Forty-nine times around now I told my diviner yesterday, she’s an expert on death, I said I don’t know what it is just lately, I’m feeling pretty okay about dying, there’s this slowly dawning sudden way it just doesn’t freak me out. She said, don’t worry honey, you’ll get scared again: this thing you’re experiencing now, it’s called happiness. Oh, I said. And then I thought seven times seven: I think that’s true, I mean the light is coming back and there’s the sheer fact of Tom Ackerman in this world, so, yeah. I love 49 so much because it’s a perfect square of course and then so is each of its digits like what if you yourself were already a rockstar and then each of your two lungs was also independently a rockstar in its own right: four is two times two, it’s a laughing double date, it’s patty-cake, and then three times three that’s some kind of triangle within each facet of the trinity or some kind of triple folded cluster of galaxies, somebody smarter than me, but I think I can for real say that 49 is the only number in the whole universe each of whose digits is a distinct square and then, as if that weren’t enough, the collapsed sum of its digits is also a square, so maybe this is the year where everything stacks up just so, like the way activism and prayer are coming together these days but that’s not new, all the big names knew how to get real power on their side: there’s MLK kneeling in the middle of the bridge, here’s Gandhi quiet so quiet. Here we are meanwhile, water is life but everybody kind of terrified horrified so very tired from looking at that big pasty face with the monosyllabic name but I think we’ve had all the answers since 1997, have you seen The Fifth Element? There’s the pale evil billionaire guy with the plastic head and ultimate darkness encroaching and everything, and then there’s the perfect new badass girl did you see what happened when she watched the news too much, but I won’t spoil the ending anyway you know besides water fire air earth there is, of course, Love. What I really want to tell you is how forty-nine is–besides there’s cake in a minute with ice cream, caramel sauce and sprinkles–but how 49 is, maybe it’s like this: after forty days and forty nights in the desert, it’s nine days later, you’re basically all used to eating again, walking around doing stuff, and it’s no longer a complete acid trip just to ride the bus with everybody else, you know?
A long time ago far far away this Bunny in a very very dry place this Bunny looking for something, something hand-sized something dropped right around here Bunny stepping gently round and round reaches, takes your hand. Still looking, Bunny says, Help. You look down, around, step careful too still holding Bunny’s hand looking down all around pretending to look the dry dry sand, here and there tiny unlikely life, you don’t step on it here you are pretending to help, but that’s Love too. Warm salt broth you look up at Bunny, say, what color is it? Bunny, you are shocked to see so silent Bunny has tears, you say, I’ll help you. Bunny says, Color, that’s exactly what’s lost. You say blue, no, green, no, how big is it? Bunny holds up a big hand, your little hand warm held there in it Bunny says, this size, no color. You say: Bunny, is it made of glass?
Once upon a time we look up, up, up, Bunny, our feet in the hot sand we look up surely there are upon our hoppity little lives stars above those clouds somewhere, Proof. Two children like you got two ears, Bunny, for real two children running running running from a vast tall Bear. This is the place. You see, yes, tall tall rock right here, rise up, bow down. Rise up. Once upon a time two children running from Bear. Bow down. Chased okay, one two one two these two very young in the desert brown limbs long long long black hair all sunny these two running Bear so tallish and dare not even look back towering with teeth oh teeth and claws big as the sky maybe, chasing these trembling babies lungs burning legs one stumble the other takes her hand, down they go. Right on the rocky tan sand down together I’m not kidding into child’s pose, get it? Please, please, Wakan Tanka oh so Bigger Than Us, save us, All That Is, these two children side by here in the sand two foreheads On. The. Ground. They say together Spirit Pleeeeeeease they can smell Bear’s claws almost already swatted down right into their backs long black claws all wedged and tangled in their ribs almost already bleeding big color all over this quiet dry earth, oh Bigger, help! Can you see it, Bunny, that way we get all on the ground, that one time you got all down, Bunny, glad and sorry both for every single thing you ever, Bear breathing hard musk right up your nostrils you had every feeling all at once right into the Earth these two children down like that Bear almost in their ribs, the Earth then sudden cracks a circle around them they rise up up up on the earth, Spirit takes them up beyond reach, there they are up tiny on giant stone cake. Just like me, Bunny yourself you were down down forehead on the dirt. That’s how it is when you can See. When you can see too much the crumble coming, the here comes, too late, yes? We got to bow deep deep down those two, Rogue One, remember at the end kneeling at the edge where water meets earth soon to be burned up quick but that’s how we do it, right? We do every last thing we can, we do giant breath in: climb the tower anyway leave our little paw prints where they might help any least child anyway find her way, next step anyway somehow. It all matters, we don’t know how. Rise up, Bunny. Raise up yr staff say yes, yes can you believe it those two children quaking their two sweaty hands gripped in the grit between them the Earth cracked yes she did in a big circle round those two up up grew a tower two children way up on top before the Bear’s very eyes up just in time the children stayed on their knees the whole time lifting up, who could believe the Noise, Bunny, who would have guessed in a thousand hundred years, thing is Imagination is just beyond. Beyond, see? Could have been a cloudship could have been the children poof, made into tiny spiders instead down in the sand, Bear can’t find them. Or pebbles. Till Bear gives up. Puzzled. That’s how it is with one idea. One crazy thing happens, one giant Earth tower, two tiny brown children on top and then you think, well, sure. Why not destroy the Death Star? Or die trying. That may well be what’s left to us, Bunny, how I love you. What might be left is die trying. What might be left is all we ever had in the first place. Look, Mom, look! Beauty right there for real, let yr eyes spill over in unlikely places, drag the rusty carcass, vines all over, out into the light for anybody who might be willing to look. That cloud the orange just so it’s exactly bunny-shaped see the ears there that bluish part where the whiskers would be? We are children way up high, saved again and