For the first time in three nights, I slept...it was the codeine in the cough medicine, so now I'm not-quite here. There's a part of me in the next room, looking at me typing.  My eyes are still filled with sleep. The impulse to sleep, the pull to the bed is very strong.  Out of the nowhere of memory, the Sandman comes to mind. Remember the Sandman?  A gentle story for children.

I'm on a heavy-duty anti-biotic--10 days without, alas, wine.  Not even a price to pay to not have an inflamed throat that feels like a hinge that has rusted shut.

I thought I might work today, but until this codeine disappears, my only work will be to trudge back to bed and manage to get into it without tripping.


 
 
The sore throat is even more sore, inflamed, and now a cough's begun. I feel cold all the time. Hopefully, I'll see the doctor today.

As it turns out, the weather's turned chilly, wet, and gray: hard to find a better mirror for how I'm feeling. The wise thing is to be grateful that I had four good days of work on the fence and arbor. Ok, easy enough.

The hardest thing is that I cannot sleep; for the last three days I've been up in the middle of the night because my throat hurts so much: rusty razors on fire. So I get up, go downstairs, make tea with honey, then go downstairs to watch TV until I'm so tired that I know I'll fall asleep.

So what's on at 3am? Informercials about sex gadgets and bowel movements, about how to get rich, about the ultimate kitchen gizmo that solves a problem nothing else in the history of mankind has ever solved, movies that the actors must still have bad dreams about. I've joined another demographic I knew nothing about. I stare with eyes that feel swollen; I wrap myself in a blanket. The house occasionally plinks or sighs, or there's a sound that says that something's fallen, though I can never find anything broken or out of place if the noise is startling enough.  I sit in the dark, hardly breathing, and when I look at the clock, two hours have passed.  At 5am, for three nights, I've heard the wild chatter of birds, the heralds of the dawn: braided, convoluted, insistent.

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The magnolia's all-but bare, more branch than tulip flowers.  The Weeping Cherry lasted three days, first delicate white, then delicate pink, and now green. The world's turning green: look through the budding armatures of the tops of the big trees and the sky's stained light green.  Because of this, the daffodils, the narcissi, hyacinths, the tulips are even more luscious, even more delightfully carefree.

Wordsworth captures this surprise, this joy:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.


"Natural piety": perhaps this is the phrase I've been looking for these months, as I parse my antipathy to religion yet my intimate sense of the mystery of just being alive.




 
 
No improvement in my throat--still a collection of rusty hinges and knives--but that didn't stop me from working on the fence and taking out a wisteria that has been taking my arbor apart, its vines like pythons wrapped around each other and the carpentry, snapping the trellis, pulling out cross-pieces.  Digging it out meant cutting large chunks, digging down and around, cutting more, digging more. Wisteria is tenacious. When it grips down, it grips down hard.

More work on the arbor this morning, after which I'll return to the fence.  The rest of the wisteria has now to be cut and pulled out. It's a wild head of snaky arms curled around themselves and the arbor.

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A Monet morning: lushly shadowed, beautifully, softly lit.

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O suggests that I include in the chap book an introduction that explains why I find verse so...what to call it?...congenial or, as I think about it, compelling? What is it about what he calls "classical form" that my reader might want to know, that might help him, unused to such poetry, to understand it and appreciate it. I'm not sure. But his suggestion has made me start to think about what there is in verse--in Qs, extended verse, and sonnets--that I find satisfying.

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Now, out to the garden.  I'm eager to work.
 
 
Out of nowhere I have the first of my two yearly bouts of sickness. It always starts with those tonsils that my mother insisted remain in my mouth when all the other mothers had their kids' tonsils taken out. (Thanks, mom.)

I'm lucky not to be sickly, but these two sieges cut my feet out from under me: it starts with swollen, burning tonsils; goes to my ears; does something to my core-temperature, so I'm constantly cold, then hot, then cold.  My nose turns on, and doesn't turn off. I run a temperature that disappears. Then returns.

This might have started from being outside for hours--finally released from the house arrest of winter. Perhaps the leafing out of all the trees, all the stuff in the air, irritated my throat, and that's all it needed. This should last about three days.

