She was born into a world at the edge. A hospital beside a river, a house beside the marsh, outskirts of town at the end of a dirt road. Ocean stretched out beyond the line of horizon, led to the slow-crumbling coasts of lands on the other side of the world, places that were only ideas to her, colored splotches on the curve of a globe, flat shapes on a page, the enormity of the world reduced to glancing scale. “Oh, here is the United States,” smaller than her own hand, “and here,” tracing a journey in a few seconds with the tip of her finger, “here is Lebanon.” She found Germany, and England. Norway. Pivoted her pointer finger from the anchor of her thumb like a compass, connecting the places that had become bound in the chromosomal twining of her DNA – her brown eyes from her mother, her strong jaw and the silky fineness of her hair from her father.
There were no edges – really – though she did not know this when she was young.
When she woke up in the morning, after going to sleep as a strategy to avoid the fact that she did not feel belonging anywhere in her life, with anyone, not for more than a moment, went to sleep to avoid this knowing and dreamt of a huge mountain house left behind and full of lamps, woke up to the same knowing that she felt belonging only with herself and only when alone, she noticed that there were spider webs strung between the power lines, strung with droplets of water and thus visible.
From Late Latin entelechia, from Ancient Greek ἐντελέχεια (entelékheia), coined by Aristotle from:
(entelés, “complete, finished, perfect”)
(from τέλος (télos, “end, fruition, accomplishment”)) + ἔχω (ékho, “to have”)
entelechy (plural entelechies)
The complete actualization and final form of a potency or potentiality, or of a conception.
A particular type of motivation, need for self-determination, and inner strength directing life and growth to become all one is capable of being. It is the need to actualize one’s beliefs. It is having a personal vision and being able to actualize that vision from within.
Something complex that emerges when you put a large number of simple objects together.
The other morning, I saw one of the stragglers from the Leonid meteor shower burn across the western sky at 6:10am. It was the biggest shooting star I’ve ever seen, with a broad comet-like tail that glowed greenish in its incineration and stayed in the sky as a dimly haze – like a faint contrail – for a few moments after the bright burning path of the meteor had disappeared. At that moment, running in the dark on the eastern straightaway of the track at the middle school, I’d been thinking about entelechy and the process of potential, of disparate parts making a coherent whole, and also about why it is important to me to be a good steward of my headspace and to use my time wisely.
It is not important for me to be a part of some conversations.
Hulking flat land beasts
never move from where they sit
watching sun lit plains
Columns, brick, steel blades
spray down the floors twice a day
still blood-streaked, sticky
Damn thing never sleeps
all day long it eats and eats
belches, hisses, grinds
mouths open toothless
for the rolling-eyed to roll
scared when they smell death
there is no stampede
tight funneling corridors
green glowing lights swing
men who were children
stand for hours, legs aching
hands into machines
no talking over the din
You are there to work
Smell seeping into skin
wife doesn’t cringe anymore
She is used to it
Do you remember
how beloved the cows were
cattle fields back home
heavy bodies, slow
gentle eyes gaze ahead
calves rest in the grass
grandmother tends them
swatting haunches, gathering
a procession home
She taught you respect,
reverence for what feeds you
don’t know different
Born onto feed lot acres
living in our filth
fresh air, sweet grass, open space
don’t know to miss it
I read an article today about how Waterloo meat bosses made bets on how many workers would get COVID and forced them to work, killing at least five people.
The meat industry is disgusting.
Processing plants are giant machines, do the dirty work of eating animals for us. Turn people into teeth, cutting up the meat.
Let us not forget
Modern American normal
a middle class dream
We live in limbic
That we call true love
Wring your hands, asking
Will things go back to normal?
cement mixer spins
Highways, capillaries pulse
Curl up your bangs, girl
Fix ‘em so they look like waves
tease the locks, ratting
leaning in close and focused
Breathe in, mouth open
enter the card numbers, pin
Fashion a rebel
Sit by the bookcase
Near the plate glass windows, watch,
be watched watching
social code: no eye contact
The wind in the mountains has been carrying water from the ocean for weeks. A vague salt at the edges of scent, a humid round warmth despite November. These winds, stirred up by storms that form in the tropics, hundreds of nautical miles away, make the coast feel close, and the dry rattle of oak leaves gone scarlet for the season is the same here as it is on the edge of Georgia.
Isn’t it such a human tendency to think of home in certain breezes?
