Friday, December 29, 2006

Eight Dwellings


A small, red shack on the edge of a stubblefield; bare trees towering over it, branches streaming into a blank sky. This is an icon of the most rudimentary shelter: a roof, four walls, a floor. The crops have been taken in. Snow gathers in the north. You can feel the weight of its approach. What cry can counterbalance these cold depths ?

Increase the saturation of the red,
desaturate the aberrant blue
that flickers along the yardarms of the trees.
St. Elmo, corposant, they tarred you and set you aflame;
they windlassed your guts from you, alive.

Illuminate this war-darkened world.


Brown, flecked with dull gold, a flowerhead rests between the rainsoaked leaves of an uprooted leek.


Sexless, legged torsos,
a whole field of them,
after a windy winter.


Dignity, I thought, as I crouched and photographed a pathside rush That's what these dying weeds have. Dignity: stiff, sere, upright -- an anthropomorphized dignity, to be sure, but also an etymological dignity. As in worth. They are worthy. Worthy of what ? Attention. Is that a tautology ? If a rush grows by the pathside and no one sees it is it still dignified ? Attention is a gaze that, as much as possible, nullifies itself. Humbles itself. Eye and weed, weed and eye, parts of the same whole. And from there, from that humus, springs thanksgiving.

Vere dignum et justum est, aequem et saltuare, nos tibi semper, et ubique gratias agere: Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus

"It is truly meet and just, right and profitable, for us, at all times, and in all places to give thanks to Thee, O Lord, the holy One, the Father almighty, the everlasting God."


Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Or, according to Meister Eckhart,

The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.


Someone had blazed a narrow, winding path into the reeds of the swamp. I followed it in; the criss-crossed, fallen stalks crackled underfoot. The path was barely shoulder-wide. I walked carefully, watching the ground for signs of water. This was a swamp, after all. I remembered the time when, photographing a skunk-cabbage, I'd sunk a knee and a gloved hand into February mud. The reeds with their flame-shaped seedheads towered over me. The path was sinuous. How far in did it go ? What minotaur (or, as in Simone Weil, what God) lurked around the bend at the heart of the maze ? Oddly anxious, I stopped and took a deep breath. As I exhaled, the wind rose: a modified sibilance, a hiss broadened to a hush. I'd never heard such a sound. I was immersed in it, swallowed by it. My camera hung, useless, around my neck.

Baptized, I thought, not by water, but by the Spirit.


There was nothing natural about it. It was an amputation. The work was clean as a guillotine's. True, one free edge had been nibbled, but the other, face down in the grass, was a perfect O. It was chalice-shaped, calyceal, ephemeral. A week hence, if the unseasonable weather held, it would be slime, then swallowed up. To be reborn in spring as grassblade and path rush.

Credo in carnis resurrectionem.


"Take my picture," she said. "Take a nice one. For the newspaper, for my obituary." It was her perennial request. She sipped her wine and continued. "Since my stroke my face is crooked. " She pushed up the right side of her face. "See ?" She put down her wine, and composed herself for the picture. When she smiled at the camera the subtle droop disappeared.

I snapped. She smiled again, showing her teeth this time. I snapped again. And once again.

"I look in the mirror now," continued my 90 year old Auntie, "and I don't recognize myself." I'd begun to notice this about mirrors, too. But I couldn't say this to her.

When my Auntie was seven years younger than I am now and I was thirteen, I once ventured to speak to her about death. She interrupted me. "Death ? You're talking to me about death ?" Her voice dripped scorn. "Wait until you're my age. Then talk to me about death."

Later, I reviewed the images. I chose the one with the straightest smile and opened it in photoshop. My Auntie's face was beautiful. I was sure she'd approve. There was, however, a small skin fold, a bit of wattle, draped over the top of her black turtleneck. I fingered my own neck as I stared at my Auntie's wattle. I pondered and hesitated -- then Photoshopped it out. And, for good measure, clicked on the healing brush and removed the mole from her chin.


Saprophytes. Low, fleshy creatures that live on rot and relish putrefaction, they are scorned by their chlorotic cousins who subsist on water and light and air.

I have looked into the heart of the mushroom. It burns with a clean, blue, purifying flame.

I have looked into the depths of the chloroplast and found a sugar shack.


