Monday, September 1, 2014

Untitled

Parts of myself are missing
I don’t know what they are or where to look
I only sense them sometimes--the gaps, the spaces that keep me from wholeness
like when I stood under the stars last night, the tide coming in, the wind blowing
restless and endless
preferring the familiarity of a small room. Why?
where I am not reminded of parts I cannot name in the dark mystery of the infinite.
I fold the laundry, wash out the green glass, put everything in its place
Except the fragments of myself out there somewhere or in here
so near, but deeper than I can see or go.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

For Boo














You, poised at the bank of the Seine, alone
like a country girl innocent in blue 
Madone de la rivière you seemed
full of grace

We did not know you then
but sensed in the friend and poet you became
the beauty and goodness emanating from you--in that image.

The inward gaze, the water's serenity
flowing from and to
that moment you left us
all that transpired and transformed along the way
visible to us now

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

True

Dreaming light and waking in the dark - We
Perpetually relive the Fall
Eternally recreate Creation 
Receive revelation
both asleep and awake -  all

Lost in the belly of the whale
Riding a bull over ocean swells
Lying in rushes under the weight and white of a swan
Traveling the arduous path to the underworld
Emerging into starlight.

It’s all true for you and me (and everyone we know)

Look, and see if is not so.
Deep within, before time, before we unlearned
We have carried images and experience
of paradise, of exile and a longing to return

Amid polarities hope and despair
shame and pride do we trod the earth--an armed race
With fire that can illuminate or incinerate.

Isn’t this why we became human in the first place?

