[Written during my first semester back at college in 2008, after my father died and I was enrolled in numerous courses about death and dying, this long poem or confessional was the earliest step in the writing project, FOR NOW (an experiment with “direct address” on the verge of poetry and philosophy). As a piece alone, it is extremely personal, tracing my struggle to find myself and my voice after my parents died. It includes memories of them, projections of hopes, dream sequences, poems, short stories, exhaustions, notes on faith and loss, skeptical inner monologues, prayers to strange gods and also some nonsense. JOIE CHRONOLOGIQUE is dedicated to my parents. See the end for Table of Contents.]
For my parents
Jim and Nancy Lavenz
On the shovel moving dirt in the sandy backyard, replacing it with fresh top-soil and peat moss and laying down a root system foreign to the human hands that root them—no tool, no valuable, no object, but the poetic word fully foliage, core upside down in the empty ground, a space there too, hopes of longevity, the developed system. Dead is the developer and lively the participant, caring for emptiness and the system.
Hands on my shoulders,
hands that cared to dig.
Hands that did.
Hands crusted over for ages,
soaking in one skill.
Hands to transfer this…
Poor dead sparrow, resting on the palm of my memory, only touched, the hands unsinging.
On a world-horizon, reaching, slowly–
White cross stuck
in the frozen
No one’s here anymore.
I survey the cabin of my machine: the back seats are turned down where an angel sleeps. Poor child, horrible welts on her side, her eyes tearing up. It’s bloody on her scalp and there’s hair twisted around the brown crust of her disfigured ear. She is thin, and it’s evident she is young or even unborn. Her presence is electrifying, incapacitating. I need soapy water and a rag. Every syllable is a mystery to her. I’m screaming to be delivered but the cabin is a cacophony and she’s amplifying the echoes. I can’t yet tell her apart from the words I’m shouting. Deliver. Or the words… is she shouting them?
A red hue comes but not from the sun. She’s become a blinding crimson and is everywhere. She’s a root system, tree itself. I’m starting to see it all quite clearly: she’s the one offering the dead sparrow, not me. She’s the whisper and I’m the dream.
Worlds fit together irreverently but that’s the duty of believing.
She’s not there yet, but I can tell there’s a small growth. My reservoir’s in the back of murky. Found out about alphabets once the tides came in and shuffled the silt. If I knew more of the secrets of history, were I more ready to womb, I might. A little travel never kept me from home. Easier an escape would’ve been. The dialect is not cultural, out here on the road. I’ll assume these notes are an auction in subjective real estate.
Angel that has in this night come, little sleeper foreign to the adaptation I’m running, should I pull from the past that final moment of glass hitting glass? Or would that lead me to pre-fabricated Meditations? I couldn’t take it if I up and started faking it. —Lyric Identity in the Sky, come down! You’re loose and have been for an extreme amount of time amid the raucous lids banging. —But am I even there to think about what to this time the outside has bringed?
Interruption on the wing comes from the window. A dream filled with water, with her there to say, in a quiet face, “Turn up or turn down, time takes care to stay.” She wants me to tune into the world, closer, where our romance lives and does not become vital. I raise my hands in rapture in that world. The silly girl tickles the air beyond my finger-tips auspiciously, waves crash over the height of every distance. When I turn to her, she doesn’t want me there. Water of her womb still all around me, I am buoy. Wanting to live back when hair wasn’t, younger than any boy could be.
This is as if trying to reconcile empty pits with air—the “I” won’t once understand.
But swoop and something will come. Water will come through the window to wash. End with the comma. Only the eye, the mode of seeing, is injured. New eyes in a style of generation suited specifically for angels, come down to earth to sing, embark. I thank them endlessly for not keeping their alphabet from us, for offering up so many. She’ll thank them through me: it will come as these messages. What a precious thing it is, how they speak through them one together. Narrative reaches for it; ill, time is thanked for it. We should take more care for the alphabet, then. Yet symbols take caution in thawing, unhinging, themselves.
My house—the sky blue one from my memories—had a particular white sheen inside. Whatever was outside the house was projected: the fifty trees my father and I had planted together in the lawn on overheated days and watered on yellow lawns; then many more behind them by nature’s design, tufts of bushes above purple rocks, flowers in each nook where the trees let sunlight through. Our house still faced north, which was comforting. I stood on the threshold between the inner walls and the garage, now empty of cars and shovels and rakes and hammers, emptied of bird feeders and basketballs, tennis rackets and tire-shiner, emptied of the bikes, the garbage bins, the bungee cords, the winter boots and the ladders, emptied of the lawn mower and the snow-blower and the fertilizer-spreader, emptied of the Christmas decorations my dad would grumble at hanging, but always did, my father who so often lit up at those lights. But as I was staring out through the emptied garage watching, for the first time since I’d lived there the sun rose in front of me. I was beginning to realize I would never live in my house again.
“Do you enjoy your grief?” I hear a soft but deep voice say to me. The question reverberated through the walls of the house. I couldn’t tell who had said it. It didn’t seem like something my father would ask me. I’d been staring out of the empty garage at that sun for quite a while now, and I was beginning to wonder why I hadn’t looked inside yet, or why I hadn’t left.
I turned around. Everything was as I remembered it: the white- and blue-tiled linoleum floor, the blue carpet in the family room to the left, an oak table with a chandelier hung above it facing me, the sliding glass door that led to the backyard behind it, and my parents right there, waiting to see me off. My mother stood on the tweed mat at the entrance. I faced her and felt tall. She had a wide smile on her face, one of her grins that let me know something humorous was happening, though I didn’t know what yet. I had seen it before, moments when she had looked at me, a child, radiantly like an adult. The left side of her face was drooping a bit, and her left eye slouched as she gazed gently at me. The black bumps that once covered her neckline, the tumors that had eventually spread to her ear and chin and eyes and brain inside, none of it was there anymore—just soft and pink flesh, skin with a little orange where scars might have been. She had on the solid blue t-shirt she wore so often; it covered her chest, wrapped around her waist. She was somewhat heavy again, and I thought to myself, This is how it’s supposed to be. It had been almost five years.
My father was in the family room behind her. His shoulders were drooped over slightly and he was holding his abdomen with the cup of his forearms above his waist. But he was standing up, and his muscles were hydrated, his skin tighter since the last time I’d seen him, and I noticed his thick black hair growing back quickly. I couldn’t tell if he had clothes on or what he was wearing if he did. His stomach was still a sore purple, red with a kind of crust. I might have seen a bandage there, but I can’t be certain. Had he even left the family room yet, I wondered, and figured, No, why would he? I gazed fixated on the inside of the house for a long time. All of my friends had been gone for a while now, trying to find their own way home. It was obvious my parents could no longer speak to me, even if they wanted to.
Suddenly, I felt my body lurch. I hadn’t moved since the sun started coming up. My lips hit hers unannounced. I did not want to pull away from that touch, not then. I wanted to wrap my mouth around her bottom lip, but didn’t. I wanted to grab hold of her and tug her to me and hug her with all my strength, but I didn’t. Because of this, I now remember very little.
But I did linger there for a moment, catching her lip in the fleshy stick of mine. Only in that moment was my recounting tasted and real. There was certainly a real someone kissing me.
My eyes were closed, looking into her, when I awoke, amazed.
Notes on Loss #1
What does it mean to stay in the present and write of something in the past, about a dream? Certainly it enlivens the objects (once again) rendered, brings them to bear on a new field of time. But what does this say of the past event—which is once again happening now. What it means for my beloved to come back to my arms after so long an absence, the beautiful reach of her death and my witnessing it. Holding her now might not mean half as much.
We believe they come back—how else would we access that aspect of the past they shared in creating us? Surely as you hold an event on your tongue, the proof of remembering is (once again) rendering. Let’s make it happen again. I want to hear my beloved’s voice. I want to chase it through the dark labyrinth, not to have or find it, but to catch up to it just enough to see in a new moment things past happening. For there must be something in the past still happening now for it to exist so quick here at the tip of my expression. Yet so little we remember.
Room For One To
I always knew she had wings, but I wasn’t sure until the afternoon she arrived home from the dermatologist to tell me that he’d told her that the birthmark on her forehead, just above her hair line, which had started to bleed a few weeks ago when she was combing her hair and had been itching and scabbing up irregularly, uncomfortably—that her birthmark was cancerous. I knew then, immediately, about the wings. We were in the kitchen. I had my back to the garage door stoop when she told me, and she was looking into the family room, where my father usually spent his evenings. Light was pouring in from the south.
