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"God was God's name, just as his name was Stephen ." - - - James Joyce - from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Perhaps they couldn't tell you what his name is --
only that God was a name like Father or Mother or Deity.
They could tell you God is jealous too.
And they'd be right
(unless God has sought therapy since Moses reported and Mohammad recorded).
Joyce probably knew the truth,
as he knew the sound of a misnomer.
Nomenclature is a name too -- in a funny sort of way.
Still, if you cast a stone on God's name,
you can't blank it out.
No more than the reflection of the moon on a still pool --
-- it reappears when waves subside.
Little waves . . . as little as you.
God's name is God's name no matter what the language.
How ever large and frequent the stones are thrown
the waves will cease sometime -
maybe when we're gone.
Like a very old song
with the strange measure --
with the odd and penetrating beat
you moved toward me -
within the evil wake of pleasure -
cutting through me like a fever -
merciless consuming punishing heat.
I did not ask you to come.
I was afraid and mute,
watching you like Eurydice
or listening anxiously to Orpheus's flute.
with the eerie measure
and penetrating beat,
you move toward me again
with cool embrace
to slake the stifling heat.
Thought thinks to thickly -
words are too shrill -
Silence, Silence only,
completes, enfolds, fulfills.
Space is silent
far into galaxies unknown -
The ocean knows no language
but the Dolphin's, the wave's, and its own.
The All is silent -
All is the strong, vehement, ultimate prayer.
Silence for the weak
sometimes too much to bear.
He spoke in a still small voice -
God, who some say is dead -
but that silence is more forceful than all the words
in all the days in all the ages any man or woman has said.
Silence is more than parent -
more than ethics more than mores -
more than that enigmatic thing called Love.
Silence is as beautiful and peaceful
as the sweet strong snow white dove.
A DAY, A LIFE
You stood like a slightly bent tree
above the small dog
It nestled against your shins
and in your shadow
You were a lone tree on a plane
a dry plane of brown and fading green
tho' I stood a few paces away
and the dog perceived me there
as you looked toward the horizon
away from me
In a moment or less than that
you were far off
a small silhouette
exactly where the ground rolled into the sky
The clouds were sparse
the dappled sunlight fell all about you
and the dog was walking between us
I've forgotten which way
then you were gone
In another hour or less than that
I spied you again
still far off but facing me
like your gaze was unclear
a small stand of cottonwood
and sways in the charged breeze
the feverish blistering breeze
a road runs past
over a hill
I want to follow but I don't
not in this heat.
This life encrusted sphere turns -
This side slides easily into darkness -
While my friends, half a world away, shift
by imperceptible degree toward the sun -
They will soon be
blasted by light -
then bathing and warming gently
like a new friendship
may spin toward passion.
Soon all will be quenched by night -
grow dim and weary just as we, on this side,
begin to arouse and greet the advancing sun.
Wait for the night to bring back all
the that the dawn scattered.
The stars in their velvet folds will
regain the lost luster
calm and satisfy the hunger which daylight bred.
As the far off planets gain
their reflected light
the grape hyacinth and new green
of poppy leaves
will give up their color
The shapes of things which Night subdued
will be but dimly outlined
bruised by the moon's luminescence.
Dusk will slowly smother
Day's illuminated text
at the next dawning of the sun
when all night things are dissipated
lingering only in trembling shadows.
THE SAD CASE OF LUCIFER (cast out)
Look at the radiant beauty of the Morning Star
(thus fallen as he has)
in the gradual degradation
in erosion of surety and overarching self-esteem.
See the cumulative effect
of life lived as it is
on human terms
without heavenly intervention;
ethos, pathos, and logos of the mortal body and mind
with its dreaded embedded and irremovable clock.
See how life lived down here
in the deep of the deepest deep
See the slow tarnish of his inbred luster
the lessening gleam flooding out and down and under.
Only his mind is not changed
by Time and Place and Space.
Infernal passion throbs through his veins -
Eternal desire so recently displaced -
Eternal expectations never again to take place,
while mortal dust settles, made mud upon his shoulders
by earthbound clouds
dispersing temporal rains.
