Tom Schultz, c. 1961, oil on canvas.


by Eve Toliman

I spent a hot morning in Ukiah reading a book of Kay Ryan’s pristine, turn-me-inside-out poems. “Carrying a Ladder” knocked a little hole in me.  All day, I heard these lines repeat: As though / one had a way to climb / out of the damage / and apology.

Beneath the damage and apology, a yawning blackness obliterates the threat of collision. In this spaciousness, the weight of my regret and the binding straps of fear dissolve. They are not set aside, they are not resolved, they simply lose utility. My unfettered movement in this dark world gathers force, a cyclone of freedom, until it bursts above the midline, unconcerned with what the light of day can do.

One burst of joy, a geyser of being-not-being, sizzling hot, spewing wild until light vaporizes lightness and gravity reclaims each drop, down, down, down into the earth, cold water in cold ground. A wet and ashy heap, unfit for any use, impossible to clean up, there is nothing to be done but wait until the last of it dries up and blows away.

These are the seasons of my life, glorious fits of unadorned joy followed by long patient silences during which the ghosts of roads-not-taken taunt me with the false beauty of what-could-have-been. Cruel and bitter with the life that I denied them, they eclipse the waning moments of my real life with impenetrable, leaden regret. The weight of my regret accumulates and drags me deep into the underworld where the cycle begins again. These are the seasons of my self-absorbed life.

But love, always and only love, liberates me from this self-concern. A will to serve recasts the thought of ‘me’, refashions my self-consciousness into a thin ribbon pulled taut like floss, past my eyes, through my brain into the vacuum where it all begins and ends. Dissipated in communion, a small bright cloud of newly-me forms at each fulfillment. The fall to earth is gentle but as I recongregate in breathe and blood, the lonely ache begins. This pain is different than the taunting shame or binding fear. This ache does not press me into myself, it accompanies me, reminding me of this flesh over this muscle over this bone, each step a sinewy ripple, particle and wave. I am here, we are alive.

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4 Responses to REFLECTION

  1. Teri says:

    I really, really like this. Can you feel it? When you finish casting the bell, before it is rung, can you tell it will ring out true? That others will feel it resonating within them when they hear it? “Beneath the Damage and Apology” is like that for me. I like your other pieces, too; and I read those as an interested observer. But no such detached pleasure is taken from “Beneath…” Instead I FEEL MYSELF. Thank you! Keep writing!

  2. Almira Gulch says:

    Jorge Borges proposes that you took all of those roads-not-taken. And your seeming road may again cross paths with the results of any of them.

    • evetoliman says:

      “All futures and pasts, those chosen and those rejected, those considered and those inconceivable, superimpose and resolve.” Six years ago, on October 28 — this very day — I wrote that to an old friend about the lives we once thought we would have but didn’t. Maybe it’s not that paths may cross, it’s that they’re always crossing, that they can’t not cross because what we think we see is just a sometimes beautiful, sometimes harrowing illusion. It’s not unreal, it’s just incomplete and our glimpses of coincidence and other ‘magic’ invite us into a fuller comprehension and a fuller experience of what’s possible in this amazing human life.

  3. Stephanie says:

    I love this poem. The waves of recognition ebb and flow over me. The words send shivers of joy and shame through me, as I realize some-someone or the many-few live their lives as I do, soaring and falling, like a hawk hunting or a leaf on a breeze. Matt, your choice of poems honor my sense of self, and I wonder how words on a computer screen can sear my soul so deeply. Thanks.

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