“Malignant melanoma,” is what she said to me in the kitchen that day, just over a year before she died. I went right to the living room when I got home that day. My mother was laying in the hospital bed there. I went up and sat next to her, and reached my hands between the side-rails of the bed, reaching around the tubes trailing out from under her sheets to the urine bag hooked there, and held her hand. It was cool to the touch and the muscles weren’t flexing. Her head was tipped far back, and there were several pillows under her neck, which left her mouth open slightly as she slept. Her face was very thin; her nose had always been very thin. Barnacled on her face were the black tumors, eating away indiscriminately at tissue, unaware of the death they predicted for her. She had a yellow shine to her, despite how frail her body had become.
My father was overwhelmed. “Nancy,” he said to her sitting on the opposite side of the bed to me. He rubbed his big hands steadily back and forth on her shoulders in a rhythmic motion, which made a quiet swooshing sound over her white pajamas. She had not been speaking much with us for a week now, even less in the last couple of days since the clunky bed had arrived. She hadn’t been upstairs to her room or her bathroom that week. But I was sitting there holding her hand when my dad told her the good news.
“Nancy,” he said again, waiting for her attention, which drifted slowly with her head towards him. “We just got back from the hospital. Tim had his final check up. He’s going to be alright.”
My mother leaned her head to me, glowing out as if to say, Really? and I smiled as if to say, Yes. “Oh Tim.” A wide grin grew across her face and she said out loud to me, raspily, “That’s such good news,” and I felt her fingers move in my grip, as if she were searching for a tissue or my hair. She looked at me through her eyes, swollen large and pink from the tumor’s reach, and it was love looking at me, I was sure. I noticed how thin her hair had gotten, and I sat with her there for some time. After she let her head rest back on the pillow, she continued reaching for my hand with her fingers, squirming as they were in my hand already. I know now—that was the last thing she would say to me or my father.
A few hours later, I was copying notes vigorously into a scarcely-used, red notebook from a history textbook I hadn’t opened at home all trimester. The carpet was still blue in the family room, and the lighting was familiar: three dimly-lit flood-lamps at the rear of the room shining brightest down on the piano and the storage benches, and on the back of the couch on which I was sitting, my legs hoisted up on the coffee table in front of me. I was sitting there on the center cushion with my eyes glued to the page, absorbed and purposeful. Light flooded past me, clipping my shoulders. Through the gaps and turns in the hallway, I could see the only other light on in the house, in the living room where mom and dad were. There was a crystal lamp in there, but I couldn’t see it. It was casting monstrous shadows all over the kitchen and foyer area and on the doorstep to the garage.
My head was a monstrous shadow on the floor in front of me, forever.
My mother did not want it to happen at home. But we did not expect to be crossing the Cedar River that midnight, my father and I didn’t. I remember so little of room 412.
I only remember the Lord’s Prayer, which I prayed intently to myself, perhaps under my breath, as my father and the pastor spoke it aloud. Nurses moved in and out as was necessary to hook bags, attach monitors, check heart-pressures, check for signs of pain. Her pointer finger was clipped to check for oxygen. The carpet of the room was short, a ruddy burgundy hue, my mom’s favorite color. The walls were sky blue, striped with whites. Some sort of molding surrounded the room at waist height, which reminded me of my mother’s bathroom, though her walls were a soft, rosy pink, and the lower wallpaper was striped with sea-greens and gold stripes and seashells. The drapes were white, not laced like those in her living room. Her bed faced the windows. Outside, street lamps gave an orange glow to the gray spaces below. I could see the Cedar River and I-380 running over it, a few drivers still traveling despite the time approaching 1 a.m. The moon was out. It must have been October 30th by now. I think my father was by her bed, holding her hand. The pastor had long left. The nurses informed us that my mother’s body indicated to them that she would be dying soon. We were alone.
“Everything’s going to be okay, Tim.” His eyes were swollen purple with his tears. I could see his veins swelling in the white shell. He was leaned over her, holding on to her. Was he wearing his nice black pants with the red-tie he always wore with that white, blue-striped shirt? Or was he wearing sweats? What was I wearing? I kept catching my breath. My spine was awash with coldness, a breeze of something swift moving up in me, as though I were a lone wind-chime, only slightly catching to sound the soft wind blowing beneath me. I was beginning to sense who was blowing the air up under me, keeping me breathing. I had goosebumps. I was holding on to her hand and mine was sweaty. How long will it be? How long will her death be?
“I think that’s it,” he said, a momentary panic in his voice as he looked over to me, before he buried his face in the pit of her elbow, sunken into the white sheets of her bed. It was just the three of us there. The machines beside her were quiet, and there was only a single light up in the corner above her bed. She looked sleepy. He was holding on much harder than me. At the opposite end of the room, a burgundy couch faced her bed. I curled myself up into a ball in it and laid there with my face to its center, away from her now, my abdomen convulsing as I wept, both of my hands covered with water from my eyes. I felt good in my chest to just keep sobbing, so I did.
She was a dead sparrow, and it seemed like God was with us.
Notes on Loss #2
My father’s back pain made it impossible for him to lay straight, so it was increasingly difficult for him to sleep at night, despite the many opiates coursing through him to ease the sting in his pancreas. I often thought to myself—why is his pain so terrible? In the last decade, he’d lost his mother, a brother to Leukemia and a sister, and his wife of 23-years to melanoma. And as his wife was dying, he must have been still worried that his son too would die of his lymphoma. And then two years later, here he was, dealing with yet more physical pain. A new wife of only six months was there make it all the more bitter as he gradually realized he would be losing her and all of us, and all of us him.
Maybe it was because he could bear it—that was his cross. I had a mantra those many years: ‘We are never given a situation which we do not already have the strength to endure.’ Whenever I was asked, ‘How do you handle it?’ I’d use this answer and I always did mean it. But I used to think the key word was ‘strength’. I thought wrongly that I was the strong one. No, as I continue enduring past both my parent’s deaths, I am realizing that the two—strength and endurance—are inseparable.
My window for endurance extends my whole life. I am still growing the strength to endure those events already receding to the back of my memory. So all I’ve realized is that my father had more strength then than I yet do. I am glad he is still sending me these stories.
What comes from the outside? Are stories ours? Are they inside? Are they written for us? If our energy is merely transformed, while conserved, where does the inside of a person go once their life is gone?
The inside becomes then fully outside. Somehow, our most intimate moment on the planet, that moment when all our boundaries (self/other, inside/outside) become blurred in the profound pain of our return to undifferentiatedness. Back to the body of God we go. So my father is still there, on the outside.
Whereas the living race of humans is on the inside of the mirror, given only a filtered, perceptual view of The Outside, the dead are primarily on The Outside. So they know more about how time works. They are trying to teach us, but they have a hard time getting our attention—there’s so much else outside to see and be distracted with. Most of us are not willing to see death, whether inside or outside. But the messages are there.
And maybe as we dream, or remember, we sort of die to the inside and return to a moment outside where the dead still live. I’m not arguing for anything, I just think the already-dead care for us still, in real tangible ways, and it only takes an ear to see their work in our lives.
I’m trying to meet my parents half-way. My mother was such a better story-teller than I’ll ever be. I’d be a fool to stop listening to her tell them to me.
“I go to prepare a place for You”
I’ve canvassed the walls, pulled them tight up against each corner, near as I can to the line of constant shadow. Plastic’s on the ground beneath me; I see it has been put there for me. I suspect it’s to collect the remnants of my flesh once I actually start painting. But the windows are too large; the more I look at them and not my canvas, they loom to cover the wall-space and subtract me. They have already overtaken all of me already. And still I’m holding on to all these paints. I just want to walk in my father’s room. No symbols.
Where I got these things, the palate and the brush, if I got them somewhere, or found them, or if someone gave them to me, who knows. Harder still to tell if I earned them, by suffering or worse. They are beautiful: all nine colors, each of them dabbed generously on a slab of white marble, uniquely shining. Where there are rifts and humps on the dabs, light casts sparkles across the iris window, through to the canvas beneath me. Each shade has a golden sheen and I white-pink with ripped overalls and blood stains on my skin till I don’t know what to paint. How did these overalls get so dirty? I’m not even a painter.
Things My Father Knew
What is there to say about a man who in utmost confidence believes he can learn how to do anything? And what could you say to him, learning incessantly as my father always was, once you realize he wasn’t learning those things for the sake of himself?
