March 8, 2017
I came across it unawares,
Still, dark sides a footfall away,
Flattened in the summer grasses.
At first I believed it dead
And walked past, face averted.
But something about the form,
Like, yet unlike a rabbit
Took me back to gaze into
A yellow eye, wild yet wise,
Before she took flight.
And afterwards I imagined life
In all the dead things I chanced upon.
Things of flesh, and bone and shell.
(from Obsessed with Pipework)
February 26, 2017
A marble-coloured cloud
engulfed the sun and stalled,
a skinny squirrel limped toward me
as I crossed the empty park
and froze, the last
or next to last
fall leaf fell but before it touched
the earth, with shocking clarity
I heard my mother’s voice
pronounce my name. And in an instant I passed
beyond sorrow and terror, and was carried up
into the imageless
I came from
and am. Nobody’s
stronger than forgiveness.
February 10, 2017
It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing. What is most beautiful is least acknowledged. What is worth dying for is barely noticed.
We Are Called to Rise
January 15, 2017
Diary 15th January
Returned yesterday from a small soirée at Goodrington Sands. It is a dog owners paradise, and most of the population seemed to be engaged in walking their dogs along the beach or promenade.
We arrived there Friday lunchtime and had a boozy lunch followed by a long walk along the beach. The wind was bitterly cold.
S, almost in tears, fears her cat may die soon; it has been very ill, and she has spent a small fortune on vets bills – but, despite every test known to man, the vets are unable to determine exactly what is wrong with the animal. They are perplexed.
S is also concerned her father will not see out this year. Hopefully she is wrong on both counts!
More booze follows.
Twilight then night, with its brood of phantoms that walk the world as sentient things. Muttered “Hullo’s”. Glimpses of the strange, profound and baffling. Circling faces and disembodied voices.
A woman, mid-fifties(?), fleshy and flashy, tells me she has a complete school uniform at home: gym-slip, white socks and big sensible navy-blue knickers. ‘You should come see me in it,’ she says. ‘A weekday’s best for me. I even have a satchel containing crayons and drawing pad.’ She passes me a slip of paper on which is written a phone number and address. ‘I play an adorable little virgin, so innocent – you can corrupt and debauch me in whatever way you desire!’
Time passing. Grotesqueries of light and shadow. The people here are all affluent, bored, over-sexed – almost parodies of themselves. Women with strange secrets in their drowsy eyes. Men, faces flushed with lust, join in the never ending dance.
A woman’s face above me: shadowy eyes, a bright red mouth, and nostrils like dark wells. There are wrinkles at the edges of her mouth and her tongue seems huge inside my mouth. Her cheeks flush scarlet and her eyes glow like little lanterns when her climax engulfs her.
A man’s whispering, Mephistophelian voice at my ear. He offers his wife, a plump forty-something, who spreads her legs to my passionless gaze. He tells me in explicit, vivid detail what he would like to see me do to her.
I comply with each of his shocking instructions.
When she cums it is like a cataclysm.
And then, in another room, another much younger woman. Incredibly vivid. Incredibly flexible. Intense and demanding in each of her movements. The surging of blood to her face, lost in pure physical sensation, and the tingling of nerve endings. The quickening of her breath and spastic motion of hip and thigh…
Finally to bed like an impotent old giant.
Unfortunately, I sleep badly. Doze and wake disoriented in my strange surroundings. Dee snoring gently beside me.
As if to reinforce the surreal experiences of the preceding evening, I watch the breakfast news on BBC. A doctor in an A&E department explains to the camera that he has no beds available. No trolleys left, either. Ambulances are backed up on the A&E ramp outside. The patients cannot be removed from the ambulances, there is nowhere to put them. Consequently, the ambulances are unable to respond to any further calls for assistance.
It’s a mess!
Then, amazingly, the Queen of Brobdingnag, Terresa Maybe appears on screen in a different report. The problems, she explains, the NHS is currently experiencing is due in part to GPs not working evenings or weekends!
Luggnagg meets Brobdingnag.
I think I shall relocate to the land of the Houyhnhnms. It’s feckin’ safer.
After breakfast we say our goodbyes to S and her man. Drive then into Brixham. Dee wants to see the place again, a nostalgia trip. She’d last visited in her teens with AN, a girls only camping holiday…very Sapphic, I’m sure (only kidding girls).
Dee tells of the transvestite artist they met there beside the harbour. An older guy. Diabetic, with an ulcerated leg. He invited them both back to his ‘artist’s garret’ to show them his collection of clothes. He asked the girls to try them on, which they did. He sketched away like mad as they shamelessly stripped and dressed in his offered finery. An intimate, almost immemorially pagan scene.
