At my hometown across/the wheatgrass sea/forever you can see/along the vanishing point.
Arise and drift ever so/slowly there’s always time/there always was time.
To point out/Saying exactly/the shape of things to come.
We’re dancers… assembling & disassembling. Particles of the past, physicists say. All waves on ahead. Never stepping twice. Here and then not – Ourselves. In another time. Parallel on this very spot. With our footwork. On shuffle through. Portals behind, ahead. Within us — like odd music we’ve never heard before but can hum — a gyroscope heart.
(picture mine, artwork at Mizzou)
(after Harper’s Index)
Found this lyric essay in an old file box today. It’s from 2007 for a class in creative nonfiction with Maureen Stanton. I thought for years I’d lost it… and then there it was:
This is Not an Index
artwork is mine
With a large project looming (a summertime deadline and goal), I have spent every day since the beginning of the year allowing myself to simply write. Nonsense if need be. Playing the keys. The result has been surprisingly good.
I write two pages of arrant nonsense, after straining; I write variations of very sentence; compromises; bad shots; possibilities; till my writing book is like a lunatic’s dream
–Virginia Woolf in her diary
Began the new year like I do most, outside smoking my pipe, reading and writing. I set some overall goals; not resolutions to be honest, which have never been successful for me, and give an impression of what happened and what might transpire in the year ahead.
On the first day of 2016, I read Leo Tolstoy’s Diary and in particular his entry (1) for the first day of 1898. It interested me for a number of reasons. I like its simplicity–life is about shaping one’s narrative as it were, and doing so with some whole, rational and moral aim in mind. While the idea doesn’t exclude exterior validation necessarily, it additionally struck me as advocating a life lived without much in the way of public exposure–fortunes, books, laws all seem to require a communal recognition. I could be reading too much into it, or frankly, I could be reading it wrongly. I think I read it the way I want to read it, the way I want to live my life. The way I have always wanted to live my life, and have in some degree done so.
I sat on my porch in the cold January brightness, smoking billowing from my pipe, writing down a few lines and I wondered about this, about living in quiet celebration finally, rather than the oft-quoted desperation H.D. Thoreau suggests. For the most part, I believe most of us do live full lives that are moral, rational, and whole if not somewhat littered, ineffable and sometimes inconclusive. It is only when we seek to make our lives more public that the process makes utter tatters of the fabric and exposes us to slings and arrows. I’m not suggesting it’s not worth the risk. I’m suggesting it’s quite okay not to always feel you have to. It’s fine not to set yourself up for failure; it’s more than okay to surrender to a life made for you, rather than one made by you. The shaping coming ultimately in those quiet moments of reasoned celebration in the cold bright sun of a new day, a new year.
A rusted and busted clock came in the mail, today.
An inexplicable gift from a lifelong friend who lives by the sea.
Black grime and metal shavings, gritty sand from its sojourn no doubt, sprinkled the table as I salvaged the dead Maritime mechanism from its pouch.
Struck at 9:13 it seems. Battered into no longer tick-tocking. Still-faced.
The patina of a shipwreck. The rancor and riot of oxidation. Its presence fissions my fillings, lines my lungs, and kindles inklings.
Dredged seemingly from a cold black deep. Small enough to be white-knuckled by a drowning sailor. A talisman on the fritz. Saved from the brine. Sold into liberty by some flea market peddler to a man who only thought of undying friendship.
Stumped as to why I’m its new beholder; I’m clueless but utterly humbled and honored. Beheld.
Still, once on the phone he told me it was something I had said or written or gestured toward. And when he saw the clock he knew he would buy it and send it to me.
We go way back. So it goes perhaps that in the fog of fraternity and the reeling in of years we end up finishing each other’s life sentences and proxy dreams. We are each other’s historians and reminders: I am because you are. We remind each other of time.
Someday I’ll be-buried or scorched it’s to be decided another day-with this glittering prize, this inexplicable gift, fully aware that while we think we’ll always have time, there isn’t always.
Evermore is now says the clock from a lifelong friend who lives by the sea.
for Robert, for Bruce and the boys of KoKo Platz
Apparently. It’s not that I abuse them; Dyan seems to think so. It’s just that when I see a loose thread I can’t leave it well enough alone, I must–MUST–pull at it, worry it for sometimes days. I work at it until finally the inevitable happens with a small, satisfying pull, I unthread a button entirely and it falls off. Sometimes I am able to retrieve the loosened button, but mostly when it happens I lose the thing entirely, yes, but also I then have this gap in my sweater. I’m a sweater and sports coat kind of guy, FYI, so it’s usually one of these two.
I have random memories like this.
Like loose threads.
