Shining Lake

shining lake

I am stranded without money. I am stranded without guidance anywhere. But that is not a dilemma I am very much concerned with. This is a huge island. There is everywhere to explore on it. I have heard rumors in the nighttime when I am drowsy that there are others here awaiting me, people whose lives don’t even overlap mine in any conceivable way, except that we are all here. None of us has much more than an old-fashioned Mercury dime, a thin silver disc of beauty, which to behold you would not spend anyway it is so beautiful. When I walked alone beside the lake in the morning, I saw a little red dock house on the other, far side of it. But there was no discernible dock. Just a little red empty house. Now of course I had thought it funny, too, to circumnavigate a lake inside an island itself, and it is. When I was walking back around, between the water and me, I saw a muddy ditch, and knew in an instant that that’s all all of this was, and it made me very happy in the instant that I saw and realized that, that shining muddy ditch showing itself back like that to me.

Broken Snow Tree

fallen yellow leaves

The jar of walnuts was almost empty. And the cords of wood, they were stacked. Stovepipe clean. Winter was a-coming. The coffee beans, they were still ground each morning, an hour before the sunlight curled around the mountaintop, by hand. It would be wise to crawl beneath the house and wrap the wool again, or build a solid box, around the water heater tucked below the floorboards. It was going to be cold. Thank the dog of Egypt, there were a good half dozen blankets to keep a body warm. Thank the rows of cans stored in the cupboard. Thank the garden crop of summer, and fall, and all the good things of the earth grown for eating that will be stored. All it takes is the planet’s reaching a tilt of twenty-three degrees away from the Sun, life’s fiery provider, to pull a sweater over in the chill of evening or the early blackened morning. It takes nobody to realize these things, a steadfast cycle so easily missed in the great bustle of the world’s seething metropolises or the company of others.

Fallen Autumn Beauty

fallen autumn bird

Time ago it was he had said to his father, “You fail me yet again.” And the father looked around at all the leaves of all the basil plants, all of them a foot taller than his son was then, all having blackened overnight. He had meant to let them grow. He had meant to let them reach their fullest height. He had meant to harvest the leaves when they were at their plentiest. He had done this before. He had done this before that. The point was in planting the basil, and so much of it, to make homemade pesto. But the putting off of collecting the leaves until October allowed the chill of one night alone to ruin the crop, and the boy just pointed out as a boy will do his dashed hopes in his father, a man he so deeply believed in. Since then, the father never failed once to harvest the basil when the leaves were ripe. The yearly stores of pesto, which the two ate fresh, and which in small plastic containers the father froze, they enjoyed over the years, summer after summer. These yearly gardening successes continued. Many other things were allowed to wither. Many other things blackened, some of them overnight, some of them over an entire season, some of them took years of time. When the father himself had been very young he traveled the world and took with him a handful of paperback books, one of them belonging to his own father. He kept close to himself this line inscribed upon his heart from one—“More mischief comes into the world through misunderstanding and neglect, rather than malice or wickedness; the latter two, at any rate, are rarer.” I can’t today say a thing about the ashes of the living, but I know a thing or two about blackened leaves of the dead. And if there is a remaining sorrow in my bones, that grief must be for a little bit of green innocence my wishes for the future had left behind there.

Glowing Sky On Mountains’ Water

sunset over water

Whatever things come so, too, he knew these same things must depart. And to have ever believed that the comfort of one day could be predicted to remain the next, was only a mistake, though a human enough one. Time ago, he had wanted to have the belief that his mornings and evenings would be once a song of joyfulness and twice a prayer. They were neither that. Nor did they ever become any less or more predictably those committed to sorrow and grief. In darkness when he woke he could put on the wailing madness of Maria Callas singing as she would for the decades to come her mad lament—“Oh gioia che si sente e non si dice!”—and feel dawn’s private beauty. To music’s sweet betrayal, he could let the cat slip out the back door’s screen slid partially open. He could hear the water burbling just under boiling. The ferns would continue to march underground and spread their fronds. The birches would die. Crashes came at night. Clouds made cover. Whatever he felt, the day alone brings light to itself alone. Just so for the billions of all others all waking and sleeping elsewhere. No adhesion nor repulsion to anything. As for the birds flying back and forth from their feeder to nearby limbs, which once a week or so I filled with new seed, I saw I was to bear some witness to for a while.

Good Walls Asunder

fallen stone wall

I had nothing left to rely on. A bunch of dog-eared Bob Dylan albums. A decent snow shovel to clear the driveway when winter. Sunblock in the summer. Darkness and full moons came and went as they came and went. The attachments I had had passed through like spider webs in an unseen doorway I never knew I was passing through were stuck to my face and swept away by hand by instinct. The coffee beans I had were ground up and poured into a pot that, steeping, awaited me and a friend I had neglected. Maybe it was possible maybe not. Scatterings of almost forgotten dreams. Remembrances of names and places. A locust shell on a tree trunk as a boy pulling it off, unstuck. A handful of soft coins tossed forever into the Danube. A chicken wire fence put up in ignorance (and innocence) to keep out the animals. A girl he talked to all night instead of conjugating his verbs in Arabic that must have given birth several times by now. The feathering of an oar. The swarming mosquitoes of Nakita. The power out. Just a picture now in his mind of Osip Mandelstam in a shack with his wife for a picture of this.

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.

