Monday, July 30, 2012

With a Veil and a Whisper

This compilation of drafts includes the original version of the poem, "Our Eyes," and each piece here can completely stand on its own. I don't really know how to separate them, as they're all so closely related. Perhaps they go together, or perhaps I can get suggestions on this front?

Written 1/24


I'm struck by the similarity of my granddad's eyes with those
of my late mother. I always knew I had inherited her sad eyes,
and that they came from her father. But now I'm more struck
by the vacant (not vacant - what's the word - searching?)
expression in his eyes that is reminiscent of her.  When I look into his eyes,
beneath the eyebrows,  I see my mother's eyes as she slowly retreated
into herself and expanded beyond herself as she slipped away.
Seeing through everything. But still that spark of silent joy
when recognition lights inside them.
He's sleeping now - and while I know he's not departing,
I can't help but feel the deja vu of sitting beside my mother as she slept.
My mother, who once spoke as he does now - not always coherent,
Often speaking to or from the past.
I often wonder if she's talking to him now.
Regardless of my feelings or beliefs of what follows death,
there is a veil and a conversation, or a veil and a whisper,
between what comes at the end, and what comes after.
Or, perhaps, the whisper only exists here, in these words,
where I connect the future and the past through the tentative, fragile present
- which is always slipping, slipping, slipping away.

*

Sometimes I imagine it's to me
She will speak, when everyone's left,
and I'm alone in the spaces she used to occupy.
As soon as silence falls, once everyone has left,
I'll hear her voice call softly from her room and
I'll find her, sitting in her chair, propped up
in bed, or standing by the window
gazing out - like some obscene hologram
I've conjured out of my memory, overlapping
the mental spaces she survives
with the physical spaces
in which I am still living.

*

There's a photo on my grandmother's wall.
My grandfather, triumphantly raising a deer
to be skinned and cleaned, stands to the side
wearing a bright orange knit cap pushed back
on his head. I can only stare,
as I see my mother there. The way she
wore her knit-cap as she was balding.
The sad eyes she inherited from her father.
The same lines on her face, the same droop in her cheeks.

I know that you inherited his face,
Those sad eyes, the droop in your cheeks, the lines
on your face, but even though you came later,
You left sooner, and now you are being
born again, coming after him once more,
As I see you now in the vacant,
searching expression,
And I realize how connected we all always were -
that even though you left, you were always
creeping back into him, day by day,
holding his hand as he weakens,
eventually, in days or months or years to come,
guiding him with you into the enfolding beyond.

Immobile

Written 4/24


I'm not free from the feeling that follows me.
It's like a pain, a burn, or the just-before pain,
just-before burning moment, when I know
that if I press harder I will either collapse,
or forget why I was hurting.
It's like a pulse, a magnetic field that pushes
against me. It's a feeling of responsibility
That's haunted me among all the lives
I currently live - often, like a leech -
reflecting on me all the aching sentimental
pain that plagues my life right now.
All the bad decisions I make that I can't bear
to see made by others. The giving up
that I refuse to do, though I don't necessarily know
how to refuse giving up.
It's a dark cloud that has followed me here
to this new place, and I only know I've been
rendered immobile, and I don't know how to move,
and then, in moving, where I am supposed to go.

Dry Heaves

 Written 7/28


Sometimes words spring up, like vomit, and it's all I can do to open up my journal and spit them out - by the time I find a pen, often the feeling has already ebbed, and all I can do is lean over my empty pages and dry heave over, and over, and over again.

Garrison Keiller

Written 4/8


I'm often puzzled as to whether or not you
Are my poem. I know I wrote you on these pages, 
But, in all honesty you were born on the lips of 
Garrison Keiller, or at least how I heard you 
In my head, as if coming from his mouth,
The rounded, sedentary consonants and full, 
Comforting rumble of his voice lilting 
With each line of you, in that lullabyic way of his, 
As if he wanted the whole world
To sink into the most peaceful sleep,
The most thoughtful slumber ever known to man, 
Woman, or child; taking our hands, 
Or perhaps casting out a line 
(as if these poems were hands, 
Or fishing line, or both) 
And pulling us back into a time, 
Or forward into a time,
When the lilting lines of poetry,
And the singsong voice of the traveling bard, 
Were the most magical sounds in the whole entire world.

