For all Eternity
is at once in Him, both the empty durations before the World was
made, and the full ones after. Between
before and after is this last day. There's a round stain on my
meditation cushion where the cat peed. It forms a perfect circle, a
knot of black thread precisely at its center. A tuft of his orange
fur shows at 9 o'clock, a wisp of dead grass just past noon. There is
no calendar for poems, I write, only artifice. But this day will end when the vet comes with her needle. These will be your traces, body
elements, the odd fruits of your dying. In
Lawrence, an admirer preserved William Burroughs' turd and put it on
display. Matter matters, but
not in that way. Om
mane padme hung.
February 2015 [Thank you to James McCorkle for telling me that Burroughs was himself a cat lover.]
something absent: and a need of what is absent. The
cat's eyes fill with mucus; what he sees he sees through film. Small
children can't tell need from want, necessity from desire. The cat's
desire is all necessity: his dish, the spot by the window when
there's sun. Touch and taste were hands and lips; the class exercise
turned to expressions of love. My son wears a bracelet with his
girlfriend's name on it. I wear a ring on my left hand. Ruth held a
long dry leaf, ran it along the railing like a prayer wheel. What
we hold sacred is at hand. I wipe out my cat's eyes with a Kleenex;
he turns away, orange cheeks stained brown. We consider the ethics of
feeding, the stain of wiping the cat's anus. There is no prince of
this prom; we are equal citizens
in the end-of-life.
This is very
strange that God should want. Merriam-Webster
the word “strange” for me, so I won't
be. It's stranger,
non-native; if there is God, he cannot be, except in not being
strange. Shift pronouns—he, she—to
pull down infinity but a tad.
“For Gad, for country, and for Yale,” his campaign sign read. I
don't remember if he won, but why should it matter? Someone
sang Alice Cooper in response
to her talk, but I read
“sign,” as if gesture could
convey such sound. Silence
is many things. Is cat on his blanket this Monday morning, eyes wet,
still wanting water, food. He needs to know you'll
let him go, the vet says; her
animals respond to English
and make their own mistakes. My son's eyes are dark with refusal, but
this morning he scratched the cat's head before school. Nothing's
simple, it's all lease-hold. Leases
come due, and we let them go.
It is very
strange; want itself is a treasure. The
cat still wants: water, food, a wobbly walk on the lanai. I don't
want so much as I lack. “I can't eat for you,” I said, before he
began again to eat. Lack precedes want, but want contains little except lack. Bryant caregives, taking reduction for a
new essence, abiding with it.
My mother on her deathbed was past want or lack; all she did was
breathe until she did not. The cat on his blanket has more volition
than that. It's his volition
that hurts, the quiet bend of his front leg and the slow collapse of
his back. The man who'd had a
stroke walked beautifully. It was not his walk, but his want of
walking that made it so, the odd circular motion of his one leg as it
moved toward the floor, set itself down, began. Attention obliges us
to love. I want his next step taken.
would have thought there were so many things in the world which I do
not want!” Our cat lurches
a zigzag jig from maroon blanket
to kitchen to carpet. Restlessness is a sign, I read. He
propels himself toward the door, as if momentum were
a kind of direction. It's
raining, so he cannot find his sun spot. He peers out the louvered
window beside our shoes.
I do not want him to die. I
do not want him to live. I do not want for not wanting.
Your enjoyment is
never right, till you esteem every Soul. Our
cat begs, though he cannot eat. He walks on rubbery legs to his
litter box, then misses it. Tiles grow slick with his urine. The
carpet hides his spots, the blanket stinks with food Bryant squirted
in his mouth. He sits at the kitchen entrance and meows softly; I
hear his breath across the
room. I think of Saijo's bush bunny, the perfection of his body in
death. And of his cat who left, then
returned to die at
home. This is the year of
letting go, my friend suggests. Not renunciation, but something
quieter. To give is to be generous; to give in is to enter without
My cat hears none of our
cluckings. He wobbles onto the lanai, seeking his sun spot, or
a taste of rain.
He exits my sight, stage left.
