“If you do something in the spirit of non-achievement, there is a good quality in it. So just to do something without any particular effort is enough.” Shunryu Suzuki To make something of these times I must make something so I will find a frame in which to nail my thoughts. I cannot beat this lone silence and I cannot take this seedless greening anymore, this yearning growth that knows only down and in, only dragging my thoughts into the night where I cannot find them though I remember having them, remember how they felt if not how they looked, remember them close and warm, and thought them somehow grand or at least telling at the time I barely had them, but now? Now I barely have them even less. Now I am not sure if I have them or if they have me. Now they are lost in their own depths, swimming silently in the rolling black medium of their making. Now they haunt me in their bare being and unmake me and swim through me and I will make nothing of them.
I try to write at night but mostly fall asleep before I can begin, before I can achieve the proper state of reverie, the space that I crave to create, that I cannot seem to make the time or the energy for. But yes, the words whisper to me when I cannot catch them and slip away before I can put them in their place, before I can place them where they will live and grow into more. I put the parts of them in little boxes, little bits of hair, a leaf dropped, a bone perhaps, found in the soil, slip them into a little book that I keep in my pocket to pull out later, to try to form into something-- something more, something alive, something that can find the light to live when I can find the silence that it needs to let it grow. My days are far too noisy, my nights too short. The soul trudges on, slogs through the mud of life with little time to dig. I offer these words to myself as a balm, a hand on the shoulder, a consolation in the true sense perhaps but without a prize to offer as I cannot prise the poems from their hidden places as often as I would like, as I feel I should, as I feel I need. The soul trudges on, slogs through the mud of life with little time to dig.
“To say anything—the mere effort alone—is a form of abandonment, an act of distortion. We can’t pin the world down in words, but there’s incredible pleasure in attempting to chart the slippage.”
from being to saying
there is pleasure
in the tearing away
abandoning the seen
for the said
it’s the tension
between the two
between the too
I have been thinking about the writing of death poems. How this practice can prepare one for the inevitable. I had intended to write a death poem on the forty-seventh anniversary of my birth (the beginning, I thought, of a new annual tradition) but I did not. Instead, I seem to have written a death of memory poem, something that I believe I must fear even more than death itself at this time in my life, though this is probably only because I have not come close enough to death while the death of memory is a thing that I have known closely for quite a long time. So here is my death of memory poem. Perhaps, by its writing, I will be made ready. Let my poems be a hedge between my self and the loss of my memories, a palliative against or a salve for the wounds that I saw on my father’s face, that I now have seen on my own face, that same face when I look in the mirror. My memory is gone. It is a broken thing beyond fixing that will just run down and down over time. But maybe these words, these poems will give me something that my father never had, something that he never knew how to find on his own, something that I do not know that I know how to find on my own and yet still I search and yearn for—a changing of the heart, a look in this mirror, a softening of the self (hard, hard thing that we make within us, our myriad actions and phenomena uncountable that we cling to, these never-ending evanescent folds in the cortex of time, these simple tricks we use to try to woo security to sit at the table with us, to say to us that we are we but not alone and yet somehow still solitary…). Perhaps I can find this thing for both of us, my father and I, though he is long past finding and I find my self searching still. Perhaps, if my memories must leave me (and it seems that they will) I can have them replaced with poems. If my memories are to be dislodged, if they are to fall to the wayside, I would rather have poems in their places than just more fears of losing more memories. What is the self but a bag full of memories that we cannot put down? Though we are boarding a train to a place of no things and we stand ultimately alone on the platform and the bag is full of useless things and our arms are already full of all the things the world has given us that we did not want or need or ask for, still, we cannot put it down. I want to be able to put it all down. When the time comes, I want to be able to board that train with empty hands. Let me board it with empty hands, alone.
There is a robin singing in a tree somewhere, telling the world he is looking for a mate. A robin sings in a tree somewhere, telling the world he has found a mate. The tree somewhere is a tulip in the neighbor's front yard. Spring has come. We drive by the same people, sleeping in bags on the sidewalk, waiting for the world to warm. (Been a little minute since I wrote one of these...)
This very moment, as you take in a breath to speak the next line or just to whisper it or just to sigh a little, a girl is letting out all of the breath in her lungs for the very last time as the building around her collapses. A man who is really just a boy is holding his breath without realizing it because he cannot grasp the fear that he feels as he starts to pull the trigger. He has no words for what he feels and she has no time to make words. And me? I am still breathing in. (I wish, on this day, to remind myself that what was for us an extreme punctuation to our otherwise and comparatively serene lives is in fact a fact of life--yearly, monthly, weekly, daily--the substance of the narrative--for so many people in so many places.) (This is, in a sense, a follow-up to this post, many years on) This poem first appeared on my friend Jeremy Nathan Marks' project, Poetry of the Resistance.