Friday, November 20
Thursday, November 19
Times like these
And times like those
What will be will be
And so it goes...
And somehow I know / it’ll never be the same.
Fingers trace my life, rising and falling in time with each uneven breath. You try to lull me into sleep, to peace, and we are one: your fingers, my skin. Hypnotized, I find clarity in this tender calm, unexpected as it is. This, then, is peace: the stillness for which I long, only occasionally finding in the serene, placid moments I least imagine.
Still, even now, just the barest hint of grace hides in the corners I search least, never expecting those crumbs of tranquility I stumble upon. Like glasses I lose even as they gather dust atop my head, I blindly search for that which lies directly in front of me: calm, no longer as a question, but rather concrete, a choice.
I know: I must move on. To dwell is to sink, to sink to lose my breath, and with my breath, my place. All striving being in search of one place – satisfaction – I wonder, might I choose to find it here? Or is that simply settling?
The sun scatters its beams through the clouds, minute yet warm, and the fog lifts for the first time. I am forty-seven miles dead, fifteen miles yet burning through hope even as I trod on. Weary those these legs may be, I insist of them more, more, more. Even without anything more to give, I yet continue. This is insanity; this is hope; this is life; this is death.
I run, but without clear reason. Friends and acquaintances alike search my weary face for explanation; I have none. I instead sag into worn cliché, answering one and all the same: "because I can." Perhaps truth is no deeper than our fears, and fatigue the cleanest escape, but if so, a question remains: have I always had reason to run?
Days inevitably pass. Memories flicker in ever widening shadows across the bright light of the present, the immediate, and as they do, I find myself stretching across the myelin sheathes of time, experience, skin and muscles stretching taunt, lost in aches and pains both familiar and foreign. This, then, is grief: the hurt of hurt, manifest in hard nights' sleep, dark dreams, and darker morning miles. My body, lost in another hundred mile week, can't help but question this backwards policy: is solace really no more than surrender to exhaustion, the pain easing away only when the body can no longer bear the consequences?
I am trapped, yet life pulses through me unlike I have ever known. This work, for which I am paid, is play: high ropes and rock wall and forest to explore, archery and canoes and fire from flint and steel. This work is a man-child’s fantasy, and each day I wonder at what good fortune brought me here. Yet, yet... the shadows remain.
I dwell. In my miles, in my dreams, in my increasingly tangential thoughts, I dwell on the questions, the moments lost to time, the what-ifs. Even in my fatigue, there is no real escape, only delay.
I am weak, cut down, worn down, exhausted, but I know that I must continue, even as my legs buckle and fold. Crumpling under the strain of these weeks, I cannot stay down; miles remain to be run, and I cannot hide from them. To do so is to admit defeat, that thing I cannot accept. The way is rough, but still, I glimpse a cairn ahead and hold hope for further progress.
Nonetheless, alone I am not enough. Alone, I would be my own undoing, but I am not alone. We are one, of two, in these small moments, and I am buoyed. Fingers tracing, an embrace held until arms can hold no more, a soft ear pressed against my chest, willing my impatient pulse back towards peace. I am blessed by you, woman, as you hold me, wade with me through these shadows, offering me what twigs of peace you have to give. Though not much, it is your everything. It is enough, for it must be, and therefore will be. There is no other way, no other way but this: holding on to each day forward, letting the shadows float away and the miles pile up. There is no breath but the next, no unnecessary questions but plenty of memories. We dwell in the laughter, not because it is plentiful, but because it is precious, because there is nowhere else to go.
My legs stumble like drunken mens' awkward fingers, heavily calloused and dull; your fingers flit like a ballerina's legs, airy and nimble. Here, in these two moments, we are each the other's antonym; yet even war has its love, and so too do our parallel opposites intersect. We draw each other strong, even as our backs strain to paint these lines dashing into the horizon. Perspective may have been a lesson in sixth grade art, but still, I sometimes find mine lacking, and in those moments, you fill. Opposite, I shade your depths. Together, perhaps the portrait is passable. We hope.
I have no words but here, in heavily awkward images, shadows that have no light to draw them, artists' easels that have never seen paint. Still, your fingers are as real as my breath, and my legs as heavy as all your textbooks. These are not imagined things, just bad metaphors and cracked similes. Life does not lend itself well to language, stepping outside boundaries, no matter how much we like to place them down, ego large and hoping our authority sufficient.
