CLOUD-BUFFED SUNLIGHT ON THE SNOW
Cloud-buffed sunlight on the snow.
Violet shadows streaming from the trunks of the trees.
The air edgy as a knife that’s trying to clear things up.
A crow caws like a nasty guru
that I’m up to my knees in myself
and mocks the slow lonely path I’ve taken
to find my own way through the snow.
I seemed to have become a bigger mystery to myself
the more I grow
but I’m not asking anything
that life can’t answer
or that I couldn’t possibly understand.
If God wants to reveal herself by lifting her veils she will
and there’s no doubt I’ll be attracted by her eyes
looking through me as if I wasn’t there.
Or the moon will come down to the river
to be baptized like a descending dove
in her own rites
and discover there’s no water anywhere that isn’t ice.
But right now looking for God
is like trying to find the right context
for the absurdity of everything I know of life.
My Damascene crescent of the moon
folded more ways than an origami loveletter
just in case I change my mind
and want to gut myself like a deer
or an honourable suicide
that couldn’t find a face to lose.
I make my way uphill against the throngs
of snow-winged cedars
that feather me in down
as if I had already died
and were trying to learn to fly like them.
But the snow doesn’t make angels of everything
and every star that shines above Bethlehem
isn’t the sign of a messiah
on a home-made Christmas card.
What’s soft is soft.
What’s hard is hard.
My hands burn on the cold rocks
like the stigmatic skin of a demon.
For every crucifixion that is witnessed
there are inacessible billions
that are completely missed.
Blood at the base of the grail
of the blue-green juniper
some fox chased a field mouse to
testifies to the truth of this
like a hot poppy in the snow
or the virgin religion of the rose.
But I’m not trying to make sealing wax
of the bloodlust of heaven
out of banished candles.
I’m just trying to make it up to that old oak
rooted on that high hilltop
like a Druid overlooking a beavermarsh
waiting for a lightning strike
like a blasting cap in a backwoods dam
to get things flowing again.
There are two small gravestones
with the names of two children
who died when they were sixteen months and seven
of scarlet fever in the eighteen-nineties
and were buried up there
under the younger boughs of that oak
because their parents liked the view
and the only safe place to be
if you’re looking for answers
that make peace with the mystery
of why we evaporate like ghosts
from the mirrors that once silvered our lives
with light love and breath
is out in the open
where your death is as far behind you
as your birth is up ahead.
I want to sit with that monstrous tree
and the bones of two children
well into nightfall
like four expressive gestures of life
and wait for the winter stars to rise
like music to the mother-tongue
of the common voice we all share
like the silence of Orion returning over the treetops.
I want to sit with them in a space
that’s never known a window
until it doesn’t matter
the tree doesn’t know it’s a Druid
or the children that they’re dead.
I don’t want to show up like everything they’re missing
or scare them with the incomprehensibility
of this last dream on my deathbed
that keeps recurring like an afterlife
that’s given up waiting for me to live it.
I want to sit down with them in such a way
that if they feel me there at all
it’s as a slight intensification of the darkness
that made the stars seem brighter for a little while.
Inching my way through the prehistoric skeletons of the sumac
by the time I get up there
I don’t want to be angry.
I don’t want to be full of sorrow and despair.
I don’t want to be a featherless phoenix that’s lost its fire.
I don’t want November for a soul.
I don’t want to be carrying this heavy heart around
like the urn-mouth of a crematorium
that keeps receiving the bodies of my dead friends and lovers
as if they were the ashes of the words on my tongue
they once answered to like names.
I don’t want to remember how most of the people I grew up with
trying to get away from life
believing there was always somewhere else to run.
I’m tired of talking to death as if only death knew what I was talking about.
I’m sick of feeling like an inferiority complex
that will never live up to the expectations of my vanity.
I’m weary of my excruciating humanity.
I’m done with dying for things that other people won’t.
My murderous indignation at the lack of justice in the world
has grown as cold as the dulled senses of a serial killer
who’s lost the Hammurabic thrill
of a life for a life.
I’m bored with the holy wars I’ve fought
for the equality of joy
with the sadness of an assassin
attending his own funeral.
Once I could see in the dark
but now I’m as snowblind
as the crazy wisdom
of a mad Buddha
lamplighting in the deer park for Venus
under a Bodhi tree at dawn.
She knows I’m not attached.
But there’s nothing between us.
And the rest is best left to the void.
I break through the frost on the snow
like a gun-butt through a windowpane
but no one’s hiding inside
except the usual refugees of winter in the world
as the sun goes down
disappointed in itself behind the hills.
I don’t mistake the pebble that’s bruising my heel
for the road I’m on
nor this emptiness of heart without an echo
for the voice I’m not listening to
because it’s always got more to say about things
than I do.
And words are just the negative space.
The dark part that shades in
the imageless silence
of what can’t be seen or heard.
The universe is its own container.
It makes a body
and embraces it
and everything in the whole wide wondering world
is just the shadow cast
by the clarity of that dark radiance
that burns what it illuminates
as if space had eyes
and time had seeing
and life had a mind of its own.
Be that as it may
I don’t say
I’m just a human being
as if that were some kind of an excuse.
Most people are two percent themselves
and ninety-eight percent
what other people wanted them to be.
Though it’s never a good imitation.
And if that’s true of teacher and student alike
then who are we trying to mime?
It’s like the subtlety in the auroral veils of Isis.
The moment you reach out to lift them.
