brightness, darkness, lightness, happiness

There’s nothing left to do in my day, the space heater is on and the yellow lamps are burning and my dogs need nothing from me. Outside it’s dusk, the bright fall day turned indistinct and then twilight blue, the damp cold air embracing everything. I ate parsnips and beef cooked in bacon grease and a pile of salad greens, if I lay down right now I’ll fall asleep.

I was thinking earlier, having just arrived home, sitting in my trailer and eating some chocolate, about the difference between the way it feels to be “home” and the way it feels to be “not home”. Both places exist in the same reality, with the same molecules and the same air, and there is no definable difference between them- but when I am tired, and I have been “not home” for a number of hours, walking the leafy streets and riding my bicycle and going in and out of various cubical buildings with their warmed, circulating air- and then I arrive “home”, and step across the threshold that is the busted metal step of my twenty-foot trailer, something magical happens. I am no longer “outside”; I am no longer “not home”. I am no longer plodding the weary paths of life, marking off the miles, scratching things off my lists and watching new lists grow in my hands like magic. I am “home”, and even though the only thing between “home” and “not home” is a piece of plywood and some siding, it feels absolutely different.

I put on sweatpants. I drink a mason jar of water. I stop holding my breath. I turn off most of my brain, and put a kettle on the stove to heat water for dishes. My heartrate has probably slowed.

I’m barefoot.

My dogs immediately curl into donut shapes on the bed, putting themselves into standby mode until they’re needed again.

While the water heats up I lay in my bed on the fuzzy tiger blanket that my dogs love so much, and stare at the copper plate of Pablo Neruda that hangs above my dying maidenhair fern. Potato sidles up next to me and lays against my thigh, but he won’t let me pet his scruffy face because I’ve got some hippie salve on my hands and he doesn’t like the way it smells. I wonder what it would’ve been like to be Pablo Neruda. I wonder if Pablo Neruda ever got tired of being Pablo Neruda. I wonder if Pablo Neruda ever got tired of writing poetry. I think about the things that’ve happened this week that I want to tell my friends about when I see them. That’s the upside of spending so much time alone- you have plenty of time to figure out just exactly what you want to say. I’d like to tell Seamus, for example, about the tripod yorkie that was at Fernhill park today. Cruising around on three legs, lopsided and oblivious. And then there was the squirrel I saw- I had just turned out of my driveway, and was biking away from my house sort of slowly- when a squirrel zipped out into the street, placed a walnut in its big green husk right in front of my bicycle tire, and zipped away again. This all happened in about a half second, and it made me laugh out loud. And this morning, when I was making a batch of chocolate candy, having suddenly become enamored with the alchemy that is dark chocolate, coconut oil, peppermint oil, and honey- and I spilled half the double boiler in the sink. Into the right side of my little avocado-colored enamel sink, the side where the dishes were piled up. I was running late so I left the whole mess, and when I returned this afternoon and pulled the dishes out the chocolate had hardened, and I had a chocolate-covered sink.

I’ve been feeling appreciation lately for the little things. Maybe the tattered prayer flags in the courtyard of my yoga studio are working their magic on me, when I sit on the concrete bench after class and stare at them, steam rising off of me like a plume. I am loved. I let love in. I am kind to myself. Hot yoga is turning out to be a sort of magic in itself, like letting myself be melted down in a double-boiler and reshaped into a calmer, more pliable version of myself. And the way I’ve been eating- mountains of vegetables, browned in bacon grease or floating in chicken stock, mixing bowls of salad. Bacon, steak, roasted chicken. Plantains fried in coconut oil. Pears. And my sleep has been incredible, almost indescribable- ecstatic. Ecstatic sleep. Like when I was a kid and sleep was a magical journey to an enchanted land. The best. All in all, I feel calmer than I’ve felt in as long as I can remember. Maybe ever? Who’s to say. And what is linear time, anyway.

I can’t believe that just a little while ago, I was feeling apprehensive about the wintertime. I’d forgotten that, given the chance, winter can be so good- winter just wants to be good. Winter wants to be like the sweetest twilight, like introspection. Like rest. Why can’t we rest? As westerners, as modern civilization. Why can’t we let ourselves rest.

I came to peace today, while walking my dogs in the autumn sun, with the fact that this winter is going to be very restful for me. I could push myself really hard, I think, if I wanted it bad enough. I could start something hugely ambitious and get really stressed out and make myself really “busy”. I could consume lots of stimulants and tell myself I’m not good enough and set my alarm even on mornings when I don’t need it. If that’s what I wanted. But the problem is that I don’t want that. I don’t want it very much. I only want it a little bit, and not nearly as much as I want a lot of other things. I want, for example, to be in my body. Grounded on the real physical earth. I want to have roots that go down to the bedrock. I want to be as slow as the ocean. I want to be like a boulder at the edge of the sea.

Also, I want to learn how to be a person among people. I want to work to accept the irreconcilable contradictions of the people that I love as givens, instead of as puzzles that can somehow be solved. Also heartbreak, disappointment, disillusionment. Failure on both the microscopic and the macroscopic level. I want to let all of these things inside of my heart. I am the sea, my heart is the sea. The sea can hold everything.

And there is appreciation for how my heart is beating. Wildly. For the people that I love. How fucking lucky I am to know such brilliant stars in a dark and endless universe. How achingly sweet it is. Somehow communicating to those people how special it is that they are, how I can see it, like magic, like seeing the earth from space. That alone is a whole life’s work, the endless repetitions of love that wear down our daydreams of isolation. Like sand and wind wearing canyons away. Knowing what is important. This is what is important.

So that’s what I want, more than anything. To be in the world, to be in my body. And the sweet-dark of wintertime, with its questions and its mysteries, closer now like clusters of stars, seen from a clearing in the forest. Introspection that goes outward as it goes further inward, swirling across the sky like the milky way.

 

 

Anxiety

Reality doesn’t feel like reality anymore, at least the way you’ve always believed reality would feel- like simple goodness and sometimes dark. Instead, reality feels like television static, like electric stormclouds, like the way the water pulls back before a tsunami.

Nothing outside of you is good or bad- there is only inside of you. There is the houndstooth of your internal static, and the steel cable of spinal cord, winding tighter. Your thoughts are like the sounds that digital alarms clocks made in the nineties, when you were late for school. Your whole body feels cold.

Inside of you is a cacophony or signals- here! Here! Here! Here! They say, like needy patrons in a busy restaurant. Outside of you, in the street, the rest of the world goes by. It blares its horns and you press your palms against your face, alarmed. You can’t be bothered with that. You can’t be bothered with that, now.

You’re in a tiny soundproof room that someone has built in the basement. There’s a drumset there and you’re playing it, and the noise is good, at first, but then you stop playing it and it keeps playing itself. A haunted drumset. Terrified, you press yourself against the wall. The noise hits the walls like paintballs and then clatters to the floor. The door is locked. You’ve locked yourself in. Suddenly you don’t know where you are anymore, or how you got there.

You’re at sea. You’ve forgotten how to navigate. There isn’t any wind, and it’s the wrong time of year for seabirds. Clouds roil in over the horizon and cover the stars. All you have in your boat is your own self- you were in a larger party of boats but you became disconnected, somehow, and now you don’t know where you are. You’re not even sure what day it is. You’re looking in the bottom of the boat for oars, and you find a book. You open the book but you can’t read it, the symbols don’t make any sense. You look at the pictures but they’re only pictures. You look out at the sea, but it’s only a sea.