Monday, June 16, 2014

On This Ground

     
     It comforted Nora to think that, on the very ground he took his last breath, Indians had once danced, but she didn’t find that out until later, after the burial, after staying inside all summer and fall wondering if she had somehow imagined it all.  She had slept on the sofa since that rainy evening, waiting for him to call, to see him walk past the front window, to open the door for him when he came home.
When she got to the accident scene, she saw the chalked outline of his body on road.  She reached for the grey sweatshirt among the personal effects given to her just an hour before at the hospital where she had identified her son: car keys, a lighter, a wallet, an iPod, some change, and an arrowhead he had always carried with him. She pulled it over her head, holding the hood around her face and inhaled.  Then she lay down inside the chalk outline and sobbed.
     Did he suffer? Did he think of her, call out for, pray in the last moments, or was he already unconscious when he hit the pavement?  Did he know he would die, hope he would live?  Nora lived with those questions, spoke them in the midnight hour, wrote them down over and over until one morning in late December when she awoke to that grey stillness before snow.  She remembered that now, after winter solstice, there would be longer days ahead. Then, it came to her so clearly that today she must go to that place again, where the chalk outline had long faded and no trace of metal shards or shattered glass remained. 
     Only burning grief remained, which still surprised her whenever she awoke--morning or night, but this morning she would be moved. It would be a long walk she knew, but she would go.  This morning she had to give over to time and reason.  He will not call; he will not walk up the front path, and he will not come home no matter how long you lie on the sofa and wait.  She went to pull the shades down on the front windows and locked the door.  
      When her daughter called, Nora said, “I am taking a walk this morning.”
     It was a revelation to Addie, who was partly elated that her mother was doing anything other than what she had done for the past months, and partly concerned at the sudden change. “That’s great, Mom.  How about if I come over and we can walk together like we used to?  It's really cold and windy today, and snowing off and on already; maybe we should wait until tomorrow”
      “I know, but I'll be fine. I have to go today. I'm leaving now for Three Island Cove.”
      “Mom, wait, I'll be right over. Don’t go without me. I should be with you,” 
      “Now, don’t worry about me. You’ve been telling me to do something different, and now I am.” She hung up the phone before her daughter had finished.
      “I want to go with you.”
      Nora was sorry she had told Addie where she was going and hoped she would not just show up.  She wanted to be alone, knew it had been hard for Addie too, but grief was a private affair, to protect and not share with anyone, not even her own daughter, “her favorite,” as Andrew would say. 
     She went into his room, where all remained as it had been the night he left and never returned: curtains drawn, clothes on the unmade bed; shoes on the floor; papers, CDs, empty cigarette packs, matches and batteries on the table beside his bed, piles of neatly folded laundry still on the dresser. Job applications, resumes and notes on his desk next to the laptop reminded her that, in his slow, deliberate way, Andrew had been ready to make a change in his life.  
     Every night and morning she would open his door to whisper in a good morning, and every evening a good night, but not today.  She went straight for the box given to her at the hospital, which she had placed in one corner of the room. Taking out the folded grey sweatshirt, she held it to close to her once again, lifted it to her lips for a moment and slipped it over her head. Stepping out into the cold, she felt she was emerging into a new world, but looking around thought, it’s really just the old world I don’t recognize, where people have been living their lives, going places and doing things as usual. For her there was no “usual,” no place to go, and no life either to live.  Grief was her world--deep and vast, with no exit. 
     Snow flurried, sparkled a moment on the sidewalk, then disappeared; icy branches moving in the wind were the only sound to be heard.  She was aware of her quickening heartbeat and her breath frosting into a mist in front of her as her stride widened. Everything is so quiet, so white and pure.   
     She felt disoriented by the openness of this forgotten environment and a sense of her changing inner landscape--unwanted and unwelcome. As she began the ascent up the steep hill, there seemed to be a thread being cast backwards in time, attaching itself to images, people, events, places--connecting her with her son.  She wanted to turn around and run back to her safe and familiar place of stasis, but the intensity of this experience compelled her with intimations of truths, both light and dark. Somehow she knew that, only by physically moving forward, could the past be revealed and lead her to the present, and maybe beyond.  It was as if the long days and nights of sameness, the ritualized sorrow had been preparing the ground for all that came out of her now.  
     Something was shifting--what, to where or how, she didn’t know. Though her grief was still palpable, underlying everything, she was distracted from it.  No longer was it overflowing, gushing in torrents so that she felt at every moment she was about to go under, breathless and suffocating.  Her focus went to each new strand of thought, feeling, and memory being woven, without power to stop it, had she wished to.
     In the quiet, deserted street, passing houses and trees still lit with holiday lights, she was remembering her lost child had been unwanted at first, coming many years after Addie. Her arrival had justified all manner of pain and redeemed her past transgressions--nothing else was needed. 
     I don’t know why, but when Addie came, it made me feel normal and whole again, brought me down to earth, put things into perspective, but Andrew, more than anyone or anything else forced me to reach down to discover, or build up strengths I didn’t even know I had.  Addie was a beautiful gift. She took away the darkness and made everything light and bearable.  I can see now that the joy she gave me took away that burden of guilt and shame or displaced it somewhere. Or did I just trade one myth of sorrow for another of redemption.  I know I tend to make things too dark or too light--I know that. Matt told me that, and I knew it was true.
     The widening circumference of memory touched many truths, exposed illusions, brought things into focus.  Andrew was a contented baby, but was less responsive to affection, both received and given.  He was dreamy, independent, willful and often irritable, which tried her patience.  More than that, though, as he grew, it’s as if he challenged her to see who he was, to find what he needed and to change herself, which was hard--maybe impossible. 
     I failed in every way. With Addie, I felt I’d always known who she was, what she needed. It was easy.  But I took on Andrew as “my task,” which his father took no part in initiating or directing.  He wasn’t interested in my one-woman show. I excluded Matt and everyone and everything else.
     Andrew, who began to show early on that, while he may not have been “awake,” as she felt, he had extraordinary insights about the essence and purpose of things, knew more than she did in some ways. He was a puzzle and paradox.  His intuitive, sensitive nature engendered in her a love as deep and wide as the love she felt for Addie, but an uneasy love.  Something was asked of her in exchange.  She was convinced his inherent wisdom was meant to guide her and Matt to--something, at least some bit of self-knowledge, which she thought they both lacked, if they would allow it.  His father did not allow it, but Nora thought she had.
     Of course, Andrew was also a gift to me, but he forced me to look into the darkness, own it, and transform it into light. "Oh, cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right,” she would think, but still attempted to strive toward that end. She regretted leaving her husband, but had convinced herself she had to so she could concentrate on what she felt had become her life’s work, but the threads of memory and desire revealed to her that she did not have to leave, and should not have created her own Greek tragedy.
     I thought Matt stood in the way of my striving and knowing, and I put Andrew first above all things.  I thought Addie had lifted my burden, maybe an imaginary one after all, but now I see I just placed it on Andrew who carried it to his death, and tried to on Matt too, but he refused to accept it.  It was not his, so why should he? So, Andrew had not only to bear the weight of his father’s leaving, but our move away from the only home he had known. He resented me for all of it, rebelled against it and never forgave me. Can you forgive me now?
     By the time she reached the top of the hill, where she dreaded, yet longed to be, a perfect imagination had been formed--perfect, in that it was a finished work woven in reverse from moments in time, expanding outward to encompass the lives of mother and son--and a family. When she came to rest, she noticed a sign on the side of the road, one of those placards noting some bit of history. How had it eluded her notice until now? She had driven past it many times, but seldom walked the hill in the few years they had lived in the town.
     In an instant, she felt herself engulfed, small but whole within her creation, which held everything that was and is and would be.  She both saw and was the bare trees, the grey sky, the flakes of snow drifting around her, this ground where Andrew was lost.  
     She read: "SAMUEL DE CHAMPLAIN. Due east from here on July 16,1605, the Sieurde Monts sent Samuel de Champlain ashore to parley with some Indians. They danced for him and traced an outline map of Massachusetts Bay."
     Nora stood for some time, looking up at the sign. She bent down to touch the ground.  Something extraordinary had taken place here long ago--an exchange, a sharing, a trust, a true meeting.  This was the place strangers had arrived, met other souls who danced to welcome them to a foreign shore; had shared their knowledge of the land, which also lived inside them. It was also where another soul, one who Nora had both striven to know and to become more like, had lifted off of this plane to join those who had occupied it for a time.  Time, just another illusion. We are all here. It is then, and now and the future.
     How long she stood in this reverie, within that imagination, in the light of the knowledge the placard had shed, who knows?  She turned, glanced back once, as a few snow flakes floated in the air like feathers.  Feeling the cold more than before, even though the winds had subsided, she began to walk quickly downhill.  She saw Addie coming toward her smiling and waving, making her way among the lights twinkling from the trees and houses along the street.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Measure of the Universe


