Used to walk by say how are you, then you answer and legs might wonder why aren’t we moving? Or you nod, say fine. Everybody keep going. Anybody listening? Now this status thing. How are you, what can you see from there? Exactly when you feel like saying, like telling everysinglebody this is how it is for me. Five hundred people might be listening, sitting still, in fact, in a glowing place. And one person or eleven might click at you, might have something to say. Weird oh weird this new world. We like it, we wary, we wonder.
On the dogdamn soaking wet full of people bus in the rain cold. Did I mention? Stormy dark out. I live in this glorious green green love it here place. Oh, the tall snowy mountains. We leap and point at the orcas, we read good books. The coffee, oh yeah. But indeed, cold cold water falls from the sky sometimes a lot right on your head; we just walk under it chuckling to each other sniffling growing vegetables still home off the bus going to work. The children, oh the children everywhere in their smart strollers. They’re wet too.
This is about two things.
1) the eye.
Pelican dives to the glint beneath the surface of the water. Hawk, her vision attuned to the least movement in the grass below, but a particular kind of movement, the way small mammals move, so different from grasses in the wind.
Now me. The old farmers training my eye to quack grass rhizomes. Quick and tough, it threatens the winter cabbage, the purple sprouting broccoli, the late kale. You have to sift through the soil with your fingers. Deeper. See, here. These long Chinese noodles. My eye learns just that shape. Before long, I can feel triumph. We show each other our longest trophies. So it is. My mind, both unruly and obedient, stands ready to be told what’s important. I learn to see things that didn’t used to be there. Yesterday, it was the late model Westfalia. Today, it’s this bad grass.
The world just opens and opens.
2) the grass itself.
This smart grass that lives all over the country at once. We pull it up from our beds and lay it out in the middle of the gravel driveway where it can’t get to the soil. We dry it in the sun and drive over it. It hasn’t adapted itself to survive this idea. Yet. Our job, farmers with thumbs and trained eyes, is to think one step ahead of plants—to learn their needs and ways, to work for or against them. The ones we call weeds, however lovely, we follow to the bottoms of their roots. It’s a kind of loving, as all deep knowing of another is. Ultimately, we’re killing everything—what we grow and eat and what we throw in the driveway.
Meanwhile, there’s nothing we can do out there to stop life. It keeps coming, and that’s what makes our work so everyday.
All of us, admit it, want to get saved. Saved by cocoa, somehow, by enough good sex or the long-awaited arrival of this deathly sweet new baby. Am I doing it right? Enough? Does Jesus Mama Allah Lala love me forever? Exactly like this. I mean exactly exactly like this, even if I don’t trim my toenails write a novel clean the kitchen? I will, I will, we say at least annually, improve. I will make that thing finally, hang that shelf, apologize. That closet, I don’t even know where to start. And if really I want only two feet on yonder pillow, this good long story in my two warm hands, will you love me? If I stay all day right here? If I want pizza and cookies only today and I eat pizza and cookies only, not even eight eight-ounce glasses of water, no broccoli, no fish oils whatsoever—just suppose—and and I sleep till eleven? Make a pile of all the things that have worried me, douse them with a medicinal amount of lighter fluid and throw a match. Oh, I feel that in my thighs, don’t you? Gone, gone, gone. I have to hold back from breathing up the smoke. And you there watching through the window, I check your eyebrows carefully. Ah, you are smiling. Wishing me well.
Driving home from some good thing I saw a big snowy big mountain, tall and gleaming, indeed, inside my own chest. Ah! At long last and always as they say under my nose: no separation. That’s me and I’m it and I’m everything else too, every dolphin and drunk, every pine needle. We are all every one of us everything at all breathing just like that the crusty snow moving imperceptibly up and down with the rise and fall of my personal breath. My hands all tingly and vast on the steering wheel like oh, hot chocolate the dark kind without milk running through my veins at the same time rivers of course surging toward the ocean, also me. I thought, oh, I-not-I am enlightened onceandforall, in good company: Buddha, John the Tasmanian, Teresa. Oh, the rapture. The Oneness. How things will be different. The light around my head and even the ex-girlfriends will like me. I’ll write books or just sit so happy in a field of blue blue flowers the sky spreading orange in the distance where the endless water is and I could just sail to India on mere thought, the big warm bespangled elephants there would wink at me in glad recognition. Shit. I missed my exit.
