Carrier Pigeons Fly Back

seascape 2

Once before I had had a lover. And I used to send her notes by the only carrier pigeons left alive on Earth. And she used to write me notes back herself, flown across the river dividing us. At times my language had been haughty and grim. Mostly, however, it was pleasant and nimble and full of grace. For I am mostly pleasant, nimble, and full of grace. The river over which these precious birds once flew was fast-flowing and dangerous, especially during the storms of late summer. To this end, I flew her a note that said, “Let us write each other no more, lest our meaning drown.” And by this I meant that until the whitecaps and the tall waves upon the raging river abated, we should cease our correspondence. This last missive of mine, I learned, once the river was calm and smooth again, was understood quite differently by her. The bird whose note from her I read delivered this: she took me and my meaning quite abruptly and altogether harshly. In short, her note revealed she pictured me to be a hard and dark and embittered man. For some time after this, the pigeons flew across the river back and forth. All our meaning, whatever it had been, was completely wasted now. The last carrier pigeon alive has drowned. My final note I’ve got, I’m rolling that back and forth between my fingertips now. As there is no way ever to send it, to ever get across my sorrow and my love for her, my words are just as soon drawn upon the blowing sands of Arabia as one whose name is writ upon water.

‘Blame It On A Simple Twist Of Fate’

He knew she did not want a scholar. He knew she didn’t want one who could quote Thucydides and Marx. He knew, too, that even though his conversations were aptly (and ironically) peppered with this and that funny reference to George’s declension in Albee’s great Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, she didn’t want that either. He knew that what he was for many women might not be enough, that as a pianist, he was a hack. Not good enough there, oh well. Then off she went (some other) with another who held concerts at Lincoln Center. He spent so much time with his fingers in the dirt, plucking tomatoes he had tied up with strips of old bedsheets, that he did not have hours enough to understand her growing pains. He could not abide her learning curve (which admittedly was very long, and very steep.) Like J. Alfred’s hair parted behind, his patience was as thin as his time became brief. His mind’s harvest became all-consuming, and his heart’s willingness unforgiving. He became the inverse of the man he once had been. And as I looked at the lengths of heavy timber dropped off at the backside of my yard, I could feel the aching in my wrists to come, the splitting season about to begin. Above all else, I had to do this—chop wood—lest I be cold and also alone throughout the many lonely months of the days soon approaching winter.

The Common Barn Of Human Genius

barn in field

For so many years he had been a bachelor. And for so many more years he would be. He had heard of monks who go into the forest for ten or fourteen years, who, when they have done so and have taken such vows of silence, later come back to the world as it is. He recalled one monk especially who, upon completing his vow, when it was over, he stated, when he returned, that not speaking for that duration of time had been pointless. Well, he thought, that was one experiment, one trial less for him to have to experience. He did not have to obey the Law. He did not have to abide the Gatekeeper keeping the gate (and that being the least fearsome Gatekeeper at the least fearsome of the three more gates and Gatekeepers he would, it was rumored, have had to have faced). Not at all. And as for other bachelors in history, such as Henry David Thoreau, who had completely muted his desire for women by owning the myth of his own personal ugliness, that sort of self-mythologizing, and thereby cauterizing both want and need, that was indeed another way to go about it. To rid, to banish desires so as to have none, yes, he supposed a man might do that. But to do as Gandhi had, (however controversial his practice in some circles of thought) and sleep beside the bodies of two perfumed young naked women and to not touch them, that was indeed something else. Such is the sort of law to which this bachelor in his heart of hearts wished to belong. However, he was moved by the most earthly things of all. He might overhear people chatting about birds flying far above overhead. They might say, “Are those the eagles?” And one of the party would then ask, “Do eagles fly together, though?” Quite possibly the wide-winged birds circling a-high were in fact vultures. But this bachelor of men loved so much to hear the people talking, people themselves, and the innocent moments of human genius, that his life alone was like a coin dropped in a well, a matter of deep question however insignificant it might in the end turn out.

