click on him.
Here’s an old friend, who is no one and everyone in particular, drawn with an ordinary school pencil I suppose around 2009 or 2010, or maybe a little earlier. I have no idea where the original is. Maybe I’ll find him in a stack somewhere, dozing in a closet. He’ll open his eyes and say, “You’ve changed. Oh, yes, decidedly.”
Friday, April 28, 2017
Thursday, April 27, 2017
Well, I just can’t help it. I love being so old that no one knows how young I am — except for you, of course — you’ve known all along, since long before either of us was born. I was a rock — a great gray granite slab. Do you remember? And you, you were an oak. We grew up together! Oh, yes, my friend, those were the days! And by those, I mean these. And by were, I mean are. And by days, I mean the eternity sparkling, dancing, flashing in your eyes, infinitely told. And that is only the beginning. Who knows what your next smile will bring?
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
I was thinking about my daily walks, how they are short in physical distance, yet limitless, and how they are brief in duration, yet timeless until my return. When I am out, in other words, I am out forever. And when I am away, the scenery I pass through is here, and, in the same breath, everywhere. But what about the rest of the day? Well, it is much the same. An appointment at a certain time is simply that. I acknowledge the need and make sure I get there, but there is no urgency in the matter. If I’m helping by preparing a meal, I start the work soon enough that the food will be ready when it should be ready. But the work itself is beyond all that. I am not anxious for it to be done. I chop garlic and peel onions and potatoes not for an hour, but forever. And while I am so engaged, I am absorbed to the point that I scarcely exist, even as I am careful not to slice my finger. Now, granted, it’s a little difficult, or clumsy, to express such things. What I am suggesting, perhaps, is that in life there is something we might call a soul’s pace or spirit’s pace, and the more we are aware of it the better we understand that happiness isn’t a matter of effort, it’s a matter of being present. And we can’t be present if we are caught up in the constant judgment and evaluation of ourselves, of others, and our surroundings, all measured against our notions of what “should be.” In any given moment, there is simply no better place to be than exactly where we are, just as there is no better work than the present task, done with love. It is the very peace we yearn for, and so much more, without the chains we forged, and proudly wore.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
After yesterday’s downpour, I suppose it’s only natural I would dream about water — first in the form of a creek, then a river, and finally an ocean. But the ocean was narrow, the width of a river. I could see people on the opposite shore, which was where I had been earlier, and where I needed to return. A man driving a strange rusted vehicle plowed into the water, and of course he didn’t sink, even though he should have. I was about to begin my swim when I realized the tide had suddenly gone out, and so I simply walked across, and there was my father, rather unimpressed by it all. What did he say? I don’t remember. Despite the narrow ocean, despite the low tide that had erased it, despite the nearly twenty-two years that have passed since his death, he said something very ordinary. It was good to see him. The creek had surged. I’d been walking upstream on its rocky bottom when the eternal floodgates had opened. This forced me to scramble up the steep bank with the help of roots and branches. At the top there was a gap in the growth, which I recognized as the place I’d first come in. But soon there was so much water that the high ground was also inundated, and I waded to even higher ground. Then I reached a little gate, or rather a place where a gate used to be. This too was familiar, and was framed by brambles and tall grass. A few feet further, and there was the narrow ocean. None of this seemed or felt particularly threatening. It was just the way it was. I wasn’t afraid. And now I remember something that happened yesterday evening while I was taking a short walk. I was just about to turn around at the halfway point, lost not in thought, but in the dreamy gray sky above the wetland behind the opposite row of houses, when a little tiny dog approximately thirty-seven years of age started barking almost at my feet. This made me jump, which startled us both, and I said to the dog, “Oh! You startled me!” and received exactly the same reply in return. Poor thing. Without intending to, it had obviously gotten out of its fenced area and didn’t quite know what to do. But the barking alerted its people and so all was well. I turned around and pulled on my hood, because it had started raining again. And now here I am, drinking coffee, listening to the birds, and watching daylight arrive through the clouds. Gray, gray, gray. What a lovely thing to say. As lovely as blue, blue, blue, tulip girls and daffodils, lilacs and the way I feel when you look my way, love.
