Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Dream Garden

Winter Places

All very open and secret
A place people come to only with dogs
I feed on the aura
The dim, hidden, melancholy, root-tugging silence
I walk the dog in myself

There were snowless January afternoons like this on Long Island, too, in which one imagined a story. The theme of the day’s story is every day’s story, that the days are gone. Those bare January hours back then are just like this one, then, because this one goes as well. The one fact of living is ever-passing, all other facts in abeyance.
I walk along the edge of a long green field, the mayor’s park, the city’s pride because it is an open, grassy space with a view of the water. It would be welcome, even spectacular perhaps, by the standards of a flat Long Island housing development where there are no perspectives, no looking down on water, but this place does little for the hunger for wild, secret moments, once that hunger has been wakened, fed, and acknowledged. I avoid people, three loud teen boys (though only one is talking, two are standing), pursuing their own liberation by the empty boat rack. You have to stand just so, grouped; someone must talk. The one who talks is short and as wide as a billboard advertising the secrets of adolescence. They have earned their separation…. I walk up the green slope of the favored park and circle around the other side of the grassy horseshoe lip, knowing there’s another path along a marsh this side if I can get to it. I find a gully that cuts downhill, find it clogged with dead snow-crunch, bushwhack around it.
On the flat path beside the salt marsh, I discover (as suspected) I have been here too. Old places, neglected places, at the edges of things. Not beautiful, not far enough away, just stocked with stored-up people-less space and time. I look for birds, seeing one, tall and white eventually. But it’s a watery reflection that elongates and confuses his shape: only a gull.
The kind of places, I think, where I would go if I were homeless. So I suppose the homeless come here, but I see no signs of them. No real litter either, though the snow has only recently passed. Larger groups of birds, duck mostly, scatter their calls from further out into the creek, as it is called here, which flows toward the open water of the harbor. I hear crows overhead as I walk a cutback up through the woods, just a thin screen of trees, unfortunately, and find myself back in the “park,” the grass field with occasional human structures. A place for winter separations.

Day Dream

Nature is dreaming
It is an old feeling
always lived, always known
speaking of old days lived young
with black holes, leaking time

Snow-free January afternoons
cocking an ear for Long Island winters
old times: then or now?

On the edge of a long, green field,
the mayor’s park,
I long for wild, secret places,
barbarians bursting from the tree line
Only crows, however, signifying nothing

In the winter-dim marsh water
a single white-winged gull
stands tall in the stream’s reflection
It grows in the mind,
where all things are seen
Everything passes in the corner of an eye
The gull does not sing or fly
We come here for magnification

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A garden of reflections

The snow blinds me. I cannot look at it when the sun shines. As it does, very brightly, in a cold January sky.
So I am now like one of Plato’s cave dwellers who cannot look at the sun (truth, reality, the idea behind the shadow) because their eyes are accustomed only to shadows, to darkness. The cave dwellers in Plato’s allegory of the unexamined life can’t see the truth of their existence; they see only shadowy approximations.
It’s a painful subject. I crave the light, the sun. It is necessary, good for me, provides the vitamins we miss in the winter, does something to the body chemistry, kicks in the endorphins or stirs up the enzymes. But I can’t look at it when the snow is this pervasive and the sun is high and unclouded.
I can’t have what I need.
Is this a parable? Does truth hurt? I need the truth, but I cannot take it?
Snow blindness aside, frigid temperatures or not, we need to live in nature, as much as possible. It is good for us, because our own nature grew from, developed out of, and remains part of Nature. We are natural beings. People say “mortal,” but that’s what mortal means. All living things in the natural world – and, folks, there isn’t any other for creatures with bodies – die. Perhaps our words or deeds or creations, a building, say, or a book, live on; and our memories live on in the lives of those who know us; but only for a short time, until nature takes them back as well. Nature is death, as much as birth. We conquer the world and the history books remember us for a comparatively long time; but in the end, obviously, clearly, unquestionably, all memory of our existence passes away. Everything passes, a nice calming sort of way to putting our condition. All is vanity, sayeth the preacher – not so nice. But it really amounts to the same thing.
Consider the lilies – not simply of the field – but of the garden, where we call them ‘ornamental’ or, tellingly, ‘day lilies’ (or 'toad lilies,' which bloom in October and win a place in our calendar). Consider how beautiful they are – or were. Do they endure? Do we remember them? I’m afraid I don’t see any lilies out there now and have not for some months. Granted they did not toil or spin (or weep), and I must say they seemed pretty cheerful about the state of things and uncomplaining about their inevitable decline, loss of their beautiful, youthful parts, and eventual – passing? Their natural decay back into the soil. I keep some of their petals in a bowl. They have a second life as dried versions of their former vitality. It’s a nice reminder, though a mere shadow of the real thing, not that much like the living flower. In reality, indisputably, the flowers are gone. Forever.
But, wait! They’re coming back! With any luck. I hope.
I can’t speak for the lily’s point of view, but I don’t worry about a flower’s mortality though poets from time immemorial have offered them as symbols of the inevitable passing of all beauty and all life.
January is the death of the year, the apparent death of nature in New England and most places in the northern hemisphere. Those dark pink buds on my rose bushes are not in fact going to bloom any time this season. “This season” is so over. We contemplate a graveyard in winter snow. And we inevitably think of our own endings. We go; new people come.
For as the song says, the graveyards go to flowers, every one.
We need nature, as much nature in our lives as we can get, to remember who we are. But then we have to make peace with that knowledge.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Things as they are

Scatters of snow fluff fall nonchalantly through the hours. I look away. By late afternoon the soft stuff falls again through the second by second intensification of cast iron slow-darkening sky, looking as if ocean deeps were turned upward to the clouds.
Atmosphere both heavy and light, filled with meaning and meaning nothing. A seeming saying-something moment, a pregnant pause in a story.
But the story is merely the ineffable suchness of real time, present, real, existing: things as they are. Poets die in this moment (or seek a new dispensation). Hope dies; or rises anew. But the sky goes on composing in the gray, gloomily triumphant shades of its own abnegation, its self-emptying of all memory of light like a vacuum that swallows an upside falling earth; the snow falls ever more soundlessly; the gossamer gray gloom speaks ever more clearly of nothing but itself; nothing goes on happening, hearts continue to beat, voices sing as they always do heard or unheard, the cat sleeps in my lap. It is still now.
Words cannot say.
Time passes.
In California, or is it Florida, farmers coat vulnerable fruit plants with water to create a protective coating of ice around them. The theory, I believe, is the ice keeps the temperature from going below thirty-two degrees on the fruits and their stems, sheltering them from some deeper intensity of cold than ice itself.
But it is well below thirty-two in our part of the world and has been for days. Should we not aim our hoses in the air and cover the sky with freezing water? Should we not live beneath domes of ice?