There was a time when I was so bleak
that I began to doubt the constancy of the world:
moon rise, tide change, seasons. If not by history
or experience, by what authority would I then believe?
I was a bone scraped of flesh, nerve exposed to air. I sat
with Buddhists, psychologists, artists, and they were
of comfort to me, though purely for their willingness to sit.
That heaven might continue my fear and not quell it
kept me from wanting to die, for I had come to understand
that this fear was a condition of my eternal soul and therefore
would accompany me no matter where I might go.
What was I to do then but breathe?
I counted my breaths until I could fall asleep at night,
and again when I woke in the dark like a horse spooked at its gate.
I walked and breathed, ran and breathed, drove and breathed.
My breath became my companion, the one whose face I sought
in a crowd, on an airplane, in the market at dusk when fear overtook me.
Is it the fate of the dependable to be forgotten?
For after a time all that breathing made me calm again, and I forgot.
It seems that we are haunted: shadows of men along the eastern wall,
banal clomping as of heavy footsteps in the floor above, heat rising
in our drafty rooms at two a.m. no matter that we've switched it off.
I wake from a dead sleep sweating, choking on the dry air, in need of water
as if I have been sleeping not next to the sea but in some vast desert, restless
and exhausted, unable to open my eyes. I dream of houses: complicated
mansions, brownstones, shacks. I've been reading about a contaminated river,
how everything in it washed up dead one day. Polluted with cyanide
by a gold mine, the stretch of foul water is seventeen miles long.
Why don't the chemicals keep moving? Where will they eventually go?
Think of mud in a river bottom oozing up cool between your toes in the summer.
Imagine the sun heating your hair while your feet are cold, that bodily
collusion of confusion and gratitude as you stand there blinking
into the dark trees along the bank. The poison from that water enters us,
whether we are downstream from it or not. Sometimes we dream
what we see. Someone I knew once used to leave the room by saying,
See you on the river, the river of dreams.
As if we would all meet there.
I dreamt we received a baby in a box fitted with a cardboard collar
to keep her head erect in transit, a miniature three-year-old stunned
from the shipping complete with printed description and instructions
for unpacking and use. Her resignation alarmed me, but I could not
send her back. There was a Thanksgiving meal I was supposed to prepare
in a tiny disheveled kitchen, and there were no tools to cook with, no time
and no room, the whole enterprise colored by my distress about the child:
how sad she was, and the wrong age, her head still upright and unblinking
in the box waiting to be taken in or sent away. I've woken to a quiet
persistent rain, the house wrapped in it like a muffler, the sea idling
in neutral while the heavens increase its volume steadily and precisely
as a librarian shelving books.