CHECKING IN WITH THE MUSE ON THE RIVER
FOUR DAYS ON THE EEL RIVER WITH STONES
We who know we're fastened
to the poem, know something
of our approximation.
Carrying War & Peace since midsummer
the book became as intimate as the wallet
in my back pocket. Book worn well, weathered,
scratching a surface I hadn't known.
I came here to be with these stones,
to see them in their water.
They showed themselves to me,
and for this I am grateful.
Eel River Suiseki. I came to like
the ones scratched with travel,
the ones in calligraphy, like an ancient
Chinese poem I couldn't translate.
Something like the way the paper cover
of War and Peace turned to something like leather.
Kawa Doja is the classroom of the riverbank.
It surprises me how much the riverbank speaks
in the voice of all my teachers, like I am
surrounded by Sensei from then and now.
As I become familiar, not native,
I discover that I have been given
certain permissions. I am granted invitations
to enter the river and bathe. Stones
are given to me, with instructions
that they are to become part of the gift,
that they must always move, that their patina
will surface over time, with water,
with sunshine, and with love.
And then, as if to correct me
for trying to do everything right, to be perfect,
(Imagine that, in me!), the stones come up
the trail in my pack, where I perform
a first cleaning, and they sit with me
as I finish the great story of Tolstoy.
The book has become a kind of diary,
and I find myself taking notes
in the margins, jotting fragments
of my imagination as they cross
my field of vision. And then,
all my fretting over the daiza
and my literal concern for display
came to the fore, as I sat with book and stone
before the campfire in the lawn chair.
The worn cover with the soft pages
presented themselves with the stones,
drying but still damp. Pierre, in his tears,
listening to Karataev, Natasha wiping the brow
of Andrei, still separate from each other,
and Moscow, the mother of all cities, empty.
These pages offer themselves.
Perhaps I may be excused for beginning a poem,
or a prayer, this effort at gratefulness,
by starting with War and Peace.
Unforgivable entrance! But how else
to explain how Pierre came to hear Karataev say,
Lord, lay me down like a stone, lift me up like a loaf.
Or to be called by him, Little Falcon?
As Pierre noted, he knew nothing
by heart except prayer.
Stone, book, story, all of it gathered
before me in the lawn chair by the fire.
I set the still-drying stone on the page,
a perfect tray, and the page absorbs
the water as will someday, the stone.
It will take me longer than that to understand
all that is going on, all that happens
on the riverbank, kawa doja.
This is what I carry now, breaking camp.
18 September 2016
CHECKING IN WITH THE MUSE AFTER DINNER,
CAMP REDWOOD, 375 YARDS UP FROM THE EEL RIVER,
LOOKING AT, AND CONTEMPLATING, STONES:
And did you get your work done?
Work? My job was to get Karen to Art Week
at the farm, to help put her in a creative space,
not bouncing a gear in her sewing machine while traveling.
She's been there four days. I can hardly wait to see what's new.
What's new in her. Maybe there's some thread on cloth, too.
To see what's new. Is that fair? I'm in the shade
sitting on a lawn chair under an acorn tree
80 feet high, dropping its harvest on the mothership--
and me--with each breeze. It must have been a good year.
You're still here? For a visitation?
The mothership rests in the sacred circle
of the tree's crown. Been hit? Once.
In the shoulder. Felt it, too, but I haven't
been plunked on the head. When I'm inside
and a nut hits the roof, I jump and duck.
But is your work done? Here's the notebook,
you decide. After lunch I made one more trip
to the river. Pack, video camera, phone,
one bottle of water. With a limit of five stones.
Self-imposed limit. Trekking poles, after yesterday.
Should a man in his 70s be carrying stones
in a pack returning from the river?
I put the camera on river stones as I walked,
let the lens lead. You, with your questions
might not have seen much. Neither did I.
Is this play or work? My question.
It was hot, no shade, and I said out loud,
to nobody, This is all ritual. Formal farewell
to the Eel River. I said that arriving. Stones
were all gray as I walked and I heard sensei
ask, Is that another gray stone, Jim?
And then the camera found one hidden in sand.
I brought it home. Like I said, it was hot,
and I said to myself, Maybe I should get naked
and complete this ritual. I looked around.
No deer, no dogs--or teenagers, for that matter.
At first I just sat on a rock, like up to my waist.
Tentative. I didn't want California Search & Rescue
coming upon a 71-year old man dead with a bone
sticking out where he was felled by an algae-covered rock.
I found my way among the stones until I could lay down
on my back and belly. Neither hot or cold, now,
with a river running through me.
I hope this is what you mean
by getting my work done.
You're getting literary.
Forgive me. Karen and I watched the movie
before we left home. We talked about the words
beneath the stones. And? Yes, the swim,
or bath, felt more cleansing than the one up river
where I took Karen. Thank you for asking.
Thank you for giving me the work, this task.
The Eel ran faster and cleaner up high,
but I didn't want to leave. This is the Eel River.
The Eel. The river of my teachers.
Carlson and Rivera. I have Rivera's book out now.
I had it at the river. And how many stones?
Ah. You would ask. Seven, or eight.
I know I said five. My tendencies with the stones
are the same as with the poems. After dressing,
I walked back to where I'd placed the stones
in the pack with my glasses and phone.
I sat with the camera and did a short triage,
looking at each stone for color, shape, texture,
and size. I found myself drawn
to the medium-sized stones. Interesting features:
caves, waterfalls, serpentine. Not what I'd found
yesterday, shape-wise, nothing. I'm drawn to flat-shaped
buttes, images from childhood interest in the West.
If I had an epiphany, it was this: if it spoke to me,
I trusted it also had signature and authenticity.
That it's come from somewhere else,
and this is where its beauty lies. I chose it
for its miles covered on this earth. I held that
before the lens of the camera. I read from Rivera's
suiseki book, going back and forth between
practice and patina. Without having to choose,
I knew it was the hand of practice reaching for me.
I felt it steadying me. Practice showed me
the image of water and turning stones.
With practice I didn't need to worry about patina.
That was it. It would arrive on its own, or not,
through practice. That's all in the movie?
Well, I hope so. Some of it. Some of it's still coming,
still arriving. Wait and see. I didn't have
that kind of courage with you before.
I thought I must be more definitive with you.
I hope I can be that way in the poem.
And your work? My work?
Did you get it done?
You're not quite hearing my devotion?
After Karen, the poem has my soul.
I can't wait for Karen to show.
She needn't bring a thing.
And the poem, if the living is right,
work will be too, and the poem
doesn't even need to get written down.
Camp Redwood, Eel River
17 September 2016