Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Greed

A slight shudder of pleasure as I drink in the vanilla milkshake. I am intent on taking on calories: totally focused on these few moments, when I have enough. The taste fills my mouth. My nervous system lights up like a Christmas tree. Martha starts reading me something aloud from her book, and I pay no attention, except for a quick spurt of anger: can she not leave me alone for the thirty seconds when life comes into focus, and is no longer a meaningless jumble of cross-purposes and baffled will?

But I'm an old hand at this. I let the anger slide away, as quick as it came. She doesn't know, can't know, won't know, and I'm not going to tell her, or anybody. This is between me and the milkshake.

Twice a day, I eat to satiety. Anyone would laugh at what constitutes a "diet" for me. I laugh at it myself. And this is still more the control group than the experiment: I'm just holding things steady, measuring, establishing my baseline. I expect to have to bring it down, to cut things out. For now, a week into this project, I am not even trying to make progress. I'm just trying to discover where I am.

Still, any restriction at all makes me panicky, resentful, sly. I become juvenile. Greedy. Cunning. I would steal this milkshake from anyone, no matter how needy or vulnerable, if I had no other way to get it. Without a second thought. It's queer thing to know about oneself. Keep me supplied with milkshakes, I'm a model citizen; otherwise, lock your doors.

Half a small vanilla milkshake, and a cheeseburger. It isn't really a huge meal, not like the breakfast, but it's enough to light the tree, enough to make life worth living. I can be hungry at other times, as long as this is in prospect.

Greed. Pure greed, nothing else. I do pretty well handling the more spiritual and intellectual sins. Pride and wrath I'll take on, best two out of three, any time. Sloth and avarice? They heel like obedient dogs. Envy? Who cares? Why bother?

But the simple supposedly lesser sins of the flesh, those, I am powerless against. I want what I want when I want it, with the shamelessness of a two year old. It's always been this way. And now I'm fat, and want not to be, so I have to to engage with this greed -- understand it -- fool it, or tame it. To be this old, and be so undignified, so squalid!

Still: towers of cloud against sudden piercing blue, and rain batters the windshield, and then the Gorge opens to show squalls at either end, with the river glistening in a sudden moment of spring in between; and clouds of forget-me-nots appear on the banks, resolve into flowers, and vanish again as we make the curves. This too.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sacristan

One of the privileges of being a massage therapist is that I'm no longer afraid of getting old, and dying. Oh, I don't want to, of course. There's always that instinctive flinch away from death: no sentient creature is without it. But I mean the particular fear that comes of growing up in a world in which old bodies are carefully concealed and well-wrapped, even when they're allowed to appear at all. People really just don't know what their bodies are going to be like, when they're seventy, eighty, ninety. Except me. I know exactly what they're going to be like: the textures and tensions of skin and flesh, where the skeleton is going to loosen and stiffen; and so of course I know what mine is going to be like too. I know what deterioration can be mitigated and what can't. I'm not subject to the fantasy that I will somehow be the only person to hit 80 years of age without looking old; nor am I subject to vague exaggerated horror about that transformation. It's real, ordinary, everyday. I, too, should I make it to 95, will probably wear a diaper of sorts when I climb laboriously onto a massage table. But I'll enjoy my massage as much as ever.

---

Bodies remain wonderful, magical. The Jewish conception of the body as a temple, a sacred space, has always resonated with me. Years of daily familiarity have heightened that sense, rather than diminishing it. This body, here, now, under my hands, these forms that are like and unlike any other body that has been on my table, that are like and unlike those of any other mammal, any other vertebrate, any other sentient creature. This is a house of God, if anything is: and it's one that we are uniquely suited to understand and venerate.

---

My status, as a massage therapist, is low: somewhere in the range of hairdressers and housekeepers, even if it sometimes ranges as high as that of physical therapists or as low as that of prostitutes. One is "a treasure," of course, but one is never taken quite seriously. Which I'm happy about. If I were a less privileged person it might rankle, I guess: but these days I don't really want to be taken seriously: I don't want my feet to sink that deep in the sand. I'm traveling light: I have a long journey to make and I'm not planning on building any houses on the way. 

I think, always, of the dipper: that comical little bird, "usually seen bobbing up and down on a rock in mid-stream," otherwise modest and nondescript. It is a shaman, a traveler in two worlds: it will vanish into a stream or a waterfall's splash pool, and you'll glimpse it, if you're lucky, swimming under the water, with as much ease and speed as it flies through the air. It doesn't need respect, on either side of the mirror. It has its own business to mind.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Falconry

Let the longing settle 
onto the back of your hand,
like a butterfly -- 
the faint snick of alien toes 
that grip your surface with care 
and oblivious precision --
like that. As a lepidotperan
one learns respect 
for open country 
like the human skin, 
and for the winds 
that blow across it. 
Let the longing settle
like that. Just long enough
for the wings to pulse
once, twice, three times, 
and the full strangeness
to begin to register: 
of warm skin; the scent -- 
for their feet are olfactory -- 
of an omnivore: 
the dire ape of legend. 
It will take to the air before 
it has quite understood
more than a general threat 
and a wild unease:
let it go, then, 
haphazard on the breeze.

