Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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With the help of Zen,
my old friend Jack
dissolved his disagreements
with the world,
purified his quarrels,
shushed his ego,
stopped biting back
and gradually had
other than wise ones.
And so our friendship
lost its bones and meatiness,
because it is clear to
me that I
am not going to humanly
but will be
by shadow and abrasion.
I will keep eating my experience
with a certain
shitting out opinions
to the end.
Goodbye, my friend, goodbye, I say
quietly to myself
like a character
in some science-fiction novel
as I watch the
smooth spaceships of Zen
slip the heavy harness
of the earth
and rise into the weightlessness
leaving a few
hundred million of us
weeping and holding on
to our stormy weather
and our extended
allegiance to stones.
When I get hopeless about human life,
which quite frankly is far too difficult for me,
I like to remember that in the desert there is
a little butterfly that lives by drinking urine.
And when I have to take the bus to work on Saturday,
or spend an hour opening the mail,
deciding what to keep and what to throw away,
one piece at a time,
I think of the butterfly following its animal around
through the morning and the night,
fluttering, weaving sideways through
the cactus and the rocks.
And when I have to meet all Tuesday afternoon
with the committee to discuss new bylaws,
or listen to the dinner guest explain his recipe for German beer,
or hear the scholar tell, again,
about her campaign to destroy, once and for all,
the cult of heteronormativity,
I think of that tough little champion
with orange and black markings on its wings,
resting in the shade beneath a ledge of rock
while its animal sleeps nearby;
and I see how the droplets hang and gleam among
the thorns and drab green leaves of desert plants
and how the butterfly alights and drinks from them
deeply, with a stillness of utter concentration.
At dawn I get up from my bed and draw the blinds;
the light through the bedroom window is too strong.
I don’t want the sun entering my house so early,
when the dreams inside my head are still wet paint
and part of me is still on board that ship I visit every night,
that floats offshore — that ship whose crew and passengers
are girls — cabin after cabin, deck after deck, an ocean liner
full of women, like a box of chocolates.
Tonight again I’ll be there, trying to pry one of them
away from all the rest, into a pantry or a stateroom;
desiring fiercely to unwrap her with a kiss, whispering
to keep from being caught.
And it is perfect, I suppose. I am permitted to visit
but not stay; that boat is not allowed
to come to shore, and wreck my life.
Night after night it sails through my interior, a monument
to immaturity, with its cargo of strange women
being smuggled through the grown-up world.
When I’m not there, I can imagine them:
playing cards in their pajamas, smoking cigarettes
and drinking wine, dancing with each other
to old jazz records on the phonograph —
laughing and making fun of me and all the other men
who visit them at night,
who think that women live out there, over the horizon.
Tony Hoagland’s poems in the November 2014 issue [“Upward,” “Little Champion,” and “Ship”] are perfect. He amazingly understands Zen, humanity, women, men, and me.