tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: hafiz

Bind the Cynic to the Post

Rumi tells me to be a ladder or a lantern or a lifeboat and the cynic in me jumps up and says that ladders break and lanterns burn lifeboats.

Hafiz tells me that God and I are fat men on a small raft, laughing and bumping into one another. But my cynical  heart cracks off some comment about God and war and skinny men on sinking rafts.

Mary Oliver tells me that love is wild and untamable. And I cannot look her in the eye because I am sneering and clenching my  teeth, “if love is so wild, then why must she call from behind my ribs? and why is she dressed so silly in human skin? and why doesn’t she leave us behind, we who stare into our i-things so we can be less profound?”

And the cynic in me is full of rage. He is big-mouthed and quick to fight. He is long-winded and dark-hearted. My cynic stomps around with big shoes and laughs at the ones that think they can fly. And the cynic is alone. The cynic doesn’t know the mysteries nor does he see the turning of the world.   Closed ears can’t pick out the difference between the call of the nuthatch and the canyon wren. The clenched jaw will cause the ears to ring. Fists do not cup water from high mountain streams. The heart of the cynic is weak and sad and full of fear.

Here’s the catch — I am the cynic, but only when I put my love away. When I’ve put away love, I am weak and angry. So I read Rumi and I tell the cynic to sit in the corner. Because “I am a part of the load not rightly balanced. I drop off in the grass like the old Cave-sleepers, to browse wherever I fall.”(Rumi — I am part of the load)

Oh, I know how to furrow my extra-heavy brow. I know how to cast dreadful glances. I can cuss a black streak in the presence of saints. But what good do these things do? Instead, I look to the Ones with the fire inside. And I feel my inner dark begin to break and peel away, and maybe I hear the fluttering laugh of a small child, and maybe I remember the soft voice of my lover, and maybe I am the crying child in my bunkbed, afraid from a dream, and my mother is touching my forehead and kissing my face, and maybe I am listening to my father sing a song to a dying cowboy in a hospital bed, his boots on the floor. These are the things that tend to my soul, and my soul needs some tending. At some point in my life I decided that bitterness and cynicism tend to put callouses on my heart. They are tendencies I suppress because they make me blind to anything wonderful. And man, I sure do like to wonder.

I wrote last night until late. I came to a point in writing this where I wondered if it was even worth writing about. The weather was steady, rain and wind against the big window in Fosters’s living room. Finally I put the computer down and went out to my RV, my dolphin, to find some sleep. Dreams are never that far away and I depend on my nights to settle my monkey brain. Somewhere in my dreams I was in a cove where the waves were breaking against the cliffs. The salt spray smelled of sometime in my past. I remember seeing colorful seashells. And I worked my way down to the foot of the cliffs in a spot that sheltered me from the brunt of the thundering waves. There was an emerald green pool and I looked into it as if it was a looking glass, and I could see to the bottom of the ocean. Everything was magnified and clear — Long eels with spotted faces, nurse sharks and hammerheads curling about, red-backed crabs with blue claw dances,  shrimp with transparent shells that revealed all their inner, Cambrian workings and clickings (and what if we were transparent in this way, so the world could see our heart pick up pace as we look past ourselves and into the guts of one another? would we be less judgmental and more forgiving to see the ravaged lungs of some vietnam vet? would we be quicker to understand frailties and insecurities if we could watch pulsing blood and nervous limbs? there is something sad about seeing the inside of something that is living, it feels invasive. As if i’m stealing secrets from the very heart of the creature that hovers in the light.) , a tan and brown sturgeon with scales that are from the age of dinosaurs, snuffling along the belly of the sea, anchovies spinning and flying in schools that form shapes like the clouds do, like the birds do. This was in my dream. I took a deep inhalation and swam down and I looked at my watch, it was 3:o5 in the afternoon. Somewhere down there in the under I began to struggle for breath, and I walked along the bottom back to where I had entered. The surface above me was raging and frothy but I could see where I had entered and I walked to that spot. Just as before, when I entered the sea, this looking-glass pool was clear to the world above. I could see flying pelicans and skittering animals. There were people looking down from the tops of the cliffs, children pointing. There was a long-tailed otter slipping quietly beneath the noticing world, mustelid tendencies in tow. But I was desperate for the air that feeds my brain and I couldn’t wait any longer, so I climbed out of the drink and so, out of my dream, even out of my sleep. I must have been holding my breath in my sleep as well because I heard myself suck air — don’t know if I like that part.

