Thursday, March 11, 2004


Three Provisions For A Hermitage


I did not neglect the matter of provisions.

I studied, to this end, extreme accounts
of polar expeditions, long ocean voyages,
journeys to the world’s most improvident corners,
then combed through narratives of desert stylites,
and the gathas of mountain recluses
for hints of panem quotidianum --
grasses, locusts, air, handsful of old rice;
and, finally, I scoured the manuals
of quartermasters, tenzos, cellarers, wardens,
those ordained to feed men under Rule,
searching the texts for what would best suffice
my simple, temperate zone hermitage.


The cellarer, a wise man of settled habits,
advised I amply stock my hermitage
with flour, rice, peas, dried fruits, root vegetables,
and, for savor, oil, coffee, salt, enough
for a long sojourn. “Only fools,” he said,
“ignore incarnation’s self-evidence,
so sink a well, and draw up all you need
for drinking, cooking, bathing. Cultivate
a kitchen garden plot, nine or so bean rows,
and weed it with diligence. All bounty
flows, graceful and mysterious, from God,
into your keeping. Do not break His trust.
Let everything sustain you. Give thanks and praise.”

The tenzo, accomplished and of a way-seeking mind,
advised, “For water, situate yourself
by a clear, quick stream, one equally good
for music and drinking, where the moon floats,
and where snowmelt instills a taste of dust
to tell your tongue that it is also dust.
Like hollow stones set out to catch rainfall,
your begging bowl will often brim with wind,
so learn to forage -- roots, nuts, berries, leaves.
The earth is generous. Ten thousand fruits
arise from emptiness and then return,
as thoughts do, and as you will, too, someday.

All is provisional. Wells sour. Springs fail.
So seek your anchorage within the Source.”


The afternoon can barely lift its head.
Storms muster in the west, and, to the east
the restive ocean gathers at the gates
of Harborview and Pigeon Cove. The year
falls past fall again, the same old cadence.
I can’t fatten or slumber, so I sing
along, my voice as brittle and apt to break
as a cheap glass ball mis-hung on a fractured branch --

I am the wren that quivers in the mouth
of the stranger’s broken eaves. I am the snow
that slides across its blank, unmoving eye.

Stars flicker between branches. Christmas lights
blink on and off, too fast, monotonous
emergencies of red and green. Herod
mugs with schoolchildren. White bulbs detonate,
blinding -- God, I can’t do this anymore.
I’m sick of stories, yours, mine, them all.
I have desired to go where words all fail.
Will Providence attend me, even there ?


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