Here his voice protesting:
"They always make things seem bad -
make things worse than they are.
Because the human brain
like a coiled grey snake,
is a marvelous thing but too close to the earth.
"The earth, seat of growth and decay,
and they are one with it -
and their goodness is counterbalanced with evil -
sometimes made flesh.
"Don't be fooled.
They were just as prone to lie -
to bear false witness
in olden days as I.
"And so the stories they told of me
- vague as they are -
got worse and worse
until men, medieval and modern,
thought and think
that their own evil comes from me!
"Me, the cursed.
Me, the abandoned.
Me, the cast down and out.
Me, the most miserably heartbroken
and too weak to reclaim my place above."
Brooding over my own poetry
nestled over a seething mass of words and thought
urging a marriage
between things as yet unhatched;
Ostentatious wedding or clandestine elopement -
it is the sealed and firm union, not the show,
which I am after
for which I wish
on which I insist.
one foot on the ground
one upon a sacred text
I spin and weave variations on a theme
reaching ecstacy or self-induced sublime -
and the world,
whirling another way,
or spinning the same in a slower revolution,
cares as much for me
as mindless space cares for a lost satellite
making its way across the galaxy.
For the seventh time that day she walked through the strange garden. Seven times. Her hothouse poppies were safely transplanted in the soft earth. Rare seeds were beginning to sprout from the soil. Green things tentatively tested the air and claimed unoccupied space. The garden was surrounded by a thicket of yew, black poplar and cypress, but there were also climbing roses and clematis and honeysuckle which scaled one side of the barn producing a lattice work of green tendrils not yet in bloom. Beyond the barn waves of new grass swelled and rolled like a bleached sea.
She had gathered the yew and holly berries last fall. Many of last year's flowers and herbs were dried now and ready for the casting of aromatic spells and savory charms.
Ellen lived outside Granite Falls, Washington, about seventy miles northeast of Seattle. East of her was the Robe Valley where the tiny towns of Robe, Verlot and Silverton clung to the banks of the Stillaguamish River among the black evergreen forests covering the foothills in all direction. She had lived there since the beginning of her failed marriage some ten years ago. She lived alone and in virtual isolation. But it was a chosen isolation, a self-imposed punishment - a kind of bruised glory - a silent source of belligerent bullheaded pride.
Silence was what she thought she craved and Silence had become the idol which she venerated - imperfect though it was. Ellen's isolation, alienation, and her love of silence, (or better put, her distaste for the human voice) was as complete as possible for someone at odds with the twentieth century but still within its fringe. She had no phone or television, and the idea of a personal computer was as far removed from her as a man's touch or the male anatomy.
Though the little tract of land was nearly self sustaining, there were still things she needed which, lamentably, had to be met in town. At least she had money.
One thing she could say for her ex, Sam, was that he'd done right by Danny, and she could always depend on child support. Even after Danny died, Sam was kind enough to tell her at the funeral that he would continue sending a check. If she hadn't been in such a state of suffering, she would have been taken aback by his kindness. She did not know just how to interpret that offering, but she nodded through her tears before getting into her old black Nova and driving away from the cemetery. She had been numb and beyond grief for her only son - the son now separated from her by six feet of damp soil. We commend this small body to its kindred earth . . . and his green soul to a higher plane. Sam had kept his word, informing his accountant to continue mailing Ellen a check each month. She could always depend upon its arrival. But each time she retrieved it from the mail box, she wept. The checks stopped abruptly a year ago last January. Her only link now to her past was a sad box of photos and two thoroughbred horses given Danny by his father five years ago. The two yearlings were growing beyond their prime having never seen a race. She cared for them reverently.
The quiet horses did not mind that she never spoke. Communication was one of nudges, pats and head rubbing. Conversation between them was strictly on the level of animal communication. They trusted and loved Ellen. She revered them as loyal friends - the only family she had and, besides her garden, the only thing she worried over. Even her winter depression, which she knew only as her "dark mood," did not deter her devotion to Danny's horses. It may seem strange that she had forgotten their names, but no more strange perhaps than the fact that the animals were equally ignorant of hers. Verbalization, other than a whinny or a snort, meant nothing to them.
