Roslyn

After the last page was finished and the book was closed. After the sun day is done, I thought tonight about having more of my days infused with freedom, rather than stolen by authority, chore, or some mindless monster—fear. And again, I thought, why do I write, each night? The waves bringing in this same question again. It is certainly not to be a famous writer, of that I know. Why do I do this thing still? In almost every evening, every morning? All of it maybe a prayer I am piecing together, one that will never fully take form or shape. It is simply an attempt, a need, to spend my humble attention on this beauty becoming all around. Some of it is dream, or memory, some is here and now. And it is nothing I’d like to stare into, rearrange, not often am I long captivated in the least. They are big sweeping strokes, they come quickly, with the smell of the pen, the feel of the page. This prayer lets my heart wander free. There is some relief with age that this is a losing and that no wall will offer protection. That freedom is granted here, by my own attention to beauty, becoming.

Ares

I looked for him today but he wasn’t there.

A serious practitioner

a laborer loyal 

to the craft. He is probably 

tinkering alone in this next 

set of days – using his time

wisely and moving this word

here or 

there.

Regarding the slender column

with steady familiarity

like a field of flowers by the road

in a dream.

The two threads woven

round one another 

hiding caves and stars

solitary islands 

a man’s back in the moonlight

or a small fire on the beach

of his mind. A memory

wrapped round his present. 

That’s what I miss. 

progress

An adventure. Where is that? The mountains. The ocean. The language of the world. Being here, that’s what she kept saying in meditation, you’re right here. Being here brought to mind that I don’t feel safe with my father. It was a wordless unease. There has always had to be a withholding both inward and external. Or perhaps the compensation was external, the half-hearted effort, the crooked smile; anger one of the few things we shared. This required a maneuvering, a sorting, a shifting through of logic and rationale. Negotiation of the physical space (the rooms, the restaurant, the sidewalk) and time. A reason needed to be found, like a cluster of rocks just offshore, to stand on. A story assembled to know, or build a bridge, or a cage around myself. Or around him. He’s just that way. There are just things you cannot say. Another language. Another country. And he doesn’t see me past the mask I wear, couldn’t, can’t. It would break him. I blamed myself for a long time and he agreed, walked that bridge, all the way to where it ended in a foggy cloud. The good and the bad all came from the same root. Something was growing there but too many moons of neglect and one day it just vanished.

This music takes me back, back to Pennsylvania and a younger version of myself who would travel on weekends to see friends and listen to this album in the car with mountains flying by the windows. Still hopeful. All still possible. All still out there waiting to be found—that belief intact. Enough to get from one weekend, one visit, one season, to the next. 

Lately there has been distraction to crowd out the writing—this writing—just my voice on the page. And of course there will always be distraction, the distraction is the constant. Some years it is a job, some years it is love or irritatingly inadequate companionship, some years it is heartbreak and self-pity. Some years it is too much time, too much space, too much blessed, willed for, wished for solitude. 

There have been, there are, things that pull me from the page in different ways. And maybe this is not a terrible thing. It’s only taken me seven years to mourn the loss of utter and unadulterated freedom. Miles has been staring at me from his bed for the last 35 minutes, watching me clear off this borrowed dining room table that is also my desk.  Walk back and forth into the other room to pay off another month of my storage unit, light a candle, fix some tea, clear the books (mine and those I’m borrowing from the library) from atop the dresser in the bedroom and find a home for them all, once and for all, on the glass coffee table in the corner of the living room. Now that I am finally in one place, tapping the keys, will he close his eyes, opening them now and then just to make sure I am still here. 

A writing companion. 

There is something familiar and lovely about writing on this old mac from 2008. So thankful that it starts up and returns every time I ask. 

In this in-between waiting time, before I know what the next will be, my mind spins stories into a bridge, some sure footing leading into the future unknown. Georgia spent an academic year teaching in Columbia, though I don’t think she ever wanted to return to that city once the spring semester ended.  The restriction of the south did involve a lighter teaching load and this led to her famous black and white charcoals drawn while sprawled across the floor of her rented flat in the wee hours of the night. The ones that would be sent to Alfred in New York, who would infamously declare: “finally, a woman on paper!” Or something like that. My version of this was to clean off the table tonight, having spent the day reading about a very different place and time.

