The inescapable aloneness I tried every day to escape. The key was somewhere; I was sure of it. Her arms. The tattered book about God. The next cup of coffee, or the next.


N. assures me there’s nothing to be jealous about. I believe her. But her attraction to another man still shakes the walls. I remind myself they’re just the walls of ego, but ego is the house I call home. How resentful I feel, how fearful, if N. laughs too warmly at his jokes. I confuse N.’s love with God’s love, the joists and beams of “Sy” with my heart’s true home.


The Cold War is over, but there are still two hundred nations with their borders and armies, three hundred religions and cults and subcults with their jealous and possessive gods.


From the Raleigh News and Observer, January 8, 1996: “Millions of monarch butterflies died at their winter sanctuary in western Mexico as temperatures plunged to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The monarchs dropped off trees where they were perched and fell into the snow. News photographs showed thousands of dead butterflies littering the snow.”


Death is quite a genius, always perplexing us with the same riddle.


If my mother were alive today, she’d be seventy-nine. We’d be celebrating her birthday in a dark booth in a Chinese restaurant. I’d be feeding her. The wantons would glisten.


D. delivers mail — the same route every day. Only, he says, the route is never the same. Each day he notices something different. “I want to be in this life,” he says, “not doing something else while I’m doing this.”


The poem arrives in the middle of the night. While I’m kissing my wife. Stay, I say. But it doesn’t wait for morning.


When he worked on a trail crew in Yosemite, the poet Gary Snyder struggled to maintain an intellectual life, getting up early to read, trying to think about serious things while hauling brush. Finally, he recalls, “I said the hell with it. I’ll just work. And instead of losing something, I got something much greater. By just working, I found myself being completely there.” He says that’s when he started writing worthwhile poems.


Oh perfect word, shaped to meaning like a body without an ounce of fat: supple, strong, walking through the centuries like a god.


I ask B. if he has any advice for me on my birthday. He says, “Yes — every time you inhale, remember to exhale.”


Wanting to be someone else for a change: someone so sure of himself he never listens to the weather report; drives his wife to the airport and knows exactly what he’ll do when he gets home.


Loneliness regards me from His throne. Don’t I know He’s busy? The world is full of lonely people. He has so many responsibilities. And here I am, sniveling.


On the shelf above my desk is a shell brought back years ago from a trip to the beach. But which trip? To which beach? With which wife? What would it mean to honor the shell itself, stripped of any meaning I attach to it?


If sex were light. If, standing naked, I stood naked.


I return to what is utterly mysterious: this life, not my stories about it.


I love the day. I hate the day for ending. Never grateful for tiredness. For sleep murmuring my name, reaching out a hand.