Rachel Sforza Hersch

frozen water rocks

The quiet end of everything just became quiet. The quiet of the snowflake fallen just became quiet. And the quiet crack of the limb cracking in the forest, too, just became quiet. The quiet of the stars elsewhere exploding became quite quiet. The girl who had a single match, she became quiet. And the boy with a single toy was quiet as well. Inside my paper house, it has always been this way. My paper plates and paper bowls, they both have always been so quiet to me. My paper cat and paper robe, washing in paper water, everything is so quiet here! Before even the paper sun had risen and shone its paper light across the valley, I am looking forward with my paper eyes at paper life and death. I cannot imagine what is written there, nor guess what has been perhaps before my time rubbed out. There are some terrible smudges here and there, somewhere far ahead, lost in the horizon of ‘tomorrow.’ Everything had been so very quiet, I was sure that I had begun my end. But I’m afraid right now I can’t replace such paper love with cashmere, poetry, and lace. At last, I am so oppressed by all the paper. The great heaviness of my solitude is like the silence of a gun, or the flexing of a bow, or the latches in an aeroplane cradling a silent bomb. I know the quietness must break up. Quietly, in space there is no papery sound—just space. And the flashes of God’s light spanning the breadth of entire galaxies bursting forth, is no more than a simple campfire ember burning out, after the campers have gone.

A Birthday Prayer

frozen gap

Winter is coming, and my tires are very thin. Lincoln’s bushy hairline barely clears the tread when I push a penny in. The cloves I planted on Columbus Day, the scapes they might by springtime’s greening be trimmed back, and grown to bulbs of garlic by July. So much is uncertain, while others are too clear: through ignorance, malice, and folly I lost the woman I love.

Through hours of stacking and tarping down, I ought to have enough wood to last me, to be just warm enough. I know for some there are the famed Snows of Kilimanjaro. But for me, I had just as soon be lost in an Irish public house, drinking and muting myself, guilty as a Christmas ghost. What it were to be a little kinder in my past. We, too, had quarreled though it never made time pass. It only made me brutal, recalcitrant, and increasingly deaf.

It made me care more and more about the fistful of coins I had left in my glove-box, and whichever rows I had of withering corn to get me through it. I became rustic against my own good and yours. O, these things, this blank apostrophe, are far from me now, and just like all the light, carefree change I once had tossed into the great River Danube, today’s lost treasure is become a heavy sunken thing to me.

The golden coy fish I have seen a-swimming in the bluestone opening in the hidden woods, to know their muddy bodies are safe there later on throughout the coldest months ahead is no little human comfort. And if I am graced to make it ‘round the snowy corners for the getting of a loaf of bread and chicken, and you are blessed with enough darkened morning peace without me, may it all to have been plenty.

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.

Jiminy Cricket Is Always Singing

houses over water

I had been having an online conversation with a guy about a very well-established writer. And prior to this I had sworn to myself to never say a critical word about another writer. It’s just not good grace. It’s just not good politics. I know it is not in anybody’s good interest to utter a bad word about a fellow writer, or another human being for that matter, that aims downward. It can only come back to bite me, too. I know all that. But I must take aim. I must enter the henhouse. And I must play the fox. Now, I’m a half-way educated man, and I can say in French Pascal’s very precious, “When you read too fast or too softly you hear nothing.” And for me, as a writer, the same holds true. Every syllable I’ve ever written, I’ve heard in my own ear. And that’s the way I do it; there’s no other secret. I may be all geared up in bright green shoes and little lightweight shorts to go for a four mile run, and I’ll hear, bouncing out the door, a whole line in my head. And the point is that I’ll go for my run, down the washed-out gravel of my driveway and up the hill, and down the road, and back. I never worry about that line. I hold it there lightly in my head, never hard, never fearing that I’ll lose it, never in a hurry. And while I’m out there, I’ll hear a few more perhaps. Maybe a second. Maybe a third. Other phrases I hear I know they may get lost and that’s no matter at all. You go to the store for milk, chips, and four ears of corn; the rest can be forgotten. And if it comes back to you, it does. It’s no great matter. It’s what really makes me a reader.