You’re in the city and you can’t sleep properly. You wake up after just a few hours as if for some reason, but there’s no reason. The next night, when you put yourself to bed, you lie awake, your heart beating. You realize that you’ve become afraid to go to bed. Sleeping is just another thing to fail at.

While you’re sleeping a fog descends, and when you wake up you can’t see anywhere. The fog has seeped in through the open windows and now it obscures things just a few feet from your face. You’re no longer sure what the next thing is to do. What’s the right thing to do after waking up? Should you make breakfast, or walk your dog? The clock practically shouts at you. Here! Here! Here! But you can’t see anything, because of the fog.

In the middle of the sea, you cling to your boat. It’s a small, narrow, wooden boat and you cling to it. You’re lying curled in the bottom between the wooden benches, your fingers dug into the peeling wood. Now and then you raise your head and look over the lip of the boat at the sea. Every time you do this, the sea stretches even farther. Every time you do this, you are a little more disconnected from the land.

You want to stop looking out at the sea. You wish you had a tarp to pull over your head. A bright blue tarp to block out the light. You want to live in a world of diffused moonlight and your own shallow breaths. You have never been one of those people who sleep too much, and so you’ll just breathe, and be awake, and think of nothing.

Here! Here! Here! Here! The houndsteeth of static gnaw at your consciousness, polluting reality like silt poured into a glass of water. You’re awake, you’re on the open ocean in a storm; you’re lashed to the mast of the ship. You have no idea how long you’ve been there. There’s water in your dress and hair. You’ve forgotten to count the minutes, you’ve forgotten to want anything but that the rain would stop hitting you in the face, hitting and hitting and hitting you in the face, like sharp little pins. You want the rain to stop and you want everything to just stop, and for a moment you confuse sleep with death, and night with day, and the present moment with everything. You are present, now. You are so present you can’t think of anything else. There is no way to orient yourself in relation to anything else, there are no piles of little stones to mark the path. And you don’t know this, because nobody told you, or if they did tell you you’ve forgotten, or if you heard it once then you lost it when you lost everything, into the electrical storm of the sea- but all you have to do is hold onto the mast for dear life until the storm is over, just ride it- RIDE IT! LIKE A MECHANICAL BULL OF PAIN! And the minutes will pass without you knowing them, without you thinking them, without you being anywhere but where you are, in the body of the storm, all you have to do is STAY ON THE MAST- and in the morning the wind will die, and you’ll fall, and the horizon will crack open like an egg and there will be a sunrise. And you’ll sit up, and the beauty of the sunrise will shock you, because you’ll look at it, and you’ll know that it’s new- you’ll know that something has happened, and now here’s this new thing, that never before this moment existed, not even in the thoughts of one single person. And you’ll brush the silt off your dress and look at it, on the palms of your hands, and you’ll look at the sky, and the newness of this sunrise will mute everything inside of you, the way it flickers orange on the horizon, and you’ll realize that it’s the most beautiful thing that you have ever seen.

the sugar-cone ghost and the freedom of not having possesions

I’m moving. I’m leaving my one-bedroom apartment (which was never really mine, which was, in retrospect, just a beautiful, palatial hole in which to dump wheelbarrow-loads of money that I will never see again) and I’m moving into a sixteen-foot travel trailer that I bought off the internet.

I am poor again, and also recently nostalgic for the days when I had next to no possessions and lived in small, ramshackle domiciles and so it didn’t really matter, at all, that I was poor, and it didn’t feel stressful. So I looked on craigslist a few weeks ago and in 24 hours I had bought an ugly, sixteen-foot travel trailer from 1975 for the price of one month’s rent in my one bedroom apartment. Afterwards, after handing my envelope of money to the young mason on Sauvie’s island, I was stunned. One month’s rent! I had lived in my apartment for one year. I imagined twelve little travel trailers, all lined up. On the drive back to my apartment, title to my new trailer tucked safely in my backpack, I told myself that I would try to no longer spend very much money on things that were intangible, things like time and the ability to exist. Things that should be free.

So I am moving. I am leaving this block where I live (have lived! For a whole year!) and I am moving a little bit south and east. I am moving my new travel-trailer from Sauvie’s island to a driveway where I will pay a little bit of rent to run my extension cord through someone’s kitchen window and siphon water from their garden hose. My trailer has a little kitchen with a little three-burner propane stove and a pot-roast sized oven and a tiny fridge that needs defrosting. It has little windows with little curtains and I know that my tiny dog and I will be very, very happy there. But I am sad and suddenly, overwhelmingly nostalgic, because I am leaving this street where I have walked my dog, in the last year, approximately six hundred times. I am leaving this place that I have gotten to know better and more thoroughly than any single place, in all my ten years in Portland.

I have walked my dog here. A lot. I know this neighborhood, this half-mile radius. I have walked by the hoarder’s house, with its growing bamboo barricades and broke-down camper vans stuffed with trash. I have peered in the windows of all the vacant houses, imagining what it would be like to live there. I know the corners where ragged german shepherds, activated by the jingling of my dog’s collar, explode behind too-short chain link fences.  I know the crowded thoroughfare on the other side of the houses, with its KFC, popeye’s chicken, seasonal Christmas tree lot, and impossible crosswalks. I know the broken sidewalk, the (un)dead ends, the places where the concrete stops and there are raspberry bushes, broken benches, loose chickens. I know where the freeboxes are, saturated from the rain, contents spilling making still-lifes on the ground. I know the blackened creosote pole which someone, before I came to this block, knit a brightly-colored cozy for. I know the grassy medians of the busy street just north of here, where I once walked my dog in the bitter cold to Walgreens, angry for some reason I cannot remember. I know the cold blue glow of the streetlights at the corner that stay on all night, I know the way the mist at midnight hangs over the vacant lot where I take my dog to pee. I see my neighbor’s habits, the way they come and go, the way they are never home or are always home, the way they make constant noise or no noise at all, the way their window blinds are always closed save for a single broken slat.

And the places I walk- to the co-op, to the dog park with its chip trail that turns to mud in the rain, to the post office where the only place to tie up my dog is the aluminum bike rack that is the old kind, the kind that was designed by someone who had never seen a bicycle. North, to where there’s a mural in the street to try and make people drive slower, and still north, to where the neighborhood turns to angles. The coffee shop that closes early, the daycare that used to be a pot café. The pink clouds in the west, the dripping wet everything, standing alone in the dusk, breathing the quiet air of the neighborhood.

The brownie ghost. The waffle-cone ghost. The smells that come from the sugar factory out by kelly point park, drifted all the way over here on the air. The wet air, the cold air, the warm air, summertime when I would walk, slow, in the heat, in my Birkenstocks and cutoff jean shorts, my dog roasting like a little wheat field. Those six weeks of real summer heat.

And my apartment- empty white shell that it is, beneath all this stuff I’ve accumulated since moving in. So novel to have a whole apartment all to myself, I was so excited and apprehensive about the effort it would take to decorate and furnish the place. When I moved in I had a couple pieces of furniture and I think three houseplants, one of which, the succulent that was like cartoon fingers, died immediately. The others, a string-of-pearls that reminds me of my grandmother and a jade plant that is a cutting of Corinne’s jade plant that is a cutting of Corinne’s grandmother’s jade plant- the grandmother who died, and who Corinne loves very much- have lived, albeit reluctantly- the string-of-pearls being impossible to please and the jade plant being very slowly suffocated by a faint white fungus. Since moving in, I’ve adopted a dozen other plants- a succulent with fat, furry leaves, a green plant with brown spots, a hanging leafy reddish creeping creature with a hunger for world domination. A vigorous variegated plant that makes boring little flowers, a plant that grew a huge amount and then stopped growing at all, an extremely optimistic cactus that is always blooming. A three foot tall ficus tree, four or so air plants that live in brass candlestick holders, a madenhair fern that I am constantly disappointing. And the lily that Seamus gave me for Christmas, in its pretty little pot, making pretty little upside-down lily flowers. All in my living room.

