Outlines and Mirrors and Turning Away

I am reading
And the words go into my eyes
Into my brain
And I am connecting
Again and again
With a man I’ll never meet
Who doesn’t know I exist
But who is connecting with me
All the same
 
He is one of the rare ones
Who writes with his eyes
Into restless souls
And understands things
That he’ll never say
 
And when he turns the corner
With his mind
To avoid having to explain
I can see the outlines
Of where his words don’t go
The places his mind
Evades and avoids
And it’s as much a communication
As if he’d said it out loud
 
Is it wrong
To be grateful
For his suffering
Because it mirrors my own?
 
Maybe that does make me
A selfish monster after all
Far more than being unable
To cry
 
Or maybe we are all
Selfish monsters
Some of the time
And only believe otherwise
Because nobody is saying it
Out loud
 
And when I try to find the words
To say what’s in my heart
My mind turns away
Just like his
So as not to betray
 
If you want to really know me
Look for what I will not say
Even to say this much
Feels like handing the keys away
Handing keys to strangers
In a dangerous world
 
Well no matter
Because you need more than keys
To understand what you see
When you unlock the mind
Of a person
Like you, or like me
 
You can peer all you want
At the silhouettes formed
By my retreating thoughts
But if you come here with malice
Even just a trace
You will never understand
What’s staring you in the face
You’ll get twisted and turned
Around and around
Until you find yourself outdoors again
Dumped on the ground
 
If you come here as a friend
Then the key is all you need
Come in, you’re welcome
Let’s all plant the seed
For a tree of protection
To grow in this place
So that none of us need worry
About malicious strangers
With keys and with greed
 
You can drink the water
From the well in the ground
I will join you in a moment
And without a sound
We will look past the barriers
Look past the pain
And burrow a tunnel
To keep out the rain
 
Then you and I
Can be the kind of friends
Where the learning
And the sharing
And the joy
Never ends
 
I can feel you right now
Over thousands of miles
Hoping all the while
That there’s someone
On the other side of time
Crossing that line
Without leaving a sign
 
There are billions of people
And millions of years
And somehow we connect
In an underground village
Without fear
Without shame
Without disbelief
Though we shake like a leaf
At the wonder
 
The shadows we cast
Are taller than trees
But the light that creates them
Is brighter than anything
We can stand to see
One day we’ll meet again
Inside of that light
And there we’ll uncover
The end to all fright
 
But until then we live
In our burrow underground
And talk to each other
Without making a sound
 
And I’m no longer alone
No longer in pain
No longer imprisoned
Inside of my brain
 
I wrote my way out
I wrote my way to you
You wrote your way to me
And our life begins again:
 
Unfettered
Enriched
Unlocked
Alive
Anew

High School English Teacher Meets Xanadu

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-some decree
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to msn
Down to a sunless sea (1)

I asked a high school teacher

If we would study this poem
Along with other poems by Coleridge

Immediately —
“No.
It’s an opium dream
It has no underlying meaning.”

And that was that
I was unprepared for his response
So I could neither process the language quickly
Nor come up with an original reply
With or without words

He thought the knowledge was so obvious
It needed no explaining
If it needed no explaining, then
Why do I remember the conversation
Twenty years later?
A memory of a school
I spent all of three months at
And remember little of the outer world
Only my inner experiences?
Why would my brain pick that
Out of the daily low level bullying by teachers
To remember?

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man
Down to the sunless sea (1)
I don’t have to go to Xanadu to find
Caverns measureless to man
I can find them in my mind
Those caverns hold sensory memories
That I have no conscious access to
But inform everything I do
I’m certain my father had the caverns too
But they were scattered on the winds when he died

I am no expert
In the interpretation of poetry
But there is an intense longing there
For a world that cannot be

And if I can wonder these things at thirteen
While a middle-aged teacher mocks me
For even having the thoughts
“It’s meaningless because I can’t
Personally find the meaning!”
Then what is the real problem here?

For I now have the longing
To explore the caverns in my father’s mind
As intense as any desire of a poet
To catch up with a beautiful dream left behind

If not more so
Because his caverns were imaginary
And my father’s unimaginably real
I know they’re real
I have them myself

The poem is about longing
For something gone that can
Never be replaced
And my father is dead and can never be replaced

Good enough,
Mr. Smart Ass English Teacher?
Oh well
My dad never got along
with English teachers either.
And even opium dreams
Can have meaning.

