This Graceful Suspension Of The World

keys and lock

He had a secret wife once whose marriage to they nobody told. Even when her family all journeyed on a five-day ocean cruise together to celebrate her maternal grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary, the husband in name, he stayed at home. That’s how secret she was. Once, another time, she had returned from taking exams upstate. And the exam she took was computerized (not on paper), and while she took it, it learned her learning rate. It gave her very quickly, she told him afterwards, more and more difficult problems to solve, and each ‘one more’ difficult problem submitted on the screen to her, she got right. The testing program recalculated itself, and, with the secret wife’s having rapidly solved correctly such difficult problems as which the program could ever propose, it released her from the testing grounds in twenty minutes with an “800”—a perfect score. Almost ninety minutes had been shaved off her testing time, her sitting time, her being there. That’s how time and testing and the algorithms had worked.

The spatial reasoning his brilliant secret wife could perform with ease at astronomical rates of speed is not the way, in general, anything else works in life. The massive hero Ajax, for instance, that great, lumbering Greek warrior, battles and battles everyday, fighting off the Trojans. And before he rejoins the battle, Achilles sulks in his tent for months, unable to convince Agamemnon to give him back Briseis, his war booty, in all that time. And who can really tell how long, how many decades and years of accident and misfortune, how much lasting grief it will take and all the many dead there will be when spacecraft really do fly and land to colonize the desiccated, lifeless planet Mars.

Today an argument could verily be made that the man who’d had that secret wife long ago, far away, is one day close to his death. His wits are down. His love forsakes him. His cat is gone. His cupboard in nearly bare. His pile of winter wood is wet. For him, all the world’s diseases and sicknesses and misfortunes have fled buzzing like flies into the air. The only saving grace the world has ever known, however, is not “hope”—that miscreant’s negative creed of dissatisfaction, of being against the way reality actually is—but “anticipation”—which, though syllabically awkward, is the better translation of the Greek word “elpis,” of what actually remained in Pandora’s opened picnic basket. It means to simply wait for, and to be able to wait for, the next thing to come. And that, the love-broken man knew, trembling in fear asleep and living in a perfect equation of anxiety awake, by the multitudes of stars which over the span of all eternity shall have opened their eyes at night and closed them during the day, was all there ever was.

Gentle Goes The Day, And Gentle Goes The Night

There are so many things when I am walking that I no longer touch. I may see a leaf or I may see a stone, and these objects in the woods are so lovely I want to take them home. But I have learned to keep my hands still at my side. I have learned to see with my mind better, and look with my eyes. Even dead forked sticks that have fallen from far above, once I had sought to clean them up as I might clean up debris. But these suspended branches are really just hanging there in balance for a time. Nobody could position them as they are. Human hands are really no good for this. Instead, how long will this be so? Instead, what breeze is that? Instead, what life will bring a man at times to walk like this, and what events befallen him just as softly, gently sometimes to his knees?

Potato Chip Man Yoga Retreat

snow & sign & shed

He’d take a little bit of household garbage, the kind that can’t be recycled or the kind that can’t be composted, and crumple it up. Then he’d take that little bit and a little bit more than that and crumple it up, and when he had crumpled up many small bits of garbage and stuffed all the small bits of crumpled up garbage into a medium-sized, empty potato chip bag, he’d put the stuffed bag of garbage filling the potato chip bag by his front door. Later on, when he had to leave the house to drive to town, he’d push the garbage-filled potato chip bag into the public trash barrel that stood outside the grocery store where he went food shopping. That way, he could reduce by many times the trips he would have had to have made to the local dump to throw out a large, 39 gallon trash bag filled with garbage for 6 dollars a bag. Meanwhile, his ex-girlfriend would take out-of-state trips to Yoga Retreat Centers, big ones with recognizable names in the Northeast. She’d meet wonderful, upper-middle class people there like herself and do poses and stretches and eat high quality vegetarian food and make close new friends, and eligible middle-aged men whose cars were even nicer than hers was. Since she was sterilized, sex was never a problem with people from the get-go, even though it meant everything everybody had it got spread around like a very thin layer of peanut butter that nobody could taste or see but which everybody became infected by. Yes, for sure, no doubt, everybody in her social circles now they were bound to be rich, flexible in body, and totally gung-ho about living life. He, on the other hand, with his beautiful solitary mind, would never again waste a moment. His poverty made him aware of every action; his thinking made him, whenever he talked at all now, which was seldom anymore, aware of his few remaining spoken words.

