Dear Diary, rainy morning, early, dreary. The light coming through the water’s surface was the loveliest I’ve seen. I’m exhausted, drained. Aphrodite took it all out of me, then she took me on a wooden ship and showed me the absurdities of Men. Now the mermaids are upon me again, but this time my hair has grown white. I never wanted the mermaids, but do you think my brother cares about anyone but himself? Even my prayers are swollen. A flaming heart is like the milk of a flower, and the feathered followers of nine-hundred moons take shelter in the shadow of Fate’s wings, throwing themselves upon their dreams of Achilles, as if the dreams were swords.
Mary, who helps us remember tenderness when we find an insect on our pillow, or a bat in the house.
Mary, who reminds us of a hundred walks in the wilderness, even as we stare at lamp-lit sheetrock and worry about work.
Mary, who tells us what we knew the moment we were born but have forgotten.
Mary, who makes us feel less alone beneath the ripening grapefruit moon.
Mary, honor student of botany, biology, ornithology.
Mary, whose words are chosen and ordered as if by a kindly saint.
What have I learned as muddy wet earth became sun-baked became leaf-covered became snow-buried became muddy wet earth? What have I learned by paying attention to Nature (not learning the names of things because they are just names) and in my mind separating out its cycles from the implicit order of Man?
I learned nothing, but there are a million Somethings in the onion of Nothing. There’s the fluid character of Change Inexorable. There’s how Time swells collapses constructs deconstructs reconstructs, how it breathes outside of the bubble containing everything available to our senses, beyond the burdensome clanking chains of reason. Like Art or a poem or a sad old folk song, there is so much more to it. (You see more out of the corner of your eye than when you look directly at it. The corner is less critical.) There’s all the vast open possible space existing in the soul, but due to the limitations of human language and the interference of emotions produced by the brain like radio signals, the only open road to communicating about that space is paved with Music and marked with Art.
So: may we become creative heroes crusading for Art, and master the recipes for carrying on through non-filtered eyes with mountain-goat determination and armadillo grit. Through the gates of all worlds steps the Creative Hero – sometimes a saint among his people, sometimes crucified, sometimes both. May we feel called upon. May we know it is our time. May the great Deja Vu of mythical purpose swallow us into its belly and digest our dreams. May we splatter the world around us with paint music language and the million Somethings. Might as well. When the great silence comes, maybe it’ll make it easier to let go.
I wrote this poem to honor Constance Person, my English Lit teacher in my senior year of high school. It was a large class and she always had the desks arranged in the shape of a square with an opening near the chalkboard. But she spent most of her time in the center of the room, walking and talking. Mrs. Person was getting along in years. I found out she retired the next year, and count myself fortunate to have been one of her students.
Always in the center, whirling, twirling, setting minds ablaze with gushing sparks of knowledge and experience. Little exterior, towering interior. Next thing I knew you stood behind my desk, your hands upon my shoulders as if you were driving the idea of what I could be, letting out the clutch.
You addressed the class, gripping me. A boy slides down in his chair, feverish, cloaked in black. A boy’s heart cries out Mercy Mercy Mercy!
Your confidence unfolded my aching awkwardness like a family heirloom or a fragile cloth or drooping flower petals, now freshly watered with the drops of your uncompromising faith and certainty – petals that now turn back toward you as if you were the sun.
A man stands up. A man says thank you.
In our little country house in the sopping-wet Willamette valley winter, heat radiated from the woodstove as my mother rubbed a cast-iron pan back and forth upon it, one hand holding a lid down tight to make popcorn the old-fashioned way. I’d lay on the floor and play with the cat, listening to my mom’s old vinyl record “A Christmas Carol”, featuring Lionel Barrymore as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Mom would tie little bundles of cinnamon sticks with red and silver ribbon, nestling them among the boughs of the tree. She would press cloves into oranges, covering their entire surface to make pomander balls. I lit candles, and an old kerosene lamp, and mom put up Christmas cards from the thirties and forties all over the house. We always had a real tree trimmed with old-fashioned ornaments, and a wreath upon the door. My mother’s holiday aesthetic was a fusion of country-living, bohemian, and vintage.
We’d always open one present on Christmas Eve. Sometimes we’d go to church, sometimes not. Every year we’d drive around the well-decorated neighborhoods looking at light displays and singing carols together in the car. Then, on Christmas Day, it was off to my great-grandparents old farmhouse, over the hill and through the valley, where I would feast, play, and listen to the way old people talk to each other.
“I was permitted to hear an incredible music…I heard the gestation of the new world…the sound of stars grinding and chafing, of fountains clotted with blazing gems….Music is planetary fire, an irreducible which is all sufficient; it is the slate-writing of the gods.”
-Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer