Merlyn

The mountains are alive with fire,

transcendent breath, vigorous and endless.

Though they have been given a name,

a part of them will always be nameless,

and I could say the same about myself.

I heed the call, after all, of mist-laden glades.

I walk among stones with broken blades.

I come to you, mountains of fire,

full of so many things that matter,

yet they will not matter to you.

I come to you as a whittler of days,

a world-worshipper who knows he cannot fool you.

I come to you as a man who has a boy still looking

out from behind the bars of his rib cage.

I come to you with an owl on my shoulder

who comes and goes as she pleases.

I come to you as a failed magician,

with iron, ash, light, dust, rain

on either side of my skin.

I come to you as a failure, but at least I am a great one.

I come to you with the meaning of my name,

do with it what you will.

I come to you as the recorder

of my small life, pockets filled

with scribbled notes

of little use.

 

Obituary

Will it only be a list of information, a collection of the external?

Born in so-and-so, to these parents of this descent, lived here and then here, and then here.  Worked as a nurse, a cook, an accountant, managed a dry cleaning business, taught fifth graders or at the university, produced movies.  (Your name here) loved dogs/cats, was notorious for having ice cream for dinner.

Or maybe include a little something more.  How you used colorful expressions – I need a  little alcohol in my radiator.  I’d rather see the devil come.  He’s dumb as a fencepost.  

How you instilled in others a sense of curiosity, wonder.  What your passion was, what made you feel most alive, what sustained you in difficult times?  What drove your courage, your work, your will?  What was the nature of your heart, your spirit?

In lieu of flowers, please make a charitable donation to the preservation of nature or the arts.

 

 

Net Man

My grandpa was a net man.  Never mind how well I knew him.  Never mind how often I saw him.  Never mind how much I loved him.  The point is that he used rope, wove nets with his hands, hands I loved so much I never knew how to say it.    

My grandpa was a net man, a talker and a storyteller.  His life was woven with stories as much as it was with rope.  He told the stories in his deep, rich, southern voice, a voice I loved so much I never knew how to say it.  He talked about picking rows of cotton as a farm boy in Georgia during the Great Depression.  He talked about walking down to the bar to sling his drunk mother over his shoulder and carry her home. He talked about WW2, how a bomb came down the ship’s smokestack, how he was sent to pick up body parts and stuff them into a bag. 

But mostly he talked about his shrimp boat and the Gulf of Mexico.  He talked about Campeche, Veracruz, Havana, Brownsville, Key West, abandoned boats with blood-spattered decks, and hauling up nets.  Sometimes the nets were full of shrimp, he said.  Sometimes the nets were full of shrimp mixed up with seaweed and trash.  Sometimes they contained nothing but oddities and junk, and sometimes they contained nothing at all.      

My grandpa was a net man.  Never mind his T-bone steaks.  Never mind how his short fuse in youth alchemized into the easy way he had about him later in life.  Never mind that his boyhood nickname was Junebug.  Never mind that he urged me to eat a Scotch bonnet off his pepper bush, and I did, and he laughed and laughed.  Never mind the time he unrolled a giant map of the Gulf and told me all about it with a sailor’s mind and a sailor’s memory.  The point is that he had – as we all do – an unknowable wildness.  The point is that for 92 years he touched people’s lives without even trying.  The point is that now he really has crossed the Gulf.  The point is in the still of the night he left the world, and by left I mean he’s gone, and by world I mean all of this.  I mean the crescendo of his life swept back down in a broad arc, I mean mass overtook energy.   

My grandpa was a net man.  He had been a shrimper himself, and worked with the nets.  So when he opened up a shop in Key West and became a net-maker, he knew what to do.  The shape, size, and kind of net he made depended on where the shrimper would be trawling and what type of boat they used.  He worked the rope not only with his hands, but with an understanding of what was needed: the understanding that comes from time spent close to the heart of the work itself.  

The nets were dragged along the ocean floor by the trawlers, and before that they drifted down, down, down through the briny water.  But before that they had to be made from rope, the rope that passed through the fingers of my grandfather’s hands – hands I loved so much I never knew how to say it.

   

 

A Letter to Grandma

Dear Grandma Betty,

I hope I can maintain an honest assessment of who you were, and not get too wrapped up in memories seen through the milky windowpanes of linear time’s narrow corridor.

You wore your heart on your sleeve.  You told it the way you saw it and made no apologies.  You were born on July 31st.  You repeated yourself an awful lot, and passed that particular trait on to your son (my dad) and your grandson (me).  You liked taking people out to lunch.  And you liked to talk…….a lot.

I remember meeting you for the first time.  The pine boughs were swaying in the wind and it was summer when you came to the little house with the wood stove in the Oregon countryside, where my mom and I lived for 4 years and I rode my bicycle to school.  Your voice with its syrupy southern accent – and your spirited personality – seemed so huge to me that I thought I felt the house shake through the soles of my worn-out sneakers.

But the biggest parts of you were your heart and your stubbornness.  I didn’t know anything about you yet back then, but I could see right away that you were ruled by your heart, because of the way you were so kind to my mom.  I was protective of her, and so I watched, and I listened.

It must be nice to have set down your suitcase of earthly burdens, grandma, but I miss your stories.  I miss your grouchiness, your laugh, the way you pronounced hurricane ‘herrican’.  The way you always used southern colloquialisms like ‘he was mean as a snake’ or ‘that girl would argue with a fence post’.

Sometimes a weariness comes over me when I think of loved ones lost.  There are so, so many.  And yet in a way, they’re all still here, they’re all….close.  So I’ll say to you what I’ve said to them all, in one way or another, over the years:

to all those I love, and have loved, on either side of the transcendental veil – may my love be a lantern to help light your way.  And may yours help me light mine.

Hopi Prayer

This summer I hope to visit the place I scattered my mom’s ashes 26 years ago, near the foot of Neahkhanie Mountain on the Oregon coast.  Standing in the wind above the sea, I will be sure to remember this Hopi Prayer.

“Do not stand at my grave and weep.  I am not there.  I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.  I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on the ripened grain.  I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning hush, I am the swift uplifting rush

of quiet birds in circle flight.  I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry.  I am not there.  I did not die.

My Spirit is still alive.”  – Hopi Prayer

 

Rasa

(Rasa is a Sanskrit word literally meaning juice, essence, or taste.  It also refers to an ancient concept in Indian arts concerning the aesthetic of a composed piece of visual, literary, or musical work.  More specifically, Rasas are the feelings evoked in the reader or audience by the artistic work.)     

Your life, this life, not separate.  Rather, linked to all others.  Are you the creator or the creation?  Are you the central character or the chief spectator?

You are the witness, the audience, ever in the throes of each Rasa rising up within you.  Where is your Vismaya, your wonder – your Adbhuta, astonishment?  Ruled by the strange, the sad, the sharp and cold, the soft and warm.  Governed by your smile, tears, the metronome of your heart.

You prepare tea, walk dogs, read books, drink water from a clear glass, and none of these things are ordinary, though often mistaken as such.

The world is at once a utopia and wasteland.  I have watched bodies become prisons – the bodies of those I have loved.  I have watched minds become solitary confinement.  I have watched myself twist and turn, bend over backwards, push on and on.

Sometimes I wonder, will we not truly see one another until after we have passed onward and inward?  Such is the light of a star upon the brows of the earthbound.

 

 

Calm Glimpse

The sky
is always there.
The sun
is always there.
Storms come and go.
Clouds come and go.