Even the dog, whose name was Samson

Imagine the man
who learns over a hotel phone line
that his whose family has burned in a house fire in Ohio,
nine hours earlier, the day before his short flight home.

From then on, it will play like the late night movie special every incoming dusk
flicker on the unwrinkled big screen, illuminating the darkness.

In order to remember
he will do small things. Chew his lip to its bright edge, til he can taste metal.
He will hiccup for hours at a stretch, neither able nor wanting to stop.
He will pull the tight skin from the back of his neck and pinch it hard between thumb and index nail.

Once, when he is doing the latter,
another man, wearing a grey suit poorly tailored and brandishing a half-centimeter shaving cut in the skin just beneath his left ear
will be about to raise his wine glass in yet another toast
of the interminable birthday party of their employer,

but will pause, noticing the tensed, raised arm of this fellow sitting across
whose face communicates nothing festivity,
rather a grim hardness that seems to reflect the laughter of the room and return it hollowed.
This will irritate the man about to make the toast. For an indulgent moment he will envision his own hand reaching to jerk the other’s down, to awaken him with bright slap.

This however will pass in a split second. And the toast will be made,
albeit with perhaps less confidence, the words clipped at the ends,
which the other guests, or those at least listening will interpret as a sign of the speaker’s encroaching drunkenness,

that some will find embarrassing and others amusing and a few
will watch the sweat accumulate in the grooves of his five o’clock shadow
and feel pride to not be so sloppy,
so blatant in their decomposition at this late hour of the evening.

The man, who for the hundred thousandth time is privately viewing a film reel of flames
collapsing the Sears brand vinyl siding of a low slung two bedroom house
will exhale as the toast is pronounced, and the brief attention of the speaker drifts away.
He will exhale again, pushing out the air in a puff,
and let his fingers move downwards, drawing a rich red line from nape to shoulder,
He will lower his hand
with great control
to the now wine drop spattered white-spread table.
He will exhale again.
Return to chewing his lip.

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“Esperando Tu Olvido”

This is a little rough piece of writing. But that’s what blogs are for, right? Names have been changed for reasons of basic good manners.

Love is at least partly about being located. I loved him, therefore I was; I loved him powerfully, therefore sweated, dreamt, was feverish with strength.
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David Wojnarowicz (“wah-nah-ro-vitch”) Is My Dream Boyfriend Forever And Ever The End

So, I thought I should put up a little of D.W.’s own words for those who have been deprived. He’s a love-em-or-hate-em kind of writer. His major book is Close to the Knives, but since someone (whoever you are, I’ll break your knees) appears to have swiped my copy, I will put up some historical favorites from his journals, In the Shadow of the American Dream. (Great title. God, he’s amazing.)

from p. 106, “April 17, 1979”. I opened randomly to some old underlining from ’04 which is uncannily proper for the present moment of my life, all about holding delicately the transitory nature of love in both its arrivals and departures. (This proving less the existence of magic and more that no matter how much we think we change, we only change so much; discovering again and again what we already know.) Here goes:

“(…in realizing how much I love him, the horrible sense in leaving…)

All things passing, all things coming to ends, more things beginning, soon themselves to seek or grow towards some kind of end, as if all things are made up of some inner core, some seed as that which lies within the heart and ticks away more and more faintly towards its own discreet and particular end, as if the seed is made of stones like those shaped and worn smooth by the sea, by the shift and roll of sands, by the coarse air and the smooth heels of vagabonds, by the passing of so many feet, so many miles, so many days…Ah these sunsets and sunrises, dawns and dusks that pull from our eyes, from our foreheads and arms growing soft and furrowed beneath age. And tell me for what reason the animal body passes through these tall grasses, along the ledges and windows of day and night, why these leaning red flowers still opening and closing with the wind and the night, why these silver images flickering from far windows down through the alleyways, why this sense of solitude in rooms filled with people, why the sense of loneliness as arms stretch away from the body of a lover, why these quiet moments of desperation along the coast, the standing platform along the wall of the sea, the shifting of sands and winds, the continual rippling of waters, the indigo that claims it all–water wind sea skies and the deepest corridors of the heart–just one reason I can claim for my own, one sound of syllables that will press like dampened cloth against sweating brows, why these battlefields of dreams, these wounding nights and sleeplessness, these steel carriages that carry us to and away from the sun, the howling dogs down by the dumps, the fagged ones limping through busy thoroughfares, why these senses of greyness that pierce arrow swift along so many visual regions, why these clocks on everyone’s arms, why these calendars along endless cheap room walls, why these philosophies emptying characters of armor and dreams, why these foolish characters along every age, why the thrust of senses, acceleration of the heart in so many cities, why the beginning and end of savage desires, why the light in the eyes that passes in time, why the sense of touch on one’s shoulder that eases into familiarity, why never the constant and furious sense of loving for all time in all places and endless, totally endless, why these nations and borders and coincidences, why these moments passing into hours and unfurling like flowers into hideous days of ending, why these ends, these passings, why.”

Reading these words again, I remember how lost I was at 21 to the poetry of death and temporality. Seeking spark-brief beginnings that curled almost immediately into endings and fell out into pools of the sleepless nights of despair. If I were to rewrite David’s words now, I would not end as he does on the cry of the defeated: “why” without even a question mark.

