Late January Things

The cardinal, for one, content to go about his business.  The fox, for another, at ease in his auburn jacket.  The groundhog, still putting off the errands she needs to run.  The soft gaze of the doe regarding you, not for long, yet seeming for a brief moment to consider you as a being of great importance.

The frozen arteries of streams drawing lines to the lake that is the heart of this place.  A cascade of water stopped dead in its tracks by earth science.  Snow turning almost blue just after the sun slips behind west hill, like that framed photograph of Sweden in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, its top edge dusted once a month to the barren sound of an occasional cough, the next name called exactly as the last name was, a clean copy of how all future names will be called, unless the ratio of consonants to vowels tips the scale too far in a given direction.

Standing beneath spruce boughs watching snow flakes fall, unhurried, particles of ash or feather.  Standing in close to the heart of the tree while wind sways the limbs, as if you have been welcomed aboard an evergreen ship charting an imaginary course up to Canada, or Nova Scotia.

Another storm warning issued, another mug of hot liquid slurped, welcomed into a body cocooned inside many layers of fabric, some woven by hand, some by machine, another silent halleluiah spoken either way.  An obsession with time and temperature, forecast and calendar, with saying we know the new year will be a great one – this last among so many other unfounded claims, clothed in a largely American propensity to keep one’s chin up.

 

Noblesse Oblige

A medallion of liverwurst, a dish of warm milk.  Even these, you hardly wanted in the end.  You looked at the water in your bowl as if it were a stranger to you.  No more did you come to the kitchen at the sound of a can being opened, the clinking of dry food against a metal bowl.

You no longer padded across the tile floor when I returned home from a long day in the kitchen to lick specks of meat, brie, basil oil and rich sauce from the hems of my black pants, no longer bit at the insides of my forearms, pleased to find the savory residue of grill-smoke on my skin.  No more did you come to the top of the driveway to greet my wife and I when we came home from out there, collapsing at our feet, turning your shaggy white belly toward the sky, wriggling in the sun.

Your obligation to nobility became instead a meditation on the blurry line dividing the broken from the unbreakable.

And then there is the oddity of the final judgment placed upon you, and the cold twist that it was I myself who must play the judge: that an injection should guide you into sleep to leave behind all suffering, to leave behind the body of being.  To leave behind the limping legs, the racing heart, the trembling flesh.  To be placed in a cremation chamber with other cats, from other houses in other neighborhoods, altered to shards of bone in less than an hour, along with these others who, like you, also knew as much about how to say goodbye as I do myself, which is to say not very well at all.

Not that it matters what form of goodbye was chosen.  Nothing can change the fact that we left the house together that day, and that I returned alone with an empty carrying case.

So it is now – now that a rift of linear time between two worlds has come between us, now that the swinging door between two dimensions has fallen still again upon its permeable hinges – it is now, my small friend, that I slide back from the table in my creaking chair and swirl the wine in my glass, then push the glass aside and drink straight from the bottle in your honor, smiling at the memory of the white mane that gave you the look of a lion in miniature.

Scraping the Windshield

I’d better leave these northeast winters before my sullen brooding turns to a measure of joy, as I grow content that the edges of the road are caulked with mud, frozen slush, listening to the clatter of another semi’s jake-brake as it breaks open the shell of another midnight highway whose sound could easily be mistaken for the ocean in the morning, another eighteen-wheeler coming down the salt-bleached pavement into our little town, probably hauling something that I will purchase tomorrow from one of the local stores: a bag of cat food, a new pair of socks, an avocado.

I’d better leave these winters before I begin to love them, my back breaking beautifully as I shovel the driveway and wrestle with the trash barrel, the woods across the narrow gorge glowing in a cold compress of sunlight, straining to push through snow-clouds as if it wishes to open the way for an angel or two who have checked their schedules and found the need to descend into this world, do a job, maybe get a cup of coffee.

 

Today We Leave The City

Pigeons pecking at the curb, ivy scrambling up the wall.  Architecture of the bag lady sipping black coffee from a paper cup in the bus station.

The horizon blushes, rubs rouge on its cheeks.  We move past the graffiti, the dumpsters, we move through the oil, ash, brick, concrete, steel, glass, gravity, recollection, sweat, urine.  Circle-moving every time, every time circle-moving in our own footsteps, wallets, alarm clocks, heads.

Soup-ah, soup-ah, the Bosnian man says forcefully.  You eat, stay strong, no sick.  Soup-ah, soup-ah, you eat.

Fire and water are in us, scorching, cooling.  Ascending the round red brick tower it comes to mind, up the winding stair above the dead sticky air – up, up! where a breeze pulls through, high above the gay men with quick pulses in the bushes, where the rough edges of our thoughts are polished again, where we can see outside the circles in which we move, where we are for a moment transformed into sell-swords, sentinels, keepers of the red dawn, before descending again into age, oil, rouge, architecture.

Today we leave the city, leave it to steam beneath ginger-root rain.  The garbage, needles, parks, people, cafes and lights we leave to someone else.

We leave the corporations and the non-profits, the park benches and office cubicles, the steel cranes and culture, the breakfast sandwiches and nightclubs, the somebodies and the nobodies, the squealing tires and horns and gunshots, the sirens and cigarettes, the broken and the unbreakable, the low-hanging boughs of a half-million lives swaying forward and backward in the wind of the carnival storm.

It will continue as if we were never here.  People will drag themselves along, glide, float, swear they’re being aided by unseen hands, long with all their verve for exotic lands.

A union of chance and decision brought us to the city, and now sweeps us back out, wayward, to another sphere.  Into the midst of magnetic silence, we push on.

 

A Great Many Sparrows

You know there are a great many sparrows in a tree when your view of the tree itself has been almost completely obscured by the birds.

There are three ways to see these birds as they leave the tree in the morning, a single entity swirling up and away, as if together they made a rippling embroidered cloak worn by the night as it turns on its heels and marches away.

The first way is to be hardly aware of them at all, wrapped up in whatever it is you’re doing, or give them a sideways glance.

The second way is to see them, finding your attention momentarily captured by a spark of wonderment before your attention shifts away.

The third way is to be transformed by this thing you are witnessing, pulled by your transfixed gaze from your own body for a moment, a part of you taking to the air in the same way the birds do, following them with your close attention until the last black speck has vanished altogether.

 

Fantasia

Use those opposable thumbs for eye-rubbing, my child, so you may drift away from such structured compositions and be led to the discovery of yourself.

Then you can sit quietly, as a stone in the valley would, a fisherman on the riverbank, a coyote.

Soon, the fantasia of all creation shall nourish your nerves, itch between your toes and at the base of your fingers.

The language of living, the dialect of days and nights passing will reinvent you, reshape you, while raindrops rebound off your skin – skittering up and away as musical notes – in muddy organic euphoric medicinal reverence.

 

Safe Harbor

Down on my knees cutting kindling in the cold still air, I don’t just think I’m the luckiest man who ever passed this way – I know I am.

It doesn’t matter where, or when, you live.  It only matters that your heart stays open, that your heart can be your home, so that regardless of external conditions, you have a safe harbor at the other side of the passing storm.  You have a place to return to, a place that is yours and yours alone.  A place you can carry with you wherever you roam, as you walk, run, marvel and weep through the wide wild world.

It doesn’t matter what colors the painter chose for the picture.  It’s how you see them.