When I first moved into this apartment, I did not have a couch. I found one for free on the internet, had it delivered to my apartment sight unseen, and discovered that it was, in fact, the couch that I was looking for. Square and short, shiny seventies velour, covered all over in dusty blue flowers. It was, as it turned out, also saturated in a half-century’s worth of cigarette smoke, and one could not even sit on it without being overcome by waves of nausea. But the internet told me to dump boxes of baking soda all over it, and I did, and the smell, after a period of time (and lots of boxes of baking soda), went away.

I decorated the rest of my apartment to match my couch. I sewed curtains from a few yards of fabric I found at the thrift store near my house- beige with crazy red flowers exploding like fireworks all over it. And then, the best thing at all- three giant, dilapidated fake landscape paintings in ornate wooden frames, found with Seamus at the goodwill bins. Two of the ocean, and one of the forest. The larger of the ocean paintings I put in my bedroom. It looks like the Oregon coast, and I stare at it when I am sad. Also, the luxury of having a bedroom that is just a bedroom, as opposed to living with friends and having your bedroom be a study area and a hangout room as well, because it is all the personal space that you have. A bedroom that is just a bedroom and nothing more. A magic sacred sleeping space. Sparsely decorated and with a huge, extremely comfortable bed, good diffused light collected on the walls and the sound of the neighbor’s goats. And the ocean there with you too.

I am worried that there will not be room for all my houseplants, when I move into my tiny new house. And my landscape paintings will have to go into storage, or on Seamus’ wall, because he likes them. There is no surface, in my tiny new house, that is large enough for the ocean. But that doesn’t matter because I am a fool for wanting to keep something like an ocean in the first place. The ocean is a free being, it cannot be kept. It resists captivity, and I am a fool with foolish desires, and if I was not forced, constantly, to shovel them overboard like wild, flying eels swamping an inflatable boat, I would be crushed beneath the weight of them.

If I called up the ocean and said that I was sad because I wouldn’t have any place to put my ocean painting, the ocean would say shut the fuck up, and then it would bash me against some rocks until I stopped resisting and became one with the great big everything.

So I am moving. I am leaving this warm, safe little nest that I love, and if anything proves that I am alive, that my heart is beating in this world where everything, constantly, is changing, it is that.

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The brief wondrous life of Sonny Riccobono

It was march, and Seamus and I had just started dating. The rain clouds, while still black-grey and flinging down torrents of water, were broken, now, in moments, by patches of glorious, syrupy yellow light- the steamy northwest sun, emerging naked from its long, introspective sauna.

Seamus and I decided to go to Olympia for the weekend, with our dogs. In Olympia, two hours north and much closer to the ocean, the grass was greener and more feral, the dandelions more yellow, the sunlight more syrupy. We found the people of Olympia blinking against this new spring light, moving snail-like through the still-cool hours, and shaking mildew from their clothing. Seamus and I, overjoyed at being out of the city and so close to the large, damp forest, set up our tent in Otis’ backyard and then went to a potluck, where there were chocolate truffles made from nettles and everyone’s dogs played nicely in the grass overlooking some water that was, somehow, part of the ocean, and in which groups of people rowed small, narrow boats in unison. After the potluck we loaded the dogs into the truck- Kinnikinnick, bloated from drinking her weight in dishwater, and Emy, the calmer and more reasonable of the two- and set out to find Seamus his afternoon cup of very strong coffee.

I do not know Olympia very well, but it was on some unremarkable corner, with a small, economically depressed-looking strip-mall and maybe a law firm that was inside of an old house, that we found the dog. The dog was running down the sidewalk, and it was Seamus who spotted him first. Seamus pulled the truck next to the curb.

Get that dog, he said to me.

The dog was trotting down the sidewalk in a general sort of non-direction, somewhat frantically, but losing steam. I jumped out of the truck and walked behind him, briskly but not too fast, as if I was just walking somewhere random, as if the dog and I were just fellow pedestrians, thrown together by chance, on our joint journey towards the crosswalk of a very busy intersection. The dog continued to trot and at the corner he turned left. I followed, continuing to look straight ahead, as if his affairs were no business of mine and it was just coincidence that I, in fact, happened to be going left as well. The dog walked for half a block, slowed, and stopped. This sidewalk square, he seemed to be saying, was as good as any. I stopped next to him and picked him up. He weighed practically nothing. He was the smallest dog I had ever seen.

Back in the truck, Seamus and I had no idea what to do. It was thrilling to find a stray dog (that was in imminent danger!) but what to do next? Call the humane society? Animal control? Drive around and look for the owner? (This we did, half-heartedly, for about five minutes.) Should we put up fliers? One thing was for certain- the dog had no tags, and he looked hungry.

Let’s get him some food, I said. And a leash. I laid the dog on the front seat of the truck, between me and Seamus. A sunbeam fell on him from the open window, and his massive, marble-like brown eyes glinted wetly. He began to lick my forearm with his small, pink tongue.

HE’S SO CUTE! Said Seamus. Kinnikinnick clung, gecko-like, to the top of the front seat, and eyed the new dog suspiciously. Emy slept in the back, unalarmed. I touched the dog’s fur, looked at his small white teeth. The truth was, he wasn’t cute. Kinnikinnick was cute- small and brown and alert. Emy was cute- with her half-moon ears and good-smelling fur. This dog, however, was something else entirely- if there was a word to describe this dog, it did not exist in English.

Seamus and I had no idea what kind of dog it was.

Maybe it’s a long-haired chihuahua? The dog’s face looked kind of like Kinnikinnick’s- only more bulbous, and they were both small. But that’s where the similarities ended.

While Kinnikinnick was brown and sleek, like a little fox, there was no animal I could compare this dog to. This dog was white with patches of different colors, like a calico cat, and huge tufts of fur stuck out from his ears. His tail was long, plumed, and magnificent, and it curled, rooster-like, up over his back. I had never seen such a fancy dog. This dog was ridiculously overdone, like a like wedding cake or a catholic cathedral. Ridiculously overdone and then shrunk down really, really small. This dog was not just “cute”, this dog was a fucking Japanese animation. I ran my hands over the dog’s small body. His hair was long in some places, short in others, and on his underside it was matted with urine and what was probably poop. And beneath his fancy plumage you could feel his tiny, emaciated body, like the body of a bird. And he still had his balls- like huge brown chestnuts, lined up parallel between his back legs, as if there was no other way that they would fit on his body.
We bought a leash and a small can of dog food, and took the dog to Mae’s house.

We found this dog, we said to Mae.

No way, said Mae.

We put the dog on the floor with the food, and the dog began to eat. Not eat but snorfle, as if his face was a vacuum. Mae stood watching us, stirring almond milk into a bowl of oatmeal. Good light came through the windows and fell upon the tangles of tree branches that had been tacked in the corners. We offered the dog a small glass dish of water, and he consumed that as well.

Why is this dog so hungry? I asked.

Why is this dog so thirsty?

This dog is obviously neglected.

Feel his ribs, we said to Mae. She dutifully poked his matted fur, felt his tiny, prominent hip bones.

See his urine-covered belly, we said to Mae. She dutifully observed his stinky, tangled underside.

I Think We Should Keep This Dog, I said.

No way, said Mae. She was still eating her bowl of oatmeal.

