I no longer pay attention to fear mongers, they have never made my life better. My horse is a low horse, I have no power or wealth. You are my only audience. My home is one room, eleven by twelve. I don’t know how to eradicate fear, I’ve never been good enough at comforting others. So this is not advice, or a boast. This is just me trying to deflect some of it. This is me interacting with a piece of the world.
I’m fortunate to be able to say that fear, for whatever reason, hasn’t knocked at my door lately. No tears over that. And I don’t sympathize with those who profit by it. This has allowed me to enjoy walking off trail in bear country once or twice every week for years. Given me confidence in the face of abstractions. I find that a person’s wallet doesn’t put me off anymore, full or empty. I can work well with immigrants and transsexuals. Humans in general no longer worry me much. And while it’s true that particular individuals still DO have the potential to worry me in certain situations, it’s not because of their skin or accent, bumper stickers, or holy books. I automatically distrust strangers but enjoy their company, and that includes almost everybody, since I have very few friends.
As a child, I was no stranger to fear and its tactics. In catholic elementary school they had us hold our hands over a lit candle to give us a tiny taste of the torments of hell. We were taught that the real thing would be infinitely more painful and that it would never end. Eventually I came to view anything that never ends as a kind of hell. My own mortality is a fear I still cling to, even utilize: it’s part of my original motivation to have kids, it still makes me write— the chance that something of myself might outlast me.
Small comfort. But I’ve been neglecting my fears more and more lately. They aren’t so well watered or carefully tended anymore, even though the bears are real out there. My time has gotten too short for me to spend it guessing, or scared. My attitude these days is: we’ll see. That’s as sure as anything.
Before I was born is a cloud of hearsay to me. I can recall the telling of it, or the reading of it, but it’s all someone else’s word.
My earliest actual memory emerges two months before my first birthday in the living room of the house I was born into. The occasion is a photo session, and I am the subject. There is the photographer with his eye glasses, and his artificial lights of transcendent brightness. With me are my parents, and my dad’s parents, whose house is also ours at the time. There are many poses, with an assortment of props, from a variety of angles. I distinctly remember an ottoman, which I was to lean upon, would be re-located several times before a satisfactory composition was achieved.
Anyone can see what I was wearing that day, the shape of my face, my disposition of the moment— these are all perfectly preserved in the surviving prints. What is striking to me now, in my memory of that day, is that I could follow the conversation among the adults as they discussed what to do for the next shot, and their instructions to me. I felt no need to verbalize in response, but I had no trouble processing what they were saying.
This surprising awareness has since informed my grown-up interactions with even the smallest of children: they know more than they say.
And from that day to where I now sit, I have been continuously, and consciously, “me”.
Yesterday they handed me my friend’s ashes in a box too small for a cake, but big enough to hold a copy of his book, all the loose poems he left, a pen and his pocket flask. I was surprised at the weight of it—these were not like the ashes of the campfires we huddled around, white and weightless the next morning, disappearing at a touch or a breeze. This was like a box of sand, to remind me of the heft he commanded with his words and heart.
We called each other “flaco”, a team of scrawny brothers stepping out of the shadows for the occasional spotlight, more often laying low with a poem, or just a beer and a laugh. Bob spent a long time on the streets, starting over every time he woke up without his backpack, hundreds of poems washed away like silt in the river.
This last year had been tough because of the pandemic. We weren’t able to get together on Sundays anymore, the nursing home slammed shut to visitors. It wasn’t until he was hospitalized finally that I could be face to face again. On his last lucid night we watched Saturday night fights on the hospital TV and he sipped a milkshake Dona dropped off from Wendy’s.
I have his words and our memories, as close as my heart. Deep down in there I have said the big goodbye to him many times over the years—he came so close so often, so my peace with his passing is well rooted. Whenever I miss him I just close my eyes or open a page, and always with gratitude. He is my dear friend and a hell of a poet. As he himself once wrote, death is just a vacation from life. And this:
look for me on the other side of any mountain
look for my motion
through the lips of every living mouth
waiting, restless, unpredictable
making leaves dance
in meadows of wilderness
or doing nothing at all
only whispering enough
to leave these elm seeds
scattered under your door
I have earned a living with my hands– building for others, for hire. I have worked together to make a family. My writing proceeds from having lived. But the old ways no longer suffice.
We are now at a point where any truth we want is available. Any public figure can be made to do or say anything. Elections have become a game show judged by the audience– let’s see whose results are the most convincing. Politics and religion are one and the same. Virtual and actual are interchangeable. Any prophecy is self fulfilling. Vast segments of the population now occupy mutually exclusive realities– fractured, customized, repackaged, and consumed by subscription. There is just one channel, personalized to tell us only what we want to hear 24/7…
The mountains which rise up on the edge of town are beyond the range of any signal. Here I just have to figure out how to negotiate the next canyon. Nothing else. I encounter the oldest challenges, the prehistoric narratives. Because from time to time I need to put my weight on something that was here long before I was, something that will outlast all of this.