Saturday, January 31, 2009

January 31

Quickly, I am compelled to note a new discovery: they have oil paintings of themselves hung upon the hallway wall. In his portrait, all business, he brandishes three silver rings, fists closed & rested upon his legs in a half-lean, that familiar smirk smeared across his face. In hers, rendered in a wash, she gazes, because of how the paintings are positioned, up at him, her eyes full of adoration & life. Oil portraits of themselves on the wall five feet from their bedroom. My disgust is complete.

Friday, January 30, 2009

January 30

A heavy day in which I seemed to plummet discernibly as the hours passed. The sun & a relatively calm sky to start the morning, lasting through my work at water-sealing the shed’s new tongue & groove pine planking. Three coats, a shower, a drive into town to deposit my check. Somewhere along the drive, in Moran State Park, Cascade Lake placid, the wakes of gliding mergansers tearing quiet behind them, the rings of thick fog appertaining about the distant hills, the precipitation mounting more an incidentally wet mist than a rain. & Eastsound, all of its insular quaintness, its chalkboard signs, its jalopied Fords, the waves audible through the windows of Darvill’s, the hushed banter of employees muttering vitriol under their breath—all of it seemed to coalesce in the worst of ways. Double-charged for an avocado. Run into twice in one aisle by a drunk with a twelve-pack of Sierra Nevada. Cut off in the check-out lane. These things crescendo. Since I took this position & installed myself here, at the bottom of the loop, down the psoriatic tarmac drive that blisters & rots in spots where oil dripped from the car, under these sad looming firs, I’ve always looked forward to the drive into town. Today, as soon as I got there, I couldn’t wait to get out again. & as soon as I pointed towards home, I couldn’t believe I was so quickly returning to this place, this dark & dreary house that stinks of their filth always, of his diaper hamper in the bathroom by the door, of wet coffee grinds & stale dog piss. This gaudy museum with its macramé & needlepoint, its family portraits hung askance, no frame straightened, no face left unobscured by collecting dust. & now, through the window, the gray falling in layers over the water, the shapes of the near islands night-shadows alone. I think this feeling has been waiting for me to find it, to listen to it momentarily, & to then put it aside & step forward into the possibility that awaits me a week from now. I will emerge from this place the better for it, pleased & positive to be opening unto the next bit of this new narrative. But first, I have to dredge through its mire, honestly & with no false front. So tonight I’ll be attuned to it, that tomorrow it can pass.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

January 28 again

Started a short story a bit ago in which letters from a battlefield are warp to a family history's weft. Also, drank some gin since my employers are again in Seattle & I am again at liberty to do so. The latter leads to posting the former in order to get at a simple question right when I wonder it most-- should it continue? The first part, a letter, would be italicized I think. The second part is where I got up to get a gin & tonic, & it is quite short as a result. So.

Don’t have much time to write, so please forgive in advance any omissions obvious to you. Besides which, to shift my focus & thinking from this place to that is an endeavor I’m never likely to master. I close my eyes, though, to sleep at night, & in that swelling darkness I am flooded with the old ghosts, with that life I left behind me, all of its currents, all of its loose ends buzzing like a dying filament inside my heart. Or I’ll be kicking a shovel into the dirt & suddenly remember the smell of grandma’s blackberry cobbler. Or the mud room, earthy, thick, all those mason jars blanketed in dust, the soft light of the sun filtered through the film on the windowpane, through the cobwebs that gather in its corners. Or the way her hand wasn’t cold at all, or warm, or anything, like it was disposed of body, a thing separate entire. The finish on her casket. But mostly I feel any wind here & I imagine it the tired remnant of some gale thrashing the oaks & maples along the drive, the bitter-cold winter, the sky the kind of blue that says yes the world is frozen & yes I would be too if I were able. The wheat fields in their roiling. My fingers over their tops, & the finches bobbing along the furrows. God, no simple wonder.
But here it’s detachment that teaches me my lessons. The click of the magazine & the endless stuttering of the report of gun-fire. How can I live among these things? This rifle in my hand? How can I shoot from my darkness into theirs, let fly this bullet from my hand & hope to lay it there in his heart? I shudder at it. But I am here, & there is no other recourse but to stand & let pierce some missive aimed elsewhere & let expire my own good breath. Kill or be killed. I cannot fake the trigger-pull. & besides, once the cacophony of battle is begun, once my nausea turns, I am taken by it, hostage of its simple violence. Every time my bullet lands in some man’s chest it kills another part of me. But yet I walk, & endure, & bid good morrow come.
I think of you all often. All the time. If I think on the here & now of it too long I’d likely lose all control of myself. They are latter days. But they will pass, & will bring me home to you. Until then, my love goes with you. Wishing you all best—


