Sunday 17 September 2006
The crows are calling in their scratchy autumn voices. It is cool. I am wearing closed shoes, corduroys, a jacket and a sweater with a hood. The runners are still in shorts and t-shirts, but the walkers all have jackets on.
It is sprinkling off and on. I've got my desk covered with a gray poncho. I am awfully tired. I posted last week's journal at 2am, after making a loaf of bread last night. My computer was sluggish to upload and I was unhappy with draft after draft.
Green Lake is not at all sluggish. The gravel is growling.
Summer has gone. It is overcast and cool. A day for racing, a leaf gathering day.
I suggested a 3 Thought Journal to Donna. She liked the idea. She has a blank book at home, just waiting to be marred. Surely you can commit to this. Take up your book. Record 3 thoughts a day. You have all day. The thoughts don't have to be written in the same sitting. They don't have to be major thoughts of grand portent. They don't even have to be linked. They might be memories, or dreams, or states of being. As short or as long as you wish. No pressure to mean. Internalize what you see. Don't try to capture everything or construct a masterpiece. Relish in the moment. Over time, your 3 thoughts will become 6, then 12, then 24, 150, 300. Your book of thoughts will become its own thought. Then you will have something to hold. Pixels of time. A picture of life.
Donna used to write when she was younger. Gordon remembers. He recalls poetic phrases from their early days, their courting days. Donna was surprised by this. Or delighted. She looked at him as if she might not know him when he talked of poetry. I spend a moment, when they have gone, imagining where this comment might take them, tonight, this week, this winter.
Sometimes I smell their perfumes and powders as if they were right here at my desk and I look up and it is only more of them gliding by. They slide by like a railroad train. They must see me as a floating image through their window. A part of their landscape, here in the northwest corner.
Saint-Saens, a late 19th century French composer, lived his later years in a railroad car. Sometimes stationary, sometimes moving. He'd sidetrack himself when he wanted to stay and hitch to a train when he wanted to move. His car was outfitted with all of his furnishings and a piano. He is said to have composed symphonies as he rolled through the French countryside. It is not surprising then to learn that Saint-Saens was the first major composer to write music for the cinema, moving images being already so much a part of what he was composing.
What are the runners at Green Lake composing? Am I a part, in some small way, a part of that story? The runners, they have something in common in me. And in the traffic slush and in Duck Island and in the elms and redwoods at the lake.
I am the only unmoving thing and yet it feels so sometimes strangely quiet, as when the runners thin, as when the traffic slows, as when the bells have rung. It sometimes seems as quiet as an after-bell.
There is an invisible bell that hangs over the corner of a pedestrian island in the bow-tie section of Times Square, New York [Max Neuhaus, Sound Installation]. A floating chime, continuous and clear, is installed in a grate in the sidewalk. The sound it emits, the sound of an after-bell, constructs an imaginary dome around whoever is standing there. A cup of the explorable. A knowable sky, the air, the molecules, the density of which can be felt in a way otherwise unknown. Felt in a way that an unbordered heaven cannot be.
Crucial to the power this bell has to evoke, is its invisibility, its anonymity. If you were to walk there, if you were to move into this dome by accident, you would not hear it, or it would not register with you. Times Square is so lively, so filled with sound. You would not distinguish this one from the others without the aid of your knowing. But when you go to this spot and stand there, deliberately knowing, you are able to pick this sound out of the soup, and you alone create the dome. The sound forms around you, you who are necessary for its existence. You who are complicit in finding it and in forming its architecture. In creating the shape of the bell.
Poetry can do this with almost anything and with the invisible too. It can pull a thread from the cloth, draw a line between unrelated things, connect the seemingly separate. Span time and place. It formulates new spaces quite easily out of language and then abandons them in random corners of your mind. Not only domes, but tunnels and towers and planes. It carves habitable pockets from the abyss. Sculpts from the raw unsculpted middle ground.
Consider this line from Richard Hugo's The Church on Comiaken Hill, "His eyes are empty as a chapel/roofless in a storm." Hugo builds and destroys a chapel in order to bring to life the haunting eyes of a priest. And here, "Children do not wave as we drive out." He pulls, from nothing, children, to create a mood of trespass and disrespect.
You'll see that once you've form a dome, you can immediately sense its mass. Feel its space. A minor heaven, a heaven within a heaven, an unmarked biosphere. Perhaps the extent of what you can feel? How aware you can be? But in order to feel, in order to stand and be, you must stop and select that tone, you alone must create that dome. You are standing in the middle of an organic and wonderful gilt-swirled dome at this moment. What image, what sound will you select?
