Confronting Clayfeld

Pausing for breath on a large fallen tree, 
Clayfeld must have been watching longer
than he realized, for now declining light
upon the snow-bedazzled mountaintop
reveals blue shades and purple shadows
down its crevices that guide his view
to where the thrusting tree line ends, 
the swaying tips of evergreens. 
     And Clayfeld wonders if his sense
of this illuminated mountain's vast
impersonality can free him now
from being only who he is. 
A measure of detachment from
his personal desires has broadened, 
he believes, his own capacity
to care for animals and friends, 
so that the very act of taking care
becomes for him its own reward. 
     How fortunate, he thinks, confronting his
deep longing to transcend himself, that he
is able to conceive of selflessness— 
a thought which seems to come from somewhere
far beyond his own volition or his will
and takes the form of serendipity. 
The very concept of a selfless self
is like a happening without a cause
which then inspires happiness, 
though Clayfeld knows that happiness
remains contingent and ephemeral. 
     Yet Clayfeld chooses still to focus
on the paradox that he feels most himself
when he regards his life as if he might
have read it in a book—a life about
a lover waiting by a waterfall, 
a credible alternative to what
he can remember of himself. 
     And, suddenly, out from the underbrush, 
a startled moose emerges with its antlers
gleaming in a splotch of sun, its spittle
sparkling in its beard, smelling of urine
to attract a mate; his presence is
so overwhelming that shocked Clayfeld, 
apprehending him, is shaken from his trance,
back to his solitary self. 
     He tastes his acid fear within his lungs
as its gigantic head, with flattened ears, 
sways back and forth, about to charge
and trample him into the silent ground. 
Clayfeld is flushed with the sensation of
his body's readiness to run or hide
behind a boulder or a hemlock tree
in caring for his one, his only life. 
     And yet in Clayfeld's overheated mind—
his mind reduced to his own dread— 
he knows he is preparing to relate
his threatening encounter
with a stamping, wide-eyed moose
to a trustworthy friend—someone, 
perhaps, who wonders why this story of
personal fear must mean so much to him.

- Robert Pack

Men as Friends

I have a few which is news to me
Tom drops by in the mornings with his travel
mug my mother would call it a coffee klatch

we review our terrible histories with fathers
and talk about the father he's become and how much
it will cost to replace gutters the ice brought down

and then there's soft-spoken Harvey
with whom I enjoy long pauses in conversation about how
they raised the Nelson town hall and put a foundation underneath

during which we both look up at Mt. Monadnock and then down
at the ground and then back at each other silence precipitating
the pretty weather we share before he goes inside for lunch

when I had to pack up my office Tom boxed
and loaded books into my car I didn't think he'd want to
but his idea of friendship includes carrying heavy things

at the dog park the retired Marine with the schnauzer
asked Do you have a husband? I replied I don't care for men
in that way
 as a Marine James mostly played cards

on a supply ship now he mostly hunts and fishes
climbs his orchard ladder for my Cortlands
and in trout season leaves, in my fridge, two rainbows

- Robin Becker

Parable of Flight

A flock of birds leaving the side of the mountain. 
Black against the spring evening, bronze in early summer,
rising over blank lake water. 

Why is the young man disturbed suddenly,
his attention slipping from his companion?
His heart is no longer wholly divided; he's trying to think
how to say this compassionately. 

Now we hear the voices of the others, moving through the library
toward the veranda, the summer porch; we see them
taking their usual places on the various hammocks and chairs,
the white wood chairs of the old house, rearranging
the striped cushions. 

Does it matter where the birds go? Does it even matter
what species they are?
They leave here, that's the point,
first their bodies, then their sad cries.
And from that moment, cease to exist for us. 

You must learn to think of our passion that way. 
Each kiss was real, then
each kiss left the face of the earth. 