In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God spoke the world into being, and “in the beginning was the Word.” So we are given the imaginative truths that speech/sound has formative power, bringing substance into being and that “the Word,” or Logos has always been.  We also find in Shelley’s epic play, Prometheus Unbound, that Prometheus, a demi-god who stole fire from the gods and gave it as a gift to human beings (and was punished for it), also “gave man speech, and speech created thought, which is the measure of the universe” (II.iv.72-73). He was essentially a link between heaven and earth
     I think of language that way--a mediator between humanity and divinity.It is what separates us from the rest of the living world, not in its ability to simply communicate information or feelings, but in what John Ciardi called, "the interplay of its structures," which includes rhythm, sound, evoked images, allusion, symbolism and associations, as well as the many subtle and nuanced layers of language, which create meaning, and thus thought.  In this way, language builds and expands consciousness and conscience.
Although I do not participate in organized religion, I was brought up in Catholicism until the age of 10, for which I am grateful, however, not because of memorizing the catechism, but, rather, for the beauty seen and felt, laying the foundation for my inner life. Much of that beauty was visual. The interior of the church inspired awe and reverence: the soft, matte whiteness of the marble alter; the gleaming red votives; the forms and fragrance of flowers; the brilliance of colored light streaming through stained-glass windows mingling in open spaces.  There in the quiet and darkened, echoing church, in the presence of the figure on the cross, the sombre saints and silent angels, there was something strangely familiar.  I felt at home in wonder, which the Greeks tell us is the beginning of wisdom.
More significant for me, though, was the beauty and meaning in liturgy, prayers and hymns.  I recall my first apprehension of the spiritual dimension--being lifted above the ordinary in moments that can only be described as profound, although I could not have put that name to it back then.  It came through one of the Latin prayers that we also recited in English. Once heard, it reverberated in my (and still does).
Dòmine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanàbitur ànima mea.
Oh, Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Only say the word and my soul will be healed.
“Only say the word and my soul will be healed,” was a revelation to me as a child, as it is now: that words can and do heal, that they shape wisdom-filled thoughts and have a life I can breathe in.  Such thoughts impart a sense of hope and renewal, are felt as light, and can be called upon again and again as a source of strength, and even of actions I might not otherwise take, had I not been inspired by words.
As an adult I found a life inseparable from language, as an English teacher and writer, grounded in the Trinity of Language: power, beauty, meaning. It planted a seed within me, and I imagine that, if such a thing could observed, the palest shade of green would have been seen through the thin shell of my young soul—ever so pale, but green, green and growing.

Whitsun

June 8, 2014

You didn't see, couldn't know
How a sliver of ocean
A luminous blue gem glowing
A streak of white light at the horizon
Touched the sky
At sunrise
This morning
And the birds ~ all the while
Singing it in!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

GOD IS LOVE


The colors and forms blurred and faded into each other: trees of pale green into the blue sky fading to grey, brown rocks edging the road into yellow grasses lining the fields. Wisps of clouds emerged from the horizon as he travelled toward it.  This was how he remembered it in the cold season. The road stretched far ahead, his anxiety building--like when he had first imagined forever--or tried to envision the universe expanding ever outward--into what, into where?