Never knew about this place. Birdsong escort. Oranges and grapes at hip level everywhere. Free bicycles. And no matter which door you knock on there’s Grandma baking your favorite thing. Maybe. Just one side of the street.
Grandma’s baking, she’s made hot decent coffee, wants to hear all about it. Grandpa’s bluegrass in the basement, fixing broken things. One side of the street. All the Grandmas and Grandpas with their sundry twitches and gifts, they just stay calm no matter what, always happy to see you even if you just don’t want to talk about it. Sit here, dear, read a novel. We are just so proud of you. Knitting nearby and Grandpa builds a fire. Opens the door to get more wood and the chill blast makes you grateful all over again, you snug down and sink deep into story like you’ll just always be loved.
On the other side of the street, not grandparents, no, but some delight behind each door. Here, a new lover. Here, that wacky filmmaker who likes when you pretend to fall: off the stump, off the trampoline, you roll and laugh. Behind the blue door the hippies with the always-painting child. Green in her hair, she offers you a brush when you arrive. And this one, the maroon house, with nobody at all inside but three big hot tubs on the deck, snowy peaks in the distance, vaulting blue sky. Stacks of white white towels.
No. Like this. The grandparents are interspersed with the other houses, and who’s behind which door changes day to day. Always that perfect kind of surprise the kind where you didn’t even know what you needed next but here it is.
There’s a big crashing beautiful warm beach, of course. I get out of the water, finally. Walk, salt-thrashed and grinning, back up to the neighborhood. Slowly. Knock on the pink door. Oh, yeah. The sassy girl with the sailboat. Hold this picnic, she says. I want to show you some islands. Thick towels on board, thick steaks. Man this rope, she says. The sun on me like new paint. I want wind.
Water, stuck blue in glacier, lifts her chest to sun, becomes river.
River flows hard down mountain, flows to ocean,
Ocean rocks and rocks, sprays herself silly.
Offers herself up, head bowed.
Cloud. Cloud grows heavy. Wants to give.
Rain fills river.
But water wants more.
Seeps into soil, comes up dressed as lettuce.
Seduces nearby rabbit.
Water is tomatoes, plums, oranges.
Wants to run down your chin. Melt in your vodka tonic, wants to break out as sweat. Water wants to spill over the rims of your sweet big eyes, run hot down till you feel strangely better.
Water wants to stand up. She spills down down the mountain again grows up tall now finally as a whole big grove of aspens. Roots reaching pushing through good cold earth. Tall and swaying together, those trees. Leaves rustling like that. Can’t get this feeling as river, no.
Water wants to walk around. She wants to feel the heft of that favorite brush in your hand. The thrilling smell of paint and the sweet hard clutch in your stomach when the red first first swirls into yellow. Water wants the music too loud. Wants to feel the beat in her blood, rock her hips. She wants ink on her fingertips. Wants skin on skin, fur on fur, currents underwing. Wants to hold a baby.
Water wants you to rub harder, oh, right there. She wants to trudge up the hill with her sled again, oh the icy wind scared she might run into the tree at the bottom. Water grows feathers, pierces the shell with her tiny beak. She wears down rock over centuries, then drives her dirty white Westy all the way to Arizona. Marvels at her own crazy power.
Talk to water.
She doesn’t like plastic.
Water wants your heart.
Big meadow tall grass. Long tall grasses. I am crossing. Slowly, so slowly toward the forest. There! A fox rustles up quick and runs. Scared out of the grass. Fox runs short. Stops. Turns. Stares. I am flat in the grass breathing. And there! Young deer. Spots on her back, quiet. Me unmoving, belly down, grass smashed flat. Deer walks. Walks ever more toward me. Doesn’t stop: inches! I keep still still. She keeps coming. Oh! Fox too right here. Belly down and they both animals bend down and touch their noses oh . . . gently to my head, one, two. Somehow I have the presence of mind to take a good long breath. Thank you, Jesus. Deer walks off without looking back. Fox follows. Leaps. Tears into her backside. Red muscle, white bone, I hear fox mouth. And I wonder. How slowly she must be dying, the wound at such a distance from her heart.
