What dream do you remember most vividly? What message do you think it bears?

A recurring dream when I was a boy:  A girl –slender and with long blonde hair that floats like veils in the currents — encaged in a city beneath the sea.  The colors are muted and lovely, a perpetual underwater twilight.  (The hues of the city are, as a favorite poet said of the terraces of Dioce, “the colour of stars.”)  The style of the city is ancient and palatial, with many towers.  The girl is imprisoned in a bell-shaped cage suspended in an open square.  Night after night I return to this place.  I swim to the girl. I know nothing of her except that she is beautiful, she seems exquisitely sensitive, and she is unbearably sad.  My mission is to rescue her, and night after night I manage to do that.  Why then is she caged again, each time the dream returns?

I don't know what the dream may have meant – perhaps only a nine-year-old's fantasy of heroism and love.  But when I met L, many years later, she was beautiful, with long blonde hair that rippled like the sea, she was exquisitely sensitive, and she bore a sadness inside her that broke my heart and spilled love all around her.  And I remembered the dream.  (And when I saw childhood photographs of her, I remembered the dream very vividly.)  And for several years, time after time, she would withdraw into a cruel and despairing sadness, and time after time I would try to rescue her.


Why don't you listen to what the universe or your mind or your body or your god whispers ever more closely to you?

This is the question that most immediately engaged me on first reading, even though there is much I don't like about it.  It pulls at me, I think, because it suggests intimate communion with something other than habituated structures of response, as a wellspring of renewal and potentially more meaningful/true experience and behavior.

But the question embodies all sorts of assumptions that don't always apply.  What if mind and body are viewed as coeval in the construction of conscious experience?  What if 'god' is viewed as a (sincere, even) projection onto Universe, where Universe is not simply 'physical' but the totality of dynamic Existence, living Being, incorporating wholly that mind/body thing in its midst?

What if I do listen, and have struggled much of my life to translate what I hear into a comprehensible language?  What if, say, I were Yves Bonnefoy, who seems to have articulated that intimate presence's whisperings in a particularly lovely manner?  How could he have responded to the question as formulated?  (All that aside, it seems a meaningful question and I'm glad you asked it.)


If you could, what gift that is impossible for you to give would you offer and to whom? Why this specific gift to this specific person or persons?

One night just after our son Jakob died in New York I was alone on the porch of a friend's house in Brooklyn, feeling very tenuously present in this world, a ghost already, my mind mute like the dream of a mouth from which the tongue has been torn. There were stars and leaves black against the darkness. I don't know how long I was out there – time had become eternity; minutes and hours seemed meaningless. Suddenly a wind rose, and a wind chime tinkled.  And in that instant I felt Jakob's presence in the night.  A broken mind manufacturing it's own means to heal, perhaps – just overstressed neurons misfiring, in patterns consonant with the stricken psyche's wounds – or…?  I don't know.  But I saw (or rather sensed, although the visual 'memory' is vivid still) Jakob curled in the wind, floating in the night like a foetus in a womb, with the most tender smile imaginable, beatific, radiant with peace and joy.  And in that moment it seemed distinctly a message…Jakob letting me know that everything was all right, that he was at peace, reborn in a blissful freedom of infinite Being.
It is perhaps absurd to derive comfort from such an experience, but it was comforting.  It released something inside me, immediately and lastingly. L experienced no such moment, and even though she worked to achieve peace and was able to open her heart to love and joy, she would continue to suffer periods of anguish, and she would sometimes ask, over and over, “Where is Jakob?  Where is he?” as if in her tortured mind there was some place he had vanished to. Nothing could stop the recurring torments – not a wonderful therapist who was also a Buddhist lama, not a workshop with the Dalai Lama, not a magnificent horse she loved, not Paris (“I have flown like a wounded bird to Paris, to die” her notebook says).  Two years after Jakob's death, she was dying.
I would give her that moment on the porch in Brooklyn, back when it might have mattered to her.


Describe a person you love.  How would you know them without their face?

She was a universe to me.  Where are the edges, the boundaries of a person, for one to describe – the skin? voice? gestures? words?  deeds?  She loved the sea and the sea will always evoke her presence for me.  She loved 'the Infinite' and would quote Rimbaud: “Elle est retrouvée.  Quoi? — L'Éternité.  C'est la mer allée Avec le soleil.”  She will always be in the sun and sky, in the darkness beyond the stars.  Her naked footprint is on every horizon.  She loved books and writers, and designed and wrote books. She is present wherever there is poetry, writing, books.  (She is invoked by this project, as you can see.) She loved plants and designed gardens, wrote about gardens, cherished the stories of pioneering naturalists.  I can always find her in the flesh of rose petals.  She was a universe to me.  I don't know how to describe a universe.

