A Body of Water



I came

to a spot in the road

where all paths

were gone.

Dōgen



The whole problem of existence is that we are are like a river, but not minds always flowing restless, unable to stop.

Trying to stop, or flow never gets the same place to go anywhere else. Making blockages, breaking the going still going.

Sit by a river with me. See how the water moves. Touches one thing goes on. Comes to a rest, in a deep pool, by a log.

It’s cold, this water. It will wake you up. This river is you, and me. The water of your mind.

Huangdi Yinfujing

Written in three different calligraphic styles, each piled atop the last

Mist, fog lifts Hazes the car window Beside a quiet stream two strangers talking quietly

We're locals so, You can take the big spot Water, trees, plenty of flat space to sleep We leave tonight

Up from Middlebury?

Yup

The wind before full dark Rushing through the treetops, a single gust then quiet. An owl screams, flies off Another calls and goes No one around I feel afraid, then remember how not to.

In the morning I’m alone Friends, but not a friend many friends, far away. New ones, I forget.

Pack it up, pots ringing Pull stakes, fold tent Boil water, brush teeth Fold hands, clap twice I bow to where I slept Goodbye

I never knew you I'll see you again

There were trees growing—

And an eagle eating a deer that first morning, And me stopping the car Exploding colors— fall in the North. Eagle getting nervous, taking off Deer opened, guts spilled, head bent back, no one around

There were trees growing…

Started the car and drove on, north and … there were trees … along the highway, and a lake Where the sun rose bright red Sandy shoreline, dunegrass Closed down vacation homes No one, but me But me, always alone at moments like these

I had left town late summer Stared down a bike path, into thick trees that were deep green, thinking about what was next Laying on my back in a field, knowing it was over, I had no home anymore Where would I go? It was hot then And the leaves dried and yellowed, and fell slowly, and collected on the ground in drifts And I drove north, to where the leaves the ferns the woods were already cold and brown Red and gold, red and gold, deep green, black trunks of a maple, so many trees I did not know— Too many plants to know, heading east and north to the great lakes I had no plan, but to go to Vermont

First night stopped off at a county park in Wisconsin, where I pulled in Eating bread and cheese with a knife, cutting board on a park bench A lamp burning made from a cork, a jar, oil, a wick Lighting only a foot or so around me of that first dark night And I fell asleep in my car Everything I owned, and still enough space to sleep in back I was planning I’d live in my tent

I woke early and headed north by east Passing the water with tides and islands Fresh water I went UP To the remote place Where my friend was living on a farm And I didn’t know anything, or why I had come I had come because I had to leave, I finally left There were bigger things than the place that I left

We went through the woods together, made tea Cooked in the kitchen Went down the old cellar, of the old barn, where they used to milk cows at the North Farm Went into the forest, down to the lake, up to Marquette where big things sit by the inland sea and rust away And people live in red brick buildings And there is a good co-op that smells like all co-ops And the town seems like it should be in Europe But instead it’s on the edge of a wilderness, the northwoods And at night I went out to the woods, far from the house, where I pitched my tent alone and cold along a fenceline, where I climbed in beneath a grove of plums— The field, the woods behind, were quiet and strange I had a waking dream, green light shone around me and I was frozen in place Wild turkeys came through at night

Trees had grown there, lauded highly by those who first cut them Others left behind, thick and low in those woods, that’s what was left, but in one place there were big trees On a rainy day we went through them, to a waterfall, and my breath was taken By their thick straight trunks, black By their yellow or red or gold leaves, wide above Pillars and a cathedral was here in these trees, there need be no sign Or any explanation We heard falls in the distance, went down, took a look She told me of the mushrooms on the trees I sat on a railing, watched the water, and a huge birch

On our way back the clouds came lower And we heard a shriek, or someone laughing But it was not that, It was twelve cranes in the mist, coming in just above the trees One for each moon of the year I saw red marks on their heads Their wide grey wings beat peacefully Long beaks, outstretched perfectly still Speaking to each other, and to us, above laughing whitefish falls

I didn’t want to leave that place, but I did I had to leave I left

I went through sault ste marie and into Canada Slept in a field behind trees, and down into New York I flipped on the radio and listened to the sound of geese over the speakers And the sounds of them above my car

It’s hard not to write significance into everything when you’re out looking around And have no real anchor to hold you down So I took some of these things to heart, and remembered them forever

Down the length of Lake Champlain, looking into the forests Of beech, oak, and others, I don’t know how I ended up on a mountain Where people let me sleep, for work I didn’t know then how to work, but tried anyway I slept in my car, drove around I went to Montpelier, got a job, moved into town, and worked all winter I had just enough money to leave again ~~ Along the edges we live, on the edges Because in the middle it taxes us too much To hear of those in cities— I see them when I go They can’t stop moving, no And neither can I My anxiety channeled in a search for some perfect place, with no home I knew and know the only way to find it is to stop But I cannot For reasons I don’t fully know

—Passing people, riding bikes years later With someone I knew from Nebraska, up into mountains and down the other side of California, We proved we could do Whatever we wanted to With respect and caution, But it’s hard

I’m shivering now, snow is falling, it’s cold outside in Maine I’m remembering times from another life I lived But it’s not, it’s a thread that keeps on unspooling But all I have left are memories, and the way I keep growing older I look out the door, snow blows in, melts on my face The low, brown land around me is covering up, covering up again in March