He hasn't given up yet, Bryant
says. To give up is to go
(Everyone hath in
him a Spirit, with which he may be angry.) Write
a poem in prepositions. Massage this “with” as “through” or
“against.” Meaning withheld, magnifies. The message was for you
alone, my friend writes, in all its bitterness. If I want to keep
things quiet, I will. The thrush, this crisp Monday morning,
doesn't answer to demands. Nor the honking egret, close cousin to
regret. Regret postulates recollection, recollection the church
basket in which you throw your change. Altar, alters.
Where none finds. And what
of the parentheses: are they sidelines or the field whose artificial
dust rises when a player's foot lands on it? The stadium is parenthetical. We hold us to our containers, snuggle inside
like the sick cat on Bryant's lap. His organs fail, but still he
totters to the kitchen. We watch him constantly
good sign. Await the years
inside parentheses. The hyphen is a flash drive that
holds our photos in hock.
We need nothing
but open eyes, to be ravished like the Cherubims. “Was
da kooks-wit-wings,” returning
home. Red-combed roosters clutched
in a tree beside the track.
one guy wrote, “the
chipmunk squirreled up the tree.” Why I remember that and not
Blake. Tony wrote a poem
about the Inside Out. He
sat with me when I read the New York Times
on the stairs outside my dorm. We
had a night together that went nowhere, even in the moment. Later,
his long love affair with the bottle, his
two beautiful sons.A
came up to me at AWP and said she was his love. I think I sent him my
book through her.
He died in Vermont this week.
“Tony?” someone asked:
the stubble on his face,
the thrown back thin hair,
his heavy lidded eyes.
The week we read Bishop's “At the Fishhouses” he came to class
carrying a pack of Lucky Strikes. His
last call to her arrived on a
Radio Shack cellphone. Corporations
die like people. Some say they are. He was. I am.
foundations of the World are out of course. If
asked to watch a
basketball passed from player to player, you're likely to miss the
man in the gorilla suit. Paul
Valéry: “to see is
to forget the name of what one sees.”
Practice tonglen, a friend says; don't stick a name on your enemy,
breathe his pain in.
I cough as if I'd inhaled a tablespoon of Saigon
cinnamon. My students had a
hard time with the no-name tree outside our window (the one only I
could see). To abstract the tree from its school bus yellow is to
lose it. One student said she always gives
leaves high fives. Another touches
the serrated wall
each time back
to the kitchen. Don't look in
your heart and write; see the stain on the wall and start there.
Necessity without attachment, a
flock of Brazilian cardinals skitteringon the lanai.
The works of
contentment and pleasure are of the Day. Here
are some of the textures a rat might touch: dimpled plastic, the
of a cast iron pan, a flaw in the carpet. The rat needs to touch what
he runs beside. There's a word for it that begins with a T.
At some point in the middle
of the journey of our lives,
the dark wood fills with letters unattached to words. Sounds sway
like bamboo, clattering to no obvious meaning except that they touch.
It's like the instant noise becomes sound becomes pillow talk between
newly wed Christians through
a thin interior wall. She
gains comfort when she prays that she can
forgive them who hurt her. To
be able to is not to forgive,
but to find the off-ramp
sickles its way toward F.
Her lines lacked syllables,
but began as a perfect acrostic. I advised her not to tell.
Nor shall the air
itself be counted anything even
in wind you hear before it touches. Our sick cat sits on a maroon
pillow; he can't hear the wind, though he feels us when
we come home. Yesterday he
tottered in from his sunny spot on skinny legs. We've started talking
to him about the end, which is an end for him, but not for us. What
does a cat know of mortality? Of the speeches we make before and
after? Of the poems devoted to dying? “My
brother should never have had a gun!”
a woman yelled. More dead in one place than the sheriff had ever
seen. Death is rarely
non-violent; the cat knew that. Done
slowly enough, it lingers like perfume in the carpet. We know us
better as he dies. Take the brush and comb out his unkempt fur.
Scratch his chin. He still likes it, so let him live.
