Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Bad Years (2003)

My bad years were a
sleep I could not wake
from. She held
me from below
pressing her blue
thirst to my lips,
a honey milk
with a threat
of gall through which
She poured her angels
and devils in.
Poured them all.
Yesterday I
remembered a
Christmas at my
father’s place in
1977 when I
thought I would
abandon my useless
and unworthy
and broken life out
West and come
to live at last
with him, partaking
there of a New Age
dream of devas
rousing winter
gardens and raising
ley-lords from
their witchy rooks
in the stone
foundations never
far below. We drank
his B&B Scotch
(cheap and plentiful)
next to the fire
that late December
hashing out David
Spangler’s "Principles
of Manifestation,"
those quantum
mechanae of the
soul which, as
we boiled them down,
seemed only to
say, To Be Is Being’s
Be-All: So Be.
Dry ends indeed
to such high yeasty
talk, but we kept
on talking and drinking.
Up the road in a
double-wide trailer
lived drunk Karol and
his even drunker
son Randy, both
catastrophes of
the same booze
we thought we caged
with all that high
talk. The father was
a Polish refugee
from World War II’s
boneyard of atrocity.
He hated the Germans
but despised the
Russians worse, who
one hoary winter’s day
rounded up he and
his fellow villagers
into a cattle car
and chugged into
deep woods, where
they disembarked
the men and lined
them up along a ridge,
and solved all seed
of feared insurgency
by emptying their
ratatats into Karol
and his tribe.
He fell in sync
with the rest, miraculously
free of shot, and
faked his death
sprawled in that
pile of cooling meat.
After dusk he crawled
up and out, a revenant
who had only in the
coldest sense of
things survived.
Hid out til war’s
end then worked
his way this way,
setting up at last
in that trailer
up the road to work
his days like a bull
and drink his nights
like the worst whale.
My father loved
Karol’s workhorse
ways, hiring him
now and then for
some or other
big job on his land,
which back then
was a total mess,
years from becoming
something fine,
a Yankee Piccu
shored between
high rhetorics and
a damn fine, soul-
rich ground. Back
then it was only
guesswork and
long long hours of
work, days and years
of it. Those early
times required a titan’s
back and hands,
and Karol for some
while was the
best of that. By
day, at least; they’d
drunk some Scotch
together but the
beast who emerged
in the third pour
was no man my
father cared to house,
and told Karol he’d
had to drink elsewhere.
By the time I
had gotten there,
Karol was mostly
a story, his sweat
and swath something
reserved for spring
days down the road.
A day or so
before Christmas
my brother roared
into town, a party
boy like me in full
bored merriment,
on fire just as I
but lacking my
dad’s approval,
mostly because the
words were not in
his mouth but
further down in
his hands. It would
be years before he’d
find use for them;
back then they were
most adept at
chugging and charging
at the night. He linked
up somehow his
Randy and Randy’s
sister and drove
off with them to
party wild and long,
fucking the sister
in the back seat while
Randy cheered,
the station wagon’s
interior a furnace
for a winter’s night.
My brother told me
off all this the next
day as he came
to with coffee and
some snuck-in shots
of Scotch, his eyes
like black holes,
a dark sad woman
staying back
far far far below.
A week later Randy
invited us up to
his father’s trailer
to celebrate the New
Year’s. Karol was
already roaring drunk,
one meaty fist
choking the life
out of a half-gallon
of vodka, the other
keeping time to
a polka band on
the stereo, his eyes
red with all he still
could see too well.
The trailer was decked
with streamers and
glitter, too sickly-bright,
too campy, composing
a merriment almost
infernal in its gleam.
Ilsa the mother
back then stayed far
from sight, clucking her
tongue at all the
errancy her men
brought to this small
house perched on doom.
Randy came falling
through the door
with a case of
champagne -- tumbled
through the threshold
then collapsed, shattering
half the bottles
on the floor in a
wavelike, bright
careen of sound.
Randy lay there
swearing but the
father just roared
with glee; that’s
when I got the
hell on outta there,
backing out shouting
Happy New Year’s!
and wheeling into
a cold cold frozen
Pennsylvania night,
slipping helter
skelter on icy
asphalt, sure that
every bat in hell
was wheeling overhead.
