I’ve been getting up early to write. It’s the only time of the day I can count on for solitude and clear-mindedness. Most of these words were put down in the hours before dawn, and some of them are about those strange hours, and the rest are about this strange life.


January 10 — I wake up early, bang on the door of my heart to be let in. An old man comes. His eyes have seen the world. His smile is the sun rising over mountains. I tell him why I’ve come. Sit, he says. He leaves me then for a long time.

There is a dark cloud in the sky of my faith. It stretches across the horizon. Grey, grey, the world is grey.

I fall asleep, dream of waking up. There is an old man who knows me. He shows me how my body can be a picture of the world: standing tall, I’m a mountain; smiling, I’m the sun.

I walk away from myself at last.


January 13 — The mind’s tyranny, the dictatorial past: who rises up against this? Who is with me?

I am, says the heart.

Who else?

Ah, the silence. Only the heart is with me.


January 13Poem for C.

I drive through sleepy
North Carolina towns,
closed against the cold,
pass a black farmer
in an old pickup
the color of your lips.
He looks at me without
smiling — another white man
rushing, missing the point
He’s right: I’m
kicking away clouds
with heavy boots,
sinking into nothing,
stormy, overwrought,
the kind of man
the earth eats for breakfast.


January 14 — Dreamt last night of C. kissing someone. I was furious.

Is it desire itself I’m betrayed by? My own for someone else, or C.’s for someone else? The long, curvaceous body of desire itself: wet mouth, long legs, deep-well eyes?

“Behind every rosebush of desire,” said Buddha, “lies the snake of disillusion.”

The great bouquet of longing, petals falling with the years — its fragrance overwhelms me still: smell of hair and breath and skin, cock and cunt, Kali’s hot kiss. Is that her snake tongue, or the flower’s swaying stem? I am none the wiser — borne on waves of orgasm, beached on longing’s sands, wandering the shores of Mind, still a man.


January 18The happy child.

The happy child
relieves suffering
by the way
he walks
away from it.
Birds fly south,
and we are glad,
The rise of the hill
calls to the muscles
inside that never see
sunlight, yet sing
without complaint.

The happy child
doesn’t talk about God
for the same reason
animals eat when they’re hungry
and banks close on time.

The happy child
is in the world
the way once or twice
I’ve been in a woman,
the way the nail really melted
only Christ gave it strength,
the way the Atlantic Ocean
loves the moon.


January 20The economy takes a turn.

The economy
breaks down
like the will of a man
who’s promised something
foolish, and must admit it
in front of his children
and his wife,
who love their comfort
but love him more.
Now he knows it.
Now he starts to remember
his dreams.

The energy we ran on
wasn’t oil,
but forgetfulness.
They taught us
the earth was dirt,
and money was a house,
and words were a curtain
to draw across the fear
that everything they taught us
was wrong.

The President stands
by the window,
the curtain in his hand.


January 24 — “You can tell people belong together,” J. says, “when they start to look alike.”

“Maybe it’s the secrets they share,” C. says later.

She’s right. It’s the weathers of the shared night, the clouds that pass between them, and the rain that won’t stop, and the thirst. It’s the sunny joke cracked like a fresh egg first thing in the morning, laughter filling the room like light. It’s the same old joke again, Sunday afternoon never-ending, the stairs they climb to other stairs, the darkened hall not wide enough for two.


January 27 — I touched her neck, and she remembered her dream. Up and down the body are reminders of where we’ve been.


February 1Haunted.

The postman tells me
of his haunted house,
and in the woods
a menacing bird,
tall as himself,
a god of Egypt
wandering dazed,
a dead father
wanting one more kiss.

The inside of the brain
peels back century
by century.
Who’s to say
what’s true?

The fear in him
was a pitchfork
sent deep into
his hay-strewn life,
clearing him and his friends
out of the big barn
of their self-confidence,
their talk of unemployment
and nuclear war.


February 21 — I’m at an inner crossroads, not sure what to visualize, or pray for. The ego elbows its way to the bar, orders drinks for everyone — but its generosity is suspect, since it’s been in the back booth the past hour drinking alone, raising the glass to a more beautiful body, to its own happiness, to success.

If I pursue these goals, what am I missing? The single goal of peace. If I keep trying to make myself better, I miss who I am — holy, radiant, the hand of God caressing the body of the world. I don’t need to keep working skin cream into my hands, but to see them as they are: of course I feel the roughness of my human imperfections. Whose hands are unlined? Unblistered? Uncut? The world is a nail through the hand. We’re all Sons of God, come to show ourselves that a hand open to suffering is stronger than a fist and that suffering itself is a choice: God does not writhe; our writhing stops when we learn that. And the hands come together then like mountains risen from the sea, like the twin halves of a peach, like the roof of a cathedral: here is the true church, under an archway of fingers joined in prayer.


February 24 — My more limited perceptions deny possibilities; my more expansive perceptions create them. It’s not a question of right or wrong, but of simple mechanics. And nothing changes “for the better” unless I acknowledge, in the moment, where I am, without judgment. I don’t change by trying to dismantle the illusion-creating factories; I just walk away from them. I stop oiling the particular machine that I know creates a certain limiting view, a sure suffering.


