My brother assures me that the trees overhanging the bedroom are just fine. But what does he know? He’s an architect. We need an arborist. My wife and me. Because at night I hear things. Wind. Falling leaves. Branches breaking over our bed. At night I fear that the trees will crash down on us. A collection of maples. Mistakes that grew for decades. Chances. Now overhanging the house. Casting shadows on our bedroom. My brother says, they’re hardwoods. Strong. They will last forever. Almost. But he lives by himself. No wife beside him in the night. No trees over his bedroom. The interweaving of our trees is complicated. And the way they hang suspended over us is more than I can understand. The dark is deep and the wind is strong. I lie awake some nights wondering what will happen. I hear branches whisper, til death do us part. The wind roars. My brother knows nothing.
Monday, December 3, 2012
Monday, April 2, 2012
At the bookstore I send my children on their way. Stay together, I tell them. As if together they can face the dangers of this world and their futures. I linger near the front. Holding a book about a woman who has fallen apart. Her father died. Her family scattered. She married. Then divorced. She broke down. I begin reading, trying not to flip to the ending. To the solution. Trying not to cheat. The urge is so strong. The door behind me opens. A woman with three children. Stay together, she tells them. They scatter. She watches for a moment then looks at a book on the table we share. Her hair is dyed blonde. Bobbed. Her face is tan in March. She is lip-gloss moist. Her body is tall and thin. She has sensual fingers. I swear it. She puts down a book and walks away toward new fiction. I write her story in my head as if it were mine to tell. I’ve forgotten the book I hold in my hands. My children run toward me, books in their hands. Can we buy them? Can we? We walk to the register. I pay for three books. At home, I hold the book in my hands and wonder why I bought it. The ending seems so obvious now.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
In the sacred bookstore we kneel in the aisles to turn the pages of our scripture. Our voices drop to a hush. Our eyes look downward. We all turn off our phones. My daughters float in baptismal gowns reading about fairies and girls who tame wolves. My wife searches for words about her pain, lips moving, eyes nearly closed. My mother reads to my father in a whisper that carries. Priests and nuns, rabbis and imams, saints and sinners gather in the sacred bookstore. They pass notes and collection baskets. Sip coffee and eat wafer thin biscuits. Outside, cars roar through the streets. The market is down. Politicians stand on street corners shouting their way to salvation. The sky itself falls. In the sacred bookstore clerks murmur an incantation. The customers respond. We all say amen. I look up to the vaulted ceiling. Frescoed on the stone, God hands Adam an apple. Eve sits nearby, reading a book, paying them no mind. I kiss the binding of my book. Close my eyes. And pray the words written inside the pages.
Monday, March 19, 2012
In the dark morning after the time change you wonder about all the lies you’ve been told. Work hard and you’ll succeed. True love lasts. Father knows best. There is a God. You have tried hard to believe in these things. But the light is gone from the morning and the clocks are all wrong. You’re awake but not hungry. You just know you should be somewhere else. You aren’t sure where. You’re no longer sure who you were meant to be. You feel alone and out of time. So you stand very still. In the kitchen. Facing the window over the sink. Arms stretched out away from your body. Toes pointed. That’s when you feel it. The Earth. Your home. It spins on its axis. You feel the shape of that sphere below you. There’s the sun at the center of things. The galaxy of its sister stars. The universe that is everything. And there you are. When you open your eyes, the morning sun has dawned. Your heart beats a steady rhythm in perfect standard time.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
The cat told me she was dead. My mother. I looked into the cat's eyes. How would you know? I asked. And how would you tell me. The cat said again, She is gone. I waited, but cats don’t elaborate. The cat bit at its claws. It licked its paw clean. The cat shook its head. It blinked, then stared at me. I tried to stare back. But you know how cats are. They’ve had more practice. I didn’t stand a chance. Looking down, I saw that the floor needed sweeping. So much hair. I couldn’t remember when I had last mopped. And the dishes, the drainboard, the ketchup spilled inside the fridge. I wondered what my mother would have thought of these things. How had she gone so wrong with me. I felt her disappointment. And I felt the phone ringing in my pocket. The cat walked out of the room. It found a place in the sun and lay down. I looked at the phone and saw that it was my mother calling. From the other room, I heard the cat say, I wouldn’t answer that. Some things you trust your cat about.
Monday, January 23, 2012
Your father could have shut the engine off and lit up a Camel, and you could have coasted all the way to Disney World, the warm wind wafting through the open windows, the wind lifting your sombreros up a little, then working its way out the window again.John Hodgen,"After The Reading, Driving Back to Massachusetts With Jim Bescht, I Think Of The Men Who Hold The World In Their Hand"
Except your dad smoked Winchesters—little cigars, they were called—and your mom smoked Kents one after another. And you had only one brother. He sat in the back seat while you rode in the way-back, staring at where you had come from. You had no sombrero. You organized your things. Tried to sleep. Counted miles. Told yourself stories. You imagined who you might be someday.
I see you looking backward at me through the windshield. I wave. But there’s no way to communicate. No way to tell you the secrets of what you will become. I look at your face. I know you. I remember. I miss you so much.