Back in my father’s
house all was settled
and noble and
warm -- my father
smoking his pipe
reading in a chair,
Pachelbel’s "Canon
in D" on his stereo,
a big cross over
the mantel blessing
for sure this
enterprise. It was
exactly where I
wished to be:
though I knew
somehow it was
exactly the place
it was somehow
most dangerous
to remain. One
of those nights
the dreams began --
a horrible parade of
desperate scenes,
as if some warning
was shrieking from
a sidhe that bound
my sleep. In one
dream I was trapped
inside some
motherish castle,
a feminine keep,
while some fatherish
light assaulted
from without, promising
to annihilate every
living presence with
the audacity to
keep the door tight.
In another dream
I voyaged in a balloon
into mystic China
with a strange stone
man who bore
inscriptions on his
neck in no language
I yet could understand.
As we began the most
dangerous passage,
the stone man
scrambled out of
the basked and
fell like stone below,
leaving me alone
just when the
clouds were thickest
and the strangeness
most intent. I’d
belt awake from
those dreams,
my heart hammering
hard, certain only
that my promise
to stay on at
my father’s place
was not at all
concurred with
from below; that
not matter how much
I wished to stay,
I had only one
way to go and
survive -- away, back
west to my own meager
awful limited life.
My dad was hurt
and perplexed when
I eventually announced
that as much as I
loved all there, it
was not mine nor
what I must build.
I said those words
to my father in
January 1978, and
I have never since
been able to stay
there for very long.
At the end of
that month I flew
back to Spokane
to that cold house
I rented, entering
the spring semester
of my junior year
in college, which
turned out to be
the last full-time
school effort I
could manage. It
was the semester
of good poetry
at last and a woman
who emerged from
the blue dark
corners of some
party who eventually
took me by the
hand and drowned me
in my own bed.
That I guess was
the fate sealed on
the stone man’s lips
when he followed
a deeper instinct
and left the air
with its New Agey
wisps and aetherizing.
He dove into what I
followed and here
keep sinking to -- Mystic
rivers and oceans
which will never
quite do, a harpuscry
or hagiography or
mantic musings of
some blue I could never
find on my father’s
higher ground.
Sometime soon after
I returned out West
my father called
to tell me that
Karol was dead.
One night he’d
gotten roaring drunk
as usual and then
drove home on
quite icy roads.
He didn’t make
it round that big
curve behind my
father’s house
and sailed off the road
and down the
ravine, catching
a broad tree right
between the eyes.
Finis. That story
didn’t really surprise
me -- you saw bad
ends hanging all over
that Christmas tree
in his doublewide
up the road -- And
we both agreed that
the roar of rage
at old wounds could
only be quieted in
the grave. Hearing
that story way back
then didn’t change
my ways at all, for I
was young and much
smarter than all
that, with all my
history ahead, and
my words of such
a finer distillation
as to keep me
wide of those
widest curves.
Ha ha. That I survived
and have lived to
tell the story is
somehow Her
prerogative, as if I
am now not the
mantic but one
gifted by God or Goddess
to read his stony
lips, a pen dipped
in deep old ink
now asked to write
it out. Many years
later in my first
round of sobriety,
I heard from the son
Randy who had
seemed sealed into
his father’s aphotic
shoes. But instead
he had gotten sober
in AA and found a
way into the live
above and beyond
that grave, working
as a nurse and going
still further to love.
The man I saw in ‘92
was like a sailor
who’d been lost
for years but somehow
returned, much aged,
his face almost
completely changed, like
a stone worn
smooth washed
long in blue. We
didn’t really have
much to say to
each other, but
just seeing us
both on the other shore
from so many bad
years was satisfaction
enough, like twins
separated at some
brutal birth will
recognize the
other instantly though
there’s nothing else
to say. We lived on
beyond those black
and revenant years,
to begin our lives
at last. We safarewell, and that
was that. Years later,
in an AA meeting
yesterday, the story
came bubbling up
to view in my mind,
much covered with
weeds and barnacles
and faded to a greyish-
brown: Yet as
the others told Christmas
memories of their
drinking worst, this
one for me began to
gleam and unfold its
strange wings at last,
an oracle, if you
will, from the grave
of bad years lost.
The voice reminded
me to be thankful
with the rest of my life
to be sitting here
and not back there
where the moon
over Christmas
wore the devil’s
ice pegnior, and my
thirst for darkness
was so endless:
And to be thankful
too exactly for
that way in which
She grabbed and held
me long below,
whispering those
strange blue words
which makes every
poem now go
and glow and make
all ripened curves
on dark roads show.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Hit Counter
Internet Service Provider