My father designed the master floor plan of our house. The laundry room was put upstairs where all the bedrooms were. My room and the master bedroom were on the west side, so that the rising sun wouldn’t wake anyone on a sleepy Saturday afternoon. The basketball court was on the opposite side so that an evening sun would reflect off the backboard and keep the pairs from staring into the sun. The largest room, the family room, was on the east and had two large sloping skylights, so the room was always washed in whatever sunlight the clouds were permitting. There was a picture window between this living room and the kitchen or dining area which opened the first floor and let a person keep an eye on the oven and the television at the same time. And the television sat in a large entertainment center my father designed to match the oak wood of the fireplace beside it. It housed endless computer disks and manuals (he was an “Electrical Engineer”), video game equipment, VHS and CDs galore in its drawers, and the clear-paned cabinets held pictures of the family throughout the years on one side (there was me in sky blue pajamas at age two, staring, another with a large bass at age nine) and on the other was the premium JVC sound box wired to a 5.1 surround system of Infinity speakers.
My father, an electrician at heart, also designed the wiring for our whole complex. The light at the bottom of the first floor steps, one at the top, and another at the end of the upstairs hall were all wired together, with switches at each location. Lights to the family room could be operated from its threshold on the 1st floor or from the 2nd floor balcony that overlooked it, so it was never dark or spooky when one was the last to go up to bed. The gazebo he later built with his brothers in our backyard had lights, a fan and a stereo that could be operated from inside the house from the kitchen. I never understood how the wires got out there, but I’m sure it was simple enough to him and only meant a bit of digging. Eventually there was a fountain and a spotlight. Eventually the oak deck became a three-season porch with full length windows to let plenty of sun into the house. Off from there, a faux-brick concrete patio, multiple beds for flowers, where Star barked and took naps in the summer.
Did I mention my father could also grow any sort of plant? Next to the gazebo, he started a large prairie area, with numerous breeds of wildflower seeded, the color through all the warm months so splendid…
All I can do is write this down. Never coming to the end of it. “I just want someone to see this man as he was.”
Notes on Loss #3
Where could you have gone? Into my cursive. I can’t remember a single thing and want to see who you… yet we expect to be able to speak or breathe? I don’t want to speak above you—how could I? That is such a long distance from us. Maybe it would be beneficial if we traded places. I want to sit in the chairs you sit in. Or do you remain merely in my mind. How did all these things end-up? How did they end up intersecting? The image of your face is received in any case. Any longer, I’m not an imaginative person (so earnestly do I rely on your coming to me from outside), so your images only come to me as I sleep. When I think I have a definition of your face, I see forward and I’m proven wrong. It would be an ashamed event were I to give up. Yet there are so many things I cannot do.
I can even remember accurately what or all I’ve done to disappoint my parents. I meant to say ‘can’t’ but who is speaking. I need a new mode—my surrender is so incomplete, seems so empty. Average afternoons take time to come around, and when they came, I need more of them. I react irrationally to the thought of taking you out of the studio, out of this story, but I know this has already been performed outside me. Is growth really a gradual writing oneself out of the story? How many of these processes will be operational once you come back? It needs to fly back in their face.
Notes on Loss #4
Loss drives our lives. What do we think we have all this time? Certainly nothing that will last. In this respect, the Buddhists are certainly on to something—impermanence. But I’m wondering about what we become too attached to—objects. One can only have an object, by definition; this sort of possessing is purely finite, temporal—impermanent anyways. A subject cannot, specifically, “have” anything permanent. One does not even have oneself. “I” is not a thing to have, but a mode of being crossed by a thousand vectors. Surely for each of us, we evaporate as our body does—where does the I go?
Loss drives our lives, whether we admit to it or not. Loss, missing, death, guilt, pain—these are the phenomena of living existence that drive life towards continual renewal, in the way a true religion might actually survive the changing times, if it allowed itself to disappear.
Loss drives our lives, but we spend our whole life running from it, denying it, ignoring it. We are so solidified in our identities. Who stops to ask upon waking, What did I lose through the night? Where did I go for that event? Yet years pass and we feel unchanging, strive to be unchanging. Until we see a picture of ourselves and wonder earnestly who that person is.
So I have a proposition: lose your self. It is not a grandiose task—not at first. But soon you realize you’ve only “lost yourself” for the sake of your self: spiritual materialism, the trap. So you realize self-hate is more egoic than self-aggrandizement could ever be; when we hate ourselves, we damage the internal parts of us, where the law of love is written. If only we’d just terrorize the outside, we think, maybe we wouldn’t hurt as much inside…
Loss drives every step of our life on earth. At one point, for each of us, we were one with a woman, a physical, internal part. There was no differing identity between us; one could not even say we “shared” an identity with her—we were our mother, unseparate. Not a one of us escaped this step of identity: we all began as someone else. One to two women per 1,000 develop post-partem psychosis. This disorder mimics schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders in that the mother feels extreme elation before periods of severe depression, hallucinations. She feels ordered by God to commit acts she would not normally do. Of the all the cases, only 4% lead to infanticide, whereas 5% of the mothers commit suicide. What do these mothers see that we don’t? What messages do they hear? What static?
Loss drives our lives. We are lost in the loss of our mother. I’d cry if this were unavoidable, and I cry because it is. We are defined by what we no longer have and how we deal with the absence. And yet we can’t focus on this.
He wanted to be in the kitchen helping her, even if he couldn’t express himself to me each time he felt it. As his illness progressed and he realized he would have such a short time with Susie, my stepmom, their activities together took on a sacred aspect, and his devotion to his beloved was clear. The nightly meal was a practice in being present with one another in love. So it hurt him to watch her in the kitchen preparing the meal while he was confined to his burgundy recliner, not because he couldn’t see or be with her, but because he couldn’t help. His eyes would look helpless, rejected, and he would say for attention from the recliner, “Susie,” with a raspy, medicated voice, whereupon she would enter into the room asking, “What is it, Jim?” coming close enough to him that I would only sometimes hear what was said.
He’d say, “Susie,” but she couldn’t hear him over the vegetables steaming or the timers going off, and I’d have to turn to her and say louder, “Susie—he needs you,” and she would come near. Hers was a sort of tending that I could never have done.
“Don’t I need to take my pills?” I heard him ask her often.
Just weeks ago, such a question would have been unthinkable coming from him. Originally, it was Susie trying to keep up with all the meds. Being the engineer that he was, he had set up an elaborate spreadsheet with all of his medications and the times he was to take them. He had even scanned in a picture of each of the pills so that Susie wouldn’t be confused about which was which. What had started as a few simple columns now extended the length of the page: thrice-daily doses of ketamine, morning opiates, afternoon anti-nausea, evening opiates, night-time opiates. Liquid oxycontin was a ‘flash’ treatment and could be taken up to once an hour if his pain was truly out of control.
“I was going to bring them out with your dinner, is that okay?” she answered, sitting up close near him on the fireplace to his right side.
“Yea,” he said, gargley and barely audible, after a long, absent pause, nodding his head slightly. His jaw looked rigid against his top row of teeth, his movements gritty, laborious, clenched. “But don’t I need them now?” he asked, confused and lost. It was a look of pain when no relief is in sight. “Dinner’s just about ready, honey,” she called.
“Look at all those pills,” he said after Susie dumped out more than twenty of them, each a different shape and color, onto the table next to his recliner. After closing it with his weak thighs and sitting up, rubbing his eyes as though he was just waking up, his attention was sharp. “Wow,” he said looking at them, his voice long and sad, indicating he had never seen so many pills at one time, though of course he had.
“Can you wait until you get some food in your stomach before you take them?” Susie asked. He nodded, his eyes stuck on the pills in disbelief.
It felt a bit like the last dinner we would have together. It might have even been before Christmas. We were using Susie’s white kitchenware and she was cooking the meal for all of us: pink salmon stuffed with crab meat, some wild rice and steamed asparagus. It was one of my dad’s favorite dinners. Once cooked, she brought our plates out first. He had to sit up very straight in the recliner or his back would be plagued with fits of dull pain, some of which shot down his spine into his knees, so he balanced his weight with his sensitive frame on the edge of the recliner.
“Wow… this looks just great,” he said to her with his softest voice as he held the plate on his lap, a sparkle in his purple, sunken eyes. But he wasn’t looking at the meal. He gazed at Susie, like he was wondering to himself again who she was and how exactly she showed up here. Perhaps in his sight her edges were vibrating or taking on new shapes. It is hard to tell who he saw when he looked at her.
