The trees are running with scissors, snipping off their motley: leaves, spiraling down around ghost maypoles, a centripetal dance. I kick them up and back into the sharp wind. You may think it’s gusts that make these dry palmate mudras fall, but they grow to break—abscission in their cells, and mine.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Saturday, November 22, 2014
I toss, roll over, sit up, and find the gifts I’ve been given even more inexplicable than what’s usual for me: the dog-whistle of tinnitus, a dream in which I was generous with a stranger and still afraid, a chaotic origami made of candy wrappers.
My ears are full of distant crickets chirring as I think about that dream, its almost-familiar highways ending in run-down neighborhoods. It’s as if Kurt Schwitters was Mr. Sandman, snipping bits from every place I’ve ever been and pasting them
together catawampus across my forehead as I slept so they’d infuse my dreaming soul. There’s a rustle at the edge of the bed. The wrapper from a hard candy I sucked on overnight has become wedged under my hip, crumpling nothing like a folded crane.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
It’s the “almost home” part of the journey for this prodigal: I spent what I had to spend, not quite every last bit but near enough to feel the air moving through my bones. Hard to stop myself—sometimes it takes running to the edge of a horizon, to where I can’t tell whether that one thin coin I tossed was a dime or the moon. I can see in my mind’s eye the doorstep: I’m so weak from this fading illness, from the relief of return. I steady myself with a hand on the entryway. The porch light’s on.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Adam Jackson, "Tall Grass at Night"
I’m too close to the ground to see where this all landed, but still I’m pushing through sharp tall grass, sniffing the air for a trace of burnt metal in the dark. Was it a bottle rocket or a meteorite? Smoke rises dark against dark, then an even deeper dark, a hole arms-width into which my shadow drops. I flatten, belly down on bent sedge, and pull towards the edge: look in, look down, where a disc the size of the moon shines back, black as obsidian, reflecting stars.
Friday, October 17, 2014
So many purpose-filled creatures here clustered together along the stalled line of their own stories, shuffling, not quite touching each other. And then above, alongside, a cabbage white butterfly spirals up next to me, lifting my eyes and heart skyward.
Friday, October 10, 2014
A red-spotted toad, from The Western Ecological Research Center
A small velvet beanbag lands on my ankle: it’s a toad, tiny delicate thing, who promptly hops off and into the grass. Another evening, it’s a house gecko who falls on my arm as I walk into the house with a load
of groceries. Those touches give such unlikely gifts. They weave my frayed attention into a single strand of webbing on which I slackline, wobble, slowly stand and balance beneath the moon, hold still until it drifts.
Tuesday, October 07, 2014
It’s stuck in my throat, this choking howl, these rales rasping on what I’ve swallowed: bezoar of boiled wool from a too-tight jacket I gnawed off, three fingernails that broke ragged as I scratched under a fence. Fool, me, trying to pass as “company.” Semi-feral, wilding under the thinnest crust of a dinnertime smile: load me up, I’ll spit out this hairball of restraint, upchuck all ties. Which fork to use now? The one in the road.
Saturday, October 04, 2014
His opening gambit: a floral, or one that’s just cetalox. No, I said, I’d prefer incense, resins, smoke; a touch on a test strip is still too light. Delighted, smiling: “Ah!” he said, “You know your scents!” We tried another two, then he leaned in. “What about oudh?” Yes, I’ll bite.Three dark bottles. “Women, ah, women are their own perfumes.” A mist, then a verse from Eugene Onegin shimmered and decayed. “What about this one?” Wet ink on vellum, a lost ghazal exhumed; the third a sonnet of benzoin, aloeswood, and labdanum. He repaid my attention with a suggestion: a fourth fragrance, without aloes, an off-center chypre. “There are dimensions to it I think you’ll like.” No stories painted by scent in this; rather, I’m the story, hallowed much the same way as a butterfly pinned to a thorn by a shrike. It was sharply beautiful, that chypre, blending my sweat and skin with oak moss and vetiver, leather, neroli: “I’ll take it.” Or I’m taken by it, I thought, impaled on the word. “Tell me what you think in a few days,” he murmured. “When you wear a scent, it awakens.”
Saturday, September 27, 2014
Photo by David Morris
My longer trajectory is a trick of the light. I used to take stock, mapping short-term and long-term plans as if those disembodied articulations of desire were apotropaic, would magically ward off chaos in five- year chunks. Not so; not here. The landscape looks real, but it’s only made real in a moment of contact: clay under nails, a small bruise where my shin met a low limb hard, respiration (mine, yours) fogging the horizon ahead. Ever prepared I was, two maps in hand, when a sudden gust turned them to kites with no strings, floating, soaring up and over a low ridge before they were lost to sight, like I am now.
Friday, September 26, 2014
Aleatory sky: the low cumulus as plumped and still as if posing for a matte painting, fat gray doves of low clouds feathered against the dry-brushed scrim of pewter altostratus.