Seamus’ eyes were glazed over in excitement.

Let’s keep the dog, said Seamus.

I took a picture of Seamus holding the dog, on the grass in front of Mae’s house.

Naomi, our friend in Portland, is a hairdresser and a fancy lady, and had been (somewhat quietly) wanting a little dog for some time, although her housemates were, at least at the moment, against it. Seamus and I had just found the best looking, most fantastical little dog ever.

I felt that this was Naomi’s dog.

I felt that Naomi’s dog had fallen from the sky. Naomi’s dog had escaped from a neglectful situation and run free, on the streets of Olympia, so that we could find it, and bring it to Naomi.

I sent Naomi the picture of Seamus with the dog.

Do you want this dog? It said.

Do you want this dog?

Seamus and I took the dog back to Otis’ house, and put him in the tent in the backyard. We hadn’t found any coffee so we climbed in as well, onto the airbed, and curled beneath the blankets for a nap. Good Olympia air moved through the mesh walls of the tent, bringing with it the smell of cedar trees, and far off was the sound of windchimes. It was cold out, still spring, but the three of us made a pocket of warmth, and I felt immensely contented.

When we woke, we couldn’t find the dog. He wasn’t between any of the blankets, or at the foot of the bed. Finally we found him, wedged beneath the airbed and the wall of the tent, in a little nest of blanket-corners. I lifted him up by his little bird-body and he blinked at me, his brown eyes watering endearingly. So easy, I thought, to lose such a little dog. He’s so tiny, you can lose him in a tent! Such a little scrap of fur, such a tiny spark of life!

What fire, I thought, as I looked into his too-big eyeballs, burns inside your tiny ribcage? What magical machinations make your existence possible? How small, your little organs?!

Back in Portland, I introduced the dog to my apartment. He immediately urinated everywhere, confirming my suspicions that he was not housetrained and had, in fact, been kept (so cruel!) in someone’s backyard. Kinnikinnick, while initially friendly, became much more guarded when she learned that all the new dog wanted to do was hump. His balls, still fastened so firmly to his undercarriage, were likely larger than his brain, and once hydrated and fed, it became apparent that he was driven by them to the exclusion of almost everything else. And Kinnikinnick, this fancy, rooster-like dog was certain, was destined to be his wife. But she, having been fixed, was firmly against this idea, and so they engaged in the elaborate small-dog acrobatics of the wrestle/hump deflection/snarly face/gremlin noises, much to the delight and entertainment of anyone who stopped by.

Naomi did some research.

“He’s a papillon,” she said.

I read the wikipedia page about papillons.

“They’re from the 13th century!” I said. “In France! Mary Antoinette had one! She clutched it as she walked to the guillotine!!

Naomi took the dog to the vet, and had him weighed. Four pounds exactly. He wasn’t just a papillon, he was a teacup papillon. He was, said the vet, a year and a half old. The vet cut off his balls. Naomi took the dog to the groomer’s, and they trimmed his matted fur. She fed the dog as much as he could eat, and he began to fill out, an ounce at a time. She named him Sonny.

As Sonny settled into Naomi’s house, with its collection of humans, its comings and goings, and its one other dog, his personality began to unfold. And, at least for the time being, he was a bit of a monster. Unhousetrained, he would poop in corners, the basement, the hallway. He would not come when called, would not respond to any sounds at all- so much so that for a time, Naomi worried that he was deaf. On a typical afternoon you would enter the living room to find him crouched, lion-like, above his rawhide bone, eyes blazing defiantly, a tiny, chain-saw like growl percolating from his insides. He would snarl and snap at the feet of strangers, and hop away like a ping-pong ball when you bent down to pick him up. He didn’t like to be held, and would wriggle like a fish in your hands when you finally caught him. He was like an optical illusion- so tiny, fluffy and kitten-like, so seemingly loveable- but on the inside, he was a maniacal sociopath- seemingly incapable of bonding with anyone.

But Naomi had patience.

Naomi didn’t have a car. Luckily, Sonny was portable. Naomi got a cute bag for him and stuffed him down into it, and carried him everywhere on her bicycle. Since he looked more like a toy than a real animal, she was able to sneak him into coffee shops, restaurants and shows. At night, in an attempt to make him cuddle, she stuffed him under the covers, but he popped out like a helium balloon and bounced to the foot of the bed where he curled up, just out of reach.

Still, Naomi had patience.

Boundaries were put into place for Sonny- no growling, no snapping, no attacking other dogs and humans. When he was being aggressive he could be flipped, using one hand, onto his tiny back, and held in place until he relaxed. He could also be picked up, at the scruff of his neck, much like the kitten that he was, and spoken to in a very authoritative voice- at which point the fight would lift off of him like mist, and his wet brown eyes would grow wet, and he might even- if you were lucky- lick your nose.


As the months went by, Sonny began, imperceptibly at first, to soften. He followed Naomi around like a wee shadow, and when she came home from work he would lift his front legs off the ground and clap his paws together like a tiny, animated toy. He would sometimes, now, allow others to pick him up, and he would even, on occasion, display something that was similar to affection. To reach this soft place in Sonny, however, to get him to do something like recline, casual-like, on your lap, as if that was no big deal, it was often necessary to wear him out physically first- and this was a challenge, as the fire that burned within him, in spite of his small size, was monstrously large.

In July I went backpacking with Kinnikinnick, Sonny, and Naomi’s partner, Finn. We picked a trail with lots of lakes, and there were such insane mosquitoes that we were forced to run, every second that we were out of the tent, to avoid being suffocated. (Exaggeration.) We didn’t want to run with our big backpacks on, so instead of carrying the packs for three days we hiked in four miles, pitched our tent, and the next day set out to jog the remainder of the trail. As long as we were running, the mosquitoes couldn’t get us, and as long as we wanted to be out of the tent, we had to be running. The night before, Sonny had been so hyper in the tent that Finn had barely been able to sleep- Sonny had thought that he was Outside, and that had made him feel Excited, and he had decided that he didn’t need to sleep, that he needed only to bounce like a flea back and forth across our sleeping bags, pawing excitedly at the nylon of the tent.

The next day we set out bright and early on our Epic Trail Run, hyper, sleepless dogs in tow. And it turned out that the trail, which passed by so many small lakes, was flooded in places, and in other places it was covered in patches of snow or blocked by fallen trees. The dogs, though, were not perturbed, and they vaulted over the puddles and slid over the snow patches like fearless, inexhaustible insects. The only humans we saw that day, on our long overland journey, were a pair of mysterious forest rangers, who would appear on the trail and then disappear, back into the foliage, as if by magic. We jogged sort of stumblingly through the forest from mid-morning to bedtime, our improvised backpacks bouncing against our shoulders, food and a water filter inside. We stopped at lakes to swim and eat chocolate and salmon jerky, and then we ran some more. Kinnikinnick and Sonny followed tirelessly along behind us, now and again darting ahead, ears up, to see what might be coming. Kinnikinnick, being the larger of the two, was able to leap, fox-like, over the fallen logs, but Sonny was too short and needed to be lifted, and he would wait, patiently, his eyes squinted softly in the forest light, for Finn to act as his hydraulic lift.

friendz

We returned to our campsite late in the evening, lowered our sore bodies into the flooded, broth-colored stream, and then put on every item of clothing we had brought so that we could crouch, for a few moments, in the thick, mosquito-filled air, and stir the gluten-free noodles in our camping pot. The mosquitoes enveloped Kinnikinnick and she bit at them, twitching and shaking her small body, but Sonny’s coat was long enough that he was impenetrable, and he watched us quietly in a rectangle of evening light, his small paws crossed contentedly. As we ate our salty noodles on the grass, the mosquitoes frantically biting at the backs of our hands, we saw that Sonny was, at last, tired. And that night he slept like the sweet, lovely little being that we had always imagined him to be- cuddled up in Finn’s sleeping bag or on top of mine, his little rooster-tail curled blanket-like around his torso, eyelids stretched peacefully over his huge, bulbous eyes. The next day we hiked the four miles out, and Sonny was so contented that he was sweet and agreeable for the rest of the trip, sleeping or letting himself be pet, squinting up at one or the other of us with his big, wet-brown eyes as if he was the most gentle dog in the world. And, when we returned to Portland, we were only admonished slightly for letting him run until his paws bled.

