Fretting again. Throwing clothes in my luggage again. Unearthing then refolding, then unearthing them again. Wondering which books to bring. Why I’m bringing them in the first place. What the hell am I doing, leaving again.

I’m trying to find my home, maybe. Myself. And isn’t that the grandest and most pathetic cliché of all. But isn’t that what we are all doing anyway. Trying to see if our roots have dug deep here, or somewhere else.

And if it’s somewhere else, aren’t we meant to find it?

A Home in Dark Grass
Robert Bly

In the deep fall, the body awakes,
And we find lions on the seashore—
Nothing to fear.
The wind rises, the water is born,
Spreading white tomb-clothes on a rocky shore,
Drawing us up
From the bed of the land.

We did not come to remain whole.
We came to lose our leaves like the trees,
The trees that are broken
And start again, drawing up on great roots;
Like mad poets captured by the Moors,
Men who live out
A second life.

That we should learn of poverty and rags,
That we should taste the weed of Dillinger,
And swim in the sea,
Not always walking on dry land,
And, dancing, find in the trees a saviour,
A home in the dark grass,
And nourishment in death.

Lunch under the sunshine, singing in the afternoon, and conversations in the evening. It has been a good day, and too precious to share at the moment. Maybe tomorrow.

Juan Ramón Jiménez
Translated by Robert Bly

I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
                   And nothing
happens! Nothing… Silence… Waves…

     —Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

Listen: if you are writing, then you are a writer. That’s it. That’s all there really is. It took me a long time to finally embrace the truth of it, but here I am. There is no true measure to what makes one a writer; don’t let anybody else define it for you. I believe that you just have to find yourself writing, is all. Is everything.

And if you’re not writing: it is a holy task that you must appoint to yourself, to make a space for it in your life. I say holy, because it is the closest thing I can get to peace—that place where who I am and what I do can meet, where will and purpose can sit side by side and not argue about semantics. I say task, because writing is work. It’s a gargantuan amount of work that would take your whole life. You are not a special snowflake for choosing to write. It was just what you were meant to do, so do it.

Listen: writing is both a noble pursuit and a thankless job, and yet I love it unabashedly because it’s saved me even when I didn’t want to be saved. I am tethered to it the way an old tree has dug deep its roots into the earth, unto itself.

About a month ago I met someone who has dedicated the past few years purely to writing and nothing else. He has given up and shifted a lot of things in his life just to be able to do it every day. I could tell, just by looking at his face, how right that decision was. I could tell that writing will always come first over everything. I could tell because I recognise in him parts of myself, although I’m not all the way there yet. I admired his courage, perhaps even envied him. He sat across from me and inhabited another world entirely, one that he created, and how amazing was that? I know it doesn’t make me less of who I am—just that we have different paths. Yet how amazing is it that our paths would cross, perhaps entwine?

Listen: do what you have to do. You have to fight for what you love any fucking way you can, but you can also take your time. You are a writer because you are writing, and you are a writer even if you are not writing. It is allowed. Forgive yourself. This is yours, the life you make. Nobody can take it away from you.

Listen: the new year is arriving in a few hours. The past twelve months have led you to this. It was rough, but you are alive. And now you are here. I love you wholly, and fiercely, as I have never loved before.

Guard Duty
Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robert Bly

I’m ordered out to a big hump of stones
as if I were an aristocratic corpse from the Iron Age.
The rest are still back in the tent sleeping,
stretched out like spokes in a wheel.

In the tent the stove is boss: it is a big snake
that swallows a ball of fire and hisses.
But it is silent out here in the spring night
among chill stones waiting for dawn.

Out here in the cold I start to fly
like a shaman, straight to her body—
some places pale from her swimming suit.
The sun shone right on us. The moss was hot.

I brush along the side of warm moments,
but I can’t stay there long.
I’m whistled back through space—
I crawl among the stones. Back to here and now.

Task: to be where I am.
Even when I’m in this solemn and absurd
role: I am still the place
where creation works on itself.

Dawn comes, the sparse tree trunks
rake on color now, the frostbitten
forest flowers form a silent search party
after something that has disappeared in the dark.

But to be where I am…and to wait.
I am full of anxiety, obstinate, confused.
Things not yet happened are already here!
I feel that. They’re just out there:

a murmuring mass outside the barrier.
They can only slip in one by one.
They want to slip in. Why? They do
one by one. I am the turnstile.

