The Only Number I Still Remember

873-8480 you were an awful lot of eights on a rotary phone.  873-8480 I recite you over and over as if you were a chant, a mantra, or a line from the movie Rain Man.

873-8480 I dialed you my whole boyhood to talk to my Grandma Ruth.  I loved talking to my Grandma Ruth.  873-8480 restore my heart, deliver me, heal me, save me.

873-8480 you are the only number I still remember in the new world of forgotten phone numbers.   873-8480 you lived on the truck route corner, the clatter and grind of jake-brakes vibrating the roof of the double-wide trailer home, moving the blades of the Dutch windmill pumphouse half a degree clockwise.  

873-8480 the covered porch where she taught me how to shoot pool, played the old 45’s, had a martini and talked about Paul Newman.  873-8480 the carport with her little yellow Porsche near her garden with the climbing string beans.

873-8480 the carved wood shapes of naked girls set into cupboard doors in the bathroom, made for her by a retired Army man, an ex-boyfriend who lived in an RV, Carl I think his name was.

873-8480 do you remember how she always kept Neapolitan ice cream in the freezer?  It explains her way of being in the world, how she lived: “a little bit of everything, kiddo”.    

873-8480 she called the couch a Davenport.  She read me Dr. Seuss.  She ate liverwurst sandwiches with mustard and sliced raw red onion.  She called Richard Dawson the kissing bandit, wished bankruptcy on Wheel of Fortune contestants when they got greedy, called me on my birthday to tell me she had decided to commit assisted suicide through the Death With Dignity Act.

873-8480 hand me that box of tissue I can’t take it I’m vulnerable my heart might give out.  You’re just a seven-number combination key on a lock-box in my memory bank.

 

 

Gardening

To be not who I thought I was, but who I became.

Worldly life, keen-edged chisel.  And I, the chiseled,

a garden tended by a master gardener.

How much lovelier now than it was

before the passing of fire and flood, before the pruning.

 

Many Rhythms

You have known many takers, known many givers, walked many pathways, crossed many rivers.

You have known many husbands, lovers and wives.  You have died many deaths, lived many lives.

You have been a seeker, you have been a finder, you have found the forgotten and remained a reminder.

You have worn many costumes and fanned a few fires.  You’ve tidied the mess and untangled the wires.

You have been the wild, been the idle, swung up in the saddle and borne the bridle.

You are the gardener as well as the flower.  You are eternity and also the hour.

You have written the song, invented the singer.  You are a happiness giver, sadness bringer.

You have climbed the wall, slept on the floor.  All this you have done, and more.

All these things, I too may be.  All these things, I too might see,

though it’s true we come from different places, though we look through eyes on different faces.

Many roads, one destination.  Many rhythms, one vibration.

 

Lavender

I don’t know who was doing the witnessing –

the lavender plant, or me.

I only know that its divine presence shone forth,

that in its presence I moved closer

to an experience of the sacred.

So, rather than passing it by, I stopped.

I stopped and spoke to it.

Not an audible speech, but a soundless one.

The cathedral whisper one uses

when one recognizes divinity.

I danced with the lavender too,

but not the dance of the body, no,

the motionless dance of the witness,

the acknowledger,

of awareness at rest in itself,

of recognition.

 

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.

   

 

Recipe

Life is the approximation of cooking, not the exactitude of baking.  It’s a messy project, not a calculation, more art than arithmetic.  There are an infinite number of ways to proceed.  Be curious, consider the methods used by everyone you meet and, in doing so, find your own way.  Develop your recipe and never hesitate to share it.  To keep it secret is to become the dragon.

Let the road of experience season you, but beware of hardening, callousing.  Do your best to stay soft and tender.  The residue of clarity yields a suggestion of radiance, unmistakably luminous, but be careful not to become a prisoner of your insights.  Bondage exists in so many forms.        

Contemplate what is transcendent of the dimension of thought, the realm of polarities, the field of duality.  May your love be a light in dark places.

Declaration

Friends who I have left behind, friends I’ve not yet come to know,

these drops of rain upon the hill come likewise to the valley,

to beat against your doors, streak your windowpanes,

set aglow your lighted lamps.

Return now to your visionary dream, song of your heart’s voice.

Return now to your body, at once solid and transparent.

Return now to the music in every prism at the end of every string

held loosely by the fingers of every wide-eyed child.

 

These are not the days of old maps and heavy leather-bound tomes,

gold fabric of late afternoon unsheathed, only to be slid back into a scabbard of mist,

clearing the way for a midnight sky of shattered crystal and baby’s breath.

 

These are days of cold mumbling rivers that know secrets,

cabins in the mountains, their wood beams rotting too slowly for us to see.

While walking in the morning I digest this vastness, this solitude,

this gravity that presses against the muscles around the eyes.

 

Friends, I toss myself aside for you.  I become available for you.

I eat, drink, run hands through hair for you,

scramble up the gully for you,

carry wood, fold socks, scrub pots, ever-fearless, requiring nothing.

 

These are days of time’s inhalation

pulling way up under the world’s collarbones,

stitching together the fibers of memory and intention.

These are days of emptying the mind, distilling the essence.

 

What does it matter if the world hears your voice?

We all belong to each other.  Your voice is here, mine is here,

as great, small, and equal in worth as any other.

The voice is in your heart and so the world’s heart knows it,

as surely as you know the heart of the world.

 

The line is cast before the coming of a great fish,

a sudden tug is felt through our hands

and our withered husks give rise to something new.

Steady now.