Sonny and Kinnikinnick, sleeping peacefully on the drive home.

As the summer waned, wee Sonny became consistently more agreeable and relaxed, and he began to bond with people more quickly, and allow himself to be captured and petted more easily. He was, as Naomi said, finally learning how to open his heart to love. He clapped his hands now for me, when he saw me, and when I lifted him up he licked my nose with his small, baloney-scented tongue. I would hold him in my two hands and bury my face in his thick, good-smelling fur, and in his small ribcage I could feel his tiny, beating heart. At first, he had been reluctant, and in time, he had grown softer. And like all wary little dogs (my own included) who are finicky and particular with their affections, when the narrow beam of Sonny’s love fell, at last, on my own heart, I was almost blinded by the caliber of its pure, uncontaminated goodness.

Two weeks ago, Sonny was attacked in a friend’s house by a larger, more aggressive dog. The attack was supposedly over a treat that had been dropped beneath the kitchen table, and in seconds it was over. Sonny died moments later, in the car on the way to the hospital. He had been in our lives for eight months.

Sonny’s death was a total shock not only to the people who had witnessed it, but to everyone who had been in Sonny’s life. Sonny, so seemingly alive, so full of fire and energy, was now, somehow, gone, blinked away, disappeared. It made no sense at all- like if you said an entire block had disappeared, or like the pacific ocean was now gone. Sonny was real. Sonny existed. Like how flowers exist, or trees exist, or rivers exist. There was the sky, the maple trees, the park, and there was Sonny. Just like how there was Kinnikinnick, and Seamus, and our friends, and school, and Emy, and our lives, our routines, our small dramas, our hopes and dreams and fears. In all of that, was Sonny. Firmly real. In the flesh. We had assimilated him into the fabric of our lives, and the tentacles of his existence were wound into the minutes and hours of our days- he was a three-dimensional object that we had manifested, running free on the streets of Olympia, and then subsumed, until there was no boundary between us and him, between our realities and his.

As yet, as quickly and bizarrely as Sonny had appeared, he was gone. I had never seen a dog like him, and there would never be one again. He had been created, the mold had been broken, and then, less than three years later, he had died. It made me question, suddenly, my assumptions about the existence of all living things- all of these animals, humans, objects that I assume to exist, that I trust to continue to exist, that I wake up each morning assuming will still exist. All of the things that I take for granted to be real, all of the trees and blades of grass, the walls of my apartment, my strange, grumpy neighbors, my small brown dog, the ground beneath my feel. All these things that feel so solidly REAL, so rooted on this side of the divide between existence and non-existence- when it seems obvious, now, that anything, at any time, could slip through to the other side, without a moment’s notice. Like a crack can open up in this current moment, this experience of reality that I assume, foolishly, to be somehow solid, and whatever is closest to the crack will just be gone.

How do you live, then, when everything you love can suddenly be gone? How do you make choices when what seems so real, today, on Sunday, can shift like loose gravel and be so different, after a period of time, as to be totally unrecognizable? How do you hold on, or not hold on, to what you love- how do you hold on and let go simultaneously, how do you stay present, constantly, in the moment, while making the assumption, still, that the sun will rise tomorrow?

Sonny did not exist, and then he did. He was not in our lives, and then he was. We did not know him, and then we loved him, we shoved some random clutter off the folding card-table of our hearts to make room for him. And there is always room, an extra corner, a few square inches of love. There is always room for everyone, there is always enough space. And then, after Sonny is gone, there is a small, Sonny-shaped hole. And the wind blows through it, and it has the feel of an old, abandoned house. And it’s lonely.

Sonny is gone, and if I learned anything at all from Sonny, it’s that we exist right now. Tomorrow, then, is anyone’s guess, but for the moment we are solidly, firmly here, so real that it’s nearly incomprehensible, so big and complex and infinite and alive that I can barely fit the idea of us into the field of vision of my heart. Because when we are real, we are almost bafflingly so- the realness of us spills out, all over everything, as if there is too much of it, an infinite amount, like there will always be enough, like we could never possibly run out. Our realness, not guaranteed to spill forward in time, spreads around us, instead, into space- shooting like energy light-rays into the worlds that we inhabit, vibrating every other physical thing in our existence on a scale of which it is impossible to comprehend.

My brain is small, and I cannot begin to understand the complexity of our realness, the size of our existence. I settle, instead, for a stumbling sort of impression, like fumbling in a dark attic, feeling objects with the palms of my hands. I tell myself that I am learning, through careful observation, the shape and texture of our universe, when in reality, by looking, I only grow more and more disoriented. I can only assume that this puzzle, like so many mysteries, is a thing that cannot be looked at or thought about directly but only felt, sort of obtusely, with the larger, blunter muscles of the heart. Not a shape but a rhythm, a feeling- not the object itself but its tangled, colored fringe.

Sonny is gone, and I’m starting to wonder if he ever existed at all. Did I make him up? What is more real, my feeling for him or his actual self? And what now? Do we let the clutter build up, until the card table is covered over again?

And what of the gaping, Sonny-shaped hole in the paper wall of reality, where the lonely breeze blows through?

Sonny was buried in forest park, in the soft, black earth beneath some big-leaf maples. It’s November and the air is cold, and rain falls nearly every day. A few weeks before Sonny’s death, Naomi had bought him a tiny, expensive jacket- shiny, black, and stuffed with down, it kept him warm as damp winter settled down upon the city. Naomi kept the jacket after his death and I know that now, in his new forest home, Sonny no longer needs it. Because the forest, crowded, tangled organism that it is, is arguably more real than nearly any city block. There is more life, more living, more movement, happening both above and below ground, in the forest, than I can possibly understand- and in this way the forest is like Sonny himself. And if it’s true that consciousness is a sort of trap, and death is freedom, then Sonny is home, his energies gone twenty-five different ways, to join the riotous cacophony of the rainforest- and he is neither cold nor alone, but sort of infinite- for as long as it lasts, and after that, will be something else-

And we love him, and we miss him, and that’s ok/is not ok, and that irreconcilable contradiction, whatever comfort that it is, will have to be enough.

s p r i n g t i m e

Cherry blossoms are beautiful, my heart is ripped wide open. Everything goes back to beginnings, like a feedback loop of nostalgia, as if the middle never happened, the day-to-day, the text messages and the humming of electrical appliances. No, it was all explosions of flowers and sleepless, ecstatic mornings, time stopping and then slipping away, stopping and then slipping away, again and again and again.

“In the beginning,” says my acupuncturist, “love is like being on drugs. Around two years into it, that feeling wears away. You can quit, then, and start the process over with someone new, if you want, and live your life that way, or you can stick it out. If you stick it out, you might find that beyond the stagnancy there’s something new and unexpected and wonderful.”

