27 March 2014 § Leave a comment
by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell
The road from intensity to greatness
passes through sacrifice.
For a long time he attained it in looking.
Stars would fall to their knees
beneath his compelling vision.
Or as he looked on, kneeling,
his urgency’s fragrance
tired out a god until
it smiled at him in its sleep.
Towers he would gaze at so
that they were terrified:
building them up again, suddenly, in an instant!
But how often the landscape,
overburdened by day,
came to rest in his silent awareness, at nightfall.
Animals trusted him, stepped
into his open look, grazing,
and the imprisoned lions
stared in as if into an incomprehensible freedom;
birds, as it felt them, flew headlong
through it; and flowers, as enormous
as they are to children, gazed back
into it, on and on.
And the rumor that there was someone
who knew how to look,
stirred those less
stirred the women.
Looking how long?
For how long now, deeply deprived,
beseeching in the depths of his glance?
When he, whose vocation was Waiting, sat far from home—
the hotel’s distracted unnoticing bedroom
moody around him, and in the avoided mirror
once more the room, and later
from the tormenting bed
then in the air the voices
discussed, beyond comprehension,
his heart, which could still be felt;
debated what through the painfully buried body
could somehow be felt—his heart;
debated and passed their judgment:
that it did not have love.
(And denied him further communions.)
For there is a boundary to looking.
And the world that is looked at so deeply
wants to flourish in love.
Work of the eyes is done, now
go and do heart-work
on all the images imprisoned within you; for you
overpowered them: but even now you don’t know them.
Learn, inner man, to look at your inner woman,
the one attained from a thousand
natures, the merely attained but
not yet beloved form.
5 February 2014 § Leave a comment
Last Friday saw our bitter leave of the desert city in which I died for the third time in twelve days. Apparently I wasn’t letting my body recover long enough before we booked it out of Pokhara, Lumbini, Varanasi, Agra. Fast, blurry, irresponsible travel. Looking for center on the outside, instead of within. The hotelier in Bikaner, who shall remain anonymous but that he runs the most popular ho(s)tels in town, promised one price as a kind gesture, and, come pay time, charged us twice his word plus an extra night.
The scene was unpleasant: Heather, moon-furious. Me, a half-delerious skeleton between their opposing words, as if I had some final say in the matter, as if the credit card had not already gone through.
Bikaner is somewhat off the tourist path, a northern Rajasthani sibling to the popular camel safari town of Jaisalmer, the famous blue-hued Jodhpur, and laid-back Pushkar. That was the point: take the ten steps required to avoid the crowds, and be granted a break from touts and their targets.
A handful of American movies and Indian TV recovered me to a skinny, post-zombie-like state, ravenous and sore from too many days in bed, listening to hotelier and beloved client argue over a handshake deal made a week before. My head shook involuntarily with anger. I wanted to thank him for his help with mailing a package home, and slap him across the face for after accepting lunch on our dime that afternoon. I felt both helpless and violent, and expressed with words my dreary fury.
Minutes before our bus was due to arrive, Heather brought me to a tailor. I stood outside as she laughed with the women inside. She’d arranged for a copy to be made of my favorite pants – a fraction the price, comfortable as the original. My anger from the hotel swept into a tearful gratitude. That, after a week of caring for me, tolerating my bad attitude, delirium, total refusal to eat, and explosive bodily fluids, she would bestow upon me the gift of a custom wardrobe!
Seconds later, three local boys on a motorcycle rode by. Over the 150cc motor, one spewed, Oh, I want to fuck you…
Oh, India. Let me count the ways.
I roared at them. Furious, annoyed, helpless. The driver turned around. Anger begets anger. I stood my ground, and they passed us, glaring, and yelling Hindi.
So much face of the animal kingdom is bluff.
The truth is, if they stopped to engage, I’m not sure what might have happened. I may have my head on a stake. Maybe not.
These kinds of moments seem to happen every few months: someone challenges me, threatens Heather, or myself. Mindless, misplaced anger. Usually, I laugh it off, put it down to a repressed childhood or some such context I’ll never have. Other times, something within me clicks, and an obnoxiously masculine, alpha force wants the challenger to know he’s out of line. Often enough in the past, I’ve been the one to cross it, exploring neighborhoods where I didn’t belong, and paid for ignoring the signs. I pay more attention now, and with it comes fear-borne aggression.
