THINGS MIGHT BE DRIFTING AWAY
Things might be drifting away
like an empty lifeboat
with nothing left to save
but the memory of moonlight
on the rush of a wave of the heart
that rose and fell
like a bell of insight on the night watch
that said all’s well all’s well for the night.
And so it was for a while.
Time might seem
that it’s overstaying its welcome
and you’ve become the estranged guest
of a bad dream
in your own bed
in the thirteenth house of the zodiac
where the dispossessed
shack up with the misbegotten
and the ghosts of everything you’ve forgotten
don’t give you any rest
until all that you’ve cursed
out of anger and need
has been immensely forgiven and blessed.
And perhaps it appears
you’ve been the rogue star
of a sign in long exile
far away from now
and that might account
for your misplaced trust in mirrors
and your lack of confidence in star maps.
Happiness just happens
like good luck and grace
and the creative inspiration
to rejoice in your time and place here
as if the purpose of your voice
were always to praise
even on the darkest of days
when the only thing
that shone in your eyes
weren’t the stars you kept
locked away in your tears
like the face paint of clowns
or the crown jewels of the Pleiades
but a bitter farce of black holes
in the veils of the mirage
that eclipsed your enlightenment
with a starless night
it’s impossible to get beyond.
And so it may well be
for those who’ve been
as far gone for as long you have.
But even the blind are shining
though they can’t see it
and the deaf are still singing
though they can’t hear it
and the dead are still living
though they can’t feel it.
And those who have given up seeking
still find what they were looking for
like a loveletter with a return address
and an open door that recognizes them
like the prodigal threshold
of a homeless human
about to cross one more
like the last step of a long journey
that lost its way back in all directions
like the radiance of a star in space and time
that never took its eye off the past.
We cherish the flowers of summer that bloom last
more poignantly than those of the spring
because we feel our own hour of farewell
in the progress of their passing.
The sadness of an earthly excellence
fulfilled and surpassed
we see in the shedding of the aster’s petals
and in the lowering of the wild rose’s eyelids
and in the lengthening of the black walnut’s shadows
that move like cool water
across the dry grass of a late afternoon
signs of the same night approaching us.
And we know it will be dusk soon.
We’ll look up at the blue moon in late October
and whether the silos are full or empty
wonder if every harvest
wears the same death mask we do
with the smile of a scythe on its face
or if the goddess of the grain
bears true witness to
the perennial innocence of death
in the way she enhances
the white spectre of the first frost
to shock the garden down to its roots
with the same koan she uses
to enlighten the dew on the stargrass.
And you might dread the coming excruciations
of the scarecrow immolated on the pyre
of its own substance
like the short straw of flesh
that once sustained it
lost in a draw with death.
And come to scorn your heart like an urn
filled with ashes in the aftermath
of the same fire that once filled it
so full of desire to bloom
it could no more contain itself
than a seed can keep a secret from the spring.
You could see it that way.
And who among those clinging
like a blue atmosphere
to this homeless grain of dust
in the vastness of these sidereal immensities
within and without
that animate us like starmud
to join in this dance of life and death
like a legacy of shining
that can’t be washed out of our eyes
though tears have fallen for lightyears
on the root fires of what we’ve loved and lost.
Who among these
could say you were wrong?
Because no river’s flowing
the wrong way to the sea
in this reunion of arrivals and departures
at the stations of our afterlives
on this wheel of birth and death.
We’re all going to make it back
to where we came from
one way or another.
Some like rain.
Some like ice.
Some like snow.
Some like the lingering ghost
of morning mist on the lake
that’s gone before
and some like water on the moon.
The flowing of the river
summoned by the sea
to the source of its coming and going
is the calling of life everywhere
to transcend itself
by passing into the unknown
like the available dimension of a future
that’s no further beyond us
than the past is
in the light of distant stars.
The sword doesn’t wound itself.
Fire doesn’t burn itself.
Water doesn’t drown in itself.
And life doesn’t bleed out of itself
like the dream of a fortune-telling poppy
or a water clock that’s run itself to ground.
The eye isn’t the seeing.
The ear isn’t the hearing.
The tongue isn’t the tasting.
The skin isn’t the touching.
The voice isn’t the saying.
The brain isn’t the thinking.
The heart isn’t the feeling
anymore than life
is the carrying in
and death is the bearing out.
The darkness isn’t a lack of light
and the light isn’t the absence of night.
Death is unborn.
Life is unperishing.
Formless in a world of forms.
Two wavelengths of the same awareness.
You say you can see night gathering
under the door you’re afraid to answer
long before anyone knocks
and though you dream by your own light
you don’t know who’s casting the shadows.
Is sorrow any younger in the heart of a child
than it is in the memory of an old man?
Joy any less vivid in the eyes of an old woman
attending to the flowers in her garden
than it is in a girl having tea with her dolls?
Is this day not as new to the widow
as it is to the newly-wed?
Experience is the capstone and dunce-cap
of the sum of destructions
that made us who we are today.
And in life it’s the brilliance of our failures
that throws more light on the dark matter
of the issue before us
than all the star power
of the blazing successes
that blind us to our own shining.
You step out of a backlit doorway
into the dark
and slowly the darkness grows
the eyes you need to see the stars.
And maybe death is like that.
Nothing to look at but black
until we blow the candle out
that’s been misleading us all the way.
Maybe that’s why the jaws of skulls
are always caught gaping at something
that’s more than they can say.
But look at the expressions on their faces.
Maybe their eyes
are too overwhelmed by what they’re seeing
to want to get in the way.
You could see it like that.
You could see it through the eyes of the rain.
You can taste it on the tongue of a candleflame.
You can read it from right to left
in the Kufic script of the wind.
You can hear it in what the stars are whispering
through the keyholes in the pyramids.
You can feel it all around you
like bubbles of skin and air.
Like empty rooms with atmosphere.
As many ways and roads and rivers as there are
that flow into it down the world mountain
back to the sea
back to the same undifferentiated watershed
of these myriads of mystic specificity
and who could number them all
as many as the stars
or all the grains of sand
of all the deserts and beaches on earth
as many as the dead of every kind who’ve come and gone
all that blood mind passion dream and imagination
all those tears all that despair lucidity and apprehension
love and familial affection
all that waste and hatred and emotional sewage
dissolved wholly back into the sea
like a watercolour left out in the rain
like a name written on water
by a poet who died young
in a foreign language far away from home
just as birth arrays the universe before us
and says make of it what you can
so death approaches no less a peer of life
than we are in our relationship with all things
and offers us
the same great creative opportunity life does.
The hidden night bird alights
on either alike
and folding its wings
like gates and books
and the eyelids of those who dream
at the beginning and end
of a long dark radiant journey