Monday, April 24, 2017
I’ve been mentally, wordlessly adrift the past few days, enjoying the crazy spring weather, as well as everything else. We had a violent cloudburst about an hour ago, and it turned the backyard into a lake. There is still water standing everywhere, front and back, down the street, across the street, in the air, and even up in the trees. Not adrift, therefore, in any despairing sense, but indeed most agreeably so — profoundly, spiritually so — adrift like a child who has just learned to tie his shoes, as I did one Thursday afternoon when I was five. I was out in the yard. I had been trying to learn at school, on the shoe-tying boot in our kindergarten class at Lincoln School. But to tie that shoe, you had to face it, which was the opposite of tying one’s own. It didn’t make sense to me. To this day I have trouble with that concept. I need to be behind the shoe, not in front of it. Anyway, I was outside playing, when I happened to notice my shoe was untied. Without thinking, I bent down and tied it, and didn’t realize what I had done until after I had done it. When I did, I shouted for joy and ran into the house to tell everyone I’d finally succeeded. And I’ve been tying my own shoes ever since. Adrift in that sense — in the sense that I feel quite certain I have told this story before, to someone, to you, to others, in this and in other times, every few seconds needing to glance down at my shoe, just to be sure — of what? If I knew that, I wouldn’t be adrift. I would be almost sixty-one, sitting at my mother’s old desk, writing this note. And we both know that can’t be, especially because it is. And if that makes sense, let it go, as I do every time those twin pests, logic and sanity, come to call.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Saturday, April 22, 2017
Friday, April 21, 2017
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
What I need on one of my bookshelves is a slender, rejoicing figure no more than three inches tall, bronze in color, perhaps, although another cast or shading might do as well, with feet planted in such a way as to suggest a high mountain scene, ecstasy, an approaching thunderstorm, magic, motion, male at a glance, female in dance, a butterfly’s pose, a winter wind’s pause, a cool face in the mirror of a pond. And all of this because I moved some books around.
One way to explain the liquid sunshine drenching the street in a crystalline shower of near cloudless rain, is that life is so helplessly and joyfully abundant, she weeps. And of course there are other ways, but all send their love, just the same.
So light so early . . .
earth thoughts, cloud shadows, treetops . . .
and in the east, beyond the mountains,
deep in the high desert,
the sun not quite done with her bath . . .
Yes, it is like that this morning,
said the window
to the man.
Monday, April 17, 2017
Last night’s rain was a brief round of applause — a tenth of an inch, just enough to wash away the rainbow chalk mark games the neighbor kids made. And so when they come home from school today, they’ll have a fresh blank canvas to write on. Much like the sky this morning, already filled with the script of joyous birds.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
Things dried out nicely yesterday, enough that I could sweep the fir needles from the walk, and for the neighbor kids to chalk their driveway with colorful games and designs. When I was coming back from across the street with the mail, I could see their dog sitting happily and looking on, his nose testing each scent in the air, smiling, content, completely satisfied to be a part of it all. The whole world was his bone.
Early on, it froze — well, not quite. It was thirty-four degrees. But the rooftops were white, and just as the sun was coming up a light fog formed. Out for a walk, I was able to look directly into the old star’s face. We exchanged gazes for a time, the way friends do who haven’t seen each other for a while, and who know and love the long way around.
The atmosphere in the afternoon was an explosion of pollen, light, and color — doors open, windows open, heart open, mind open.
And then came evening, and soon all was silent, even though all was silent before — silent in the traffic’s roar, the dog’s bark, the child’s shout, the slammed door, the church bell, and the good-bye horn. Such joy there is between rains, knowing there will be more, and even more joy, when it returns.
Friday, April 14, 2017
Thursday, April 13, 2017
In the afternoon, a couple of days ago,
Just as it was starting to rain,
I planted some flower seeds. As a finishing touch,
I made some thumbprints in the dough.
When the bread is finished baking,
The sprouts will emerge through scented seams,
And quickly hide this poem.
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
this year the tulips are cut and colored in such a way
they seem to have fallen out of stained glass windows
along with the artist that placed them there
whose tired eyes are closed
and whose breath
Monday, April 10, 2017
Yesterday we were at the grocery store when a woman about our age came up to me and said she loved my beard, and then started patting and stroking it lightly, with a gleam in her eye that indicated certain social barriers didn’t exist in her mind. I waited patiently and spoke kindly while her embarrassed young granddaughter tugged at her gently and tried to guide her away. It was a lovely, beautiful moment. I would have stood there forever if needed, but the girl made sure that wasn’t necessary. Later, elsewhere in the store, we were ignored by all sorts of “normal” people. That, too, was beautiful, in the way that the hard shells of walnuts are beautiful, etched like thumbprints in their infinitely peculiar, familiar design. “Children in the garden,” I thought, “flowers plucked one by one, each in its time.”
Sunday, April 9, 2017
Saturday, April 8, 2017
These are in remarkably good condition,
with ribbon markers that appear to be unused and unmoved
since publication of the set in London
by The Navarre Society
|(click to enlarge)|
|(click to enlarge)|
Friday, April 7, 2017
A mighty wind is thrashing the firs.