Earlier: you see me watching you, neither of us caring for yet another approaching parting, and you ask me for my thoughts. I tell you nothing, that my mind is blank, but I lie: these empty unframed words (and without proper pictures to hold, nonetheless) are what fill my tired skull. Here, then, have them: they are yours.
No words, then, but perhaps one truth: you are a reason to persevere. Fifty-two miles, still pressing. Nearly two months later, still aching in the shadows, but continuing forward. Unsure, unsteady in my ignorance, all the things I cannot teach for having never learned them, but studying still, refusing to admit failure.
You push me forward. There are no words to properly say what needs be said, so I settle for what I know. Understatement: thank you. And once more, because it is all I have, thank you.
Today, then tomorrow. One day at a time. Let that be enough.
Originally written September 2006.
Wednesday, November 18
Goddamn if all these words and none of them right, the assignment technical and the motivation none. Sure, I'll love the project - any excuse to play in the mountains, really - but forget the paper, none of this actually valuable, research or otherwise. Sure, sure, I know she'll say, but practice is practice, but fuck if I don't recognize bad teaching. When it comes to jumping hoops, I've always preferred to lay flat, and, as for the grade, that's never been a buy-in. Damn awkward, she younger and less experienced than I, and often enough, her information wrong, but these are the games we're told to play, so sure we'll bitch, and sure we'll rage, but none of us possessing the energy to question it much, we'll still play the wretched thing. Of course I'll write it, and of course I'll get my A - somehow she'll consistently reward my work, despite being the class smartass, despite no shyness in expressing my disregard (poor form, sure, but... well, I feel no shame) - mostly, though, mostly I can't believe I'm running this charade again.
Tuesday, November 17
And if the bulk of these miles are now finding themselves in the shadows of blue-black skies, grey-black clouds and darkened ridgelines, watched over by a million brightly observant eyes in heaven, well, thank god for the thousands of miles of experience on these legs, that I'll slip and slide and do a dozen fancy dances on the ice and yet not tumble. For at least one more day, hopes of repeating last winter's full season of tumble-less runs lives on. And as the ponderosas turn to shadowy dancers in the night, swaying so gently under the light winter breeze, as icy ponds and puddles shine under the glare of headlights heading home to dinner, as the air dances with the scents of wood stoves and family suppers - no matter if it's a double, the twenty-two mile day my biggest in at least a month. These legs will dance in the cool evenings and cooler mornings, happiest to be free, at play in the crunch of the day's melt, now refrozen. If November'll rather snow than rain, freeze than drizzle, my god what happy miles I'll have - and life is good, so good.
Monday, November 16
Beauty in the breakdown, we've always said, altogether different and oh so alike in what will take us apart and what will bring us together. We talk in code, often as not, of buoys and distance and spirals and sometimes? Sometimes we speak of flight, of escape, of adventure. And these trajectories we've taken, first apart, then together, now apart again - neither of us know where it'll go, and that's okay. He of the impossibly large heart, and just in the last week, kids have: dumped soup on him, peed on him, punched him in the head and balls, scratched him... and who knows what else. In comparison, cleaning up puke once in a while's not so bad, not so bad at all.
Sunday, November 15
The cold has come, perhaps, the snow crusty and no longer falling. Wispy fingers of fog linger on the lake; a child's game, every so often the ski runs peek through the grey hand. Last night, oh how the bonfire blazed and bottles littered the ground, scattered piles of what'd already been drunk. But I, in a thing rarely done, I opt not for alcohol, choose to curl up with a book, sleeping bag nestled near the space heater. Stuffed canvas only insulates so well, and after a long day snowshoeing and skiing, this chill has sunk deep into my bones. This morning, on the run, every step crackles, the air so crisp it burns. Despite the cold1, which I suspect I will not much escape again until March, I am glad for winter. Feet of powder yet to fall; if you'll search it out, the air is alive with anticipation. Thanksgiving, indeed.