again haven’t we, round and round the sun? Spirit lifts us up then sometimes, well every time, we’ve got to let go. Let go, change into stars. What if, what if oh no maybe sooner than we think no more television, no more goldfish crackers or honey bees and, oh so jesus I can’t look people shooting people over water over money over some kind of false. Maybe now hurricanes, right, Bunny, the Bear right behind us claws already tangled in our ribs see, so red, strange beauty the blood sinking into the dry dry earth under us. We didn’t mean it, then maybe, maybe not something happens something never in a thousand years could we have thought of this. I can see your eyes your big sad joy eyes, Bunny, how you know. How you keep making things, glitter patterns in the sand, you are warrior king baby big Magic. We go Down, Bunny, we feel the tiny stones digging into our knees, into our foreheads. Is this prayer? Or despair. I’ve got to look that up in the dictionary. Both. Anyway up with you finally, up rabbits, up girls, up crocodiles. Up we get sooner or, see: you can’t just stay breathing in that sand that tiny stone digging into your forehead forever. Up with your little tall ears even when your legs hurt so much, what the hell else are we gonna do? Up the tower climb climb up the tower impossible, your Dad didn’t he put a flaw in the system so, up you climb, get your little paws on your own name up there, so it is, right? We are seen unseen seen again and again, tidal wave right behind us nowhere to hide then right when the children can’t run anymore a sudden good round earthquake lifts us up up even if it kills us, high up above any monster clawing behind, there we are then, Tiny Stars higher than high, Bear scratching down the sides of our miracle we look down down down twinkling light years away that means, you know how some stars are blown up already dark already but we just gaze all quiet down here on moonless nights gazing up up at the tiny glimmer of how it was once still alive so then even time depends where you’re at, how fast you’re moving, Bunny. Who could even think of that? There we were remember, Bunny, there we were wood shavings all over our fur, so quiet, so busy trying to make the wagon wheels as round as we could working, too, so careful every edge of every stave just right don’t leak any precious drop then every year a better way to do things they say, every year some sexy sleek shining this or that until suddenly there’s, um, fracking. We glance at each other sideways we’re freaking out, isn’t we, there we go right back into child’s pose muttering compost, compost, text your Mom: how did she make that trellis out of nothing, remember? We’re laid out flat, belly down whispering now, yup, dirt on our lips: we don’t need what we thought we needed, muttering, I will give up ziplock baggies I will give up GPS for the poor souls in purgatory please Wakan Tanka raise us up, I promise up up I’ll find every least ribbon of racism in my house maybe even Amazon Prime how did I get here the key to my daily happiness some South American tea my forehead on the hard ground right here with you, Bunny, antioxidants guaranteed two-day delivery so many brown beans of various stimulating kinds, Bunny, press one shining golden button in your pocket 72 percent or 85, whatever you want dark roast here comes help already from the tropics pineapple year round coconut water way far north turns out, can you believe this, Bunny: slaves. Children. Child slaves pick the chocolate beans for us, not kidding, I had to go all the way to Atlanta to find that out, all the way there and back again, way way high up in the air I lost track of all the little plastic cups they gave me smiling, saying no we’re not allowed to refill, you have to have a new cup every time. Here we are now, Bunny, all we want now is Princess Leia all draped in white, we want her so bad to turn around, look right in our eyes, say Hope. We really can’t see from here, so few tiny muck-booted cob-building beekeepers this tiny green good island, Bunny, still cargo ships, cargo ships, so much afraid. How can we anything but out, out quick in a great flash of white light side by side, but then there you are, Bunny, there you are where the water meets the sand: knife in one hand, melon in the other.
This is how it is sometimes. Sometimes you just have to chop up a blanket and make yourself some wings.
Year seven. Early weekend morning. Daughter still asleep.
Get yourself up before the sun rises. Behold the angel on her pillow still, her quiet eyelids and everything. Wonder what she is dreaming. Limbs everywhere. Thank the Mother Above, Lord Jesus, Trees and Marbles: you have a child. Go downstairs. There’s stuff to do.
I. Upon awakening, child will need:
1) warm house
2) happy Dad
II. Therefore, before she wakes up:
1) build fire
2a) happy: drink coffee
2b) Dad: that’s you. Do something in this quiet time (write, meditate, stretch and breathe) so that you really know your own name before you start the day with this young one.
3) make batter
3.i) 1 c. pancake mix (See Note 1, below)
¾ c. water
1 tbsp. oil (See Note 2, below)
Mix all that in a bowl.
4) pile storybooks on the coffee table, blankets on the couch
III. Infrastructure (in advance):
1a) warm: stack firewood
1a.i) buy firewood
1b) house: pay rent
1b.i) get a job (See Page 1)
2) make coffee (night before, set timer)
3) go to grocery
3.i) mix, eggs, milk, oil, maple syrup, chocolate chips
4) go to library
IV. Gratitude (continuous)
1) thank you: trees
1.i) thank you: soil, rain, sun
2) thank you: coffee bean bushes
2.i) thank you: soil, rain, sun
3) thank you: wheat, chickens, cows, olive trees, maple trees, cacao plants
3.i) thank you: soil, rain, sun
4) thank you: writers, illustrators, publishers, librarians
4.i) thank you: soil, rain, sun (See Note 3, below)
1. Mix, yes. Because there is only so much time in the world, because you can be a brilliant loving parent without knowing the difference between baking soda and baking powder, without buying those things and putting them somewhere and remembering where they are and checking, one day, their expiration dates. No. Just buy the mix because being a good Dad means above all being honest, and the honest truth is, don’t deny it, the honest truth is that if you had to find and measure more than four ingredients (not including chocolate chips because the child herself will get those and distribute them evenly across the just-bubbling top surface of the pancake whose bottom surface is just-golden), the truth is, you would serve her cereal instead. Most of the time. (See also Appendix 17: On the Use of Money for Freeing the Attention for Other Things. Of particular note in relation to this topic is Section 5.4: On letting other people know how to make teriyaki chicken—sudden and hot with steamed rice right in the middle of the city, exactly now when it’s too late anyway to get home to cook.)
