WRITE ABOUT A PLACE
A woman in a zebra-stripped dress has her legs crossed,
sunglasses parked on top of her head,
and a computer in her lap.
The tables are copper colored and match
the long copper-plated bar with the
espresso machine and bottles of wine.
You keep glancing at the woman in the zebra dress,
She does not look up from the work she is absorbed in.
The man next to you has shut his laptap and pulled the plug.
He's getting up now, about to liberate the table he's occupied.
The man downs the last of his coffee and walks
his empty cup over to the dish tub.
He wears a red cap and seems to know the barista,
who waves affectionately to him
as he passes by her.
I fished my old driver's license out of the garbage last night. It had expired and I didn't need it anymore, so I'd tossed it. But last night it gleamed up at me like the relic it is, and I decided to hold onto it, just as I held onto my old passport. The DMV person had defaced it, stamped twenty-eight holes in the shape of the word "void" through it. But he missed my photograph, which atypically was quite good (the one on my new driver's license in awful; I have to live with it until 2020).
My old driver's license was issued in March of 2015, four days before my fifty-first birthday and two months before I sold my car. For eight years I didn't own a car and hardly drove at all; only at the end of that time did I start driving my father's car around, after he developed Alzheimer's. Those were good years, living without an automobile. I spent much of that time in Cambodia and Turkey and even though I was flying on jet aircraft I still felt that without my car my carbon footprint was less than before.
The cities I've lived in or visited during the interim of not owning a car include Phnom Penh, Istanbul, Paris and Washington DC. I can say that I've walked so many of the streets in certain districts of Phnom Penh and Istanbul that I could find them in my dreams, or in another lifetime. Walking, like meditation - and many of the other best things in life - is essentially free, and the tradeoff between owning a car and paying for gas, new tires and automobile insurance (not to mention accidentally killing someone) versus walking around for free was a very good one.
My old driver's license says I weighed 155 pounds whereas on my new one my official weight is 170, also the difference between owning a car and being a pedestrian.
You haven't been remembering many dreams, almost
sleeping too well and the journey from going to bed
to getting up the next day is swift,
more than you'd prefer.
You remember a hotel room in Rome,
where you slept after spending all day walking the city.
How other guests of the seedy hotel woke you during the night,
how during the last night in Rome you woke up continuously, maybe
anticipating the loss of perhaps leaving the city
forever and even missing the room and its naked lightbulb.
When you first arrived in Rome you walked to the Coliseum
and saw men with rubber swords dressed as gladiators,
dreamed about them that night, felt the history of the place as your own,
more than anywhere you'd ever been. Saw the Baths of Diocletian
and the Spanish Steps the next day, realized that bricks were
what all the monuments and grand buildings were made of.
It's 6:29. A redwinged blackbird calls from within the nearby cattail thicket. The heat of the day has past, the rain has fallen.
Last night I had many dreams, the first such night in a while that I can remember. The dreams went my way, the arguments at my expense turned out to be spurious. I was empowered during the night and today I "pushed upward into an empty city" (as the I Ching prophesied).
The clouds are silver and luminous
behind the pine trees on the ridge.
Breath is coming easily…
I write these words without knowing why -
Radiation. Sunlight. Palimpsest. Obsidian.
As my fingers finish typing one word the next arrives.
I did my qigong this morning and reflected again
on the emphasis on the hands -
how they define the movement,
how they gather and accumulate chi,
how they have infinite discernment, like the eye and tongue.
Obsidian is a sensuous word (but so are the others).
Obsidian comes from the Latin obsidianus,
and was named after the ancient Roman
who discovered the stone, or at least named it.
I return my fingers to the keyboard.
I stretch my lumbar spine, expanding my chest
and then breathe deeply.
Words pour out of my fingers.
After each period - uncertainty, unknown,
For a few minutes I think there is a fan in the room. Somehow my hearing dissociates, or maybe a current of wind suggests a fan behind me coming from the back wall when all along it is the fan of my computer keeping the machine cool on this 86 degree Fahrenheit day.