Words spoken were only as permanent as thoughts. Once a word, a phrase, a sentence was uttered, it lingered only a moment before vanishing into the air. If words hit her ear, they might enter the brain and become again a thought - a thought re-cast - a variation on the thought which inspired the word. Words could bring hope, they could bring false security and . . . Well, if she thought hard enough, Ellen could remember all the things that Sam had promised her - like his eternal love.
"But I don't believe. I won't believe any of it anymore," she thought. Animals, and the four winds don't lie. She herself had been guilty long ago of talking too much. Talking too much especially to Danny and promising things which were impossible for her to keep. Assuring him about events not in her control. Best to keep her mouth - best not to love or to make promises for love's sake. Some part of her knew this was an extreme view, but another part of her denied a closer look. When an adult plays the child's game of "I'll teach you a lesson! I'll show you!" - it becomes a more pitiful and deficient plan.
Words vanish in the breeze the moment they are spoken, and they are dangerous. After pouring from someone's throat, after escaping the teeth, they can find there way like a leach into your own mind. It might be nice to be the gods we wish we were - to hear the human voice as little more than an annoying hum - a buzz, a droning on and on only to dissipate into the weather. But there is more to words than that - more than half truths and lies. Ellen was simply too raw, too fragile, to give in.
When the doorbell rang her whole body jerked. Her own startled reaction quickened her heartbeat. It rarely rang. When it did it was expected -- something ordered from a catalog, for instance. It was after nine, but because the days were lengthening she happened still to be up. Apprehensively she walked to the door and opened it. A man not much younger than herself stood on the porch with a troubled look.
"I'm sorry to disturb you," he said. "Do you have a telephone?" There was an uncomfortable silence as they stared at each other. "I mean . . . may I use your phone? I just totaled my car up the road a ways."
The words he spoke did not immediately penetrate, and when they did, she envisioned a mutilated car in the ditch along the road. She shook her head at him.
He looked puzzled and again he spoke rapidly. This voice, breaking her silence, was unbearably abrasive. "You mean I can't use it, or that you don't have one?" She nodded and the man looked down at his shoes. He shook his head in obvious disappointment and frustration. "Shit!" he said under his breath. Then he looked at Ellen again and raised his eyebrows as if resigned to bad luck. Ellen pointed at the barn which was set to the side and back of her house. Of course the young man misunderstood and enthusiastically shouted; "Oh! There's a phone in the barn!"
Again Ellen shook her head. She was becoming irritated, and he nervously backed away as she stepped out onto the porch beside him. She motioned for him to follow as she walked toward the barn. She slid open the big side door and pointed to heaps of hay and alfalfa.
"Oh, I see," he said loudly, thinking this mute woman was probably mentally deficient. "I can sleep here! Is that it?"
Ellen made a slight sharp movement with her head, as if she'd been slapped by the volume of his voice, and furrowed her brow. He stood looking at her expectantly. So she nodded vigorously, and he thanked her. He threw his pack on the perfumed bedding, and sat down with a sigh.. He was a handsome man and suddenly appeared vulnerable to her. She stood outside the door holding it open and watching him for a few moments. Then he said, rather too loudly, "okay, thanks. I'll be off in the morning." He flashed a forced smile, and she closed the door - slowly and without a word.
Daniel awoke to the sound of birds singing. The were chattering and making an amazing racket for such small things. His mood was gray, but as he stepped out of the barn, the cloudless sky and unseasonable warmth cheered him. He thought he saw movement in the house, but it was early and he decided to walk on without stopping. After the ordeal he'd been through the previous day, he did not want any unnecessary bother. He was stiff and sore, and anxious to get to a phone as soon as he could. Besides, the woman was strange. He had to admit that she was pretty. She had a nice body too, but she was deaf or mute or . . . well, who knew what she was!
