“we need the tonic of our wilderness…”  Henry David Thoreau

Often, I think of the cabin in the woods, where nothing will impinge on my solitude, except possibly the wind, and the sound of water from the Little Colorado.  It’s a little stream, six or so feet across, sometimes less, sometimes more, most of the time surrounded by willows or wildflowers.   The porch on the cabin holds the scent of pines, and whisper & light meanders through.  I don’t know if this is the future or the past.

I injured my shoulder last summer, flying down an alpine slide with some grown-up men boys. These somewhat-men have all the maturity of baby squirrels, or possibly bubble-gum, in their 50’s, still egging each other on to new feats of stupidity, until they hobble away scraped and bloody having gone too far.    I fell off the slide halfway down, immediately bruised in the rocks and sage.  Now I hear the crackle of arthritis when I reach too high.  It’s beginning to have me in it’s hold.  I see swollen distortions in my fingers, strange bumps in perfectly good pinkies.  A memory I probably would be better without…the juvenile me, the bad love affair….or no.  Better the scars and memories….faulty as they are.  “Yesterday’s just a memory; tomorrow’s never what it’s supposed to be.”  –Bob Dylan

A bad choice to go down the slide,  a good choice to go to Breckenridge. A good choice to travel through Colorado, to loving the trees and flowers and walk over fallen logs on mossy streams.   I admit to loving Thoreau; to wanting solitude to the extent of avoiding people; to resenting others for encroaching on my thoughts with small talk and  chit-chat.   My daughter complains that Thoreau’s cabin was too close to town.  She says it tarnishes his writing.  He wasn’t even in the wilderness.  Writing is usually a solitary act.  Even sitting in a café, writing is still the soul bleeding on paper.   A friend sent a text about Fitzgerald–that Fitzgerald had spent two years at a hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, and “… would I like to go?”  A few days later, someone else invited me to Cancun.   And like any great writer,  except possibly Fitzgerald himself, the banker Stevens,  and a few MacArthur recipients, I find my finances too limited to live in that style.  I’m afflicted with Dostoevsky’s diseases now — poverty and desire.

“Only the heart knows how to find what is precious.”  Dostoevsky 

Fitzgerald’s rooms 431 and 433 at the Grove Park Hotel would be beautiful, but how many pilgrimages can I go on?  —But imagine, drinking gin & tonics on the patio where Fitzgerald drank gin & tonics….after he sent beautiful Zelda off to the hospital. Three years later he was dead, and she would die in that mental hospital in Asheville.  I would like to go, but too expensive….on the bright side, I’ve walked the streets in Ludlow where Mother Jones was arrested, and seen the house where D.H. Lawrence lived and Georgia O’Keefe painted.

“She was overstrained with grief and loneliness; almost any shoulder would have done as well.”  –Fitzgerald      Perhaps he knew me in that life.

I’ve been on too many pilgrimages,  St. Petersburg, Russia to see the streets of Akhmatova & Dostoevsky, Gogol & Nabokov.   I’ve been to Mark Twain’s boyhood home, searched for John Berryman’s grave in Resurrection Cemetery, I’ve seen Donald Justice, W.S. Merwin and Maya Angelou in the flesh….and all the spirit I could wrestle from them is just a shadow on paper.   I might as well be a fan hoping to sing by watching Sinatra.  And even writing this, I think:  but there are singers who try to learn from Sinatra.    Am I a fan or a student?  An artist or a hack?  A writer who doesn’t write?  Can I elicit a response?

The world is filled with shoulders, to be leaned on, chipped, stood on, and slept on “wrong.”….though usually it’s my neck, which is another story altogether.  Dylan says   “behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.”    What beautiful shoulders we have!   So much pain.  I’ll be damned if reading that, if it isn’t pleasing that the Nobel committee gave Dylan the Nobel Prize.  He’s brilliant and lyrical and full of soul…. the way any poet is.  I’m not sure his lyrics stand as “poems.”  In fact, they definitely aren’t poems.  But they stand as something else.  Not just politics, but beauty.

The poet John Berryman was about as innovative as a poet gets….and jumped off a bridge I think, due to recurring failures at sobriety.  But, of course, it was what was behind the drinking that caused him to die…..

 “I see his point, a trying to put things over.
It was the thought that they thought
they could do it made Henry wicked & away.”  – Berryman

I sound like my old first love….a huge Berryman fan, who thought of these writers as people, as peers, and of course, why not?  Dylan is no guru, no idol, no celebrity to be worshipped, he’s just a guy….he’s made it his life’s work to say so….the recluse, he just wanted to play his songs……and the world, it hands him the Nobel Prize.  The irony — there are no words.

I can’t keep company with these minds, except through paper, which is now electric. They molder mostly in the grave, even my first love…. so as Dylan would say:  “Sometimes you just have to bite your upper lip and put your sunglasses on.”  My first love: as talented as any of these poets as anyone I’ve known…..the melody of Whitman fighting the addiction of dylan thomas……  and yet, the world never gave him that kind of fame.  As Mother Jones would say, “pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”  So, it’s up to me, the living.

Tomorrow  I have to give up another day of my life to live in a society I can’t afford to live in.   I’ll hang a badge around my neck, drive miles and miles in my 1993 Buick, and try to make it make sense.  Shouldering my burden, keeping the mortgage paid as long as I am able.   I’m standing on the shoulders of all these writers, and still I can’t see our the window. What the hell is out there, anyway.

“the best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he’s in prison”  Dostoevsky 

I think, sooner or later, I will have to live here:



One thought on “Shoulder

  1. Just a guy..or a gal…all who I think of as great I believe were at first and continually, fans of others, both predecessors and contemporaries. And how many pilgrimages, exactly, are too many? I suppose when the seeking takes over the creating, or is a distraction to the next piece. I can imagine those writers hoping to be you. It’s strange when you realize that others are looking to you for answers, or guidance, and they are older than, say, five.
    In any case, I’m a fan. Of yours.


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