Then he asked AN if he could try on the top she’d been wearing. She agreed, but the top was far too small and his attempts ended in seem-stretching failure.
He explained his leg was ‘killing’ him and had to sit down. AN, very kindly, changed the dressing on his leg for him…
Dee and I sat outside a café in bright sunshine. The weather was totally different from yesterday’s. We’d left Cornwall in snow flurries. And now, sitting looking out across the harbour, I could feel the sun burning my face!
Dee said, ‘What a glorious sunshiny day! We’ve been so lucky.’
Finally, we drove home. I felt very second-hand to be honest. Slightly hungover and jaded. Cooking a meal last night for Dee and L, I was really running on empty. I managed a glass of wine, for myself, followed by a large brandy, but no food. I went to bed at eight-thirty and fell immediately fast asleep.
Uneasy dreams followed. They always do. Gigantic shadows of men and women entwining. Faces glowing scarlet-red with excitement. Ephemeral rooms, scattered with cushions. Laughter, gently mocking. Becoming harsher –
Then waking, thankfully, to this sombre dawn.
A new day begins –
December 5, 2016
The guy with the beautiful waist-length Byronic hair
stands braced in black fish-nets, silver tutu, and high heels
playing his violin without a trace of irony
at the entrance of 24th and Mission
where I’m elbowing through the suits and prostitutes
to get on the 5:13 to Richmond.
Ruby music spills like the blood I’ve been carrying in test-tubes all day,
sweet as raisins and almonds at a Jewish wedding.
That, too, is a reason to live
even when the long tunnel feels endless
and the months stretch out between real kisses.
All of us commuters read so we don’t have to feel
tons of dark water, pressing down on us,
and the steel-lace bridge arcing impossible miles above,
carrying a million cars, a million tiny drivers
like a battalion of sperm aimed at the ovum of evening,
slivers of sun shooting into their tired eyes,
making them wince with beauty. Music is the day’s blood,
it weaves under and over the roar of the train,
the way thought plays its sweet percussion in our wrists and throats
even while we sit so quietly, we can hear the small sounds our hearts make
when they have finished breaking themselves
against the rock of the impossible and the beautiful.
Mother-in-law, musician, friend – you know how hard I tried
to make a bridge, to make a tunnel
between one man and one woman
or between the human and divine in both of us,
between spirit and animal. That I failed is beside the point.
Now I struggle to make the daily trek
between Oakland and the Mission,
and I’m ferried along, I’m even helped
by these currents of invisible music
and the humans who strive in the city – when I turn
to find something beautiful, it is always at my side.
Greed is also a saving grace. I still
want more, you know; another love, another
go-round, and in the meantime more
light, more freedom,
more music that gives the feeling of flying
November 29, 2016
Once I said I didn’t have a spiritual bone
in my body and meant by that
I didn’t want to think of death,
as though any bone in us
could escape it. Maybe
I was afraid of what I couldn’t know
for certain, a thud like the slamming
of a coffin lid, as final and inexplicable
as that. What was the soul anyway,
I wondered, but a homonym for loneliness?
Now, in late middle age, or more, I like to imagine it,
the spirit, the soul bone, as though it were hidden
somewhere inside my body, white as a tooth
that falls from a child’s mouth, a dove,
the cloud it can fly through. Like bones,
it persists. Little knot of self, stubborn
as wildflowers in a Chilmark field in autumn,
the white ones they call boneset, for healing,
or the others, pearly everlasting.
The rabbis of the Midrash believed in the bone
and called it the luz, just like the Spanish word
for light, the size of a chickpea or an almond,
depending on which rabbi was telling the story,
found, they said, at the top of the spine or the base,
depending. No one’s ever seen it, of course,
but sometimes at night I imagine I can feel it,
shining its light through my body, the bone
luminous, glowing in the dark. Sometimes,
if you listen, you might even hear that light
deep inside me, humming its brave little song.
November 16, 2016
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labour is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.
Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte (Trees: Reflections and poems)
October 19, 2016
The unknown whispered a name
before she died.
I never knew her own,
only that counter name she whispered.
As the lamp post springs on golden
in the evening, without a hand,
so she died, fluttering a sound
in the plucking movement of her lips.
So I looked for her, didn’t I,
in the fishmonger,
among the pink sprats and the white plaice,
among the skates and the veined mullets.
Not a pale hand to see, wrinkled and veined.
Next, in the chain book-stores,
in Poetry, Geography, Gender Studies,
New Age, Religion, History,
not a hand to see, wrinkled and turning a page.
Down the Dress Lust Street, among skirts
this long, that short, on the knee, off the knee,
where daughters were carefully horsing about
in little business suits with velvet lapels
but not a pale hand among the gloves, no.
