I remember walking through an overgrown garden. I remember, or I dreamed it.
I walked with careful and sullen steps, imagining what it would be – to be no poet. Never to write again. Never to be bent over a page or a screen, agonizing. Twisting myself to fit the image, contorting words to suit the shape. Driven by the need to speak, and the darker need to say no more.
So I said: “No more.” And in the netted shadows of the trees, I cast off my shackles. The dark iron rings that bound me in curving patterns. They fell, and my hands – which are for writing – rose to feel the trembling air.
Then I ran.
I sprinted, wild, along the crumbling garden path. Darted into the trees. I ran as one undone, and streaked headlong away from my own past. Never to write again, never to speak. Never again the dark need. No more! The dreams, the visions, the lasting remorse. The shivering melancholy thrill. No more: none of it, any more.
I never wanted to write. I did not ask. To write is to be hollowed out, like the dead. Or like a pool of water, which comes to be out of its own lack. In the empty chamber, the dug-out void, the water – the heart is its name – reflects all things. Out of his own nothing, the poet contends everything except himself.
He is a dark pool that waits.
He is curved water-glass.
The solitude of the poet is to always be near, but never with: a reflection never touches the warm hand that reaches out to it.
This I never wanted, this I never asked. To be for others a presence, an auger – to be, necessarily, alone. A poet is regarded, but never loved.
So I rushed through the garden and its green, running until my legs gave out. I collapsed, strength vanished like mist in sunlight.
In sunlight: it filtered to me through climbing branches, mottled fire against damp skin. Soothed the fever-chill. And my hands – which are for writing – stretched to greet the golden warmth.
This must be what it is to feel.
I said nothing, and for once was filled.
Standing, I walked beside a worn dirt trail, calm and shaking. Grateful, quaking relief. I wandered, raw nerves and aware, until I found myself in a small clearing.
The trees bent themselves along a grassy border, crooked and reserved – as if peering in to some secret space. Their branches spiraled up and bowed at the top, living columns lifting the orange archways of the sky. I stopped, hushed by unbidden reverence, and curved my neck quizzically at the sight.
In the center of the clearing stood a single tree. Gray and dead, its arms empty of leaves, it twisted itself upward along avenues of coiled bark. Roots rounded down deep into the earth. Barren and reeling in the windless quiet. Solitary and mournful, like an open gaze.
Curious, or compelled, I stepped forward. Soft, measured movements: a pilgrim in a foreign land. Still I went, eyes fixed on the lonely tree. The unloved tree.
The wind rustled and the tree seemed to sigh. Creaking branches ached with echoes. I shivered, familiar with the sound. Still I went, eyes fixed.
A face greeted me. In the tree. At first a trick of shadows, of chipping bark. I stepped closer and it did not fade, but cleared: a face. Inlaid along the rivulets of dying tree. A sorrowful face, with eyes and deep cheeks composed of shade. A face that sighed with the tree.
Again the wind stirred, and the barren tree moved, and the face in its fixed agony appeared to weep. Closer again, and I saw a body. Thin body distended in the wood, a contorted frame for the face.
I saw the face of Christ.
Pain knotted his joints, stiffened quaking limbs. He hung there, one with his crucifixion.
The wind breathed and he sighed, and it seemed to me the whole vault of the sky groaned. He bled, not sap, but red – and I, I could not turn away from his eyes.
Sometimes people gasp when they see a statue for the first time. Their expressions ripple and mirror the marble’s gaze. There they observe, in the whirling white and gray, their own secret pain. The statue knows, and steals their breath away. And they, knowing with the statue’s eyes, feel again – but more.
Art with ruthless clarity preserves the depths in frozen cataracts.
So Christ’s gaze was. Or something like. Since I saw in those eyes my own lonely pain – but worse. Laid to bare in his broken body, no longer mine to scorn. He sighed, and he bled – not sap but red.
No one, nothing, moved – but I felt myself struck almost violently. My breath left me, and I wept, not in horror – no, not that, but with some other, shuddering tide. He bled, and so did I.
The tree bound me in curving shadow-patterns as the sun dipped low into the night. Shivering, I felt the wind christen me with its sighs.
He fixed me poet with his eyes.
And my hands – which are for writing – bent before him as a chalice for his blood.