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I'll continue my project of rebuilding the picket fence. I'm well on my way and enjoying it too much to stop. It's easy, straight-ahead work, and, so far, the results look good. It's so good to, once again, be working with wood and tools, to see those fruits of that labor.

Such a simple principle: cause---->effect.  So the effort is to understand cause, which is a life's work.


 
 
A good day yesterday--warm enough and working in the sun on the front picket fence, replacing pickets.  Easy work, but every job is its details that cannot be taken for granted. Each time is the first time, since each instance can be slightly different. This comes under don't assume.

No blood; ten fingers; the first whole section done. 

Given some skills, some experience, the effort is being alert, being careful each time. 90% of every job is repetition.  Genius, in this context, is the ability to fall into the rhythm of the job and make it new, each time.  You can call it "competence," but I think it's more than that.  It's an odd combination of mindlessness and mindfulness: staying on the job. 

I speak from a privileged perspective, choosing to do this work.  I've watched the TV show that shows how things are made--fascinating, the clever machines used. But then I look more carefully at the men and women who feed and react to the machines--serve their needs--and think that this is what these people do five days a week, eight hours a day--and then, almost every time, change the channel--that's quite enough of that particular hell so many inhabit to pay the rent.

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The inconstant beauties of April and death, my death, are on my mind. 

Here, the Teacher, Ecclesiastes (7:4):

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

Something too humorless about this wisdom--we can't visit the "house of mirth" for balance, as cloud balances sun?  But as bedrock wisdom what is truer?


 
 
I'm usually not sure what I'll write about when I sit down each morning at the window--I'm talking about my poetry.  On the way down, I always look at the new day. Sometimes a glance is all I need.  Something in the light, the play of things, an ease, a tension that hits home in a just-wakened mind.  The first minutes, the first hour of being up, if you're lucky enough to have quiet--and I'm lucky in this--are heavenly: waking to the Garden, again.

It doesn't feel "heavenly" in the day after day of gray winter, but then it's easy, under April's inconstant sun, to forget the grind--this, the gift of not remembering. But each round of winter grooves its meaning deeper into the mind: explore every nuance of the gray, learn from what you don't like, accept its steely lessons, find, in the learning, some kind of comfort.

But now, April's inconstancy, her settling in, her moodiness, her promises: perhaps April's the very feel of what a promise is: hope and all that imperils it, on the spring side of things.

The magnolia's done, her tulip petals strewn pink-white with edges just beginning to curl back brown in a circle on the grass as wide as the tree they've fallen from.

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The molding's on. I made two mistakes, neither wasted any wood, but again I didn't pay enough attention, didn't move slowly enough, talk myself through the process.  I mean talk to myself out loud: "Ok, now this is the shorter, side piece, so it needs...."  So, in all, the job went well, except that the wall is not square; it's not even plumb, so caulk, the carpenter's friend, filled the gaps. No straight lines in Nature? Hardly any in an old house. So: there are your plans; the house's plan; and the job that evolves because of these facts.

What I love about carpentry is that each step is a choice; each cut a decision that has immediate consequences; the overall task is a step by step process, each step of which is vital to the outcome. Nothing is irrelevant. Everything counts. It's a dance between my wishes, the reality of the situation, and my ability to understand that reality. Thus, it is all learning, an archetype of what we're here to do.


 
 
"Time out of mind."  That phrase bubbles up as this morning's writing sloshes in my mind. I was writing about how, when the gold on the trees absorbs me, everything except the gold is...suspended, and I exist only as eyes...no, there's more. I exist as an uplifted--what to name it?--spirit, who is nothing but this seeing, this thrilled, very quiet, very excited but very subdued happiness.

Long black shadows on the increasingly juicy green lawn. The throw of magnolia petals on the grass. The world in its morning brightness lit up like a wonderful idea.

I'm very pleased with one of today's Quatrains--which is today's poem in the Poems section--because it catches something right.  Sometimes the words fall into place: I'm there as fully as I can be, which often summons the right words, the right rhythms.    

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Today's my birthday number--24. This always makes me pause, like a thorn that catches my shirt.

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I'm looking forward to some woodwork today: cutting the molding then mounting it around  the half-bath window. I painted it yesterday.  Getting it right by taking my time: this is my mantra. Then final touch-up painting and caulking.  I'm eager to begin. Let's see what happens.




