A foot-race to the palace at Knossos.
Water-BreakHaving grown long words in fieldgrass daylong, I stepped into a wooded brook to dip Ink-worded hands into the snickering quips Offered up by the silverquick stream; I wondered just what the water had meant to mean, Whose loose stones insist the water into song. Many times I lost what footing I had felt, Suddenly cried out, or laughed in despair, By hard wet things beneath thrown over, Raw agony raised to the eloquence of a welt; And, with water in my mouth, I'd often remarked The sincerer operations of the lark, Spilling a slippery noise above taciturn rocks That break bones and never forget.
Dateline: Late May-August, 2001, Ocean Township, NJ. This was one of the loveliest (though loveless) summers of my life. I wrestled one hundred poems from heaven to the ground—and then rhymed them between the covers of a book (i.e., The Timid Leaper). One hundred poems is a cornucopia of creativity, a roar-voiced river of vividities. Timed word-for-word, this hectic spate of poetic speech approximated fours lines of polished verse per hour of wakeful attention.
Each day, I would bring my folding chair down the short staircase of the apartment I shared with my roommate, Mole, and chuck it in the backseat of my battered Ford Escort. Down a short road to a woody landscape, turning onto the pebbled pathway of what I called Sycamore Lane. There I’d park, unpack the folding chair (suitable for lawn concerts) and begin the half mile saunter through a double row of flaking sycamore trees to my “spot.”
Taking this loping stroll under the changing light of leaves stoked my mental lobes toward composition. My body’s rhythms became more musical as I shushed through the hairy grass that spattered the dusty path. When finally arranged in my splay chair, with my ball-cap tilted above my brows, I looked out at the slowly turning world with bedizened eyes half-awake to the tuneful movement of the small stream beyond a bump in the slope, and found myself entwined in the shapely pattern of the shadows cast by the innumerable leaves of the sweetly green sycamore trees.
My state was a meditative one, root and stem, and composition began with my tongue tapping time on the roof of my mouth. Time transmogrified into a type of concentrated joy, a sunbeam in a crucible lens that lit up the page pinned to my father’s clipboard. There the words, in a mixed mask of shadow and light, danced to discover their own purpose; there they coalesced and eventually pulled together in a single direction–here and there a noun or verb from the mass pounded louder and became the time-keeper of the others–a cantor arising from the mumbling congregation, eventually getting insistent as a slave-galley hortator tomping on his resounding tom-tom.
There is a smallness, a closeness to writing. The pen held pinchingly, lines and phrases whispered under one’s breath, the scribbled page adored and then, too full of its own dark mutterings, discarded–set aside for the editor’s cold eye, the mischievous insistences of his rouge inks.
But here in the sunshine air, the nocturnal owl gone to silent roost and the romantic moon nowhere to be seen, one’s mind takes on the cool invisible infinity of smooth-worn stone. Whatever is writing–like whatever is being written about–has always existed. Their interplay is tangled, sly as evolution. One is ready to listen, and to keep listening. The whispered breath is the tree’s speech, or some errant bird’s exclaiming. My focus was total, but my self was absent.
It was not until hours later, under the phony moon of a bedside lamp, that I thrilled to what had occurred under the sycamore’s tutelage. Wryly, I chuckled at my water-quick wit; stonily admired my stony stolidity. Who’s voice was this really? Somehow, while wandering away from home, this briery scribble had proceeded from my papermate pen, alien in its green inks. And yet, as I read, a connection to that earlier, meditative state persisted. The flash of a squirrel’s tail both followed and foretold the flash of my thoughts.
As I said, this was a single lovely summer, flushing to fullness after a heart-catastrophe had left me a brittle cripple in so many ways. I don’t know if I long to “get back to where I started from,” to have another extravagantly productive “summer of a hundred,” but I feel it is worthwhile to acknowledge when a mystery visits your existence. I still can’t quite puzzle it out, but whenever I look back into the still pool of memories from that warm time, I confront an essential reflection of my being that has neither changed nor aged. The way nature held me then, she holds me still. As Yeats reflects in “Among School Children,”
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer, Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
Eventually the stars were winking me to sleep–until the next day when my emergence from dream to the shaving mirror became my disappearance in my captain’s chair beneath my favorite sycamore all over again. Three months of days passed in this fashion during that lovely summer–with each day leaving behind its solemn sonnet or triple-rhyme trinket.
“Live according to your poetry,” is the instruction of every church, its vision falling like a veil over the tickle of reality. This veil often adds a beauty to prosaic existence, and lets bland consumers of myth participate in–if not the myth’s making–at least in its embodiment. During this busy summer of writing, I experienced instead a stripping away of the palimpsest of art by the ingenious innovation of the removal of the viewer. I.e., myself. My pen that summer was a purloined willow-wand, my words a shimmer fished from the stream. I hesitate to say the days were mystical, or the nights gnostic; but, something stirred then that since has slept.
I wound up designating that summer my “summer of a hundred” to myself and my friends, I was so exceedingly pleased with the knotty whatnots I was able to craft under the spell of those sycamores at that nearly abandoned park where none trespassed on the solitude of stone and wind and water and growing grass that made me so happy after the previous three years’ harrowings.