When he was a child, he imagined all things living. The stars in their nightly shining, the severed bough of madrona upon the walkway, the stones stretching endless along the shoreline. He felt a part of an ongoing communion. speaking frequently into the air, assured that the wind would carry his words where they were intended. Or that the light in casting across his visage would take up a sentence like a conveyer belt & bear it aloft unto its rightful hearer. “A frog,” he would say, & would expect to hear his brother’s footsteps nearing, the shift of pebble underfoot. Too, he thought the world inhabited by invisible souls that could act as messenger & courier alike. If he found a particularly desirable bit of granite, or an insinuation of orthopod embedded in a halved soapstone, he would leave them in obvious places, tell the spirits where they ought to take such precious carriage, & walk away. His life began in early disappointment.

So it's a beginning. Coming up against violence again, which seems natural enough, an inherent wound in every utterance. But a landscape peopled sparsely, stretched acorss the yawning canvas of many years. How time is subsumed. How we fight against our fugitive hours, wrestling after meaning. Well. Best to leave it at that I suppose.

January 27 & 28

Spent the majority of the day in bed, supine, unable to stand for any length of time without my back getting the best of me. It comes around, time to time, & usually the disc slips out & the pain is relatively intense for only a matter of minutes before being a caution for the rest of the day, a kind of ghosting discomfort. This morning when it went out it stayed out, to the point that I almost felt compelled to seek medical attention while I was, of all places, at the dump, my spine locked up, leaning against a concrete abutment scattered with the shit of gulls flapping about the rafters. Spasms for roughly four hours straight. That highly localized pinch of the vertebrae, & my body’s unwillingness in lieu of it to allow me to take a full breath. So. Not much in the way of productivity. It was noted, of course, that I ought to make up the hours I missed. Of course I will. Top of my action list. To their credit, I was given three muscle relaxants that she keeps around—her own spine fused after countless surgeries—which likely have contributed to my subtle but sure improvement over the course of the day.

& tomorrow they are off to Seattle for a board meeting at UW. Terrifying & illuminating that such people are the ones to arbitrate & facilitate education at a highly reputable liberal arts school. How money can act as substitute for intellect, or compassion, or sense. How an ongoing annual contribution can in turn foster this delusion of righteousness. Like spitting on a beggar outside the shelter to which you recently wrote a check. A kind of offset credit purchased to patch a gap in conscience, or, better, consciousness itself. But then, to see the spiders in their weaving is just as well. I harbored for some time my own delusions, one among them that institutions of higher learning were able to operate under the auspices of their founding ideals. Business as usual, though, the de facto creed of universities too. But now I seem bent on general condemnations, & what good is that, I wonder.


Interesting transaction today with Dick, spurred by asking after being compensated for house-sitting, spurring him, in turn, to swear & piss & moan about it. Apparently, in spite of having a clear conversation resulting in the opposite expectation, he never had any intention of paying us for house-sits, thinking of them as another part of the job. Incensed that I would be so “confrontational” (a word not often reserved for me, I might add), he told me to tell him exactly how much I thought I was entitled to, god damn it, though he was loathe to give me anything. He said he too had an expectation & it was that I would work here for two years & now I’ve gone & fucked that all to hell (a quote). & then he started to leave the room, a pusillanimous bark with no good bite, & I halted him & told him to sit down & discuss the situation reasonably. & he did, though reason played a fairly negligible role in the conversation. All of our house-sits, combined & figured, will merit us a bonus of $90, though he prefers that we still pay our utilities for those periods of time, reducing our net profit to something like $46, if my math is right. I am amazed at how well they play their parts. I had him irate, in a huff, literally throwing expletives at me, simply because I asked when I would be compensated for work I had already done. At this late point, what to do but toss the hands up? I have no contract, nothing written. One more week, if I choose to stay it through. I can assure anyone that upon my exit, he will refer to me on every possible occasion of my mentioning as a crook; I’ve heard this about most everyone else he’s run out of here with his great sweeping broom of idiocy & smug condescension. & how many have left without notice. & how I’ve heard not a single word from anyone in his favor. & how one is made to feel guilt at asking after what is rightfully their own. & how now the hours count down to a final exit, a drive up & out of a lane that I will never look down again.

