Monday, February 15, 2016

Strategic Withdrawal

David James Duncan
Strategic Withdrawal

any movement inward
            -- as into a chair by a window the light of which you use only to stare into a cup of tea
            -- or as into a habit of tea-drinking, as opposed to coffee, because the former behaves so much more quietly within the body, so softly helps open the eyes and the mind
            -- or as in letting the eyes come to a standstill, in some space on the page of a book you’ve been reading, in order to stare at nothing, or at something inside, or at something neither inside nor out – an association-sprung scene, an entire small world, maybe; a place so pungent you leave your body to stand in it for a time
            -- or as turning over a handwritten letter, before or after you’ve read it, to run your hand across a blank side, the written words invisible now, yet palpable in the impressions the pen left in the paper, the strange backward slant you never think of as being there, the earnest weight of the writer’s departed hand, physical track of her thought still traceable, the “handicraft” evident in the paucity of words, the whole page, though we think of paper as “smooth,” as idiosyncratically and subtly bumpy as the skin of your love’s body, in which also dwells a reverse side, unseen side, of breath, blood, inchoate words, nonverbal language
            strategic withdrawal: any movement backward, away from the battle lines of one’s incarnation (as in the phrase “spiritual retreat” but without the once-in-a-blue-moon connotations of those two words, because the backward movement needed, the spiritual retreat required, is moment to moment, day to day)
            strategic withdrawal: any refusal to man our habitual political or psychological trenches or to defend our turf, for though the turf may be holy, our defenses, when they grow automatonic, are not
            any refusal to engage with that testy or irritating or ideologically loud or theologically bloated person in your life – you know the one: the agitatedly racist or religionist, politically powerful or compulsively processing pedant, coworker, parent, friend, or (God help you) spouse whose opinions are too poorly formed, too loudly held, or just too incessantly divulged to allow you to achieve peace in the presence of so much clanging banging editorializing mental machinery
            any retreat (however ignominious it may seem to the will or the mind or the ego) not just from all such exchanges but from the underlying tensions and history that launch the exchanges (your side of the tensions and history, anyway: the side you’ve an inalienable right to retreat from)
            any movement away from one’s “urgencies,” one’s “this-is-who-I-am” nesses, one’s responsibilities, agitations, racial guilt, sworn causes, shames, strengths, weaknesses, memories, workaday, identity, public or secret battlefields
            any movement toward formlessness
            any movement toward a beginning, as in Genesis 1, John 1, Quran Tao Te Ching Diamond Sutra Mahabharata Kalevala Mumonkan Ramayana Torah Gita 1
            and toward one’s own “in the beginning”
            toward one’s origin (root of originality); toward one’s ignorance (that underrated state the embracing of which precedes every influx of fresh knowledge); toward one’s amorphousness (state of all clay before the potter conceives a form, wedges the clay, centers it, and begins throwing the cup or bowl); toward one’s interior blankness (the state of the paper preceding every new idea, drawing, poem); toward one’s wilderness (wild: the condition of all worlds, inner and outer, before the creation of the man-made bewilderments from which we are endeavoring to withdrawal0
            strategic withdrawal:
            any attempt to step from a why, however worthy, into whylessness
            as in an extemporaneous walk to a destination unknown; a walk during which everything but your movement through God-knows-where becomes the God-knows-what you’re doing
            or as in going fishing without the desire for fish so that desirelessness becomes the prey you’re catching
            or as in a stroll to a neighborhood cafĂ© or tavern one or more neighborhoods removed from any in which you’re known, which establishment you then enter not to socialize, read the paper, or eat the (probably bad) food, but just to nurse a single slow drink as you soak, without judgment, in the presence and riverine babble of your city and native tongue
            strategic withdrawal: any act you can devise, any psycho-spiritual act at all, that embodies a willingness to wait for the world to disclose itself to you, rather than to disclose yourself, your altruism, your creativity, skills, energy, ideas, and (let’s face it) agenda, myopia, preconceptions, delusions, addictions, and inappropriate trajectories to this world
            willingness to drop trajectories; willingness to boot up with all extensions OFF; willingness not to save the world but simply to wait for it to disclose itself to you, whether anything seems, even after long long waiting, to be disclosing itself or not
            an act of faith then, really; faith that the world is always disclosing itself; faith that lack of disclosure is impossible; faith that what blocks Creation’s ceaseless flow of disclosure is, invariably, our calluses and callousness, our old injuries and injuriousness, our plans, cross-purposes, neuroses, absurd speed of passage, divided minds, ruling manias, lack of trust, lack of faith – overabundance of faith, cf. Thomas Merton: ‘Prayer is possible only when prayer is impossible”
            strategic withdrawal: to step back, now and then, from the possible to take rest in the impossible: to stand without trajectory in the God-given weather till the soul’s identity begins to come with the weathering: to get off my own laboriously cleared and maintained trails and back onto the pristine hence unmarked path by moving, any old how, toward interior nakedness; toward silence; toward what Buddhists call “emptiness,” Christians “poverty of spirit,” Snyder “wild,” and Eckhart “desirelessness: the virgin that eternally gives birth to the Son”
            strategic withdrawal: this prayer: When I am lost, God help me to get more lost.  Help me lose so completely that nothing remains but the primordial peace and originality that keeps creating and sustaining this blood-, tear-, and love-worthy world that’s never lost for an instant save by an insufficiently lost me
            “We’re all in the gutter,” said Oscar Wilde in the throes of just such a withdrawal, “but some of us are looking at the stars”
            strategic withdrawal:
            look at the stars

