Homing, inshore, from far off-soundings.
Night coming on. Sails barely full.
in its dying, too light to lift us against
the long ebb.
My two fingers, light
on the tiller, try to believe I feel
the turned tide.
Hard to tell. Maybe,
as new currents pressure the rudder,
I come to sense
the keel beginning
to shape the flow of the sea. Deep
and aloft, it’s close
No stars yet. Only the risen nightwind,
as we tack into its warmth,
we’ll make our homeport. Strange,
angling into the dark,
how a mainsail’s camber reflects
the arc of the keel,
reversing whenever we tack.
You call from below,
hand up coffee,
check the glow of the compass, and
raise an eye to Arcturus,
beginning to shine. All over again,
all over, our old bodies
the old mysteries: the long night
still to go, small bow-waves
a little nachtmusik; stars beyond stars
flooding our inmost eyes.
now, come out of the dark,
deeply sounding our own.
~ Philip Booth
At a place called Earth Sanctuary on Whidbey Island. It’s a privately owned nature reserve and retreat center “dedicated to healing nature and the human spirit.” The owner is practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism. Strangely enough — or perhaps not? — this place is weirdly peaceful.
That’s what summer was like. Don’t you remember?
Suddenly, all those empty hours. You woke into nothing much — no dread of the coming school day, no pell-mell scramble to get ready to leave the house. Instead, chirping of birds and intimation of cool air. Your mother downstairs on the phone: obscure words, silence, more words. Where did you need to be? Nowhere. What should you be doing? Nothing. And for the moment, at least, who were you, really? No one, if being someone meant that you couldn’t lie on your side staring at the wall, loose-limbed, your thoughts skimming. From that last dream you’d had, in which you’d stopped running and finally turned to face the horror behind you, only to have it fade and vanish. To that girl whose crooked smile laid you bare, whose glinty eyes made you ache. To the places you might wander later that day, with never a thought the entire time for anyone who might be wondering what you were doing, with whom you were doing it, and whether you were safe and sound.
Cutoff blue jeans and sneakers. Fingers streaked with oil from a bike chain that wouldn’t stay on its sprocket. For you, the frayed world of humdrum workdays and commonplace tragedies didn’t yet exist. Everything was known, but nothing was familiar. The cracks in the pavement were a map to a secret kingdom. The darkness under the trees told a story. You were like a wayfarer in an ancient land, where nature itself had a numinous power to alter everything, for unknowable reasons or for no reason at all.
In those summers, you were naked to the world and full of expectation. There was more, of course, much more to come. And because there was more, the thinness of the present moment was an empty jar, into which you could happily pour the itchy scab on your knee, the sourness of a ripening blackberry, the magazine photos of girls in bikinis. Nothing was especially important, nothing unimportant. Your life was your own. And if you had paused to consider, your life would have seemed to you to be a possession so precious that surely, somewhere out there, burned an immense star with your name on it, lighting and warming the black void of interstellar space.
That’s what summer was like, back in those bygone days.
On these hot May days, I often get caught in an eddy of thought. Each rhyming revolution, flow and counterflow, carries me closer and closer to … something. At the last moment, just before translation from this into that, I’m released. Let go into the iron grip of the river. Know what that feels like? Like powerful arms, ropy with muscle, wrapping themselves around you.
The whitewater guide shouts at the swimmer, “Flip onto your back! Get your face out of the water! Point your feet downstream!”
So there I am, you can imagine, my eyes filled with sky, listening to an adrenaline rush of blood in my ears. (more…)
Cartoon by Adam Katzenstein, in The New Yorker.