My acupuncturist puts needles into my wrists, ankles and ribcage. She leaves me alone in the dim room and I feel my fears well up and wash over me, well up and wash over me. Afterward I pick dandelions and feel as though I cannot be dishonest.

The springtime, by definition, cannot be dishonest. The sandy, settled contents of the heart have been set loose, and they spill onto everything- the fragile pink flowers, the mud, the warm gray, clotted skies. It is impossible to be insincere. It is impossible to see anything but what exactly is happening. And it is impossible to think about the future.

And, for me, there is sadness. There is a heavy, cleansing sadness, like a sauna of feelings. Like a warm, soft exfoliant for the soul. It passes through me, taking with it anger and resentment, lifting them from my ribcage where they cling like small, incessant briars. It is only sadness that will remove them, a heavy, prolonged wash of sadness. The briars have been there for months and they are imbedded deeply in my tissue, and it is like a miracle that they will go at all.

Corinne and I go to the forest, weary and underslept, and we let Kinnikinnick run loose on the muddy path. There are trilliums, monumental firs, and in the distance the flat, polluted gorge. Waterfalls, swollen with rainwater, pound the earth. Kinnikinnick flirts with cliffs, runs sideways, and rolls in something foul. At the top we sit on a log and eat unsalted peanut butter on apples. The forest is epically quiet. All the snow has melted. In the distance, only water moves. I toss our apple cores deep into the forest (I know that you are not supposed to do this) and Nik-Nik fetches them back, dropping them in the fir needles next to the trail. On the way down, company increases, and we pass the Hall of Pit Bulls. Nik-Nik, off leash, emerges uneaten and triumphant. Company continues to increase until we are edging our way around strollers and gaggles of smoking teenagers, and finally we arrive at the ice-cream parlor and gift shop, where I shoplift a silver thimble.

“I needed a thimble.” I say to Corinne, as we walk to the car. On the way home we get pad-see-ew and eat it in my apartment, and then Corinne leaves to do homework in her brightly colored bedroom, with the cross-breeze and big table made from two-by-fours and her smell, like tea tree oil and coffee. It is no longer reliably rainy so I give Nik-Nik, who stinks, a bath in the kitchen sink with lavender shampoo. She tolerates the bath, the sloshes of warm water from a mason jar, on the condition that I feed her my leftover noodles. Afterward I wrap her in the only towel I own which she has not eaten a piece out of and rub the water from her fur. She then goes to sleep on the armchair beneath my sweater, contented, her small paws crossed in front of her.

Springtime.

Feelings, emotions, weather. I am a cloud of static electricity. I am the electromagnetic field of the heart. I am busting open the channels of my creativity and in the process I am loosening the tangles of twine that bind closed my sails. If there are winds, then I am sailing on them. The direction is unimportant, it is only the movement that matters.

Once, many years ago, I put my fingers in the ocean and asked the waves to show me home. I wrote “home” in the sand with my fingers. I imagined the deepness of the waters, the wisdom of the great and sensitive sea-beasts. I wished for direction, specificity, fixed coordinates.

You are home. Said the ocean. This planet is your home.

water, dreams, cupcakes, the ocean floor

My dreams have been so magnificent lately.

Picture this: It is the end of the world. The lowlands are filled with clear water. All you clothing is red. It’s warm, and someone is coming after you. You have to swim. You have to hide. You have to cross narrow trestles that glisten in the moonlight. The sky is empty and black. All the plants are green. Quickly! Someone is following you, and you’re not afraid. You’re excited. This is what you’ve been waiting for, for years. This is what you’ve been waiting for. To run, to hide.

You climb aboard a freight train. You’re bound and dumped onto a freight train. You wake up from a groggy sleep, on a freight train. The train is like no freight train you have every been on. It is a ghost freight train, dark. The only thing shining is the tracks. The cars are low and made of rough, rusted steel. The train is endless, going on forever. The train is narrow, you must hold on. The train moves slowly through the secret night. This train is going to the moon.

It’s the end of the world again. You have to swim. You’re wearing a heavy pack and you sink, but you’re a good swimmer and you reach the surface and clutch the grass, the railroad tracks. The water is cold and black like tea. Now there are sharks, and waves crashing against a steep concrete slope. You’re in the ocean. You’ve lost your small boat, in which you’d moved beneath the moon.

You wake up. It’s late. The sun is out. Corinne has also dreamt of sharks.

I love my dreams.

Here’s something I wrote a few weeks ago, but didn’t post, because I thought there wasn’t any yearning in it.
——————————————

It’s not very cold outside
and my woodstove is strong
the earth has gone wet, and black,
each year’s tragedy
we fall into mourning
for this:
the flaming leaves, the dark that hurts our eyes
wet and black
I don’t want to go anywhere, anymore. I just want to go inside myself, and other people. It feels like the time to look and see what others have been doing: wintertime.

on the internet there are images
of the Caribbean
and beneath the warm blue waters
there are gray concrete sculptures of people
ordinary people
and on their faces grows coral
the color of strawberry milkshake
and where their hair ornaments would be
are bottle-brushes of white
and from their shoulders burst turquoise plants, arrogant and brave
it is what it would look like
if history ended
it is what it would look like
if people didn’t matter
if all that mattered
was the way a woman’s nose was shaped
and the way the light looked
on the loose sand of the ocean floor

I do not much like this poem
or whatever it is that I am writing
I have no yearning, right now
I want nothing
not even chocolate cupcakes or a knee-high, snow white dog, dripping wet
that would find me in the forest, lost and enchanted
and I would take her home and we would dance around, in front of the woodstove, and then she would sleep, and I would touch her forehead gently
If I have no yearning, how can I write? I am fed, warm, have good soft lighting, sleep well. There are pleasurable things in the world- junk shops, free books, sausage, coconut soup. I am not curled under a thorn bush in Arizona, dying of loneliness, listening to the crickets, waiting for sunrise.
I cannot wait to write about all of that.

r o o t s

My father lives on Crataegus lane in Alaska. Crataegus is the latin name for Hawthorne, according to a dusty book I found in the library. There are three types of Hawthorne in the book, which catalogs a section of Pennsylvania representative of “all of the trees from Virginia northward into Canada and westward to the Mississippi Valley.” The kinds of Hawthorne in the book are Scarlet Hawthorne, Cockspur Hawthorne, and Dotted Hawthorne. In pre-columbian times, the Hawthorne trees were understory plants in the virgin forests. Now, in Pennsylvania, they form impenetrable thickets. According to the dusty tree book, the members of this genus are typically “low, bushy trees” with “strong, tortuous, spreading branches armed with stiff, sharp-pointed thorns”.

In Pennsylvania, the showy flowers appear in April or early May. The five petals are “usually white”. The fruits are like small apples, dry and mealy, with large, bony seeds. They are an important winter food of the ruffed grouse.

Most Hawthornes will thrive in the poorest of soils. There are an infinite number of different kinds of Hawthorne, on account of the fact that they are “very unstable, and hybrids are apparently very numerous”. This frustrates taxonomists, who cannot agree on what kinds of Hawthorne exist, since they are always hybridizing and changing, and looking like each other. In Portland there is a Hawthorne with small, red fruits, like berries. You can make jelly from these, although I have never done it.

When I return to Portland in September, there will be fruit on all the trees. The blackberries will be over but the apples and pears, both members of the rose family, will be clustered and heavy above the sidewalks. The light through the branches will be yellow, hazy and humid. Green walnut husks will pepper the ground. Time will go faster than it does in the woods, and days will blink by in an instant. I’ll ride my bike in the evenings when the shadows are long and let all the nostalgia wash over me, all the emotional memory of the season, of last year and the year before and every September that has ever happened, until it washes all away and instead becomes what is happening now, in this moment.

