Thirty years ago, in N. California, the concrete lid of my cabin's cesspool was cracking. I bought a 90 lb. bag of premixed concrete in town, drove it to the trailhead—I was living three-quarters up a mountain—, and worked it into my backpack. Balancing on a ledge, arms secure in straps, each of the affinities depends on all others. Together they form one kind of bundle here, and another kind of bundle there. Now a child, now a fish, now a stone, or cloud I began to rise, only to have the weight drive me back, sprawled on the ground like a bug struggling with its legs in the air.
Lately I've been dreaming of an unfamiliar section of the city. There I am looking for the way home. But the directions I'm given lead me even further away. Although I'm beginning to realize this isn't going to get me home, I still keep asking for directions.
A few days after the most recent of these dreams, I read: "Odysseus's canto (is) concerned with the composition of human blood which contains in itself the salt of the ocean. The beginning of the voyage is located in the system of blood vessels. The blood is planetary, solar, salty...With all the convolutions of his brain Dante's Odysseus despises sclerosis just as Farinata despised Hell."
I cannot think of Osip Mandelstam without Nadezhda and her two amazing books. More so, her prodigious feat of memorizing her husband's poems, in case Stalin, the tyrant who had him exiled to the Gulag, would also destroy his manuscripts. Thus, like fertilized eggs, Osip's wife transplanted his poems into herself. Mandelstam had prophetically written, "'we are all carriers of an enormous embryological experiment.'"
Can we still love each other's poems in the clatter of mass communication? Can we still feel the undertow?
In the Japanese Garden, people chatter beneath dark clouds scudding northeast. I expect their voices to leap like frogs into the pond. I expect the trees to laugh, as they shake fat raindrops onto my head. I expect the bamboo to bow while I silently chant. I expect a dry bench to materialize and invite me to sit. I expect too much—
Jules Michelet visited the mud baths at Aqui, hoping to restore his health. There he received "the curious news" from Dr. Heinz Graupner that the "mud baths contain hormones from antediluvian pollen." To be healed by the plants of another epoch reanimated by this year's Spring!
Scan the dumpers of any city and you'll find automobile license plates from elsewhere. Breathe and you breathe particulates blown in from a continent away. Ladle water weary from traveling for weeks and diverted for agricultural and industrial use all along the way. Texas mates with Oklahoma. Southern Georgia is northern Florida. Mexico is hemorrhaging toward the Arctic Circle. Is Pakistan not still India? Are the Balkans no longer balkanized? In which direction does Turkey face after the day's last prayers fade?
I don't know when my fondness for Thomas Merton began. To this day, when I read passages from his journals, his relentless questioning of himself, the depth of his humaneness, of his faith in the Unknown, leave me in awe.
A row of gray buddhas sit facing the street, eyes half-closed, we can recover the beauty if we learn and admit what we have all done wrong, if we dream on into the future, a whole dream with a place for dissent but room for discovery. A dream of the earth, with past and future dissolved into the moment. Taking all as equally so real, only then they bear witness to a world streaming through this drizzly afternoon.
When I see a waterfall, I imagine the 2000 ft. high wall of water that plowed through what is now Idaho and Oregon, leveling mountains, clawing out valleys, gorging a path for the Columbia River. The Missoula Floods, they were called. Physicists conjure their world with equations. Perhaps we can learn to think like an earthquake, a hurricane, a cascade of water shaping mountains and valleys, environmental art on a monumental scale.
Belonging to an organized religion is not a path to the mystery of Being. It may exhume the aroma of the sacred, but the legend of the Thunderbolt deity was already hoary with age thirty-four centuries ago, an ancient legend when the Aryan invaders of India had composed their Vedic hymns to Indra, the god of the clear sky, who shook heaven and earth with his ‘hundred-edged’ darts. Indra, Zeus, Jove, Thor, Vajrapni or Yahweh---call him by whatever name you will, when you leave the building you still smell like your old soddy self. Siddhartha left the palace for the forest. Jesus left the synagogue for the desert. Naropa left academia to find a teacher.
Tonight, Death's silken robes slide across my skin in a whisper. This is no mundane erotica, Death is not born of flesh.
Outside the hospital a young doctor sits at a table making one phone call after another. Another man is taking close-up pictures of flowers. As Hh leans toward them, they smile. We slip out of the womb to conquer the world, only to find that the world will eventually wear us down to its size.
Landscapes are modeled on what's going on inside their observer. Although they are "never entirely synchronous or continuous" in their commentary on Herodotus. How and Wells tell us that ‘to speak like a bird’ was a Greek expression for talking unintelligibly,’ and when the Trojan Cassandra, in Aeschylus’ play Agamemnon, is accused of twittering ‘like a swallow’, the reference is to the speech of barbarians as Greeks heard it…the bird sounds would be hard to interpret if there were any, but as it happens, they are referential. Someday I will disappear and become the hermit in a painting of steep mountains and winding streams. It's not the mountain's steepness I long for, but its scent, which make my lungs hoard the air. I have no childhood home to return to, no friends that need tracking down. When someone approaches me on the trail, I hide my pen and pad.
I make the same trek several times a week: walking to several libraries, a few art galleries, bookstores to browse in. On these journeys, I try to defamiliarize the streets. Today I walked past a tree and felt its roots searching beneath the pavement for water. And potted plants: how we circle and square the world!
Reading Basho's famous journal, I note that his quest through Japan was at a time when justice was whatever favored the ruling class. (It hasn't changed.) Basho himself sometimes had to pass himself off as a priest, in order to assure his safe passage. To be a poet a team of astronomers announced yesterday that it had found what it called the cosmic renaissance, the epoch in which starlight first began streaming freely through the universe. The announcement was made a few days after another team reported that it had discovered the cosmic dark ages, a time before stars and galaxies began shining. The new finding appears to strengthen the scientific case that one needs both inspiration and courage.
I live among the aged. Every day I see neighbors in wheelchairs. I think: "What if I could not longer walk? No, not if, but when will I lose "the moments of the happy glide"? However, as both my parents walked into their 90s, maybe...
What we call reality is the flowering of earth's optimal conditions for life as we know it. Even if the initial conditions on another planet were slightly different, life would sprout and evolve in unrecognizable forms. What we call life is not so much special as specialized in creation and in ritual. The Hebrew language was considered by Jewish mystics as playing a role much more important than the common communicative one that language regularly plays. It was the main instrument of the creation of the world, and it is the vessel that is prepared by man to contain the divine light that is attracted therein in order to experience an act of union or communication. In both cases, the letters do not serve, in any way, as a channel of transmitting meaning; too powerful an instrument, on a planet where most people believe in a singular God. Are we ready to see the Other? Science Fiction may help to prepares us, but for what? The Muppets?
After I had lived ten years in California, I decided it was "time to go home." I drove my VW Bug across the country, visiting friends along the way. Finally entering New York City, I remember thinking: "What have I done? I don't belong here anymore. This is where I came from." My home was in the West.