2. Use olive oil. You cannot be expected to keep multiple oils on hand for different purposes (See footnote 1, on Time, how much in the world). Use olive oil for everything. Use butter for everything else. Subnote: You have tested this. Risky, yes, but the pancakes did not taste like olives.
3. You have only just begun. Thank you farmers and roasters of coffee beans. Thank you milkers of cows, gatherers of eggs, sowers and reapers of grains. A thousand hundred thanks, every day, to the mother of your child, to the mother of your own self, and of the librarian, and the grocer. Prostrations on the hour to the Mother of Us All. Thank you from the bottom of the feet for Fathers, especially yours, for their wisdom, strength and Love. Thank you to those who design and build these contrivances for bringing fire into the house safely, yo! To those who cast the iron and those who lay the brick. Thank you miners. And oh my lord, thank you for newspaper and kindling—that is, truth be told, key to the whole morning. And thank you Air. Ashé. Daughter coming down the stairs.
chocolate chip cookies
Thing about chocolate chip cookies is when they’re baking people feel this way smelling them, feels like Love. Me anyway, but U too, don’t U. Somebody is making U chocolate chip cookies in yr house or in their house or in a house U two live in together—U who will eat the cookies and her or him that bakes’m for U. And U smell that, walkN in aftR a long day on the farm dirt all ovR U or a long day at the office, that pasty fluorescent light smell on yr sleeves and yr tireder than U should be sitting in a chair all day those meetings might actually kill U one day U might just in the middle of one of those meetings pretending to listen just fall out of yr chair sideways. But U walk in maybe fresh-n-dirty or whatever and that smell. U gasp like somebody handed U balloons big rainbow helium balloons U smell that baking smell in yr kitchen there and U think: I. am. loved. Just like that without even eating any yet. Go wash yr hands.
I tell my daughter things. Like this: this is how we filter the water from the river. This is how we fasten the hip belt and the sternum strap—these keep the weight distributed on our bodies. Or now, for example. Right now on the carpet we are playing Monopoly. She is six years old and me here, old, I remember: two five hundreds, the bright orange ones, two one hundreds, two fifties, six twenties (green). She passes out the money. I tell her: it’s better to own property than to hold onto cash. Try to buy all four railroads. And right then, right there on the carpet, playing Monopoly in the middle of winter, I smell fresh tomatoes. Hot soil and fresh mown grass. Grandpa used to serve me sliced tomatoes and eggs over easy. Salt and pepper. Tomatoes fresh out of the hot Ohio yard. Grandpa in the kitchen, Grandma there at the table with a paper towel folded in fourths under her coffee cup. An opened pink packet of sweetener next to the cup, that too folded just so. The sound of her spoon stirring, Grandpa in the kitchen. The way they used to tell me things. Maybe it was them, told me about buying the railroads. There I am on the carpet, I owe my daughter rent already for St. James place, and My Grandpa, his garden. Here he is. The entire purpose of his garden was tomatoes. I remember the straight line where the sifted dark soil met the trim green grass. Kneeling on the grass there, reaching past the spiky white blossoms for a ripe tomato. Helping. And the way my Grandpa now, dead as he is, has a permanent place in me. How he gets to stand up on his hind legs suddenly, like a curious prairie dog, and remind us about the railroads.
On Saturday I’ll be chained up to write for 12 hours. Come back here to see what happened. Or come by Sugarpill 900 E. Pine, Seattle, 11am-6pm to see live “posts” and throw assignments into the cage. Photo documentation by Matt Lawrence.
I’m chaining myself to a desk. On Saturday, June 7, I will be chained to a desk for 12 hours, writing. Making peace with the Muses.
Come by Sugarpill on 900 E Pine St from 11am to 6pm to read fresh posts or throw assignments into my cage.
There you go walking hRd ahead
with yR hands jammd
tight in yR pockitts,
maybe late 4 yR bus or
maybe yR marriage now,
it’s prying up the BIG rocks
aftR all these yeers and
there, there in the mud,
crawling around with far 2 mNy legs.
You are mad mad mad—
black or white,
leaning into the cold wind, head down
all alone on the cRwdid downtown streets:
in yR own wRld Rn’t cha?
maybe laaaaate for the bus.
So. thR ya R, hands jammd in yR pockitts,
like I sed,
feelings hRd as walnuts.
thRz that guy again,
that guy playN the mother lovin’ BAGPIPES
on the sidewalk.
He’s just playN and playN and playN
people walkN by,
he is Scotland all by hisself.
The case opened at his feet thR,
cRdbRd sign says, GOIN’ TO BRAZIL.
U wonder about that.
This guy, he’s going to bRzl, so,
I guess he needs a lot of BREATH in him.
He’s blowiN and blowiN like that so he can
Maybe he needs courage, like maybe
thRz a gRl in bRzl and
them 2 gonna tRy to make it wRk agin
after all these yRs.
Or maybe he needs those
The mind. How we wake up sometimes right when we go to sleep. I mean roving over vast rolling meadows in the sunshine, meanwhile crashed out warm in a little house, but up slowly one green hill and down the other side, on and on, so green everywhere the sun hard on me, bright the sky oh blue the blue the green, blue and green and me right there right between those colors—blue and green like two big hands grasping my ribcage, lifting me up, beloved child in this big world. Check it. The body all grown up for real, toasty warm, eyes closed under down, with, indeed an arm thrown over mmmm girlfriend, every muscle relaxed, the hair fetchingly scattered and nobody will ever see it—we stand sometimes and watch, just watch, the sleeping children we love, we love them so, it pulls the heart like taffy doesn’t it to see her crashed out like that, all warm and tiny, limbs and hair everywhich. So. There I am, invisible to myself, lovable there inside tightshut eyelids and meanwhile awestruck: one foot in front of the other the sky so blue I could walk for years and maybe I will this green green rolling out as if I’ll live forever the blue crackling above as if I’ve never not been right here. It must be seventy-seven degrees, right, birds singing, the air silky on my bare arms like sex itself. So. Way off in the distance there a dark clump of trees crouching together and I think—even though I am asleep in the dark and it is as a matter of fact coldhard raining on the roof over my head—but there standing in the thick grass among, I’ll just say it, daisies, I take a big breath, the sun on my skin, I squint at that distant klatsch of trees, and I say to myself, I say, River.