A real writer is actually a reader. Everything is heard, just as if you are actually reading it. That’s all. And my job is to get what I’m reading down, to be able to keep it there a little while for another person perhaps to read, too. That’s all. But so many people who make novels, and there are so many of them, they don’t seem to me to hear a word at all. In fact, there’s nothing in their writing to be heard there. They are not even the shells of cicadas that ever buzzed, nor the brown crusty ones of locusts that burred away the summer’s night. There’s just no sound to them at all. They’re just truly writing, and they are just truly writers, when that means that the words themselves put down on paper or on a computer screen are themselves the bearers of ‘meaning’ connected to some lobe of understanding in the human brain. Something like that, although it’s hard for me to articulate.

If you pick up a copy of the The Pale King by the sadly late David Foster Wallace, you will hear immediately what I mean. In it are the ghosts of Jack Kerouac, Thomas Wolfe (the Look Homeward, Angel one), Gatsby’s Fitzgerald, Salinger’s Catcher, and all those true writers who really are engaged in reading the world because they are listening to what they hear. The rest, I have no time for them, for their gross, and self-satisfied, and maladroit, and pompous, and smug-multitudinous and often fancy (to show all this to be true) superimpositions of unheard worlds that never were, never are, and never will be, however well-schooled and intelligent these prove themselves they are to us as they come across my drowsy eyes in their arduous making and vast laborious undertaking.

Pot Maker’s Grace

henna hand 2

Every day I make a pot. I put the pot on the shelf. The next day I make another pot. And I put another pot on the shelf. I make pots every day. I do not stop making pots. I don’t see anybody who takes a pot, not one of mine. Maybe another’s. It is no matter, at least not a great one. I make pots for everybody. Some see them, some do not. I am certain that if somebody saw a pot and bought my pot, perhaps somebody would like it. But I cannot be sure of who, even the one who bought it might not. I just keep making them day after day. At night, when I am exhausted, I do not even think that tomorrow I will make another pot. I do not know beforehand if I can. I just do. I may even doubt it, doubt that I have the hands in me to make another pot the next day, tomorrow. Somehow, by the grace of God, I can, I do. I can hope only in this way, that tomorrow, inshallah, may I make another. And that when my hands are through altogether, though I cannot say how many there will be, that my shelves will be full and empty of all the pots I will have made.

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.

Backyard Gardening At Home

weathered barn

Even the blackened green leaves were picked. I had left them crumpled on their stalks last week, dismayed. Again, half the basil I had left to wither. That was years since I’d made such a lapse. But many plants in a brighter, sunnier patch were fine and rich and quickly plucked. These leaves filled my large yellow glass bowls, and I tipped them into my kitchen sink. Last evening I had returned since I heard the night would be even colder. A small stack of some wood I had left unchopped for a friend to practice on I’d promised to save it for to split last year still stands a year later. And soon I’ll be splitting another cord myself. In pesto, there really is no great difference between the batches I’ve found in taste, unless the one that’s made from autumn’s leaves is a bit more grassy and slightly bitter. Aside from cobwebs growing on the plants, it really would be rather wasteful not to use them all. And, besides, I am the only one looking on the basil growing now. With olive oil and garlic and sea salt and finely chopped hot cayenne peppers grown from my garden, too, plus pine nuts and a touch of parsley, it’s very, very tasty. And how sweet the smell when all the garden plucking is on my fingertips. Still, when I make it all, I’ll separate the neglected leaves from the fresher ones, and be myself comparing the two, eating from carefully enough labeled containers marked with scribbled-upon masking tape taped to the lids, when I thaw the many portions I will have again from the freezer for meals and company when I have some all winter long until next summer comes.

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.

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.

10,000 Chattering Monkeys

broken snow tree

There were places to go in the hinterland. Temples in Moscow to see. All sorts of commotion. Out West, down a dirt driveway he’d parked in once, an old brown rusty thermal swimming pool to swim and relax in. All those monkeys. A shoebox, a complete worldwide zoo of chatter, full of noises and sounds and flies buzzing. There was of course Joyce, a noise-maker par excellence. Well, the Burmese position is a semi-stable one, and well-suited to a chap like him. And, hell, he’d been trained by training’s best, a good solid guy from Long Island who’d tripped a hundred times before taking his vows. Anything in this vacant world is possible now. Even as he’d had a shot with a ball last night and from an impossible distance watched it go downcourt and make an imperceptible swoosh which through the net he did not see. There was only the silence of the aftermath and him standing and all the other people around just being people around being people, and him just standing there. Picture living the lucid life of that when prodded by the sun’s little paws at dawn he wakes from his nightly sleep.