His thin arms were careful and slow to pick up the utensils, and he kept looking over to her and smiling instead of eating. He gave a large chunk of salmon to Star, our dog, who was now always at his feet, keen to the fact that illness had warmed him to the idea of feeding her scraps from his lap. “Tastes better to you than it does to me, doesn’t it Star?” he said with a sort of giggle, giving her nearly half his piece and turning his head to Susie and me for approval, acknowledging his lighthearted mischievousness as our aging pup gobbled down the meat from his hands. His eyes were innocent and playful as he smiled widely with his skinny cheeks at us, sitting on the edge of his seat. Something sleepy and peaceful pervaded his stare at us, which felt so awake in the quiet room. It seemed like I was seeing my father as he wasbeen as a child, radiant, curious, grateful. After that evening meal, I felt very old.
He was still looking at Susie later on when she offered casually, “Well—I think I’m going to make a drink—Tim, do you want one?”
“Sure,” I said, unfocused.
My dad sat up in his chair like a boy in school, eager with the correct answer. “You’re going to have a drink? What are you thinking about having?”
“Well, I was thinking some Bailey’s and Kahlua and a little bit of milk—would you like one?” she answered, only a little surprised by his question.
“Do you think that’d be alright?” he asked her. I hated those moments when he reminded himself of his condition—whenever it saddened him. I thought, That was for us, not you. I wondered why he even asked. He looked up at her like he was frightened she’d say no.
“I think that’d be just fine,” she said to him happily, probably glad for a glimmer of normalcy. She walked over and picked up his plate, helping him sip the last of his pills, his neck gulping them down like a pelican, and they kissed. She was well into the kitchen before his attention wandered to me.
“I always loved Bailey’s,” he said to me. Then his head tipped back and his jaw dropped as he descended back into his tired place, so deep and far away. I don’t know if he finished or even sipped his drink that night, or if it tasted like it did all those years he loved it, or if he tasted it at all, but in that moment I realized: there are only living people. Dying is for the mind to mull over in life, and to maybe see happen once in a while, so you can appreciate why living is precious, and not forget.
F was for finite, they saw it wherever it’d gone. I took a long time seeking shelter until I, unbeknownst to me, who was lying unsheltered on the edge of the beach, was presented an option by a small man sitting some distance from me with his right hand extended out to me. It was an indication I was to walk with him. He resembled me somehow. I seemed to have seen him before. Whoever managed to take action in that way. This is a futile effort, but how could a person ever operate in such a fashion, so detached from the source of things.
How could a person be abstract? Yet this is what we have done to everyone.
There is a manner of reason as yet untouched. It’s a blue afternoon. There is a jingle outside me window and I can’t focus my handwriting.
On my way to class, I pass an old building on campus I used to live in. There’s a piano in the basement I haven’t played since I lived there. It’s been some time since I played any piano, but as I walk past the building I’m struck with an odd realization: if I sat down there, even after so long an absence, I would still be able to play the thing.
Granted, it would be a less technical, less well-timed effort. My improvisations would trail off into repetition, interesting monotony at best. I would be playing, but I wouldn’t know who was playing, not exactly. And I wouldn’t have a singly clue what I would be playing. I would hear it, but I wouldn’t know how any of it sounded. And if I didn’t know who is be playing it, knowing that certainly wouldn’t help!
So I’m going to give that piano player in me a name: God. But if there were other people in the room, God probably wouldn’t play. If I was in the room, he would sound terrible. Poor God, sitting alone in his basement unpracticed, trying to play a new tune but just hitting the same old notes over and over again. Good thing it would be God’s tune or I don’t think anyone would appreciate it. (I do hope someone is listening in the room when he plays his simple songs…)
A moment of joy: a stranger, emptying a bucket of liquid—soap or a cleaner of some sort—into the pebbley grey street, tapping everything out of it and working steadily. Humans doing human things they couldn’t do if God weren’t doing it with them—so I smiled and continued on to class.
Notes on Loss #5
If only in a word I could bring them back, I have to ask, Would I?
Most days, I can’t feel like I remember any of them. Even in recollection, calling back to memory some time long past happening, I cannot escape the feeling I am fabricating it all. Yet the story as I know it is all that remains.
“So what are the doctors saying now?” I asked, as I often did when I saw my father after being away from home for a few days.
“Oh, it seems things are going pretty well,” he answered.
“How’s your pain been?”
“Oh… it’s been alright… about the same, a consistent four or five.” Four or five, I thought. His voice was so soft, like it held a reverence for the pain, for the sovereign severity of it—and its blinding persistence.
We were at the Sunday buffet at the Longbranch for Easter. My dad had suggested we come here and thankfully it was quiet and mostly empty. I had driven—my dad sat in the passenger seat—but I let him and Susie out before I parked the car. Or he was still driving then and let Susie and me out of the car first, before he went to park it. Either way I remember being in the Longbranch alone with just Susie, until my father came in the room. But it seemed like he was in the passenger seat, too.
We took our seats next to the buffet and didn’t waste time getting to the food. There was cottage cheese and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and good spinach leaves. Those were the things on my dad’s plate. I apportioned those items to a corner of mine and took a hefty piece of roast beef, straight from the rib, and some garlic mashed potatoes and some macaroni and cheese. Susie didn’t have much on her plate, but I never saw her eat very much. I kept looking at my father while he was eating, watching how delicately he cared for the fork as he poked it up against the side rim of the plastic plate, crunching together a bundle of spinach leaves and rubbing them in a puddle of thousand-island dressing. His shoulders slouched in, his head crooked to the side whenever he looked down, as if considering each bite separately like a magic act. I noticed for the first time the grey hair encroaching about his ears and extending around them, reaching up toward the thick black over his head. It was uniform grey, in no way white. It did not seem ready to spread further—he was not ready for the old age it signaled either.
It was then that I realized just how often I stared at him. So often when he stared off into empty space, seemingly forever, I gazed back. I was staring at him doing just that as he ate that Easter meal. Four or five, I kept thinking. He kept looking right at me whenever he would jolt back to the present. I didn’t understand where his smile came from. Or who he saw when he showed it to me, so nakedly.
Suddenly I couldn’t take another bite—I just wept. I turned my head to the side and cupped my hand over my mouth in a small half-circle, my elbows leaning on the table’s edge as I curled up. I looked Susie in the eye and I looked my dad in my eye as I shook in my chair. Maybe I made some noises the waitress heard, but she was there on Easter and didn’t mind. I didn’t say anything to them about how I was crying—they knew. My dad’s frail hand, his tendons and bony joints jutting out from his tight, dry skin, reached over to me and touched my left hand, patting it gently.
“It’ll all be okay, Tim, however this turns out.”
“I know,” I muttered, wiping the corners of my eye with a napkin. “I know.”
Notes on Faith #1
Poor wasps on the concrete, squashed in the midst of reproductive embrace. One ant carrying another dead one off from the sidewalk onto the lush green of the grass alongside the dirty concrete. Dead sparrow with brown wings on the concrete, splayed open. I didn’t see any blood in any case and it seems real injury or loss does in fact work this way.
But then there’s that dear old man with the blood disease, like the one my uncle had, professor Klemm. Once when I was sitting with him in his office he told me: symbolic objects are not merely objects. The viewer is irreducible to abstractions. I told him about my father dying—symbolic objects are not merely objects (or events).
In remembering, I am what I am remembering, I am what the content is—yet approaching a null point where neither “I” nor the content is anymore. In a similar sense: the cogito as the empty space in us filled by the idea of infinity.
Being filled with The Piano Player, not playing.
The start was a vague thing. I had just—
Droplets kept falling off my skin and there was a heavy price to pay for my perspiration: I’m dying, slowly becoming who I’ve always been.
Notes on Faith #2
Nicholas of Cusa writes, “The artist sees in the wood, through the concept of faith, the face the artist is seeking to observe as visibly present to the eye. For the face is future to the eye but present by faith to the mind in an intellectual concept.” In other words, “God, who is blessed forever, gives Godself abundantly to those who love God.” Whereas I don’t even know how to pray without opening a handbook. Cusa is talking about practice, a practiced sight. Where color is seen, sight itself is not seen; yet without sight, there is no color, it is not even a possibility. Sight above all relates color to consciousness—so too is faith above all a relation: of infinity to finitude. There is no ‘finite realm’ (colors) without the ‘infinite’ which sees (sight).