I know I’ve wandered from the start of this essay until now, and maybe that’s just my writing style; the kind you just can’t quite follow. I do think these things tie together, albeit loosely, because if I didn’t have the glorious, natural world, I would fall under the weight of my nasty cynicism. I am made lighter by the blurry grey horizon at dawn down by the ocean. The tone of a calling loon seems so sad to me that I’m forced to let go of my own sorrows. Heartbreaking beauty…that’s what I call it. How a hound dog lays her nose against my leg and drags in all the data from my DNA and can smell the old Choctaw blood, and maybe even hear the barking dogs that ran beside those old tribes as they were forced to walk out of Mississippi, and maybe smell the tears that dropped on the rocks beneath leathered feet. Every single time I see a red-eared slider on a log between the cattails, I am reminded of my job here. I am reminded to love the beauty of the heart of things. Even the heavy things. And I’m reminded to check the knots that bind the Cynic to the post.

I will end with a quote by the late Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are.

” I wish you all good things,  live your life,  live your life,  live your life.”

ol’ Steinbeck whispers

When I was a kid, growing up meant getting old. Now that I’m not a kid, growing up is realizing that I need to listen more, talk less and understand that I will eventually die. It’s easy to write these words, but living by them is difficult for me. I struggle. My mouth flaps, my ears close and death is a thing that happens to everyone else.

A while back I found a baby rattlesnake with a broken back. It had been cracked in a door at a campground and was wedged there waiting for life to pass. I pulled it out thinking it might not be hurt, when I set it down it could only move its front half. First I walked away. Then I thought about starving to death and I went back and killed it with a rock. It was just a little tiny thing. Real pretty.

When I was a kid I thought I needed to have things. Snakes, turtles, mice, crawdads, bluegills, hawks, raccoons, sparrows, trout, foxes, rabbits and squirrels…I brought them home. My mother would look at the beast and check it’s condition and decide if it’s chances were better in the wild or in my handsy little clutches. Some I raised and set free. Some I lost in the house. Some died in ways that make me shutter to think about all these years later. I thought that by having these things I might be closer to them. It’s the opposite. Having them steals the connection. There’s a kind of deadness that happens  when wild things are taken away from the wilderness. I saw a big Dorado dragged onto a boat once and the most cosmic colors I’ve ever seen where pulsing through it’s skin, like it was translucent and the insides were glowing. As it died, the colors bled out and slipped back into the sea. The fish became flat dusky gray and I couldn’t help but think that maybe we’re gonna pay for the things we do. I ain’t against killing to eat, I just don’t think we should do it mindlessly. We are mostly mindless these days, just look next to you on the freeway. Look one car over. Look around you in the lines and crowds. All is not lost, but it’s going in that direction.