My Ecclesiastical Dog

Written 4/8


There is nothing new under the sun today,
Except for you and I, dog,
As we walk alone down concrete streets
Beneath low-hanging clouds that hide vestiges
Of sky. Smallish trees and jutting houses
Strike silhouettes as if, in visual soliloquy,
Celebrating the waning of the day
As I pretend we are that evening's newness,
This, our walking, the only two in the world.
Of course, you'll say, even this is nothing new,
For humankind has walked alongside his faithful
Companion for ages.
To which I'll reach out and scratch your head,
Right behind the ears, and tell you
Nor is it new for you to be so wise,
As you were always faithful friend and muse.
But even as our shadows across the streets of time
Don't etch new paths but trace the old ones,
Still we agree that this moment is a new moment in time,
And this, now, and this,
And this,
And for this moment, all is new,
All our own, and to ourselves.

A Eulogy to Time, and Place, and Memory

Written 3/27


I remember after Jonathan passed away,  we visited his wife's, 
my friend's, apartment. I remember walking into the bathroom
and seeing his glasses, and his cologne,  sitting there by the sink -
the only physical elements associated with his person
that I had ever seen, only days after he died. I wanted to touch them,
to connect myself to him, but I was too afraid to move them. I suppose
I put too much weight on the sentimentality of time, and place,
and memory. Those glasses, last touched by him, are connected 
by a thin thread to the past of his living existence.
A shroud, or veil, still surrounded them -
as if the time and place hadn't yet caught up with them. They didn't know
yet that he was dead - to them, he was still alive, as if his hands 
still hovered over them, and they expected to be picked right back up.


That same consciousness follows me here, in my grandparents', 
now only my grandmother's, home. "Just use my bathroom," she said to me,
as I prepared for a nightly vigil on an inflatable mattress in the study
next door. I did so, noting once again the placement of everything,
wondering which items, layed askew once before with little importance
or weight, might suddenly trigger that same path, that same threaded
connection  to the living past. There is a vanity here, at which sits a stool,
a white towel draped across it. There sits her brush,
her vitamins, a dollar bill - out of whose pocket, I wonder? - 
a small mirror, which was once attached
to a stand, but now is held together with duct tape, sitting dustily, 
face up, beneath a canister of ointment and an unplugged nightlight.
I wonder, how young was her first reflection out of that small mirror? 
Was it a special gift?  How long ago was it placed there,
used for the last time before accumulating dust,
oblivious to the present moment and remembering an earlier reflection?
If it were touched, to what moment in time would she find herself
connected again?


There's a quiet, awe-inspiring majesty and grace to the widowed matriarch.
Taking a shower in her, once their, bathroom, I discovered only 
a small bar of soap, a container of shower gel, mostly full, and
a small container of hotel conditioning shampoo.
It's amazing to peer behind the scenes of a woman so strong, so 
put-together, and find a half-full bottle of travel-size shampoo -
behind the scenes of the woman  who, only moments ago,
made sausage biscuits for everyone,
whose bright eyes peered so wisely and ag√ęd from over her mug of 
hot chocolate at the head of the breakfast table, the mug she
absent-mindedly had to reheat  twice in the microwave as we
talked about my grandfather's final hours,
interwoven with the story of their wedding
(how strange, these narratives of time). "We just told the congregation
there would be a wedding after the service,
and those that wanted to stay, stayed."


Now she glides throughout the house, in a simple black dress and 
strings of pearls, making sure we're all well and have everything we need 
to get ready to attend the memorial service - 
one by one, people leave the house to "meet us there."
Will we be the last to leave, the ones everyone is "meeting there,"
turning at the door to say those words to nothing but an empty house,
the haunting void of which may ache from his absence,
but cannot come with us to pay its respects?