Yesterday, was it yesterday?, yes, I woke early and started writing at 5. Was able to take Miles for a walk at six, which meant we made it all the way downtown, to his delight, where the streets still reeked of beer and stale food from the night before. With the sun just rising it was cool enough to walk that distance to his favorite part of town, the only time we go there, absent of crowds.  Luckily I was able to turn him toward the river and back north when I saw something shiver above the surface of the water. I saw it’s fin and tail, up down, up down a few times and it had to be either a dolphin or a shark. It’s undulations made me think of a dolphin – but how could this be? I do think the river is a mix of fresh and salt water but I never expected to see a dolphin. 

Maybe I’m wrong. But there it was. It felt like a gift, on this path I’ve walked a hundred times now, breaking through the shell of my day, my certainty, my sturdy, congealed thoughts at 6:30am, all I think I know. A man sat below me on the narrow deck of his boat docked at a pier and I wondered if he’d seen it too, but he stared dumbly at the cups and bottles on a small table in front of him as if he might throw up, or tip himself into the water.  I followed its path south to see if it would break the surface again, but as far as I could see it didn’t. 

My friend came into town this weekend and as it happened we never met up. She was the friend I drove across the country with and her arrival also seemed like a breaking through of something, a readying, a preparation, an announcement that something was speaking through: it’s coming soon. Soon. Remember. 

This album makes me think of travel, flinging myself across many states, it makes me think of much younger years and hours in a car reassembling my thoughts on the road. That car being a studio, a darkroom, a container for something, some process that needed to be borne. 

Funny that after all these years, and this past year of having nothing truly obligatory to fill my days, I still sit down to write in the evening, when the sun is just leaving, when it feels like the right time. But only when I am alone.

The doing of this thing, will be the thing itself. And maybe that is enough. 

For whatever reason, whatever place the stars and planets hold in the sky, whatever season this is, or brief part of the river or shore I’ve stumbled upon, I have lately thought of him. And perhaps this memory is an invention, created entirely by my mind, but I thought many years ago he told me to go out and see the world and write it all down. It would have happened at the end of our evening when we’d finished our assigned duties of the day and everyone was saying their goodbyes, now properly reunited with significant others, some sparklers still lighting up the dark. The best of him, maybe, was to be a mirror. To show me back to myself, if only to remind: the doing of this thing will be the thing itself. It will be enough to go and see and write it all down. There is some steadiness to this and truth.   

But. I miss my people. I miss those long ago years. If there are distractions in my life, things that pull me away, things that require me, have twisted me or warped my thinking, my certainty, my knowing, the same must and can be said of those I love. 

I suppose most people our age would entertain a “vacation” to solve this problem.  An annual trip or visit, and that weekend or handful of days would be all that is allotted each year to reintroduce ourselves to one another in the flesh.  Most have their own families now, their own tribes, their own walls and ways.  

This is the part of the story I do not have answers for. I do not know what happens next or where.  Some cling to their beloved and their known.  I’ll bring these same songs, this mac from 2008 and all my magic, all my want; the questions will come with me and maybe this is enough.     

June 26

Dear June, 

I feel you with me tonight. And I feel you drawing me close, closer to home—and closer to the start of this next chapter. It feels a little like that drive to your house, your last, before heading on to Chicago. The first time I did this thing of dying to one life, starting another, making a journey and driving west. If only to drive back east. 

I remember I’d arrived before you were home, so I went and sat on a bench in your backyard to wait. The once palatial garden of another address had shrunk down into this little fenceless yard, with its few plants lining the house that no one seemed to visit but yourself. You used an old laundry detergent jug as a watering can.  

It has been a long wait. A long stalling wait. And there is nothing romantic about the destination. Deep into the heart of the ordinary. Those calm summers. Those safe middling Julys. Funny how we wind up going somewhere because it held our past. Because it was where someone ended up living out the rest of their days. Where they moved because someone else found a job.  Where they sat and wrote letters, finished puzzles, let dishes soak in the day’s dirty water. Kept old bottles of their red nailpolish, empty plastic tubs that once held butter or cottage cheese, watered their plants, laced up their shoes. Got on with it. 

There was always something safe about being there—in those rooms I almost never felt danger, or terror, or unease, or even anger. All that would come later. 

I know that place is gone now and will never return.  But maybe I can find something new. And be one days drive closer to the west. Can press words out on the page, can travel through the plains, the rockies, the coast and offer up my heart, again. Can read Jack, delirious with stunted sentences and the hope in all that awaits. Full to the brim with all that’s changed. 

Worthy because it is close to the bone of me, that’s what this next step is. Leaving what no longer fits. Listening to the same old songs, thankfully, because they are a woman dragging her boat across the sand, two oars in the bottom of the canoe, to try again for the waves. 