The surface of the cup of water next to me rocks back and forth with the movement of my fingers as I type, a small wave forms in the cup, but not so much to disturb the water's ability to reflect the sunlight coming through the window, to reflect the clouds that are forming at 4:52 PM. I've taken my bracelet off and set it beside the cup, both because it was too hot to keep wearing it and because I'm home for the day with no need to keep it on, an ornament I mostly wear in the outer world. The large turquoise stone of my bracelet adds color to the otherwise monotonous formica tabletop, white like the papers strewn across it (except for a blue napkin and a yellow post it).
I reach for the water, hold the cup in both hands and drink slowly and deeply and I can see my reflection in the rapidly disappearing water, the reflective surface increases as the angle of the cup approaches 90 degrees. Suddenly I breathe deeply and am aware of water, wind (breath) and fire (the blazing sun). I copied a quote by William Stafford onto one of the pieces of paper, now torn and wrinkled, it reads, "The field of writing will never be crowded, not because people can't write, but because they don't think they can."
Now I've effectively saved the quote and I discard the paper into the blue waste basket. It lands, hitting the side as it falls and making a sound so distinct I pick it up and let it fall a second time, the sound a kind of swoosh that ceases abruptly. Now I breathe even more deeply than before, not that I was thinking why beforehand, but now I know I was breathing that way both to stave off late afternoon drowsiness and to gather more energy to keep on writing.
In a way there is and there isn't much chi in this room. There isn't because the room is mostly bare of decoration, or else haphazard and akimbo of the few things that are in here: a bunch of U-Haul boxes, a desk, lamp, empty red bookcase and Tibetan rug with a green dragon on it. When a room isn't arranged the chi suffers. On the other hand the two windows are wide open and through one of them sunlight is streaming in.
I drink more water and hear the sound of swalling it, also a kind of swoosh that gradually fades as my throat clears.
You tended the temple fire,
though really you were just playing,
burning shreds of banyan tree leaves
among the smoldering ashes.
Though you are only a child
you tended the fire like a priest
conducting funeral rites.
As the shutter snapped
you caught my eye and some of you
escaped into the photograph.
When I return where will you be?
But you ask me, When will you return?
Neither of us answer.
The fire is still burning.
You took a long walk.
Maybe it was Saigon.
There was no escaping the traffic,
the cement, the sidewalks.
You came upon a wrecked dresser beside
a graffiti stained wall.
The furniture spoke to you.
Covered in dust, its veneer unglued,
its one-time occupants -
socks, photo albums, old wrist-watches -
now long dispersed into the wider city.
You realize it will never be reclaimed,
it is useless yet fills your optic nerve with hope.
Because of the way the sunlight
illuminates it at 5:00 PM, the empty
dresser is ablaze with glory,
at the edge of the planet
as you are.
You walk down the pedestrian mall,
among the others, trying to make it vivid,
asking the noticable to come forth.
But you stumble over the ordinary -
the no-smoking sign, the unexceptional
art galeries, the dreadlocked
yogi who squeezes himself
into a plexiglass box.
You Could Leave
You could leave the door open all day -
sometimes you'd walk through it,
onto the patio with its potted plants and stray cat.
Sometimes Cambodian wedding music blared,
or motocycle engines, but always some noise -
roosters going off or the shriek of a child.
Ambient noise thick as the humidity.
Only rain would obliterate it all,
turn the world back to its origin.
Besides sleep, life is filled with waiting.
The waiting you did then prepared you
now the noise you hear is the same as the
through the doorway,
Every morning the river draws you to it.
It is the water itself, but also the trees,
the bridges, the quiet,
The river is everything yet barely moves -
no one fishes it, sewage enters through
exposed pipes and overflowing storm
The water is green, opaque.
The living river piles up inside you and each
sends more impressions into your
A young woman holds a 5-dollar bill
and waits in line for a coffee.
The shadow of the man behind her falls
near her right ankle.