These bits of poems rattle around my skull like loose change; my fingers pick up their copper penny tang as I scratch for a pen, an unopened bill or scrap of receipt to jot them down, hold them still. It’s as random as a coin toss, this way, mutable as the weather and as surprising as that grasshopper that hitched a ride with me.
What is my work here, then? Which me does this, sitting in the interstices of a working day as quietly as a hunter in a blind? The shutters of sensory attention tripping open or closed: a signal in, then out, and the polyphonic voices riffing on rhythms I can’t hear unless I stop: field songs.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
I peel off the soaked t-shirt and sweats; I’m down
to socks when I look at myself in the bathroom mirror.
Again the shock of this new old me. Naked, it’s clearer
that I can’t see without assessing. I’m still wearing
stories, scars, a callus near the ball of my right foot,
a slight sunburn, a chafed spot that sets me swearing.
Parts melt like beeswax or are shirred, skin needling
from sweat. And then the child I was giggles, drowns
out my noisy old woman’s knees, my past ever present.
The young woman I was caused those creaks: shot put
and knelt kisses, jumping off huge logs dark with soot.
Reflecting, what I see: I’m worn, but incandescent.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
A poem is scratching at my door, waiting to be let in. “Keats studied anatomy,” it chirrs, without stopping its scratch. I say I’m too tired, won’t play. “Tennyson walked 20 miles a day, or was that Coleridge?” Hoping
it’ll hush, I say I don’t know, and there’s silence. Now my attention is fixed on the absence of sound—save for the fridge and fluorescents’ sotto voce hum, how quiet it’s got. I sit for minutes, ages, eons, wish I gave
in, had opened the door, wish I could turn about and touch its spiky rhymes, hear its meter click across the floor. …chirrup: “Physiological poetics!” It’s lost, the poem scratching at my door, hoping to be let out.
Friday, September 12, 2014
“Intervals” is one term for it, “threshold work” another. The recipe is simple: periodicity, intensity, and repetition broken by small periods of recovery. The process is not.
Intervals require the mind be taught to heel and be still despite its knowing the somatic stress to come. Emotional memory is no friend to muscle memory in this situation.
The kindness of athletes comes, I think, from understanding that we all suffer, whether fast or slow, and in our suffering we’re more alike than different. This gut-sense physiology
is our bounding box, our interface, our permeable gift to one another, and threshold work our furnace, lungs the tuyeres for the chemical and alchemical changes wrought.
It’s not unusual for speed work to produce fits of rage or tears. I’ve learned it isn’t from discomfort, however, just our sympathetic system on overload. But if we’re mindful
of the intervals, the thresholds we cross and re-cross, our bounding box becomes a bit looser, our legs faster, strides more like skimming, emotions and motion at last all in play.
Sunday, September 07, 2014
1. When I was five and went to see my grandparents, the elevator to their apartment traversed layers of odor: the smell of cable grease and dust at the ground floor, then the faint tang of mothballs as we rose, pot roast then something like brass polish; at the last floor, wax overlaid with rose petals as the door grumbled open. Now, any one of those smells will send me back in time to when I had to reach up to push an elevator button.
2. This morning’s walk: the wet air held scent, amped it up so even our poor primate noses could tell what was what: the acrid floral piercing made by bat guano, a sudden flash of resinous green as I brush a tangle of rosemary, mossy rot and humus from the soaked piles of brush along the creek.
3. Lightning in sheets half-hidden by virga: petrichor chromed with ozone carried on the western wind.
4. Scents fade, sinking into the skin and pores of memory.
Saturday, September 06, 2014
"Door God: Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller, Expels Evil and Attracts a Bat of Happiness," in the collection of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum
Where we all live, in the cool, in the dark, together, say the bats.
Where we molt and strut, peck at June bugs, say the peacocks.Oh, Peter. Another August has passed, another poem of mine’s written that you won’t read, and I think about the house you built, those birdhouse gourds trellised, the peacocks in your yard and in that James Merrill poem I’d read to you, your dream of rocks that smelled like peaches, how I just couldn’t recall what they meant in Chinese art the week you died.
Home. Where we think of our friends, where love lives, say I.
Friday, September 05, 2014
Photo from Sankarshansen's Wikimedia page.
It’s a return trip, so the bag’s full of dirty laundry, and tchotchkes, and one layer entirely uncertain: an origami of jotted notes, dog-eared leaves torn from a local rag, a drying pomegranate flower on a sprig I plucked before I flew home.
Like an old vaudeville joke, the space inside the case is larger than it seems from the outside. It also doesn’t smell like socks now—there’s a moment when I turn, and the room fills with a faint smell of fresh-cut grass.
