what preserves my soul?

A cloud of steam dissipates over the stove, leaving behind the cloying scent of a Protestant Eucharist. Concord grapes. They came into the house dusty, out of fields dry and hot, where they hung from their vines in such overripe corpulence that a mere touch sent them to the shaded earth below like rain drops that taste of wine. Or perhaps the dust was not the work of the fields, perhaps it is rather the dust of memory that lays over the attics of our minds. Beyond the plastic communion beakers of childhood, there is that old arbor, beaten gray by the rain but shelter nonetheless to many a moment of play. The thick, woody stems of the vines wove their way to the highest places, that the clusters might hang almost to eye level--perfect height for "Grampy" to pick them on his way back from the barn.

Small things may sometimes be the portal to that which exceeds them.

A seed falls into the dark earth and dies.

I'm sure many pages have been written on the subject, but I think there's a reason why farmers and, to a lesser degree, gardeners (for, after all, when one's whole livelihood is at play, desperation teaches much dearer lessons) have a reputation for being potential mystics. Not that they all are, nor even that many of them are. That would be a ridiculous claim. I simply mean that their labor is, at heart, a work of faith: every seed that is sown into the earth is a small prayer made with the full awareness that it will not bear fruit without a period of waiting, and even then, though the wait may be endured well and the soil tended with great care, the seed may never come forth into the light of morning. To live in this manner requires a certain courage that manifests itself as trust, and that courage draws its strength from love. One could not live that way unless there were something else within that reaches for something without.


The Jumble on the Floor; and Other Souls

My desk is strewn with almost finished projects--a handsewn laptop sleeve for a friend that lacks only the fastener and a pocket, a three quarters-colored in postcard to mail to a friend in California, my summer's notebook full of preserve and mixer recipes open to the spread with the chai concentrate that I haven't tried yet. On the floor by my bed, on the bookshelf directly next to it, and on the Kindle that I'm charging at the moment: so many books, waiting to be read, digested, nutrition for the fertile growth of new thoughts, images, ideas. The mess in the corner of my bedroom is a collection of things to be thrown out, things to be donated, things to be posted on Craigslist, things to be given to friends. I could be outside wooing blue jays to eat peanuts from my hand or inside applying for jobs, hoping someone will look at my resume and let me be a semi-responsible adult. I could go for a walk or a run, do yoga, cook, bake, pick grapes, write that letter to that person who sent me an album that I can't stop listening to.

There are so many things to do, but none of these things motivate me to get out of bed in the morning.

In the grey, artificial twilight of blinds at half-mast, I could curl up under my duvet and die a daydreaming death before I would ever turn on the lights and go about the day for the sake of errands. They are not enough.

A quote that I once posted from Elisabeth Elliot and will do so again here:
August 17, 1948--Silence begins to drag on my soul. It is a kind of waiting which hears no voice, no footstep, see no sign. I feel that I could wait ten years, if it were not this waiting, this silence. I have spent the evening by a little pool which held the silent sky in its heart. There was no ripple, no stir. Lord, let me be that pool.

Too often the house is silent, or when it isn't, I don't know where to put myself when I am out of step with its synchrony.

But if you can wait it out, if you can survive the drag on your being, if you look directly at what ails you, you may learn something of yourself and of the motivation for existence.

I sometimes say that I'm not an ambitious person. Perhaps that is inaccurate (I don't think so), but another way of saying it might be: I am not driven by my own goals either for their sake or for my sake. There has to be something else.

There are times when I can't do it for myself. When it's too much to face the minutiae of everyday life without something toward which all of that effort is directed. A friend recently challenged me as to just why there is that lack, but that's a separate issue from what I'm getting at, in the end, which is that sometimes if you can't wake up for yourself, if you have too much life and not enough desire for it, then you might as well give it to other people, because they're worth waking up for.



There are always nights, but some of them are emptier than others. That's the pessimist's way of putting it, I suppose. I really mean to say that some are fuller than others. Filled with the light of absurd happiness that leaks in through the outlets in the walls. We forget the power of the first things. The seeming witchcraft of electricity delivered to a particular location--what is this strange magic that lights our houses, powers our laptops... And there we have the twist. That in moving beyond, we lose sight of the steps that it took to get to this world of wonder, steps wondrous in themselves. Who can see the outlets when there are iPhones and 3D printers? Franklin with his key and his kite poses on pages of history no less remote from our conceptual spaces than the galvanization that brought Frankenstein's monster to life in Shelley's fiction. 

But that's not the fullness.

"Shit happens. But sometimes shit doesn't happen, and that can matter just as much."

A room cleared of all the possible worlds that have been sent into dusty attics to rot for all time because they were not and are not, and now they're simply taking up space that isn't theirs to claim. The sensuality of the stretching out and settling in--the walls have been pushed back, the ceiling rises, and we find more room to grow when we're not boxed in by "might have been."

Which isn't to say that there's not still a shelf lined up with "could bes."

Every morning, I dress myself (or sometimes afternoon--we'll not speak of those days) and with the corporeal touch of cotton, wool, nylon, polyester, rayon, there's the abstract plan that settles over my limbs, preparing to direct them through the day. It is not yet, but it's waiting to be.

Without the could be, we are naked, vulnerable, and confused, unsure of ourselves and our agency. What is there to become when we have become all that we wish to be? At least in the not knowing, there is still a measure of breathless anticipation, but the cessation is lassitude in muscles accustomed to the heavy conditioning of the marathon run embarked on decades ago and only just now ground to a halt. Let us go and go and go, lest in the stopping, we lose our momentum forever. There are worlds to explore and our hearts and feet are the only means of transportation that can get us there.


Back to back, they faced each other.

The English words trip lightly from our tongues, here where we
Wrap ourselves in the shared mantle of our mother tongue,
Shaping phonemes that you've known since birth if you
Were listening closely enough.
Still we sit too far apart to feel the common warmth.
What beautiful thread have you picked at and unravelled 
To give pattern to your waking thoughts?
Is it so different from my own, here where the synesthetic experience of
Language overwhelms and annihilates, uplifts and enervates?
The hieroglyphs of the ancients are no more mute than your pictograms,
And I cannot help but wonder if this is what deafness sounds like.