1. Still, not Minnesota cold.
Saturday, November 14
Sometimes you go la di da di da di da da
Til your eyes roll back into your head
If I'll lace my chai, half crack and half caffeine, straight fire in my veins and the way I'll make it, even cowboy coffee'll be lacking... well, you understand, right? Of course I'll need the boost, these mornings of stupor after nights of delight, and if I hurdled a fence in the snow and didn't quite make it, or perhaps went skiing at three am by the light of moon, whiskey, and rum, a spiced cider of the best sort - well, these are but occupational hazards, maybe. 'What I love about this job,' she says, 'is the way it all blurs, work and play.' Boundary issues are inevitable, everything private also public; this is what happens when you also live where you work, knowing showering and shitting schedules, all sorts of things beyond (and infinitely less useful than) who'll drink what. Sure, there's not really enough powder for good skiing, the inches we have still far too sticky, but no matter: I'm a pro at making stupid happen and promises disappear. A pretty damn useful skill, really, despite the trouble it may yet cause.
lyrics: The National, Racing Like a Pro
Friday, November 13
Snow drifts down in white fingers, heaven meeting earth, continuing to caress the land. The opposite side of the lake's gone missing, & many of the spindlier ponderosas are bent over under the powder's weight, fine arcs across the grey-white sky. As wet flakes continue accumulating, the arcs deepen. Gravitational pull inevitable, at least one deep bow finds itself suddenly irreversible; with a sharp crack, sixty feet of wood and bark and needles and snow come hurtling down. As if a frozen pencil thrown down against the frozen ground, the tree snaps in five or six places, each division creating some sort of gouge in the earth; the last of these pieces scratches against my yurt, but no damage is done. A little ways across campus, my students see the tree begin to fall, hear the cracking and splintering as it crashes to the ground; the only other sound is the sharp intake they all take, a quick hard gasp. 'Wow!,' they exclaim, and so of course we explore, investigate. The tree in question, we find, was hardly all that old (somewhere between thirty and forty, depending on who counted) and healthy, far as we can tell - just didn't handle this particular snow load very well. Awesome and terrifyingly impressive, the fall came at such a slight provocation, despite the storms previously weathered. All of this was yesterday, of course; this morning the students left, back to Boise, my last group of students for the fall season.
And amidst all the excitement, I did not once think of you, despite this all so familiar; outside location, it could well be that fall we shared in the cool autumn sun; piles of leaves and the smell of hay, although the snows have come so much sooner here. I've forgotten you it seems, in all the ways that don't much matter, and perhaps even some of the ways that do. Another commented on how the tree split, though - something you would have said, and with the same intonation - and for a moment it was as if maybe you'd never really left. But the moment passed, and I still stood, upright and proud; you remained in the past. Outside, the snow's still falling.
Thursday, November 12
let it all just slip away, let it all just fade
Another week, humpday come & gone & sure as hell we're tired. Inquiry projects loom, and in the cold wet winterland this could be heaven, this could be hell. Who's to say, except the children themselves? Sixth grade girls the charge this week, and if it's muted and mellow and all that, by god I'll try not to let it bother me. When there's rotten logs to play on and dead trees to knock over and fires to light and scat trails to follow and holes to dig and ohmygodguyscomecheckthisout! echoing in the big ponderosas - well? I can hardly be blamed if I'll forever prefer the boys, finding them no more and no less mature than myself.
so let it go... lead me to the edge, don't stop
I am, of course, a hundred different replies short of actual conversation, per the norm, and she, of course, has grown sick of waiting for any intelligent sort of response, again per the norm. So we'll dally in simple pleasantries, and ignore the bigger pictures; and if there are hours on the road yet to be had, we'll skirt that chat until it's forced upon us. I don't know, save that I don't know. She'd perhaps say the same. No need of reason, I'll wear my confusion proud, a coat of more colors than I'd ever care to count. I suspect, however, she's begun her own tally.
beauty always had a cost
So another ongoing dialogue, given the way these fools pair, and sure we're all blind when the mad rush comes down, but must we be dumb as well? Seems there's goggles in play here, and could they clearly say the sex was good... but who am I to judge. Ideals, sure, romantic illusions, and I'll clench them tight - but we're all hypocrites more often than not, and the first to call me honest is the first I'll call a fool. This acts in three parts now, and had I a stage the world would be no better for it. We've already all gone mad.