It scares me. I sense violence in my throat, limbs and gut. My heart palpitates, rushes blood to my hands, head, feet. If the bald man who jumped out of the claw of Abraxas at Burning Man had taken another step, the nerves in his face pulsing, probably due to the ketamine or cocaine… if these immature teenagers stopped the motorbike and approached us…
The space is unknown to me. I am neither a fighter nor a pacifist – I believe violence can and does accomplish certain goals, even if they’re not particularly useful ones. I possess neither art nor discipline with which to fight – only my body, and the rage stored in its depths.
I would be neither willing nor proud to engage anyone outside of defense of self or loved ones. Even then, I doubt my capacity to justify my violence. Bodies store pain, and I’ve got enough of my own to ever want to create it in another.
Breathe. Calm nerves. Channel chaos into creativity, let it go, release, c’est la vie, this is India: everything is possible; nothing is available. Counting to ten doesn’t work for me, but writing does.
India, for me, has not been so much a holiday than a welcome gauntlet. It tests everything I think I know, and wobbles its head when I ask a clarifying question. I love it as much as I hate it, and, as often as locals ask how much I feel for their country, India seems content either way.
12 January 2014 § Leave a comment
ice cold toes
birdsong & laughter
tourist tea & photographs,
abandoned home in shadow.
god left his epitaph
flapping in alpine winds,
now builds sand castles.
float from roof: Richard Cory
umbrella in hand.
9 October 2013 § Leave a comment
That’s it. We’re married. In it until we’re not.
It’s back to totes and attics with the decoration. Cold leftover cake smudges our mini fridge with chocolate, gifts lie about our basement like trinkets from another world. We’re supposed to be packing for our honeymoon, and I’m busy honing a life purpose.
Don’t forget your toothbrush. Write until your fingers ache. Make sure you pack your sandals. What is the relationship of words and sound? Is the extension cord in the camper? Is the camper an extension of myself?
I found a post-it note with the names of people who’ve not yet been paid for their contribution to the wedding day; a fabulously sucessful affair whose only hiccup was that the bride’s entrance song never played. Oh, you don’t get a second chance at things like that.
And the beat goes on. Credit toward its due, a handful of women organized an event for the age. Its kind had not been seen by even the caterers. The sheep skin-textured day left me whispering incoherent rhymes past midnight. The wedding crashers kept quiet, if not inconspicuous. I could speak to its wonderments for hours. Signing the documents under porchlight. Gatsby glamour in ways I did not expect people to take the invitation to heart. The dapper Reverend Ed in a cowboy hat.
And then I was asked to acknowledge my family.
I’d not been asked to do that before. I thought there’d be a quick prayer said by someone else. I thought their presence spoke for itself. What was I supposed to say about my family?
I stood there and looked at them, holding the microphone like a middle school principal at a pep rally. The wedding paused. An autumn tide flooded up through my body. I felt the water headed for my eyes, and tried to dam it. I couldn’t tell what they expected. I couldn’t tell if they expected. The stage itself, a sloped lawn next to a purple and green house in the woods didn’t bother me; seventy or eighty people watching me in silence, to most of whom I’d been branded at least once that awful title Poet, I washed them out of my mind; I was there with me that day, Sunday at 3:33.
My family had shown up in support – for perhaps the first time in my experience. No words came – no rhymes or images which might impress. Just the tears. I gave myself the sole option of claiming my roots, tenuous as they were. So I told the truth. That I’d not stopped running from home and family since June sixteenth two thousand three, the day I left Alaska with the intention of forever. That I’d been searching for something better since, and had nearly convinced myself that I’d found it. A lot can happen in ten years.
Likewise, much can stay the same. Like my destination, no matter how far or fast I traveled, no matter what I was looking for. Like people who love me. Who hold space for my everything, while I search for the meaning of ‘holding space’ in the far reaches.
After the ceremony I wondered if it was strange that I cried and Heather didn’t. I remember seeing her pages and pages of agreements and vows, and thinking of the page and a half in my green notebook I’d dedicated to the venture, and how much I’d crossed out and written in the margins. By the time I got to the end, I’d barely begun. Luckily my voice did not fail me.
And, to my gentle surprise, neither did my family.
9 October 2013 § Leave a comment
The following are the kind of friends:
One who has played with you in the dust.