We change our minds, don’t we? Those of us who dreamed one day of being a teacher, or a firetruck or whatever. This counselor who wanted to be a tug boat captain, he majored in forestry. Those moon dreams and how I myself wanted so much a pilot’s license but then I grew up and that seemed like, well, just one more loud machine to insure and maintain. Because the truth is (hey, maybe in some ways our imaginations also grow if we let them as we get older) because the truth is: I want wings. I want wings on my very own body. I really do not want a pilot’s license. I want to step right off cliffs and follow rushing rivers up up up. I want to feel the wind (and speaking of when I get wings I want to be impervious to cold and the wet of clouds. I guess that’s why they have feathers, yeah?) And I want to be (I have to add this clause, because we have to be honest about how this world is), I want to be invisible when I fly and undetectable by radar (however that would work—some arrangement of porousness or jamming the signal, I don’t know) because I wouldn’t want to be shot down or captured and put to work for the military or anything. Anyway. We dream as kids, don’t we? Then the shift and shimmer of what we want. Of what we get. The surprises. I might grow up and discover an unexpected talent for lacrosse or spreadsheets. Some of us are good at things that didn’t exist in 1972, things our parents never heard of. We just don’t get to plan everything. We get to turn the pages and find out. You might find yourself writing an award-winning Brussels Sprouts cookbook, and who would have guessed? You might wake up in Indonesia, or queer. So keep on. Keep on. That loose bean rattling in your big life might be the very thing.
Bring me oranges
And garlands of course of
Flowers, something very red—hibiscus
Make rings of many colored petals around my eyes, one, two
Trumpets. Hire trumpets, flashing golden in the sun
And call my mom. Tell her now, tell
Her to come on horses, to come
See me now.
Mom! Look at me here, Mom, at five in the morning because this shining six-year-old, my daughter, can you believe it, she walks into our room in the dark (I’m married, mom, I have a mortgage) and she says I can’t sleep because when I close my eyes something scary is there and I say I’ll come with you so we go into her room (it’s a two story house, mom) and I lay down next to her in her little bed my head next to her head on her bright flowered pillowcase and I say do you want to tell me about it and she says NO real mean like that is obviously the wrong answer and I say I can hear that you are frustrated but I want to be spoken to respectfully. And then I say maybe I can tell you an imagination story and there she is surly and skeptical, defying me to even try to help but meanwhile she is holding onto my earlobe. So I say, once there was a young eagle. She hadn’t yet left the nest because her wings weren’t quite big enough. La la la, I keep talking soft in the dark until finally this eaglet is sitting by a pond and there’s a frog who wants to learn to sing. The planet turns, the sun rises, and there she is next to me, Mom, this kid who needed me in the night. She says, “Dada. You snore.”
I almost missed it but I didn’t miss it.
See. Trying to get my kid to bed, I’d said already four times brush your teeth and finally, there at the bathroom sink, both of us brushing. Finally. I am efficient and fierce. I am the grown-up, and it is eight thirty seven pee em already goddammit. So. I look up then at the mirror and there is the child I adore with my very bones: she is brushing madly, she is frothing. For real, toothpaste everywhere. She locks me in her laughing gaze, issues this dangerous invitation. (Slow motion interior hesitation: one of thirty thousand daily decisions. It’s eight thirty eight on a school night. This could go either way.) Then like two dogs who, without a word, tear off toward the same geese, this golden daughter and I are both brushing like wild people, froth dripping down our chins, grinning at each other in the mirror.
Suppose, shall we, in a clearing circled by trees tall like rain in the starry sky, the trails of small birds by day strung from one to one, around. In this clearing twenty-two of us circled around one good fire smoke rising all of us gathered around, all of us upstanding and warm. And there she comes. Such large white bird down down to us in a big spiraling down among us lands and we hush. We hush there still, we say yes to that good landing. Just breathing in and out again we love that bird like our own good grandpa with us again. Like he just came right back today, drawn by the fire by the twenty-two hearts beating in this clearing, here he comes. Music. Oh, the strings like so many old ones from Tennessee: this one with banjo here, and that one. We listen, the bird here tall standing with us, all her talons piercing the earth.
I had a real good Mom. One day, one day after I was all grown up and she couldn’t walk anymore, she said, “Read to me.” So that’s what I did. One day she said read to me and that’s all I ever did from that day forward. I climbed into her bed and read to her for years and years and years. Story after story. Ali Baba and Emma and Bilbo. David Copperfield and everybody else. Novels and poetry and biology textbooks, me there next to Mom, showing her the pictures. I read the atlas to her, pointing to little dots and blue lines, pronouncing the names of cities and rivers very carefully even if I was wrong. Ganges. Bujumbura. Yangtze. Vaduz. Ouagadougou. We laughed and laughed, there on Mom’s bed, her laugh sometimes gurgling with pneumonia. My sister in and out with trays of food. Dad at night and I would go back to my pallet in the yard until morning. I never slept in those days. I would just lie on my back looking at the stars, Mom and Dad sleeping inside. I never got cold or hungry or anything like that. I would stare at the stars and relive all the stories from the day. Dream. All the new physics and whatnot from the day’s reading, written in the sky all over again. Cave paintings and such, Mom’s laugh still in my ears. The dawn slowly taking the stars, then, I would brush the snow off my jeans, shake it out of my hair, and go start the coffee. One day, though. One day not too long before she died, Mom couldn’t talk anymore. I put down the books and opened my notebook. Mom, I said, I wrote this. She grinned at me.