as the air slips from our lungs, we'll sing songs of love
So, the ideal then: a four letter word if ever there was one; we'll joke dirty and titter at our collective wit. So few things more taboo, and yet, all these conversations preferring those to these. We're driving ourselves further and further in; even as we look ahead and behind, we'll ignore the moment. I've no words; neither, it seems, does she. Silence'll cross oceans. Doubt will cross worlds.
lyrics: Tom McRae, 'Walking 2 Hawaii'
Wednesday, November 11
'Beware the pilot,' she says, and I'll tell her, 'it sounds like a trap.' And if this is what we've been reduced to, each finding traps in possibility, even as we bemoan the lack of opportunity, then what sad states perhaps we're in. If a person is a phantom, born of our illusive dreams, is that a fault of theirs, or of our own imagination? We search and seek, seek and search, even as we're clearly afraid of what we might find - as much doubt of success as hope of failure, perhaps, comfort in what's known. So, despite all the bravado, there's always these usual reposes, and me? I'll do what I do best: shut up and run.
Tuesday, November 10
There's of course a million different questions I could ask, but the easiest door is often, I'd posit, the most obvious. So I'll go big or go home, as he'd say, and sure I'm drinking again, and sure she's a little annoyed by the question, but just so happens, 'so would you say you're religious?' was exactly the way to phrase it. Three hours later, and not nearly enough hours before I'll be up and at it once more - thank god for team teaching - but the conversation's been had and we'll see what doors open and close and shudder and swing from here. Often enough it may the words we fear most are the words we want most, the scores beyond settling and the marks indecipherable, sure. Hieroglyphics and philosophy, and she's thought it out more than I might have guessed, her head more similar to mine than I'd imagined, especially given such different conclusions. And that, I'm afraid, may be the surest benefit of religion I can find.
Monday, November 9
Only rarely am I so fortunate to venture to Portland, beer mecca it may be, and perhaps that is just as well, livers rejoicing in the aftermath's recovery, overjoyed to see we've finally stopped trying to shut them down. And if he's wizened up, perhaps, and decides one night of drunkenness is better than two, claiming the need for a sober brunch the next day? Well, good for him. I've apparently no need of wisdom when offered Rogue and Deschutes and McMenamin's. Of course, four days will ever disappear fast as they'll come; work calls once more the ugly morning after. In other words: it might be a long week.
Sunday, November 8
We're all a bit sloppy, all a bit drunk, and if we call in the night, 'fuck off, bitch,' it's a tribute of love, surely. The beers will flow, gin and whiskey and rum too, and if she say's she'll drink me under, it's possible, sure, but unlikely, livers being adaptive little fuckers and these choices we make being nearly uniformly poor. We're drunk now, of course, shitshows more properly, and walking home no matter if the neighbors yelled at us. 'Shut the fuck up, you bastard asses,' they called, the hour being unripe for such coarse volume, and we just laughed and laughed and laughed; Portland our town for the moment, but oh how memory flits, and this could be any time but the future - that tense on layaway for questions and judgments yet to come. 'Alcoholism,' he laughs, 'is one of my few gifts.' What time to wake up, to return to the open road - she asks again and again, and no matter what we say, the answer will always be the same - too early, the night being still young.
Saturday, November 7
From ledge to ledge: they'll find the gully, and I'll find the crack. Wedged in a chimney tight, I've not much need of holds, provided I remember to exercise caution. Always a danger, that; caution once a dirty word, risk more enticing than sex. I've, of course, downplayed the allure, given such a conspicuous absence, but some memories, tactile as they are, are irresistible once no longer suppressed. Other chimneys come to mind, and how in consecutive summers he lost two Garmins on damn near the same climb. I've just received an invite to his wedding this summer: he's chosen stability; I prefer flight. We're both finding our routes just fine.
Friday, November 6
Controlled burns and patchy clouds and miles beneath the wheels of a car - we four strangers, four friends.