Did you know the moon pulls the sea? Have you ever walked with your feet in a tide-pool (and if you haven’t , you might need to and you might need to go slow and take a day and give it to that and only that…and you might hear old Steinbeck himself whispering soft as a summer breeze cool stuff in your ear about secret places all along the edges of that big old sea) where the miniature oceans have tiny monsters? There are caves along the ocean where the little crabs are wedged sideways with clockwork hearts and trilling gills along the walls and under the stones that are stacked by older oceans and waves pushed under Mesozoic tail fins. Did you know that some birds migrate across the oceans and follow the stars. Some fly off the push of the sea and rarely flap their wings, the sweet Mother carries her babies aloft. Some of those same birds, like the Sooty Shearwater can dive more than a hundred feet down into the sea, down among the sharks, for food. Their journeys are like some wild dream, a life of endurance. Some of their kind live for 50 years. What wonders! Little wings. Forever hearts. And the tides of the ocean that are pulled and pushed by the moon live in the forests and the deserts and mountains as well. Everything with fluid is pulled and pushed by that moon, affected by her swooning passage. You and I. We aren’t apart. Within our riverine blood vessels flows that salty red stuff, that old connection to the start and the path to the finish. And while plants push up to meet the heavy full moon, so do the roots find the sliver of silver that floats up and down with Venus. The word Cosmic comes to mind, and the Cosmos goes as far inside as it does out. I’ve come to love the not knowing of it all. Oh my, this little heart of mine, it’s only here for these few billion heart beats if I make it to be old manish — the fortune is easy and sweet and I certainly don’t need to prove it. It’s cool that I am. Cool that we are. After that, it’s all guesswork.

While the majority of our kind fumbles with cell phones that record our every moment, there are herds of whales migrating under antarctic stars and they are singing songs passed down from the beginning. They are rolling their massive tongues and they are smiling at the calves that are learning to soul speak and they are swimming and swimming to the places that have feelings and the stars know all this and so does the moon and even the tricky little penguins with their chattery snouts and golden ears and so on and so on it all goes…with or without us. I reckon any one of us can tap into it, the wise ones say it’s there, just like air, all we gotta do is breathe. So if Hafiz can shine from out of yesterday, and if Mary Oliver can glue broken hearts with ten sad lines, and if a dude named Maurice Sendak can scratch lovely stories from the prettiest of minds so that kids can smile in their pj’s when the lights turn out…well, if all that can be then I think I could maybe find a way to find my way. Here I go. Breathing happens. Heartbeats happen. I just so happen as well.

…and who comes to see me in the night…

At 4 a.m. I awoke to the sound of a skunk trying to crack into my cooler that was outside the dolphin door. I am fairly accustomed to midnight prowlers; skunks, raccoons and bears, sometimes all three seem to have declared a truce between one another in pursuit of the delectables I keep in my beat up green cooler with the broken hinges and handles replaced by tubular nylon. I do have a difficult time going back to sleep if it’s a morning hour. So now I’m up.

There are things in my head this morning. I do the typical dance and start the hot water for coffee. I creep out of the dolphin, careful not to startle the skunk, he’s busy anyway, like a frustrated bank robber with his ear to a new, unbreakable type of safe. I am careful around the skunks, even more than the bears, because they sometime spray out of whimsy and that would suck first thing before coffee. Like the other night when I left Nick and Eliza in their little house and marched down to the dolphin by the chicken yard (seems I’m always parked next to a yard of chickens with the one obnoxious rooster that crows at 3:40 a.m. just to prove how cool he is…”oh, i’m the first rooster up in the world…oh, i’m so cool.”) and began to smell strong skunk right as I reached my rig. Now, like I said, I’m used to this kinda thing. My rig always has food, it’s a rolling lunch box for the omnivorous type — a category of animals in which I fit quite snuggly, along with coyotes, ravens&crows, bears, pigs, rats, skunks, raccoons, bears and most of my friends. But as I drew near and reached for my door, the black cat (named Mew) touched her little cold nose on the back of my calf. I jumped so bad I almost pulled a hammy. I thought the skunk had come for me once and for all. This morning the skunk just glanced over his stinky little shoulder and now I’m in the big house here at Daisy Creek Farm.