My birthday is in September. I don’t ever know what to do on my birthday, I feel bewildered and confused and can’t ever think of things I’d like to eat or what I do for fun. What do I do for fun? Read, laugh, have sex. Eat ice cream and blueberries. Swim. Sit in the forest and watch the ants wear paths in the dirt and wait for animals to come walking up. Make up stories in my head.

I think that, this year, all of September will be my birthday. It’ll be like a birthday present to myself, September. I’ll be back in Portland and getting ready for school and moving and I won’t be working my kitchen job anymore. I won’t be washing dishes and peeling cucumbers and cooking soup in the heavy-bottomed ten-gallon pot. I won’t be kneading bread and punching bread and baking loaves of bread in the oven that hums ferociously and whose hot sheet-pans burn your upper arms in stripes, called “earning your stripes”. I have one stripe and one half-stripe. I have been here five months. If I lived hear a year or two years I would have more stripes, the way the other cooks do.

I like to cook. I cannot think of many things more satisfying than preparing food for one hundred sixty people in four hours from scratch, with one helper, making the big pot of soup and cutting the crusty new bread and roasting the zucchini for spread and slicing the onions and snapping the ends off the green beans and then sitting and watching the people eat, your black apron dusty with flour, a mason jar of water in your hand. It is satisfying and I give everything to it and in the evenings I feel restless and empty. I run in the woods on the dry trail until I am hot and sticky with sweat and then I take off my clothes and lay down in the stream and then jump up sputtering in the icy water, new again like I have just woken up.

When I am not working or running I spend a lot of time on the phone with Corinne. She is always very far away. We tell each other about the worlds where we live, like writing letters home. I ask her what she eats. Sausage, she tells me. Avocado. Eggs. I tell her that after running I ate raspberries and sheep’s cheese and coconut ice cream. I tell her that it was all I thought I ever wanted to eat, but then after a few hours I was hungry again, so I ate sautéed green beans and split pea soup and wild rice and romaine. And then later I ate some orange chocolate. After we get off the phone I eat some chocolate peanut butter cups. The sugar is not good for me but lack of good company sometimes drives me to it. It will be easier in September, when I am not in the woods anymore. Unless, of course, for my birthday I want an icecream cake or an icecream sundae made of coconut icecream and melted dark chocolate and berries, in layers, icecream first and then chocolate and then icecream and then berries and then icecream and then chocolate and so on, like an enchilada. I would like to eat that in a stemmed glass, so I could see all the layers. The chocolate would be mixed with coconut cream to make it softer, although it would solidify just-so in the cold icecream. And then while I was eating my beautiful, infinite sundae that was like the wanting of icecream and the memory of icecream and the having of icecream and the icecream you are saving for later, I would pull the beautiful wrapping, made from 1970s national geographics, from a small square box, and inside would be a brand new pancreas. The note card would read- “love, from the trees.” And I would gasp in delight and try out my new pancreas immediately. It would fit exactly, and I would put my old pancreas in the freebox on the porch, where someone will find it and make it into a costume.

And that would be the Very Best Birthday. An infinite icecream sundae, and long life from the trees. Or maybe instead of a sundae it would be an icecream cake. Or maybe instead of icecream I will have sex instead, because I don’t need a new pancreas for that. I would like to be able to have sex Right Now, in the woods. I would like to open the freezer and find Sex in there, instead of gelato and cold peanut butter cups that someone had the foresight to put in there. But there is no sex in the woods. Sex is in the city, because that is where the gay people are. Only straight people live in the woods, and deer. And a few shy bears I have never seen. And the steller’s jays with their screaming alarm-clock voices. And the soft-bellied squirrels. And tiny, svelte chipmunks. And the crows that live on the compost heap. And the odd bunny rabbit. And low-flying bats, who criss-cross the paths at dusk. And fantastical cougars, who make no sound and who I imagine always watching, from the rhododendrons. And a strange family of creatures, perhaps raccoons, who break sticks for fun around my tent at night and chortle softly to each other in small, congested voices. And various other stick-breakers, too shy to be seen, who run errands in the woods after dark. Some of them walk carefully, tensing each muscle and startling and the smallest movement, and some of them are clumsy, tumbling through the undergrowth as if drunk, lost and looking for the path. None of them bother me, tho, no matter how flimsy my nylon walls and how elaborate my imagination, or how often I leave beef jerky in my tent, and so I have grown to trust them.

Now it’s late. It’s dark and all the stars are out, the big dipper and the milky way, which is like melted icecream in the sky. Corinne wrote a poem today for her grandmother, who was there one day and then was not there, while Corinne was up in the sky in a plane, crossing the country to get to her. It had been eight months since Corinne saw her grandmother last, and she lost another three hours going east in a plane, against the setting sun. Corinne’s grandmother was there and then she was not there, the way things happen, mysteriously. Also, besides grandmothers dying, babies are born. Babies are not there and then they are there. I cannot make heads or tales of any of it, birth and death. The stuff in the middle makes sense to me, the Being. It is the transition in and out of Being that seems so inexplicable. Corinne was Being, in the sky, and her grandmother was Being, on the east coast, in a hospital, and then immediately she was Not. She waited until all her five children were clustered around her, and then she was Not. Corinne visited her body, the next day, on a table in the funeral home, in a room with candles. Corinne looked for her behind the heavy drapes, but she was gone. She told me about it on the phone, while I sat at the picnic table beneath the incense-cedars, methodically dismantling the fleur-de-lis seedpods that had gathered there. A thing like a tree, I thought, ceases to be much differently than a grandmother. A tree is made of wood, half dead, and surrounded by other wood in various states of decay. It pulls water hundreds of feet up its pithy core, and throws down cones in the summertime. When a tree “dies” it simply stops drawing water, stops dropping cones, and becomes, instead, part of the trees around it, who use its wood to grow helpful fungus and more small, new trees, and as a bridge over streams for deer, and as a place for small, bumbling stick-breakers to live. And the “dead” tree sort of melts into the spongy forest floor, and continues to “Be”, in a great mat of things that “Are”, whose borders are fluid and indefinite and yet unarguably alive.

The first rule of thermodynamics is that energy cannot be created or destroyed. If this is true, where do “people” go after they die? Is it because we do not have visible roots, like a tree, and so it seems as though we are tethered to nothing, and we are incapable of comprehending the ways in which we actually exist? Because if we could see our existence, all twisted up with everything, the way I can see the trees’ existence in a forest, which eats itself and lives forever, then maybe we would understand more clearly what happens when we die, and what happens before we are born, instead of just the middle part, which seems to us like a spark from a campfire, flying away into the dark and then going out, for no reason whatsoever.

