Around this time of day my eye starts to twitch and I have to hold it to make it stop. There’s the old wall clock in the living room that’s slow, needs help keeping up – then the clock in the den, I sometimes get them to chime at the same time. The trees outside make cutouts of the sky with the gray and pink shapes behind them. It’s that time of year it’s hard for us to stay up past dark. The birds have us up before 5, and start like the clocks right on cue. The coffee maker goes off and there’s work to be done, and I have to get up so I can walk before work, maybe write. I feel myself slowing down, and see it through the way others see me. It’s these swirling patterns that tighten and narrow our worlds. Why going away feels like it extends time by uncoiling us, how we see things. Why, like my dog, I have to circle clockwise three times before I can settle down: some learned trait to check my circumference before I’m able to rest. And like my dog there’s nothing really to worry about, but I still find a reason. I gave myself until 8 to end this post and I’ve read and reread it, but now I’ve lost the thread. It’s time to settle in, goodnight.

Photo by Loren Chasse, Wilhelm’s Mausoleum, Portland.

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Lines (of longitude and latitude)

Though the tree is dead, it’s home to a lot of bugs, birds and bats, you can tell by the holes. It’s like the abandoned factory across the street from our apartment in Philadelphia that became home to the homeless, the time I asked our neighbor if it was on fire and he said it’s just the bums, cooking pigeons. We moved there for the raw art of it, the desperation of north Philly. The hollowed-out spaces and what occupies the cracks around the edges, the artists. We thought living there would make us that, and it can to an extent. But maybe the reverse logic holds true, too. Out here in the suburbs I’ve grown comfortable parking my Mercedes each day in the grocery store parking lot, picking out boutique wines, fresh fish. The tree in the park was dead but they left it there for the birds, and I wonder if it made me an artist by the sheer fact that I noticed and tried to do something about it. Even the birds seem cleaner here, they’ve got more options. The starving artist vision holds charm when it’s desperation you need, to create. I’ve never come close to starving, and the only lice I’ve had is from my kids. It’s a fine line between art, craft, and hobby. And many, many lines in between.

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Wilhelm’s mausoleom

I stopped by the dry cleaners, then the car wash — vacuumed out the pollen, the cottonwood, pine needles and dandruff, the nail clippings and dirt, then gathered wood to make a fire later, shook off the spiders from the logs, cut up kindling, found a spot under the maple tree to sit and do nothing. The cottonwood was back on the grass and garden beds and had the look of laundry lint. Spent $70 on CDs, music I already owned in other formats or on Spotify, so I could play it in my car. Made small talk with the cashier, a girl with a retro dress and under arm hair. Stopped by a bottle shop on my way back to Loren’s and put on John Fahey.

I set up Brian Eno on my laptop out back, but I think it attracts strange birds. In the morning I went back up Cougar Mountain but spent most of my time thinking about getting attacked by a cougar. The ears curling back, coiling to strike. Took the Quarry Trail past my favorite tree, the one with a face, though dead, twisted, blackened at the base, notches where the eyes and mouth would be.

Had some profound dream with loss in it, linked to my mom. Got sentimental with the kids and made sure I said goodbye to them both and then gave Dawn a good, long hug. Took care picking out the CD for my drive back into work.

Walked during lunch but it was cold, Seattle “June cold,” and I could have used a jacket. Turned the heater on when I got home and warmed the house to 67, cooked pasta, used the last of the basil plant mom got when she was here, got tired trying to keep it alive, the sad look of it right there by the sink. So many other things on their sides outside, relying on us.

Used the last of the spinach before it went off and gathered up the laundry, scrubbed the kitchen island, said goodbye to the kids (off to dance), started cooking, realized I had half an hour to sit down and write.

Went back over my notes from Portland, but the photos that came back from the mausoleum weren’t as good as I imagined, as Loren described. He said they only open it once a year, on Memorial Day, and he and his neighbor were going, with Arthur. It was ruinous, with strange light coming through — numbered vaults, family urns.

Maybe like the Testament record in his local bar it wouldn’t show as well taken out of context. Maybe it went with the overall mood of the place, and belonged there. Maybe there was a place for these moments I was trying to trap and keep alive here with air holes, and pieces of grass.

Painting by Nicolai Astrup, “Martzmorgen.” Wikimedia Commons.