There is still so much. 

And God knows I’ll need it all. God knows love requires it. 

Nothing tonight could happen but to write you. And thankfully I did leave it all and go.  It made no logical sense. There was no plan. It was an act that seemed full of purpose, though I dared whisper it aloud, and contained a momentum I reasoned would carry me much longer than it actually did.  

But now reaching back I see why it was done. To be the best of me, out there in the world, asking to be seen, remembered, the biggest deposit I’d ever made, for whenever I needed to know, to believe, in my own good and true.  Flung out in disarray, alive, fearful, thrilled; to be seeing and writing and free. To learn how to live my own prayer. 

Not out of duty or pity, but Love. This is what it means to grow up. Maybe all it takes is time. 

I go where I love and where I am loved, 

into the snow;

I go to the things I love

with no thought of duty or pity; 

-H.D., The Flowering of the Rod

poesy

Smelling tomatoes reminds me of June

of July—of that huge flat backyard

Of the garden and fireflies

Night lights, blue dark

and tree cover

—soil and sun spill

riven red metal

June loved the mountains 

they summoned her Irish aesthetic 

but I loved the neat clip 

the order of flat 

midwest squares

Canned green beans, sourdough bread

a checkered tablecloth, a 

brown bowl with spoon and lid 

meant only for sugar

summer storms, winter ice

Always the weather

always June

Following

Will America be discovered or is it made? Unmade? Never was? Will someone discover America still? They are coming to remove a tree from this address. It has extensive decay in the trunk, they say, and/or crown, and will be removed the week of 5/17 (tentatively).

Their note hangs on the front door. To be found. 

Do they drive by and monitor the trees? Or was this reported, requested by a neighbor? What if the tree doesn’t want to leave? What if I’m not ready? (I’m not ready.) I suppose I could call the Tree Management Division with questions and/or concerns. 

There is a pocket of sunlight in the scraggly mass of trees and overgrowth just behind the house, in a sliver of land that belongs to itself. In this illuminated cave the dead orange leaves shine like autumn and sun cracks open the tangled waist high weeds into petals of light. Green heavy limbs hang over me and block the sky above this porch. The female cardinal came to visit tonight, though I didn’t see the male, she stayed in the shaded corner and searched the grassless yard, picking among the dead leaves, dirt and slow growing weeds. She attached herself to a slender vine growing up lonesome from the yard and hung precariously horizontal, flitting her wings so that she appeared a strange long limbed creature; caught me so off guard I didn’t know what new animal was scrambling over itself at the bottom of this dusky sea. An owl hoots far above, buried deep in green, hidden by the many layered limbs, beyond where I can see.  A sad dusk song it sings, the opposite of a cock’s crow. That high up the leaves still catch the sun and just like that the song has gone. 

The tangled limbs, fallen tree parts, spring green vines, wrap themselves around this little yard and have become something to hold me. Home to the cardinal pair, the flying squirrels, the many birds I do not have the names for.

Hexagram 17: Thunder in the middle of a lake.

This place is in between everything. 

What do you think black people want? What do you think black people need? 

Do you agree with the _____ Blow argument that young, willing and/or able black people should reverse migrate and return to the south with the intention of controlling state governments, once their numbers have swelled to a majority, from Delaware to Louisiana? As an added bonus, leaving the west and north they might also be able to afford a yard. Recalling Reconstruction and Integration as just two examples, (is it strange that a black president was an afterthought?) will the center hold should all the chickens come home to roost? A slow moving revolution seems a shaky thing. Vulnerable. Too careful. My beloved James Baldwin wrote that revolutionaries “tend to be sentimental.” But that was in 1985 after Martin, Malcolm and Medgar were gone. 

James seemed to be speaking directly to white people in general, Dick Cavett in particular, and loathed to be sitting next to Dick’s final guest, who after being introduced smugly disagreed with much James had to say, because quite frankly, we all have our differences, or eccentricities, and they are varied, how silly to let ourselves stumble on the polarities of white and black. He then sat with arms folded across his chest, and one leg crossed over the other for the remainder of the program, perhaps holding in his fluttering stomach, such fire he received from the slim shouldered black man who chain smoked, and raged. Crawling outside of his words, his breath, his skin…

If Claudia Rankine’s own therapist barks at her to Get Out of Here! when she appears at the wrong door for her evening appointment (she was probably in Connecticut or New York)…

(38) In Layli Long Soldier’s poem she describes a journey taken annually by the Dakota 38 + 2 Riders to memorialize the (38) Dakota men hanged the same week President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Hung because they were displaced, betrayed, freezing and starving. They retaliated, revolted: the Sioux Uprising. The Memorial Riders travel from South Dakota to Mnisota, 325 miles on horseback, arriving in Mankato on December 26th, “the day of the hanging.” The memorial / an act. 