Yesterday, the crows were busy gathering wood for their nests.
When the wind dies down, they will resume.
Ignorance, hatred, and violence aren’t new in the world.
Fir cones are hitting the house.
Shall I be angry with the wind? Are the crows?
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
When I was a kid, chamomile grew wild on our San Joaquin Valley farm, but I didn’t know it was chamomile, I only knew I liked the way it carpeted the ground, and how it smelled when I crushed the unopened blooms between my fingers and held them up to my nose. We were also the accidental holders of a vast wealth in purslane, a great edible ground cover that Armenians in the area called “parpar,” and that we kids called “easy weeds.” This natural crop was most abundant in the vineyard rows where the soil was heaviest. At a more mature stage, it bloomed and attracted clouds of narrow little flies. We could plow it up with the tractor, and, owing to its succulent nature, it would stay alive in the moist earth for days, weeks, even. Picture these growing in furrows with a new summer crop of tiny toads hopping among them and you have my childhood in miniature. Weeds, toads, buzzards drifting overhead, sparrows, mockingbirds, angry yellow jacket nests, dirt, dust, extreme heat, sweat, a high mountain range to the east with snow-capped peaks — complete enchantment. There was an old retired well in one spot, about an eighth of a mile behind our house. It had a heavy iron cover, and there was a little hole in the cover, just big enough for me to drop a clod in and wait for the sound of a splash somewhere below. I can hear it even now — just as I can feel myself falling through black space between daylight and the bottom of the well. And here beside me, growing cold in my cup? You guessed it. Chamomile.
Monday, April 3, 2017
When my wife and I first tied the knot, or got hitched, as the saying goes, I was nineteen. That was more than forty-one years and four children ago. Now, at the end of every day, before sleep, I always tell her the same thing: I say thank you, for everything. You see, I do not believe in tomorrow, and I do not assume the next morning will find me alive. And so, if I go during the night, the last words I will have consciously, purposely spoken are words of thanks to someone whose boundless strength and faith have seen us through. Simple enough, and certainly true. But I wanted you to know. And to the writers, artists, poets, old friends, new friends, wanderers, lovers, dreamers, builders, workers, and doubters who pass this way today — thank you, too — thank you, thank you, all.
A clear, quiet, frosty morning, with white rooftops and hearty tulips. Out early for a walk — trees flowering all around, a porch light here and there still on — I inhaled and thought, Remember, when you take anything or anyone for granted, you take yourself for granted. At any moment, you can, and will, go out like a light. And even that is a miracle. Gratitude.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
The garden that is this world — the people, the creatures, the trees, the rocks, the stars — once we see that these are all ourselves in another form, and understand that there is no distance between us, we see God — here, in the lamplight, here, in the dust. Once we see that all are sacred or none, and that dream is as solid as bone, we see God — here, in uncharted space, here, in the whale’s spout. Once we see that all is intimacy, and that all is love, the painful questions fall off one by one — should we eat meat, or should we not — which way must we face when we pray — which book shall we believe — what is the meaning of war — and why, oh, why, are we here? Everything is dear. And joy outpaces the explanation, that God is a child, God is the sun, God is the rainbow, that we are God, and that all is God, and the kingdom is here. Or will we choose fear? If we do, that too is well, for it will be shaken from us when our last leaf is down — and what is more beautiful than all of us standing here, naked through winter, and spring invincibly near?
Saturday, April 1, 2017
Yesterday afternoon, with the enthusiastic help of our six-year-old grandson, I mowed the pasture in front of the house with the old push-mower my father bought way back in 1964. The thing weighs a ton. The grass was a foot deep from the rain. The buffalo scattered. The mountain goats came down from the trees. Raking madly, going after stray blades with a pair of scissors, the boy was in heaven, as I was, and as are we all. We swept the sidewalk at least half a dozen times and gazed out across the plain. Then I brought out a chair and drank tea while he trimmed the young cedar next to the lilac, ran the brush through his shredder, and spread the mulch on our garden space. Well imagined. Well done, as every tool in the garage assumed a magical new purpose. Paradise, of course. It needn’t be hard.
