Saturday, September 27, 2003

Driving past, I noticed that the sign in front of the nursing home near the hospital bears an image of Hokusai's Wave, or something quite similar.


This stunned me.

Someone has linked the nursing home with the "floating world." Someone has applied that image of arrested turbulence to the final domicile of the aged. Does the sign include the dwarfed boat needling through, or serene Mt Fuji on the horizon ?

I love the phrase "floating world."

I think of how, as a child, I'd imagine myself inside the landscape of a blue willow cup. Of course the fact that I wrote a poem about this has forever altered the memory. The poem has superseded, has transplanted the memory. Or embellished, at least. It'd difficult to say. Nabokov has a passage about this phenomenon. The poem's old. 1991. Not very good, either. But oddly pertinent to Winthrop House's "floating world."

May all beings be happy.


In the aromatic shop of coffee
and fine tea
among sterling, glass and china
a small blue pot

with a roundness that is both elegant
and smug
chokes with recognition
my stunned eye

with a bitter dreg of longing
for the time
when, beyond all distraction,
I could slip

into the pretty landscape
easy as a dream;
and above me the cheerful bird would
swoop and turn,

and below the tiny bridge
the stream
would tinkle on the rocks
its melody;

and in the blue pavilion
a clear white lamp
kept by my mother
would always glow

reminding me of welcome
as I roved
the white and blue landscape
of my round world

And now there's just a roundness
that excludes
as urgently as it beckons me,
a message

wicked as a tease, or life itself --
I turn away.
December's at the door, the glass

with aromatic steam. At a small
front table,
a derelict, bearded like an ancient
Chinese sage

dozes over a cafe-au lait.
An hour
to closing. I will not take
him home.

Nor will any of the others here,
I think,
go with him into whatever land
is his --

a land that is not round, or blue
or white,
and where, in a broken window
a dead lamp

announces a room of perfect emptiness,
a space
of perpetual shelter. Welcome.
And come in.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The Book of Hours begins at twilight, that liminal hour, and in autumn, a season of between-ness and boundary.

It's morning: bright, ordinary. Work calls, and I sneer in it's general direction, ignoring the fact that coming to peace with it might hold the real key to my metaphysical discontent. Viz: Dogen's Instructions to the Cook.

Writing lauds and the little hours will be more difficult.

Why are these Christian monastic forms so compelling ? The Dalai Lama counseled hewing to one's own natal faith. There's some wisdom there.

Religions might be languages, all of which discuss the same thing. At least that wager is what has allowed me to even glance in the general direction of Christianity.

There's much in it that repells and revolts.

Merton has made it it tolerable, even attractive.


Before the river and the path diverge
and meadow yields to vine-choked stands of trees,
the chest-high horseweed bows, swaying like fronds
waved in hosannah: Go. The dark woods call,
it seems to say. Evening and winter, too.
Fulfill the scripture coiled in all your cells.

O gracious twilight, linger long enough
that I might read the wayside book of hours
from touch-me-not to loosestrife just once more
before I’m called to seed, to night, to ice
from Vesper’s interzone of neither nor.
God hides here, wordless, cipher absolute.


--Till elevators drop us from our day...

It’s overtime in ordinary time,
when everything inclement, hateful, sour
prepares for night. My window overlooks
a vista of illuminated cells.
In each a figure leans above its desk,
as I do mine, mini- and marginal.
We are the faithful drones, professionals
of ora et labora. Here we sit
accounting for the daily flux of bread
transcorporate. Our credo’s in the Real
Presence of value in unredeemed scrip.
We broker. Trust us with your savings. Please.

But it’s compline, and even mendicants
may have their quiet nights, their perfect ends
to never-perfect days, if not by work
by grace: an easy chair, a lamp, a book,
some wine that’s simply wine, cigar cigar,
and something gentle, loving, sweet, untouched,
untouchable but near enough. Then bed.

-- Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine.


This night, and every night, it is the same question.
T. Merton, “Fire Watch”

She woke. It was too still, too dark, too hot.
The clock sat blank, its red tally erased.
The fanblade, stalled, poised frozen in its cage.
Outside, the dreadlocks of the Norway spruce
hung motionless before a scrim of cloud.
Below, the streetlight neither buzzed nor shone.
Who’d set the nighttime’s preferences to not ?
The moon was AWOL. Tides and waves shut down.
Both East- and Western Zodiacs unstrung:
the rooster, snake and rat, the fish and crab
all scuttled under highboys, fell asleep.

She heard speravit anima mea
in Domino as if there were a choir
of Trappists chanting a custodia
matutina usque ad noctem there
beneath her bedroom window, Romeos
awaiting their Bridegroom, pitching their woo
de profundis. Or just tinnitus ? Snores
from her own bridegroom stirred the heavy air
above her bedsheets’ vasomotor damp.
“Moonpause,” she translated. Her vulgate warned
of coming cold and darkness, polar night.

Her vigil just begun, she prayed for light.