Monday, January 26, 2009

January 26

Put in my notice this morning, amicably, hemming & hawing where necessary but by no means making myself smaller for the process. It is a palpable shift, a weight unmoored—I can’t say entirely lifted, but in seachange, a buoy severed of its anchor. A quick work, possibility, how it rushes in to flood my thinking, to color it new. Where I wore this decision as heft & hindrance yesterday today I see it open unto that nameless world I knew upon arriving here. A place entirely other. A place for which I had no vocabulary, simply because I had no expectation. The good news here is that Orcas & this particular situation have managed to retain their respective identities. This has ruined nothing larger for me, only caused me to bend & bow. But we bend back, don’t we. & so. The novelty in this I can greet either by biting my nails or by jutting my hands in my pockets & whistling, so to speak. Stress or let it unfold. I wonder how heavy my hand is in the making of this particular narrative. How I watch myself do so much. But then, at least I know now what I will not be watching.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

January 25

Sitting at the kitchen table upstairs, no lights on to impede the coming dark, stammering through edits to my inchoate dissertation when of a sudden they arrived home in a cloud of cologne & sickly perfume. These scents always conjure nausea in me, an allergy since I can remember. No phone call. They wanted to visit with me (intermittently, while I unpacked their car), to expound on the details of their marvelous celebration, but I deferred, claiming to be in the middle of important writing, the momentum of which was in motion & my attention to which was critical. She kept trying to give me things from their trip to Costco: a loaf of bread, a five pound bag of coffee, a papaya the size of a small child. I will give them back, each & all, in the morning. She kept wanting to tell me that her granddaughter played piano, that she saw her dearest friend from junior high, that her daughter fought through the pain of a torn ligament in her knee obtained the day prior at Whistler. I want none of these details. A landscape unpeopled with such figments. A foundation free of mites & rot & caustic erosion. A firm ground.

These lessons pour over me, thick & heavy & unrelenting. A hand stretched from an awning in a hailstorm. Or an umbrella pelted through & torn. These have been my choices & I have made this bed. But from it, to arise & to go & to find a footing instead. God, for a lightness.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 24

Put my application in adjunct pools today. Ran in the waning cold, Willa stubborn against her leash. Spent the better part of the afternoon simply deliberating, weighing pros & cons, digging for perspective. & here I am, this new custom, packing before I’ve fully unpacked. Checked on submissions for creative works & found no updates, in some cases after four months of waiting, which I suppose is better than hearing nay within four weeks. Wrote Morning Star to prospect the option of staying in the goat shed or any other outlying building, if only for a brief time. This will all seem very little, I’m sure, once it is behind me, but for the time being every silence is pregnant with the clamor I ought to be making, every still moment an admonition against working towards change. The work of finding work, again, & so it goes. In the end, I’ve much yet to celebrate, much to look upon proudly.