In a room full of people dancing—a dark and pulsing room where each and every dancing dancer hears what she hears. There are as many songs in here, perhaps, as there are fingerprints. For this one here in the black sweater dress, it’s all drums, it may as well be all drums. She feels the drumming in her joints—in the connective tissue of her elbows, her knee ankle neck bones. She rattles like dry sticks with this rhythm, like dry sticks strung together and hung in the wind, she rattles. The hollow clack of her own desert bones by god she thinks these lights sure are flashing I need to get laid.
He hears mostly saxophone meanwhile. His eyes closed in brief solitude across from her he sees the starry starry night sky the sax is black honey slowly slowly down his arm and long leg muscles. He sees the night sky then her wispy bangs her brown brown eyes. Sky, eyes, sky, the honey through his legs he is ready for anything next really: for pancakes or kissing. Digging up sod even. His limbs full and curious. Whatever is next starry starry night sky her brown brown eyes, he reaches for her hand. Black honey.
You hear bells and quick like a cat you scurry under a truck and crouch there watching. Your elbows ready for anything. Watching. And there for all the world coming down the middle of the street with so many animals, can you believe it, yes, it is Santa Claus himself. In broad daylight. You crawl out from under the truck, oh blessed day, he’s looking right at you, he’s got something for you. You brush off your front and smile big at Santa like he’s your very own grandma with gingersnaps right out of the oven. He stands there with his bag closed, wants to know first if you’ve been good. You nod hard at him, oh, yes, so good this year, yes. He already knew that, so he reaches deep oh deep into his sack and hands you that van you’ve always wanted with the curtains and the roll-up awning and everything. He hands you a pre-approved mortgage and a safety net and a new lover. A stocking full of many-colored permissions. You can hardly speak, saying thank you thank you your throat so dry. Santa nods once, his eyes, indeed, twinkling. He shoulders his sack, and down the street with all those animals, you just watch him go, standing there with your nose running, dangling your van by one leg.
The moon. There she is. The grass wet so wet, and everybody sleeping. The rabbits even. But me. Awake with this steaming drink, on the toilet of all places, just thinking. Thinking about bright tall daisies and the dead beneath them. How if, like a moose, I were one day to simply fall down and stay there. To die just like that. To fall On The Earth. Yes.
Suppose if you will that our lives are like this: that no matter when we die we will land on earth, and not, say, on asphalt or carpet sixty-five stories above the ground under florescent lights. Imagine falling, when it’s time, or laying your own self gently down knee by knee and beginning, at the very instant of your finish, to nourish the soil. To contribute.
I imagine walking around eating shrubs all day, knowing that yes, one day, I too will be eaten. That worms and crows and every nary tiny hard worker will one day help disperse my good body just so. The rain soaking me into the soil, the earth so welcoming that I may aspire (could it be so) to become a fern. Or dare I say it. Cedar.
Now, beavers. What I want to know is do they ever take, say, ribs or femurs for building? I mean, why not? See. If we knew that we would fall on the earth, we could each of us prepare for death, right? We could talk about it. What kinds of seeds do you carry? I for one would have California poppy seeds sewn into the cuffs of my pants, into the brim of my hat. I would not wear synthetic fibers because that would be littering.
And I would have moods, I’m sure. One fine spring day I might put a sunflower seed in each shirt pocket, just in case. Or I might, in a warm rain, get naked and go into child’s pose right here between the carrots and the beets.
Four stems, one between each two toes.
A fountain reaching, falling over itself.
Ninety-five wooden spoons lined up just so on the grass.
Children with bells, round and round too fast to count.
One broken feather. One stone. A heap of cornmeal.
Candy, and lots of it.
One day flying over the wide wide green sea I found there in front of my eyes, yes I did, a lofty big cloud with terrible fringes, flying fierce in the wind. All the way around this thing jagged flaming banners razor sharp and snapping. Pulled up short out of reach and there I hovered. Circled I did then slowly up and over around and under this hungry wet cloud, avoiding its flagellates, checking it all out. Oops, unwitting bird beheaded there. I wringing my hands never seen anything like and I thought about all the many thousands of peaceful gatherings of condensation throughout all the many skies I have traveled. Now this writhing thrashing danger here dark grey nearly black in its core and I think, what I think, is this: that our cloud here is in pain. I will talk to this cloud, I simply will. So I wheel up as close as I dare and I shout from the very bottoms of my feet, I shout: Tell me! Tell me everything! Dead still there I watch: a slowing, yes, there is a slowing in the thrashing of this thing and I say, yes, just tell me all about it. And this cloud I’m not kidding inhales and rotates, coming round I suppose to get an eye or something aimed at my voice, meanwhile I stop breathing altogether myself. The cloud inhales some more, its very fringes pulling inward and I feel the wind rushing by my face, and then of course I am blown ass over teakettle 678 meters backwards by the storm, a wild rush of hail and sleet, I am battered all over stung my wings and bangs dripping, so now I’m breathing. That cloud in the distance pulsating, reds and oranges flashing through it. I need some help. The sun hot on my back drying me good, I throw open the hatch between my shoulder blades and I say to the everloving Sun above, I say, I’m too blessed little to do this by myself. I feel then, you know what I mean, fortified, like tall tall warm cedar but I can still fly, so I go back to that terrible cloud and I say, Listen. I say, I brought you some raisins. Which indeed I had, two big handfuls. I reach out to her with these I fly in close, she is pulsating, pinkening in the middle, still agitated but curious and I’m a big safe tree so I reach right into the tentacles and she reaches, I swear she is shy now, reaching two by two, takes and swallows raisin by raisin. Like good bugs climbing up through her translucent arms, each one is drawn deep inside. When my hands are empty, I bow to cloud and turn for home. I hear behind me, yes I do, one more big inhale, and then rain rain rain.
This dark morning our young daughter walked sleepy into our room.
She said first one thing and then another thing. She said:
When you have a dream
and when you have a pocket in your pajamas
then if someone gives you a present in your dream
when you wake up the present will be in your pocket.