Her mother ordered the tulips last spring, selected them from one of the catalogs that comes to the mailbox down at the end of the road. Thin paged and dense with small rectangles of blooms, the made-up names in bold. Comet Tail. Jeffers’ Blue. Occasionally there is a 1/2 page photo of the fields at the flower farm. Rows upon rows of blazing color under unwaveringly blue skies, a row of trees on the horizon suggesting that this is a place adjacent to a regular place, a place with trees and perhaps a road, a road that somehow connects to these fields of flowers.
> Sitting at the kitchen table, other catalogs piled on the left, a dogs’ tennis ball in the bowl of fruit, a legal pad to the right of the frill-edged placemat where she would write down things she found interesting in the paper or in the catalogs. Book talk at library, 6/26, 4:30. Lion’s Mane. Reishi mushrooms. Hummingbird Migration.
> The legal pad was an extension of the bulletin board in the laundry room, where articles or photographs were clipped from the paper and pinned to the cork. A brief list of trails from the Travel section. The Trail of Tears and the Oregon Trail. The Iditarod. Two pictures of owls cut from a magazine. An article about chipmunks preparing for hibernation. The phrase Or Better handwritten in bold, thick Sharpie, partially layered over by an out of date piece about the blue moon, the hunters moon. A ballpoint pin map of the 7 apple trees planted behind the house, circles for each tree, their names and variety written inside. Jonathan. Fuji.
> The legal pad on the table accumulated these small notes written in diagonals across the pages until it was full and fat-seeming from having its pages folded back over each other, edges curled and a little dip at the top of the pages where they’d been flipped back and held down by the weight of the pad to expose a new page. There was a cardboard mailbox under her mother’s desk that held several legal pads and folders with more legal pads in them. Some of them were barely full. This was her mother’s way of keeping a record.
> Somewhere in the legal pad of last spring, there are probably the words “——“ and “—-“ These are the names of the bulbs she ordered from the tulip farm.
“Put them in the place by where we tried to grow vegetables.” She stands in the kitchen by the window, directing my father and I to look at the small rectangle on the back slope of the yard, where young collard greens are coming up in a row still.
“You mean the garden?”
“Yes, I want to be able to see them from this window. There are two kinds of purple. Just mix them. I don’t care how they are planted, but I want to be able to see them from this window.”
The soil is loose and sandy. Grass is easy to pull up and the dirt falls from its roots without resistance. Beside her is a pile of plucked grass, pale capillaries exposed to the drying air. Tulips don’t like their feet wet, her mother has told her, and she hopes that this far up the slope, in the plot beside the young collards, the soil will be dry, will drain well.
The land here seeps with underground springs that sometimes push up through the lawn to burble into streams that run under the house.
The day was warm, and despite the leaves having fallen from the trees already there was a slight benevolence in the slant of sunlight as the afternoon slipped toward evening. It felt to _______ like a different time, a different decade, one of those days that reminds you of the feeling of youth somehow, of how it felt to be young. The mountains get cold quickly, and then warm again for several days at a time depending on what sort of weather is happening in the surrounding regions. Last month, there had been humid storms one after another, the remnants of hurricanes that had moved up through the Gulf Coast in a ragged swirling mass dumping water from the ocean onto all the land-bound fields of Alabama. Sometimes there is snow from Canada. Rarely it seems does weather form in the mountains to go elsewhere. In valleys and coves and up on the balds scraped clean by fire or the wanton grazing of yesteryear there are pockets of aberrant and interesting weather that form depending local conditions, moisture trapped in the shaded folds of a river’s path, exposed fields of wind-flattened grass and low growing scrub in the high elevations. Small storms spring up, and then dissipate, never going far. It may rain on one side of a mountain, socked in with a roiling primordial fog that gathers as heavy droplets on the leaves of rhododendron and mountain ash, held in the brackets of spruce branches to drip and fall like rain onto ground that is never quite dry and spongy soft with needle duff and moss. On the other side of the mountain, the sun may be beating down to ripen berries and warm the rock faces for canebrake and copperhead to rest on.
However, no big storms form in the mountains to move along to other places. Any weather that is birthed here stays here, doesn’t go far at all. _______ wondered if it would snow much this year, and considered the broken branches of the hedge trees that still hung dangling in the side yard. The snow from a few years back broke them, and they’d not yet fallen. They looked painful, the straight-down angle of the branches and the wood at the break split like a bone.
The question of snow lingered in the humid air. Though it was too warm to snow, the clouds were stolid and dark.
I put together a book of poems and realized that I had the layout all wrong, but that it didn’t matter because the whole point of my putting together the book of poems was to learn more about what I am doing wrong – or, rather, what I could stand to strengthen, what I need to learn to pay attention to.
