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Winter Waters


At Land's End in San Francisco

surging waves assault the shore

as if wanting to overthrow the

static ideas on our static land.

Bucking hard and heavy against sky,

against low fog, into the brine-spiced

blue above, their liquid restlessness

brokers a truce with my own.

And far upstream—past the wastelands

of Nevada, poems of scorched loneliness

exhaling into distant purplish mountains;

past the rivers prophesying green through

the red canyons of the American West

and the cattle towns accreting into banal service industry outposts—

past all this something humble is trickling back toward those waves.

This is where the headwaters are found,

back in the little creeks of Montana.

Things are nonlinear up there because that's how headwaters are: the source of things is generally known by its perplexing reversals and rather unpromising promises.

You want to know, to ask real questions?

Then know that real answers are only seen

out of sight, you are safe only when you

are lost, and to find yourself you must founder at the headwaters of all.

Up in Hyalite Canyon trees twist

their tortured way out of the earth,

dwarfed beneath granite cliffs and the flinty sky of January. One wonders, looking at these trees whose gnarled bark gently holds snow: Why does growth hurt so terribly? And why

does it take such uncanny, mesmerizing forms?

We must endure such things, it seems, for we are consigned to parables.

In wintertime, the headwaters are reduced to drips. Why? They are gathering snowpack

that will gush generously over the dry farmland in the coming months of summer. But presently the creek that thought it was ready to launch joyously

over the cliff is frozen in midair, an ice staircase, a curve that never made it over.

This monstrous pause is winter's merciful fermentation. The frozenness at the headwaters of your being, where what you have lost

rips at the soft skin of all your secrets,

is slowly gathering what you will need

for a task you have not yet received.

But now is the long nothing. Winter is a horribly long time and time is the most unbearable of burdens. Yet it is the King's court jester, telling a joke

about despair that in the latter days will jolt

us into sanity with the mercy we rejected at the time we ceased being children.

Listen to the trickle beneath the ice-arrested creek. Listen to the waves at Land's End, a chutzpah more ancient than the world.

These things are not rushing away from you,

leaving you behind, forgotten, and dry.

They are rushing toward you.

How many ways do you need to hear

great myths slipping through the cracks

in order finally to believe they are true? How long must you stand and pray at the waters before abandoning your

childish sense of 'abandonment'

to their urgent presence?

For the earth shall be full of the knowledge

of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Lord of the waters I am here now again, a child's listening heart. I'm washed over now again by all your breakers and waves,

wading away from the shore

as my fear at last dissolves

in your riptide of love.

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