She climbed into the bed between us and said the other thing. She said:
I’m sort of disappointed because
I had a dream and I was given two little presents
but when I woke up those presents
were not in my pajama pocket.
In this quiet breakfast hall
after morning meditation,
fumbling with eggshells, my fat digits
reaching for pineapple,
I am primate.
All of us. Hairy.
Waking up in here, thinking thoughts.
One more sip of this hot drink and I sit taller
I am Monkeyking on my big seat
I want pepper on my eggs, sooner
I want coffee hotter
from sexier beans, from more places.
And riper fruits. Bring them.
I don’t think I have a concussion. Walking just walking to the store I turned my head but I didn’t know I turned my head looking at those movie posters to see if that one is Coming Soon that one about the sex surrogate and then I saw the child with the ghosty big eyes on the poster for Les Miserables but I can’t pronounce anything in French and I want to know where I’ve seen that child before somewhere the way I’ve seen actors in the grocery store some vibrant ordinary person who was in a local play, say, and before I know it I might be greeting her like a dear old confidant but of course I was sitting in the dark with a hundred other people I forgot that time she poured her heart out it was from a script remember and that’s why she’s looking at me like hey I’m just trying to pick the right cheese here but this probably happens to her all the time and anyway I catch myself just before I hug her or something so the kid on the poster with the big ghosty eyes I walked right into a lamppost full speed as I said I was looking the other way so I whacked my temple hard right in that spot where they whack people in the movies to knock them out cold bounced off the lamppost which really it wasn’t a lamppost I just like saying that it’s so 1920s like I was suave in an overcoat and it was foggy but no clear as day in my Saturday clothes I slammed ingloriously into a No Parking sign on the way to buy a chicken. And one onion.
Questions I ask myself trudging ass uphill before dawn in the dumping ass cold rain
Q: Are your feet dry?
Q: Did you sleep indoors?
Q: Choose: brown or green?
Q: Did your wife have corn muffins right out of the oven ready when you got home last night and did your daughter butter a muffin for you and say close your eyes so that when you opened your eyes you would be so happy and surprised to find, right there next to a plate of steaming greens from the farm and beans, a dinner your very grandpa would love, did you open your eyes to find so glad a warm muffin buttered just so for you?
white ocean top
through storms yes and
trials, you came to me
arms flung wide, camellias in your
hair. we are both of us planets,
you said, spinning round each for each. so
show me something—one of your mountain ranges or
fishes. i tipped my hat, gave you a pink cake.
Whoever can bend
the thickest metal in the entire world
can brush my teeth.
Sometimes when the sky is orange pink red and there I am my body just sitting on a stump watching, sometimes then I can feel all the way down my legs connected. To something greater, one likes to say. To lava and ancient stone at the very least. Deep inside this good earth. A stillness I can only imagine but really can I? Think, I think to myself, two hundred seventy seven feet below my feet, say, I’m sitting here watching the sunset, right, but think down two hundred seventy seven feet, I tell myself. So I close my eyes even though that orange stripe right there, even though those godrays all shooting out behind that cloud there. I close my eyes and sink down down down. Stop like an elevator. Pressed quiet in solid stone, how quiet can I be? Down like this I want to hush myself enough for her secrets for the thrum there deep away from all the surface clatter. There I am in the stone my own blood of course rushing in my ears my own heart beating my mind a mouse racing round and round my hands stuck solid but trying anyway to reach for my smart phone and look up, say, earth cross-section, and make sure I’m not in molten rock or something. My own heart beating some more, all these ideas I think I have. In five or eleven years maybe I could calm the hell down enough to hear just this rock around me. I mean studies have shown. My pulse would slow, no? And the mind therewith. I would hear eventually the whisper, the inner life of the very earth herself. Mineral would spin for me like Grandma’s do the story of her own beginning, how she chose this neighborhood, the liquid days and the gradual cooling. The eventual, if she even thinks this way, appearance of, say, fish on her cooled and blooming surface. Oh, how leaves came to be! When I’ve quieted she would tell me, oh, the stories she would tell about the sun. His wild youth. His temper, and of course, through it all, his abiding love. I would be, by then, accustomed to the press of stone, the muscles of my arms contented like long-sleeping children, attuned at long last to the subtle warmth of the place, two hundred seventy seven feet down. Her heartbeat and mine, same same. And then one day, the Mother of all us monkeys would say, up with you! The sun is setting. Go see the pelicans, for chrissakes. And there I am again on my stump, little eyes open.
If we of this North refrain from escaping to some or other tropical clime (where coconuts, yes, but every day is the same, except well, monsoons) but if we do stay here through the dark and wet and dark some more and cold and wet (and many of us do stay) well, then we get not tan, not pineapple, but that quiet kind of coming to life that happens when people are indoors long enough together. Hot stews and music, perhaps. Someone brings out the paints and maybe piles and piles of cardboard. Tape. And surely then somebody makes muffins. If we stay. We read long long stories, and we can hear in whispers.
Like the midwinter dreams of bears. You can’t get such dreams in one night—they don’t come to those who jump on airplanes to go stay awake somewhere else. You have to stay for the dark. Then you have two lives: your bright green life, foraging and frolicking, catching salmon in good cold rivers, and your secret dark life, thrumming and musky, ripe with vision and new recipes.
We emerge from the dark so slowly, gripping our pale badges. Shocked by tulips.
quiet long night
warm under this and
that big quilt grandma made
her hands stitched to her heart’s
beating, her feet tapping, some silent music
she was just one whole person. fluid and
loving you through any tossing and turn on a
dime to face every wolf who showed. fierce, loving you.
I’ll tell you. Every dream you’ve ever had, Baba, the pictures are still in your mind. I have hundreds. Infinite. I don’t know how to choose what to tell you. The mind never dies, Baba. Even if you die, the mind doesn’t die. Because the soul, Baba. The soul is the battery of the mind.