All roads lead
into the fog of God now

roads unwalkable in full flesh
or flower

so tell me, then,
what roosts what rests
on stripped branches
what annunciation, seed or less

who goes there

a pilgrim honed
to sacrum & scapula

a seraph of cast-off glands
and brown paper

with what and on what
shall I write this

with ink from a drowned rind
on water
on whited stubblefield

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

Night Thoughts

I. Last Oath Of The Day

I'd been cursing all day, cursing everything. From groggy dawn to exhausted midnight I'd fled baying hounds of Hell in every guise, rabid packs of them, all famished for my flesh. So I cursed, and cursed, and even as I cursed, transmogrified everything I encountered into more snarling hounds -- the animate, the inanimate, the near, the far, the dear, the detested -- until my inner landscape had become a smoky Breughelian hell of plague and carnage.

Come night, I crawled, exhausted, into bed. I pulled up the covers and turned onto my left side. Something was tapping on my ribs. I rolled back a few degrees. It tapped still. I pitched forward a few degrees. The monotonous tapping continued, the merest touch, just enough to ward off sleep. I pictured it: an overloud alarm clock, a red fist clenching and unclenching, a little man with a jeweler's hammer tunneling through a rock wall.

I couldn't find the sweet spot, the angle of repose, where the prisoner would hang free and flail midair.

"Fuck you," I said. To my heart.

II. Semblable

It had been a long, bruising day. My brain was seething with thoughts, roiling with images and feelings. So I pushed everything down and walled it up. All that remained was a faint, fading clamor from somewhere below my amygdala. I pulled my blankets up over my head, curled up in a ball and willed sleep to come.

A thought arose. Breakfast. In six hours. Coffee. A bagel.

I sighed with pleasure.

Another thought arose. A wolf awakens hungry, sets out into the frigid night after prey.

I growled and drooled.

III. Beside Myself

I pulled into the driveway and switched off the engine. It was dark and cold, and the first time in weeks that I'd not been hours late coming home. My car was a mess. CDs, papers, hats, gloves, boots, old coffee containers lay scattered about. I sighed and pulled my backpack toward me. It, too, was a mess.

I pictured my stethoscope coiled at the bottom amidst breadcrumbs and stray raisins and pen tops and ear specula and rubber bands and paperclips and post-it notes, buried under a torn lunch bag, a tupperware sandwich container, a Book of Common Prayer, a few torn New England Journals, a grimy lab coat and Volume Five of Thomas Merton's Journal. And wasn't I too old to carry a backpack anyway ?

I looked at the seat beside me and the floor. I saw two hats, a black one and a green one, and two pairs of gloves, one pair grimy red and the other pair threadbare black. My heart wrenched at the sight of this sad diaspora of winter outerwear. So lonely, I thought, gathering them up, matching glove to glove and hat to hat and placing them in a cozy pile on the seat.

There. That's better, I thought. And then I thought of my childhood bedtime ritual of setting doll beside doll, shoe beside shoe, comb beside brush, book beside book. How could I abandon one single thing to darkness and loneliness ?

And I thought of how, playing in the bath amidst bubbles and floating toys, I would ever so carefully turn off the faucet lest one infant water droplet be separated from its mother. It was crucial. I had to get it right. Then I'd set the bar of soap and the bottle of shampoo side by side to keep each other company during the long, dark, tiled nights.

And I remembered how, on New Year's Eve, I would, with a ritual gesture of my childish mind, make sure the Old Year made it safely into the place where all the Old Years gather. Otherwise it might float forever, unmoored and lonely, in a sad waste of empty time.

I turned to the hats and gloves on the seat beside me and patted them once more as if I were soothing a fretful child; as if I were blotting up their disconsolate lacrimae rerum.

I thought of my mother, dwindling, diminishing, attenuating. She was becoming as insubstantial as the images my father had projected on her beige ward wall a week ago: images of her from six decades past, slender, beautiful, smiling, newlywed. A few stray photons, caught on a transparency, ungraspable except by the retina's canny net or the mind's imperfect, crumbling trap.

I stepped out of the car. The night arched overhead like a black, spangled wing. I looked at the stars and thought of the words of the vespers office : Seek Him who made the Pleides and Orion, and turns deep darkness into morning, and darkens the day into night; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth..

I heard the sound of water rushing over spillways, out of faucets; it was the sound of the river of God and the tears of things as they converged. It was a sibilant sound, like the hush of comfort that opens the oldest lullaby, the one that goes

whoever falls first, the other soon follows .

Humming that, I closed the car door and went into the house.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

And Now For The Libretto


And, finally, an apocalypse.
Blood sky, bone wood,
unstrung harps, lights burnt out,
green a memory no mind can hold
amidst its general fear and the purple onslaught
of what comes next --

-- the Sunday matinee
of thorn-filled crib and hopeful relics dredged
from a red muck of want

O come, O come,

O child who seems to sleep,
but, when we stand from our prostrations,
who also stands,
stands upright and clings to a strafed wall,
eyes shut against the blast.