As he walked down the driveway and along the side of the road, two beautiful animals trotted along beside him. They looked like racers, but he didn't know much about horses - they were probably expensive at any rate. They seemed extremely interested, and he felt strangely flattered by their hyper awareness of him. He stopped and spoke to them in a low friendly voice. They snorted and made strange noises with their lips, stretching their necks over the fence as if to make his acquaintance.
He stretched his hand out to them as he spoke. "Hey, what's up guys? You think you know me or somethin'?" One of the animals muzzled his palm and sort of licked it. Daniel chuckled, "now that tickles." The other horse nodded his head in a of dancing movement, as if in total agreement. It's massive neck shone beneath the sunlight in rich chestnut and sorrel tones. "Well, somebody takes good care of you, huh?" He looked back at the mute woman's house and stared at it for a few silent moments. Then, turning to the horses again, he smiled and said goodbye. But as he walked on he had the odd and probably groundless impression that they were trying to tell him something important. He wished he knew what. About an hour later he reached a gas station grocery store and phoned one of his brothers. He scrounged up some change from his pocket and bought a cup of coffee. He sat outside on a nearby picnic table sipping coffee, smoking, and thinking about his junk heap of a car, about surviving a wreck without a scratch, about the silent pretty woman, and about the unusually friendly horses.
Watching from behind the white shears of her window, Ellen was as surprised by the behavior of her horses as the young man they followed to the end of the property line. They had become skittish of strangers over the years. Now, there they were following him along and . . . touching him with their muzzles. A jealous fascination washed over her. She wondered if there was something special about him - something they sensed. But she was glad he was leaving. His being in the barn, separated from her bed by only a wall and a few feet of ground, unnerved her. She didn't sleep well. In fact, she arose several times during the muffled night to look out the window at the darkened silhouette of the barn. Now he was leaving as quickly as he had come. He didn't linger long enough to thank her again this morning. "But how stupid," she thought. She tried to quell the strange hope inside her before it could be articulated. "What is his leaving to me?"
Daniel didn't live far from where he'd wrecked his car. Everett was between Seattle and Granite Falls. He had spent the weekend camping and hiking near a glacier lake. He liked to go early in the year before the trails were packed with people and before the mosquitos swarmed. At any rate, when he left the trail head to drive back home, he would have been back within a couple of hours if it hadn't been for the accident.
He walked a little further into town to a restaurant where he told his brother to meet him. As he waited, a local man struck up a conversation with him. When Daniel told the older man what had happened and where he'd spent the night, the man said he knew the woman. "So what's up with her?" Daniel asked. "Is she all there . . . I mean is she mute or . . ."
"No," he said. "No, she certainly ain't. She's odd, I'll say that, and kinda lonerish, but she can speak as well as you er me. She's had some rough luck is all. Kinda closed up you might say."
When Daniel's brother and sister-in-law arrived, his brother asked if Daniel wanted to go and try to get his car started.
"Hell no. It's totally smashed. Besides, I've got the charger to drive. I'm just gonna forget it. It's down in the bush anyway, and no one will care. Maybe I'll go back up in a couple of days and remove the license plates to avoid a citation. But I sure as hell don't want to pay a tow truck for that piece of crap!"
"Didn't you have any gear up there with you?" his brother asked.
"Oh, ya! I left most of it in the trunk. I guess I will be going back up there."
When they got to Everett, they left Daniel as his house and drove off. It was not until he was inside the house and about to shower that he realized he'd lost something. "Shit!" he said, "my wallet! I thought I put it in my backpack. Damn."
Ellen walked out to look around the barn. Nothing had changed other than an indentation in the hay. It was as if no one had been there. She stood looking at it in her usual silence. . She walked to where he had been sleeping and reached down to place her hand in the hollowed out spot where the body had been.
She was about to leave when she noticed the wallet lying a few feet away. A surge of warmth shot through her. She knew he'd be back for this, and the thought made her almost giddy.
She didn't dare open it, but it unfolded in her hand and his license appeared through the plastic window. Beside the handsome face was the name, Daniel. Just like her son.
