This ancient arch is the first phrase. It’s the entrance. The god of creation has set the inscription and broken the seal. The beginning is where we stand, looking at the cement beneath us, up to the limestone walls upon which the arch rests. I have come to this place to be changed. I will draw it out. He entered. Black marble and darkness. There were big spiraling staircases he couldn’t see, one far to his right curving up away from him, and one to his left curving down. The tense rock made a slow and heavy throbbing. Life and Death had withdrawn behind walls, and they watched him. He stood alone unable to see. Black marble and stillness. It was cold, and out of the darkness before him was a huge wall of stone. Gods don’t hold their breath. There were stars. I opened my eyes and it was all the same. Just emptiness, big and hard. Looking up, I saw a star, and the star was black. Black mountains and thunderstorms, the colors of darkness. He stood watching the pulsating star. It paused, and from the wall before him came a great explosion, concussion. He was squashed, blue and bleeding, against a limestone wall. It was warm. There was nothing for a long time. I opened my eyes. There was no sky. The cavern reached deep around stone fingers and back to a great and distant throne upon which she sat. She sat high and proud. There were harsh brown mountains and a river glimpsed in the green folds of the mountains’ dress, framed by the drapes of her throne. She wore jewels, and her gray eyes sparkled. I arose. She disappeared. Only limestone formations remained, stalactities and stalagmites in the cavern. A waterfall’s music rested in the distance beyond the stony fingers of the cavern’s silence. I walked and I climbed towards the sound of the waterfall. After several hours, I was close enough to feel the mist that the wind blew from the cascading water. It was a mile high. A blue sky sparkled brightly in its jeweled dance, alive, falling excited into an ocean churning a half mile below me on the top of the cliff. I saw a small stone. Everything was quiet. A brown stone, formed veined in a volcanic ocean, smoothed round in the grit of ancient rivers, and bathed for centuries in the light and darkness on the edge of the cliff. I stooped over and picked it up. It grew heavy, burning my hand. Something broke. He fell off the edge. The waterfall stopped. There was a big splash. The diver surfaced at the other end of the chlorine pool. Everything was foggy. The man rooled out of bed at 6, tring to remember his dreams. Detail images of the larger pattern flashed before him, elusive to the concept of the whole. Sitting, shivering, on his bed, he rubbed his eyes, frowned (butterflies in the wind), and gave up the struggle, his feet cold on the floor. He washed and dressed, and he stood in the kitchen, forcing thoughts of food through empty dry nerves. Poached eggs and coffee. In his stomach, nonsense bubbled foul gas that made him burp. A hardboiled egg, without its shell, rolls on a bathroom floor. Gray tongues impel red-blood darkness, as water from wells, down fleshy and ribbed tracheas. And I imagine red tongues of light dancing into a cool refrigerator, and the door slamming shut. Ah, Shit! To look at the clock. He’d be late for the bus. He put on shoes and a jacket and dashed out, the door slamming behind him. He discovered it was raining. He paused, and then he ran, his slick-sole shoes splashing alone in the rain the block to the bus stop. The bus wasn’t there, only stillness and the rain. He swallowed cool air, easing by force his heavy breathing. The bus wasn’t there. He was alone. The rain was heavy and splashing, shining dully wet with the morning light on the street. It was quiet, only the sound of the rain showering on the fallen rain. “It’s time for the bus,” he thought. “Maybe the bus won’t come.” Looking at his watch, it was 7:03. He waited, pacing within the small shelter. It was 7:07. The bus should have come by then. He became aware of his beating heart. “Maybe I’m too late. Maybe it came early and I missed it. Maybe it wouldn’t start or it slid off the road and got a flat. Maybe the drivers went on strike. Maybe it was struck by lightning.” He looked up fearful over his shoulder. “I’ll be late to work. I’ll have to call them. I could call a cab.” But then he realized, “Shit, but I’m wet. I can’t work if I’m wet. Who’ll do my job? What will the boss say? What have I got to lose?” Silence. “God damn,” he said. He frowns, tightening his face, and makes a tense fist. His eyes water. He hits the wooden wall of the shelter with his hand. His tension dissolves. He swears inaudibly. It continues to rain. Everything becomes quiet. He stands in solitude, thinking. Water runs in gutters. He stands wet and proud against the grayness of the falling water as a house shut up against the cold. There’s nobody home, anywhere, for him. A tear, excused as a drop of rain, slides slowly down his cheek. God. The thought is fresh as the rain water, splashing on the sidewalk. The warmth is from the inside. The leather of his shoes stain his wet socks, damp toes wiggling. His pants cling heavily to his thighs. The northwest breeze chills him in wet gusts through the boards. The air is the smell of rubber tires and iron, the smell of wet trees, soaking in the rain. Cars pass on the way into the city, splashing rain water rivering to a distant ocean. I’m talking to myself, this poem. He takes