Second chances, I have had many. Whatever it is, call it God or the Universe, or the Everlasting Energy, has stopped the trajectory of my chaos, that endless comet of catastrophes, and set me back on the path I was meant to be on. Sometimes a bit bruised, sometimes dusty, but when it comes to second chances, I have had more than a few.
Yet, I continued to veer off course.
Some of us test the waters to the point of drowning, and find ourselves in the tide looking up at the stars, never knowing how it is that the tide always sends us back to safety. But sometimes it doesn’t. I know too many who never got a second chance, who just washed away into the distant welcoming deathtide.
When I was in the hospital last summer, it occurred to me that I may not have many chances left. Hitting 40, you realize that the romantic idea of dying young passed you by and here you are in middle age. No smoky car engulfed in flames. No overdose. No suicide penned in the name of lost love.
You begin to ponder all of the crazy neuroses and freak accidents that your younger self never considered, like dying in a horrible washing machine accident or being speared by a swordfish at Pike Place Market. Not so flippantly speaking, death ain’t all that great.
You start to covet your wrinkles and less-than-tight abs a little more. The things you did to bring down the lights seem cruel and petty. Who wants to go down like that?
Nth chances, I am well aware of. I live with a bit of death on my shoulder, just to keep me on my toes. And it isn’t about fearing death; it is just a healthy respect.
Self-destruction, I have put away that book and crawled out the window. When you know, viscerally so, that it can all end (and will) you come closer to life than you ever had before. We are creatures of intimacy. I forgot this for a long time, but it was there sleeping like Rip Van Winkle, and Life pulled me back up to see the stars.
“To lose one’s self in reverie, one must be either very happy, or very unhappy. Reverie is the child of extremes.” ~ Antoine Rivarol
There is room in me now. Anything can take root. My life on the surface is as wide as a mesa, as empty as a forgotten cave, beneath debris and branches. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something must enter in. Where there was a home, a man – I fill these places with memories as verdant as leaves in a wet summer. There are moments I crave in my bones. Those moments I see behind your eyes – laughing on a blanket, the polished cow skulls and hot red dust. Moments that comfort me – nestled under a metal roof as the storms of the summer rolled over us and the fire of our beginning was consuming, promising.
But I am just the red flame of wish now.
I see trains – I long for their miles of going everywhere and nowhere in particular. I read of the wilderness I have yet to visit and plan my exodus into a world that neither welcomes nor opposes my presence. I simply become a part of that world. Truthfully, that realization scares me. The wilderness cares little for my memories.
So I walk with them for now. The taste of coffee – the snowdrifts and my grandfather’s plaid jacket, where he stashed a day’s supply of tobacco. Stories told between the dusk and dawn by people with hushed voices and warm laps. I will never know them, just as they will never know me. My life is an amalgam of place and the senses. It is less purposeful than it is full of feeling. I want to rise to the surface of all of the things, these illusions. I want to wrap myself in the warmth of their promise, because it was in that promise, I felt most wanted. The future place was where I belonged, never quite fixed in the now.
In memory, there are copper bells hanging from an ocotillo. I catch lizards in the Sonoran Desert. Here, there is another new city – its Chinatown chatter and rumbling streetcars. There is the first time making love to him, and the ones to follow. There is the sound of teenagers smashing thin bodies onto still water, boulders of limestone enclosing us. And here, a young self holds a cat in her arms, dreaming of anything to take her away from home, from suffering.
These internal journeys take me away from the intense cravings for liquor, the stress of bills that continue to pile up, the death all around as age comes to friends and family. These journeys are my church of lessons, symbols of my prayers to the holy hereafter. The hawks and ravens show up just as I look to the pines. I watch the fearlessness of the lion and the freedom of wolves; the adaptability of the coyote running through alleyways into the ‘burbs.
I watch the acceptance of wild things, the deep integration into the land and life itself. I wish I could be so accepting. My resistance to accept that there are disappointments and horrors nestled and entwined in the beauty of those memories fuels my reverie. I cut out the weeds. I pick apart the skeletons and keep only what I want, the polished bones I can adorn with jewels. I can keep them as treasures. My reverie is my way of being on the horizon of the next day. Never here. Never now.
Alcoholism crippled my ability to handle life in the present. Growing up in poverty and secrets, I learned to keep my eyes fixed on the West. I knew something wonderful was out there, just beyond what I could grasp… but soon life would be better, safer. In the midst of my disease, I learned to create my own secrets and covet memory. It was safer to believe that I had things under control, that there was love, there was magic. But, truthfully, it was a fragile illusion waiting for anything to splinter the image. Through my drinking years, I married twice. I traveled often. I lived in multiple cities, still holding on to that child-thought that I could be something else, somewhere else.
No place changed me. I just continued to spiral downward into the grip of my dreams. I wanted to just wake up on the mesa and become a part of what I believed was soul-desolation. I saw myself being carried off on the back of a wild horse, the crescent moon cutting patterns into the indigo. I saw the man I loved – rooted into juniper branches, becoming the breath coming into my lungs – the long exhalation of everything I held on to in my stomach. The tiring ache of years spent hoping for happiness.
Part of coming into truth required me to lift the lace that was draped over the lens. I had to come to know how I ended up here, what I lived through, what disasters were of my own making. I had to let go of the child who waited for something to come and rescue her.