A Swinger of Birches

birches 3

A young woman had once told him he was mad “but in a good way” when near midnight he tried to board a wooden ship docked in Stockholm. Aged Tibetan monks being guided by female assistants in the metropolis had more than twice stopped in their tracks and run a finger across his brow. “Good forehead lines,” he had been told slowly and carefully by them, and then they moved along on their way. A local painter he painted houses with one season for 10 dollars an hour as a grown man believed and joked about his being a millionaire and that he was just doing this for a little fun in life. (Little did he know the truth of his gratefulness for this job and his boss’ good humor on the ladder beside him.) One of the brass numerals of an older woman’s street address across the road from him had fallen off and he nailed it back in with a tiny hammer and brass escutcheon pins he got at the local hardware store; they became fast friends ever since. A lady he had dined with remarked, after he was done chatting with the blond waiter about mechanical engineering and how he had been told by the young man that soldiers broke their steps when marching across a bridge, that people seemed to like him. When he saw men driving their chrome yellow Hummers passing him on the road in the opposite direction that he was going, he had ceased to give them the middle finger and, if he could roll down his window fast enough to project in a flash to them the socially shaming Facebook thumbs-down sign with his real hand’s left thumb pointing down, he was happy to do that. He was hardly perfect but he was becoming lighter. He could still hear Pieter crying after him in his memory, after Pieter had dined and wined him night after night for nearly a week in Amsterdam many years ago, “Rudy! Rudy!” but, having already turned his back on the old gentleman and walked away some twenty paces, he never became his lover. Indeed, he had already walked alone and seen so many human things there are to see, he knew that one day soon, he would be forever closing his eyes before the quiet face of God.

At The Other End Of Love

She had had a family once. And they were still alive, they were still living. Presuming nothing offhand and terrible had happened. She had had a magazine subscription once. And it got canceled or just ran out. And then it got canceled. But the waterfalls of Niagara, the ash of Pompeii, and the tidal wave that washed over the coastline of Southeast Asia are not the same. Not with the lives of people and what people make. Things get washed over and destroyed; so many people continue to live on. And her children, well, they got on. Somewhere and somehow. And besides, the father of who had been her children, he’d get to have somebody to give his money to now. Soon enough, the three children would get that. And that was a good thing for him. Getting to decide where his loot went, besides it all going to the government and several charities people use to avoid that. And, too, avoiding ever having to split his fortune between her and them. She was done with all that. That wasn’t her thing. Beth had just woken up one day and said to her husband, while he was still sleeping, out loud, “Hank, I’ve have eaten my way to the other side of love, and all that’s left is the husk.” And she went. Didn’t sign any official papers declaring this, or declaring that. Just like that.

“Family” was not so different from “bank account,” or “hurricane lamp,” or “spinning wheel.” They were all things, and just as good as any of them. And Beth knew that for most of her life they had given, it seemed, purpose and meaning and value to that life. And of all things, the hardest had been family. It went practically without question. Family, she understood, looking over the old body of her husband asleep in matching plaid flannel pajama tops and bottoms like a kid, was the hub of a gigantic steel wheel that turned over, rolled over, climbed over, mounted and crushed everything in the name of itself. You could love, murder, avenge, justify, promote, deny, explain everything in its name. And it did. It was going to. And it had. She had had a boyfriend once. She had had a pet canary. And they are gone now. Whooshed to another time, a time that one does not, and longer belongs to. In fact, you can put anything in the pluperfect, the past perfect, and things disappear just like that in language. In the language she used, things had just disappeared one day just like that.

Ferryboat Rides

pier

She would not tell her husband about her other man. He said, “Honey, come to the front here, by the bow.” That sort of thing, that sort of lexical insertion—defining words while using them—was one of the things that could annoy her about him. Not to mention calling her ‘Honey’. Dear, Babe, Sugar Plum, when did these ever become okay to use instead of a woman’s name? As if she did not have one, was not “Linda,” and could be called by any of these terms of generic endearment. “I’m down here,” she shouted back, up the stairwell, to the deck. She wasn’t going. “Okay!” he said. Had she been with the other man, she would have gone. She knew that. He was the sort of guy who had taken her to the Island, lit a match behind the cup of his hand when the ship was chugging along, spread his fingers, and when it was blown out whispered in her ear, “I am not the fire but I am the smoke.” Then let the burnt out match fall. But most men, she knew, will go on telling one story their whole lives. And this story they will apply (and they will repeat) to any woman in it. All of them. Rachel also knew, as the ferry was leaving the mainland, that the fate of women was to accommodate themselves over and over to the different men in their lives. To be the same to them. They kept figuring out and adopting themselves to a man’s script. Different demands. Different beds. Different meals. Same plug-in for the men. Different app for the woman. And these became, like ancient memories, though typically silenced, the stories women kept to themselves, sometimes dozens of them. They could keep a whole boatload of them. If necessary. She braced herself for the short, forty-five minute ferry ride, a ride she missed taking now with her other man, and the things he had said to her.

Walking Into The Mist

forest mist 2

He could be kind. And that he was. He could be generous. And that he was. At times cruel. And that he had been. He could do all sorts of things. Sail a boat with one hand, and roll a cigarette with another. Change the oil in my car, and fix the pump in the basement. He was very good with my children, with wide open eyes of child-like wonder himself. But he himself was like that blissful martyr seeking some other deeper purpose. And in this he drew no boundaries, either for himself or anyone he knew. I think that had he felt called to sacrifice his own kin at the altar of G-d, in the end, so strong in him was this, I think he might have submitted. As though his own life and all in it became a careless trifle, and that human life itself were but a daily test for the sign of the divine. For the personal, he claimed, was second to the peerless contemplations of things that would by necessity continue to perplex us for millennia, and that he himself lived by some holy duty, long after any marriage was spent, or some lifetime gone. Yet for me, I could not abide; and drew my line in the sand. For I could not say that for me his way was enough, even if I had loved him, which I did. Not to give up so much of what mattered to me. I would not give up my life, or the effect of daily consequences upon the lives of the living—certainly not at the cost of my ending up feeling lesser about myself, even if for ages afterwards, I longed to be in his arms again.