The car stalls. I pull over. Lean my head back and close my eyes. There’s nothing I could tell you anyway. You’re already so far away. Your brother wants you to listen to something. Your mother passes a sandwich back. Your father drives. You ask, how much farther, Dad? He says, it’s a ways away. I can’t remember if you believe him or if you feel sure that you will never arrive. The road is so long, forward and back, moving fast or sitting still.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
I ask my friend, a geologist, could the glacial ice really have been a mile thick. I hold my hand a mile over my head. He says, yes, without having to think for even a moment. Without having to make himself believe in this scripture. I hear the awe in his answer. Reverence. I nod, closing my eyes. We bow together at the altar of true grandeur. Our eyes scan the topographic map spread before us. He points there, there, there at drumlins. Glacial deposits particular to this region. He says, see how they are all inline. A wonder. Two nights from now, lying in bed, I will try to read Robert Bly’s poems from a Florida Key looking at the Jesuitical Florida waters. I will be distracted from his words by the wind blowing snow and ice hard against the house. My mind frozen in a mile of ice. The microscopic motion of it. The momentum. It’s impossible power to erase the world. I’ll listen hard. Straining to hear if the glacier is advancing. I’ll close the book and my eyes. I’ll try to sleep. Wondering what world I will find when I awake.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
You take the afternoon off. Tell them you’re not feeling well. Need to lie down. But you aren’t really sick. You just have to get away. There is a forest. You need to go where the air is clean. So you tell them you’re sick. Your manager looks at you. She agrees. She says, you don’t look good. Go home. Take the day. Get better. You nod. At the elevator you see your face in the silver doors. It looks ashen. Are you sweating? You ride to the ground floor. Push through the revolving door. Outside, you feel your bowels loosen. You shiver. You ride the bus to your stop. You walk home tired. Worn down. As you lie in your bed, you think of the forest again. The trees. The pine needles. You sniff, imagining the scent. Your wife checks your head. You have a fever now. As the afternoon fades into dusk, she takes you to the hospital. The doctors are mystified. A nurse rolls you into the ICU. The sun sets. The room is beige. The window shows only dark, empty sky. No stars. A faint glow of street lights. Gasping into a mask you say, I just need some fresh air. They push the mask back over your face. Gently they lay you back down. You think of the forest. So far away. You just know you’ll never make it.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Tonight's entry ought to be a bit different. I'm away from home visiting my in-laws including my wife's sister who is visiting from Florida. We have just returned from dinner out together and I have some thoughts about how different things are for me than they used to be. I might as well share those thoughts since the only other thing I can think of to talk about is the weather and who really wants to read 750 words about that?
I'm a man who had grown up with anxiety and taken it on as the only way to go. When meeting someone new I invariably forget that person's name as soon as it is told to me because I am too busy trying to think of something charming to say. My concern has always been to insure that the person likes me. It just never occurred to me that one of the best ways to get people to like me is to pay attention to them and know them instead of focusing on myself.
Tonight, my sister-in-law introduced us to her boyfriend for the first time. This was at the restaurant and I had a bourbon in hand, which often helps me relax, but which in this case was superfluous. I was already relaxed and okay with what was going to happen. I was simply there. I wasn't trying to impress. And because of this I was able to listen to the man and to my sister-in-law in a way that surprised me.
None of this is that new or intriguing, I would imagine, to most of the people reading this. I imagine that there are those people in the world, in fact, most people in the world, who do not approach conversations with as deep a concern as I often have felt. Instead, they are just pleased to meet someone. Me, I've rarely been that relaxed. I've been too wrapped up in myself to really be able to pay attention to the other person.
I think that the technical term for this is narcissism, but that sounds too depressing so I hope you won't mind if I skip over that right now.
My therapist and I are working on the idea of just being present. Accepting the situation as it comes. That was what I was practicing tonight and, for the most part, I'm happy with the progress I made. I didn't fixate on how I was being perceived. Just a year ago I wouldn't have been able to imagine how a reasonable person could enter a social situation _not_ thinking about how they were being perceived. It was all so foreign to me.
It occurs to me that I never expected to be so confused at forty-three years old. I thought that by now I would have a lot more of this living thing figured out. I thought that by now things would be clearer to me. In fact, I imagined that by now I would understand pretty much everything. I thought I would be wise.
Now, I see that wisdom is something that I won't ever achieve. It's a process not a product and, if I am to be wise in any way, I will work toward wisdom for all my years. I feel very pompous saying this, as if I'm some guru sitting on a high ledge on the side of a lonely mountain. There you are, just reaching my cliff, and I have dispensed my wisdom to you. That's a picture that makes me laugh.
I'm not a wise man but I'm not a fool either. I have been a fool. I have done things for which I am not proud and for which I am ashamed. But it occurs to me that we have all done these things to one degree or another. Sitting at the dinner table tonight, listening to the conversation, adding my two cents when it felt right, and no longer competing as if there was a spotlight searching for the most interesting person at the table, I once again saw that life isn't about standing out. It seems to me that life is more a process of being with. I don't want to be the center of attention so much as I want to stand hand-in-hand around the circumference with everyone else. I want to be a part, not the only part. And it has taken forty-three years to learn this simple lesson.
I'm at my in-laws house with my sister-in-law and her new boyfriend. My job isn't to entertain or stand out as something special. Instead, it's to be myself and to be present in this moment. There is so very much to be learned in every contact. So much to learn and so much about which to write on.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
I called my wife to say that I had published a poem. It’s in today’s newspaper, I told her. She flipped through the pages. I could hear the paper through the phone. I thought about how clear phone signals had become. No matter the distance between. It astonished me. I asked her, Did you find it. She hadn’t. What ad did you write, she asked. My wife always begins with the classifieds. The poem was on the back of the front section. I wanted to tell her that. But I wanted her to have just known. Without my say so. I told her, look in Help Wanted: Professional. The longest ad in the section. Do you see it? It has a blue star on top. A yellow stripe across it like a sash. I told her these things. It wasn’t clear to me what I was saying or why. She must have found the right ad. I could hear her humming as she read. She sighed. She said, it’s so sign-song and lovely. Like a lullaby or a commercial jingle. She sighed again. I could feel her warm breath in my ear. These connections, I thought, are incredible. Oh, she said, it’s just beautiful, I love it. I nodded into the phone, proud that she appreciated it so. I just wondered what exactly my poem had said. I wanted to ask, but the connection had gone dead.