To Build A Fire

fall trees

I would have imparted to him secrets in whose keeping was a burden. And so I ran and ran. I ran for miles. Next, when I saw him, I said to him, “When’s the fire?” He put up his arms, held out his hands and asked me, “Where?” I ran away again. He wandered the countryside slowly, portly and gnomish, gazing at the underside of brooks and the backside of knolls where he could. And me, I just ran by it all. I kept my breath and myself away from him, as much as I could. Our paths kept crossing. “Hello, again!” I said to him running over a hillock one day. “Hello!” he said, “I like your shoes.” True, they were bright orange, as bright as the sun’s orange spots at dawn, but I was embarrassed by this. “I’ve got a fire pit,” I told him. “You do?” he said. “I do,” I replied. “Well, ok.” he said, “You’ve got a fire pit.” “We could build the fire this weekend,” I said. He told me that he couldn’t that weekend, that he was busy that weekend, but that he could the next.

I knew I would have told him that I had four, maybe five more pairs of these same orange shoes he had admired, all the same, stored in boxes. I knew that I would have told him this and everything. I would have told him everything else, more important things about myself that he must never know. And I knew that were he to come over, and were we to sit by the fire for hours, that secret things would come out, not the way dust is beaten out of an old rug, but lightly and effortlessly, just as the smoke and flames would rise and disappear in the nighttime sky. I knew that there were things this near stranger, this queer little man was apt to understand. Even though I knew this man might himself know the heart of things, I had to run, and keep running, lest he and I build a little campfire.

Reflected Birch Tree

birch reflection

There are spots of time where one has been a thousand thousand times before. And each time is as perfect as the last. Each time is no more perfect than another. And one can sift for that remembrance or this one. And one would never be wrong. One would never be right. And, again, these spaces in memory, in time itself, one must always go to again. So that: when you choose to show them to somebody else, it doesn’t really matter which year, or even which month you had or have been there. There is no real beginning to it, and there is no real end. But if upon a summer’s eve, you should take down this book, if you open the cover to an ancient album, then it may come to pass that you will look into the eyes of another’s gaze and see where, before a word was ever first spoken, someone was stirring about at the beginning, sometime before daybreak.

To Find Beautiful Rocks

desert fence and sign

After that, he just took off. Took his tools and went. “Catch me somewhere in Arizona, Tucson if I’m lucky, shot by the border patrol if I’m not,” she told the police he had said to, told her, as he left. Of course he had had no idea at all of any sort of trouble, or of encountering any. Fact is, he just knew of a place up in the hills, back in the dirt roads, where nobody went. Up there, there were old copper mines. Mostly abandoned, except for the big gigantic commercial ones that had hacked off the entire top of a mountain so that it had become Red Mountain to the locals. And out there, why, you’d see rich green chrysocolla, the sort of stone the Indians said would heal you if you touched it to your heart; and if you scratched around, a bit of deep blue azurite, blue as the deepest blue sky would show up in the rubble. You just had to claw it away, dig it all, all the heaps, through all the leftover debris, the tailings from another day and another time. There were a couple of people, a pet food store owner, and a Brazilian masseuse, who had reportedly seen a man matching his straw hat and description in a little faraway town just a few miles north of Mexico, who had probably seen him before he had disappeared.

Roadside Prison

prison

There are so many things I have done here, am guilty of here, I don’t know where to end. For sure, the dozens of times I have passed this edifice at the slumped mountains’ feet, I have wondered about who would be watching me if I pulled over to the shoulder of the highway, and walked onto the grass, having climbed over the rolled razor-wire fence. But that could be, or is, beside the point. I could have cranked the attributes of this photo much more, made a much cleaner ‘shot’ of it. I could have tweaked the highlights, contrast, details, saturation, vibrance, and vignetting, and so forth (much more and with much more finesse) very easily and made it into some sort of horribly wrong pastiche of unintended irony in very poor taste. This I have certainly done while shaving my beard off my face several times already in my life, passing through the usual cast of characters from Vladimir Lenin to Frank Zappa, as these shavings rituals go. But from what I have learned from men I spoken with who’ve served time in my life, most of the men behind bars, they got there for having done some pretty stupid stuff, mostly out of ignorance and desperation that lent itself to that. From what I’ve learned, they’re usually not arch villains, public enemies number one. I’d probably get picked off pretty quickly if I tried to sneak up to it. No matter which way you look at it, though, as we speed along the highway in our cars to work and home, fully immersed and involved in our lives, it’s still a pretty weird and unsettling juxtaposition of seeing the lavender beauty of the mountains reaching toward the rich sky blue sky, below which, nestled in the foothills, are hundreds and hundreds of common criminals living in that brick red prison for years and years for their various crimes.