 
 
Another spring day opens gray and chilly--I know it will stay this way for the rest of the day. Thus, I found myself writing this morning about hope, that feathered thing Emily Dickinson calls it.

I've always liked her image of the tough little bird facing into the winds of change, its talons gripped tight, caught in weather that's too big for it or for anything else, yet it doesn't back down, doesn't fly away.

The Buddha says this--

Make an island of yourself, make yourself your refuge; there is no other refuge. Make truth your island, make truth your refuge; there is no other refuge.

It's hard for me to know exactly what to make of that: He seems to say that nothing else matters than the self; that to rely on anything else, to pay attention to anything else,  is to be unsafe, to be at the mercy of what is not you. So many things that the Buddha says make immediate sense to me, absolutely convincing, the most refined idealism made most concretely pragmatic. Yet, I find myself thinking...yet...not love fully? Reserve my heart ultimately for myself? I think I'm missing something here. Maybe I'm not; maybe I know exactly what's being said, but I don't have the nerve to follow that path through the woods.  Love fully but don't cling? And that tough little bird in the weather of life that won't stop singing, won't stop clinging to that shaking branch? Is it an image of the heart's toughness or the soul's fear?

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It is Shakespeare's 449th Birthday.

Here is what he has Duke Senior say to his fellow exiles in As You Like It:

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons' difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say,
“This is no flattery. These are counselors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.
"

The Duke, exiled by his brother to the forest (for always, in Shakespeare, Cain walks the stage) has come to understand "the uses of adversity": they make him feel the wind, the weather of the world the little bird unflinchingly endures.


 
 
Sun's up. The baby boy is four days old today.  What he knows is sleep, body-warm milk, comfort.

I will not--I cannot--write about the abomination of child-rape, the story that's now current about a case in Pakistan. To say that it freezes my blood--to say that I wish the most awful things on those who have done this--who do this--is to say the very least I can.

So much of our lives is luck--where we are born, to begin with; then who we are born to--how much love they were given, how much love they, themselves, need; whether they grew up because of or despite their parents; how hard they fight, very day, to find balance. We all begin as amateurs trying to find our way--and, so far as I can see, the key is needing to know more.

Here is Aldous Huxley, memorably:

Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing, and hearing the significant thing, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.

So many stand pat with the hand they're dealt. Knowing that they were dealt the hand they're living is their biggest insight, the rock they live behind. They think that knowing that is enough. It's not. The only thing that knowledge does is keep them from drowning, since they think they know where they are.  But this is just another way of saying that all they're doing is treading water.

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The air's chilly, but the sun's throwing long, long shadows across the grass.  A fugitive gust of wind has just blown off a shower of pink-white petals
from the magnolia. The world is all we can imagine--and more.
 
 
I am feeling ridiculously happy--which means, I know, that I better take care. But...

This morning, three pictures of a new born boy arrived in the mail. An old friend's first grandchild, the child of a young woman I first met in her mother's arms. And last night was another birth: my grandson sang lead in the last high school musical he'll sing in, since he's about to graduate. College looms for him. But last night....last night we all discovered a power lurking within, a rich, untrained, but true-enough baritone that--and I use the word I experienced--thrilled everyone who heard it. His voice didn't stop the show--it stopped the world inside the gym where, on fold-up chairs, about 200 people watched--no listened--to him shatter, as his voice rang out, the prison of his and our prisons. His voice lifted us by the hair, echoed off the walls, destroyed the walls--for he wasn't just singing: he was showing us a self set free and by doing so set us free, too. We weren't listening; we were stunned. Every single person in that gym was in his hands, held and led by his voice, willing, eager, to be led to whatever place he wanted to take us. The present held steady...the future trembled at the lip of time's cup.

The phrase in my mind as I climbed the stairs with my coffee to write was "a new birth of freedom."  A new baby. A new voice. A birth. A graduation. Coming into life. Going to college. A self that revealed itself, perhaps surprising my grandson--did he feel the silence he commanded? Did he know he could lead us anywhere? But we heard. We now know his secret; we felt his power. And what is that power but his gift? Today, my friend's grandson is three days old. Today, my grandson is seventeen.

Whitman sings out his vision of living freely--

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!


What else can one wish the new baby in his mother's arms and the boy who carries a great power about to take his next step out into a wider world?