Friday, May 13, 2016

Sleeping With The Moon

Gathering the threads of what I am 
and amen't going to do
for the rest of rolling eterne, 
or twenty years, or two:

I shall eat vegetables twice a day,
thread fingers through your hair,
wash the dishes once a week,
and bring myself to despair.

I shall run sometimes and lift up weights
and wander out under the sky,
I shall read the books that prove me wrong,
and ready myself to die.

The sandpipers run in and out with the wave
the monk runs in and out with the breath:

I rise with the sun and examine my hands,
and sleep with the moon a-purr on my chest.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Your fetch is beside me now, a glimmer and a guess: the heat from your splendid body, the coil of your spine, your quickness and stubbornness. I can well imagine you setting out to find the Utter West, at the age of five, with a sandwich and an apple in your bandanna. The sustenance disproportionate to the quest, maybe; but that has not changed as the years have rolled over. How could it?

Longing wistfully for dalliance, but I look west myself, across the Willamette Valley to the dim hills. I come to the sea and that's the end -- you can't count air travel, or the sad waning brilliance of the Hawaiian Islands. No, for me the sea is the last wall. It goes on forever and there's nothing beyond it, nothing real. The gray and white writhing serpent who encloses Middle Earth. It's been too long since I've seen it.

So I wait for your arrival, and sun chases shadow and shadow chases sun. You are mistaken in me: I can't measure to your greatness. But I'm grateful for the mistake, and for the rumor of the quest. Silent horns blowing in the margins of memory, and white hounds glimpsed in the thicket. Maybe we will share an apple and a sandwich, up on Saddle Mountain, and guess at a brightness on the western verge that can only be the sea.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Finally, some leisure to ask myself: what exactly am I doing here? I have been slipping, becoming less deliberate and more reactive. There's no need for that.

It's old habit from childhood: the first order of business is to get well out of sight of the grownups, and the next is to take whatever opportunities offer for gathering forbidden fruit. I've lived most my life that way, despite the fact that no one much cares what I do, and no one is in a position to forbid me fruit, any more. I am freer than most human beings can ever dream of, and still I'm going to act the slave? This won't do. No. Take a few breaths of air. Let my mind settle.

The crescent moon in the darkening sky. Rhododendrons blossoming everywhere, some in cheap lipstick colors, but some delicately shaded and beautiful; and others boldly spotted, with an unexpectedly leopardish mien, lashing their tails by the sidewalk. And everything green with new growth.

A quiet day. Tuesdays we usually ramble up the Gorge, or some such, but Martha is down with a cold. Hence the pause and the space for walks and for thought, in between times of reading aloud.

The fatigue has not lifted, really, not yet, but it could lift, now.

Thursday, May 05, 2016


It becomes more opaque, as time goes by: my eyes going milky white, and all the hard edges softening. The suffering so constant and overwhelming that it stops catching, and flows smoothly over my hands. There are things that I should attend to, and I don't even feel the tug of it any more. Why dip a little pail in that river? I'm not going to bail it out.

And yet, the sense that I'm missing something becomes more urgent.

I watch my large, strong hands reach for a creamer, pull open the little foil top -- how do they even find and grasp those little tabs? -- and pour the little white stream into my coffee. They are slow-moving and confident, these hands: they seem to belong to someone more able and sure than I will ever be.

Two young trees across the street, stirred by the wind. 

I think I need to find the mornings again, before I'm wound up in the nets of wanting and remorse, before anyone I want to please is awake: I need to walk out under the sky.

And it does not really matter. Far, far less depends on me than I think. 

Aware, suddenly, of the accumulated fatigue of the last week. I could sleep. I could sleep for days, and let the dreaming sky wheel over me: sun, moon, stars, cloud.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Reading Spanish

Something shifted, a few months ago. I had been going on for years, reading a few pages of Spanish and adding two or three words every day to my Anki flashcards, and I had settled into an amiable despair about it. The lovely thing about Anki is that it keeps bringing the words back to you, and you get a real sense, over the years, for just how much work it is to keep your vocabulary alive: you no longer get to believe that just because you learned a word a couple years ago it's going to stay learned. The real progress I could make with vocabulary turns out to be maybe two words per day. That's fine if you aim to be able to chat about the weather, but if you aim to be able to read difficult texts, and poetry, you're aiming at a vocabulary of, say, 20,000 words. Ten years' worth of work.

Well, sure. But I've done ten years' work -- considerably more, actually -- and the slow accumulation is paying off. And I realized at last that the vocabulary drilling, though necessary -- I do need to have a certain number of words really nailed down -- is not an efficient use of most of my time. What I actually need to do is read, read huge quantities of Spanish, and most of the time, just glide over words that I don't know, or don't really know. So I changed the proportions. I require myself to read at least twenty pages a day, and sometimes double that. And I'm beginning to see the end of the road, when my reading facility will near my English reading facility. I'm still drilling on vocabulary -- partly just because I like doing that -- but I just have to get through the pages. I actually can master the reading of Spanish, even if I never become fluent speaking it. ("After all, you can't speak English fluently either," said Martha, which is true enough.)

So I'm happy, and energized, about this.

A quiet white-sky day, heart-wrenchingly beautiful, with soft oblique lights: new leaves glowing, and the new needle-growth a pointillist's dream on the dark firs. Everywhere the scent of flowers. All the sound is muffled and muted, almost as when there's fresh snow.

Wishing I could go rambling up the river: but it's a work day. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Pre-Paid Cremation

When I am old and gray 
and feathered like the pard
I shall take my shotgun out 
and whistle for the bard.

God is great and good 
and has a sword upstairs,
but poetry is final 
and winds up your affairs.

We have on hand an envelope 
whose outside offers us
a pre-paid cremation 
with very little fuss,

but I'll wait a bit until the buggers 
bid each other down,
and sweeten up the flames 
with a night out on the town.

Sure, dementia is a cruel word 
and hides a host of ants,
a crawling dissolution 
of stray words in your pants;

but ferocity's the greater 
as the hearing gets more dull,
and the blurry sky's more brilliant 
when your watered eyes are full.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

This Little Boat Of Happiness

This little boat of happiness
has a gunwale rimed with salt;
your lacerated hand will feel
the prickle and the fault.

The distiller has a funnel
where sun sparkles on the drip:
if there's joy in pure water,
there's smarting where you grip.

Seawater and blood
are the same in vacillation,
this dissolution followed
by that desalination;

The sea is wide and sad
and full of ions of magnesium,
solute gold enough for princes,
and ions of potassium;

We purify to drink because
we have no other choice,
but it's salt in the water
that gives our tongue a voice.