I’m thinking about beacons: web beacons, those tiny whisperers that hop our trains of thought as we roam from site to site, and harbor buoys, a very different sort of beacon, when my fingers find I’d missed a pocket. Inside it, a contract: a few months’ more light.
Sunday, August 31, 2014
Photo by Lisa Spangler, 2008
1. An afterthought, almost, before I left Flagstaff: if I wasn’t going to climb the Humphreys Peak trail, then I’d at least walk up a low trail to the west to look at things and place them in memory. Step, step again, raising my feet up through tangled grasses until I slowed, then stopped, out of breath. Hands resting on thighs, I saw it: a prayer stick, up ahead and half-hidden.
2. Near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, I took an ill-planned canoe ride with the man I was seeing, through grey arroyos whose brittle layers shattered into flat flakes when we used our paddles to push off the little canyon walls. Those walls were covered with Dolomedes tenebrosus, spiders the size of my hand; I left the water, climbed a ridge, slid down talus slopes to a highway below.
3. At Enchanted Rock, I learned how to tie in, how to wedge my fist into a crack and pull up while pushing off my toes, how to keep my weight on my feet on those granite ledges that seemed to shrink when I’d look down. My arms would cramp, my fingers bleed, and there was nothing to do but go up, up, until I felt my top-roper’s hand; walking down, I tripped, almost pin-wheeled off the rock.
4. Climbing’s a site-specific poem of motion and weather and rock. Its stanzas and breaks, its assonance and rhyme, are co-written by the climber, place, and time. For this climber, ascents were exhausting, descents wild and uncontrolled: yet for all my fear and bloody scrapes, for all my awkward pitches and failed grace, what I climbed always gave me a gift: the things I could see now, closer to the sky.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Hadley Paul Garland, "Moon Set," 2009
“While most plants open up their stomata during the day, cacti and other nocturnal plants such as the agaves and aloes open their pores at night.” - LiveScience
Opening up’s risky in a dry country. That star near our skin is desiccant, lifting enough moisture from every pore to make our blood thick, our thoughts parched. So we adapt, become nocturnal, move like revenants among moonlit cacti. Even the spectrum shuts: at this midnight hour it’s all rods and scotopic vision, no cones or colors. There’s a pulse to these nighttime walks, the heart’s systole and diastole echoing stomata as they close, then open. We breathe together; our spines gather dew. Above us, jeweler’s velvet and the spilled bowl of far stars arcing: fermata with a dot of moon. Stomata and lips part open in the high desert night; inspiration and exhalation, an exchange of damp sighs across taxonomies, sighs but no sounds save a dry scuffle: a mouse darting out of sight, perhaps, near the base of a dozing creosote, stomata shut. Astronomies older than ours were an opening up, a gaze into mystery; my insomniac self lies awake, on the other side of that history.
Monday, August 25, 2014
Most people smile and nod when they hear someone sing the blues; they
rarely cry. Maybe the smile's in recognition, kinship with the feeling of the
lyrics or with the singer's delivery. Maybe it's from a pure pleasure taken in
the musicality of the song. Whatever it is, don't ask people to take ahold of
this dowsing rod, this poetry. This poetry finds deeper water underfoot; it
twitches over lyrics, saying "Dig here, dig deep, dig now." When my father-in-law
sang "Waiting for a Train" to us today, the poem leapt in my hand, pointing
down to brackish water not yet drunk, unquenchable thirst, the tears beneath.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
From Theoi.com: "The Birth of Aphrodite"
I never liked Watteau's "The Pilgrimage to Cythera."
It seemed a confection, nothing like the goddess
born from sea-spume tinged with blood and sperm,
borne on a scallop shell, sharp edge slicing the waves.
Watteau's dry brush evaporates in this god-haunted
place. Aphrodite is here, there's no place she is not,
but here we must meet her at the end of a shell road,
shards of oyster shell and scallop cutting our bare feet.
"Isn't she the goddess of beauty and pleasure? Then why
is the walk to meet her so painful?" It's the breakage that
paves the way, a sparrow says; it's love's pilgrim path, coos
a dove. I suck a drop of blood from my thumb where a wild
rose pricked it. Aphrodite might be laughing as I pick my way
down the road, but she'll know I'm her own when I arrive.
Friday, August 22, 2014
“The word virga is derived from Latin meaning ‘twig’ or ‘branch’.”
Driving here means being pressed into a thin layer of
horizon, thinner than the scant soil overlaying caliche,
by the pale blue hand of the sky. That hand fingers a
diffusion of light, opens: its gift to me dark, feathered,
subliming before it can touch the parched fields.
There’s nothing twig-like about this; what streams
from those clouds looks soft as a small child’s hair.
If La Llorona still weeps for her drowned children, it’s
virga she weeps, her tears never touching the ground.