- Louise Gluck

"We are fighting for my silver soul

like Jacob & the angel
you are the angel
i am the young boy fighting for my life
i am the angel
you are the young boy fighting for your life
we mirror each other
like a beautiful face in the river
half of us is drowned
half of us is light
i reach into your soul & pull out the bone of my life..."

- from "Dead Baby Speaks," in Tender, by Toi Derricotte

The Illumination

"In that hotel my life
rolled in its socket
twisting my strings.
All my mistakes,
from my earliest
bedtimes,
rose against me:
the parent I denied,
the friends I failed,
the hearts I spoiled,
including at least
my own left ventricle—
a history of shame.
'Dante!' I cried
to the apparition
entering from the hall,
laureled and gaunt,
in a cone of light.

'Out of mercy you came
to be my Master
and my guide!'
To which he replied:
'I know neither the time
nor the way
nor the number on the door…
but this must be my room,
I was here before.'
And he held up in his hand
the key,
which blinded me."

- Stanley Kunitz, from The Testing Tree

A Fan's Notes

"I tried a number of places in Watertown before settling on The Parrot; though it was not exactly the cathedral I would have wished for, it was--like certain old limestone churches scattered throughout the north country--not without its quaint charms. It was ideally located on a hill above the city; sitting at the bar I was seldom aware of the city's presence, and when I was, I could think of it as a nostalgic place beneath me, a place with elm trees and church towers and bone-clean streets; sitting at the bar, the city could be thought of as a place remembered, and remembered as if from a great distance….Sunday afternoons, with the music stilled and the blinds thrown open allowing the golden autumn sunlight to diffuse and warm the room, I would stand at the bar and sip my Budweiser, my "tapering-off" device; munch popcorn from wooden bowls; and in league with the bartender Freddy, whose allegiance to the Giants was only somewhat less feverish than mine, cheer my team home. Invariably and desperately I wished that the afternoon, the game, the light would never end."

- Frederick Exley, from "A Fan's Notes" 

"These are the killed.

(By me) --
Morton, Baker, early friends of mine. 
Joe Bernstein. 3 Indians. 
A blacksmith when I was twelve, with a knife. 
5 Indians in self defence (behind a very safe rock). 
One man who bit me during a robbery. 
Brady, Hindman, Beckwith, Joe Clark,
Deputy Jim Carlyle, Deputy Sheriff J.W. Bell.
And Bob Ollinger. A rabid cat
birds during practice,


These are the killed. 

(By them) --
Charlie, Tom O'Folliard
Angela D's split arm, 
                                    and Pat Garrett
sliced off my head. 
Blood a necklace on me all my life."

- Michael Ondaatje, The Collected Works of Billy The Kid

 

 

"Levin felt guilty but could do nothing.

He felt that if they both spoke without dissimulation and straight from the heart, they would only look into one another's eyes and Constantine would say nothing but, 'You will die! You will die!' and Nicholas would only say in reply: 'I know I shall die and I am afraid, afraid, afraid!' That was all they would say if only they spoke straight from the heart. But that would make life impossible; therefore Constantine tried to do what all his life he had tried and never known how to do (although he had often observed that may people were able to do it well), something without which life was impossible: he tried to say something different from what he thought; and he felt all the time that it sounded false and that his brother detected him and grew irritable." 

- Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Part III / Chapter XXXII

A Necessary Exorcism

"Callow & in another century, I leered at white girls &
dreamed of a future where my lips might boldly graze
upon their pretty, pale globes. Middle-aged & eating
sardines on a reservation, I re-assessed the collective der-
riere of Indian womanhood & saw a kite-like tail, its
host of ancestor ghosts fluttering far back into baying
wolf pack days. Reawakened, I made my choice so easily
& picked red drama, the joyous pain of it all & that is
why, darling, I drove six hours to silently stand with my
hot hands upon your frozen tombstone, the pitiful prai-
rie  snow whimpering down." 

...Adrian C. Louis, from his collection "Random Exorcisms." A writer whose work I admire a great deal, and who is probably not read / talked about as much as he should be.