He was going back and had to keep on, even if he didn’t know what he would find or even what he was looking for. There was a place at which he would eventually arrive, to which he’d planned to return one day, ever since he left so many years ago, closing a circle “whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.”

Early next morning, he saw it: the house rising dark against the brightening sky.  His eyes fixed on it, as he turned onto the narrow dirt road leading to it. He marked that the fencing was all but gone, broken in some places, missing in others. Some of the sheltering trees, living only in his memory until now, still stood on either side of the front porch, its unpainted, wooden steps sagging into the dark earth.  Tall weeds, twisting bramble and vines obliterated the many gardens that once grew in sunny spots.  

Easing around toward the back of the house along a rutted curve, he saw parts of yellow and green farm equipment strewn across the barn yard.  The barn roof was partially collapsed on one side.  The familiar, though weather-faded image covering the top half of the barn side facing the house, came into view. It was the first thing that had appeared to him each morning from his bedroom window: a red cross against shafts of light, over which floated the words, “GOD IS LOVE.”

He sat with his eyes closed for some time, then emerged to make his way to the house, observing cracked windows, siding bare of paint and fallen roof shingles that all but blocked the sidewalk as he made his way to the back door. To clear the low door frame, he had to bow in a forced gesture of humility as he entered.   

In the kitchen the wide stone hearth still held charred ends of logs across a blackened grate.  Moving through to the next room, he half expected to see the harvest table that he and his sister would help prepare for Sunday dinners and holidays; he stopped and touched the place where it had been.  In the front room, he faced the ceiling-to-floor windows to the west;  He took in the whole scope of the room, scanning it camera-wise, recalling it like a once-seen but forgotten film.  The windows’ wavy panes, coated with a fine yellow film blown from the fallow fields across the way, diffused the widening morning light through the empty room, which smelled of earth and cold, and felt like pain.

He imagined this room as it had been on that summer day he left, when no words were spoken, no forwarding address given. There was a rocker on one side of the fireplace; a cabinet on the other against the wall, containing books, a radio and an outdated record player.  The window seats were laid with cushions his mother had made. There he would sit and read in the late afternoons where breezes would lift the white curtains into the room like the sails on a schooner and sun lighting up the space.  There was a sofa facing the fireplace and his father’s wooden chair, straight backed with a worn, crackled black leather seat   A round marble-topped table between them held a lamp of frosted glass painted with peonies, like the ones on the wall paper--now  worn in large areas down to the plaster.  All the while, his mind projected a tableau of random, intimate vignettes from the past. 

He had arrived--returned from another world to speak to his God-fearing family who had fed and clothed him; raised him to work hard and long hours and made sure he went to school, at least as long as it took to learn to read and write well enough to run the farm.  Gone now, they had waited years in grief for his return. He felt that in some way he would be heard by those who needed to hear and were still awaiting the reunion. His voice would soon fill this room where they had gathered in the evenings.

The wind kicked up; it blew through the house with that shrill, whirring sound, jarring and rattling the remaining shutters.  It was late winter, and his fingers, though gloved, were numb with cold.  Outside, vortices of golden dust rose up here and there, as he looked for bits of kindling and fallen branches to make a fire. Once the fire blazed up, creating one last warmth in the frozen house, he stood directly across the room from it, as he conjured up his imaginary truth and reconciliation commission:  his mother seated at the windows gazing out, his father standing at her side, his sister curled on the rocker next to the fire, his abandoned lover on the threshold to the room facing the back of the house. 

He had wanted to say: Call me Ishmael, Gilgamesh, Oedipus.  I have seen the white whale, entered the cedar forest, solved the famous riddle, but that was an inner experience he never could articulate.  He would speak in plain language they would have understood, though those epic figures were part of him, the foundation for a way of thinking which had allowed him to understand himself and the world.  Though he did not think of himself as a hero, he did think that living life was heroic for those who are aware of and survive all that comes against it and develop all that it takes to contend with it.  He had survived.

Though battle-weary, he could trace his path to consciousness and conscience, more certain of and clearer in his judgements and actions, precisely because he had freed himself and dared to leave the known for the “undiscovered country.”  He had developed a vision of what it means to be human, which his first readings and musings had begun to suggest.  And he strove toward that vision, though he was flawed, still so flawed, he thought. These things he wanted to convey to them, as he unraveled his tale, partly in sorrow without remorse, partly in victory without joy, so that he himself could hear it, grasp it and, in some feeble sense, atone for the pain he had caused those whose souls he would now address.