Something about loving with diligence, picking up and holding with greater consciousness has taught me I think about letting go too. As Elizabeth Bolles wanted me to understand, I suppose. This letting go, then, is a sweet kind of surrender into the cycle of beginnings that lead to endings but then back again into beginning, each time widening the circle of the sky, the view out onto the stars and including more and more of the earth, too. Although it has a sharp edge to walk on, this movement is above all forgiving, I think. If you let it be.

Homologous Reach With The Hands

This is a poem written for a teacher who was dying, Elizabeth Bolles. The gesture described is a physical experience/developmental concept in somatic psychology.

Homologous Reach With Hands

1.
What is night with no stalwart of night
set on his heels
watching?
Who will clean the clocks, scrub their faces glistening, sharp,
who will lay the carpet of black grass on the blue street
gather dew
whisper to the sleeping leaves and curled buds?
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Elizabeth Bolles

This is a piece I wrote several years ago about an important teacher in the Olympia community. She passed away in July 2008 and she was really, really fabulous.

The Fear of Love

“Only love can quiet the fear/ of love, and only love can save/ from diminishment the love/ that we must lose to have.” –“The Fear of Love”, Wendell Berry

Elizabeth is dying. Like that.

I write her letters and leave them in my journal. “What do you say to someone who is dying?” T. asks me.

We all shrug. I ask no one, how well do you have to know someone before you’re allowed to mourn them?

I met Elizabeth last August, when I was breaking and she was safe. Someone who could not hurt me, I thought.

I’ve known her just under ten months, which is not much. You can’t learn your own garden in such a short time—you won’t know the length of the seasons or which greens will taste the sweetest in October. You won’t know to cut the tomatoes down in time and the frost will seize them before you are ready.

The truth is, I don’t know her. She is my teacher, not my friend, and I have only been able to give the quiet gifts of the student: to listen, to treasure and challenge the words, to make use of them and pass them on.

It strikes me that this is not enough.

The cancer has gone wild in her, like blackberry bushes on the roadside. Except, as she reminds us, these cells have always belonged to her. She teaches this, that we do not become other than what we are. We cannot be invaded, because there are no borders, just points of resistance–pushes and reaches. The first day I met her, she said, “Desire is in our arms, Luke; when you want something, you have to reach for it. What you don’t want it, you have to push away.”

The thing is, she’s not dead, not yet. She still comes to class every Monday, she says it’s the only thing she won’t stop. We drive there to the studio in groups and linger outside in the chilly dusk before she has arrived. I wonder if we all hesitate with the same anxious question: if tonight will be a class without a teacher. If tonight she will be gone, or simply too sick, in too much pain to continue coming here. In either case it will be the same meaning: her life will have parted from ours.

J. is standing in the kitchen, talking about the people she’s loved who have died. All disappeared in sudden bursts of violence. Alive and healthy, then gone forever.

She says something then which surprises me. She says is grateful. This time there will be a goodbye.

Sometimes these last few weeks while I am falling asleep, a moment of her talking will catch in my head. I’ll see her sitting in a chair across the room of soft, light-filled colors, suggesting, questioning, helping me learn this simple and yet monumental project that is living in a body, breath by breath. I turn away from these flashes. It’s too much because there is nothing to follow. Every conversation that was begun is now complete, and the memories are a closed circle. Done.

I think of the box of my grandfather’s returned to me, letters in ragged envelopes lying inert in the hands that had so confidently sent them away. These recollections of Elizabeth. When she dies, I will be the only one who owns them. The dynamism of engagement, gone, will these words become dull and earthbound, shrink to something that can fit in an old shoe box, rattle around against its limp brown sides?

I read something T. gives to me. It’s talking about vows of poverty made by religious acolytes. It says the poverty spoken of is not about martyrdom. When you choose poverty, it says, it means you don’t own anything, but you can use whatever you want.

I take long baths in the evenings. Dark room, dark sky, one candle burning low. These are the hours that are borderless, that darkness reveals. I imagine the cancer in her body, and see it like fingers of starry black universe, seeping down from the sky, curled around her organs, through her viscera like night. I imagine that it doesn’t hurt her.

This is what I believe, what my body believes. This faith: death, it’s not our enemy. It’s not the rider who comes unbidden, snatches and departs. It is the lover. It is more than capacious. What is the word that means both freedom and intersolution; departure and also return; end, change, infinite?

Life and Death can’t be opposite, there is no such thing as uncreation. You cannot prove it to me, neither with poetry nor with computation, I know this. It is what we do all day long. Exhale, inhale. Circle into circle.

I don’t own anything. Not my self, not my skin, skeleton, liver, pancreas. I do not own my heart. I don’t own these words, I don’t own my memories, I don’t own the chair I sit on, or the letters I’ve sent, or the letters I’ve received. I don’t own the light from the lamp, or the night outside my closed window. Nor any story I tell about Elizabeth, nor any face of hers I feel I’ve known. Not even this grief.

She says something, one Monday when I’m putting on my jacket to leave class. I make a joke to a friend about not getting too attached to her keys if she’s only going to lose them. I don’t know if I’m trying to talk about death or not.

Elizabeth catches my eye. She says, “Luke, if you don’t let something in, you don’t get to lose it either.” She says this as if the losing is a gift.