Pretend we’re standing up and we have clothes on. We’re not in the bath. And I’m teaching you to play the flute.
I got the iPhone 11 finally. It sends and receives messages from the dead. You can set custom alert sounds, so a message from Mom sounds one way and then, well, if Gandhi or Mary Mother of Jesus gets back to you about that burning question, that sounds another way. Or, if you like, the phone (if that’s still what you want to call it), lights up green or blue, as the case may be.
Mostly I’ve used mine to talk with Mom, of course, but I’m sure I won’t be able to resist the temptation to cheat on philosophy tests. They released this technology in March, but really it’s still in Beta. Something’s not quite worked out with the Facetime feature. I tried to see Mom the other day and I got a swordfish. It was still her voice and all. This morning I tried again and I got, I think, footage of NYC pedestrians circa maybe 1920. They were all black and white, bundled up for the snow, and there was a horse, a milk delivery wagon. Shaggy horse.
But there’s Mom’s voice saying, “Tell me more about that little one of yours.”
So I say, “Well, yesterday she said this. She said, ‘My favorite animal is the sunset.’” I pause because Mom is cracking up, but then I say, “Mom, I’m thinking. I’m thinking I can steal that line. Because she doesn’t know how to write yet. Can I do that? What do you think?” Meanwhile the pedestrians keep crossing crossing the cold city street, the horse still stuck in traffic.
And Mom says, “I think all these things will just topple and stack. Topple and stack.” Then the horse is gone, the people fade to black. A bird’s nest appears. Empty of birds but two tiny blue eggs.
“Mom? Mom are you still there?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve been thinking about the wallpaper in the bedroom. Your father should steam that down, I think. Paint the room some nice color.”
I say, “We miss you a lot, you know, Mom?”
“Goldfish,” she says. And the screen goes black.
ambivalent, some of us. this grey raining place so green.
and the coffee. oh we need it. fair trade.
hot ground. yes. queers can marry now.
berries are free. we share salmon.
coffee though, as I was saying.
lifeblood. if I could climb
the tallest trees here.
daily. well then
Last night when I got home after dark, wet and coughing, again, I wanted to move to New Mexico. Or New Guinea. My wife said no. So. I started writing love poems instead.
I don’t know about you but when I book a plane ticket I think about which way the plane is going on the way out of Seattle. I turn subtly this way and that in my chair. Then I choose a window seat on what I think is the Mt. Rainier side of the plane. Do you do that? (And do you throw a quarter in the sound on the way to the airport?) Then on the way back, of course, I sit on the other side of the plane so I can be, as it were, welcomed home.
2. Folding parachutes.
3. Wonder why do.
4. Just folding parachutes here.
5. Bring hot drinks, will you?
6. When the rains come, we paint.
7. We paint, play, sing. Everything gets green.
8. Except, of course, deciduous trees. This far north.
9. Tropical, tropical, I’ve got a Sharpie. Roll over, baby.
10. Your arms. Your legs. This belly. I want to draw.
She’s Jewish and he’s Christmas. It’s a good marriage mostly. He’s had to learn certain songs and, of course, to eat strange foods at prescribed times of year. She’s excused him from the porous fish in a jar, and he’s grateful. For her part, there’s that disquiet still whenever he chops down a perfectly healthy tree and hauls it into their living room. She really doesn’t get that. Next year, she thinks, I’ll step in and buy a sapling in a pot. We’ll decorate it gently and plant it in the backyard after. Every year, she thinks. If we stay together we’ll have a goddamn evergreen forest for our grandkids.
11: This grain of rice in my palm. Never has exactly this.
121: Overhead. Enormous white white bird, legs folded under. She is long-necked and going somewhere. Fast. Hunter of fish, perhaps, with one of those names: Great or Blue or something. Snowy. A celebrity bird flying right over my own head. No mere gull. No crow. Somebody with a wingspan that humbles the rest of us. So. This bird way up high and I think, man, if I could hold that animal. I mean if she looks still that big to me from this far away. Then. If she were caught in a net or something. If I tried to gather her in my arms like a thrashing clammy child, all hinging long legs and frantic. Feathers sharp. I don’t think I could.
2: Bring pie.
3: Yield to reason.
4: Merry. Be so ever.
5: When yonder heart breaks, gather.
6: One potato. Roll down the hill.
7: Heavy rain. Stay in bed. Read, read.
8: Oh, ho, for the life of a goose.
9: I was serious once, oh yes. I need string.
10: And tape and boxes and wire and you: hold this.
1. When I eat an orange, I
a) plan ahead for getting my hands clean after.
b) give no thought to the future.
c) swell up and itch.
2. When I see a bit of rope on the ground, I
a) check twice to make sure it’s not a snake, then check a third time, to make extra sure, pulse racing.
b) pocket it for later.
c) walk right by.
3. When I’m walking and I see a car the same make model color as mine, I
a) watch carefully, just for a second, to see if that’s me driving.
b) don’t do that.
c) remember ex-girlfriends, wonder about my life.
4. When the clerk is waiting right there and people are behind me looking up at the bright shiny menu and I can feel their impatience on my back like steam from the dishwasher, I
a) order something fast, something I don’t really want.
b) take my time.
c) don’t buy food in public.
5. Do you ever walk into a room and know exactly what you went in there for?
a) depends who wants to know
b) once when I was seven, I came inside for a band-aid
Score 3 points for each (a), 2 for each (b), and 1 for each (c). Also 1 point for each time you wished for (d) none of the above. Score 5 points if you missed your mom, 3 if you remembered an old friend. Add up the points. If your score is a whole number, you are unique in the wide world: shiny and good.
Once on a long planet ago pages and pages spread in the shining sun rolling overhills and so upp upp upp we climbed, isn’t it? Tired oh tired eyes this place bright like butter. Climbing yes oh that birdlet remember shat on my wrist I had to stop and pray. You stacked the rocks for me, upp and upp. One time over over the hills this too the broth spilled from my brother’s cup and there I go again the way of old. If you’re lucky milk a goat on the way. I take my flight of you now.