The White Flag: A Prose Poem

Written 3/24


Granddad passed away around 12:30.

*

Why is it always death, and pain, and the enormity of human emotion
That open up our minds more closely to the poetic, the sublime?
Is it because of the vastness of the unknown?
Is it because we deal with such large, incomprehensible matters
In different abstract ways? Is my writing an attempt to
Encapsulate my feelings upon facing the divine?
Whatever the cause, am I selfish for celebrating those revelations,
Discovered in death? The insights back into windows of Houses
I thought forever locked?

I'm with my dog, as I write this, in the field behind our home.
The city noises are limited here. I poise, journal on knee, pen in hand,
Atop a fallen tree dragged on to of a pile of organic rubble from
A previous and perhaps long-forgotten field-clearing project.
The dog has tired of running and stands guard beneath me, panting
From his joyous morning of exercise and discovery.
I sit here, shirtless, above the ground, like a white flag in the
Wonderfully forceful wind and warming sun. 
I came here just to take a moment, to connect, to reconnect,
To meditate, and what-have-I, before plunging back
Into the noises and sounds of the busy world - 
The world my grandfather just left behind.
Perhaps, just perhaps, for a moment he has joined me here,
In the wind. Perhaps the tree on which I sit 
Was once a grandfather, too.

Night Sky

Written 2/20, edited 7/30


If the stars could speak, what would they tell us,
With their light that began so long ago, when
People wiser than we are first looked up at
The sky and asked from where they came?
If the eyes of my lover carry my reflection,
Can I gaze into the eyes of night like I gaze
Into yours, and catch a glimpse of the faces and
Upturned glances of other, ancient young men
Who first saw Orion with his belt, hunting through
The sky?

What secrets do they hold of me, these eyes,
Watching me those nights I spent atop the canyon's
And caverns where I finally discovered what it was
For which my soul ached, and what it was I wanted
To come into the walls of my heart, like the water
That carved those walls on which I stood,
Or the tendrils of galaxy that carved the heavens?
Stepping out of my tent in the middle of the night
To watch a shooting star that witnessed the moment
The first man told me he loved me?

Or were you watching as more words, other loves,
Were sent like your own light
Across vast distances to find me? 
Words, like shooting stars, bearing the weight
Of all those ancient, stolen glances, an entire
Universe of existential questioning,
Traveling across time and space
To carve deeper and deeper into me,
While I drank in your eyes and softly kissed
Your lips.

Trilliums; For B-B-

Written 6/26, edited 7/30

 The trillium is a three petal, three leaf flower
That grows on the forest floors of Michigan State Parks.
The tour guides will tell you this, but you won't
Believe them. Not until your eyes adjust to the darkness.
Then, you see?, they're everywhere, and always were.

 *

 I sit in the bookstore, on my lunch break,
Across the table from you as you read, and
I contemplate the shuffling of feet through
 The forest floor, and the discovery of
 Hidden treasures, revealed. I think of how the
World moves, how we move with it.
 How the world moves with or without my hand
In it, with or without my assertion - The
Universal movement still happens, energies
Collide, doors unlock, people learn and love
And grow all across the world,
Even if I don't write these words,
 Or drink this coffee,
Or make plans for a future more fulfilling
For myself, or for others, or with others,
Than that set before me, without my lifting a finger.
 And the epiphanies - that many of the bad,
Negative, or stagnant states of mind or habits
Into which we fall are the manifestations of
The frightened children inside us,
Facing traumas as amalgamations -
That every pain or trauma in the past opens up
Feelings from past trauma and winds itself up
Into a tangled skein, where there's almost no hope
Of avoiding the hooks and snares.
 Remarkable, that we have to be told that the flowers
Are growing beneath our feet on the forest floor.
Such beautiful flowers, that we cannot see on our own.
When darkness comes, our eyes will adjust,
 But we'll only begin to see them once someone
 Comes along, takes our hand, and points them out for us.
And once you see one, soon the forest floor explodes.