Birthdays, anniversaries—arrive. You pause, as though at a stream, and watch memories flow by, roll over rocks, trickle over stones. You step in the shallows, cup your hands and stoop to catch some. So many slip past, like fingerlings. But a few, from the deep side, leap and belly-flop in your arms. This would be one of those:
There were periods during the 70’s I lost myself. Times when the natural light was blocked by too great an appetite, too many disordered desires.
In a few distant cities, I flirted with the street and the street responded. I framed my infatuation with experiencing various artificial states of consciousness, as freedom. This was not however, a controlled experiment, carried out Leary-style, in some Harvard dorm.
There was a stretch of time when I so dedicated myself to a singular apprenticeship of enhanced perception, that it became, as you might imagine it inevitably would, a personal road to dissolution.
I know what it is to sit at midday, at a black horizon, involuntarily grinding my teeth, to twist in paranoia as though lynched in a gale, to waste in the hallow wash of what should be a decent string of days, then to regain
a kind of equilibrium through close acquaintance with a driftwood-strewn beach—all the while carrying the kind of shame or stain that finds you avoiding all contact, particularly contact with family.
But then, I also know what it is to receive my self back. As though a great dogged Love conspired, as I’m convinced it did, to pull me free and place my feet back on shore. And this, in a raft of ways. No doubt through the prayers of family, perhaps through the prayers of strangers. Certainly through the words of a few friends who could see. And through the surprise presence of family: a “dropping-in” from an older brother and his wife who managed to track me down. And from my older sister, who did not find me…but in fact, most effectively did. For as it happened, she carried out an intervention—an intervening that until a couple of weekends ago, she remained oblivious of.
After nearly forty years, I write this to my big sister:
Your unknown intervention
The terrazzo floor is hard-waxed
there is a long marble counter,
hand-buffed to a high gloss,
behind me, a coastal sun is bending
through lancet windows.
Along a drooped velvet rope,
held between chrome stanchions,
there is a line,
the shuffling feet of polite impatience.
In between shifting weight and weather-talk,
people lick stamps, seal envelopes,
faint glaze of glue at the back of throats.
I step to the end of the row.
People inch away.
I’ve been weeks in Beacon Hill Park,
bleary sea-weed days,
clothes, stone-torn, salt-caked,
waist-length hair in strings,
I’m smoke-rinsed, tide-pool groomed.
And now I see your profile, your face,
flowering toward the sunlit windows,
the corners of your mouth
turned up, soft creases at your neck,
black hair straight, shining,
falling perfectly past shoulders,
your eyes bright and warm,
the quiet of your bearing
softening all this brash brightness,
all these hard edges, and you,
my sister, stand radiant, patient,
a postcard in hand.
Time falls away
and I move toward you.
Some cloud has cast up a heavy shadow.
The air has become a thick wall.
My errand, forgotten,
I turn and leave.
Your image follows,
the scene incised
on the silver face of my memory.
I never wondered whether your postcard
was intended for my last-no-fixed address,
or was destined home to the prairies.
It didn’t matter.
I only knew that I carried you.
And I knew, when finally I came,
to shake off my shame,
should I have approached you that day,
there would have been no judgement,
only joy in reunion.
And in the knowledge of this
you never let me go.