A lot of my language is flat these past few months, but I am trying to be patient with myself here now 8 months, almost 9 months, into the pandemic, 6 months since my mother’s diagnosis, 6 weeks since her surgery, 2 months since her last chemo treatment, 6 weeks since the old orange cat died in the living room, stretching and grimacing and cry out a ragged meow as his body systems shut down finally after weeks of not being able to eat, staring at the water in his dish as if divining a glimpse of what might come next. He had cancer, too. My daughter has been working for 6 weeks, and Thanksgiving/Day of Mourning is on Thursday.
I am focusing a lot on the concrete, the material, the things I need to show up for. However, I am also still very much trying to keep one foot in the liminal, to not forget the mystery and the enormity, the phenomenon of so many lives and movements sprawling out from wherever I might be standing.
The goal of running/walking 10 miles a day has continued to be met most days. On days that I do not meet the goal, I come close, and I make up the difference over the days that follow.
The deer was a streak of movement in the dark, almost silent moving at the perimeter of the track. I knew it was a deer because of the soundlessness, the way the form moved in the pre-dawn absence of light. It is easy to recognize some things, especially if you’ve seen them hundreds of times. The smooth line of a running deer is familiar, even when there is no light. As I round the curve of the track the deer cut right, bounding and leaping across the football field to the other side of the track near where I had first seen it.
We repeated this five or six times. I ran toward the dark end of the track and the deer skirted the edge, a stealthy blurred form near the fence, then ran across the field to the pocket of the shadow by the ditch and a small oak only to break into a cruising run as I approached again.
As I write this a day later my eyes are heavy and the mind-space is fuzzy, a little blank. There is no sharp sense of inspiration or vision, though I have thought determinedly about poetry every morning as I run in the dark at the middle school. I remember several laps in that thinking never got me much of anywhere and that poetry is far more likely to find me if I am not thinking of anything at all, if I am just breathing and watching the silhouettes of trees slide by against the inky sky, noticing the fog settling over the lights by the bridge across the river down the slope, the way the world disappears right before dawn.
My mom is supposed to get out of the hospital today, pending some business with her bowel. My father was vacuuming when I called him this morning. My son left the house early to run with the cross country team as part of the effort to prepare themselves for the possibility of a state championship despite the pandemic. My daughter will be going to work this afternoon.
I have to clock in to work in three minutes. I don’t remember whether I mentioned here that my cat had died.
What a fucking week it has been…
Somehow, I am still okay.
They live in marshes
make intricate homes of reeds
arches like tunnels
Floors always sinking
flocks of birds visit
Those who live without
states and tariffs, taxes
useless by design
sneering kings with no power
drain the wetlands dry
reeds dry in the sun
slowly crack and turn to dust
dinosaur sludge blood
grand machinery digs deep
fires catch, the earth weeps
leveraged for the profit
of the immoral
huge opulent rooms
islands built where there were none
shaped like the palm tree
sand is cold at night
the only sound is grinding
hungry metal groans
we are never clean
oil and dirt under the nails
skin lined, dark rivers
we all want the world
to be as we believe it
ought to be, by God
noble, to be brave
close the cockpit, brace yourself
ground tilting, rushing
any past, future, bravery
you become ashes
names forgotten quick
not even spoken in news
never said aloud
at home, mothers cry
mourning the death of brave sons
wear black forever
there is no noble
wasteful acts of explosions
in a world on fire
You were lied to, kid
by someone playing a God
they still sleep at night
take the road straight north
following fence lines in pines
gates are on the right
guard from Ohio
nineteen years old, just last month
signed on with no choice
No good options there
Fast food, gas stations, drunk mom
land grey, flat, endless
Sit in the booth, wait
Headlights approach, slow down some
a window opens
soft arm extended
plastic badge held for passage
proof of belonging
nobody knows where
bombs are asleep under ground
7 days a week, all year
never rest easy
the local paper
claimed great opportunity
put the place on maps
there was no report
on the nuclear weapons
sleeping by rivers
submarines are fish
floating in the docking bays
men in their bellies
fathers and brothers
soft skin under uniforms
out to sea for months
cruising oceans far away
degaussed, signal stripped
invisible hull cutting
under the big blue
the officers sleep
safely in big houses
bricks under oak shade
there was no war news
no warnings issued to us
bombs ready, waiting
We rode the buses
sat still to learn history
laughing, no knowledge
studied by men all over
war men, generals
Tone like a tiny stammering heart
a bird or a shrew, something much smaller
hidden or flying, always fleeing
the cadence officially wakes you
though the ocean falling
had you tossed, turned
rolled over like a shell in the dark underneath
waiting for the sound that forces a move
one direction or another
get up or stay down
and you listen to the water