The man wears a red hat.
The window that allows the sun
to cast the man's shadow in your direction
reveals a bank, two umbrellas
and blazing sunlight.
The woman with the 5-dollar bill
turns out to be someone you know
(though you forgot her name)
and you exchange small talk
while she waits in line.
Finally you say,
Sorry, but I forgot your name.
Oh, that's right.
There are eight bottles of Pellegrino in the cooler.
A fly swarms around your head.
There is noise.
the roar of the coffee grinder,
The aroma of coffee penetrates the room
and smells humid mixed
with the air conditioner wind.
A steady stream of customers passes by your table.
A small girl in a pony tail is hoping for toast
but told that unfortunately they have none.
The girl looks pensive.
She ponders the alternatives,
then turns and skips out the café.
Two men are visiting at the table next to you.
They are talking floor plans or something about machines.
The round table creates intimacy between them
and they are engrossed in conversation.
The table is piled up with coffee cups, used napkins
and a notepad one of the man is drawing intently on.
There is a bolt and bushings, the man
in the long-sleeved shirt says to the other.
The man in the long-sleeved shirt is Chinese and speaks
to the other with real warmth.
The other man is dressed in a blue t-shirt and shorts
and is doing most of the listening.
Way across the room a worker is putting
washed cups and saucers away,
slamming them into place
and the sound of porcelain on porcelain
drowns out the men's conversation and brings
a new narrative into the room.
It's always gaining traction, the Chinese man says to the other,
drawing seals, shimmies and clutch pads on the tablet,
then using his hands to demonstrate the torque
required to achieve whatever his invention
is trying to achieve.
Two woman are visiting at the table next to you.
As typical in conversations, one is talking more than the other.
I feel that universities are the biggest trap, the more talkative
woman explains and the other agrees.
They all move around so much, the first woman says.
Chucks of what they're saying are drowned out by the clatter of porcelain
and its impossible to grasp the subjects of their conversation.
The women are 30-ish and educated.
I've got lots of clients, the first women says,
and then adds a few minutes later,
My grandparents ran a hospital in Houston.
Think about it, the more quiet one says,
And I'll see you next Wednesday.
The word advertising is used,
perhaps that's the field they work in.
Our schools are all in one domain, the first woman says.
What the other woman says is impossible to hear.
It's no longer their conversation that interest you,
but just the fact that they are able to have one.
Two woman are talking at a table near you.
One has blonde hair, the other black.
The woman with blonde hair has a tattoo
on her left arm that says Good Luck.
Her legs are crossed and she has
a ring of keys attached to her belt.
The women are looking intently at each other
talking about art and studios and hardwood floors.
They are the same height, same build, same age (young).
The woman in black hair looks intently at her friend.
The woman with blond hair is turned and you cannot see her face.
The barista shouts Meadow from across the room and at that moment music also begins playing, a steady drum beat.
The time people spend visiting with a casual acquaintance
is typically 70 minutes.
That is often all we know of each other,
70 minutes over lunch or coffee
every once in a while.
It was recently reported the rappers like Eminem
use more words in their lyrics than Bob Dylan
Yesterday you were talking about books,
how no one reads them anymore.
It's true that no one is reading books here,
at least not in the cafe,
where every customer is staring at their laptop.
The man next to you switches to his cell phone and
You hear his side of the conversation -
What's going on with you?
Yeah, you enjoying it.
Of wow, that's awesome.
Work's good, you know. It is what it is.
I don't know how passionate I am about it,
but we're moving into new markets,
so it's busy.
Porcelain is Clattering
Porcelain is clattering and the music is loud.
A man and a woman sit at a table on whose top
rests a cell phone, dark glasses and bottle of kumbucha.
The man wears a hat, the woman is Asian.
His beard is closely cropped and her arm is braceleted.
They seem in symmetry, equally enthused in the conversation,
talking about a subject, not about themselves.
She gestures with her hands, his hands rest on the table.
On closer look the man is receiving, the woman directing.