What’s that – you fear me
Because I’m from your future?

Because time ain’t supposed to
Work that way
And I’m fixin’ to tell you you’re wrong

What are all these books you teach

If not time travel portals into the eyes
Of future women, men, and other adults?
Boys, girls, and other children?
You think they wrote the book of Ecclesiastes
So only one generation of literate people
Could read it?
No, they wrote it for posterity

And it’s not the only one
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Pyramid Texts
The Book of Going Forth By Day
The Shewings of Julian of Norwich
The Dark Night of the Soul

The Poetic and Prose Eddas
These things all had meaning
That stood the test of time
So I am time-traveling as much as any poet
Back to you, Mr. English Teacher
(I have forgotten your name.)
To tell you
What you never bothered to figure out
Because you were too preoccupied
With your desire to be a coach
Rather than a teacher
(Why are there always those
Among English and math teachers,
Who wish, and act as if, they are
Coaching football or something?)
I know now why I had the attachment
To Kubla Khan
Because I could identify with the longing
I could identify with the caverns
And identifying with things
Is both the magic and the horror
Of adolescence
Sensitive teachers know that
You were as insensitive as a brick wall
And I know that there was another layer
To what you were telling me
I’d heard the rumors passed around
By students and teachers alike
That I was a drug user
(I wasn’t, not yet
I became one
Because of the rumors though.)
You were also saying
“You are a worthless drug user.”
You just said it less directly
Than the teachers who were willing
To say it outright
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice! (1)
 
What child with communication problems
Could not identify with these lines?
I had such a yearning
To tell people so many things
That were inside me
And no means to get more than
A tiny fraction
To come out in words
Usually, at that age, poetry
Many autistic children
Find their first true communication (2)
In writing lists of words
Or echoing music
Or writing poetry
And we identify with
The universal struggles of poets
To write about that
Which can’t be put into words
If you couldn’t imagine
That there were layers of meaning
In a poem by a famous poet
Of all things
Then you never deserved
A job teaching students about poetry

Continue reading

Return to sender: no longer at this address

My mother is a wizard with plants
I kind of knew it already
But when my father was upset
Because he'd never see the morning glories
Bloom again in his life
My mother secretly coaxed
A morning glory vine
Out of season
To bloom, and climb, to bloom, and climb
And she took him outside
To show him the magic she'd done
And that's how much my mother loves my dad

My flowers are my poetry
I coax the words to bloom and grow
And climb and climb into his heart
Even out of season
I use words to express the wordless
And that's one kind of magic I have
And that's how much I love my dad

But one of these days
I'm going to write a poem
It will be full of obscure mountain lakes
And treks across the mountains to the sea
And forest floors that were so much more
And owls hooting up in the trees
It will show him every place
That I could feel his love
Without the emotional bombardment
Of living in the city

And it will be a perfect poem
For that time and that place
It will certainly be better than this one
It will show him that I care for him
(As if he doesn't know by now)
It will show the depth of love
That death can dredge up when you're lucky

And then i will get a phone call or an email
It will start out:
“Go and take your dexamethasone right now.”
And I'll have a sinking feeling
But I'll take the syringe of steroids
And put it in my feeding tube
Then go back to the phone or the computer

Then they'll say
“The news is bad
Your father has passed away
He was far too tired this morning
To check your blog today.”

And all that's left of my magic
Will be words on a screen
Words he may have understood
But will never hope to read

From that point on forwards
We'll be separated by time
We both will have existed
But from that point in time onwards
I will be here and he won't

I wonder how much dexamethasone it takes
To avoid adrenal crisis when your dad dies
I wonder how much magical love it takes
To stand the pain you feel when you realize

That you will never talk to him again
You'll never hug him again
You'll never sit next to each other
With an elderly cat spread across your laps
You'll never ask the questions
You forgot to ask when he was alive
You'll never play with his beard again
And there's so little time
There's so little time

But I'm wrong
Like people are often wrong about time
Eternity is all around us
That's all the time in the world
Eternity is where love exists
Outside of time and space
So even if he never reads my best poems
He'll feel the love that went into them
Just as he feels the love
From that morning glory vine

He feels the love from his two pet dogs
He feels the love from his wife
He feels the love from his three adult children
He says he's lucky to be surrounded
By so much love

So I'm terribly sorry, Ron
If some of my poems don't reach you in time
And i'm terribly sorry Ron
If I try to Skype you and it turns out you're gone
Just know I love you more
Than even the best poet can convey
I love you more than I could ever say