delight in every drop, as the night’s open sky has stars. I don’t care that I’m wet and cold. I’ve always been wet and lonely. I’m not special. There always was a question of happiness. Whe should warmth fall before my smile? On the outside, it’s easy to see this is what he wants, how he feels fresh and clean, where dry is dusty, how pain gives rivers to wash away the dirt. If someone were to come to wait with him for the bus, and they were standing in the rain, he’d smile and wipe the water from his face, and if one had an umbrella, he’d rather stand in the rain. No one understands. Things evaporate. She said, “Well, what do you want to talk about?” The man mumbled inside himself. His feelings didn’t have a name. He said, “You. I don’t know.” Childlike, his words were short nubs awkward. He said, “You have a reason, don’t you?” She was soft, but he couldn’t help imagining her laughing inside. She said she didn’t want to talk about it that way. It all revolves, condenses, and sparkles dully in the weakening street light, in a drop suspended on a hair hanging before his forehead. With an eye, he watches it fall, and it disappears as he mutters “Damn it.” He shifts his weight to his right leg. The rain drifts down, swaying in the wind. It splashes on the street. His mind wanders. They were walking. He said, “We need stories to help us understand.” He said, “You have to realize the difficulty there is in not knowing you.” She didn’t know what to do. They walked on. “The poem is first. The poem is my sensitivity; it’s my weakness. I take off all my clothes, a stranger, and ask you to touch me. I ask you to understand.” He paused, and looked at her, wrinkling her brow for the question that wouldn’t be made verbal. He said, “I want you to be lonely and need someone. I want to make you happy, or at least make you curious, so that you’ll wait for the stories that we’ll make together. I don’t want you to turn away. I don’t want to be hurt. But I don’t want you to talk to me because you pity me, and I can’t expect you to need me.” She said, “It’s not like that.” He turned to her and stopped walking “Then I don’t know, except that it’s hard, because the poem is every breath I breathe,” he said. “I’m hungry and the soup is thin,” he said. “I try to be strong.” He sees the rain. Frustrated, he shakes his head. Memories fall and get wet. I don’t know why the image held in my mind of clouds, white in the sky, filled with tears, and why they’re crying this morning, of all mornings. I don’t know whether innocence is the absence of sense, whether I look like a rock, standing here, whether concrete is significant in this, and whether beach pebbles break the ocean wave or the wave is that breaking. Do I need to worry about consequences? I ask myself. But the other day, Jack had a knife. A knife? Who cares? Stolen from a drawer, or a pocket knife, it was a knife that was sharp, and he stood there with it. I don’t know why. Because of something that was said. Shocked, I didn’t know what to do. I mocked him, “Why the knife? Shit. You’re not going to cut anything.” He was already mad. He shook inside. I broke a moment over his tension and took the knife from him. I forced him to a chair. My numbness passed in a surge, and I hated him. I hated him, and suppressed my lunch, sweating coldly. He crouched his knees up to his chest in the chair and whimpered. I sat on the couch. I knew he was crying. Who had the real knife? I thought. He didn’t have the knife, because he needed that metal thing, and couldn’t use it. Words can’t be traced, I thought. They’re colorless and odorless, and no one can move out of their way. I didn’t see it. It passed quickly. But what could be done? I promised myself that it wouldn’t happen again. “I’m sorry,” I said aloud to him. No answer came through his tears. What’s the significance of marble? Who can be the wave, breaking, and still see what he’s doing to the beach? Stones are made round, and tears become the object, because the words vibrate a moment to disappear forever. The water explodes on the other side of the rock, splashing high to fall back into the ocean. The car drives on, oblivious of puddles and fear. The man takes off his glasses and wipes them with a damp tissue. “What does that say about concrete, and why I’m waiting in the cold?” he asks aloud the building across the street. “Damn fatigue and blue walls in the morning. Damn questions, such irritants blown about as dust in the air I breathe. Damn laughter. Damn emptiness. Damn nonsense. Damn darkness and damn the breaths of mountains. Damn silence and hardness. Damn windows and knives. Damn loneliness and damn rivers. Damn hunger and nakedness. Damn bricks and dead trees. Damn anger. Damn laws and war. Damn hatred and damn fear. Damn ignorance and damn solitude. Damn isolation. Damn isolation. Damn solitude and isolation. Damn the pain. Why does it hurt? It hurts,” he says, that it can be said at all, would amaze stone, he laughs, built stronger by that. We build piers of concrete. The weather threatens, so we build concrete walls. He stiffened his jaw before the northwest wind. The water was blown in gusts against the boards, and thought of walking all the way to work. “In the rain?” he asks himself. “Be serious. It’s too far away.” Cars pass. “This is all inside of us. We are all guilty,” he mutters, making his progression easier by honoring the darkness that moved a moment behind the flicker of the