Shepardstown, West Virginia; cross country
Delta jet; and Lolo, Montana: summer 1999

-David James Duncan
My Story As Told By Water

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Remote Bird

A code, a lens,
for connectedness. 
A switch, the taunt
string between two cans. 
-No! Stringless. 
Just the two. Just 
the ocean in each one. 
-No! Just my hand cupped
like a wing on my ear
and yours the same. 

Why is this happening?
-the failure to regard-
the distant distance
where I carry my heart
like a small tree
turning to the sun. 
I turn then, over and over
until it feels like a dance. 

The light is always on my head,
An earworm, a remainder,
a lesson in no news. 
In that movie
I say stop. 
There again
the pointing to,
the lack of. 
Nothing is crucial,
not the dying
not the grocery aisles. 
But a just inserts itself,
asserting a constant moment,
attenuating a frequency,
a modulation 
of longing for
your presence. 

Near me 
A small bird
lands sharply
on a branch. 
Can you hear it
where you are?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Crow takes a turn

curbside crow
lying like 
dark gloves.
market body bag.
trash can.
night clan dream.
buried among
they count.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Take it from me  now.

You are standing.
Facing sea.
When you speak
your voice draws a ray.
You call it shoreline.
The moment you demarcate it,
it is yours, not to be shared.
But then the moon and the
pulling, bruised night
take back this possessive.
You look down.
Your blue feet are an inscription.
Under the hood of cloud cover
you ask for more light.
You need more light.
The shine rolls away, leaving
this opaque gender,  loss.
You want to ignore these shapes.
Feet are so familiar, too final.
After endless illuminations
they settle under a shore that sparkles.
Beneath the next moon you
try to explain with gestures,
hands that sign deja vu,
that hold nothing
and release everything.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Google This

All along the mnemonic path
I had left little devices to
Catch those yesterdays'
New things of old.
Snares of a sort, a pinwheel
Or two. Were they spinning
Clockwise or counter?
A cleanly seen associate.
What does that feeling of
Approximation feel like?
The person, the word,
The time of that year?
What I am tempted to do
I fear will destroy that impulse
To natively remember from
Within my own mind.
Once a memory, now,
Just information retrieved.
Much of what is easy is,
Like absorbent cotton, mopping
Up for me. A dumb provider.
Sit down false necessity.
Let me do this myself.
Give me a little time,
Just a little time.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

An Appreciation of the Sun

The sun looks for me. 
It is undaunted in the
Way it searches. 
Not the naked dirty elm
Nor the highest floor
Will stand in it's way.

It sketches the winter lilac
On the house wall. 
The black dog's doppel
Passes through. 

Inexpensive zircon
sparkles in the snow. 
Glint of tiny prisms. 

The word welcome
Comes to mind. 
It floats from my mouth. 
A small enough cloud. 

The sun climbs on me
Looking into my eyes. 
It dresses me in 
What's available.
Out of the blue,
The mysterious blue,
It buttons each button. 

I celebrate mid-morning. 
Such a wardrobe. 
Such an ever-light necessity. 

Friday, December 19, 2014


The marks were of precision.
They ran from stage left to right.
No one remembered 
the shortness of just hands,
the way they carried water,
the touch of the not visible life
sustained in the same way
we awoke each day and
prayed the sun up.

The televised life is a sleight.
Sparks of electricity, furious voices,
images formed from small fires.
Long lost immediacy and repetition.
Messages carried by a messenger
bringing the final message.
The thing to be extinguished.

"I hear voices," my young son said.
The subvocal is shirtless,
squinting, smoking a cigarette.
Now he wears a raincoat,
now a soft blanket over his shoulder.
Finally a dark hat pulled low.
"Don't believe everything you hear,"
He says. 

The u-turns are flocking.
Through a doorway a long look
grows, breaks the surface,
breathes, then branches down
into the source.

The look is taken in hand.