August Arrives in the Dark

It’s Lammas and I’ve been reading W.S. Merwin. There’s a line in his book of prose, Houses and Travellers, that won’t leave me be. It’s in the piece “August,” which is appropriate. It’s a line that tells of a widow who forgets everything and goes out calling for her dog even though it’s dead.

That is August. That is me. A time when my little vegetable garden out the back is working overtime with its last bounty and would go unnoticed if it wasn’t for my wife who continues to water and tend to it while I become forgetful and wonder where this tasty, warm tomato might have come from.

This is the time to harvest. And some of us do, and some of us don’t.

This is also the time of sacrifice for a better future harvest. I wish I knew what to sacrifice for better days, what to ditch when it comes to self-gratification, what to keep and share. There’s so much to learn and yet there’s a voice in my head that goes: “All that stuff you think you have to do, you don’t have to do.”

I wish I heard the grasshoppers. They are so loud and clear at this time of the year.

The sun now is rounded with a golden glow as if it’s stretched its light and plans to pull back, renew, savor something for itself.

Something has definitely happened to the bread and the wine…. I wonder why I don’t feel like I am something else? Maybe I should simply stop thinking about that something else and become something.

“Little soul little stray/little drifter/nowhere will you stay.” Merwin

I rove in a restless band of emotions. I go out and call for the dead dog thinking it’s still around.

I also read George Saunders advice to graduates that was posted on the NYT. It’s a pithy read from a wonderful man who also happens to be a wonderful writer (I wonder if one leads straight into the other?). And although this past January I graduated with an MFA from Stonecoast, I feel more like a middle-aged worrier with light years behind him and regrets echoing in his small ears and not so much like a bright young thing with a bounce in his worn Docs. But I still love this advice. It’s like some kind hand that rocks my writing chair:

“’Succeeding,’ whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that ‘succeeding’ will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended…. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.”

Ah, those big questions. Here today, gone tomorrow. In for a pound, out on the streets with a pence. But you know what, I’m going to let Master Saunders’ advice sink in like a spirit level, unsteady at first at the sudden and unexpected drop of the ego. I think that kindness that he speaks about, that is hard to maintain, is a kindness that actually starts at one’s own door with the bottles of milk. I can imagine starting with kindness towards oneself leads towards the bigger questions and hopefully that luminous part builds and builds but doesn’t weigh you down but lets you drift on through to the other side.

I hope so. Then I won’t have to go out on some August night calling for a dog that’s long dead. I can go out and watch the stars.

Here’s Dead Can Dance.


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