One who is bound by an obligation.
One who is a fellow student.
One who is acquainted with your secrets and faults, and whose secrets and faults are known to you.
One who is brought up with you.
One who is a hereditary friend.
These friends should possess the following qualities:
They should tell the truth.
They should not be changed by time.
They should be favorable to your designs.
They should be firm.
They should be free from covetousness.
They should not be capable of being gained over by others.
They should not reveal your secrets.
–The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana
29 September 2013 § Leave a comment
We excel at that which we do often.
Some are great meditators, others mimic sloths; without context, they can seem equal.
Humans in my experience are spiritual machines, capable only of that which they believe.
19 August 2013 § Leave a comment
“Come on, Zeus,” said the woman. “Let’s go.”
An ancient canine energy stood at the front door of the pop-up camper, glazed eyes looking through the door. Not at me, I thought. Somewhere far beyond me. Maybe for him the camper and I weren’t there, yet something made him stop.
“Sometimes he refuses to move until he’s seen,” said the woman, whose useless leash hung limp from her hand.
“I see you, buddy; do you see me?” I asked Zeus, slowly moving my hand toward his nose. He did not move his head, or any part of his massive Shepherd/Golden Retriever body, but accepted my attention. I massaged behind his ear and felt the years of his loyalty peaking through the bone atop his head.
He continued to gaze into the camper, our Burning Man home, psychedelic lights and all, set up in a down-home Portland neighborhood. An anomaly? A threat to his decades of leashed walks down Southeast 13th, this pink and purple welcome mat set upon the grass?
I did not bend to meet his eyes; we both stood tall and as proud as we could in the moment, and his woman patiently watched our interaction, made no move to pull the god dog away. Her behavior was for me a sign of true companionship, of an intimate knowing of her friend whose twilight was passing quickly.
“Have a good life,” I said to the dog, who, like the tiger Richard Parker, did not look back at me before he walked out of my life forever. We had had our time, like he’d had his, and I was no threat to him.
As if out of respect, the woman looked me in the eye before she led him (or he led her?) home. “Thank you for your affection,” she said warmly.
12 July 2013 § Leave a comment
I need you to be strong, baby.
I need your smile so that I can hold up
the whole universe when you call. And
I need you to know that my goodbyes
translate to ‘until next time’ in every language
spoken near the sea, mountains, and sky.
10 July 2013 § Leave a comment
suspicious sun, an emerald sea -we observers focus on wind, and sail.
what becomes of tides where no waves collide?
what composes human folly, then,
if we decide that lo9ve will stumble
before it falls on us?
who watched in agony the
cliffside chaos, wind caught
chorus, wild music ringing?
sunset’s but some heaven
leasing demons through
a fiery gate, a needle threaded.
5 June 2013 § Leave a comment
26 April 2013
My fifth annual pilgrimage to the remote fishing grounds on the far edge of the world ends and begins today. The two-prop plane just passed over Kenai your burial ground, and turned west. Snowy mountains as far as I can see, the northern arc of the Ring of Fire encircling me. It’s comforting that no matter how far away I run, some container will hold me.
No step is independent of the rest.
I have taken many, and not always been conscious of my feet. I’ve found that when I continually shift my focus center, each step follows the last, no matter the terrain.
Twelve days ago I asked Heather to marry me. She said yes. Two days ago I embarked on what could be the most demanding work I’ve yet known. Both bear infinite possibilities and great consequence. I’m not sure I’m ready. But I feel more prepared than ever to embrace life.
Thank you for showing me how to rest. My savasana winter, modeled by your eternal permafrost calm, taught me how to place my energy where it thrives, to attract what I want from life unabashed, and to respect the voice within. Or enough at least to know I need not always be commanded by it.
The glacialwhite Alaska Range is flattening into the vast expanse of southwestern Alaska. North, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. South, Bristol Bay, home of my abundance. East, my past, quieted by invisible propellors and my focus on the west, possibility and wonder, love and adventure.
These frozen rivers will soon break, and flow through me, the wide open countryside they quench is space which holds me close, dearly watches me play. it reminds me to step carefully, to move consciously, for my body is a growing temple, always just strong enough for my journey.
Thank you, brother, for doing what seemed most right, for inspiring and teaching me, in your backward way, how to live. So much love. So much.