“In the Eskimo language there are four future tenses: the immediate future, the middle future, the far-in-the-future future and a future that will never arrive.” Robert Littell
I just got my copy of Kate Greenstreet’s newest book of poems The End of Something. Wow. What a marvelous book. Not only are the poems songful and clear and provocative, as in thought/feeling-provoking, but the book itself is a most pleasing objet d’art with beguiling design touches and a splendiferous presentation of the poems, the line-spacing wonderfully spacious, the fonts exactly right, the book small yet not small—an insightful chronicle writ in a language we know but have never used this way.
As I read Ms. Greenstreet’s opus, images from my past rise from the depths; and the next thing I know I’m returning to the present here by the fire, many minutes having ticked away while I slipped and slid down various memory lanes—proof to me of how excellent her poetry.
From 80. WHAT TO DO WITH THE WILL TO BELIEVE
Whatever happened to divine
as the basis of self-discipline.
Fifteen years ago. I am fifty-three, walking the labyrinth embedded in the plaza outside Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The woman I am involved with is twenty feet ahead of me on the mystic coil. She is often displeased with me and emotionally unavailable: two big obstacles to the continuance of our relationship.
A woman comes out of the cathedral, walks down a short flight of stairs, and approaches the labyrinth. She moves without a hint of fear in her gait and posture, her glossy brown hair falling to her shoulders, her skin olive brown—Spanish comes to mind, though she might be Greek or Ashkenazi.
She is wearing a dress that does not become her, a drab brown tube falling to just below her knees, the short sleeves all wrong, yet she takes my breath away. She reaches the threshold of the labyrinth just as I reach the center, our eyes meet, and we stand unmoving, locked in a powerful psychic embrace that tells me we were born to spend our lives together; and I can hardly keep from shouting “It’s you!”
Now the woman I’m involved with says, “We should get going. They’re expecting us.”
And my soul mate, rather than enter the labyrinth, smiles wistfully and walks away, while I, rather than run after her, turn to my girlfriend and say, “Okee doke.”
From 91. I SAW MYSELF NAKED BY MISTAKE
To know the longitude and latitude
with certainty, amidst erasure
I am twenty-six. I have come to New York from Medford, Oregon where I worked as a landscaper. Having recently sold a few short stories to national magazines—a huge breakthrough for me—I’ve come to New York to meet the editors who bought my stories.
From childhood until this moment in my life, I have always had an excellent sense of direction. On backpack trips in the Sierras, sans compass, I was unerringly correct about which direction was which. And in towns and cities where I lived, my sense of direction was invariably accurate.
I enter the subway in Greenwich Village, go down a flight of stairs, pass through the turnstile, go down another flight of stairs, and catch the A Train to Times Square to purchase half-price tickets to a play. I get a little turned around coming up out of the ground at 42nd Street, but find the ticket booth and head underground again to catch the A Train to West 86th.
I board the train, and one stop along realize I’m going in the opposite direction I want to go, so I get off the train, exit the underground, re-enter the underground, and after some confusion catch the A Train heading for West 86th. When I get to West 86th and emerge from the underground, I set out for what I am sure is West 83rd, only to reach West 87th and have to turn around.
And ever since then, whenever I am in unfamiliar territory, I have difficulty synching up my sense of direction with reality.
From 39. WHAT FALLS FROM THE SKY
That the truth means
what is going to happen. Or
what I must do.
I am fifteen. I just informed my parents I don’t want to take any more pre-med advanced science courses at my high school. I want to take Drama and Ceramics. My sisters have gone to college. My younger brother and my mother have gone to bed. I am alone with my father in the living room. He is very drunk, standing ten feet away from me, yelling at me, his face deformed by fury and hatred. He says my decision to drop Science and take Drama and Art proves I am a quitter phony loser fake pathetic useless coward copout. My sensory system begins to shut down. I can hear him shouting and I can feel the energy of his fury, but his words are indistinct.
I will not remember this event until twelve years later when I become so ill I almost die. My illness manifests a few months after selling my first novel for a small advance to a major New York publisher. I am twenty-seven, living in a rat-infested house in a dangerous part of Seattle—a house I cannot afford to keep warm during the winter, so I am always cold.
The symptoms of my illness are limbs so heavy I have difficulty moving, exhaustion, inability to sleep, no appetite, fevers, chills, and a persistent cough.
After a month of suffering, I go to a doctor. He runs a battery of tests and can find nothing wrong with me. Three more weeks pass. I am cadaverous now. My throat aches from coughing. Every time I begin to drift off to sleep, I have a coughing fit and wake up.
I go to the doctor again. More tests. Nothing. He recommends I see a psychotherapist. I go home and sit on my bed and consider calling my parents to ask them for money so I can go to a therapist.
Sitting on my bed, I hallucinate a second Todd sitting a few feet away from me, and we have a conversation.
Todd 2: So you’re sick, but they can’t find anything wrong with you. How strange.
Todd: I’m more than sick. I’m dying.
Todd 2: How come?
Todd: I have no idea.
Todd 2: Well…what’s been going on in your life?
Todd: What do you mean? I’ve been terribly sick for two months. I can barely move, barely get out of bed. Nothing else is going on. Nothing else can go on.
Todd 2: What about your novel? Aren’t you about to publish your first novel?
Todd: I have to finish the rewrite, but I’m too weak. I have to get well first, only it doesn’t look like I’m going to.
Todd 2: But isn’t it amazing? You sold a novel! To Doubleday! You must be thrilled. Dream come true. Right?
Todd: I guess so.
Todd 2: You guess so? You don’t sound very thrilled or proud or happy about selling a novel to major publisher. And I notice when you tell people and they get excited, you say the book probably won’t sell. Why do you do that?
Todd: I don’t. I’m happy about the book.
Todd 2: No, you’re not. You’re ashamed, aren’t you?
Todd: No. I’m…I’m glad.
Todd 2: You don’t sound glad. You sound ashamed.
Now a movie screen appears in the air above me, and on the movie screen is my father, his face deformed by fury and hatred, calling me a quitter phony loser fake pathetic useless coward copout.
I shout at the movie, “Get out of my body! Get out of my mind! I banish you. Be gone.”
Now the scene on the screen dissolves and another scene appears—my father snarling, “We gave you everything and you pissed your life away.”
“Get out of my body! Get out of my mind! I banish you. Be gone.”
And for hours and hours memories of being denigrated by my father and mother and teachers and girlfriends and friends appear on the screen and I keep shouting at those memories to be gone from me.
At last I fall asleep and slumber without waking for nineteen hours. When I open my eyes, though I am weak as a baby, my illness is gone.
47. ALL OUR BONES
All our bones, and the mountains.
Mountains always in the distance.
It’s called completion.
I want us to tell people.