Monday, October 19, 2009

Walking into Stillness

“You know what I loved most about my time there?”


“The absence,” she said. “The total absence of all the usual crap.”

“They didn’t have the internet?”



“Uh huh.”

“It wasn’t boring?”

“It was a relief. My mind was quiet, free. There was nothing pressing. No advertisements for perfect beaches in the Caribbean. No guilt or desire that stretched my reach. No sense that life was elsewhere. It was here. I was here.” She placed her palm over her diaphragm. “I’ve never experienced a greater solitude. Or been less lonely.”

“But what did you do?”

“I cried at first.”


“Yeah. Like a baby.”

“Why was that?”

“I’m not sure.”


“And then I walked. I walked for miles. I walked until I could feel my unhappiness . . . detach. Until I felt all those snarled chains float free.”

Her friend dropped his gaze to her tennis shoes. Some of the seams gaped. A big toenail peeked through.

He cleared his throat.

“So why did you come back to us? To all the craziness?” His voice wavered. “To . . . me?”

She touched his shoulder, but he pulled away. Reaching for a drink on the coffee table.

“You were never a chain,” she said, eyes seeking his. “Never. You were just one of the roots to lead me back home.”

He coughed himself into a blush. Definitely needing a couple sips from that drink.

“If we were in a TV movie, they’d cut to commercial break now,” he finally said.

“True. Women would be crying. Men would be all stoic and strong-eyed.”

“Thank God I’m a man.”

“I embarrassed you,” she said.

“No! I mean . . . no.” He scratched his nose and leaned back into the cushion. “You were just getting all Dalai Lama on my ass there for a minute. That's all.”

She laughed and put a finger over her lips.

“Okay. We never had this conversation.”

“Or if we did, we were stoned.”

“Completely gored out of our heads.”

“High on shrooms.”

“High on love and truth. Truth in love.”

They were silent for a moment. Him sloshing ice cubes in that drink. Palms protecting a chill.

“Why is it so hard to say these things?” he asked quietly.

“It wasn’t," she said. "I wanted to say them.”

He set down the drink and hooked a foot on the opposite knee. Fingers peeling at the tread of his boot.

“Then why is it so hard for me to accept them?” he said.

“I don’t know.”

She smiled at him. He saw it light her eyes.

“But I’m telling you, anyway.”


This piece is dedicated to all my friends,
and particularly to The Walking Man
and Cat, whose words and paintings
this week were the light
and inspiration.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Barefoot in Bach

I want to write about music tonight.

No, that’s not right. I want to play music tonight.

But since my skills are fairly feeble at the piano, and my kids are soaking up some gamma rays from the television, I will try to write about music instead.

And completely fail to do it justice.

There must be a reason for this divide. For the distance between words and notes, and the emotional effects they conjure in us.

Writers have to design emotion like a slow and meticulous spider spinning its web. It’s an intellectual process, at its very foundation. Readers absorb words in a similar way. Poetry—particularly free verse—is the closest we writers can get to being the conduits, and not the architects. While music . . . well, music is IV emotion shooting straight to the heart.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

If books and film are story-driven and wide, music is moment-contingent and deep. Complete immersion. Suspension. What I choose to listen to often shapes my mood like liquid being poured into an elastic and evolving reservoir. A song’s meaning is also layered by its past listenings, until we are moving through a grand canyon of visceral memory. In one sense, the emotion a song conjures deepens with every play (until we’ve worn it out, that is), and nostalgia is often the space/time harmony accompanying the melody itself.

So anyway. Where was I going with this again?

I’ve been listening to Bach lately. Specifically, his Goldberg Variations. More specifically, Glenn Gould’s impassioned, if eccentric, recordings of the Goldberg Variations.

And what does it conjure? Well, to explain it is to dilute its essence. It’s draining the immediacy of that liquid immersion. But I’ll try, anyway.

There is a bright, glassy clarity to Bach’s sound. Even his more melancholy variations have such a strength of structure stabilizing them that I know I’ll never be opened up too wide, or dragged too low. If I close my eyes while listening to the Goldberg Variations, I’m barefoot in the summer grass, feeling the cool specificity of each blade underfoot, as I walk, tiptoe, or dash across the lawn (not a field or wilderness—that’s too overgrown and hopelessly wandering for Bach).

I like its pure lines. The transfer of structure and calm (if only in the moment, alas). My thoughts may wander to the clouds while listening to Bach, but my heart is centered in my chest, and again, my feet are earth-bound.

Bach is a soothing balm when thoughts have become too overheated and unwound.

Yet music can also be emotionally dangerous. There is a darker landscape of song that not only shapes our mood, but saturates it to the point of masochism and pain. How can it wield such a power over us? Power that even the most beloved book cannot hope to duplicate for immediate impact.

And more intriguingly, why on earth would we invite it?

So many parts of our lives are not pliable. They’re fixed, like the bricks in a wall. Or the words on a page. Which provides stability and continuity, but also limits our freedom. Yet there are no barriers to where our hearts and souls might wander when we close our eyes, and press play. Or if, by some stroke of enviable fortune, we can play an instrument ourselves. It’s intoxicating to travel in that canyon, if also slightly treacherous for what it seems to paint on our lids and promise in the other world. For what it fails to deliver when our eyes snap back open at the end of the song, and only white silence embraces us.

Most of the great rock and pop songs are about desire of some sort. It’s no surprise. Desire is restless, fluid. Desire is eternal. And so is music.

We are not, but want to be. We desire desire. We want to live in the canyons of songs. Forever.

So have I gotten anywhere here with all of this? I don’t know. All that water seems to have slipped through my fingers . . . my web.

Aw, screw it.

Just listen to Bach, and kick off your shoes with me.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tabula Rasa

I feel it as a phantom limb,
this splayed uncertainty
that’s not quite there
but nonetheless spins my wheel,
this mad rustle of shapeshifter leaves
rooting for summer’s pruney teat,
a ghostly visitation that watches
but refuses to say
or own the squirmy fear it makes

A vampire choked
around my neck
with garlic breath
and heart of smoke

Enough; no more.
Tis not so sweet now as it was before.

I’m disgusted with it all.

I’m disgusted with me.

You wanna know how to kill a bloodsucker?

Get up off those knees, and

Drive a fucking stake through it.