Thursday, September 2, 2010

To Set Sail and Bleed the Lamb

While talking life and books on the phone with a friend early yesterday evening, I noticed that several things seemed to be happening at the same time, as if streams and roads and lives were running parallel and then crossing, whispering to each other, absorbing each other, exchanging past and future identities.

My wife and I were babysitting our grandson, and I had just come in from doing some work in the yard. Sweating, I had removed my shirt to cool off, and was shirtless when I listened to Paul’s message and returned his call. The entire hour we were on the phone, I was in one bedroom or the other and moving up and down the hall, as our little one was anxious, as always, to participate in the call. He was also delighted to find my navel exposed, to poke it again and again and compare it to his.

These are hard times, in so many dimensions. We are questioning and jobless and proud; we are embarrassed and ashamed about finding ourselves working at jobs that crush the spirits of all but a few. Every crack in the sidewalk, every bottle cap, gutter, and weed seems fortune to tell — an affront to some, and as familiar, to others, as an old aunt’s palm.

At one point, I asked Paul — and I don’t know why it came to me — if ever, when he read, he was aware of a separate line of thought in his head, running, as it were, alongside the text, divorced from it and yet perhaps caused by it, or arising from a source unknown. He said yes. I knew he would. And at the same time, as we were talking, I saw myself as I once was, as an apparition in grade school and beyond, as a boy on the farm walking, alone, and listening — as I was listening now, in the present, every bit as pleased in the moment as my grandson, as if we were both pleasure-ghosts who cycle and nod and wander this world, these rooms, this life, these sounds.

Time and again, while I’m reading, these other lines of thought suddenly well up in the form of a certain word or phrase that demands my complete attention. The next thing I know, I am here at my keyboard. I might as well be on a forest path or standing in a waterfall — such is the feeling of shiver and solitude, when the sun on my window shatters the glass and the ice on the floor is real. There might be shoes, there might be nails, a cobbler’s workbench, a poor man’s wedding for his dear and only daughter, a bible, a well, my great-grandfather all in black standing by his carriage, rows of melons and plums, dust on the horizon, or smoke.

I call it — as if such moments needed a name — writing a poem. But the likeness is shallow at best. The poem as much thinks me, lives me, and discovers its own purpose — then only to be informed and defined, like me, by other versions of itself, other phases, other nuances, other tales, other imaginings.

To live, these days, as in all the days of our kind, we must set sail and bleed the lamb. The gods are waiting. They must be challenged and entertained.

Systems are walls of bricks: in time, they come tumbling down. Useless are the concepts of righteous indignity and blame. Suffer all we who drag ourselves down, believing, to the end, that the world we have made somehow doesn’t apply to us, that it isn’t proof of the selfish vacuum of our thoughts. Suffer all we who forget we are kings, here, and now, in our daily lives — not with decrepit power or wealth, but in having such suffering and beauty at our fingertips.

“To Set Sail and Bleed the Lamb” is my newest Notebook entry. Old notes are archived here.

In the Forum: Dylan Thomas in America.


Transcend Designs said...

How you do that
is so amazing...


William Michaelian said...

So much is what you bring, my friend. Thank you.

Gerry Boyd said...

Separate lines of thought. Yes, we are large, we contain multitudes. I think there is a relationship also between the difficulty of the text and my awareness of the other trains of thought. Simple is probably the wrong word, but if the text is simple enough that I am completely subsumed in it then I suspect there are fewer trains. I become the book. Not so with, say, Finnegan's Wake.

William Michaelian said...

Gerry, I thought sure you were Finnegans Wake. In fact, just this morning, I was telling my wife, “Gerry is Finnegans Wake.” And she said, “He must be, if he keeps sending you all those books.”

I’ll have to ponder your comment. It seems I have this experience regardless of a text’s complexity — to the extent, even, of reading Finnegans Wake aloud.

Gerry Boyd said...

Ha! Finnegan's Wake (which I have to admit I have only been able to consume in minute doses) came to mind because when ever I read it I get this strange sensation that I am actually reading the meta-language of an entirely different book than the one that the text of it actually comprises. (please excuse THAT nearly unparseable sentence) That being the case, in terms of lines of thought while reading it there's: 1) the text itself, 2) the actual book suggested by the metaness of the text 3) my consciousness experiencing 1) and 2) AND 4) the occasional urge to scratch my nose.
Ok, back to something easy like Being and Nothingness. Ha!

William Michaelian said...

Yes, those were the good old days.

I think our greatest difficulty arises when we read and think with our heads. Try once removing that impediment and you’ll see how smoothly it goes.

Wine and Words said...

Can I come back and listen again? The bells of truth tinkle so prettily.

William Michaelian said...

Yes, and be sure to visit the gift shop on your way out.

Jean Spitzer said...

"[T]he poem . . . thinks me" resonates with me, as does this essay.

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Jean.

BeMistified said...

Way to put into perspective. Glad I found our blog. Reading from a distance.

William Michaelian said...

Thank you, and thanks for dropping in....

Woman in a Window said...

And would you believe
that right now
10:20 at night
after tucking my children into bed,
kissing one and feeling like a failure in so many ways,
and playing fish with the other in the deep sheets of her bed,
I dragged myself downstairs thinking of my morning, caught in the monotomy machine of do and pay. I was beaten. My shoulders had been blistered. My mind swollen like a damp dead sheep. And suddenly I remembered a window I had seen twelve years ago. A window with cold ice drawn up. A window with story resting on the other side of it. And my mind began to wonder and search and guess. And my day became ok for a little minute.

Weary I came to this chair, thought to write, and then thought, naw, to William's. And I read, "finding ourselves working at jobs that crush the spirits" and William, I could weep for the simple recognition. Thank you.


William Michaelian said...

Erin, your response here, your frank, poetic telling from daily life, is a gift many times over. That you have the grace and can still find the words, even at the end of a harrowing day, proves that you are one of the few. Thank you.