Once upon a time in a land far far away I don’ t know what happened but I’ll tell you this. The apples there, golden, golden, and the soil blacker than coal. So the miller’s daughter one day climbed one of those apple trees reaching for the goldest gold one there, and she, well, she fell with a dead branch in her hand. Thing is, she died. But the dead branch stuck solid in the coal black ground and believe it, believe it, there today grows a tree with even golden better apples just like I said.
I’ll write all the time and never scold myself. When I grow up I’ll care less and less what anyone thinks of me. That will mean painting. That will mean singing. Stretching and yawning. Wearing so many colors. Or none.
When I grow up, you’ll know me better. I’ll be quieter and I’ll share more. When I grow up I won’t slump or lean, and I’ll sleep soundly. I won’t look at the tags on things anymore. I’ll just look at the things themselves. I’ll be unflappable.
Worry about almost nothing at all and celebrate almost everything whatsoever. When I grow up, this and that won’t hurt anymore. When nothing hurts anymore, I’ll probably die and that will be okay with me.
When I grow up, children will climb my limbs, like they do now. I’ll let people read what I write. I’ll walk tall into rooms, and out of rooms. I won’t yell anymore. When I grow up I’ll be an astronaut, or course, like everybody else. A firefighter. Peacemaker. Planter of seeds.
I’ll meet you where you are. I’ll love you just like that.
On joining facebook, after all these years . . .
I’ve heard about this place. And I wonder. What do I have to say to everyone I’ve ever known? Maybe you were my student. Teacher. Uncle. Maybe we shared that heady day, all of us against the war and tingling. I might be that drunk you knew in Colorado. You might have worn a plaid jumper, too, in Dayton, Ohio. The communion and the basketball, remember? Were we philosophers once upon a time? We studied side by side, perhaps. Pizza every Friday. That train we rode. That one where we stayed up late and marveled at shining old things like they were new, ours forever finally?
What can I post for you? Honest. Why do you care? And I think (math teacher): lowest common denominator. Not you personally, of course. You, I’m sure, are a very important number. 56 or something. A cube within and interesting, with a seven and all. But maybe you’re just that art history professor I met at the meditation retreat that one time. You noticed that I too need arch support, friended me. Who am I to say no? You’re probably perfectly brilliant. Okay, then. My vacation photos.
Or we hiked together, remember? The dry dry trail and that stick you thought was a snake and I jumped too. Maybe you’re my sister. Maybe we ditched Chemistry together. Maybe you were married to me. And you, oh yes, you. We were in Africa together. What are you up to now? I live on an island, pull ivy out of the forest, stack blocks. Learning to grow vegetables, working with teenagers, doing my best. Are you still with that Beauty from Detroit? Indeed. I’m a Dad, finally, and that is everything. Writing still. Taking a boat to work (this very minute), in love after ten years. How are your parents?
But really. What can I say to everyone? Went to a ballgame. You might have something to say about that. Or you might just like it. We can’t really spend our days this way, can we? I don’t even like the phone. I can’t see your eyes!
Maybe this, then: I give you my best.
What happens if I get up early enough? Before the yard lights up, before the heat comes on, before anybody in my little family knows the day. I might ask questions. What happens if I find the edge with my toes and leap? What is the brave thing I’m not doing—can I find it if I’m quiet enough? I might think about emergency preparedness this early in the morning. What if the facts come tumbling down on us? I haven’t fastened this tall bookcase to the wall, and it will all be my fault. I might have fatherly thoughts this early and more thoughts because it’s too early to drill anything or climb on ladders I might wake them up. I might think: what if we could fix everything with the one right change? The right move, the right house, the right job, neighborhood, health insurance company, marriage counselor, preschool, waterproof shoes. I might check my email early in the morning with that weird kind of expectation that some surprise will pop—something I haven’t thought of that will turn things around and we’ll say, “wow, who ever thought we would end up here!” That weird kind of looking for something that can’t be googled, something that comes to you, and it’s that kind of looking that makes you breathe different for just a minute and then you look and there’s nothing new and you keep going as before.