March 5 — I get up early to see myself, not in the mirror of other’s faces, or in the reflection of what I’ve gotten done, but in the clear solitude of these strange hours before dawn. It’s morning, though the darkness suggests otherwise; I’m hardly alone — C. asleep in the next room; dreamers streaming in and out of their bodies up and down the block — yet the quiet tells me the day’s not yet been born, my day anyway, so I get to be the midwife at my own birth.


March 7 — Some mornings the dirt of my dreams crumbles easily, my roots fly out in all directions: I see myself grow!

Other days, it’s pick and shovel work here at Stony Heart. . . .

I prayed today for God’s blessing. I offered to Him all that was precious to me — my children and the woman I love, my magazine, my body, everything. Then it dawned on me: this is His blessing, the tissue of His love: my life. How I take it for granted, and ask for more. More what? Opportunity to serve? There is plenty. Time alone? Here I am. Spiritual teachings? The books crowd the shelf. God’s answer to my prayer is my life, if I could but see it. Nothing’s missing — including this sense of lack I still cling to, which turns me again and again toward Him.


March 10Hungry All Day

I get up early
to eat a big breakfast
of silence.
If I don’t
I’m hungry all day.
I look for silence
everywhere —
in my work, in conversation,
in the eyes of my lover —
but it’s always distant,
like the thin cries of birds,
like an animal running past me
and disappearing into the woods.
I can’t chase it,
I don’t have the strength,
I didn’t eat.


March 14 — Keeping an eye on the scoreboard: who’s ahead? The moral Sy, who speaks so passionately to God? The tired Sy, who just wants to sleep? The lustful Sy, who just wants pleasure? The priest in me? Who is he, anyway? Is the priest the parent in me? The moralizing, sanctimonious TV evangelist? No “man of God,” that’s for sure. He bullies me the most; at least the libertine leaves the others alone when he’s enjoying himself, but the priest is always awake, peering through the blinds.

This sternness, or is it firmness, or is it weakness dressed to kill? Up at 4, the monk’s hour, so I can dress and undress my mind, try on everything in the closet, before the world opens its eyes — so I know my real nakedness each day, or at least know how hard it is to be naked, to stay that way between costume changes.


March 16 — I stake out these first two hours, defend them against my own scoldings — I can’t wait to get to “work,” but this work is harder. I don’t meditate exactly, nor do I write very much. Sometimes I just sit here. Sometimes I pray. Sometimes nothing at all happens — and the time is a field left fallow. I wander the field; sometimes there is grief — my childhood dragging itself like a plow through the earth of my days. I wonder what I’ll plant in these rows of the past. Myself, over and over? There is too much of me already. Better to let the field lie fallow, better the dry grey wind to sweep me. . . .

Now, the wind, or was it a car? Crickets — the first morning I’ve heard them, Spring officially a few days away.


March 16Awakening

Awakened by the alarm,
drawn into this dream.
Is sleepiness the alarm
that awakens me to the
dreamer’s world?
Back and forth,
back and forth,
rubbing something from
my eyes.



March 17 — In my dream I’m about to go “back home” armed — or so it seems — with pad and pen. To write about it is the way to see it, and protect myself, the dream suggests. . . . Yet doesn’t most of what I write have the same shape: squeezed of extra words, as emotionally I felt squeezed, these miserly sentences, tersely measured phrases; “the best” of me on the page, a flag of good intentions as “the best” was required to be put forth, my goodness a gooey icing they could take a lick of, smack their lips over — anything but smack me, of course; smart, my writing is, but restrained, buttoned to the collar, so no chest hair shows, and not much blood, unless it’s already caked and mysterious. . . .


March 19 — I can celebrate who I am, what I’ve done — and wisely not done — without being prideful or dumb. Happiness isn’t a smile button. My aversion to certain kinds of “joy” is that they’re bland, unconnected with the living tissue of birth and death, pleasure and pain. I want to accept the “oy” in “joy,” so my joy won’t fly south at the first sign of winter.


March 20Coffee

I miss you today.
like an old lover
who was no good
for me. The morning
goes in circles.
I lack will.
I want to write
or call but know
I shouldn’t.


March 23 — The way to God isn’t a word game, or a ritualized descent into old pain, or a tinkling of bells, or a drugged dream. The way is clear like a single mountain top, alone in its solitary majesty. Yes, it’s joined with other mountains, with seas and cities, rotting logs and winds — indivisible, at one with the world. Yet as it rises to its true stature, it’s distinct, necessarily itself, a mountain apart, or it would not be what it is.


March 27 — The weathers we passed through today bringing the girls back home — a drive through rain, then thick fog, then patches of snow on rich green grass, then brilliant sunlight and Spring warmth. Like weathers of the mind, now here, now gone. How much easier it is to observe these outer changes than the fluctuations of the psyche. Yet this life takes us like a car from birth to death, with stops along the way for love, disappointment, the unexpected hitchhiker we end up taking home.


March 30 — Tomorrow is my birthday. I’ll be 38. The man in me who is 38 smiles. The boy in me who is 14 is incredulous. The child in me who is 7 pays no attention at all. And the ancient soul in me, what does it think?

— Sy