If it’s the title of a movie you expect everything to become important—a kiss, a shrug, a glass of wine, a walk with the dog. But if the day is real, life is only as significant as yesterday—the kiss hurried, the shrug forgotten, and now, on the path by the river, you don’t notice the sky darkening beyond the pines because you’re imagining what you’ll say at dinner, swirling the wine in your glass. You don’t notice the birds growing silent or the cold towers of clouds moving in, because you’re explaining how lovely and cool it was in the woods. And the dog had stopped limping!—she seemed her old self again, sniffing the air and alert, the way dogs are to whatever we can’t see. And I was happy, you hear yourself saying, because it felt as if I’d been allowed to choose my last day on earth, and this was the one I chose.
I work hard at managing, grateful and spare. I try to forgive all trespasses and give thanks for the desert. Rejoice in being alive here in my simple world. Each evening I walk for an hour, paying attention to real things. The plover sweeping at my face to get me away from its ground nest. An ant carrying the wing of a butterfly like a flag in the wind. A grasshopper eating a dead grasshopper. The antelope close up, just staring at me. Back in the house, I lie down in the heat for a nap, realizing forgiveness is hard for the wounded. Near the border, between this country and the next one.
I am standing, old and self-absorbed as Lear, out on bogland, where I started; there are skylarks, pipits, black-monk crows and plover, secret in the heathers, calling; dried blood on the scraws, gnawed gristle, furred creatures cowering, the raptor hawk; where have I been, all these years, far from myself? Soft rains drift in mist-shapes shading everything to grey; I would hear the voices of those I have loved and lost, I standing now on the brink. Of Aquinas at the last they said that he was laying down the instruments of his writing; what I have done feels like turf-dust. What is there left, but spirit?
Rain is falling in the far west, as it has ever fallen. Easy to miss the star against the city lights and shoppers; here, on bogland, is a side-aisle quiet, where nothing extraordinary happens, where you may accept emptiness and the cotton-quivering of a solitary self; here, too, the harrier is close, what is eternal hovers, it is the dread festival of God’s descent into the flesh, his presence in the ongoing history, heart in hiding, forever beginning. The night is still and clear under frost, great clouds passing, slow, relentless; an ocean-full of stars, a cradle moon, and in the windows of the houses candles lighting; sweet shiver-glass of ice on the bogpools, and one great light reflecting.
Wild honey hides among the combed roots, in the dark it scents the air. Childheart, I was told the bleak mythologies of black-bog waters: the giant otter in the pools, black-souled goblin with his storm lamp, and Clovenhoof himself, ready to reach a leathery claw out of mud to take your ankle; there would be fear, and fascination, there would be danger, stumbling, a fall. In the far west rain is falling; there is epiphany in the movement of a fox, long-fellow, sleek, a languid lovely-loping, orange-brown body slipping through brown-orange growth; in the soft dew-gentled dawn, the spread-out jewellery of gossamer webs shivers silver in destructibility; the heathers, too, ripple in the breeze, like water.
I put my ear down close to the bog-earth roots, to hear the heartbeat of the magma; there are no hard edges in the peatland, no table-corners, cupboard-doors, car-boot-sharpness; I am in love with earth, the various, the lovely, though it is not home: for it is written— God so loved the world … I stand on the wallow-surface of belief, winds from the sea taking my breath away; the paths across the bog lead always on further into bog, then stop. Nowhere. Where God is.
Here is no locked tabernacle; God exults, in frochan, bilberry root. Here is no church, stone-built, no steeple proud in its piercing of the skies; sometimes a dragonfly, its rainbow gossamer wings, passes by low over the cottons; I can kneel on sphagnum moss, its soft green sponge, to ask forgiveness because resurrection is ongoing; curlew calls, alleluia; and still all of the bogland is in motion, bleached bones of elk and wolf and hare, rising inexorably towards the surface. Bell rings for angelus, the stooping figures rise and stand a while in the transept of eternity. Rain is falling in the far west, as it has ever fallen; in the windows candles lighting; what is there left, now, but spirit?
My school saw the Red Sea parted—you speak to me only in North Sea everyday English or Cape Cod American—why not ancient Greek? I speak the languages of all those who fish for me, and I speak Frog, Turtle, and Crocodile. The waters are calm, come swim with me a while. Look, the little fish will inherit the earth and seas. Fish as you would have others fish for you! Swallow the hook of happiness and mirth, baited with poetry, the miraculous rescue. I read drowned books. The Lord is many. I heard this gossip in Long Island Sound: Three days before he died, one Ezra Pound told a friend, “Go with God, if you can stand the company.”
Day after day, I’ve talked to no one, but am not lonely, as if I’ve gone mute with a begging bowl into the streets and everyone was television. A small helping of chow mein, a sip of sweet and sour soup. What more do I need? Mindfulness, the Buddha said over and over, each segment of a tangerine, every glance or taste. Everything I own, owns me, the view of Spring as it merges into summer, the silence of it, the rock, the heron, the bamboo hut with no one about to call out in my seeing.
I took a small path leading up a hill valley, finding there a temple, its gate covered with moss, and in front of the door but tracks of birds; in the room of the old monk no one was living, and I staring through the window saw but a hair duster hanging on the wall, itself covered with dust; emptily I sighed thinking to go, but then turning back several times, seeing how the mist on the hills was flying, and then a light rain fell as if it were flowers falling from the sky, making a music of its own; away in the distance came the cry of a monkey, and for me the cares of the world slipped away, and I was filled with the beauty around me.
Forget not that I shall come back to you. A little while, and my longing shall gather dust and foam for another body. A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me. Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you. It was but yesterday we met in a dream. You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky. But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn. The noontide is upon us and our half-waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part. If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song. And if our hands should meet in another dream we shall build another tower in the sky.
We humans once lived in the moment, The moment being all there was. Stuffing our mouths With berries, we collapsed on the ground to make An early forerunner of love. Then wind Brought the stink of a predator’s haunch, panic Ensuing. How divine it must have seemed When, at last, we had time to ponder clouds As they built their chateaus. Grunts into words, Words into the updraft of questions— A miracle to carry the world On the tongue: “world.” Even the heart at last Consigning itself to syllables: Ah, thee…. The numbers tidying things up, the numbers Knitting things to equations, the theorems Proposing, revising, secreting, each Tool-in-theory awaiting our genius, Our heartache, until damp and wood-colored, This morning dawned, the smell of burning leaves Drifting across my sepia mood, Every doorway in the house yawning empty. You, elsewhere, lift a screen in the air (Got it!) Then send an image toward the chill Draughts of space. It flickers through a satellite, free- Falls back to the planet —Let’s pause for a moment, behold earth Cloud-swaddled, gamboling around our star…. Somewhere in New Jersey, a tower corrals Your cache of photons, beams them on To the privacy of my circuits, which are roused By your elation: Check out this sunset, Love! A finger to the warm flesh of glass, And my screen goes bronze with a Roman dusk.