Gods & Fire

It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you’d be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.

— Carl Dennis, The God Who Loves You

Perhaps the god who loves me resides within. For all I know, the god may be me. That's where gods begin. Like the dead who are gone until I bring them back, the heavens are empty until I populate them with the gods I create and come to believe. I begin with a pen, a sheet of white paper empty as the ether. The pen marks that emptiness, disrupts it, mars its clean surface. Each letter a star in the blank firmament, a soul remembered, a god written into the pantheon. The friction of nib on paper starts fires in a vacuum where it seemed nothing could ever burn. Pen strokes become letters become words become sentences become paragraphs. Constellations of ideas are born, tremendous things that move with impossible grace following mechanics of motion we largely fail to understand and attribute instead to the whims and desires of gods above who, come to think of it, are stories we've written under an empty sky growing so dark that soon I'll have to kindle some kind of fire to lights my way to the end of the story and keeps me from the fear of being all alone.

Want To Be

If there is one person I would like to be writing like, it's Donald Hall. I suppose I am writing like him, but I want to be doing it as well, with as much vigor, and such that it was more than enough to keep my family and I afloat. I just finished A Carnival Of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety and it was good, good, good. (Though I revere Ann Patchett, I disagree with her assessment on the back cover that it is one of a very few perfect books. The book is good, Ann, but it is not perfect and is equaled by your own This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage.) I should say that I want to be able to write prose the way Hall did, the way E. B. White did, the way David Sedaris, Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, Kurt Vonnegut, George Saunders, and Mary Karr all do. I've never been big for Hall's poetry, mostly I think because I don't understand.

For poetry, I'll take David Shumate who wrote this most beautiful of things called "The Long Road":

It’s one of those highways you come across late at night. No signs. No arrows. Just a road running north and south. You pause. You look one way. Then the other. Nothing. Only the hum of the engine, the chirping of crickets confirm you are here. You can’t remember where you’ve been. Where you are going. If it weren’t for the lines drawn through the middle, you’d think you were drifting down a river. Or stumbling upon a path through the sky. Remember, it is a moonless night. You are tired. Hungry. No one to talk to. Afraid that what you were thinking might have come true. You look to your left again. Perhaps you see a mountain. An ocean. A lover you wish you hadn’t lost. Spirits that seem so familiar, drifting in from the dark. You wait in that silence. It may be years before it is safe to proceed.

Perhaps it helps that Shumate writes prose poetry, which ought to be a bastard child but comes out instead as a an otherworldly thing, perhaps angelic.

If I were to want to be a different poet it would be Mark Strand in "Man And Camel":

On the eve of my fortieth birthday I sat on the porch having a smoke when out of the blue a man and a camel happened by. Neither uttered a sound at first, but as they drifted up the street and out of town the two of them began to sing. Yet what they sang is still a mystery to me— the words were indistinct and the tune too ornamental to recall. Into the desert they went and as they went their voices rose as one above the sifting sound of windblown sand. The wonder of their singing, its elusive blend of man and camel, seemed an ideal image for all uncommon couples. Was this the night that I had waited for so long? I wanted to believe it was, but just as they were vanishing, the man and camel ceased to sing, and galloped back to town. They stood before my porch, staring up at me with beady eyes, and said: “You ruined it. You ruined it forever.”

Then again, two of those guys are dead and one is alive in the Midwest. I've no inclination to die anywhere right away or to live in the Midwest, so I might as well go on being me, leaving odd things on the page (screen) and wondering how they connect.

Chinese Poetry (a prose poem)

Billy Collins' poem "Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I pause to Admire the Length and Clarity of their Titles" has me wanting to read Chinese poems. It's a common desire, really. Most people I have seen today surely feel that same urge. The woman in running clothes waiting to cross the street was composing a poem about a river. That kid driving past the deadened lake, steering with his knee while lighting a cigarette, was writing of a stone bowl of rice in a fire. The fluttering scarf of the child standing at the edge of the road holding his mother's hand was itself a Chinese poem. Or maybe Japanese. I struggle to to tell them apart. Maybe I want both. Maybe we all need both and will know one from the other by the slant of the light, the soft force of the breeze, and the wings of the heron beating the water. Hey, that sounds like Chinese poetry, I say aloud. I look for someone to nod and agree, but I'm alone here with a desire. That desire, I would explain it, maybe write a poem about it, one with an extraordinarily long title about why and how this feeling has come to bloom inside me and spread like wildflowers or wildfire or maybe just yellow dandelions across what has been a frozen landscape, but of course everyone already knows, having felt the yearning for the Chinese poets and their translated words, having stood in the shade of their mountains and dipped their toes into the cool lake by which our huts all stand. Our doors are open. Inside each hut a Chinese poet sits drinking dark red wine from a tall green bottle and waving us inside.