Notes on Projective Verse #1 (After Charles Olsen)
(1) Kinetics: poet transfers energy
outside to outside
Composition by FIELD (wave)
“new recognitions” be aware,
(2) Principle: “FORM IS NEVER MORE
THAN AN EXTENSION
content which has one exclusive form
there for USE, for forming
“ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY
TO THE NEXT FURTHER
keep moving fast as you can
USE process @ all points
Notes on Projective Verse #2
Words juxtapose in beauty by syllable
Let syllable lead the line
The are/ear is the mind’s speed
least careless least logical
driven in and let gone by—but
in the open—listening:
mind and ear in union in (1) syllable.
(2) LINE: comes from the breath of
man. WORK by Which
writing man can indeed declare
where breathing comes
to an End. (this is
Notes on Faith #3
How I’d rest on a laurel means nothing: the death of me if I rest.
My God: Help is impossible in this life.
You are the helper and are never
Separate from me.
How do I reconcile? The endless quest for possibility must end with you. My collapse is certain and inevitable at each step of this life—I survive only by the possibility of the impossible: that I will not collapse.
Letter to a Friend
O God, how incomprehensible You must be that I will never know You and yet You will always know me! How unlike You I must truly be— and yet how like me You yourself are! Who could You see in me but You? Who could I be to You, if not You in me? But then how could I have drifted so far from You when You are so involved in me, when it is only my true self that You could ever see in me? I cannot see that self, I can only see “me” as I conceive it. But You! You see my true self in me. You see yourself as who I really am. How do You do this, how can You see me like that, when I am so stubbornly… me? Gracious Granter of Mercy Each Morn, how do You see me so valid, so eternally, when to myself I am tiresome and worn?
The day shakes me to my knees with magnificent paths I could choose, but to go away or to come closer to You is not one option among many. This You have already decided. Your path You have paved for tiresome “me” already. Yet I cannot see it or where it goes. Truth be told, I can hardly believe it. So far as I can tell it, the way for me will become ever more narrow—the way to my true self, liberation of “me” from shallow “I.” But for You there are only open vistas! How will I learn to pass through the narrowest gap— true faith? What but anguish could await me on this treacherous path? How will I know whether to turn right or left, speak out or stay silent, sit or stand, create or let be, accept or challenge? How will I know to be this way or that, who to be? How will I ever know who I am, when all that I am is in You, Who I can never know? How will I do anything, save rest in Your image? And yet the day makes me, forces me to run!
No, I cannot know myself. I cannot and will never know You. I cannot know where I will walk tomorrow any better than I can know where You are in the world I walk around in or how You are working in it. My conviction must then be: I am unable to know exactly where to walk, I am unable to know exactly what world I’m walking into. I cannot choose, from out of all the possibilities, any one thing to pursue, and my attempts to predict where I am to go invariably leave me lost. All my probabilities, all my “tendencies” deceive me. None of these will ever get at Who I Really Am. And so I can only decide for what I do not know, I can only go where I would never have thought to go. For how can I ever be myself if I don’t open myself to the Unknowable, who I only know by You, through You, in You? And if I ever close off my relation to That, how could I remain with You or my self?
What anguish out here in the Open!—and then to have no regrets! No—I must seek to know You without ever knowing You or my true self; then I might truly be me. Once I have realized Who You Actually Are amidst all the possibilities You might be, then and only then will I know Who I Am amidst all the possibilities spread before me. Then there will be Actuality—the Real You. Then the Unknowable will be… Me.
So perhaps I already see the thread there—the thread of the friend in me.
Notes on Faith #4
Success in the environment increases one’s dependency on it.
What piece of the environment I can’t see is the one I should depend on?
“Pick something” “out there” “a subject to focus on” and “write about it.”
Things never came my way.
What a tragedy
And I would not want to carry that piano skyward with all the chunk of my flesh still trying to HOLD me down as it had its whole life. “New life”: when spirit (all one could see) becomes seen. Was distracted at the appearance. This is almost straightforward.
I pick death: let’s see what she looks like and means.
For something keeps the pen moving yet, limbs through space as though merely connected. I’ll be there physically regardless—voice that tells me of my blindness, that room with the guitars plucked to themselves in the black speaker, other voices outside passing through the window. All of them will be home someday too, I mean it. So many of them are there already, but try to get around it.
An undying record, majesty of environments: the way we sit on the couch, the mind of our cleaning duties, how we pay the checks and leave tips, challenge and take criticism, dance, laugh, collapse. The care with which we move our pen across this one great body of incorporeal earth. The intent of our listening, the motive to our motion. There has got to be a record we can’t see.
Hidden—ubiquitous—and just look what the Hidden has achieved.
Through one of the windows the orange aura of the streetlamps lingers, the parking lot lights refracting each way in the mysty air, sending in a glow through the one open. Very narrow, very blue the room; our main character had just laid down at the ripe time of 2:27 a.m., 2:39 according to his alarm clock. The light was not keeping him up (at least not the light coming from outside) but his freshe ideas were, namely, that faith was simpler than anything he could imagine. He was just beginning to understand that this meant faith could very well be the most difficult movement of a man, especially on account of having to renew it every moment. He was thinking: how humble should I or could I truly be? What will it take me to realize my smallness as I stand before the power that created me? More failures, more despair? More joy, more synchrony? If this public world could prove it (he had flesh in his mind) wouldn’t it immediately disprove itself and vanish thereafter? Wouldn’t proof vanish right away to leave us a new character?
Not everything clashing makes a sound. “I’ll have to take on a new persona if that progress is to be made.” What does it mean to catch your self, thinking your self capable. Continuing to look ahead into the future—look, look! That in the way we sidetrack then trap—I haven’t made it an inch.
What holds back when. Only only. You lost the map. I confess everything.
But not to whom this is ruined. Male animal clap. They fabricates that. Spilling spew on the run why now. I admit, I know, it postpones the rising up. What gets injested is the meantime process. “That indeed is a mess, sir.” I want out.
Taken literally what is that. We who clown around and take none of this seriously barely hear a speech after that about anything. Wide gap between macro and micro—at times, when the listener’s distracted and the audience is a blure. I agree, madness.
Don’t we all in our hearts see what it means. Then again what are the dreams I said to them meaning. This, I’m afraid, is hidden again meaning.
Happens in the mind some stream til the mind’s done had it. Terrible to have faked it all, wondering where the next sentence came from, into contact with remedy.
Convalescence (Intermediate Recognition)
Symbolic objects occur only when the observer sees in the object a symbol. We spit out words along with the rest of the sound, discerning in them what is beyond.
My name is weak, I am weak, and I am incapable of using words correctly, especially my own name. So please: forgive me for even being here. If there is one clear meaning, then clearly I have failed. Then these words would border on religious doctrine, and we know religious ideas are just that: ideas.
“The student will be led to the realization that none of what the system discusses can be reached by the system itself, for the system is in fact incomplete. Text, in every instance, as a revelation of one’s being-in-the-world.” ―But only if the story has no more to do with “me,” only if its content sits outside my eyes forever, is it symbol.
I pour over paragraphs and that’s okay if it means something obscurity; read it aloud, says something thirsty. So many little pieces to pick up and discard. Don’t be deceived, I’m only dismissing myself. Who do I think I am anyway?
Finished flipping around this journal, delighting at the little phrases and memories I pull up about my parents, still not knowing what the dream sequences or revelations mean. What a hypocrite I am, groping around it as if its innards were my own! As if any work it could do for a reader was in any way planned or premeditated by me.
Notes on the Public World #1
Still trying to find things outside me to blame for being lost in the tall woods of my insides, this cloudy forest where I recognize all the trees but can’t seem to meet or feel them. How I wish there were an easier way out of this mess, but it’s all stuck together by bonds we took so long to forge. Finding things to blame outside me despite knowing better.
But it is so much harder to speak the inside. Which is what we’re trying to do. I couldn’t want to know what either, given it’s impossible to. But that’s the kind of state I’m talking about: the one in which you become you.
Fruit flies, smelling food, hover above the cup, dancing and relaying the good news. Many of them obviously friends dive in. Gathered on the inside of the glass of the cup, collected just above the juice below. Life in balance, they go to the sweets. They devour the banana, it slugs down throats. Do they drown in liquid or explode by mass? No bother—they never realized the funnel they came in, the cone of whiteness behind and inside the colorful den of talking, never once took notice of the pin-prick opening between the whiteness and the prism that let them into the glorious world in the first place. Never took notice, didn’t even try. Because it is difficult not to follow the others, sipping so forgetfully, mouths dripping despite the white entrance above them inside. I can’t make them see it their heads, none of them. So I am just to sit here wasting my optic nerve? As if I could even see myself.
