I just came in from taking out the small mound of cardboard that had been accumulating in my apartment for some time. It’s a cool night, but pleasantly so–the sun has been down for a few hours, and I’m coming off of the slight buzz I got from sipping away half a bottle of Oregon wine; by all means, there’s nothing at all keeping me from enjoying the short walk down the road to the bins.
I saw this task as a chore, regardless, but I’m struggling with why. While I’d happily wipe the obligations of the home from my task list if I had the opportunity, there are few that I find truly unpleasant. In truth, I often go for walks of my own volition.
Regardless, I found myself pausing at the dumpster on the corner. I could have easily thrown the cardboard away at that point, cutting my time spent outside in half, without any retribution. I could have tossed them in, headed back inside, and continued with my evening as normal. I didn’t, though. I mentally slapped myself on the wrist and walked the extra 100 feet to the proper bins.
While I was out there, I saw some dogprints in the mud. Not the deep, satisfying mud that dirties cars, that kids like to play in, but the shallow silt washed down from the asphalt road above my apartment complex. Just two small prints, maybe made by the Yorkshire terrier I’ve seen a few times. It’s been some time since it rained, though, so they must’ve been there for days, untouched. The dog moved on, but the mark on the world remains.
I wonder if choosing those easier options are like that. I wonder if those things accumulate in the brain, layering, becoming all that you can see. I wonder how often it rains in there.
The car I’ve driven since high school,
The one I learned to drive stick on,
Shifts smoothly into fourth, then fifth.
I easily pass white-fingered family men, driving
New automatics with screaming children,
And partners, oh partners,
Insisting that they slow down,
It’s day three; I’m leaving Albuquerque.
Goodbye, New Mexico. Sorry to say,
But I won’t be back soon.
Your empty desert highways,
The same ones I drove in Utah,
Make for easy podcast listening,
But also for dull drives.
The smell of greasy food from a gas station fills the cab,
Mad men and women poke at each others’ politics,
And the sun peeks over the sandstone crag.
Ten more hours of driving remain today, but just a small stretch waits
The podcast ends,
The traffic falls away,
And I’m left only with a car
Skating along in fifth.
Unclouded haze hangs heavy
Over those who have never seen hungry bears
Picking neon summer kokanee
From the glass of glacier streams.
No blankets wait in deep closets to be retrieved
By kindly hands of grandmothers,
Or quiet morning lovers,
Or my lonely father,
For shivering sleepers.
No small hands under small blankets sit,
Nor white breaths against dark afternoon skies.
Here is a different warmth:
The kind that comes from liminal promises
To coniferous homelands.
Covered in dew,
Litter the ground by a golden pond.
There, where three grey swans sing their farewells to the sun,
A man and a woman stand.
The two interlock their white-boned fingers,
Stung by the oncoming chill of night,
And wonder how many more moments they might have shared
If things had been different,
The way they had hoped.
They stand there, facing each other,
And then the receding sun.
The wind disturbs her split-ends
And his old, frayed scarf—
The one his father gave him.
He wonders if the scarf saw
A similar scene
When his mother left his father.
He supposes it doesn’t make much of a difference;
He’s standing there, regardless, on that carpet of burnt orange.
As their fingers come apart,
She wonders if she could have been kinder,
As she knows he should have been.
He pockets his hands and walks away from that western sun,
Leaving only the mist of breath in his wake.
She, though, stays.
She watches the night glide in
Like some great bird,
Its gale waking the water,
Now shining silver.
Arid winter air
Alights my tongue
Like sparrows on the oak branch outside my childhood window.
They sing songs of quickly snuffed sunlight
And quiet mornings with cheap coffee from a can.
I descend the stairwell with a smashed cigarette hanging from my lips
And take a step onto the earthshattered sidewalk.
The sounds of distant cars accompany me
As battered leaves and broken beer bottles
Fragment further below my feet.
I breathe in the birdsong
And exhale smoke through my nose
As I pass the place I bought a woman our first drink,
Then our last.
The shadowed rafters hang over upturned chairs; there’s nothing left here.
Fingers, trembling from cold
Or from hurt
Toss the tarred filter into the overfull dumpster outside my door,
Graffitied with names I recognize
And some I don’t.
The last two hours of sleep with her
Leave me wanting for just a few more.
Footfalls drag me back to bed,
A fire-beaten trail is followed
Under the Northeastern Oregon sun,
Outlining the peaks and river valleys
Like your right hand on my chest.
Down your index finger,
Through the charred pines,
We switchback onto your thumb.
Up and over shaded boulders,
We reach a lake reflecting the surrounding mountains.
It’s long and clear,
With waves windpeaked and sheer,
That reflect our evening firelight.
The greengrey trees hum
With excited insects
While patient boulders sit squat
On dewy earth.
Your amber mirrors look at me,
And your tongue falls so precisely.
I stumble to you across uneven ground,
Drunk on your sober gaze.
We dance and sing with nightbirds and crickets,
Then fall asleep to windsung lullaby.
I wake and try to find your hand
My map, but only find I’m lost.
Feels loud in moonlight.
With no hand to guide me home,
I stay up there, among the waves, and breathe in the pine air
Lasting for an undetermined amount of time — possibly forever.
These two definitions are in conflict for me. The possibility of an endless period of time is necessarily accompanied by definition; definition is the crux of equilibrium, and an unequilibrious circumstance will eventually be resolved.
Living without definition is to suspend a question in the air; like some circus performer, it must come down.
So, a question: In what manner shall it be resolved? Although it has not been explicitly given, we know the question, so what must come next is a weighing of pros and cons. If defined, would the indefinite be improved upon, or would the new definition carry weight that would, at some point, sink the ship anyway? Time ticks, so remaining in suspended is not much of an option: it may be better to cut the cords and bring things to a end in a clean moment. Like a bandaid. Or a circus performer hitting the ground. Splat. Surely they would prefer it to starvation.
But here’s the issue: We do not know the definition until it is given, and once given, we cannot shift course. If we start on the path of aerial starvation, we must allow it to play out. We’ve thrown away our scissors, so to speak. So, to define is to risk a terrifying and agonizing end for the sake of clarity.
So: Enjoy the undefined for a limited time, or risk definition– bringing about the possibility of a painful metaphorical death for the chance at finding prolonged peace?