This is from Selected Poems: 1954-1986 by Tomas Tranströmer, edited by Robert Hass, published by The Ecco Press, 1987.

Yesterday was—

Perhaps it’s better not talk to about it.

My manuscript is home now, all the way from Edinburgh. I look at your notes, M., and—

You should see me here. Clutching the papers to my chest.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and perhaps I’ll never tire of saying it—

Thank you.

Because, how did I get so lucky? How was it that you found me? How—

I am so grateful I don’t think I deserve all of this.

Maybe we are one person. In another universe. In another life. To have them split us—

I spent years without you. And now you are my friend. My sister. My kindred spirit.

I said, the world doesn’t give answers—

But it leaves me mysteries, and light, and grace, and you.

Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robert Bly

At times my life suddenly opens its eyes in the dark.
A feeling of masses of people pushing blindly
through the streets, excitedly, toward some miracle,
while I remain here and no one sees me.

It is like the child who falls asleep in terror
listening to the heavy thumps of his heart.
For a long, long time till morning puts his light in the locks
and the doors of darkness open.

I was talking to S. last night about work—well, the perils of a creative life, really, and how being here, and doing this, puts us in a position where the measure of success is not quite so clear-cut (possibly un-quantifiable). I said, shit, maybe the irony of our life is that we are freer than most people yet more prone to self-doubt because of the uncertainty that surrounds us. I said, we have to be stronger. I said, let’s be each other’s spiritual cheerleaders.

I wasn’t sure if I was making sense (possibly deranged). Am maybe too hyped up by the idea that I can actually do this now, again (possibly cuckolded). But this is the time that I can be (must be) brave.

Taking the Hands
Robert Bly

Taking the hands of someone you love,
You see they are delicate cages…
Tiny birds are singing
In the secluded prairies
And in the deep valleys of the hand.

I haven’t been sleeping. I keep thinking of the road I am not going to take, and of the light slowly fading, a kind of now-or-never thing, you see, and I can’t move and I am swallowed by panic.

What do you think of delays? Are they fortuitous events that should be respected or a bunch of hijackers that must be challenged at all costs?

And what of retreats? Does it mean that you’re a coward after all? Or that it is only pragmatic to fight another day?

I may be the wrong person for my life — I read that somewhere. I told myself, do not be a fuckwit, and yet here I am.

Here’s the thing: what if this is what I was preparing for, only I was too busy looking for a colossal disaster somewhere else? What if this was the test and I’m failing it spectacularly?

The Resemblance Between Your Life and a Dog
Robert Bly

I never intended to have this life, believe me—
It just happened. You know how dogs turn up
At a farm, and they wag but can’t explain.

It’s good if you can accept your life—you’ll notice
Your face has become deranged trying to adjust
To it. Your face thought your life would look

Like your bedroom mirror when you were ten.
That was a clear river touched by mountain wind.
Even your parents can’t believe how much you’ve changed.

Sparrows in winter, if you’ve ever held one, all feathers,
Burst out of your hand with a fiery glee.
You see them later in hedges. Teachers praise you,

But you can’t quite get back to the winter sparrow.
Your life is a dog. He’s been hungry for miles,
Doesn’t particularly like you, but gives up, and comes in.

Dear MMAC,

I am confused. As hell. As fuck. (Whatever do they mean when people say these things?) Again: I am confused. Evidence of this will come soon enough in my letter, splattered all over the paragraphs. I just need to write this down right now while my chest is ripped open and raw, and I haven’t had the time to think.

Earlier while having coffee with my father, I was once again held captive by doubts. Imagine me rendered mute and helpless in front of my hero (why is it that I could never pull myself together when I’m with the man I’ve most admired my whole life?). He seemed so put together while I struggled with my questions, and what I hoped to be enlightening turned into an exercise of futility.

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts. I have so many. If overthinking was a crime, I’d be serving a life sentence. Maybe a run-on sentence. (That wasn’t very funny, was it.)

You’re worrying about nothing, he said. The answers are so easy, he said. Why don’t I feel that way?

Very human, you said. What if I’ve let myself down?


Things to Think
Robert Bly

Think in ways you’ve never thought before
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged: or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he’s carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you’ve never seen.

When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s about
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that it’s
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.