Notes on the Public World #2
Nothing worthy to be anymore. The lost trail leads nowhere and I’m on it. Too much judgment has coursed through these veins.
We filed into the church and I sat next to my father, waiting for the service to begin. None of the lights were on in the church except for a large spotlight shining a circle around the pulpit. We sat there, looking at one another, thinking about mom. She’d passed away only a year ago, and we were still coming to church here, to this tiled and felt-carpeted cathedral. Today was Easter. But as we sit there and the clock tips past start time for the service, no worship begins. That was when my anger and resentment got the best of me. It was so dark in the vaulted room, I couldn’t see the rotund man come down the center aisle, but I could see him as he assumed his position before the altar, under the spotlight, and began to talk about yearly donations. He was a small little man in our eyes and he was making all of us much smaller each moment. He was speaking of fellowship and the needed repairs and how important it all was. I stormed over my father’s knees out of the pew and made my way to the back door, shouting when I got there, “This is what you have done to your church!” I could sense that my father, still seated and not following me out, was saying, “Tim,” as a caution. I may have shouted more at them. That was the last time I went to my church.
But there is such a better way around the block. I’m discovering how tragic friendship, human love and compassion really is. It is frightening—what a quickened pace of death we bestow upon ourselves, just for the sake of being in the same room with the same accursed habits as the rest of our peers. It is the rum of us.
I am yet another awkward soul turning corners blindly without direction. It is not God who is lost then, but me—but I am not ‘lost’ in this world, I am lost in my world, the true world I am to live in by the grace of God, the very same grace I lose by following the path designed by anyone else but Us. Nothing fits together without That and I become a bitter, judgmental person who can only scrutinize the cold world by placing my self above it, as if I actually were. Believing and living by self-aggrandizement instead of by God and self-humbling. It is no wonder this path leads me to my own bodily destruction and death. My time seems to be running out. Every new day in sin takes a greater toll on my internal organs. Large lumps under my lungs.
I don’t want to talk about beer or wine or drugs or prices or fancy foods or sex or women or cigarettes or what-I-can-do or what-you-can-do or the latest essay or favorite book or new technique. None of that can do a thing but kill me.
Where has my resolve gone? Why do I find it so hard to break out of these chains to substance and ally myself? How have I bonded myself to the sin of our age, seemingly by second nature, by no intent of my own? Of course, the sin is my own, the only thing that is my own and am responsible for, that should be no more, eradicated from the world for the sake of each of us. Sick of taking baby steps that lead nowhere and only turn me sideways in a situation, only give the illusion of not being lost.
Only an ignorant “I” could ever feel not lost—God: let me lose/loose my self in You. I am sorry for always being such a fraud.
A fantastic sleeping
A fantastic tearing where we have gone
Letters hush, robbing coincidence
Of its power
Impacting every small
An is-everywhere I wanted
That was my mistake
Whatever you happened to say
Decrescendo leaves me now
Aspect of an old trail
Repeats one phrase
Yearning to be vaporous
Notes on Loss #6
Something I should have confessed before: I feel I deserve to die. I want to return to my parents. I used to think there were survivors, like me, but no—no one lives through it.
Sitting here alone. I’m not supposed to be here, it doesn’t seem, sitting here alone. My smallness nearly unbearable, my nothingness so blatantly me. Why am I the survived null centipede, treading dust with every leg? Is there a purpose, crawling in isolation?
I’m sick of searching for fathers in friends or mothers in lovers—they are none of them to be whatsoever. Hard trek, hard trek, neverwhere. But trying to escape from friends or lovers, fathers or mothers, is like thinking enlightenment is only had in monasteries. That separation, too, is an illusion. Where would I die to?
Exhausted with words now and again, loving each moment once I can see it, I discern in the distance the flags burning and accept, reconciling my life with the sea.
Identity In the Public World
Two men slaughter knives in hand quietly. End point seems to be there. Able litany led to that confusion, but track each change to the minutest part down to the last detail. Trying to do all of it by themselves meant all the important folk had to vacate.
Taking off late in the evening, the journey was short, partly. The interruption was coming from the rest of them, the noises,—you can hear them—the chatter so often us. Couldn’t get a single thing out accurately when trying. Misunderstanding obviously what started all of it.
I want an after-thought. Corresponding in primitive gestures, making all this my own, not standing out in the crowd, participating. And there are consequences. As if all the color was specifically internal and honestly has it that difficult to share. And then realizing it’s not possible and then not noticing anything having to do with it anymore. Because there are more than a few tiles in the mosaic, the stained glass expanse. Because that isn’t what you can know about Christ, and there is color there.
Untitled (Pair Where One Is Missing)
Feathered veins in a saxophone staff build and blow in unison. Everyone circles around, even if they are just sitting next to each other. Everyone and the saxophone curled up around an outstretched finger and they admit it is sometimes beneficial to be a small fetus, unaware of its mistakes. Little leaves set the backdrop and coat the area beneath our feet with an absurd, always-repeating death. Poor things, having to surrender to the white sheet below them. They chant the song of love’s leaving us. They call the tune and ask us to hear it.
In the seed, you can see: there are two eggs. They are destined to lose one another.
The color spectrum evaporates under the time-horizon of every bond. So splendid! To know that the two eggs will always remain in the seed! To see plainly the cushioned center where both reside and burn!
Notes on Faith #5
There can be no ideology, so don’t stop being literal. Look, there is Good Will, stop being so literal. There is no Good Will, there is no ideology, literally. What do you believe in?
Ideology is your flesh and your flesh will die; but you don’t know that yet, it is not your existential reality. Your death is something you’re either offended by or believe in. Focus on what you believe in. The account with ideology isn’t settled yet, but it can be.
Your body is your ideology, on a similar script as The Object—except you’ve been enculturated to consider yourself a subject among subjects and not the miraculous emergence of conscious subjectivity itself; to consider yourself a subject among objects, so you’ll know what it means to be separate. And didn’t you know it: separateness was your despair.
Try to see it clearly: you are The Object and there can be no confusion regarding “parts” and “wholes.” In The Object there are only Nests and causes for miracle. “I think” has ideology, that’s all—your own, perpetual mistake. Whereas you are irreducible to any object, subject, body or association. You are Seeing itself, inward: mortal immortal.
When continually meeting moments of acceptance, all becomes a wash.
I am thinking specifically of a case of an elderly woman who, according to a next-door neighbor, had been sitting on her back porch for a couple of days. When the medical examiner arrived, her hand was slouched to the left and her weight was settled in the metal chair. Her legs were swollen red and puffed out, but they weren’t spilling rot onto the deck below yet. On the side of her neck facing skyward, a small patch of insects had made nests and the nests were glowing orange. The nests were small and her eyes were shut and her mouth drooped to the ground. She lived alone and stayed outside that night waiting for someone to just discover her.
Now of the legs in the recliner extended, a piece of thick white rope wrapped around his legs and the metal part of the extended foot-rest. A rope wrapped around his chest around the back of the chair. You couldn’t see his face anymore because he hadn’t been there for some time now. You couldn’t see his face because there was a thick plastic bag over it which came to a peak at the top and was tied tight around his neck with just enough room for a thin tube to make it in there with his breathing. All of the rope, around his legs and chest and neck, the same piece, wrapped to prevent any seizure from dislodging the tube from the inside of the plastic bag. Not being able to see any living room leads to that and not even seeing your own living once you’ve chosen to leave for good. Needing a handbook, leaving it at the table beside the container with no sort of meaningful letter, the propane tank only slightly out of view. A window behind the recliner, blocked but visible.
Bed made very neatly with a quilt on top. Everything in the house with a post-it note on it. The lamp for cousin Joann, table for a daughter. This pile of clothes to the Madge Phillips center, these to the rightful owners, these to the nieces. I’ve written you all a letter. I hope you aren’t too upset about the gun in the house. No post-it note on the gun, rather.
We went everywhere around the house with the knife, which doesn’t explain why I’m only wearing pajamas. I can’t even see you anymore. We ran all over the house you and me, back and forth, slamming on cabinets and ripping mirrors from the wall. I’m in my black thong but you are still angry. My shirt’s not ripped apart but there is a machete in my hands. My blond hair is still in a pony-tail but it’s severely soaked in this pool around my head. Is this purge, were we in love? Just sorry to have let you move in me that sharp. They’ll be able to tell because of the eruption, and you’ll be crying because my legs are going to be tender and clean for a few hours yet. You’ll be crying because my stomach skin is all red and it’s all yours now and you’re all alone in this room, turning yourself in.