In some strange way, the name Daniel seemed to make everything alright. It was okay to like this man. It was alright to find him attractive. It was alright to wish for his return. She read his birth date and figured his age -- only three years younger than herself. She was suddenly overcome by a concern which had not mattered to her for years - her appearance. She ran into the house to look for the cosmetics she no longer used, taking the wallet with her and . . . humming softly.
They took turns driving. Daniel was asleep slumped against the passenger door of the cab with a big blanket waded up between his handsome head and the window glass. The sun was rising to the rim of a vast and unfamiliar landscape in shades of gold, rose and searing orange. Ellen loved her home in Washington state, but the landscape before her was beautiful in another way - a mystical, haunting, heartbreaking beauty. All around them there were strange outcrops, mesas and deep valleys. They were driving further into the foothills of the Prior Mountains which straddled the Montana Wyoming border. They had been skirting the range, looking for a likely place to camp for a few weeks -- or whatever length of time it would take to complete their mission. As the light poured over the land, and she drove into the day as if through time, thankful that they were making this journey together. Still, there was a part of her that was uncertain about what she was doing. Since Daniel had appeared in her life, he had brought nothing but good. But was she doing the right thing?
Ellen bumped Daniel with her arm. "Daniel!" she said, "wake up."
"What?" he said, sitting upright. "What is it?"
She pointed ahead and to the east. "Look over there. Isn't that familiar to you? I don't know where I've seen it, but I . . ."
"Ya, sure!" he interrupted. "It's Devil's Tower. You probably saw it on TV."
"No, Daniel. You know I don't watch television. I haven't had one for years."
"Oh. Well, I don't know. But it was the rock formation everybody was obsessed with in that movie . . . oh, what was it called? Oh yeah, Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
"Aha," she said.."Yes, I remember that. I took Danny to see that when it first came out."
"Beautiful isn't it?"
"M-m-m-m,." she agreed, looking at it almost worshipfully.
They stopped at a town called Lovell for breakfast. "You go on in Daniel. I'm gonna check on the girls."
"Ya, and after we eat, let's go find somewhere to walk them a bit. Huh?"
He sauntered into the restaurant, and Ellen walked back to the old trailer and had a silent reassuring conversation with the horses. It was that communication they were used to, coming from her, patting, nuzzling and cooing to each other.
As they ate, Daniel said, "We're getting close now, Ellen. I hope you're fully convinced by now that this is the best thing."
"I think it is. But I still worry. I mean they've lived a pretty sheltered life with me. I just don't want them to be hurt."
"No, Ellen, they're mares. They'll be herded in, maybe fought over, but I doubt they'll be hurt by their own kind."
"But they've never been bred, Daniel. My ex husband said that they are sort of delicate, and that they sometimes need help giving birth and . . ."
"Oh, I don't think that's gonna happen," he interrupted. "Anyway, you said they were past their prime."
"I meant for racing, not foaling."
It was strange and funny how he had led her to this decision, but even before he appeared, the thought of letting her animals go had crossed her mind. It had been merely a thought - a whisper - there was nowhere these days that horses ran free. Now she knew differently. She and Daniel were on their way toward one of the few places where such animals (whether wild or feral) were protected. She was, in one sense, excited by the prospect but she was also afraid for them. She knew many would judge her harshly - that it was wrong, even cruel - and something akin to guilt gnawed at her.
"Such magnificent animals," he had said months ago - meaning, she supposed, all horses, not just hers. "It's a shame to keep them imprisoned for a lifetime. And in your case, why? For what? Just for your son's memory?"
She bristled at his logic. "What do you mean by imprisoned? They are taken care of like children are taken care of! Thousands of Thoroughbreds are loved like family members."
"Yes, yes I know," he agreed, "but they aren't are they? They're not family. They're not human. They're animals."
"But, Daniel, these animals have been domesticated since the time of the Greeks and maybe before. They know nothing else."
"Exactly. We keep them in a state of perpetual adolescence - having to be led and fed and cared for and watched every minute. We've been doing what we like with whatever animal species we chose for centuries. When is the human race going to release the earth from its clutches!"