Monday, May 01, 2017

A Quieter Return

They say that if there was air between here and the Sun -- I know, I know, the physics of that are impossible, but play along -- if there was air to conduct sound, we would hear the huge roar of the Sun's furnace, all the time. That's how loud, how fierce the ongoing explosion.

Maybe my tinnitus is the sound of the stars burning, then. Different ones coming into focus at different times.

Already I can feel those giant fingers gently plucking at me, loosening my hold on the earth. All these new celebrities: time was, I would look at a tabloid and think, oh yes, that name! I'm supposed to know that name, she's famous for something. But now I look and think, look, a name: I've never seen it before, and if I ever see it again, I won't remember having seen it now. And everything is like that. A truer sight than before, really. But is it really truth we're hankering after?

No, I don't think so. The glimmer, maybe. A homecoming and a coronation. Not such a lucky thing for the fatted calf, was it? Or for Odysseus's maids: those hapless girls, who just wanted fun. Why do we go on with this, blaming this man's art, condemning that man's scope? What do we think we'll arrive at, when justice is fully dealt? An empty house that rocks in the wind.

No, I'm looking for a quieter return. No havoc, no retribution, no edging aside of more plodding dutiful sons. I think maybe the fantasy is to go home knowing what I know now, just to look with the eyes I have now.

But it's all gone. Houses, parking lots, even the streets are gone. There's no going back to any of that. My world has been erased behind me.

For a long time, I've declared it my intention to efface all signs of myself. Like a Cheshire cat licking its substance away, till it's only a tongue, a disembodied grooming. So this is a good thing, right?

Maybe so. Maybe so. God bless all who are abroad, in the wide sky, on the shifting sea. I'll lift my old head, when you come into the courtyard. Oh yes, I'll recognize you. Some loves and delights do last.

And trust, and even an odd kind of faith.

Travel safely. And come home soon, huh? We miss you here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Retirement Savings

The shapeless lean of a gray sky: car after gasoline-burning car goes by, making the window dark and light as the reflected light from the pavement is blocked, and released.



Wealth wears away with the husking,
and the thresher shares with a nesting mouse,
who adores the English mysteries.

It's not a lot that she's risking:
She lines the bed for her and her spouse
with the fur that flies when they sneeze.

By a heap of kernels she's basking--
settles into
A Death While Hunting the Grouse,
and takes her granivorous ease.



Happy Tuesday! May all things beautiful and wonderful come to your door, plain or decorated, bare or disguised, and may the sorrows pass gently with time.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

The sun of April is ardent still, and good,
and the furrow of expectation shines;
but today do not fill its longing breast,
because Jesus suffers.

Do not stir the earth. Let go, meekly,
the hand from the plow; abandon the fields
when they are already returning to us the hope
that even Jesus suffers.

Already the blood has run under the olives
and three times he has heard one he loved deny him.
but -- rebel of love -- his heart still beats,
still suffers.

Because you, harvestman, sow hate
and I nurse my rancor at dusk,
and a boy walks like a weeping man,
Jesus suffers.

He is still on the wooden frame
and his lip trembles with terrible thirst.
I hate my bread -- my verse -- my happiness,
because Jesus suffers.


~Gabriela Mistral

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Good Life

Well. Let's start back at the beginning, then, before the dreams flickered to a faint blue life, and then died again. There is the sound of a snare drum, just keeping the time, a little cymbal to mark the measures, maybe. Just so. Only this, and so much. There was a time before: and it was much like this.  

Circle back. The problem, then as now, was the tyranny of habit. A chained dog will not stop chewing its paws, no matter now much they hurt. But the solution is not to pepper the paws, nor to call the dog to reason. The solution is to unchain it and let it run.

Let it run. A dog needs to run.

Suddenly I am not in love anymore, though, and I have been in love all my life. It's a shock. It's not that I don't love anyone: I love as much as ever, probably more than ever. But the infatuation, the conviction that my happiness lies in being seen for what I am (or for I might be) by some one particular person, who has gathered into herself all the importance of the world -- that has vanished. And I've never been without it before.

I talk of circling back. But if I don't have that to circle back to, what do I have?

Well. Two hands and a cloudy sky. What did I ever have?

The toms add in to the snare, the complexity builds. If we had a horn player or a guitar, it would be near time for them. A bridge, and a hesitation --

The rain in my face, or the moon trawled by cloud nets on a windy night, or one blue star, where I'd thought the evening or the morning had broken itself. 

But not now, not yet. Somehow, not even yet.

If it is not, now, to please the beloved, then it must be for something else. For the rain or the cloud or the moon or the star itself, maybe. THUD and there goes the base drum, and long wavering roll, the sharp raps of the rim shots. How long since I have danced even a shuffle? Years. 

But if there is one stone to keep hold of, it's just this: that I am free. Just in the simple terms that might be set for a middling-old American white guy. Nobody has much of a hand on me. I should recall myself, and come back. Back to Start: but not, this time, as a moon-puppy. As an ordinary man with a beard on his face, walking around the block one last time, with no one to please and nothing to fear. I don't need to chew my paws any more. It's been a good life. It's a good one still.