Parenthetical Winter Folder Path

winter mountains path

(The truth was he loved everything in parentheses.) Different aspects of life (the multitudinous ways of being) and different walks of being were just the way he was, and the very way he liked to be. If there were manila folders and in each folder a little of something crumpled or crisp were tucked away inside it, and that folder were put together with others like or similar to it in one bin, and other folders and ones like it were put in another, and these bins were placed on a shelf, and on hundreds of half-remembered shelves there were different bins filled with different sets and different stacks of some folders whose edges were crisp and some whose edges were crumpled, well, that was just the way he was. He wasn’t like a banker living in Boston driven by goals and his beautiful wife to create a unified, whole, and wholly integrated on all levels sort of life, a life by which one could hold a mallet and whack a croquet ball down the green field of grass from one end of where the wickets were to another. It didn’t include a buffet tent, and an awning off the side of the house with a fold-up bar on wheels, and guests all of whom were both social and business contacts, and three (3) children to be spaced out eighteen months apiece for a total of his wife’s being pregnant over an entire birthing cycle of forty-five months by the time he reached thirty-eight years of age such that the actuarial of his death between his having reached seventy-five and seventy-eight years of age would arrive upon even the youngest of his progeny’s having become fully established and wholly and safely ensconced in life’s ineluctable reality. No, he liked to flirt with the caddy near the green, even though he didn’t play golf. He liked to schmooze with the big shots watching the Oscars on TV. He liked to have tea in San Francisco with his old roommate’s wife when the harbor seals were dancing somewhere in the waves. He liked to collect sunstones in the dirt of Oregon by himself. He liked to shave his head and shoot 22’s at the local NRA shooting range and smell the smell of gunpowder there stuck in the air. He liked to listen to Janet Baker singing Mahler alone with his grown daughter on his ancient, vacuum tube-amplified music system in a heartbroken shack along the coast of Maine. He liked to engineer a bear-proof, pulley-and-rope apparatus by which he hung his bird-feeder filled with sunflower seeds for the birds (and the few squirrels who had the desire and temerity to reach it) to feed. He liked to walk along the graveyard path with a bright young lady who was at home and listen to her speak of life. He liked to make and lose scads of money at race car events, betting with strangers in the bleachers, getting his teeth filled with brown dust and fuel fumes from the screaming cars going around the track. He liked to write poems that rhymed ABABCDCD…, and throw them into the lit fireplace. He liked to think about making flies for fly-fishing, and that’s all. Having what others would call a ‘big life’—a full, entirely visible life under the gaze of some all-perceiving, or all-perceived totality of completeness—well, that never held an iota of appeal or any desire to even the tiniest and very best parts of him. (He was, he had to admit to himself, sotto voce, filled with a deep, reverent loneliness, that even the distant ocean could hear.)

Purple Mountain Wood Stove

mountains arizona

Already, my wood stove is burning. I stacked the cords myself. I fear six cords of wood may not be enough. Winter is long and full of deep snow. I had once had another pair of hands to help me. But they are gone. That was a time I do not regret, and have not seen that in a while, a life like that when the tandem knocking of each piece of wood laid against the growing long stack our wordless work kept the coldness of winter out. And I get on, je me débrouille, because I now must. That is the way with things, with spiders nested in the corners of bathroom shower stalls, soldiers stationed on a foreign front, or men and women somewhere listening to an easy-going book as they commute back and forth between their city office buildings and glass-lit evening houses lit up and down the streets. In any case, I’m not sure there’s enough wood to sustain me before the tubers in the ground have all grown (or rotted). I had better scour the deadfall with my saw and ax soon. The meager fronds of the ferns are already yellowing. The bears are circling wider and wider in these searching final days before they disappear until May. Cries of geese overhead, these are common. How with my jolly heart and glad-eyed ways I became myself here to be living at the foothills of the Rockies, it is no mystery to tell at all. It is only to be remarked upon, I think, that unexpectedly I made myself saddened by all the passing of everything that I had known and all there was standing once before such great purple majesty.

Zen Camino Road

crosses

The Master sat, having tucked his robes beneath his knees, and folded them, such that any space that had offered any opening to where his genitals lay, was covered by cloth. He then, having assumed his lotus posture, asked each apprentice the same question, “What is the Way?” And each, coming up before him, sitting now slightly below the Master’s line of vision, offered a glimpse of this. Carefully, the Master brushed away these understandings with care and aplomb. There were concerns with the deception of perhaps feeling something over actually knowing it. There were problems with being able to unfurl many fine words of the Tradition which did not necessarily betray their life as practice. There those that even questioned the Master himself, that he was too much himself a man of intellect and not of the heart. And to each apprentice, I observed how like the moment when I myself have walked alone and felt a falling acorn has hit the back of my hand, the Master was both personal and direct every time, an oak of wisdom. I also, as I sat, remembered reading long ago, sprayed upon a wall in blue paint: “Soy la palabra, soy el camino, soy la verdad.” I am the word, I am the road, I am the truth, when I was walking to my Spanish lesson to learn Spanish in Bogotá. This was back in 1990 when the way was dangerous and I went quite carefully there and back alone. This was when a garbage dump manager almost became elected President of Colombia because most of the other presidential candidates had been assassinated, and it narrowed the field down. He came close enough to the tune of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, whose baleful ominous choirsome music from hell and heaven oppressed and elevated us all. I had wanted, had I gone up to speak to the Master himself, to tell him not all of this, but some of it. I know, had I gone there, I would have faced him, my eyes slightly just below his, and said to him in Spanish, the words of the graffito that I had read and absorbed so long ago on my daily Spanish lesson, and nothing more. I chose to fidget a little since my nose was a bit runny due to the change of weather, from the host of warm summer days that were almost balmy, to the suddenly cool ones of Fall that took that warmth out of my bones.

