Discovering The Beatles

I first noticed the Beatles in 1990, at the age of sixteen, in the car with my step-dad Paul. My mother was approaching the losing side of a battle against breast cancer, and on one of many two-hour drives from the mountains of the Oregon coast to a hospital in Portland, Paul slid a cassette tape into the deck. It turned out to be Abbey Road, and my imagination blasted off on a musical trip as the music and lyrics filled the car, evergreen forests rolling by on both sides, the foothills of the coast range eventually falling behind as we descended into the Willamette Valley.

I was aware of the Beatles at that point, and I suppose technically I must have heard them prior to this memory, but oddly enough – considering my hippie upbringing – I hadn’t really experienced them yet. My mom’s record collection had consisted mostly of folk, jazz, and softer rock such as Fleetwood Mac.

Later, I would discover the song “Imagine” by John Lennon, and recall hearing those phenomenal lyrics as a child. And after high school I’d attend a gathering of the Rainbow Family in Mt. Shasta, California, where “Give Peace A Chance” was sung in unison by hundreds of people, the voices floating upward into the summer sky in a harmonic spiral.

With the passing of my mother, my late teens were an intensely emotional time. I went to live with my real father in Portland, and suddenly the Beatles were everywhere. Hipsters wore Beatles t-shirts, department stores played dorky instrumental versions of Beatles songs.

I began to learn guitar from my dad, who had a Beatles songbook and showed me some chords. It wasn’t long before I was playing “Let It Be” and “The Fool on the Hill”, my hand moving awkwardly over the steel strings of his old beater acoustic. My dad played their albums while he shaved for work. And when they came on the radio, his hand reached out and turned the volume dial. I began watching Saturday Night Live, and there was Paul McCartney in a skit with Chris Farley.

And, walking an hour to get home from a girlfriend’s house in the middle of the night in summer, I took my first journey into The White Album on my headphones, the timelessness of the Beatles’ prolific creative streak propelling me onward through a silent and empty world, among long shadows and sleeping flowers.

Now and Again

Now the giraffe-like lily, turning its head to look northwest out the window in graciousness.

Now the blackberry – summer’s thimble – is incubating, its exquisite shape perhaps philosophized over at a celestial seminar where Father Sun and Mother Moon are merely attendees, two out of ten-thousand apprentice magicians. The fruit will not be on a bush beneath a tree in some faraway land, but here, now, staining my skin with its potent nectar, nestling among the tissues in my hands, softened by enough olive oil to last many lifetimes of a home cook.

Now the argumentative weather, now the three, four, five, six (no, seven!) hawks circling overhead, descending as if taking a circular stair. Now the clean birth of plants, not the messy one of animals. Now the mystic light whose source is unidentifiable, falling – like you – into the category of mysterious beauty.

Now and again, the contemplation of time and how it doesn’t exist, confused by the human mind with earthly cycles and a construct of our own devising. Now and again, the world seen as a poem.

Now the sound of the woodpecker seeking his morning meal, same as an egg frying. Now the grain of the wooden beams that are the rib cage of this house. Now us, the heart of the house. Now us, always at ease but still wrestling with everything. Now us, always going to new places without ever leaving the room. Now us, rocking gently on calm waters after the typhoon.

Now the ghost of the cat returning, following me from room to room, both of us always eating, sleeping, always doing the dance of sitting then standing then sitting again, always looking out the window, he in graciousness while I just try for it.

Now we return to the lily.

 

Witness

Again, I rose early and walked in shale gorges both smooth and jagged, by the wild water and evergreens.  I moved through the day like an athlete though my feet are broken, my throat so sick of onions.

Again, I sense the presence of a bear, and wonder if that is your animal spirit – vast, warm, strong.  Steam rises from a bowl of soup, the wind sways the treetops, and I long for company.

Again, I long to burn, a flare in a dark wet cavern.  I long to illuminate, pluck at the beaded web, reach for a single strand of – not transcendence – something earthly, simple.  Fill my rib cage ordinarily, break my back over the knee of witnessing the world.