He wanted to say that he wasn’t ungrateful, or at least never connected what he did or didn’t do with ingratitude.  He just knew he couldn’t live out a replay of his father’s life.   He wanted to acknowledge that he had betrayed his sister, after all the confidences they had shared, and that he knew he had left her utterly alone in the life they both hated. He would kneel before his mother, asking forgiveness for his mysterious disappearance, for her never having heard from him again, for his not being able to fulfill her reasonable expectation that her family remain near, insuring that life would go on in the same way ever after. He would say he was sorry to the beautiful young lover whose face he could not remember.  She had told him that if he ever left her she would hang herself from the barn rafters.  “No, no you won’t.” he had shouted. “I can’t be held hostage to save you.” Then, he did the only thing he could do. 

He would recount how he had to veer off that set trajectory, how he had created his own, though he had been blown off course many times.  He would say that he had to travel to where he would see water that was not just in irrigation ditches or in the form of rain--or the small stream of the river that was not a river running through the nearest city that was not a city.  He had thought of this place as God-forsaken, though his mother had told him, "God is everywhere the eye can see and the heart can feel--horizon to horizon." If that was so, then he would recognize Him in other lands and landscapes, which he knew would serve to form, shape and grow something still small inside himself. He would see, hear and feel the blue ocean, stand before and climb mountains, meet and get to know people that were not like him--who would be God and His angels in disguise--strangers who would become his guests.

He finally landed on that island on the wide Hudson, “The City” where long, black limos stopped in front of hotels, theaters and restaurants, and, where downtown, he mingled with those who had lost their way, but not their souls--those who carried the sum of their lives in carts or plastic bags and hid the countenance of their sainthood beneath blank and sombre stares.

He would ask the conjured visions now assembled for his homecoming: Can you ever understand that I had to trade predictable for the possible, security for spontaneity and comfort for experience?  He felt their memory of him beyond his boyhood was of a selfish dreamer, a fool, a doubter, a lazy sinner, and a bad influence on his sister, with all of his wild ideas about journeys and trials he got from the books he read, when he should have been working--ideas that, for him, became ideals to be acted upon--light-filled thoughts that opened up all colors, dreams and initiated his plan of escape for body and soul. 

When a boy, he loved this house, family birthdays, Christmas and 4th of July celebrations, picnics and Sundays of prayers and hymns.  He had wanted to be good, to be grateful to God for creating him and everything around him, to obey and please Him and to honor his father and mother.  He would concede that, but also that he needed to feel alive and that he had found and believed in something as surely as they trusted in God’s Word, and it was this:  We did not come to earth to fulfill the expectations of God or man, yet, he knew that through his not doing so, he had somehow nevertheless, by default or destiny, managed to achieve the self-same thing. 

He now believed that if there was a God, that He intended that we be disobedient, that we be cast out of the Garden we are born into, that we lose our innocence in order to gain the knowledge of good and evil, both of which God had brought into being himself.  He knew that God would have it no other way, because evil and good are all mixed up, and one can be mistaken for the other, because one often results in the other, no matter what we intend.  That’s why he thought that, if a God allowed a Satan to roam the earth, it was not just so that we resist temptation, or try to eradicate evil.  He had once read something as true as any Bible verse: “Evil is not something to be solved, but a mystery to be endured.” 

Maybe some people could be content to remain in the place where they were born, but not him.  He was a wayfarer, took the road less travelled, finding fulfillment and loss in that dark-haired woman he loved too much.  She had painted a portrait of him in blue and red after they had a child born with his spine outside of his body.  Then, on the first anniversary of the child’s death, when he arrived home on that snowy evening, she had vanished like the snowflakes melting on the window he stared out of all that night.  Disappeared--just as he had from the forlorn farm house he now stood in, triumphant.  

He was the cynic who burned the red and blue portrait with the letters he had written to her every day for a year, with nowhere to send them.  He lived alone, not knowing what do with the remaining love for the dark-haired woman and the dead child, until he took in and looked after the young man in rags with wild, violet eyes, who danced nightly in the streets of St. Mark’s Place in a stained, suede vest, asking nothing for his performances of grace and beauty, but a witness.  

All this he meant to speak out loud into the quiet of the cold room to those who waited and listened.  

When he started to speak, his voice sounded hollow and weak in the gaunt, high-ceilinged room. All at once, what he had left behind appeared before him as a sacrifice to become human, to arrive at a state “of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything.” Or had he forfeited the simple for the sublime, the facts for the hard-won truth? And peace descended upon him.  His frosted breath became visible when he said only this: “Peace be with you.” And he felt that it was so.

The fire had gone out, the wind had died down. Across the fields, the afternoon sun was low in the sky, but shone through the darkened spaces of the room as the figures vanished in its illumination.