He made a kind of sense, but it's too late for that sort of idealism, she thought. He was the one who was thinking like an adolescent. Still, she had her own very good reasons for thinking that freeing them would be a good thing, even if those reasons were her own selfish ones. And when he had mentioned the Australian Brumbies, the Tarpans of Poland, the Przewalskies of Asia, the horses of Sable Island and the Mustangs of the Western United States, her interest mounted.
"After all," he said, "all those horses were once domesticated. But they somehow won their freedom, didn't they? Don't tell me that many of those animals weren't at one time treated like family as well. I suppose, yes, a few die, but lots more live!"
Another morning was about to break over the horizon.. They had set up a campsite near a wide stream. It was mid summer, and the river itself was at its low point, strong but not very deep. ON the other side was a sloping meadow which leveled off into an expanse of grassland that stretched a long way before meeting more forest and rocky foothills. They had been there nearly a week and had seen no other people except a lone hiker in the distance, nor did they see any of the famed wild mustangs. But the place they had chosen was not a public campsite - they were not sure if it was legal to camp in the area, but it was an ideal spot, and they could always claim ignorance in the unlikely event that they should meet a ranger.
The two animals had been skittish that first day, but had seemed to calm down and accept this strange new environment. The plan was to simply allow the horses to wander away as they realized there were no fences. But they lingered near the truck and trailer, happily grazing on lush summer grasses, and drinking from the river. In the evening they stayed very near the truck and sometimes wandered over toward the campfire to nudge and push at Ellen and Daniel. Ellen had gradually stopped their feed supplements of grain and alfalfa weeks ago in preparation for this event.
Last evening Ellen had suggested that they lead the animals across a shallow area of the river and up into the meadow. Now, as the sun announced its presence just behind the mountains, the chatter of jays and other birds awoke her. Daniel was already awake drinking coffee and pondering the horizon.
Ellen rose noiselessly, smiled at Daniel, but said nothing. She slipped a bridle over each animal and then stood waiting for Daniel to join her. They led the girls across the stream, removed the bridles and walked up the slope hand in hand. The animals followed willingly. Steam rose from the wide grassland which skirted the foothills, and the lower sky was an awesome red which bled into an dreamlike spectrum of pastel hues. It was a scene from the Dawn of time.
They walked all morning, slowly across the meadows to the tree line and back again. "They don't seem to be getting it," she said.
The couple stopped and studied the animals. Daniel suggested that they gradually distance themselves from the beasts and then, after gingerly crossing the river, they would be forgotten.
He spoke too soon. As if Fate had heard them, something happened. Both horses lifted their heads suddenly and watched the distance with ears pricked forward. Daniel and Ellen scanned the area in which the animals were looking but could see nothing. The two unridden Thoroughbreds became visibly more excited and alert. One trotted over to Ellen and Daniel nodding its thick neck up and down, hoofing the ground and emitting those soft indescribably equine sounds with which they had first greeted Daniel so long ago.
Daniel chuckled, "something has got their attention."
Ellen stroked and patted the animal's neck and muzzle. It trotted back to its companion. Then, as if drawn but undecided, the two began trotting. With ears pricked toward a point in the distance, they made a wide circle around the humans. As they completed the circle, one broke from a trot into a full gallop toward that invisible destination. Her companion followed suit. The scene was beautiful and Ellen knew she would likely not see them again - that she would never ever forget this particular dawn as they took their magnificent flight into the unknown.
The rising mists and graduating stages of color and light over the rugged silhouette of
the Prior mountains was a scene from the first day of creation. To Daniel, it was an awesome beauty of Nature, earth and sky, and life's wondrous evolution. As she watched little Danny's girls race toward a new life and the freedom that lies always over the horizon, tears streamed down her face. Daniel noticed, smiling, and threw an arm over her shoulder, pulling her close. As they turned away from those moving specks in the distance, back toward the river and campsite, a shiver ran down Ellen's spine. She thought she heard a child's happy laughter. It was her son's voice, she was sure. And it could not have been more clear to her if she'd heard little Danny in the distance saying; "Thanks, Mom! I love you!" Her sweet child was locked in childhood forever, and now, perhaps, his friends were running toward him.
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