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The god of only children

For some reason when I’m in Portland I feel like I can be more myself, maybe because no one knows me here. I wake and walk down César Chávez to the Starbucks in the cool, marine air. And remember the first time I came, the distinct feeling of this town. Sitting at the intersection with the music mixing with the cars and trucks, in and out like the tides. Standing at the corner waiting for the light, kneading my hands, mumbling.

I woke in the middle of the night not knowing where I was, a strange light from the side, trying to orient myself. Then driving to Silverton, to Silver Falls: three only children walking the rim trail loop, each of us male, all vying for control.

Testicular anomalies in the tree trunks, talking about vasectomies. Bikers on the sides of the trail stopping to catch their breath with their leather vests, their leathered faces. Driving back through the country, Loren DJ-ing in my car, what sounds like Sufjan Stevens but it’s the singer from Mt. Eerie who lost his wife to cancer, has been working through it a couple years now, but it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. It pulls me in though, or under, a song about a painting with foxgloves and tree trunks, an association he’s making, trying to heal over her loss. And it all goes with the landscape and gray, muted sun: past the farm houses, and small towns.

All the way home to Seattle on Saturday, steeped in the memory of every Memorial day I could remember, ricocheting from one to the other, hard to separate. Stopping to pump gas at some sad-looking rest stop in the port town Kalama, texting Dawn I can’t wait to be home, her writing back “Wahoo!,” and so happy I have her to return to.

Loren and Arthur coming home Friday night: me getting lost leaving the neighborhood bar, taking the wrong axis back. The bartender playing the metal band Testament and me making small talk with her, asking where they’re from, trying to place the year it came out, pretty close.

Arthur swooping in on our conversation and Loren putting him in the other room in front of the TV. Too many fried chili peppers and beers, sleeping on the floor on a blow-up mattress, waking with acid reflux, bracing myself on the coffee table to stand: making the mistake of looking at myself in the mirror, then back out in the gray morning air to the Starbucks, tipping the barista this time, realizing when I got home my fly was down.

Sitting at the edge of our backyard in the afternoon the next day, my new favorite spot under the maple tree, the feeling I had in the mirror weighted down like this tree, these memories.


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Tuesday, May 22 6:40 PM

I cleaned the drain traps, packed my lunch, said goodbye to the kids and left for work. When I got home I took my socks off and went outside barefoot, spilled my beer, had to go inside for another. The cottonwood blooms kept falling like snow, the way snow stops and starts again, sometimes thick. When the dog ran through the grass it rose in the air and fell like packing material. I sat listening to the birds riffing off each other and it felt symphonic. I’d been beaten down again at work but it felt good. I agreed with where they were going and it drove my writing to higher quality. My gut was enflamed which sounds bad and looks worse. I came inside to write on my phone before starting the coals and reset the clock in the den. Tuesday. As a four-day week, it qualified as Wednesday, in a sense.

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Gray of lake combined to sky, the same

Through the narrow path in the nearby park, a semi-circle that crowns my walk, the trees are leaning in and damp with dew. It’s late spring now, past peak, broken petals brought down by an overnight rain. I come to clear my head and clean out my thoughts, to separate one day from the next. Each walk is different, though the route’s always the same. Gray surface on the lake, angled trees on the far side. A sometimes eagle, rare heron, commonplace ducks and crows. But the park is no longer mine, it’s the season of the tourist now: local teenagers, anglers, people with canoes. It happens one day in September when the weather turns and I know I’ll have it all to myself again. My friend Walt Walker says that consciousness isn’t something we possess, but something we enter into: and the lake for me is the same.

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Video of last night’s dream sequence

The dream premise was that I could use my mind for special powers through my hands. It was a new power though, like learning to balance oneself on a bike. To practice, I concentrated hard, felt my jaw tighten, my eyes narrow; I extended my arm, and with my right hand watched as a bubble opened and expanded, a small globe. Then I pushed it forward and it floated. I imagined the globe was a missile of some kind, and fired it in a direction no one could get hurt. Then, I flexed my fist and threw it into a brick wall. The wall shimmered and a mirror appeared, and my arm disappeared into it and the mirror opened to expose a world on the other side. There was something back there, something threatening I might have awakened. I saw my face in the dream, in the mirror, broken and inter-mixed with that other world. Then I stepped back and saw my arm, a cartoon arm, detached and dangling there, in the wall. Clearly I had the power, but didn’t know yet how to use it.

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