Coffee is on and it’s 4:27. I put a dollop of 50 year old honey down into the black, some heavy whipping cream…stir. Oh man. I am browsing books on the shelves, looking for Hafiz. I do not know where the light switches are and so I am trying to read titles in the half light. I spend a good amount of time fumbling in the dark in other peoples’ houses because I cannot find the light switches. Recently I had a friend text me, “Please don’t come in the house in the morning, I know you think you’re quiet, but you’re not…” And so I didn’t go in. I picture myself turning into that guy and it’s both annoying and scary. This morning there is no danger of being annoying, I’m magnificently alone.  I know the Hafiz book is here, I’ve picked it up in years past, but this morning it eludes me. I am picturing the mystic poet laughing at me as I look for him, and he is hiding with all his wonderful thoughts written in english symbols, called letters, between all the other books, bound and waiting to be chosen. So many thoughts. And I can picture Hafiz telling me some kind of riddle about how I needn’t read his words to find that magic, that it’s everywhere already. Ok, sneaky Hafiz, I’ll stop looking. You win, again.

Last night I had a dream that Death came. I’ve had this dream before and the other time Death was a woman. Last night Death was a dude. He did not announce himself, He was just sitting at the far end of the camper and he was smoking a stubby cigar. I woke from my perch on the overhead bed and looked at his dark shape. I could not seem him clearly and whatever light reached him did not reflect off of him, instead it seemed to be swallowed. I could see a bit of a gleam in his eyes and now and then a flash of a smile. He was sitting very casual with one leg up on the bench, one elbow on the table. I asked him why he was in my rig and I told him I wasn’t dying. He did not answer the question and said that if I was dying, I’d be gone already. Under the table, in the dark I could make out a flickering movement and I realized it was His tail. There was a moment where I wondered if he was the Devil. In that way that dreams can be, in other words, there are no rules in dreams, my thoughts seemed to be known by both parties and so my visitor smiled. “Death, the Devil…I really don’t care what you’ve named me.” I wasn’t completely afraid in my dream. I was wary but not fearful and I was also slightly aware that I was having a dream. I think more was said but I don’t remember what we spoke of.  I’ve noticed things about dreams, like the crossover is thin and so waking and sleeping are sometimes intermixed. My sleeping bag fell to the floor and was a dark mass, when I reached for it, it became a kind of dark liquid and ran to the end of the vehicle where Death sat. “Are you cold?” was his last question.

I woke and my sleeping bag was on the floor. Now I felt afraid. I reached down and grabbed it and stuffed my naked little ass back into it. I thought about my visitor, at least he closed the door when he left.

Yesterday I learned that Oliver Sacks has terminal cancer. Oliver Sacks is incredible and wonderfully kind and amazingly curious. In his interview on Radio Lab, he talked about receiving the news and he spoke about his condition as if he were looking at a marvelous new specie of mushroom. He spoke of his life and loves. I’ve never read a single book by Dr Sacks but I have heard him speak many times and one thing that stands out is that he loves living. This is what makes me sad, the fact that he doesn’t feel like he’s quite done living, but he’s on a shorter schedule due to cancer. He is a very powerful, graceful man. I wonder his dark moments, his sorrows and his fears. We all have them, I just think we are really good at distracting ourselves in order to save ourselves from them. Oliver doesn’t come across as a person prone to distraction. I imagine he’s sitting across the table from Death, swapping stories, and Death being slightly jealous of the brilliant life the ol Doc has lived.

(and how do we say goodbye to people we don’t even know? I suppose we can just think of them fondly and use the heart as an amplifier to send those compassionate thoughts across the space that separates us, one from another. and maybe in doing so, we are not so separate after all. and maybe we can, in some secret and beautiful way, bear some of the pain and throw some light out into the dark. i reckon that’s my way of recognizing the minds and hearts that inspire me, that make me ok with being a human in process…so yeah, thanks Dr. Sacks.)