As a way to grieve, to mourn, where do black people return? To that tree? To that bit of ocean, snatched? Is this reverse migration the appropriate action? Is it a remembering? For won’t there be tears? Is it time yet for tears?  Middle Passage, Slavery, Reconstruction, Sharecropping, Jim Crow, Black Laws, Great Migration, Segregation, Redlining, Crack, Incarceration. There are so many holes. Is the answer political power? A foothold in the delta, the tidewater, the pinelands, the red hills, east of Appalachia? 9 gems, jewels, starbright from Delaware to Louisiana – a cocky half grin in the deep black face of the south.

James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket

Layli Long Soldier, Whereas

Dominique Christina, Anarcha Speaks

Who is she, who is he, who are they? 

The underdog, the outlier, the loner, the quiet one, 6-10 on the bench, 11,12,13, the ones who ask, “where am I in this, what am I doing here?” The questioners, the thinkers, the wanderers, the road weary, the magi, the ones whose gifts do not always shine, the ones unsure of who they are, or what they’re meant to do, or how they fit in, to all of this. 

The ones who could care less about the outcome and simply love to run, to feel the wind whip, step out onto the green earth and smell it rise, spend their sweat and be all of us together for a night. To be the body rip of song. 

Some are riveted on that singular point, they have sacrificed, they are spun with love’s gold, they have brick laid years in the gym, craving the repetition of those same movements, mastering those same limbs, dreaming those same wins and they are likely more complicated than we can know. All of them together. 

But all of them so different too and somehow that’s ok, that can be allowed, that can thrive in this brief season, these fleeting youthful years. We can put our selves aside and want what’s best for her, for him, for them, want   her   him    them 

to be free, to go before our selves, and that’s the motor that moves, propelling this game. 

Athletes should play, and speak. 

2.

A warm morning.  Sitting on the second story screened-in porch attached to my bedroom I can unobtrusively look into the backs of surrounding homes, their yards, the vaulted air around their lush trees, the young slender Buddha seated in the garden just below.  I am not so sure of moving here, to this city by the sea I’ve yet to meet.  A neighbor somewhere nearby closes the heavy plastic lid of a trash bin.  The sudden clattering rattle of a garbage truck, one street over, reminds me of my car parked on the street: hopefully it will start this morning.  A horn somewhere.  

The streets were quiet last night.  There was nothing much memorable about the brief drive into the city; headlights, a bridge, a monument. An old black man carrying a small plastic bag across a main thoroughfare, to continue down a street with no sidewalk, only a slim path worn down next to the road.  Grand homes with porches and pillars lining cobble stoned streets. I am staying in a soft pink house – are these the people of the wood?  The southland is certainly a deep and dark forest, though just now a jet screams loudly through the blue sky and a siren howls in response. 

The man, the father, is charismatic, returning home from work in a sleek black suit, white button down left open at the neck, no tie.  Arriving promptly an hour late, he pops through the doorway and does not want us to all stand at once, so sorry to have kept us waiting.  He is an accountant by trade but tomorrow he will explain that he is not just an accountant.  He will go upstairs to change into soft, slender black jeans and a casual black t-shirt; his glasses have clear frames.  I feel less comfortable with him, more comfortable with the woman, the mother.  She is calm, steady, warm.  She made a soup and even allowed me to politely decline it when I first arrived; welcomed me to the pale yellow pot when I’d finally gotten up my nerve.  Her dark hair is now luminously streaked with gray.  From the safety of this back porch I think – I would go west for my adventure – though it seems quite far away now.  The Bay? Or Montana? Or the Olympic Peninsula? Some faraway woods.  It didn’t seem to matter to the writer who gave me advice over breakfast in Bethlehem: go back to school and don’t pay for it.  

After writing, shower, put on clothes, go downstairs, drink coffee at the dining room table, make breakfast.  A guest with the house to herself.  I am ready.  Or maybe not.  Yet again, it seems I am braced to run though there is nowhere to go.  Can you write something worthwhile and submit it by January?  Can you write your way out of this?