And what happens if everything is okay? I mean really. What if there’s nothing wrong and life just is this. This borrowed rug, this new lightbulb, this pile of things to be folded and put away, your bright eyes? We’re not waiting, there’s no decision to be made, no revelation around the next bend, there’s just this. You on your way down the stairs, me, thinking about socks and more coffee. We’re already here.
Here, in the void, there are lots of churches. Big stone lofty big churches. Gargoyles. In the void there are punks begging for change on the street. One word in front of another. There’s silverware clattering somewhere, cigarette butts. Here in the void, what birds. What cloud vaulted, and a photographer present. Sycamore watching. Here in the void the blue buzz of my body very still and how it is to be here. This. The chairs stacked and unstacked, professors lying on the floor. Here in the void the grass is striped, the physicist wears a sweater. Here in the void fourteen ideas and nothing’s happened yet. The rise and fall of sun, breath. I could clean the windows of skyscrapers. I could be someone else. Here in the void, a legal pad, floorboards, parallel like nothing could ever go wrong. Here in the dark, lovely, and five hundred ways to swing two feet around and down to the floor. Make a life. I wonder suddenly how many zippers in the room. Bags, pants, sofa cushions. And what if books had zippers? What if minds? This is what happens sometimes, in the void. I could ask for the impossible and change my mind. Bubbles rise to the surface and we want to know: who’s down there? Here in the void, the bacon is very thinly sliced. The toaster huge and never stops. Here. The books watching. Very tiny birds, a thousand miracles a minute. Blades of grass growing. Buttons buttoned. I don’t know what will happen.
Ink on the smoothed pulp of giants swaying in the wind, green. And how do I reconcile life when I am modern? I need a hot stimulating beverage, this slight headache, up late working, packing–all privilege, but anyway, my coffee. This drink handed over in two nested thick cardboard cups cause it’s so hot, and what will come of us? The planet already belching and rolling. We try to hold on. We’re sorry, we didn’t mean it, somehow—we didn’t know how to say we. There: innocent in corduroys with one wheeled bag, a sweaty boarding pass, I just wanted to wake up. A dollar fifty eight and he gave me two cups. Two cups and a plastic lid and the airport doesn’t recycle enough. Nobody does. Then the beans, the land, the chemicals, the people—what do I know about rippling effects? I’m flying and driving and flying and driving to see people I love and how can love be dangerous? Infrastructure. Superstructure. The TV’s on in the airport. We know already in Seattle, the viaduct will fall down. The earth will shake it down. We drive up there mapping traffic patterns in our little urban heads—we are headed to a lake up north to throw bread with nice Jewish people in white. We’re getting ready for atonement. We’re talking about dinner. How does all this add up to bad air and dead in Bagdad? We want to blame the Hummers. And all those shiny huge SUVs with flags and Bush stickers—they’re the ones the planet’s mad at. Me and my friends, we don’t have flags. We’re going to feed the ducks. I want to say: I was born here. I would have listened to Indians. I carry a sturdy water bottle and shop at thrift stores. Apologize all day long.
Maybe you were walking once and that same damn sky blue pickup drove past, you were just walking down this street, no sidewalks, dodging puddles, looking at the clouds at your feet, the trees the sky the clouds deep down under the street in these still puddles, your hands jammed tight in your pockets and that same pickup, your grandpa in your head, his truck. Brake lights at the corner and the puddles are still still, the sky is still there. And you haven’t been the same ever. Once.
Maybe once you were thinking about Manzanita and there she was around the next corner. You wanted nothing but coffee and you had this dumbass appointment you were late to but when you got there the lady smiled said we’re behind schedule would you care for some coffee or something? Smiled.