Windswept Horizons

crosses

There are places I have known, and regardless of my affections and whatever leanings, this way or that, which I may also have, the somber reminder is there. Cattle die. Kinsmen die. All men are mortal. So said, I read once in a fearsome kids’ book I have never found again, the Viking. When this is seen, not as a marble monument in Washington, nor as some great waxen get-up lying in state in Moscow, but off upon the grassy roadside in the prairie fields of America, death by the wayside strikes another note which is neither religious nor symbolic.

There is instead the blanched grouping of seven well-arranged crosses, none of these lives crucified atop a Roman hill, but all them at once talking, swearing and laughing, teasing each other and probably gossiping about the evening, just enjoying the open speed of the open country in a car together at night, just all slipped away at once. All together. Just like that. Very quietly. These sad reminders are, in fact, everywhere out West in the U.S. They are not anomalies. They are not rare at all. They are there at just about any small bridge or cement-walled overpass you see while driving, clusters of white beautiful crosses, like bright white wildflowers planted by many different pairs of caring human hands grieving across the plains of America.

Cold Pastoral

stone wall 2

The painted stone reliefs of Arcadia will already have been vanished. Whatever had looked upon these walls will have long disappeared. Still, the lichen will grow and exist as it did. And somewhere else, the horseshoe crab, with its strange bluish blood, will crawl upon the sea floor. And somewhere else, too, the louse. And somewhere a beetle. Adamantine reality will not call to us. Though another had once said that the stars are there because they needed us to see them. And still another yet because we had imagined them to be. But we can see today that these boldings are over. It is not very difficult to see that now. Whatever was our tenancy here, it was had briefly. At times it was most spectacular. And glorious. At others, not so much. From a leftover bluestone quarry that was completely abandoned 150 years ago, it is still important for the few passersby who come here to walk through last season’s fallen leaves along the footpath and pass by this silent, earthly beauty.

The American Landscape

slide

There is something to say about a photograph that can be lost. For if it can be lost, it can also be found. And those who know about negatives, know, too, that these negatives are generally scattered here and there. These are about as good as gone, though, as a last resort—a very last resort, they were sometimes resorted to. One would hope, shifting packets, sifting through the pile of debris, to find reddish-tinted strips of plastic, or the gray-and-black and clear-to-clearish ones, to find the missing picture—or, rather, the negative from which the picture was special ordered-up, or just peered at in its tiny rectangle and, through the light it was held up to, remembered. But today, with today’s “cameras,” which are really not cameras at all (they are merely scanning machines), there is never any real sense of finding and losing anything. Yes, there can be locating (and re-locating), as well as mis-filing a ‘picture’, but without anything to be held in the hands, there is really nothing to behold. And so, too, does it go with the passing loves of our lives that have passed by the “lens” of our DSLR-cameras. At best they reside in some skeuomorphic folder on our skeuomorphic desktop; at worst, they are deleted. Nothing. But a picture, a paper picture! One that was taken with a 35mm camera! One does not have to have the face or the body or the smile or the smell or the garnet necklace given to our loves in these real pictures to feel them body & soul, to feel a lifetime later the loves that we have all forsaken and blown and destroyed. All of them. In piles and stacks in shoeboxes in cartons in plastic bins we keep them. We keep them all. And some, though they are there (they must be!) we can never find again. In the multitudinous past, they elude us all of our lives. Still: there is something gorgeous about these post-card romances even if immediately afterwards, in the break-up, one had had an unaffected scorn for them all.