For no apparent reason, and out of absolutely no where (or at least with such stealth as to be without geography), some memory of the past comes back to me. This happens often but in varying degrees of strength and by that I mean there are some snippets that come back to me, and I smile or grimace accordingly and move on with my day. Other times, the memory pops up and stays with me for a very long, obsessive time.
Usually, but not always, a memory becomes a minor obsession, a mystery to be unravelled so to speak, not because the memory is all that important seemingly, or is of some high point in my past, but rather because it’s not apparently important or some high point of my life. It is a button and it’s thread because it makes no sense why it should be. It becomes important simply because my brain is telling me, hey I found this, maybe you should take a look.
I was driving home listening to Chopin this week when the last one came. A thread. Foggy from a distance. Dark, actually. But there. Pull-able. I kneel before a girl, tying her shoelace. It’s at a university social event, we used to call them beer bashes. I know the girl, but I don’t know her name. She’s from my hometown and she is younger than me. Well, she still is right? It is like I am dancing with her, and I look down at her feet and see that her shoelace is untied. I stop dancing, and supposedly she stopped dancing, and I kneel down to tie her shoe.
And then I stand. Slightly taller than her. And she looks at me. Smiles, kindly, awkwardly.
And my heart is light.
Still to this day.
Light as a sunbeam.
Deep down the memory hole there’s a sketchy moreness, additional flickers and filaments part mystery, part desire. Early leavings. Backward glances. Telephone calls made or not; missed. A mishmash of movies I’ve seen, songs I’ve heard, time warps and sparkles.
And that was that.
But not a desire, desire, more of a wont to understand the memory’s place in my soul. It couldn’t have been more than a hour or so of my life. A pittance, right? And yet there it is, now, days of staring and wondering.
In the “Little Prince,” the narrator talks about the magic of youth, and how when you get older and you attempt to talk of such things with your contemporaries it tends not to go well. So you stop, you the adult, stop following threads of magical thinking, and put yourself away partly and instead “talk about bridge and golf and politics and neckties,” the narrator says, and be amongst the land of the reasonable people. Reasonable.
But for the sunbeam. So unreasonable.
It won’t dare drift into nothing. It lingers. Inside.
And one day it shines. (Chopin, blazing orangey dusk, forward movement, slightly tired).
A reminder of something. Someone. A moment shared. A moment.
A thread, a little worry at it, some gap. A button at hand.
Back in the day–when the formation of one’s character is still upon a pyre of possibilities–if you’d said I’d one day be published in a scholarly journal, I would have firstly asked what exactly “scholarly,” meant, and then knowing what it stood for, I would have laughed. Rather heartedly. I might have even peed my pants.
Well, it’s happened. My paper, “Raids on the Inarticulate: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and God,” is in the Fall-Winter 2015, Volume 31, Number 3-4 Yeats Eliot Review edited by the esteemed Russell Elliott Murphy, PhD.
American writer, Richard Rodriquez calls the essay a “biography of an idea.” My paper in the review is such a beast. I first came to the idea of Eliot, a 20th century poet, using a fifth century writing trick of an oddly named scribe, Dionysius the Areopagite, in a rather circuitous way. In the last semesters of my doctoral program I took a course in religious studies with the frighteningly brilliant Rabia Gregory, PhD, a fairly newly-minted professor at my school. The course on 14th century Rhinish mystics discussed theologoians like Meister Eckhart and Henry Suso. As a graduate student, I not only had to fulfill the class required assignments and papers, but also tackle a larger research project. Somewhere in the wilds of discussing the expression of mystical experiences the work of Dionysius the Areopagite came up–and I was hooked.
Basically, the way to describe God was to not even try. Bottomline. Or, if you must, do so in a rather tricky way saying God is neither this nor that. I’m condensing you understand.
So, I wrote the research paper and while the semester was winding down I heard of a conference on the numinous, sent in my paper as possible presentation–and much to my surprise it was accepted. I ended up giving the presentation at the University of Brisbane, Australia on the tricky Dionysius way of describing God.
At the same time I was finishing up a course on the moderns, in particular early 20th century poets, such as Eliot. Reading Eliot’s work I came to see that he used the same tricky way to talk about God in his famous poem cycle Four Quartets. I wrote a paper on it for class.
Then, I took that paper and I sent it in as a possible presentation to the University of Louisville Conference of Literature and Culture–and much to my surprise it was accepted. I traveled to Louisville and read my paper in front of, oh, four people.
Then, I took this presentation paper and submitted it to the Yeats Eliot Review and well pee my pants it was accepted.
But that’s it. I think I’ve exhausted this topic–this very specific topic–the only thing now would be write a book. And no, I’m not going to write a book about it.
This raid is run.