Maybe once you didn’t even know you needed shoes already on your feet walked through glass didn’t thank god didn’t wonder that time about who doesn’t, what if, why’s there glass on the streets busy clicking a cherry lozenge against your teeth that song in your head.
Maybe once you were hiking and you got through the forest up the rocks to the edge and there was the ocean before you could even catch your breath a whale surfaced to exhale and you could have believed those really were blown diamonds in the sun you knew you’d chosen this planet on purpose.
Maybe once you were just passing through some dumb town and it happened that day, no way, free concert in the park your favorite folk singer from college.
Maybe your tire was flat that time you walked instead and the smallest bird you ever saw landed on the branch of a very short tree I’m not kidding thirteen inches from your eyes.
Maybe you were pissed all morning didn’t even know why hated even the sunny day the innocent smokers out the coffeehouse window the confident palm trees across the street you wanted to break chairs. Finished your stupid coffee went to the bathroom with the noisy broken fan and there someone really had pissed fully all over the seat all over the floor—dark yellow and pooled in the corner sticky on the bottom of your sneakers. You washed your hands and what a gorgeous day it was. What’s that music they’re playing?
When you know how to listen, everybody is the guru. –Ram Dass
When I know how to listen, I can land solidly suddenly in a swirl of bird calls. Full song inside outside, same same. It’s me, not-me, inside out and that’s what peace sounds like. Peace looks like going into a thrift store and finding a really cool shirt somebody loved before me and before him too. Knowing what a privilege it is to get to love and wear this shirt some hearts have beat in already. Maybe somebody won a chess game in this shirt. Maybe somebody died, made love, held a baby in this shirt. And who before him and what possibly small brown hands made this shirt, and who filled the gap? These hands holding the fabric careful under one of hundreds of needles in a gaping hot room full of women with little brothers outside somewhere, this one with the hands who sewed this shirt, her little brother knows how to make tiny animals out of mud. He doesn’t kill mosquitoes anymore. And what love went into choosing this shirt for this rack instead of the dumpster—this shirt qualified to help raise money for the American Cancer Society, and who grew the cotton? Who picked the cotton? Who all died and fertilized the soil that grew this cotton and how many journeys across sea across land were made? Cotton to thread, thread to fabric, fabric to dye, dye to sew, shirt to wholesale, wholesale to retail, who hung it on the plastic hanger once and shot it through with tags? Who paid the price took the shirt home in a bag made from what dinosaur’s body and who else’s clothes tumbled with this shirt’s first journey round and round the family’s washer tub made from steel forged from earth dug from deep by whose hands where and then finally a heart beating clean inside this shirt for the first time and the second third fourth in ongoing cycles through that guy’s days—chest to floor to washer, dryer, drawer. Chest. Did he keep cigarettes in this pocket or pens? And what will happen to me the first time I wear this? One of many shirts with many histories and maybe on any given day I’m wearing all six degrees of separation to the whole rest of the world. For all I know the sweet woman who let me in front of her in the grocery line today, maybe she’s got a kidney from someone whose Grandmother’s next door neighbor’s brother designed the trademark on the label of these vintage corduroys. People’s hands all over everything and anyway I want to meet the cow who made this lunch. Let’s talk about world peace at the church rummage sale because for all I know the president and I have a lot in common. For all I know I’ve missed important funerals. For all I know, you and I are fifth cousins three shirts removed and I don’t even know your name. For all I know I’ve got Arab blood and a Japanese man saved my Grandpa’s life once. All that and then there’s whales—underwater so much and like all mammals they breathe air. Surfacing like a new island, she sprays breath over the surface of the planet, the sun soaks it up, rains it down on my head and yours and Saddam Hussein’s. Whose old clothes are you wearing? Whose wearing your old clothes?
