Breathe in and whisper God. Breathe out and cry Oh World. Then sigh oh short winter grass. There is nothing we ought to do so be still, be a creature believed by God, before He set the Earth to spin and Time to walk. And what might walk the other way? Death is too easy to write – on a page we see it circling overhead, a flock of dark wings. The winter sky is bright but pale and we see the walker coming straight ahead, never tiring, never sleeping, day and night. It only slows to listen if we sing.
In the distance, someone beats a great drum, coming nearer every day. This old rhythm we don’t recognize, the days of plague. Those who do not learn from history are doomed. Like birds driven earthward to shelter under bushes by a storm, we wait for abstract entities to pass. Son of man, you cannot say or guess how long. The clock reminds us, drumming down the hours like high surf pounding on the rocks.
I have lived in this room for years, beneath its stucco laqueraria devoid of cherubim or even birds. The days called me out into the warm sea air, to see the intimation of islands beyond the eucalypti and the bluffs. Now the invitation is withdrawn; at least obscured, contingent on a tolerance of sorrows. I had not thought the sweet breeze would rise and bring such sounds of the inevitable world.
So said W.S. Merwin, poet who died today aged 91. In college he was one of my teachers. At a remove – he didn’t teach at my university – but genuinely, mystically. In a way that mattered.
I mourn his passing, also remotely, as a poet and reader of poetry mourns the passing of all poets. In this destitute time, we need all the poets we can get. But Merwin was no stranger to destitute times, and he earned his stripes.
We are all powerless against the force of disorder, the sheer chaos, of a universe fleeing the scene of its own creation. But at least we have dogs.
That’s just a brief note copied from last night’s journal entry. And it’s funny: that looks so much more formidable handwritten in that little notebook. It’s half a page! Looks more profound too. But such is the writing life. Sometimes you think you’ve caught a dragon by the tail, but it’s just a hummingbird with other flowers on her mind.
The Time between Thanksgiving
and Christmas is a mystery to me.
The clocks stop – you can hear
them suddenly not ticking – and
disappear into the walls and all
the shadowed spaces
of our hopeful daily lives.
The clocks go on ticking only
in hospitals and jails.
Once they have stopped and
forsaken their posts, Time takes
a deep breath, looks around
a moment, and begins to run.
It runs out of the school, heading
west, hits the gas at the pizza
place, hard right by the church,
squealing past homes and offices,
feed lots where the animals live
weeping and hardly notice
Time, past my house and yours
with a sound like a sudden rain
on hot tarmac, and on to where
the sun goes down on everything
we love. In the morning, it is
Christmas. There are deer among
the trees, their soft breath steaming
as the light breaks through.
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.
It’s been a while. There was the usual pit and prune juice of poor Beat life, and then there was this fire. We’re ok. And so it is Christmas and hopefully I can get back into blogging for the first of the year. For now there’s this, and God bless you and yours.
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies: God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”