We are different from trees, but if you draw us in a chart the chart will look like a tree, the family tree. A family tree does not have stray bits, broken pieces, sparks that fly off into the dark and go out. A family tree is like a friendship bracelet or a braided river, coming apart and going together again, forever and ever, all the way back, way back hundreds and thousands of years, to thatched cottages and lean-tos, to Europe and Asia and Africa, to when we were early hominids, to apes, to single-celled organisms floating in the briny warm sea. And trees came from the sea, too, and stumbling stick-breakers, and bats at dusk, and eavesdropping cougars. And all the creatures braided together and came apart, and braided together and came apart, forever and ever and ever, and a branch from the family tree never broke and fell off and sputtered out alone or appeared spontaneously from the ether, not even once, not even one single time. And the beginning was in the briny sea or it was somewhere even farther back, farther back than we can comprehend because we are small and because we are made from it. We are made from the friendship bracelet of the creatures, and just because we walk on two legs and do not have roots does not mean that we ever begin or that we ever end- because we, like the great mat of plants called the forest, cannot be created or destroyed, only moved and branched and shifted like a river in its bed. And so Corinne’s grandmother never really stopped being, because there is Corinne, and Corinne will never stop being, as long as there are cougars, and soft-bellied squirrels, and owls that call out at night, mysterious and low, with immense wisdom and patience. I want to go into the forest and I want to stand abreast of the biggest oldest tree, and I want to put my fingers in its bark and say that I do not want immortality, I only want patience. Because my roots go back in time instead of down into the ground, and my heart beats like a hummingbird, and I want everything. And the wind whispers and the trees say that I can have everything, in time. In time.

spring summer everything

spring but it’s cold. But we know it’s spring because the light is out later, and then there is moonlight, the fullmoon, and it’s like the light above the river never leaves, where the trees break, over the water, between the mountains, where the sky lives, the big open part of the world, as if we are insects in a meadow deep down in the grass, unaware of the big open space above. And birds.

It’s cold in my tent but quiet now, on nights where there is no rain. I can hear only the snorting of  yearlings and the soft THUNK of their hooves as they chase each other in the wild strawberries, or run from an unseen evil, a cougar-shaped shadow. There are not very many cougars, and the deer are safe from very nearly everything else. No hunters come here, there are no roads, no cars to take them out at the knees. No cars to take me out. I do not ride a bicycle in the woods. There is no way to die, here. I will live forever.

We will live forever! I asked the trees about it. They told me that no-one dies, a blessing and a curse. We hiked in the woods for a hundred days, sat in the damp moss, got stoned and ate beef jerky, until we couldn’t feel the cold anymore. While I fucked you you looked up at the trees above you, the cedar boughs against the sky. You said you liked it more than anything. Fucking in the woods is like swimming naked, opening yourself up and letting nature get in every little part of you.

I don’t have time to write but I wish I had time to write. I lay in bed in the minutes before sleeping, in the dark, and start to write, but it is too cold to get up or I have no electricity or both or my body says sleep, sleep, because writing comes later, in another life, not this woods life, where I repeat phrases slowly, in my head, to try and remember them, but they are always gone, and in the morning I drink my mug of chickpea miso in the outdoor kitchen and look out at the damp forest that holds dark like a body holds heat, and my mind is empty. Or happy. My mind is happy. Still I try and remember things. Something about our worlds not being congruent. I live in a deep woods and there are hardly any flowering plants, and the rain pools in a million tiny places and the floor is not dirt but a network of tree roots, mycelium, moss, decaying leaves, and bug poop, stronger than anything, and living. It breathes, you can hear it breathe. You can feel it breathe, leaning against a doug-fir in a gentle wind. The world is rocking, did you know? The world is rocking us. It wants us to be soothed. We cut it down to the ground and burn it to ashes, and then there is no-one to soothe us. And you! You live in a world stuffed with flowers and humid, exotic shrubbery. And your people are plagued with allergies. And the floor is concrete. And there is nowhere for the water to go, except against the glass, and into the river, and to the sea. And dark and silence were driven out long ago, to the edges of everything, by the airport, with the coyotes. The dark and the silence and the coyotes live in the tall grass, out on the edge of everything. The sit together, and watch the lights along the Columbia. They think of metal skiffs and the open sea, and lanterns on long poles. They think of fog. They tell themselves old stories. They tell themselves the oldest stories. They wait. They have more patience than anyone.

I think it’s getting warmer. I think summer is coming for sure. I have patience. I have energy. My body functions. I am alive, and I even feel it. I bought a pair of birkenstocks online to bring summer on faster, but they were too big and summer hasn’t come. Just the long wet end of the rainy season, that goes on and on and on. And the books in my tent gather damp, and rain beats on everything. I want it to be so hot the mud paths turn to dust, and my tshirts fade in the bright UV light. I want to turn brown. I want to jump in the river in all of my clothes.

I want to name the deer- I want to recognize them by face. I want to sleep with them in the meadow sometime, my fists filled with grass.

i never know what to title things anymore

It is so hard to say goodbye to you, these days, even for a few hours- I do the breakfast dishes and then fall into bed and imagine your arms around me, my legs curled against yours- I want to feel your hot breath, but everything in your room is cold- I have you and I don’t have you, simultaneously- I have you only for a little while, life is short, we exist, I miss you. It’s summer, I have you right now. Moments are not congruous, sometimes I don’t have you, I’m in the forest, I feel alone. Having you and not having you. Time, space, everything. It stirs up the sediment of feeling into a great, muddy cloud. It clogs everything. The sediment of feeling that we walk on every day, that we build our houses on. The ash-heaps of everything that has already happened, that wasn’t supposed to happen. The residual salt of time.

I want to water-ski on the top parts again, in unambiguous weather. Instead we are stuck in the basement while rain falls, sneezing dust, forgotten. We are doing the universe’s data-entry on small, yellowed index cards, trying to account for all this time. So much has happened. We are unappreciated, underpaid, stiff clerical workers. Our hands are cramped. We have no personalities.

It is no longer the first day of the rest of our lives. It is almost June, the sixth month of the tenth year of the twenty-first century. History can crush us, if we look directly at it. The inevitability of everything can make us feel as if we’ve already died, while we are still living. Better to believe in the adult approximation of Santa Claus, if you can. The Myth of Romance, which wiped out History, and Stilled the Wheel of Time.

at this late hour

I am awake. Is it because I am a hedonist? Is it because I am in love? Is it because I want to live forever?

Is it because I have become addicted, in the last 48 hours, to facebook scrabble?

No, my love has gone to bed on her turn, stuffed up with a headcold. So it can’t be that.

I have not been writing much blog this month. I have been doing other things! Like applying for jobs, applying for school, applying for financial aid, and making zines- all of which involve frying my brain on the computer, or, as I call it now, the “scrabble box”. Three weeks ago I hated scrabble. HATED it. Now I am learning (and somewhat compulsively) to play like a champ from Corinne the sneaky scrabble master, who has no respect for “real words”, aka English words that you and I, as native English speakers, would know the meanings of. And it has enriched me. Just in the last two days I have learned that Qi, En, Ai, Nixe, Kor, Hights and Rato are all words. What more useful information is that? The interesting things is that I do not know what any of these words MEAN, only that they EXIST. What would we do if civilization were to crumble, and the only building left standing was the one that housed the unsold scrabble dictionaries? Our language would evolve into a dialectic of obscure scrabble words. Oh Rato, you exist! Somewhere out in the universe, you are! Unknown word! Rare, previously unknown combination of letters! I will forge strange sentences from you. Nixe! Kor! Hights! Ai! Ai! Ai!

Some plausible definitions-

Kor- ventral muscles.

Hights- manic nights.

Rato- gluten-free ravioli, made from rice pasta. more delicious than its wheaty cousin. traditionally stuffed with sheep’s cheese and zucchini.

What about Nixe? I cannot think of anything for that one. Ideas? I am going to sleep. I have more zines to make in the morning, because you have bought them all. I love you! I do not even know you. Thank you!

And if you are in the mood for imagining more, at this late hour, there is this site, which was brought to my attention by a reader, and is beautiful and inspiring and uncomplicated. And maintained by a young man who sailed to the Dominican Republic with some friends of mine, in a derelict yacht, and made a little documentary about it, which you can see on the site. Fantasy travel! To build a boat and sail! To where? I do not even like the ocean. I get seasick. And then there is the issue of gravity.

To bed!