Maybe you don’t remember but maybe what happened was you saw a flock of birds. A flock of blackbirds rising at once from a picked-over rice field, straight up and a quick right all together you almost ran your car off the road. A piece of your brain tore itself away like a limb of starfish, locked itself up in a room. Locked itself in with an abacus and a roll of masking tape. Wouldn’t accept food or company, wouldn’t listen to reason. Opened the door quick for a tin of coffee once, slammed shut ever since. You’ve given up. Went to an aquarium one time, a school of sardines flashed you and the door got hot. No answer. What I’m talking about is how you think you know who you are. How you think there’s a you, not me, not Charlie. You and your abacus. Charlie and his albatross. What I’m talking about is teaching the bird to count. What I’m talking about is there’s no such thing as a bird. Read the dictionary, man. Look at the flock landed on a telephone wire: more evenly spaced than even space. Now look in the mirror in the dark. That’s what I’m talking about. I’m supposed to be me and you you and strangers silent. Then a school of sardines comes along flashing their harmony like that, and what do you do with that? School. Fish. Stranger. Everyone’s dazzled when jets fly in formation when chorus girls kick like one sexy centipede. But the birds: there’s no training, the fish are not cooperating. It’s us making up these plural count nouns for clouds of breathing ink, for water showing its colors. Life by any other name. Maybe I don’t know anything about you but I watched a flock of birds one time. birds. ink. air. cloud. rice. time. I haven’t been the same since. I. I don’t know anything anymore. I like people better, somehow, fingers and toes, tall corn plants standing next to me, our roots interlaced our arms rustling together in the wind. And how the sun glints off your silky top: now I know what it looks like, the warmth on my head.
Maybe I don’t know your name but maybe I wish you the best anyway. Every day, a new pancreas, each of us, and generating new skin all the time. So maybe I don’t know your name but maybe you breathed in a molecule of skin I was done with and maybe that absorbed into your bloodstream and became part of you and maybe I forget how that sort of thing happens all the time we’re all the same atoms spinning through everything and that’s why I don’t say hi to people walking towards me on the sidewalk. Maybe I forget and that’s why I avert my eyes and bustle about my business like a good American like everybody else.
But I mean it. What if there in the air between us we don’t even know it but you’ve got part of me now and I’m partly you. We’re breathing the same air and letting our whole selves go—bit by bit all day: a new pancreas every 24 hours, a whole new body every seven years—so maybe you sneezed then, a mote of my skin in your nose, and you sneezed. Now what’s possible? That moisture rocketed through the air we’re all breathing and a drop landed on the bark of a tree. A cell of the moss growing there absorbed the drop, a molecule that was you, one that was me, some old rain that ended up in the soda you drank that day. So there’s you and me in the moss. And maybe there’s a strong wind some butterfly somewhere flapped her wing and there’s a storm and this shallow-rooted tree you sneezed on comes crashing to the ground and the moss gets pressed into the earth and decays and we become soil together there. And that soil nourishes a trumpet vine and the molecule that was my skin nuzzles up against a bit of chlorophyll in a cell in the stem and you luck out and end up in the bottom of a blossom and a hummingbird comes and sucks up what was some of you and now you get to fly.
You see the whole neighborhood quick like that and then some. you didn’t even know there was so much trumpet vine in the world, and then you get a tour of the hummingbird’s insides, then you’re shit on the sidewalk in front of McDonald’s and there you are. A Vietnam vet comes by and you end up on the bottom of his shoe. He’s on his way to the beach, you’re both hitchhiking till he meets a woman who really needs these shoes and she doesn’t even know about you, you get washed up on a rock in the middle of a puddle in a vacant lot right at the edges of this prosperous country. The sun shines hard, and you evaporate–you didn’t even know how big clouds could be how far they travel on the wind and suddenly you’re raining over the Middle East somewhere and who will you be next?
I said I can’t stand to leave for the bus in the dark before you’re up and then the whole new day unfolds and there you are, learning to crawl or whatever you’re doing, while I’m busy with dreadfully important things like the opposite angles of parallelograms. By the time I catch the afternoon bus you will have grown and smiled at 72 new things. I’ll get home and say tell me about your day and you’ll slobber on my shirt. Excellent.
India, listen. They’re going to tell you there are so many things wrong with this world. They’re going to wonder why you like it here. I want you to know, you are right in your joy. Don’t worry about these things. Yes, poverty and war. Yes, recession and disease and the planet heating up. But you were born among a thousand shades of green, and I love you. You were born in a city of light.