And love is the magic that made my mom
Able to grow those morning glories
And love is the magic that makes me able
To write poems daily after years of dormancy
And love is the magic that connects you to me
It's the way we can feel each other's love
Without any form of contact at all

I hope the place I built for you outside of time
And filled to overflowing with my love
Will see you through

And I hope that I'll continue
Writing poetry to you
Long after you've gone

And I hope it reaches you in Eternity
Or wherever it is you're going

And I hope that even the worst of it
Conveys this message:

I love you
I love you
I love you

Not over there. Here. (2004)

I saw an outside world
Filled with ideas and people
Who treated me as if I wasn’t there
I dug deep into my mind
Crafted words with my bare hands
To tell the world:

I am here.
No, not over there.
Here.

Those who noticed at all, told me:
You are not trying hard enough.

No, no.
Not over there.
Here.

Haunted by the Living

I feel like I’m wandering
Through an empty house
And even though the place
Is completely barren
I can feel the presence
Of whoever just walked out the door

I don’t know how I got here
I don’t know how long till I can leave
The walls are white
The only thing that moves
Are the thin gauze curtains
In a breeze that I can’t feel

And I know someone was here
More than one, maybe five
But they walked out the door
They’re not here anymore
But I can feel them

I can feel where they used to be
The places they used to walk
The places they sat down together
To eat, to talk, to play, to be

They’ve left behind a breeze in my mind
That blows the curtains when I think of them
I don’t even know who they are
Or where they are now
But they’ve left themselves behind
Inside these rooms, inside my mind

And I’m left to wander in their wake
And wonder why I’m here
Wherever here is when it seems to be
Haunted by people who are still alive
All the rooms are white
And the breeze is the only sign of life

I sit down on the floor
To stop myself from wandering
I reach out my hand, in my mind
And I can feel you take it

And as I lie here on the white floor
Of the white room of the white house
With the white curtains
In the invisible breeze
That connection
Will have to be enough
For now

Which conversations will I regret not having, the most?

I often have things I want to tell people
And then when the person comes around
The subject has fled my mind

“If it’s important, it’ll come back to you”
And it does come back
But only when I’m alone again

“Write a note, then you’ll remember”
But that requires remembering
To write notes and to read them

Eventually, eventually, I remember
I remember at the right time
And I tell them what I wanted to say

It could be a little funny thing that happened
It could be an important personal reminiscence
It could be something beautiful I wanted to share

What scares me is you’re dying now

What if you die
Before I remember
All the things
I want to tell you?

What if you die
Before I remember
All the things
I want to ask you?

You have so much knowledge stored up
Not just idea-knowledge, practical knowledge
Knowledge of how things used to be
Knowledge of how to do things
And I don’t even know the right questions

You have layer after layer
Of beautiful memories
Of places like the Sierras
And the redwoods
And other places
That make people gasp or cry
From sheer beauty

And I know that, like me,
You store sensory memories
With many layers
Until they are so thick with beauty
You could burst

And all of that will be gone when you die
And how will I share those things with you?
And what if there’s something I wanted to say
And I don’t remember it until you’re dead?
Will it matter so much, that I never forget?
Will it matter so much, that it always haunts me?
Or will the only thing that matters
Be whether I said “I love you” enough?

I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you

I love you —
I could say it a hundred times
It would never be enough

It’s not bad, down here where I live.

I spend all day every day
Climbing up to your level
That’s what I do every time
I use a word
Or even communicate directly
Instead of indirectly

Sometimes I want you to
Come down here to my level
It’s not a bad place to be
It’s not full of emptiness
Sometimes it’s so full of light
That I can barely stand it

I want you to sit next to me
Not facing me

I want to pass intricate glass beads
Back and forth
Side to side
As if our hands just happened to be there
To drop the bead
To catch the bead
But never to touch, one hand to the other

I want us to feel the beads with our fingers
And rub them on our faces
And tap them to hear the sounds they make
And hold them up to the light
To see it glitter and flash inside them

Because, you see, I spend all day, every day
Climbing up to meet you where you’re at
But you never climb down to my level

I live down here
It’s not bad down here
It’s actually quite beautiful down here
And if you are at all able
One day, just for an hour
I want to show you where I live

[Inspired partly by the late Mayer Shevin’s description of his interaction with a client with the pseudonym Jonathan.  I identified with the situation so strongly that a poem just appeared out of nowhere.]