Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Sorting

Those who once were kind to you
now avoid you and give you no succor
when most you need it:
these are not my friends.

Those who once claimed to care for you
and, when you needed that shoulder
that you so often offered, disappeared:
these are not my friends.

Those who once claimed you as part
of their foundation stone and tribe
who now ignore you when you're dying:
these are not my friends.

Those who once were grateful when
you entered the rooms of hospitality
who now do not turn their heads to greet:
these are not my friends.

Do those who know you now become
the places armed with refuge
and sit across the silent table:
make these your friends.

Those who answer on the first ring
at three in the morning of a winter night
when winds howl outside and in:
make these your friends.

Those who do not judge or condemn
you for who you are or what you've done
much less what you have survived:
make these your friends.

Those who empty out their beds
when cold rain nights bring you
to the doorstep forlorn and still:
make these your friends.

And, lastly, those who know you in and out
who do not care if you have failed or lost
who do not mind when you can't cope
who help you cope those nights you can't
who find a room in heart and hearth
when other shelters come to naught:
these are your friends.

Grateful be to true friends.
So mote it be.

Looking through old photographs and memories tonight, looking at the recent past, the shit I've been through this past year, having been sick unto death for a year now, almost dying from it, not yet well, not well for a long time to come, worried about what will happen next, not willing to trust, faith is an alien presence because I don't trust it, surrender I can do because surrender means unknowing, and not knowing, and I don't know any of it.

Thinking through the list of people who I once counted as friends, and watching that list diminish to near null, partly by attrition, partly by people leaving because of their own lives, their own crises they must deal with, all everybody ever lives through is their own drama, and wondering when it will ever be my turn. I'm always putting out and taking care of them. Where are they when I need it in return?

And the two or three friends who I can call at 3am, when the darkest part of the night steps up, I can't sleep for being unable to stop worrying or thinking or just fidgeting, and everything seems like just another night of endurance with no end ever in sight, those two or three I can call still do answer. Somehow. I try not to call too often. I also try to call when I'm feeling good, not just when I need a shoulder.

Going down and down, auguring in, for so long, it's impossible to believe anymore that that could ever turn around. Even the tiniest setback brings out the worst of fears, the worst of worry. Hard to find much gratitude for what you have, when you're certain it's all going to be lost.

Try letting go, try emptying out, tonglen, breath in and down, settle, move the one-point hara to the center of the earth, ground, come to center and extent. Every trick and formulation you know, and none of it works anymore well enough to end the evidence of ending. What do you expect?

Today I just gave up. I can't figure it out. I'm not in control. Very much I have no idea what's next, which person I care about is going to suffer or die next, it probably won't be me, I seem to be wyrded to outlive everyone I've ever loved, and end up sick and alone.

So what? Who cares? No one, really. Don't tell anyone. Keep it to yourself. No one really gives a shit, and even if they could they disappear on you because they feel helpless to do anything to help you.

So you end up staring at the inky waters again, in the middle of the night, near freezing, the moon shattered on restless wavelets as you look down. If you say you've never been here before, feet toeing the abyss, you lie.

You lie. You lie and lie. You pretend all's well that isn't. All's well that won't end well. Who cares why. Who cares if it's the curse of karma, you must have been a motherfucking asshole in a previous life to have to up with so much of the opposite of peace and success this time around. What frakking sacred contract did you sign to make up this sordid narrative? You lie and never tell anyone the inside of this truth. It's too much honesty. They'll all flee. They'll all want to believe the lie that it's okay.

The exit of the ice. Your father's gun in the dresser drawer. The longing for it to stop. Just stop. The alien cousin of the isolated boy who lonely wept into his pillow because they killed his lover and his friend. Now watch him die. On the doorstep in front of you. Now watch him die. Dragging the body of the boy out of the lake right in front of you at the end of the afternoon, silent except for the yelling of the lifeguards and the wheeling gulls. His little sister standing looking like her world just ended. Now watch him die. Old man just stopping breathing, in the hospital bed in the living room after a week home after a month in the hospital, just stopped breathing, you hear the silence on the other end of the baby monitor next to your bedroll downstairs, you were sleeping underneath him on the floor, an hour ago coming out of the background there was the sound of buffeting wings around you, a joyous boy in a sunny place yelling at you how wonderful it all is and how he understands everything now, go upstairs and sit at his bedside for an hour in the middle of the night till the funeral people finally come, and you get back to your bedroll in the blue hour of predawn, the blue hour which is that eternal moment when the world pauses in its breath, and the night birds stop singing and there is silence for a long moment before the morning chorus of other birds starts up their greeting to the dawn.