She describes something that made her irate and
the man's eyes gleam a few watts brighter.
Only now do I see his right arm is entirely tattooed.
I talked to two people about their BA - that is the only part
of their conversation I've been able to hear.
More porcelain clatters.
No, I understand that, he replies a few sentences later.
Her eyes grow large, his narrow.
They are comrades not lovers, though that could change.
Sometimes her eyes glance at his chest.
They have both kept their legs crossed.
Their conversation is cerebral but their bodies
are sensual, like all of ours are.
I don't have as much stuff as I used to, not nearly as much. I have an elderly friend who has mountains of stuff and she is trying to get rid of it. During a period of divine inspiration (and partial madness) I got rid of almost all my stuff. My friend has stuff she wants to get rid of but doesn't know how to. Most of it belonged to her deceased husband, a geologist who collected all manner of scientific books and journals, as well as stamps, a science fiction library and various memorabilia. His stuff fills the garage, the attic, his office and every other room of my friend's sizable home. The stuff I own fits inside a small storage locker or else helps furnish the house I own but rent out. Essentially I live out of a suitcase (and a few boxes). My friend grew up doing lots camping and, but for her age and rheumatoid arthritis, could, in her own words, just take off and go camping (another form of living out of a suitcase). I've aged but my mind hasn't, nor has my friend's mind aged, even though she is 83. All of us live in an aging body and un-aging mind, our inner awareness. That dilemma makes life interesting and provides us with all manner of relative conundrums. A lot of our stuff serves to remind us of an earlier time in our life, creating the illusion that that time is still somehow here. When I got rid of my stuff and began traveling again I had little to nothing to remind me of my earlier life, my history. That might have led to a certain degree of more madness, but through trials I've accepted my self-imposed fate and no longer long for the stuff I got rid of. My friend could easily become infirm or die before she gets rid of her stuff, leaving it for someone else to deal with, a fate she wants to avoid. She feels responsible to the stuff - she can't just throw it away (even though most of it outdated or otherwise unwanted) - nor does she want it to become her children's or someone else's problem. My travels through Asia have shown me there is a tremendous amount of stuff in the world. That fact can be observed most anywhere on the planet, but there is something about Asian markets and shopping centers that really drives home that fact: that we are embedded in stuff - unless we are poor and "third world" and therefore stuff-less, but even then the stuff that is still out of reach is typically highly desired. I've heard that our relationship to stuff is changing, that the generation coming of age is charting a different relationship to stuff and thus potentially changing the global economy and capitalism itself. Lots of younger people like to rent, live in small quarters, have little stuff and barter or trade as much as possible - for instance sharing an automobile between several friends. No doubt we are at a tipping point when it comes to stuff, just as we are with CO2 and toxic landfills. My friend's house is at a tipping point but I guess I've somehow gotten a bit on the other side - though I still find myself hauling around a lot more stuff that I want to be. I'm inspired to get rid of more stuff and to help my elderly friend do the same. If I was to have a gravestone (more stuff) which I won't, it might simply say, Got rid of his stuff.
This is what the man with a beard,
and a t-shirt just said:
We're taught there is original sin
and that we're supposed to be perfect.
There is no original sin and no one is perfect.
Now he is eating his lunch,
alone at his own table.
Next to him is a table of people, young,
talking to their wilderness guide and mentor.
Charity is making the lattes here,
she invited me to a Yuwipi healing ceremony
tonight but I won't be going.
Healing these days seems to be
accepting myself as in there
is no original sin and
no one is perfect and I have less need
to seek out programs and healing sessions.
I know of a man who died here a few weeks ago,
died with melanoma that ate his face away
while he lived in the back of his pickup truck
and gazed into the great San Louis Valley.
As the cancer took him
there is no original sin
and life is great perfection.
Be fascinated by the phenomenal universe. - Allen Ginsberg
The earliest substantiated evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree is from the 15th century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. - Bennett Alan Weinberg, Bonnie K. Bealer. The World of Caffeine