collection: get a jar

my childhood window-sills were filled with jars; in my memory, they remain that way. i was, and always have been, a collector of things. hundreds of sad little spiders died inside the screwed down caps of old jelly jars. caterpillars passed their lives being fed, not so consistently, until they sewed themselves up inside their coccoons and turned themselves to liquid in order to reanimate once again as some beautiful fluttering inside the jar. if i was present, they were most often set free. i was a nasty little tyrant in those days. some insects never made it back from being collected.  but i was not just a collector of life, i have filled many a box with rocks, many a bag with sticks, many a book with flowers and leaves. i  recently came across a birds nest i kept and in it were hundreds of feathers. there were ones that were 14 inches long and ones that were a speck in my palm. there was a feather from a bald eagle that i had seen fall from it’s owner as she launched from a tree in washington. the tiny, bright, magenta feather i plucked from that one hummingbird i found on the trail where he had died (and i remember wondering if the magic had just run out of him, if the swirling, spinning sparks on which he lived had quit him, if the star from which he was born had gone out in the same fashion) was still buzzing among the drab, mothy feathers from nightjars and owls. for some reason, the desire to “own” those speckled coverings, those traveled instruments of flight, ran out of me. i set them free that day in the wind behind brian’s house.

so i’m a collector of sorts. i guess that’s what it boils down to. i still collect rocks, but i’m more prone these days to set them free once again in new and wild places. and i love words. words from sarah fontaine. words from brother foster. words from my mama. words from mr. erickson. words from ex-lovers (maybe future lovers, who can say?).  words from my teachers. words from rumi and hafiz (i put them together because they are similarly beautiful but they are different and i hope they don’t mind that i put them together but i’m pretty sure they wouldn’t mind because they are who the are, they were who they were). words from melville, that wild-beard from the days of the whales. words from mary oliver, who carries my own sadness for me because she is stronger than me and because she is what i would be if my heart was only bigger. (see: how to have a bigger heart) yeah, a collector, that’s me alright.

i use my pockets to the max. i have them hold stuff that i find right now. i also use them to hold pens, which i collect. i even made a little pocket that i can carry in my pocket. i call it an extra pocket, and it is. i wish i had a pocket that would hold my sadness when i’m done feeling it. old sadnesses, they make me a little sad because they went away. i can’t explain it too well, but i am very aware of a feeling that has run it’s course and the river that has created a canyon in my heart loses it’s power, no longer rages, slows to a trickle and stops. the roaring falls are silent. and the image that i swore would never fade, fades. the face that i swore i would never close my eyes to, disappears in the distance of my faulty memory. if i had a pocket that would hold my sadnesses, i would pull them out now and again so that i could feel them for a second or two. i’m afraid of the mundane and sorrow is anything but mundane.

i have collected old pieces of paper with little things written on them. sayings and quotes and books i need to read. i recently found one that had a palindrome on it. in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni. written under it was the translation which has to do with wandering in circles in the night and being consumed by fire. i got that little scrap years ago, before the world wide web was everybody’s best friend. i carried it, along with all the other scraps, so that i could be reminded of all the mysteries that are suspended within reach of my imagination. them scraps of paper are waysigns for my  wandering mind. i guess you might say that they help me remember to not forget to wonder.

can i make a suggestion? i mean, you don’t have to listen so i’m gonna make it anyway. get some jars and fill them with little bits and pieces of this world. hold them up in the light of the sun and look at them everyday. if you start to forget about them, set them free and renew your wonder with something else. we all need to do this, it’s important to your humanity and to your ability to feel. the water that runs in the creeks is polishing stones for our eyes to see. the wind that bends the trees is bringing you molecules that have rubbed up against dinosaurs and lions. there are magnificent complexities in a handful of sand, even proof that you are connected to the outer most reaches of the universe. there are songbirds out your window that can find their way across the world by following magnetic fields and celestial markers. life is the sweetest thing and you were born into it. take your moments and use them like they beg to be used. we are certainly gifted, we humans, but i’ll be damned if we ain’t wasting our gifts on complicated baloney. take a little back why don’t ya?

end note: my friend, shaney, reminded me today that a heart that fractures is a heart with more room. rumi agrees, and i continue to learn. peace.