 

Fastenings

What if you yourself didn’t want anything, what if you spent measureless lengths of time just people-watching, ruminating, taking notes of where your mind traveled to, at once engaged yet unaffected, an explorer holding the oar gently as he rows upriver, a tourist observing wide swaths of gold made by the afternoon sun as they spill through the windows of shops while people pass on a street familiar to them. Somewhere deep down inside, these people all know the truth surrounding the illusion of having. No one has anything, there’s nothing to have.

Nothing is fastened. Anything might come undone at any time, and it’s all arbitrary and out of control. Tiger at the window, wolf at the door. At the same time, hummingbirds are drawn to honey suckle, joy is rounded out by sorrow, grief is more thoroughly digested with a little exaltation.

It makes me think of my mother and what it was like, losing her. While I am water – calm and usual at the surface, with everything going on beneath, hidden by murky light – she was fire. She wore her heart on her sleeve most of the time. My mother possessed a tremendous playfulness, tending toward joy, leaning into laughter. But she also had about her a vast, lonesome sorrow. Not the easy sorrow of a bow drawn across the strings of a cello on a dreary morning. An elusive sorrow of wind and bone marrow, the sorrow of long straight highways across the Midwest, the sorrow of a thousand widowed women going up the creaking stairs of a thousand old farmhouses. I can only hope to embrace the two sides as fully as she embraced them.

Sometimes, as I wander through all the rooms in the house of being human, the wandering seems to be the only thing I’m determined to do. I have a habit of giving the living and the dead equal attention, one foot planted firmly in the world while the other extends into the ether, reaching for the unworldly. Listening without ears for some message in the heart of stillness.

Signs Of Life

The ice is melting, the eaves drip.  We’re tipping back toward the sun.  A mouse appears suddenly, bursting like an outlaw from the seam joining the edge of the woodshed with pastures of white.  He vanishes back through his hidden door, a brown streak, almost an anomaly after so many weeks of soundless, lifeless cold.  I picture him returning to a sleeping bag, a lighted lamp, a stack of books and dreams of April.

An almost indistinguishable pattering of yet another mouse nibbling at a cookie left exposed on the blue-and-white tiles of the kitchen counter.  Hoof-prints at the back of the house this morning, on a furrowed path that runs through a valley in miniature between waist-high banks of snow.  March is underway.  Everything eases up slightly.  Things have been draped down over themselves, now they have their hands on their knees and are beginning to rise.

Groundhog prepares her tea, relaxes in her chair, thinks of the old fox who lived there before she moved in.  Wonders how he’s doing these days.  She always liked him.  She had imagined, many times, the two of them slow-dancing, burning a candle at three in the morning, her head against his fiery chest.

Back above ground we long to see beneath the snow, we long for the latch on the northern door that will soon open.  Back above ground, there go the geese again.  The geese who – like us – have been around all winter.

 

Atmospheric Disturbances

May there be an empty space in my hand, where every night a bottle – or some other means to an end – used to be.

An interstitial space between the speck of matter that is me, and the net of endless galaxies, as a minnow to a whale.

Of course the wind will still blow from the north, and I’ll still be listening to the broken record of myself,

but maybe a sound like running water will become loud enough to drown out my thoughts, helping me pay less attention to their static.

Maybe a sound like meat and vegetables frying in a pan will help untangle the knot of my mind’s dialogue, clothe my hearing in the fine silk cloth of meditation.

Helping me to accommodate change, to look willingly at truth with clarity of vision.

To encourage, if only for a moment, a little acceptance.

 

Mending The Body Of Being

Outside culture, beneath belief, away from habit, beyond all that marks us as remarkably different or strikingly similar, we are simple humans who arrived here naked.  We will leave here without the body we were born into.

We are phosphorescent.  We are humming with being.

You can be standing in the dazzle of sun and snow at the same time.  You can be standing in the umbra of a tropical downpour, looking through a rainbow under the sun.  Either way, silence looks after itself.  Noise gathers itself up. Neither one answers to us.  May we just rest here.

All is just as it is, here in this life, this suture holding birth and death close, pulling the two garden gates toward each other, drawing the two sides of the hurt in tight together among the stitches.

Here in this world, ever wounded, ever mended.