Arriving to self… There is pain and promise in this process of releasing memory to reality. It is a dangerous game to play with life and madness – to hold up one’s cup to be filled by anything and anyone. Some die. Some never return from the other side of reality. Learning to live with acceptance requires leaving a life of memory and reverie in search of today. Meaning takes on the full expression of what needs to be done now. One learns to kiss those darlings of the past goodbye and welcome in a new day.
There is room in me now. I want to be careful about what takes root. In allowing everything to be as it is, I am not denying that young self’s daydreams of wonder, adventure, happiness… I am simply acknowledging that not all of it will be beautiful. I am learning to be with the pain, too. I am learning to love the balance of chaos and contentment. I don’t need to be anywhere else but here.
Through smoke you arrive
I am a child to be held
My hands push through dark
I am full of drumming and rain
And you call to me
The kind of thief I need – the loot
That will save
I want what you bring
I wait at the table
With this want
You tell me to pray
I bow my head
And you take leave
Return to stars
II. A Man
It is acceptable to suffer
When the veil lifts
And the day is so bright
My eyes burn and I rejoice
A man stands in the entrance
We are animals – the fear
Forms on us, so we stink
Of this ending life
I hand him my circles
He hands me his circles
We are bowls of sun
But we still grope in the dark
Flesh of earth
We dig deeper into wounds
III. The House
At first, it was harmless
I crawled into you
You entered the house
You were the flesh
The body god made
When she was lonely
Now we walk
Together and speak of our lovers Forgiveness and Mercy
Those lives under our feet
Waiting to spring up beside us
I could enter the house again
I could scream the boards into place
Wrap moss into ceiling
She always gives me the choice
Here we breathe
We gather songs
She wants to know what it will be –
The dark house
Or the starlit world?
I roll stones into place
I wait with the futureless animals
I sing to owls
“I’ve often thought that had I been compelled to live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but gaze up at the patch of sky just overhead, I’d have got used to it by degrees.” Meursault
No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.
I write many poems out of longing. I have also struggled for years with the tendency to obsess. Some might ascribe this longing, or this tendency toward obsession as addiction. It is true – Longing seems to coexist where there is creativity (the positive) and addiction (the negative). And, many people I know who struggle with obsessive impulses also describe themselves as creative, romantic, a wanderer. There is the resistance to discussing longing in the context of addiction and other obsessive-compulsive disorders. Society likes a tidy explanation, and physiology becomes a good soldier to the war on addicts and addiction. Apparently, some of us were born with deficiencies of spirit, a biology set out to ensnare our mind, body, and spirit in a terrain of lifelong struggle. Our obsession, unless curbed by mantras and punishment, will consume us. Us. Those whose lives resonate with a consumption of spirit: the artist, the ill, the outsider, the magician.
I came into the world with an inextinguishable longing for reasons. I want to know why I have the story I have, this body, the people and places that have named me, the desire. I want to know why I am writing this; why I put my hand against a particular chest; why some walk away when I need them; why some stay when I do not. It is this constant desire that brings words to my heart, makes music out of a resonant sadness. I have loved dangerously. I have walked in pace with the many times I thought everything would stop. I have wished for time to stop.
Yet, I continue to wake with longing.
For those lucky individuals who were born with a certain acceptance and peace about them, this predicament may seem self-imposed. The hardy stoics simply accept. There is willingness to subterfuge emotion in our easily explained culture. These souls live on crumbs of reason and go into the arms of predictable life stages. They go to college. They work. They marry. They buy a home, a few cars. Some have kids. Some don’t. Everything seems orchestrated. They have an ethical, good life. A good life believed to be gladly earned.
Do they, too, languish in a bastion of questions?
But they don’t show it.
To speak of it would be even more dangerous, and besides, a pointless question would seem like a waste of their time, divided up into work units and schedules.
Maybe I have bitterness about those who find acceptance so easy. I do not deny this possibility. Like many I love, outsiders, weirdoes, addicts, socially inept neophytes, I do not understand how one can so willingly be here and not wonder why. We are not the predictably loveable sort. Our eyes shine with a light of tremendous love, but not for our kind, not for humanity. We love something that can best be described as ghostly because it cannot be seen, held, or proven to exist. We cherish the hypothetical. We want what cannot be obtained, or described.
In waking, we reach for a lover, a bottle, a pen, a tree branch. We speak half-animal language. Our tongues are composed of fire and birdsong. We split between a longing for life and a curiosity about death that is met in the unfathomable questions we cannot outlive.
I wish I had answers for this state of mind. If I could shine a light down this dark tunnel, I would. But we disperse with the harsh noise, the loud clap of life. I want to give us something to hold onto when things seem too much, or when we feel like we are alone. And, we do… feel alone. Always. Even with others.
I have a painting of a rabbit above my computer. I remember hearing rabbits at night, getting devoured – wild rabbits caught by feral cats and other animals. Their screams are palpable to me even now. We are like this, those who make their hearts open to anyone who will accept. We are easily devoured. I believe we, kind-hearted fools, want to be the prey, even when our teeth run red with the blood of others. We believe ourselves the victims of our tendency to desire.
Pathology is defined as πάθος, pathos, “feeling, suffering”. To suffer is to long for something other than that which we have and experience. This is the result of a life of longing: a carefully edited story where no harm is done. It is tidy. It leads us astray from truth.
It is our work, in this short life, to be led or to lead ourselves into acceptance. This work is perhaps the most important and difficult task we will ever undertake.
Let us cry out under tooth. Let us bring only the pulse of our vulnerability to light.