hitting the ground
and consider the fact
that the hurricane rain
is a special event,
fast moving and not to be missed
this chance to smell the ocean
carried to the mountains
by winds that were born
thousands of miles away
the rain is heavy on your face
and you call it cleansing
even though you’re not sure
if you believe in anything anymore
and you think about the trees felled
waves swelling and lines falling
notice the rough shine on the streets
ragged in the gusts
and you run
like you used to run across the sand
fearlessly crashing into the water
At the curve by the shed
you consider your mother saying
that she was glad
she didn’t have to get the pelvic exams
and you wonder why she didn’t
is this something that happens
between doctors and old women
the abandoning of the ‘girl parts’
as your mother calls them
not spoken about or examined,
until the stomachache
the changes in bowel and bladder
“I can’t eat the tomato sauce anymore,”
she explains last fall, telling you
she has heartburn,
that you don’t ask about,
until you notice
that she’s rounder than she has been
doesn’t eat hardly a thing
looks like she’s gonna have a baby,
but she’s old,
too old to be having the pelvic exam,
much less a baby,
still you say,
“You should maybe go to the doctor?”
and on the curve by the shed you wonder if that man who raped your mother years ago, when you were 12, when she was buying presents for you and your brother at the mall that doesn’t exist anymore just down the road from where the Black man running was beaten and shot, where your mother was pulled into her own car and raped, if that man made her erase her girl parts, her lady parts, if he – in way – is responsible for her dying of cancer.
concepts of half register as a plinking
dull pulse of meaning, relevance without substance, no real spelling out of quantity or quality, only an amount that you recognize as a portion of another amount which you equally cannot picture when they talk about half gone half destroyed half burnt half cut and, also, half-hearted the way you want to know the fullness of this thing they say, that half of them are gone, the totality of where the half went, this half that is gone, this half destroyed, and you are only half certain that you want to know the whole truth of what has happened and what will happen.
Inside, there is a constant shuffling, a rearranging, constellating of factors
too numerous and small to even imagine
the respiration of cells ,
the minuscule tremor of cytoplasm
dilation of vessels and gas exchange
in the alveoli, cilia wave like grass stirred by wind while deep in the tissue the nuclei release the signal to die, or to grow, to divide and to divide and to divide…and so it goes a billion times over all day and every day,
the interchanges of evolution writing out new possible futures in the space between heartbeats, the pause between breaths…
All day long, my future is re-written.
As soon as the sun rises, I don’t want to write. This is, of course, because it is time to write. I’m sure that if I aimed to write a 5:00am, I wouldn’t want to write then either. The sequence of my mornings from mid-summer and on into the fall has been to be at the middle school track early, running around and around, studying the line of trees that marks the perimeter of what remains of the Clingman Woods, now a small strip of oak and hickory on a slope too steep to build on, home to the screech owl I hear only occasionally and a number of other creatures.
Here is the problem with writing: There is too much to say. I have 34 minutes before I have to clock in for work and here I am thinking about the deer that was at the track with me last week, maybe late the week before. All the early mornings blur together. The deer must have entered the track at the break in the fence behind the storage shed on the southwest corner of the baseball field that is adjacent. There is a door-sized section of chainlink missing there where one fence ends and another begins. The deer must have gotten in there, at the break in the fence, not realizing where it was going or how to get back to the small line of forest the separates the middle school perched on its hill from Clingman Avenue down by the River Arts District. I might have written about the deer, or tried to for a few minutes at least, or maybe I only thought about writing down the way I recognized the running form of the deer. Even though it was dark I could see the pale of its haunches and the lightness of its running-with-small-trotting-leaps. I saw the movement at the edge of the track and despite it being dark and me being alone and the school being on a street where there are sometimes sketchy people because there are poor people who have been through a lot and poor people who have been through a lot can sometimes be sketchy because they are trying to survive and sometimes under the influence of drugs or bad ideas or trying to get some power over something or somebody because they ain’t never had power or all there power got took and so they might be wanting to take power from someone else just for the feeling of having a little control over something, despite all that and the fact that sometimes the track is eerie at 5:30 in the morning, with just the wind in the trees or the stillness of no wind and the smell of someone’s campfire out behind a building somewhere down closer to the street or tucked up into the woods trying to stay warm, it wasn’t scary to see the deer. Not even for a second. It wasn’t scary. As soon as I saw the movement I knew it was a deer without even trying to know.