I’ve still got my pajamas on, the ones with the little blue dinosaurs and the metal buttons that made it easier for you to change my diapers. There’s all these lines on my back and I don’t have any more blood. It’s all pooling in my back. I always loved sleeping with you and Mommy. You seem sad. Don’t be sad. You didn’t mean to roll over like that, I know. You didn’t mean to roll over, you didn’t even see me there next to you. You didn’t even mean to, you were just exhausted from work. It’s okay Daddy. I couldn’t even speak yet.
In a physical environment washed with acceptance, become that too, or gasp.
Silly cats with their heart palpitations. Hopping up to take a gentle rest on my chest, right there above my sternum where my cancer was, I mean, where the heart I still have is. I’m worried about everything that has to do with my health, but don’t do anything about it. Snoring with my eyes open.
Like a bobble-head I said to someone today, “Writing will change your life,” and shriveled up hours later at my confidence and deception. I meant that language may open up a new reality less convoluted than the one I’m in now; but what I failed to mention was that the subsequent reality remains convoluted too. The idea that the new reality is “relatively less convoluted” is just a passing joy. You can’t stick to it unless you open up the next moment too. But then you’d have to give up writing. Conclusion: it’s not such a bad thing that life is totally convoluted.
That the object (or text) happens, written or read, is not an accident when it happens, nor is the time that it happens. Then again, it’s undecidable how to draw conclusions from its contents or what it says. The writing means to tell you: everything I contain is a deception.
That set in motion the unearthing process: you will never have even started once you seize the sizeable point that lies underneath you, whether or not you call it God. As if when two bodies, three you’s, or one and two, or Zero and One. You know.
The only danger in writing, then, is that eventually you feel like you should apologize for every last word you said, since you know there’s nothing to it. “Dead one that renders a dead text or task asks: who’s there to hear it?” Technically, you know, the enunciation is not the enunciated, so to say that doesn’t mean anything. But death is not just something I’ve invented in my head. And so when I say, “From out of the pitch of my tight chest I see you,” I’m not automatically telling a lie. It has consequences, you could say. It means that life is probably not as convoluted as you thought.
Now (at death) and then (but when?) the text cannot be called “mine.” That’s the moment I’m writing from, you see: coffin. My ordinary task is resurrection; when that flashes up, I know that all the rest of it could never have been mine. I am concretely apologizing for that at this moment in the text, of that there is no doubt. O, the Christ-child is so patient with us! Technically, this should have kept me silent long ago. Writing can be awfully convoluted. But from the coffin, I know: what rises up from my ashes is not mine!
Yes, I’m reminiscing over my passing on already in my letters. From that I am unable to look back. Meaning that the letters, if they can be read, never belong to the same eyes twice. One never hears the same words the same way. That is what makes the perfect preciseness of the Word possible. That is what it means to “have faith in resurrection.”
Little air bubbles above me… little air-letters in the bubbles… splashing around in the cosmos… dispersing the yellow in the son…
You hit a point after all those directions for how to get the fish and prepare it in the soap dish and get it into the duck and into the orange cup and then how to cook it, the fish in the duck, that you get downright tired of the directions and decide to do it your own way. There’s no other way about it than to do it on your own.
You see, it was years ago I converted. I hit a point of anxious insight in the whirlpool very silently, staring out of the bathroom into my father’s room. Looking out there I wondered who might be coming up when the floorboards creaked. In the tub naked and too old to be there, the reality of my shame and fear overwhelmed me. But then I laughed because of the sheer absurdity of feeling isolated and old. I was splashing in the waters of baptism! But I was not saying anything right about it just then. I kept wondering who was coming around the corner to see me, in the skin I was in, surrounded by bubbles I felt too old for.
It was only years later that I actually died and became something. Now, I’m excited to meet anyone, and I am so glad I so often do.
Because maybe there is a way for us to touch it, though I know it does seem improbable while we are still here in the skin. I admit―it feels like death is the one approaching you― but do I not dreamily say, “It is the other way around”? There is something upside down in the text, just like there’s something upside down in time, constantly. Who would deny that the man is rare who, at birth, has already figured that out? O, Christ-child so patient!
Yes, I can now recognize it. The change that’s made throughout a life is not convoluted, because it has nothing to do with writing. The change that’s made in life has everything, and only everything, to do with you―and you will always be someone else.
I remember before I first met her, listening to “Looks Just Like the Sun” and standing on an inch of snow. I had a big black coat on and one of my nicer sweaters, and I was shaved looking young. The sun denying winter, knowing this person was receiving me and that while the words landed ecstatically there was no place to go. Just listening to the jazz and the cold tracks in the road. Or was that in the old restaurant with the stools and the overhead speakers. Or was that sitting outside the engineering building waiting for rhetoric and smoking a cigarette, not yet seeing how the plans weren’t designed. Sitting on the snowy bench as my jeans turned wet on my seat. Puffing and listening and closing my eyes. And marveling that, as spectacular and beautiful as it all is, you can still close all organs involved (I mean close your eyes) and still gather light through the skin. All the oranges, the fish and the music, where I thought it would be nice to be with you for the first time, and miss you not being there.
So many perils to kicking you out at any time. How easy it is to slip into: I start to think I’m not. Not even there. Only gradually debilitating because it is a thought and thoughts can never emerge all at once. And they don’t exhaust quickly, don’t seem to exhaust at all. Big potential to litter endless paragraphs that can’t fit—when there is no context. “It seems like there isn’t even a visual marker, nothing at all set before me in this field.” An endless supply of fissual things, where we have come with our imagination. Not just imagining symbols but other things: fantasies I apologize for eventually. A certain grinding superabundance of events.
Nothing of the past seems okay. Maybe that’s the forecast. What stupid thing is my attention still lurching me towards, latching on for dear life, afraid to let go. I’m not an atheist. Who am I kidding? I don’t even know what these words mean. Unable to listen or I just don’t even mean what I say anymore. This has become a real mess, people, and it already seems over from the future. How a stream of events gets going, I’ll always only seem to know. Do today’s eyes ever really come later?
“Depth of a chest magnified in a screen of yellow caught by the window outside that weren’t effecting the quanta, which reached me indirectly.” If I kept repeating that it might never cease to be imaginary. If I kept repeating that it might never cease to be a mystery, the way light reaches me from so far a distance. My hands become paler, trying to shelter away. Once again I’m treating this as if it were mine and mine to abuse, which is happening. So unaccustomed to it, it runs me off until I am cowering, plain. My biggest mistake is in trying to use terms and phrases that escape me. Using things precisely because the sound requires attention to motives. Do we say because we deem to say so? Do we say as speech tells us to so say? There are many things I do not know yet, but I do know Speech speaks if you let It. How humans would handle that, however, is another matter.
All of this being translation—a petty, papery transgression—it will be hard to decipher what’s being said. What if I’m just building all sorts of walls and can’t even tell who is left anymore? I am so weak, I am not even putting my hands together anymore. I can’t remember anything. Am I numbed out so totally from the world? It’s like I’m on one side of a glass seeing everything I’m doing on the other, but I’m disgusted with everything you see, the evidence you give yourself every day that attests to your despicableness. This one sentence appear capable of ruining the whole journal: I’m incapable of anything. I can only pray I know it; though it seems like not even I am paying attention to it anymore. Fighting with my self a false battle between conflicting scripts—where has it gotten me but far along a confusing road that leads no-where except where I ignorantly tread to go?
Sitting quietly with the cat and remembering back to thanksgiving where my step-mom noticed our actually being thankful for the smallest things. Feeling old and silly with simplicity at a table when I am in fact the youngest one. I suppose my biggest worry has been the nature of God and the substantiality of the self in relation to God. Like right now, hardly knowing what these words mean. But the more I see it—pride in so many hearts, the vulgar isolation the self-contraction instarts—the more I almost cannot help but laugh, even in the downest moods, at the folly of the whole self-destructive run-around. Listening to the internal instart.
Going out in public is the distraction, though there can just as easily be a disjointed ‘public’ inside the schisming self-contraction. For the two are intertwined: you usually start evaluating all the ‘public’ responsibilities that twist your way when your head is out of sorts. The material status of things distracts an otherwise contemplative cognitive faculty from operating in the present. This binding, an unconscious lie, is very difficult to escape; getting out entails a ‘critique’ of the ways and means of the public’s getting inside your head, the way the mind is reached by the silliest attachments and stresses.