Psst. The grey-haired canteen attendant sweeps me in off the sidewalk. Tea, he says when I get to the door. He is not asking. Shows me where to sit. He’s watched me walking by here when the math department is still padlocked, maybe. He has kind eyes and knows I need a place to be. Saw me ejected, perhaps, from the library across the street. Brings a little glass of milky tea and I know he’ll swat me like a fly if I try to refuse it. Holds my gaze and makes this table mine. He picks up my mechanical pencil and plays with it. There’s only that one word we both know, but he’s my Grandpa now. I’m sitting here writing about him, he’s serving tin plates of hot food, and this, I think, at long last: welcome to campus. He takes my empty cup but gestures for me to stay.
Once upon a time a tall tall maiden with flaxen locks all the way down her long long back, she lived in a kingdom of sparse trees, rolling rolling hills. A tree here, a tree there but space oh space between and nobody but sheep here and there. Oh, the good sunsets. Once she was of course riding her horse. And this one long day almost home from flaxen locks blowing behind her: lo, ragged boy asleep under a bush. Our maiden dismounts quick and wakes the boy with a toe.
Turns out of course he is seeking the long-forgotten golden dragon egg potion in these good hills. Off they go. One, two, one, two. The ice storm, the nine bandits, all the usual. Courage. Both transformed ever so. She listened good atop crumbling cliff: how he likes boys and all. He breathed good in the vapor cave she’s shown no one else. So.
At long last, the golden dragon-egg potion is delivered to the boy’s ailing mother on the distant shore. The mother squints at the tall maiden. Have I died? This white robed figure the cascading curls the smell of a grand horse. They touch the mother’s hot head, girl and boy both. She closes her big eyes.
We build them, don’t we? For shelter, or for the simple act of demarcation. You could step right over this, but now we both know it’s my yard. There are good colorful toys for wall-building: they click into place just so. There’s sloppy mortar too, bricks of all kinds or stones of all sizes puzzled together, make some of us very happy like here we are just like our ancestors with all that patience. Walls of dung, yes? Walls made of tires, of rice paper, of corrugated cardboard with exacto little window flaps. Tiny sand walls with fingerprints all the way around the moat. And of course, those framed first with twobyfours, yes, yes, sheetrock.
We build walls of dirty dishes sometimes, broken promises. The wall between this boy and this girl, they didn’t know. They just didn’t see each harsh word dripping and hardening over the last. All those flowers. Still.
And this one here between father and son. The things said, the things unsaid, over the years. And now, well, what can be done about it? The tide might come in. The father’s chest, at this age, might rise with one good breath. He might take the blade in his hand, extend the knife’s handle to his son, say, you carve this year. Later the father might say, I know a good place to get those shoes of yours shined. Or better yet, wait. That kit’s here somewhere. The soft brush with the wooden handle. Remember? When you were a boy I’d let you brush after I rubbed the polish in. That’s when I wore boots every day. Now these goddamn white walking shoes. I feel like a nurse. Yes, I remember, the son might say. Mom would get mad at you when my fingers were blackened. Oh, says the father, you can’t keep your hands clean polishing boots now, can you?
Oh, yeah, we were all over each other in the beginning. A thousand tangled Saturdays. Remember? But eventually, like everybody, we’d fall asleep having talked of money and yardwork. Or mad. Still though, sailing in the same craft, finding each other in the night or across the big party. Hours on that white couch.
Then something happened, not that we didn’t see it coming. Your belly, oh, your belly grew. I took your feet in my hands every day, least I could do. And one day one day there she was, alive and wiggling. Her head gray with afterbirth and everything was different.
She was all over us in the beginning. We wrapped her on like Africans. Slept between us, that one, in a little foam boat. One day, of course, she climbed off my lap and ran through the yard, shouting no, no, no. We gave our bodies, sleep and all, to grow this confidence. She has a lot to say.
Best thing just happened.
Writing in my sleep. You there
Warm. Dreaming. Pancakes.
If we had an entire bowl of acorns, we could throw them, one by one, at poverty. And be patient. Some will land on soft enough ground. Then. All those big oak trees right up in the middle of everything. Kids might climb, for sure they would. Look around, around. Oh, the distances! This kid here the skinny one way high up, she sees the shining art school. What else, mighty oaks? Might whisper stout dreams to poverty. Somebody will think to make furniture. Someone will notice all the new birds. We don’t have to know how everything works.
Sister mermaids picked these apples, don’t you know. Now, papa mermaid, this is how we cook in our language. Like this. Put them here in the pot. (Papa thinking oh how clever I am to have brought home, as bath toy present, pingpong balls. Oh, rare parenting genius moment.) And stay still! You grip my head. I have to organize your hair now. We shampoo each other. Baba, don’t pour water in my ears the way I poured water in your ears, okay? Then wrapped in bright towels you reach out for jelly toast, milk. We are clean. Amen.
The smell of onions. Meanwhile, somebody walking again upstairs, somebody checking the mail. Might flush or something and we’ll hear it. That’s how it is in the city, this strange intimacy. So many animals in so many boxes, stacked like shoes, row upon row. Countless and reaching. Eight and a half, or seven. Blue or brown, maybe laces, depending who you are. Oblivious or wondering. Here we are, then. Leaping with faith. The Catholic family with the loud music, the little janitor from Pakistan. And you with the hip furniture, the handmade vodka. Throw pillows. The phone keeps ringing.
Newspapers on the early early boat, and I say, people, that is no way to start the day. Just saying. Start maybe with little doses of beauty. A little oxygen in the blood, a little birdsong. Fragrant hot drink. Later, further from the dreamtime, if you must, after a little food, take in the ills of the world. Or not. No train will leave without you. Have a muffin. And look, the oranges and the pinks, above the snowy mountains so early for chrissakes. And there. Way way up high: V in the sky. How do they do that?