My boss just texted me about some grant I am supposed to start working on at 9:00am, in 22 minutes.
I forget about the deer, about how I felt grateful for seeing it, and for knowing without trying that it was a deer, and for the way it leapt when it ran across the football field to be further from me.
So, as I was saying, the problem with writing is that there is just too much, and all of it strings together, is connected en masse and thank god for poetry because that might really be the only way to say anything about what it is to be running around in circles before dawn every day and to watch the sky be doing whatever it is that it is doing without knowing it is doing anything at all, existing with Orion clear and to the south covered or not covered, clouds moving or still, the moon in its phases and the winds moving in currents over the bowl of the field, warm moving up from the flat river sides, the paved streets and rock-heap rail bed, the flat lands way down yonder baking under the sun yesterday and warming up the air to be carried by the storm all the way here in these mountains, that storm that came all the way up through the Gulf of Mexico, pulling up water from the ocean to rain down on me in the morning before the sun even rises.
This morning, I was thinking about anticipatory grief, and how I haven’t said anything for a while, about how my mom had her surgery and has been home a week and a 1/2 now, staples out and abdomen deflated from the volleyball-sized mass of her fused ovaries, uterus, and segment of bowel, the high-grade serous carcinoma that originated in the epithelial cells of her Fallopian tubes as a result of a few strands of damaged DNA. She is much diminished, my mother.
I can hold my hands in a circle-shape, a dilation-shape made with just the tips of my pointer fingers and the tips of my thumbs, and still not even have to try to encircle her thigh.
Her arms are showing their bones.
This morning, after reading the pathology report given to her yesterday by her doctor at the post-operative appointment that I did not attend due to having a racial equity committee meeting scheduled and needing to give my daughter a ride to work in the mid-afternoon, I thought about anticipatory grief and about how I am watching my mother die, just like I watched my great-grandmother get old and die, just like I watched the land I grew up on and loved get torn up and paved, just like I watched the marshes begin to die, and the wild places on the sides of roads get cut down for some drab square shaped place, and how I am not watching the whole world struggle with this complex sickness and the country I live in slowly collapse under the weight of its own dysfunction and ugliness…and how there is not much I can do about any of it…
And so like I was saying, there is too much to say…
I have to go to work in 3 minutes now, and I haven’t even begun to spell out the feeling of grief that lives in me lately and has lived in me for almost as long as I can remember.
it is easy to name the thing that kill us
we can call it by one syllable, by two,
three if we’re being technical
summarizing in simple terms
the ways that cells refuse to die
or die all too quickly,
the details don’t matter
in the way we speak about these things
these things that kill us
A young working man
To walk like a whisper
imagine air as body
and watch where you step
you can be soundless
almost anyway – quiet
quieter than most
body as air, rise
don’t try to beat gravity
it doesn’t exist
Today is Halloween or Samhain or the evening before the Day of the Dead. Saturday the 31st and I missed the sunrise for the first time in weeks, but that’s okay. It is a hazard of sleeping in a dark room. You are not quite sure when the daylight comes.
Today, I drew a 6 of spades, and a Queen of Clubs, then an ace of spades, which ignored as a sign I was being willful. I put them all back in the deck and drew an 8 of hearts encouraging me to be mindful in keeping a positive attitude. It’s another all or nothing card – the eight of hearts, like the 8 of diamonds. The eight of hearts also signifies poor returns on investments and deals falling through at the last minute. It’s not an especially favorable card.
I am going to start writing down the cards I pull, because there are definite patterns and tendencies. Earlier this week, I pulled the 5 and the 8 of diamonds two days in a row despite significantly shuffling. Similar occurrences have taken place with the 8 of clubs – my birth card.
Right now, I am supposed to be writing poetry for a contest I intend to enter. Recently, however, I have been reminded that it is important to be taking notes and that I need to resume and sharpen that practice. Taking notes is the precursor of poetry, because it limbers my mind for writing and also creates a space for noticing.
I am learning about the formalities of poetry from the 3rd edition of Babette Deutsch’s Poetry Handbook, which is a dictionary and guide to poetic terminology and forms, with explanations and examples. I found the book in a free box somewhere. It has library binding and once belonged to the Jackson County Comprehensive High School. It is in alphabetical order, but contains cross referenced entries. The book is full of words I’ve never heard of and I understand that if I actually want to learn what the book might have to teach me, I need to take notes. That is how I best learn, by taking notes – writing things down.