I long to be obligated only to the honesty of my poetry and my visibility before God, who is above me my only essence and is only alive when he is present in me or any one of us—when we take the time to listen. I don’t mean run from the public world, but excavate and properly store away as historical lessons the events and repercussive illusions that plague all angles of social life, from international to office politics, wars to dinner-table tufts. At the root is illusion, sin, the self-contraction. It draws each one of us away from where it starts.
Now why should I be so upset after writing a few poems. Perhaps it was the forgiveness that was so hard to follow, and what would false forgiveness even mean to the lonesome howl. What sense is there in critiquing your self like that, saying, “someone else’s song uses the same chord progression,” or wandering off wondering if a friend will judge us harshly and think we’re boasting. Let the negation happen, for I say it will. Humility and courage are assertions, not pacifications. That is not a rationalization, but recognition.
Not at all comfortable with the assertion: Light itself.
Light spaces at night
My father said the thing, that was enough. But soon afterward, night. Then, any one I chose seemed false. But I was standing at the corner of “I hear you,” so I trudged on.
Then, he sent the death-chill—the cold always underneath, the one we avert, idle and unable to accept. That’s what my father sent to me especially, to let me in on the way. That’s how I was let in on the rhythm in nature. Rhythm in nature always has its way—”outside,” where deer are playing and I have no words.
But inside were words, humanoid, like tribes rushing through the night, each of them cheering and clapping, then clapping their hands over their open clappings—then gone. That was how they could remember themselves while they struggled to stay inside. That was how they avoided the time when the dangerous tree would suddenly come speaking, like a rusty joint whose time had come to break. The laughable illusion that human constructions could share space with more practiced roots, like ash, had not yet dawned. But at least the stop sign was facing them, even if they ran it. No one could claim they did not have a chance to see.
I myself am still struggling to set the clear space clearly in the light. It does not seem to be a hallucination when light flashes dark flashes. Then again, I am still struggling in the night. I myself am still inside, with time running out.
Now of course I was just like them. I could only see the name of the one street, inside, since I like them was that one, my own. Its name faces away from the light and who am I who can barely see. If only I look up and let my eyes adjust to the glorange can I see the sign directly; but then when I look at the lamp, it’s just the lamp I see. Perhaps you imagine my predicament. Though I am well aware of the sign and the absence of traffic and the grass surrounding the source of light near the tree, I can only see it when I look into the light, which blinds me. Nonetheless, I am bound to what I see. Just as the light is not opposed to what it lights, my sign is not only upset with me. The outside has a feeling for the inside, whether I dare know it or not. So even though I’m not directly facing the light, I can slowly make out the letters: “T” and then “I” and then “TIME” shining with the glorange around it. But then the sign above it, the one skewed from the light, I cannot see, and certainly cannot read. What non-sense it would be to read the other sign!
And so the dead hands read “TIME,” discovered there is a sign in the voice unseen. Dead hands squeezed images from anywhere, tried to breathe. The fire hydrant stayed out in the cold. I stayed not me. The water, frozen this time of year, was just one part of it. He could tell it was wet inside after all. He could tell the signs corresponded. He had an inkling of what they could mean—if he could read them.
Long ago at this corner, you see, at this corner where the two signs meet, a tree that had octopus hands could reach out over the whole galaxied sky, and reach out it did. He knew there were houses around it and that dead hands were hovering everywhere and that there were active bones with strange intentions above him, squaring off his woody stretching forth, while others just ignored it. It was all a very grand scheme, and the tree noticed. But then the concrete came forth, and they signed him “SIGN,” until no one even noticed anymore that the tree was the glorange inside them and that the night sky stayed partially blue.
So I tried to suck love from that tree and ended up with dead hands anyway. What non-sense it would be to try and get over it!
Now, of course, anyone can see how the specks shine the concrete—if they are looking. But the difference between them and the stars in them make me sick. I too am caught up in the difference—and that makes me even sicker. I’m so sick by now I’m starting to see things, gruesome things. I’m starting to make claims about the signs. I’m starting to see them all in the background, avoiding nature, avoiding the train. I’m starting to hallucinate my brother.
But because they cannot avoid the deer I almost forgot to tell you about in my delirium, they cannot avoid the tree anymore than I can. Don’t you see? Who could avoid the chill? The four that I followed out here are still right behind me. They are the ones who stand behind you and make this all work. They cannot help but observe you meanly when you try to make something of it. But they are forgiving—road kill.
Yes, we five dead deer make our way, unaccustomed, through the city of night and blank screams, avoiding cars and the looks of humans, consigning ourselves to our timid “signs,” our humble snorts, and our glorious walk along the true avenue, “TIME.”
Whoever made my father’s first saying terrible will pay for it; but we who look to nature will forever believe.
I can smell the wine sitting here but I did not purchase it. I went on the journey to purchase it and didn’t and walked home with it nevertheless. I got to open it—for I had the corkscrew. But before I opened it, I scraped away the tin that covered the cork. Once all of it was peeled away, I saw there was a star shape in the way it tore off, the way it was spreading open as if petaled. I had to straighten out a few of the petals to make it really look like a star. (But it was just tin, just a crinkly old thing on an old wine bottle without a definite number of points so it obviously wasn’t a star and no one could ever agree to it.)
The creek was what let it open up. The creek is what I’m in when I’m in ‘a creek’ but the creek is not ‘a creek’. “I feel silly writing.” I mean I feel it in my bones like a boxer’s punch. A boxer’s punch to the face is me in the creek without the creek. I’m not talking about paddles or wooden planks glued together or effort either. You just have to study the body in order to draw faces or look; or reading this closely as though the ink of the text were pointed to the light and you were too but you are further away reading the back of the page where the text is backwards like time. This is the creek without the creek and this is the boxer’s punch, backwards. This is text.
The tin all mangled now and I’ve walked to the back-room, the red hue—ultra-violet—and let’s conceive of a teller too, a letter too, but a letter to whom? Ultra-violet you. Go on… I see you shinin’ there with your skin and eyes and stare… Go on: read! Each event bears witness to the subtle sounds behind you, the creek where you aren’t in the color spectrum or the physical realm, where you are the ultra-violet creek and timeless star. The tin is in the color spectrum, the tin is the scar of time, time being God’s backward motion. The tin is the sucker punch near that creek, the lesson of the ultra-violet near you, almost weeping.
That is what the wine does to me. Here, take and drink, for this is what transforms. This is every event that spills forth into the text, where the Kingdom wills to break your heart open. The crucial question is who that is: the wine itself. I’m looking all over the realm of text for wine and who finds God, which is the crucial question, “Where is God?” I have a definitive answer but not here: there is not a definite answer to be found in any of these messes of objects. But just to be the text, punched, has something of it. The text like a star in its barrenness.
Of course, there are endless levels of interpretation embedded in any phrase, especially, “I enjoy being here”; but that doesn’t mean the phrase answers our question. The ways to talk about wine vary, and of course there are many types. Likewise, not every punch is a punch. In fact some punches are like a light kiss— which is to say, I enjoy being here in the creek, whether or not the tin has a star shape. Whether or not the Kingdom breaks your heart. Whether or not the wine tastes good.
But that is the very question of the creek, isn’t it? How does the wine taste when it’s made out of creek-water? Oh, God’s sound a jack-hammer to the arteries, God’s blood pouring out from such unwanted wounds! Who can make sense of the love the stars have for the hate-worthy world? Who could ever fathom time’s forgiving backward swoon? Who could understand the gruesome scene in the creekbed—where a child lies dead, thrown off the bridge for which he cared so much, drowned in negligence? Who could bear to look at the water, fulled of blood and absent stars! Who could even dare to breathe!
Table of Contents
Notes on Loss 1………………………
Room For One To…………………..
Notes on Loss 2……………………..
“I go to prepare a place for You”
Things My Father Knew………..
Notes on Loss 3……………………..
Notes on Loss 4……………………..
Notes on Loss 5……………………..
Notes on Faith 1…………………….
Notes on Faith 2……………………
Notes on Projective Verse 1…….
Notes on Projective Verse 2……
Notes on Faith 3……………………
Letter to a Friend…………………..
Notes on Faith 4……………………
Notes on the Public World 1…..
Notes on the Public World 2….
Notes on Loss 6……………………
Identity in the Public World….
Notes on Faith 5…………………..
Light spaces at night…………….
© Timothy Lavenz
Original Draft: 2008
Published Online: Christmas 2017