street light, almost going out for the night. The ocean edge draws back and pushes itself on the beach. He walks alone, his frown against the waves. The image zooms distant, gathering the ocean, the beach, and the sky. He walks alone and very small. A sea gull rises and flies away, calling before the rising sun. Say we never really know. Darkness doesn’t sleep or dream. It’s inside of us. We walk through dripping solids swirling hidden in the night. Midnight insomnia breeds morning weakness. Rivers of blood flow black to their source. I listen. Darkness swells and forms. I hear crying, and voices. It lingers. I put a big light before the door of my house. If we could listen to ourselves as to a seashell, what would we hear? And would we call it the ocean? Would we call it the rain? The dark wood of the shelter’s open end frames the cool gray picture of the road. I closed my eyes. His knees collapsed, setting him on the bench, leaning his shoulder against the wet wall, breathing quietly. I felt the darkness there, throbbing red through my eyelids. Somewhere within that was the meaure of my solitude, my being. He slowly opened his eyes. The rain danced frantically before him. Cars and noisy trucks drove by faster, closer together, driving parallel paths through the puddled street, splashing the water in the air, liquid fingers grabbing themselves to fall futilely onto the asphalt. Water churned down gutters to whirlpool over drains, every surface dotted with splashes and rings. It filled the air and poured off roofs in the wind, crashing in the cold. He stood. His eyes watered. There was no question of waiting, or going away. He had committed himself, opened the door, before he saw the rain. He ran here, fell in, before he saw the opening from which this rain is falling. He began to walk. She had said it would hurt, being alone. She said she didn’t want to hold his hand. She had her own life. He couldn’t cry. It hurt too hard. Drenched, the water on his skin began to warm. He told himself he needed to be alone. He must need it. Why else would he have followed her? Why did he run so hard? He knew he couldn’t really fly, but if he was happy he could dance, and get high that way. His shoes were heavy with water. Emotions surfaced and gasped for air. I’m tired. Suffocating worms come out of the mud and some are squashed on the road. Rain patterns drops on a million windows. He walked slowly, strong. She said she didn’t understand him, but that it was good that someone did. He wondered who she meant, and said sometimes he could understand, that he could see little pieces and sometimes felt that they went together. She was too busy to talk. He walked on. His friend told him it would be hard, and he said not to rush things, to be patient. Life is long. He’s old enough to ask the question. There was a clear sky, and some earth to hold. A demand. Metal edges smash instantly on the head. Steel scorched quickly through his crying flesh. It caught. He saw truth. He had something to do. He rolled heavily over in the mud, and cried. It was a long hot wait. Distance makes belief a question in the heart. Far away, the war goes on. Blue time turns brown, and rots. We eat meat. It burns. That was in ’69. I’ve tried to understand. Truth is hard, a stone. He’s old enough to try, said a voice. I never had to decide, I told my friend. It’s always been what must be, because that’s all I saw. It rained. I walked by houses, pastel colors in the rain. Sometimes I could see faces of children, looking out behind dark windows, and hear dogs barking. Leaves of frontyard trees dripped wet in the wind. The houses ended, and I saw there was a park. I stopped. A park with benches and grass. I wanted to go in. The trees crying leaves on the grass danced colors of green in the air, turbulent in the storm. Through the rain, I saw the wet clouds swirling in fierce currents. The ocean roared and the air was gray with froth of waves and clouds. Somewhere distant, a wooden shop was tossed sodden on the waves. Daffodils in the park drooped heavily bent in the wind. The wind came again and I was cold. I stood before the park unable to enter it. I choked. The air caught in my throat was hot and it made my eyes water. I turned away. I thought of the flicker that danced in me. Swallowing heavily, it hurt. The leaves were already turning brown on the grass. I thought of metaphors for the love I need. They all had shrunk away, shriveled up in my pain. I thought of impossible things: throwing an apple in a field, dancing alone, of someone overhearing me talking to myself and wanting to walk with me, of someone who would talk with me, of having something to give, of laughing and of forgetting water, the pain, the water in my mouth I swallowed, waiting for her, the water in my eyes, and forgetting water in motion, a rocky mountain stream, the water in the air that makes distance blue, the water my sweat is water, the water in clouds, tears, the rain, and God. I thought of impossible things. I thought of being happy sometimes. I thought of strength. She lay on the bed after setting him a chair before the door. He sat. She lowered her eyes and said it wasn’t his fault. It’s just the way it happened. She said she couldn’t know him. She said she was going away. She already had a man, and she said she wouldn’t call after him, as he walked away. It rained. There was no moral. Birds fly south. The man walked home.
12 November 1971