...There were trees growing

There are things I hold in mind—whatever they are that make me up That keep moving and shifting, though they’ve already happened They change even now as I go through them They are like— Like a deep grove I don’t tell anyone about Like a place no one else can go, but me

—Three pines in a clearing, Ennis Montana. Where a river flows around, shoring up banks —A beaver pond in the bitteroots Clear water, a slow current —A deaf woman who I startled, we sat and talked for an hour she told me about her life, death of her husband, their plan to live in the Bitterroot valley But he had died She could not hear She handed me an ipad so she could talk with me by the roar of the water where she often came to sit because it was one of the last things she could hear —A quartz chalice on a mountain top in Vermont Where I drank water with a metal dipper, looking down at the other side of the range, west —An old oak tree on a farm in Oregon There the fields flood in spring, and a small fire is made below a filbert tree —A cleft in a cañon in the desert in California Where we found a trickle of water That may have saved us I don’t know what we’d have done we stayed a few days by the greedy willows And burro went by in the evenings, in the mornings, checking for water, watching cottonwood leaves fall —and here in Maine, a small room in a barn on an island filled with dead flies, alone atop the building, high and alone where I sit to watch storms come in, drink tea, watch waves, and the birds come back and the birds come back —A grove of trees that I’ll never say anything about

….There were trees growing were trees growing There were trees growing, and a perfect stream

On a foggy day you can’t see across the water to the other island wouldn’t even know it was there on a foggy day— Not even from the cupola On the barn on the hill From where you can see all the way out to Isle Au Haut Not even from the shore edge Where waves speak calmly— Coming in from the thorofare, breaking up against little islands Or sticking on the shoals where the ducks go over Not even from fish point Where they found swordfish bones in an old midden From people who buried their dead with red ochre Lived here ten thousand years, then left —Not even from there Can you see across the narrow water in the fog

On such a day seven geese fly above an eighth, She’s walking alone by waters edge Her wide feet flecked with cloud markings Stops for a rock, listens to her family go by

The fog thins as geese land on the far island Look around for scraps of stuff from last year Bed down in dry grass in a field Keep space around them for foxes (who are no longer here) Thinking only two things: “we are here” “it is fall” ~~

I’ll draw you a map without conveying what it’s like There is a harbor, rock sides A point where an old oak grows Floats where boats are moored Hills sloping up Where people come down to cross the thorofare Sometimes with plywood Other times with lobsters In winter it’s quiet all along the water There’s tension in the empty space between two islands ~~

Late at night a piano plays across the water A sad tune, laced with water The water, lapping on the shore Neither high tide nor low A cold wind, a car driving by And me watching headlights alone in the woods ~~

We came here geese leaving time Trees along the coast still colored from the cold, some brown, no snow We came to paint and write To work the ground To make things grow

Writing, as we go around in a great circle, never complete This island: six miles long I’ve explored every side of it

Looking it over Three miles wide Or is it six by three, or four The ragged edges The rocky beaches Blowdown spruce, white cedar woods Red oak, sugar maple Yellow peely birch in a glade The highest point About seventy feet above The rising ocean ~~

A boat is out in the bay, in the fog Blasting its horn as it goes past the shoals

Its lights blaze ahead, but do no good Nothing can be seen in such dense mist

Guiding by memory, the bearded captain stills the wheel Looking at the map in his mind. ~~

Alder forest growing in wake of Elwha dam removal. 2016.

I claim no mentor— No teacher, no path No trail I follow, no body, no mind.

I have travelled to both edges of this land, and looked out into the boundless ocean the view of which has given me no answers.

But I look at the ocean because the ocean is never sane It is always moving, writhing, never tamed Every day a different color, the color of it depends on many things.

At high tide the rocks are covered, seaweed sways beneath the water. At low tide the cove freezes over. Chunks of ice covered in snow. A small spring surrounded by deer tracks. A tunnel leading down, spruce cone pieces at the entrance. Fingers of frost from the breathing of a tiny squirrel that lives within. Spruce trees along the cove. Wind in their needles. This time of year, their branches bend to shed snow. But wind gusts take some down every time it blows. And there, beside the frozen water, is a cleared space. I made it near where the deer come to drink, where the little squirrel lives under the snow. I make fires of spruce branches, started with birch bark to watch the tides.

Watching the ocean neither sane, nor insane. It is only a body of water. Rubbing up against the land Flooding inlets where salt crystals form where the water dries on dark, ancient rocks. ~~

We are mostly water. I heard that once but it seems impossible because every day I look at myself, I can see where my body ends And the rest of the world begins And water is boundless, only bounded by what contains it. But maybe I am not looking at myself Maybe it is an ocean I am looking at The ocean that is not made of water But of other things The ocean of what is, and what isn’t that we move through. ~~

I want to begin by letting words drift into piles in a different way. To think and write how snow blows through grass. To think about the ways water moves.

Water is always moving. It takes different forms. It touches one thing, a moment later, it has forgotten and moves on.

A deep pool on the Maine coast on an island with an oak tree above.

A trickle of water coming out from the forest falling into the pool. And me on a rock looking out to sea— one body entering another.

Water beats up against the island or flows from it; turns into snow sinks into the ground then comes out again. It is everywhere, and yet it has a place a source and somewhere it goes. ~~

The ice between Burlington, VT and an island on Lake Champlain that I walked to in winter. 2015.

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