Night sky all lit up
I pull on my jeans
Karen says, It's 3:30.
Leaving Holden Village five years ago after Abriendo Caminos. The closed-down copper mine. The ecumenical Christ-centric retreat center in the North Cascades. Hanifah Murfin waves goodbye to me by inviting me back in the fall for Elderhostel. If I felt called to sit with elders at table it would be to sit with experience and story. In laughter and silence. I remained too thin-skinned to have anything to offer other than listening, and this approach to the written page. The week Hanifah gave me the invitation I had just turned 60. Five years ago. Prior to our week with Abriendo Caminos—opening the ways—Abriendo comes from the Spanish Abrir, to open, and Caminos is Spanish for the road, the way, the life. One who opens one way opens many ways. Prior to that week of AbriendoCaminos, Karen and I had taken my mother to North Dakota to the Centennial Celebration of Burke County, which today leads the nation in dying population. Our family was part of the diaspora before it was recognized as such. Walking with Mom, accompanying her, has always been part of my apprenticeship as a writer. A part, I add, that hasn't always been embraced. Refusal of the call is part of the answering.
Karen and I returned to Holden Village a month later for our first Elderhostel and we felt like we were the kids. We were surrounded by a group of people, men and women mostly in their 70s and 80s, some reaching further, whose bodies and being carried and exuded poetry and the spirit of poetry that poetry witnesses to. That group of elders, and they were elderguides, elderspirits, eldervisions of the sort that we make literature and movies about, that group walked Karen and I through the door into our own lives.
The week we returned home, we brought Mom to Yakima to live with us in assisted living. Things happen that fast. Things haven't been the same since. In a sense, they've never been better. Our introduction to Elder Village at Holden. It's good to be back.
I'm a beginner. In Spanish, the word is principiante. Another word, especially for poets, is amateur. Amar is to love. And poets sign on to be lovers. The ama in amateur does not signify our ineptitude, it signifies our love. How could one be anything but a beginner in love? As part of our contract with the muse we acknowledge that beginners is all we will ever be. Experts go into other work. Like it or not, no complaining. This is our lot. If we want to be poets, we better check our egos at the door. We don't create poems. We wait for them. They're given. Our job is to be there when they pass through. We are beginners, but we aren't the same beginners as when we set out.
Birds fat on blackberries at Field's Point. The last of the blackberries. Poets all over the world sit on benches or coffee shops on this day, before blackberry bramble with notebooks open trying to say something that will stop the madness. First fall colors. All color washed out of the desert mountain rock surrounding the lake. Lake Chelan. Dream music of Steve Roach. 25-Mile Creek and the end of paved road. Everything in this glacier-carved lake from here goes up by barge.
Lady II. Lady of the Lake. Steel constructed. 100 feet long. Powered by twin Detroit diesels. Inaugurated in 1976.
Going up the straits. Into the in-between place in the margins. Safety Harbor's a halfway point. 1100 feet of water here. Now nearly 1500 feet. At a depth of 386 feet the lake is below sea level. 50 square mils of lake fed by 27 glaciers. 150 miles of shoreline. Look for wildlife. Mule deer, mountain goat, bear. Cold and windy with sunshine. Two hikers get out at Prince Creek. Seventeen miles to Stehekin by trail for these two.
The boat ride to the dock at Lucerne, our stop, is nearly three hours. What you're carrying now is different. You don't think about it. You don't even know what has taken place. Crossing water. Part of the dreamwork. Process you can't put your finger on. You don't want to. What takes place is out of your hands.
The "yes" comes from here.
Crossing water on Lady II.
Karen sits inside and spreads out her beads.
Later in the day she'll get bit by a bee,
finger all swelled up and then her body,
too, filled with prednasone.
We eat that fish,
that rainbow trout those two guys
in the camper gave us at the State Park.
On the boat, I sit in wind,
looking at shoreline
until I fall asleep on my book
and then go inside with Karen
and finish it. Marcos.
I'm without colloquial Spanish here.
I know who Jesus sits with at table.
Eliseo's some kind of witness,
talk about comprometido.
Beans and rice for lunch in the village.
I buy the last copy of the Koran
in the bookstore for five bucks.
Karen gets on a loom.
I photograph some blue glass
lined up by river rock
sticking out from under a shed
by the art cave in afternoon light.
I listen to children of the miners
back for a fifty year reunion,
and ride the bus up the mountain
from the boat with a woman
who was the last child
born in the village
before the mine closed.
I read the Koran until it too
rests on my chest while I nap.
The village harpist and his partner
wake me and we talk some
about music and the paranormal.
The child is a mother now.
She was born in 1957.
Her mother says,
"Snow banks were 20-feet high."
No miners left at this reunion.
Children of miners.
Stories around the table. passing old pictures.
The child who drowned in Domke Lake
defines an entire year.
We think we know what this work was like.
We think. Someone remembers the canary
in the mine shaft. That's my job.
I put it here. The poet stays in the old chalet
with the harpist and the reflexologist.
The miners' homes torn down long ago.
A young man sits down in front of us at vespers.
Hat and t-shirt with American flags.
"If you don't love America" on the front,
"Get the Hell out!" on his back before us.
The Village pastor just arrived from Brooklyn, New York,
reads a prayer by Stanley Hauerwas,
Great God of Surprise, he begins.
His short prayer is the message I say thanks for.
"'To go on as though nothing has happened..."
surely requires us to acknowledge
you are God and we are not."
I talk with the pastor about crossing Whitman's bridge.
The harp is the only stringed instrument where strings come through the wood. All other strings in other instruments parallel the wood. Harps don't last long. They're not like violins. They sound their absolute best, just before they're about to explode. My notebook is open because I've heard Harper Tashe play before. I wasn't ready for his weave, that time. Music in the village.
Harper tunes his harp as people enter the circular room. Koinonia. Greek word for community. A room carved out of the 60s. Tuning the harp in middle ages was considered a sacred act, Harper tells us, his long hair flowing, harp-like. Harperlike. Bringing order out of chaos. In medieval manuscripts, illustrations of King David accompanied the capital letter D. In these illustrations, David is always tuning his harp, never playing it. I hear Leonard Cohen singing Hallelujah.
Strings are red and blue so you know where you are. Strings disappear in the light during performances. Red and blue strings help us find our way around the harp.
Heading home. Sound of yesterday's snow shifting on tree branches. Last days of summer. Fall equinox.
Composing is getting sounds to behave on paper. It's not the same as music. Music comes out of this. The harp says, Go for a walk. Amble and chat.
What does the poem say?
A child growing up on an island in Southeast Alaska. A king story with different levels of time. Walking through a park looking at lovers with guitars, Harper turns the small harp into a protest instrument, his left hand touching all the strings. Guitarists can't do this, he laughs, and he has one hand remaining free for his lover. Write a piece to play with one hand, piece for the left hand. This, too, is a dance of time. Heat changes what you see on the horizon. Boat and storm in one hand, bird in the other. Pleiades and Orion coming out one star at a time over Copper Basin.
Mothership, Lady II, Holden Village