Once you learn to build a dome, you can move through life like this, from dome to dome, living in the pockets that form over earth, that include life's details, its sounds and senses. Space becomes an extension of yourself, both greater and lesser than you. Greater, in ways, than unbound space. Greater than the very small bubble in which you typically reside.
This is not an isolationist's game. Spaces, domes and towers and the like, are quite capable of including and inviting anothers. Spaces can be connectors, can initiate bonds, as two connect to the sound and shape of a bell.
Here at Green Lake, it is a trio of tulip trees which dictates my dome. It stretches 30 feet in each direction and rises 70 feet high. My dome is set in a nook, inside Sherwood and the wrap-around road and the black willow and the Borealis Band of evergreens. And into my dome people sometimes roll and stroll and squirrels scamp and birds dive and drape. And the spiders and bees and butterflies twirl. I'd gladly invite you into my dome.
Joel came visiting today. As his friends passed, he called to them. He called to Stefan, who joined us for a while. Stefan recited a poem by Pushkin, his most famous poem, "I loved you." He recited it from memory in Russian. Stefan has had this wonderful little kerchief in his pocket all this time. "I loved you," a romantic little Russian poem, acting as a reference for the past 10 years. Along with the other marks and guideposts he has constructed, this poem has formed a rudder, steering him through the rapids. This poem of love and loss, of graciously letting go and of learning to grant a blessing upon what is forbidden. "I pray God grant another love you so."
Knowing what you know, what you hold onto, and why, is a way of knowing yourself and of becoming alive. Of living your poetry.
Joel listened as Stefan crushed a tissue of Russian words together, wondering if the Russian really todders along like this, as the English does. How does the sound of poetry differ as we move over land? How do its rhythms change? This is a larger question of language, of dance and music, of transportation. Listen to the Russian, decide for yourself.
I am often asked to quantify, in superlatives, my position on poetry. "Who is the best?" "Who is your favorite?" "What is it that you write about?" If I were to give you a name to weigh, what would it construct – a competition of tastes, a hierarchy of talent? You do not care about this - the best poet, my favorite words. This is only your way of asking who I am. What my tendencies are.
I can tell you who I am reading. I can tell you who is steering me, whose work I find exciting. I can even tell you what writers I feel have formed me, whose work I return to, again and again. Whose work I respect. But this is mostly in looking back. And this information should have no affect on you, other than to undestand me.
While I might be able to pass something across my desk, while what you receive might make meaning for you, it might very well not. My lessons are not your lessons. My search is not your search. I therefore should not be, and am not, concerned with your knowing, with your learning. We are in contact so that I may grow. Not so I might change you.
Yours is not to rise above or stand beneath. Only to search and sense. If we are able to drive one another in our searches, if we are able to inspire, then we may have communicated, we may have formed a bond and begun to record a new history. We may have created hope. And as human beings on earth, this is all we can hope to do. And this is all that is intended.
If you are able to take one thing from my search, let it be energy. Let it be intensity.
It is an all crow day. The grass, cut especially short this week, radiates in hues of green from my tulip trees. A disk of brown-yellow-green, brittle and dense, rounds each trunk. Outside of this, another ring of delicate, finely saturated green, of lively lightness, suggesting a cup of standing water. Outside again, another ring, equal in green but with sturdier blades and mixed stalks of daisies and clover, creates the same green from a new material.
The water birds are huddled under my willow. The black puffers are dunking, shaking, bobbing and squeaking.
Captain Kirby, a boatman from Ballard, came by in the afternoon with his dog Lucy. He gave me a poem from memory. Yeats, "1916." He talked about Banjo Patterson, Australia's famous folk poet and composer of "Waltzing Matilda." It is nice to know poetry is not trapped on the university campus as we sometime think, but alive at sea.
Captain Kirby told me about his adventures. He's rolled a keelboat twice and sailed to Hawaii, once, in an 18' sailboat. He dismisses the accomplishment in this, though every one of my sea-hardened friends responds with the same wide eyes, "That's crazy!" He said it was nothing, I could sail a bathtub, I could sail my desk there, if I wanted to. And so I do. I do sail my desk there. It's a downwind run, just as he said it would be!
1. What are you avoiding? Name only 1 thing.
2. Recall 3 memories, moments, times in your life, that you felt most alive.
3. Study these moments, these memories. What is their common denominator?
4. What current activity in your life makes you feel the most free?
5. From what do you need to escape?
6. What will be your next career?
7. What 3 things can you not live without?
8. What would you be better off without? Name 3 things.
9. What 1 comfort keeps you most from experiencing life?
10. What is the thing in life that you do most deliberately? That you do in an attempt to mean?
This questionnaire, if done twice, one year apart (and hidden under your mattress), may yield some measure in your transformation.