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The riches of
darkness are those which men have made. Kaka`ako
condo towers have not been
built, nor need they be, a
reads. Crystal needles, safer
investments than meth. To have
power is to see the ocean clearly from a great height. Homeless
live on the ground; their ocean has less horizon and its waves are
taller, like glass buildings shattering. Surfers are needles in its
rubbling. He climbed some stairs and knocked. Inside he
found a bank of illegal game
machines, men perched on stools, gambling. Shell
corporations own units for a mafioso, a girl who lives in a dorm, a
war criminal. We are hostages to capital, not daring to call its
bully out. The word
“affordable” is a shell, and so are “human services.” Nut
cracked, there's nothing inside except
a cave. If a lion lives
outside yours, what is there for it to eat? Your daily meditations?
They walk on in
darkness, and will not understand. An
old woman grasps a steel railing, her hand a
surrounded by attachments,
like the leash on a dog they're persuaded will run away. But I want
to run away, smell the secret spots beside the trees, hump a bench or
two, sequester myself on a long beach. The poet quoted Paul
Tillich, said he felt love
most when he was alone. The mind runs until its wheels enter the
belly, air gathering between earth and torso. We're
only permitted flight when we attend. Be there, where there's
nothing more than frond, ellipsis, air. You
sewed the binding, punched the holes yourself. There
are those we cannot fill, except over-. Asphalt eyes.
There is so much
blindness and ingratitude and damned folly in it. Your
life will be difficult for a while, a friend says; enjoy it. When I
say the Alzheimer's was a gift, faces bunch up. A student obsessed
with tornadoes refers to the “rain shadow” over the mountains. It
begins in the forehead, settling down to the chin, filling gaps with
its gravity. At half-time
Katy Perry sang about feeling like a plastic bag. In such wind we
flutter like artificial leaves, see the foot of a wall-eyed
in the road,
kicking at the bag's
imagined weight. Negative
capability is flour sifted, drizzling the parking lot; as
music blares, a cop sits on a
pole looking down. What he sees is pattern: metallic blues and reds
on a black surface. Pattern
is comfort and thief, warm
blanket around a stolen book.
Till you more
feel it than your private estate, and are more present in the
hemisphere... than in your own house. I
know how to grieve a person, but a book? I see its face in dumpsters,
fires, left beside the road amid
broken stoves and strollers. The chess master sees his pieces in the
same part of his brain as he does faces. They are that to him. At
the chess pavilion in Chicago, a black man yelled at
me about the best minds of my
generation. I'd forgotten I wore my Howl
shirt that day. The poem is a face, one with shades and birthmarks.
Put it in a situation, like a floatie in the ocean, and watch how it
responds. If salt eats it, go for sweet.
Till you can sing
and rejoice and delight . . . as misers do in gold, and Kings in
sceptres, you never enjoy the world. The
problem, she said, was not who has the power, but power itself. They
put dog shit in front of his door and, when he fell sick, they took
everything. He saw rifle sights in raindrops, which is not to say he
saw raindrops, or that he
deflected his gaze from the
you see them, he asked a friend. Raindrop
metamorphosis did not draw them closer. Gold
does not bring the miser nearer
to his twin. They took his books, his computer, his kitchen cabinets.
Something about him had been unclean. To
expel means to breathe out; it is your own breath you lose.
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Your enjoyment of
the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven. I
feel constant joy, I say to my friend, who laughs. She prepares for
death, as we all ought. Only on the other side, she says, the other
side. To take sides is to take them where, like logs in a truck bed,
or the mirror to the world
that's never fixed. My students didn't know the word “bark” in
“wandering bark,” thought Shakespeare might
be referring to a stray dog.
That does change things, the ever-fixèd mark a bone, the dying poet
having writ on Kibbles. A
boy stands on Lanikai beach in Sunday best for his annual photo. Radhika
calls it his “birthday suit.” When I say what that means, she
laughs. Is it Mormons who stand on the corner asking for money?
Sangha wonders. No, they're the men
in narrow black ties. Bias is natural, Michael says, but it's how we
process it that matters. To
condescend is not to set a cross on fire. Remember that.