Friday, March 31, 2017
We love thinking in terms of beginnings and endings, but as natural as that seems, it is possible such thinking is simply a habit — which is to say, it is something we no longer examine, or think worthy of examination. And so when we read or hear that God or the universe has no beginning, and may very well have no end, we scratch our heads and move on, or are stopped dead in our tracks, or we ascribe it to mystery, saying, Well, this is something we will never know or understand. And yet, whatever it is, we are a part of it, we are contained by it and fashioned by it, and we serve as cells in its great gray elegant workings. At the same time, we create it anew each moment with our outlooks, our beliefs, our thoughts, our daily habits, our desires, our backgrounds — our stories, if you will — our stories which come together to create a bigger story, most of which we agree upon, accepting that up is up and down is down, feeling quite comfortable with the notion that there is or isn’t a god, that there is but one universe or countless universes that run parallel. This is quite a lot for us cells to do, also preoccupied with moon shots and wars, the fight against cancer and other diseases, even as we rush about carrying the disease of ourselves, and our tremendously robust health, too. Still, how could it be, we wonder, that all of this has no beginning? — as if a god or gods bent on creation and an ever-expanding universe are bound by our tiny rules of logic. Yes, New York is where New York is, Oregon is where Oregon is, Australia, Australia, and so on, so be sure to catch your train or plane on time. And we are where, exactly? We are where God is, and if he isn’t, we are there too. And this is just the beginning. I love you.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
Ultimately, everything we withhold, we withhold also from ourselves. The more fully we give of our love, joy, tenderness, encouragement, kindness, abilities, and gifts, the more we are able to recognize and experience life’s abundance. In effect — and this is the very heart and soul of vulnerability — we must die each moment to be born, and in this simultaneous death and birth, we receive anew what we give, each conscious moment. It may sound crazy or strange or pie-in-the-sky, but this is my experience. And I don’t limit these thoughts to interactions with humans, or to other animals, as we commonly refer to our fellow creatures seen and unseen, or to rocks and waterfalls, all of which speak and act in languages readily understood once our guard is down. The simple truth is, I don’t know where it leads, and I am not in the least bit worried about it. Security is a mirage. Safety from all manner of imagined fears can never be achieved. Understanding that we are an integral part of it all, recognizing how intimately we are involved with one another and the stars, and how dependent we are on the world and each other for our health and well-being, is to see that what we most fear to lose — our lives, our strengths, our advantages, our identities — we lose in exact proportion to which they are withheld. We close up, we live in shells of our own making, we unwittingly teach our children to build the same, only to become the walking dead. We build walls and become weak, scared, threatened, angry human beings. We insist on the superiority and importance of ourselves to a degree that amounts to insanity. We are important, yes — but not in this way. We are important in our ability to blossom and bear fruit — like all things — like God, if you will, the most fruitful, vulnerable, comprehensive expression of all — in mystery, truth, imagination, childhood, beauty, and wealth. Let it be so.
According to a neighbor who lives down the slope behind the house across from us, there used to be a small lake a couple of blocks further on, which apparently was fed by an underground spring that still saturates his yard, making it necessary to pump out gallons and gallons a day from his residential bog. The entire surrounding area was a filbert grove; here and there, a filbert tree still stands, twisted, distorted, and generally misunderstood, half-dead, hung with petunia baskets, surrounded by bricks and lawn, shot through, gnarled, gnawed, somber, and proud. And I have known many a man who could be similarly described, old Armenians, mostly, with knuckles like walnuts and ears like weathered grape leaves mottled by insect activity, dew, and dust. All the more surprising and pleasing, then, their great voices and even older songs. Well, the lake is gone, but the memory of it lives on. And who knows but that someday this whole town might be gone, and the cities and freeways nearby returned to the elements, all that the lake might again reflect the sky and beckon to the strange-joyous children of our dreams? Who knows, indeed. What a nut. A filbert, to be exact. Is this why I got up this morning? Of course not. I got up because I’m on an important mission. And that mission is, breakfast — of starlight, and mush.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
As luck and truth would have it, the rain let up at just the right time yesterday morning for our annual walk through the cherry blossoms across from the State Capitol. The trees were at their peak bloom, with just a bit of pink snow falling, some of which we wore home. Above them, the sky was constantly changing, windswept as it was, with gray clouds and white, and a frantic, low-altitude duck making its way upstream, quacking in time with its wings. And of course we all know that the sky begins where the ground ends. The delightful thing is that each time we remember this, we notice just the slightest bit of space between our feet and the ground. And then, and from there, up, up we go.
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Monday, March 27, 2017
We still have the dented measuring cups and spoons my mother used all her long married life, and we use them too. We open the drawer to the right of the stove, and there they are, along with her rolling pin and biscuit cutter — a drawer full of memories and monuments. Her old flour sifter is on the top shelf in the spice cabinet. And there are dozens of other items, from implements to pans, trays to pots, knives — good god, and there are the cutting boards my father made shortly after the war, which there is no need to name, because there is ever and always only just one. Come home, my love, come home, and let us have children.