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.