I love my father / I love my mother / When it's my time to go / I need you all to know / I love you all
We'll talk about songs for funerals (Cloud Cult, 'Love You All'; Modest Mouse, 'Float On'), relationships failed, communication problems, teaching issues (work, of course) - words will fly, and laughter will be had. Nine hours in the car, together: Snow-tipped peaks & mountain streams blur by; of course there's a million histories behind each story, a million angles to every view. 'They lost a baby, you know,' I tell her, 'their first.' 'I didn't know,' she says, and I'm sorry for having broken it to her, but what histories aren't complicated? He's of course celebrating Guy Fawkes, and in style, and I'll forever remember the show, his face beaming as wide I've ever seen, a memory for which I'm forever grateful.
I was out paying close attention / or was I lost inside my thoughts / these days it's hard to tell what's outside from what's in my mind / and oh god, it's beautiful / insatiable / the way our chemicals collide
And so we find ourselves in another new place, and I'm returned to Portland. And Cuba? Our day will come. Remember, no one said it would be easy.
lyrics: cloud cult
Thursday, November 5
There are a million different kinds of questions, and at least as many ways to ask each type, and we've only but scratched the surface. Words you'll offer and words I'll take; words you'll ask for, words I'll give. Some of it will mean something, most of it won't. But occasionally one of us will slip up, from behind these veils: I'll understand you, just a little bit, and you'll understand me, just a little bit, but still we'll remain strangers. Some friends are speaking of engagements - another round of weddings, perhaps - others of divorce. And all of it's just another round of talking.
image: Jerry Uelsmann
Wednesday, November 4
Mornings come cool, crisp; with them come the most delicious of fall runs, breath sharp and legs joyous. Gilded larches dot the slopes across the lake, and snow drifts across the ski runs up above. We play in the woods and climb boulders and stare at the white frosted peaks that surround us, and together exclaim, 'we live here!' I can only hope some sorts of magic never die, no need of some fantasy in this wondrous world. I'll yet be a man of the mountains: when making teas, tamarack needles are best; after a meal, chew some grand fir; if it's blue, it's for you (unless it's a lilac); when it hurts, rub some yarrow in it. So far, it's worked for everything but forgetting you.
Tuesday, November 3
Take a drink just to give me some weight... I'm barely a vapor
Memories running into moments and moments into memories... time the sky, and I a cloud upon it. And so the she saids all run together, and still I wonder if it isn’t your face I'll find behind it all.
Close your eyes to corral a virtue... never worked so long and hard to cement a failure
'Why are you such an asshole?' she tells me she asked that cold, dark night; I, not thinking and too far gone to tell a lie, answered best I knew how; who's to say what was true and what was false. Junk the show, as ever, sloppy drunk and still all snark; her recollection of it all so sad in the telling. So, then: ‘what use's love anyways?’, I'll ask, ‘fuck it.’ I'll forever be better at the digging of holes than filling; her back silent, that's the sort of sigh that'll fill a room. And damn if I'll not wield a mighty fine shovel.
The lonely is such delicate things...
There's coupling, sure, and talks of coupling, besides, and maybe the greatest coup we ever pulled was that lack of drama. But, she says, ‘there are so few of us around here our age‘, and insinuations will ever fly, least 'til I find way to untie it all. And, I wonder, there may yet be advantage in this knack for undoing, no need have I of anything beyond the simple. Mountains and freshly sunny days of icy snow crunching beneath my feet; the sharp breath of cold morning air sucked in drowsy gulps; the promise of ski season nearly upon us. Forget the posturing. I've no need of permanence beside the glories of the momentary.
Monday, November 2
Hungover, the culmination of at least a week - or a month or years perhaps - of poor life choices, you say. She'll draw close, giddy as if with secrets shared, together seven again; I'll fail at remembering the password, again; she'll pull away, again. The lake's tides ebbed low, dam running wide and the icy flow - once rushing - now creeps. There are all these words we'll share, a common language of at least seventeen, say, but most often the syntax remains broken, in need of debugging. Where there is possibility there also is loss; where there is gain, there also is doubt. We trust each other only as far as we stray, which is to say, altogether far too much and altogether far too little.
Sunday, November 1
Blackout three nights running and she'll just mock, 'You, drunk?' As if it were a new development. We walk and talk, the night passing by and memory floating giddily away, clouds overhead and the stars spotty. Come morning, all I'll remember is his drunken laughter. All she'll remember is my drunken confessions. And all he'll remember is not how much fun he had, but rather how much his head hurts.