How would I know her sans face? – a thousand ways:  her touch, even her breathing sometimes…but most distinctively, her laugh – her laugh was a pure delight rising from her body, musical as a Zen bell in her throat.  Her laugh was like a star being born, a many-petalled starburst, silvery and radiant….  That laugh is nowhere in the universe that remains, and the nights are darker for its absence.


How did you first know you were in love and what makes you unsure of it?

When she was dying we talked a lot about the days, thirty years earlier, when we first knew each other.  We were both married then, to people we cared deeply for and did not want to hurt.  What happened between us felt like some weird enchantment that both of us resisted (I thought of Tristan and Iseult and that witchy potion.)  We tried to avoid each other but chance seemed to stubbornly bring us together, time and again.  At such times we spoke little, as if neither of us could breathe.  Even so, every word seemed a key opening a new dimension of fascination and longing, every word tumbled us closer to the collapse of all defenses.  But we did resist.  We didn't sleep together; we didn't speak aloud what we felt. We had met in the spring and we spent the summer apart, never communicating…but each of us began gently disengaging from our marriages.  When we met again in the fall, the intensity was immediate and as insistent as ever, and we surrendered to what seemed inevitable as a destiny.

Somehow we knew – but how did we know?  When we talked in those last weeks of her life, I remembered and told her: “It was as if every atom of my being recognized every atom of your being.”  That sense was uncanny, and perhaps it meant only that we (for she had felt a similar kind of recognition) intuited or perceived a profound correspondence in our respective ways of being.  Intellect, heart, body, spirit – there was a resonance in every aspect of our beings.  Both of us had been lucky in love (as they say); we had enjoyed some wonderful friendships and loves, but each of us had also known the limits of love in relationships, the parts of yourself that can't be shared because there is no part of the other that answers, and we had separately resigned ourselves to being “forever a stranger, and alone” in the world.

But it was more than some sympathetic vibration of parts…  Nothing I know can explain the intensity of the feeling.  After we had begun seeing each other, but were not yet fully free of our marriages, she confessed one night that she had almost called to say she was too sick to come.  Then she added that she always felt that way before we met.  She ached all over and felt exhausted.  And it was exactly the same for me.  Before each meeting: enervated and aching, mental funk…  The emotion seemed simply a force too great for our bodies to contain, until we were together and the feelings could flow freely between us. As soon as we were together, everything was effortless; words flowed inexhaustibly, I felt weightless, floating; a kind of sublime pleasure suffused my being, unabating.

I was never unsure of the love I felt. Our 'correspondence' included each of us being stubborn, independent, etc. It is not as if there was never conflict or tension (and she was a better fighter than me – she could be a real terrorist).  There were times I was unsure of her love for me; but of my love for her – never.


What besides love do you doubt and what makes you doubt it?

The word 'love' has become a kind of donkey suicide-bomber – a sweet versatile beast overburdened with trivializing and bent usages, then exploded with 'explanations' and negations (it's just pheromones; …that's not real love). It's easy to wander through the wreckage and have doubts.  But I don't doubt what love is to me.  I don't doubt anything except what is constructed in the human brain (and the products thereof– eg, pharmaceuticals, politicians, etc, weary etc) – and about most of that I am skeptical, at the very least.  (There are glorious exceptions – da Vinci, Shakespeare, Van Gogh…ideals like justice, truth… but those get corrupted, too.  Packed up and exploded…and I do 'love' donkeys.)


In what way have you betrayed or disappointed yourself or others? In what way have you been betrayed or disappointed?

I think I have probably disappointed everyone who has ever known me.  But, to be fair, I have mainly disappointed their expectations of me, which were not my own expectations.  Still, it hurts.

To be disappointed in oneself implies a schism in the psyche – one 'self' perceiving and judging the failure of another 'self'? – whereas to me it seems all one being, one self (even if multi-faceted) that is coextensive with a universe that no 'I' controls.  No 'I' controls even the most intimate self.  Aspirations and goals emerge from the life of the self, and I work sincerely to achieve them, but if the path diverges, it is my self that has elected (in so far as choice applies) the other course.  I can feel saddened by that outcome, but not 'disappointed in myself.'

What are the parameters of your small world? How do you decide where to draw the line, where to focus your energies, what to give your attention and time to? What, if anything, do you do to enlarge it? If nothing, why not?


Why aren't you more involved in trying to better the world of others?

Someday a socioeconomic system that warps the vast dynamo of human energy towards 'self-interest' (whether from necessity and sheer survival or endless status-seeking or whatever) will be seen as the immense tragedy that it is.



Seek (answers)