In the telly audio video store, all to go,
a sale, and computers dancing on my toes
like mad little men, green men
far from the wood, far from the meadow,
to go but not a hand
pale and veined, old as the same water
that quivers into a million passing waves.
retreading itself on the one deep spot
on the globe’s surface –
that’s her, the unknown, she’s the unknown.
Fate struck me.
I turned into a bollard,
I was trapped between wolves,
hyenas, furious cocks and frenzied hogs
fouling my face, hands, legs,
through snouts flopping way out
between their back legs.
Trumpeting characteristic snarls,
they ran forward on both my ribs.
In that circus she could have survived
only as an accident, the ghost
of some butchered instant,
the mash of our present time.
Still my bones,
though now the bones of a traffic bollard,
clattered: She’s strong.
Then though I was sophisticated,
made of metal,
I still craved to embrace the ghost of translucence,
the dead woman beyond the one wave gleaming
and the one path that leads
through the wood to the one wave, gleaming.
See there the pink sprats and the plaice,
the veined mullet and the roan skate
and beyond this slab a storefront
of seals harbouring their breasts
on the meadows of rocks.
She hangs in the air
like a wisp of hay on a park railing.
She spoke to me confidentially
one night, and to my grief,
(annoyed by her false tone),
I couldn’t respond; yet
how was it false,
it was hers and I couldn’t respond.
I couldn’t respond or relate.
May I stand here with my tongue cut out
forever, embraced by hogs and wolves,
‘Come, darling,’ she said.
It was the sound
she fluttered on her dying lips,
husband or wife, daughter or son,
word for a lover, kin, mate,
beloved and sweetly loved child
wistfully cried for. ‘Come, darling!’
Darling, from your one country,
wave to me from your wave
that one second the golden moon clicks on
in the street evening without a hand,
pale, wrinkled, veined, passing.
Waving, she utters me.
October 14, 2016
September 27, 2016
The morning’s pages are stained
with sugar, flakes of skin,
the very breath of the stars.
A ghost dressed in dust and grasses
in slow motion
There is that chiming.
A fall of hair,
golden ashes of pure thought.
The crickets are fainter, there.
I imagine a rose of glory,
a suicide’s note,
just past dawn on a Sunday.
Cold dew, silence.
The muses are everywhere,
I hear voices
where there are none
yet dark words are spoken
between these streets
and the moon of memory.
Already I want wine, another poem, sleep.
I want the word cusp made grey porcelain.
I am ready for November, sleet, eternity.
I sip the mist,
crush peaches and steep them in cinnamon.
I can hear a distant wren, a rill.
Last night, the katydid songs were so huge,
I thought I was a dream in a folktale.
Today, a white breath chills my heart.
Shadows and ghosts swallow the world,
bells start ringing,
a blue light settles on the page.
Fallen like webs over the red grasses,
words drip like dew
from night’s black tendrils.
And poetry, that dead angel,
sleeps next to me
Thoughts of red satin.
Whitegold of insect music.
Stillness of ducks on the river.
At first coffee
these oracles and silences
of rooms within rooms
from all the kitchen years.
are but shadows that come and go,
like clouds, like clouds, like clouds.
Time of the crickets.
Velvet fantasies of the afternoon.
I faint for awhile into the tiny sounds
of birds, gravel shifting, leaves touching,
hoping this is how soft and sweet
death will be.
Red ink is everywhere.
The sumac is before me,
the pokeberries, a thousand years
of ironweed. I see the clouds
reaching for September,
I think again of the vodka in the closet.
There are some days now
like slow flowers in a slow breeze,
the world edged in soft-focus lace,
clouds of drunken butterflies dancing,
time itself turning clear violet
in the winecups of our dreams.
In my head, I fling my arms high,
into the sky, the cold grace, the future.
Gravity and surface tension remain,
like old friends from Earth.
I crave the heady wines of deep autumn,
the gold and red trees floating in the mist.
My head is filled with freight trains.
The unbearable beauty of the stars drives me mad.
I return inside to lamps, thoughts of red pears,
these words that disappear as I write them.
Ivy in moonlight, her limbs,
tendrils of sugar,
A whispering pinkness
on my green bones
like a mermaid’s gills, a breeze at midnight,
the sound of Rapunzel’s hair falling.
These white morning glories
are still wet
with a mystic dew
I look deep into them
how deep can whiteness be?
I am dizzy like a boy
seeing breasts not his mother’s
for the first time
falling and falling
into that bath
of milk and cleavage
All day long an insect cries
outside my window
Sparrows with wings of dust
dart past into the shadows
The light is a strong wine
on these aging eyes
I write in gold powder
and quickly blow it away
Another empty day to fill with poems
I dream of water and persimmons
The taste of iron and whiskey permeates everything
G. Sutton Breiding