They turn to iron.
Only fools sit at the feet of teacherless knowledge
thinking there’s something to master.
Knowing there’s nothing to learn
You know what it’s like
to wake up like Adam in the garden of Eden alone
with an incomprehensible sense of emptiness
and nothing but your imagination on.
Almost to the top.
Nothing between me and the stars
but this vast intimacy
that can’t be measured in lightyears
or concealed by the dark.
Even from here
I can see for miles
two seasons of stars going down
and coming up
and feel my lungs begin
to give up breathing air
and start to breathe time
and feel their light glowing in my blood
like random fireflies
that are trying to make a constellation out of me from the inside out.
And there’s Jupiter presiding like the paterfamilias of planets
over Alcyone and her sisters in the Pleiades
as deep in the valley the shadows run into
with the same abandon as rivers
I can hear the savage clarity
in the scream of something being killed
to sustain life
without sentimentalizing the mystery
with the personal history of my solitude.
In an expanding universe
accelerated by dark energy
anywhere you try to get a grip on things
you’re cast out immediately
by the true nature of creation.
Only someone without a direction
moving off into oblivion
like this old tree
these two dead children
like the light of these stars
is in a position to give one.
When one mile to the east
is one mile to the west
and far enough up
is deep enough down
and the hill you climb up to see the stars better
is not the same one you will climb down
even if you follow your own footsteps
in this matter of finding your way around
like a compass looking for true north
as if it were the sole purpose in life
then show me any path
that anyone follows
even those who are most certain of where they’re going
and how to get there
that wasn’t first made
by someone who was lost or cast out
with the light always behind them
like a star darkyears ahead of itself.
The moon’s a plough behind the cow in the starmud of your spirit
labouring in the same fields of body and mind
as do these dead children left by the pioneers.
It’s irrelevant to the dead
how many hours months or years they lived.
In this moment that lasts forever there is no birth or death.
The old man of the moment is the child of now
and the old woman who is the midwife of time
manages to give birth to herself somehow
without knowing which came first
yesterday or tomorrow.
You climb a hill to say hi to some old friends.
You sit down in the snow
under a magnificent tree
that doesn’t know when to call it quits
and you brush the stars off two tiny gravestones
like the hair out of the eyes of a baby brother
by his older sister.
You sit and you look out at Perseus and the Pleiades
Aldebaran in Taurus
and chromatically angry Sirius on the horizon
snapping at the heels of Orion
like a ferocious chandelier of fangs
in the mouth of a showboat hunting dog.
It seems rude to ask if there’s a god
in the face of your own intelligence
or what purpose
beyond just being here
keeps driving an evolving universe
to the edge of extinction
with every breath you take and let out
to mingle with the stars.
No more than snow does when it turns to water
have I ever really lost my grip on life
and though I don’t know what it is
I’m actually holding onto
out of fear
by the neck like a two-headed snake
out of love
like the gesture of a flower
out of pure spite
like revenge on the assholes of earth
or the hope that if I sit here long enough
one night all by itself
the eleven mysteries will make themselves
as small and naked and clear as the stars
and I will feel them as intimately
as these snowflakes
landing like kisses on my eyelids
and melting like the cold lips of two dead children
who haven’t cried for years.
I have a mad talent for hanging on
but I’m a genius
when it comes to letting go.
That’s what comes from having lived for so long in the snow
I’ve learned to melt ice in its own fire
when there’s nothing else to burn
just to keep some feeling in my heart warm enough
to make it through another night.
And I sit here
with this tree these children these valleys and hills
and the incredible silence of the light-footed woods
until the whole of my being disappears into everything
and all my emotions are the transitory shadows
of Canada geese crossing the moon.
My way of touching the world
through my eyes
when I realize
like a Druid struck by lightning
like two children come back to life
to know the shining again
like me when I’m blinded by the pain
of a wound that isn’t healing
under these glacial scars
that my seeing is the stars.
The way they see me
is the way I see them
and it’s the same with everything.
And even when death comes
it comes not knowing what it is
except for two dead kids
an aging tree
all these stars
to give it an identity
that corresponds to a thought moment
in the intimate starfields
of this incomprehensible volume of space
that wears time on its face like the silence of a deathmask.
Like any one of these random mystically-specific snowflakes
no two alike
like the lives of humans
or the living intelligence of inanimate things
that write their names in water and gravestones
in the unsayable hearts of aging poets
that bear the loss of everyone else’s children
as if they were their own
and there was nothing that could be said
to atone for suffering in the world
for the infinite sadness and solitude
of being alone here together with everything
for the stillborn pain
of not knowing who it is
we’re giving birth to
or what we’re dying for
as all these umbilicords
we’ve been following like rivers uphill for years
start to make their way back to the sea
with a taste of life in their tears.
Like the one in the all
of a growing universe.
Like a muse of fire
in a womb of ice.
Like the Milky Way
the Via Galactica
pouring its voice
into the siren-song of the Lyre
descending in the west
that might delight in leading my breath astray
like a flying carpet of thought
above a snowbound desert of moonlit mirages
but always wins
the whole of the heart of a wounded human
like life itself
when she takes me
with the beauty of the pain
I recognize as my own in her voice
for her abandoned lover
like a night
she whispers secretly
like light into her own ear
so that I can hear with my eyes
what she’s left unsaid
like the quickening silence of the dead
on this amazing starwalk
down a Road of Ghosts
that can’t be lived twice.