Dalai Lama Baseball Diamond

gravestone & flower

We were festooned with leis. We were draped in scarves of many colors. We were seated on blankets, on hand-sewn kanthas, on silver-stitched carpets, on birch bark peelings wide enough for lovers, on just plain green grass. We had had our peace pipes and panpipes ready to smoke, and ready to play. We had had our minds all set to hear sacred and holy things. We had all gathered in the open field together to hear the great man speak. And just beyond our lowered heads, a little ways just across the right outfield of the town’s baseball diamond, just over that, just beyond the rusted iron fence, the just smiling Dalai Lama stretched out his robed arm and pointed to the ancient graveyard. “The final destination!” His Holiness said, before he had said a word.

Leaves, Games & Other Treasure

fall leaves

As a kid, she had played a board game called Careers. It was a fun game to play. Arrows were spun, dice were tossed, paths were taken. Players became things. They became lawyers, or doctors, or engineers. They became businessmen. It was an old-fashioned game. And it was great fun to go down the different colored pathways and to turn up cards or hit spaces on the board that set you back. The whole thing was meaningless, and even the name of the game itself had no meaning at all. She grew up with a sense none of the things she had played when she was little had ever mattered at all. It was just fun. That’s all.

When she was older and leaving college all the kids leaving school were shouting at each other as they were leaving the bright grassy green campus for good, “Get a job!” That was funny. For who’d want to learn for four years and then just forget all that and go to get a job? She had heard her classmates joking that way and it was pretty funny for sure. Even the President of the United States of America, he said that people believed around the country today that if you worked hard you should get ahead. And he believed that this was a common creed across the land. What Alice had by this time discovered is that her particular world was ever slow and ever slowing. In this way when a leaf fell, she saw it. In this way when a bus pulled out, she had smelled the diesel fumes. In this way, when the equinox came in September, she felt the chilling cool inside her body’s bones. In this way, when she opened her mind she could hear own thinking. And this had happened more and more in life since her joyful days when she had had fun playing games on the floor that didn’t matter.

For so many others it had appeared to her, too, that from top to bottom, what she was experiencing as her own life might not be exactly happening to them. Instead, it was as if everything in their lives had been already mapped out, as if they had been appearing as performers in a theatrical performance of a scene of themselves. It was a game that everybody knew. A game where the dice were loaded. The war was over. The good guys lost. And that wasn’t a very fun game for anybody to play. Even for the rich winners it wasn’t very fun. That was no more fun than reaching blindly into a treasure chest and every time you put in your hand you pulled out pearls and gold. No, she knew that the whole point of a real treasure chest is that you don’t pull out pearls and gold every time you reach in your hand. That’s just the same thing every time. A known certainty that after a while isn’t very fun to do anymore. No, it was the doubt, and uncertainty, and the misgivings, too, which of course had to come along with uncomfortable doubt and uncertainty from time to time, that had made her life so far very fun and very playful.

Sweet Longing From Afar

pilings 2

Forgive me that I am sweet and lonely by myself. And all your treasures forsaken. The boots I got were perfect. And their silver buckles shine brightly. I am filled with many thanks. For now I am living in the meadow. My distractions here are few. And alone I am become a burbling brook almost. Once an uncle showed me an ice cold spring into which a bandit was shot and died. “Right there,” said Uncle John pointing with the handle of his pipe smoking, at the head of it where the clear spring water came up out of the ground. And as a small boy I thought with some disgust and wonder, since this water was the source of all our drinking, had I drunk this bandit’s blood? When tempted by my uncle (and my own boyish desires), I had stuck my hand into the clear spring water, which looked so pure I saw the sandy bottom seven or eight feet down as though it were only inches, and just as fast pulled my burning fingers and palm out in terrible pain. It was that icy, that cold. I know now better that I drank the blood of that bandit, and of the Christ, and of the Buddha, and of another never-to-be-named one, too, along with the drinking water. We eat their dust. We breathe and drink and eat them all. That is just the way it is here on Earth, where everything in time is so commingled, not completely unlike a misty cloud of playfully dancing gnats which seem to be such a bother to us but really are not so terrible. If one day you are passing by this sunny valley on your journey, and can see from afar my smoke curling away from the rooftop of my little cabin, please remember that you are welcome to sleep and rest yourself warmly here overnight.

Goat Song Below The Mountains

tucson sunset

There’s a rainstorm over the mountaintop faraway. The dark gray sky shows the shower pouring down. Were I there, I would be soaking, for sure. Perhaps, if I stood here forever, or a long long time, it would reach me. Of even that I’m unsure of. I can’t tell which way it’s moving; I can’t even feel the wind blowing any direction. Still, I carry on as I have without dread or warning over anything at all, mostly. At times, I must confess, I do wonder and worry some. These anxious moments pass as I watch the orange spots glowing on the sunny morning ground here, or hear the evening insects chanting songs whose names I’ll never know, and look over my own solitary heart right where I am. If anything really terrifies me, it would be the warm rain showers down atop me, and I to be above a mountain now looking down. Until that time may one day come, I roam still among the foothills, half-claiming to myself to be barely a goat-herder with goat songs to sing but not so many goats.