And you can't run away anymore. You can't run away from it anymore. It just explodes again and again in front of you, continuous, impoverishing, the angel stepping into the air from a hole in the light a continuous explosion of silent white fire. It just explodes in you again and again. Till you just want it to stop. And you find yourself by the ink dark water again, in the middle of the night. When no one will answer the phone when you call, when you need them most. When you need them most, they're never there. And no one cares. And if they say they do care if you ask them then you can't believe them because they weren't spontaneous with it, you had to prompt them to it, and if you had to prompt them to it you can never be sure if they really mean it or they're just doing it out of guilt because they think they should. Should, the most habitual and heartless word in the world, should.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Re the poem: This is why I object to the way the word ‘friend’ is bandied about online. I’ve only had a handful of friends in my life, the kinds of friends who come close to meeting the sort of criteria you list in you poem. I’ve been friendly with lots of people and despite the fact I present myself as a bit of a grump I’m actually quite personable in real life; I want to be a grump but once I’m faced with a real live person with expectations my resolve caves. Looking back on those friendships I’ve had in the past – and the fact that they’ve never weathered the test of time – does make me wonder if I had it wrong even back then. But ‘friendship’ is another one of those words like ‘love’ – what people expect from their friends and how far they themselves are willing to go on behalf of their friends can vary greatly. I’m curious why you’ve used ‘mote’ in the last line. I assume you mean ‘may’ but it seems an odd choice.

Re the prose: I do find it difficult to form a true picture of Art Durkee. Despite all the words you’ve written over the past couple of years I’m still not sure who you are. Or that I understand you or what you’re going through. But then I have a wife sitting not ten feet away whose pain I don’t understand. Pain – a physical, emotional and mental – is another one of those words that we think we understand. But we don’t. On the whole people have been a great disappointment to me. Not that I have been excessive in my demands – far from it in fact I would say that I have given much more than I have received – but that has also been my undoing: people have got used to me coping, being the shoulder they could lean on and so they’ve been confused when I’ve turned up looking for something back. I exaggerate, of course, but the fact is that I have had to learn self-sufficiency and resilience. Really I say it all in this poem:


        People will fail you.
        It's a fact of life –
        they'll let you down.

        But not always.
        And that's the worst of it –
        sometimes they don't.

        But most times it's hard to tell

        6 March, 1996

3:16 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth said...

You have tapped into a deep well of pain here, Art and I commend you for it.

The pain of connection, of attachment of friendship and of betrayal. Reading between the lines, not only here but elsewhere on your blog, Art, I gather old friendships have shifted for you and they have not been replaced, by the sound of things.

I'm inlined to agree with Jim, here. Friendship is limited and even then it does not always last. As Jim says even the one closest to you - your partner -might at times seem a stranger.

In the end, what do we have besides the mixed love of those few deep connections, there is art.

Art as the best revenge, as you often remind me, Art, but also art as an act of love and of passion and of connectedness.

Thanks for this. It resonates.

5:07 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Yeah, sometimes the problem is defining "friendship," like defining other terms like "love." People really do get confused about words like that, because they all assume they mean the same thing but to different people they usually mean quite different things. "God" is another word like that. The usual online misuse of "friend" is an extreme example of a misdefinition and misusage.

I have a specific meaning for "friend." I use it for those people who really do stand by you. There's a morbid but accurate joke I've heard from time to time: "Friends help you move. REAL friends help you move bodies." I've never moved a body but I have a few real friends who would help, no questions asked. Maybe a little affectionate mockery. Actually, maybe a LOT of affectionate mockery, but they'd still be there with the shovels and the flashlights.

I think of friends in circles of affiliation. Each person is the center of a circle. In the first inner ring, there are the real friends. In the next outer ring there are the friends, who would be there for you most of the time, or with whom you've shared intimate lies at the office, for example. The next rings out are various levels of acquaintance, rather than friends per se. Most online "friends" for most people ought to really be called acquaintances. It's a serious misnomer to call people you meet on Facebook friends, most of whom you will never actually meet. In that context, the word acquires a connotation of yearning, more or less desperate: all these wanna-be friends.

"So mote it be" is an archaic formulation used to end a spell, or a prayer. It adds some weight to the wishing.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

The question of who I really am isn't one I can easily answer. Certainly "I am legion" isn't far off the mark, as we all contain multitudes. I don't know if I can give a truer picture of who I am than through making art, though. That art-making part of my life certainly makes me feel more real than many other parts of my life.

I used to work in corporate offices as a graphic designer and artist, but few in those corporate climes ever knew about this art-making aspect of my life. Those that did were usually surprised by it. Although to me it's far more real. Which is real, which is the shadow-puppet play?

Writing like this can be cathartic, obviously, and written for the sake of catharsis. One hopes there is some artistry to it, that it's not just a journal entry. One hopes it does indeed resonate.

I often find that this mode of writing often drives people away, though, Perhaps it's too raw, too close to the bone. They often just don't know what to say, which I acknowledge. Silence doesn't always help comfort, though. Sometimes, yes, but not always.

But taking your pain and making it into art, at least some of the time, is a good thing. What makes it art rather than a journal entry? I suppose it's in how you present it, and probably also in how the reader perceives it. Certainly there are those for whom any display of raw pain is too much, and crosses their arbitrary line. There are others, drama queens I've known for example, for whom reserved and artistic displays of pain aren't raw enough. So go figure. I think each artist will do it their own way, and hope that at least a few readers will find it resonates.


10:30 AM  

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