Friday, August 15, 2014
The details wash out, I try to fix them in my mind and can’t
quite: the vast loneliness, the lilac-gray altostratus filtering
over coruscating gold oxbows and ponds, the fugitive colors
of a rosary of small lakes 33,000 feet below. The seating is
intimate here, thigh touching thigh despite some small shifts
in position, the improving book and pursuit of a perfected
self a tangible yearning in the man next to me, or in me, it’s
hard to tell we’re seated so close. His fingers are fine-boned,
clean, almost delicate, his narrow face a hands-breadth away.
The angels' point of view: a silk mesh that sieves the world down
to the accidental touch, my internal weather, an overexposure that
bleaches me. Who am I gathering these baubles for, if not you?
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Saturday, August 09, 2014
Sensate: the word a scrim between the world and me. Words can’t carry
all my selves extended through the maze of a fingertip whorl, a glance.
it trickles down my lower back, smell the resin of wood fresh-cut, of wet dog.
I see runners, each one a spectacular joy and catastrophe, gravity and time
playing with them, with me, their motion telling stories they wouldn’t admit to
a breathing world exhaling beauty everywhere, the roving eye of this beholder.
Friday, August 08, 2014
Imagine, just for a moment, that you’re here with me. We sit on a bench
under cottonwood at the edge of a lagoon, where cicadas and dragonflies
break the heat of the day with bronze-laced wings. In my left hand, I hold
a burr oak acorn; in my right, a rain lily pod and two mountain laurel seeds.
It’s August, and my palms are warm and damp. The sun sets, the moon rises,
the Perseids wink in and out like fireflies. Imagine, just for a moment more:
light on dark water, as from my moist hands to yours pass the acorn, the rain lily,
the mountain laurel, their dreams of dry husks swelling, straining to sprout.
Tuesday, August 05, 2014
"…the beauty which agree,
In many a nameless being we retrace,
Whose course and home we knew not, nor shall know,
Like the lost Pleiad seen no more below."
- Byron, "Beppo"
In this representation of a painting, the characters are delineated,
but what they mean, who they are, the arc of the narrative—that
takes some looking. And by looking, I mean: hold still. Breathe. Look,
without forming words, look for alignments and breaks, hold descriptions
back even as they tug at you, ignore them as they pull at your sleeve.
Now, begin: There is a figure, female, beautiful, naked and adorned
and nursing a child. She looks frankly at you, a faint smile in her gaze.
There is a youth, looking off past the frame of the painting (or wherever
the image was cropped). There I am, or there you are, at another vertex.
And that vertex places you, me, us, right where the stream flows, at the
disjunction made by the rushing water and its low banks, outside the frame
and still in the picture, invited in by the gaze of the character and her smile.
It's different than words, this sort of storytelling—space can be time, and
the gap between the youth and the woman and me, or you, can be passing
time. The baby could be the youth. The viewer could be anyone, but now
the viewer is here at a keyboard, calling the moving water to mind, calling
the storm painted in the distance a source of the rush and cut of the stream.
The bones of the painting, the alignments, provide space for the connective
tissue of story, and the image becomes an object of contemplation. There:
I've broken the silence and all that's clear is words spill out of me, nothing yet
revealed about the painting except myself. That may be enough, though.
It's in the seemingly empty spaces between, where the story waits patiently
for you and me, the necessary characters at the vertex outside the frame.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
You can see it after time has worn away the overlay of sediment. It's where
some combination of fault and pressure pushed the molten magma up, up—
the glittering that's seen comes from a slow cooling while buried: Pluton,
the underworld made crystalline. When the air cools at night, it groans, layer
fractured and sliding on deep layer, the same phaneritic texture that abrades
my fingertips until they bleed muttering cross-grained to itself.
It's like this, with these poems. Magma (not from the core, note the geologists,
but from induction and subduction, a friction closer to the surface) and me, both
waiting for the crystals to form, for the uplift and erosion and then, the sky.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
One of the ways I learned to draw was
to slip my hand into Ingres' hand, copying a
portrait sketch first by mapping those points
that established the relationship between
one plane of the face drawn, to another.
It was a painstaking process, to attend so closely
to things under the surface—but once mapped,
the zygomatic arch waited for me, as if to see
whether my copy, feeling my way through the pressure
and motion Ingres made making that mark, was true.
Uncanny, how the anchor points and mapping dissolved
from structure under my hand, to my hand being overlaid
by that of the master as it moved. But I was younger then:
I needed to map and to anchor, I needed the practiced
structure Ingres gave rather than Tiepolo's brisk grace.
Now I'm far more free about the thing, the process,
and the early summer sky has enough Tiepolo to satisfy
my restless hand without it moving. Under the wash of light
and color, artless art I copy by way of seeing, overlaying
the Venetian in my mind's eye, time passes: the sun climbs
and bakes the sky white—an erasure by way of radiance of
Tiepolo, of Ingres, of those memories and bones I anchor by.