Silence & stillness the hardest precepts to put to course right now, though the most necessary, I think. When I was thirteen, we moved from Iowa to Minnesota. My art teacher at Johnston, kindred & careful, no doubt, because of my brother before me, sent me along with a small list of encouragements. First upon it, scrawled in his boxy script in charcoal, “Quietness & commitment create.” I’ve hung that sheet upon my office wall every place I’ve lived. It is the yoking of the two together, I think, that is most difficult & most crucial—cleanly & wholly understanding their distinct objectives. Silence always generative, or the near-quiet, the filtered world inside or out, the muted click of a second hand, the air-ducts, the sighing of the dogs—or else the wind sung through leaves that you hear & don’t hear at once, the tail-end of the finches in their excitations, or the distant thudding of the pileated woodpecker upon the bough. Silence never silent, always a panoply of unregistered noise. & commitment the same, the leaf held up to the blue beyond, through which you see the sun. You believe it into a gestalt unity, allow your faith to patch the interstices, the network of small tears in the veinwork & the stem, to letter it out l-e-a-f & call it so & not some other thing, not some mere insinuation of the thing itself. & so quiet & commitment are the obscure endeavors of a faith that you are--& are capable of—a working-towards. Chin up, I’m told, eyes on the horizon, that figured distance which in its focus lets the foreground blur. & so it does, no matter how careful our tending. But that, too, is a faith & a forging. My chin is up.

Friday, January 23, 2009

January 23

House-sitting, while they weekend in Seattle in tuxedo & gown. Even alone in this house, I feel ghosted, tarnished, the way a coating film malingers in your mouth, a stain upon your fingertips stains still after each wash. I expected their absence would prove some compensation for enduring their presence, but instead, access to their liquor cabinet aside, there is no reward here. & so. Where to go. Perhaps I’ve let my gaze dote upon detail, settle too long upon those small outcroppings of wonder I have found here, & in so doing, somehow I find myself in this odd position, wondering very simply where we ought to go. Orcas. Austin. Maine. Canada. Alaska. Priorities demand some cultivation, some constant care. & here I aim to write the dissertation, though suffocated in the gaping space of this house, it becomes more difficult, their thumps above, the woofer of their ceaseless television just above my room, seeping Fox news down, some horrid toxin. I am up against myself, again. Excuses or actualities, indolence or reason, & finally pride or sensibility. Where to write this looming thing. It will not be here. The options look a bit like this: move out of this particular situation but stay on Orcas until its completion; move out of this mansion & immediately seek employ elsewhere in the country; simply & immediately move somewhere else that might afford us both a better chance at happiness. The question becomes when do we leave Orcas, now or further along in the year? Well, it becomes a labyrinth, & the aforementioned access to free liquor does little to help my navigation tonight. Until morning, then.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January 20

This morning I sat through the inauguration upstairs, the bosses smug in their pajamas, barking at the television, slurring ejaculates firing out of their fat lips. What a thing to witness. I live among Palin supporters, old guard Republicans who extol Christian virtue out one side of their mouth while spitting vitriol always out the other. Obama a terrorist, Obama not even a citizen, the “negro situation,” the elegance of Laura Bush, the accolades due her husband. I left the room after a comment about how blacks might finally get their acts together, went to pull weeds from the superfluous garden of these superfluous people, to tend to shoots & weeds & improve their lives even as they go about the deleterious business of condemning everyone else’s. At 11:30, I rose from weeding, nauseous with the morning, with what I was doing. I came in & packed for an hour, ate & went back to work. The neighbor stopped over in the afternoon to join the chorus & pitch polemics at blacks, Jews, women & “liberals,” that last of which, apparently, each & all share the same incessant need to feel entitled to hand-outs that he himself is forced to provide. These people. Tireless onanists.

I will work out the week & be done with it. Have your opinions, but hold them close at bay. This kind of quiet, jingoistic tirade is born of an attitude of superiority founded solely on wealth, predicated on what can only aptly be called blatant stupidity or vicious idiocy. These people make Palin seem like a Rhodes Scholar versed in ethics & full of compassion. I realized today very clearly that I will only find myself smaller & smaller if I stay on here, that my daily toil will actually, in its small way, be a hindrance to the world. That dreaming will itself diminish, joy grow specter-thin, any fire in me lull into a seething ember. I will come to despise myself, too, if I tolerate this life because I think I must. I cannot.

