31 January 2010

The Birch

There's a bar I haunt on the Hill in this town that is the quintessential image of everydayness. It's patronized by a virtually unchanging collection of regulars, men and women who toil with their hands for the bread they eat and the beer they drink. It's a mostly blue collar establishment and the language flows with ironic poetry (their distinctions, for instance, in explaining the sundry classes of "hoosier" would make the most haughty of the bourgeois tremble). Loyalty to each other is the most cherished virtue there, and any one of them would pummel into the ground anyone who questioned that fact.

There was an older man next to whom I sat, spinning tales of his recent misfortunes: mostly the loss of his company and his pride. He had so much and then it fell through his hands like water. Two years ago he was well into a six figure salary. Now he cleans toilets in a nearby grade school. When asked how he can possibly cope with such loss, he reminded me of the miserly situation in Haiti and how it seemed to him a strange connection that the poorest people were not infrequently the happiest.

I turned back to my beer and lit a cigarette. The walls came pressing in; I reached for my coat, I had to go.

Is it possible to know the depth of your own capacity to love? Or do you only get a hint of it when there is a crack, when the blood of life seeps through and spreads? I fancied myself comfortable and confident, surrounded by a host of friends generally unafraid of my spasmodic meanderings. I fancied them in order, me in order and not but the might of the universe could do anything to pierce through these heavy walls. And yet.

Lately, in the vice grip of melancholy I find myself turning inescapably inward. It's not an attempt on my part, I think, to try to imitate the hosts of artists who have done the same, for I can scarcely hold on to a paintbrush or pen. The turn inward of the artists prompted outward grace. As they shriveled, they left us with words and images and sounds that remind us we are much more than blobs of protoplasm. Beauty emerged from their shells as the Monarch from her chrysalis. I'm becoming more convinced that there is nothing within me to emerge, that I am a shell who held on too long, clutching ever still to the crumbling branch of the birch.

I came across a haiku last week. I am generally intolerant of this form of poetry, with the constant absorption with symbols utterly foreign to my experience. I digress. I found this thing as the heading of a chapter of a book I'm reading. I read it then underlined it. I put the book down. I picked it up again and read several more times.

Birch trees
Teach me that I am nothing
And that I am deserving of life

And I sat there, in the company of friends, half expecting the one I lost to walk through the door.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said as always...you are a gifted writer and one who is able to draw the rader into your experience. Thank you for posting more! Although there seems to have been a chasm over the past months, know always of my gratitude for your many and varied gifts. Peace...JH