It is not the politics at all, though they provide a framing. The priorities of these people had confounded me well past the point of patience before today. The last one to work this job lasted six years, a sad, tired, dim-witted man who finally one day disappeared without notice, fed up. They spit on his memory. What took him six years has taken me less than two months. Continue to work for despicable people & you begin to wonder at yourself. No righteous indignation, no smoldering pride, no sense that I have been unjustly treated—only that I know what will work for me & what will not. I have learned that well, over & again.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

January 18

Living out this version of life has been a constant preoccupation of late—examining which parts of it I would tail along behind me in leaving, a drawn wake, & which parts I would sever sooner than later. Living & working in this same secluded place for this same particular breed of secluded people has already run its course. One minute I dodge xenophobic tirades, the next I am utterly ignored if I happen into the same room when the neighbor comes round for coffee. Thursday afternoon Judy had a blood pressure spike, I learned later, & an ambulance came & they followed it a half an hour later to the hospital in town without a word of parting, walking by me as I stood aside without any explanation. I got a call later presuming that I would be present to care for house & dog for dinner, after which I didn’t hear a word. Until ten the next morning, when they nonchalantly arrived home & set me to pruning salal. One silence might be accounted for by the absence of the next, but not so. I weigh my options, & find the weighing quick.

I have spent a good deal of time in the woods again over the weekend, the sun dappling the sitkas & Douglas firs, the pine-needled soil damp & given to suctioning puddles of thick mud & brown water underfoot. When I am away from here, away from Deer Point, I recall the spark this island gave off in our first month & find it resurrected, its current thrumming still, a fine & ample filament. I remember myself unfettered by the insidious, foreign pulls of being a servant. I know it is pride, that gall rising to my throat. But then I am proud enough. & I am not one to expect anything of the world, to feel the compulsion to outstretch a hand & wear a blacker countenance if I pull it back empty. I am owed nothing. But I will take respect when I have earned it, & its continued absence here has me closer to certain curtains, plotting an alternative. We are, last we spoke, welcome back at Morning Star, & I have an interview this week for another position. I have reasoned that it makes more sense to stay on Orcas & patch together our living until one of us finds a career-oriented position to pursue (though we toy with the idea of ditching it altogether, striking out for Maine). That urge towards stability, though, towards responsibility for ourselves & our futures has arisen strikingly & with a great deal of urgency. Perhaps we’ve done enough of this, between the two of us, our ceaseless roaming, our anchorless ship. I feel the wiser for having lived it & learned its lessons, but I feel ready to get along with my life. The places I have traveled. What beauty & what marvel & what strife & what light we come upon we carry already within.

& so I become a discriminating Orcas resident. I have felt a consistent aching along my back & into my neck of late; I am one to think the body in its metaphors & know I’ve not stood firm or tall enough always. We let ourselves grow little, I think, if we are not careful, if we don’t have people to help us realize it. What I am doing here does no good, & I have come to understand that serving a function beyond myself is a necessary component of my ongoing felicity. & so. Soon I’ll say goodbye Rosario Strait & until we meet again sprawling regenerate field of salal & I’ll remember why it was we moved here in the first. Until then, I inch closer.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

January 15

Received my copy of the Denver Quarterly in the mail today, with my review of DBQ’s book from two years ago. Always prompt. Looking it over, it’s difficult to refrain from wincing. I wonder if I will always judge my own work so harshly, find it needlessly verbose at times, transparently fixated at others. The one thing I would surely not change would be the note of praise for a spellbinding work.

I have decided, sitting here, recollecting a few Wyath sketches, piecing together my own day spent again in the salal pruning, Willa on constant vigil about me, that there is perhaps no greater peace than watching a dog sleep. The stretches, the flexing paws, the sighs. When any tempest abides, there is quick salve here, in simple witness.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

January 13

I seem a bit inclined to render these little entries in a distinctly didactic tone, & were I surer of an audience I would feel almost compelled to make formal apology, but as it stands, that tone serves a very distinct purpose. For as little as I know, for as much as I tremble before the world, or in contradistinction for how capable I feel myself becoming of gripping it & clawing it to me, I am the better for composting my experiences into a kind of schoolbook for my own future. I am learning this new language, its tongue some foreign thing I puzzle together as I go, its syllabary a scatter-shot of raw material. I wend & weft, I yoke together, & I render this specious account in order to make sense of it as it comes & fades again, in order that I might gain from it something beyond an ineffable hum within or an occasional memory that I can conjure at my leisure down the line. A record, then, for my senses, for my mind, a thing with which to wrestle. How the salal swallows you whole, its roots almost rthizomatic in their creeping. How the salt lingers on your fingertips after skipping smooth grey stones across the bay. The muting of each footfall with damp pine-needle & rotting bristle-cone. An air wet to the breath. & be damned if it strikes a sophomoric note if there is resonance. I am old enough now to know how to cherish memory, even as it issues into my heart & mind from my present, a fog pulled from a grove, a ghost pulled from a body, its breath yet warm. & there are times in life when the simplest of details beg the world of you, break your heart, conjure every joy or every sadness you’ve ever known. A fine red bark curling off the madrona or the way the lake can chameleon white under the mist, the black leaves tired upon its quiet shore. Or a bird, any bird, isolated in flight. A grace to take it in.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

January 10

I have felt a breed of indolence creeping about within me, my quiet fire subdued the last few weeks. Weathering the holidays was no simple chore; the island saw record snowfall & an enduring cold snap. Back & forth between two homes, tending to the farm & the garden, trying to hold our feet firm on the floor. & now it is rain that falls, relentless, wind-thrashed across the point. The swells come from all sides, tide-low, cresting ever in swales, a kind of energy to the water that sends a formidable warning. There are times I look across at Blakely or Guermes & think of the crossing enthusiastically, the dip of the oars in the water, the supple play of current. Then there are times when I see the buoy stationed at ten feet deep off the pebbled beach, whipping & yanking violently in a series of contortions that gives a shudder, a sort of exaggerated pantomime of struggle.

Patient moments, moments of sudden panic, toil & wonder, abiding joy & a slow pensive saturnalia. What this island makes us do, our quiet hours all before us bare & just so. One does not, can not avoid one’s life in a place like this, tucked down at the bottom of a forest of fir, ocean on two sides, thick copses on the others. & I think this is the point of it, in the end, that just as the novelty of our lives here lent us a kind of shock of the new, a child’s capacity for simple awe, our quotidian lives demand the same scrutiny & the same care, even if that ongoing act of autotelic taxonomy isn’t always ready to greet us with easy meaning. It’s difficult in one regard & entirely easy in another—but its difficulty is yet generative, & that is what I welcome. I have found that eschewing personal resourcefulness in the face of plain dailiness is half of the problem for me. It is so incredibly easy to lose accountability, to embrace distraction rather than fumbling with a present rich with fallow meaning. I have not answered my days, & for that I will need to make amends.

But even as we encounter & wade through the difficult, there remains blessing in the gentle breeze. Stef found work with a classical music label by the ferry landing. We continue to meet people slowly & encourage the friendships we’ve already established. We are able, now, to build a foundation from which we can take a better measure of the place, gauge the likelihood of our staying even through summer. We have worked with no small tenacity to position ourselves where we have in terms of our careers; perhaps our coming here was reckless with regards to that work. I think, though, a lesson in balance, in priorities, in values was our primary target, without our knowing it. Our perspectives, our sieves, our compasses retooled.

& so I go about my tasks. Trim back the plum tree. Ditch the geraniums taken by the cold. Service the tractor engine. Put a new chain on the saw. Trench out a drain for the shed. & in between, I go about my lessons. Watch the eagles in their unwavering hunt. Regard the tortured, skeletal boughs of the locust grove spare against the sunset. Note the tide.

I am slowly enriched this way.

Friday, January 9, 2009

January 7

Some time since I've made a point of pausing. After the snow, a relentless rain from which we are only now beginning to break, the muted intimation of sun slung low past all seeing, something felt. I feel brow beaten, some dark hand tamping us down that finally is giving. Had I been productive with my time, I'd feel better about it, but as it stands, I slip into an easy sloth each evening, a habit I'll need to break.

& Orcas, this peculiar place. This peculiar version of my life. This peculiar job I have. I am interested, daily, to watch the motions of my living, to see which implements I employ & in what regard, what small dreams flood my mind when idle or what excitations spur it into activity. Odd to blend this quiet hushed existence with its capacity for wonder, but here I am, & there the ocean, & there the islands tossed across it, turtlebacks obsidian-black in a distance.