Do not let me fall prey to the mechanical animal in my brain that calls me away from you. It looks and acts the same in me as it does in any caged creature. This beast is always ready to sever links with its human family, being altogether in pieces already, at the mercy of the crashing seas of circumstance. It cannot remain at home on its own shores, nor can it bask for long beneath the strong rays of another’s sun, for it lacks both an anchor to hold it steady, and an ark to take it safely across the river. Hone this loss-addicted, lusterless machine. Release the cold hand from panicked demands for another’s warmth, so the man can remember whose hand holds the key. Though I am eons from any final clarity, let disparity itself become fuel. Do not let the mud of confusion bury the blessing, but let the perishing puddles evaporate into the western wind; and, as the sun begins to set, let the spirit of beauty spearhead my inward evolution.
Sing, Creator of song, to the wholeness inside which my soul is aching to bring itself forth in these orphaned days. The rain pours with relentless force, and the mind tortures itself in forests too dense to take comfort. And though I flee to the desert in a seven-year drought, I go drenched in this rain. I enter the black hole of fantasy, racked with dreams of fantastic rescue. Never have I been reckless enough to wreck my old ships in search of new lands, yet here I stand, floored by the actual. Let me seek with reckless indifference to cost the intangible treasures that can never be lost, and let me reckon now with how I will raze my towers to brave my mortality. Do not rock my landlocked body to sleep tonight until I have prayed with the urgency this daily emergency demands.
Inside the clarifying whisper of a bare room, I carry the gift of total engagement with a loose grip. I ask the god of clarity to open the ears of my heart, awaken the eyes of my mind. I surrender my conditioned hatred of trivial irritations, and I rivet my attention on a particle of dust a ray of light enlightens. I watch my soul return to the lake it swims in at dawn, and I watch dawn rise to the challenge of my chosen task. And I ask my master: may Time in its violent density lie down naked with Eternity in its eloquent silence. And out of their intangible union, from the annihilating depths of love, may the man’s true nature arise.
You are with me still. Even though I have been removed, and my place does not recognize me. Even though I have filled my heart with stones. And my beloved says, I will wait a little while behind this curtain – no, I have waited too long. You are with me still. Though I scorched away the tears of return in the forced light of victory, your rebuke still comforts me, you signify yourself among the dangers. Saying, Use this fear to know me, fix this exile toward my return. Though I am unwept, it is your judgement parches me. Though my praises for you are under ban, it is the balance of your mercy. And you are with me still. Saying, Search this out, it is you who have hidden yourself. Saying, Clear me in your troubled heart. Saying, I will come to you. Saying, I am here. Though I add membrane to membrane against your light, and heap up cities on the husk of your rebuke, when the sun and the moon are shining in the other pan, and you advance me through the solitude by such a kind degree, and you create the world before my eyes, and the one who hides in self-disgrace cannot say Amen, O slow to anger, you are with me, you are with me still.Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy, 34
Not knowing where to go, I go to you. Not knowing where to turn, I turn to you. Not knowing how to speak, I speak to you. Not knowing what to hold, I bind myself to you. Having lost my way, I make my way to you. Having soiled my heart, I lift my heart to you. Having wasted my days, I bring the heap to you. The great highway covered with debris, I travel on a hair to you. The wall smeared with filth, I go through a pinhole of light. Blocked by every thought, I fly on the wisp of a remembrance. Defeated by silence, here is a place where the silence is more subtle. And here is the opening in defeat. And here is the clasp of the will. And here is the fear of you. And here is the fastening of mercy. Blessed are you, in this man’s moment. Blessed are you, whose presence illuminates outrageous evil. Blessed are you who brings chains out of darkness. Blessed are you, who waits in the world. Blessed are you, whose name is in the world.Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy, 45
Stranded buccaneer, buck your fear-driven plan to seize the ship that flies no flag. Stand aside and hand the wheel to the attending captain, who senses the tides and sets his course by instinct and not by compass, who points the ship north and leans into the storm, for he means to go through it to the other side, where on the far undivided shore his true love abides. He takes each wave as his own, the shock he needs at this moment to speak his vow: that in this clashing marriage of sea and now and forever again, he will bow, he will bow to the very end, and seek to know a single word, borne of a crashing silence.
Now stand aside. Put aside the separate arm that commands its unpaid deck-hands to fire cannonballs at the flagless ship until nothing alive remains, the phantom limb that climbs aboard the deck now strewn with dead bodies to take back the wheel, stealing the map it has not learned to read, the one that leads to the treasure that mind-defended appendage buried in the homeland the very moment time began—and I, and I alone, began to forget the blessings of that essential land no pirated vessel will ever discover anew. Only the body brave enough to bend down and pick up the spade blazing with the heat of sincerity, to take the tool to the frozen earth until the ground that was hard and unyielding finally yields, and the whole body feels its resistance give way as the sharpened blade sinks into deep contact with soft soil—only that body, willing to lose its standing ground to be found anew in dark communion, can find the way back. Let that body, with steady hands, take the wheel.
This silence I have not treasured is my mother, and this storm I have not weathered is my father. As a captive son of storm and silence, let me lie down at the eastern edge of this chain-link fence and surrender to my parents in this extended hour just before dawn. Let me trust that neither father nor mother will let me bleed forever in the unreachable country, but that both together will teach me how to be reached, and how to be re-created in reconciliation with my co-creators.
It was a marriage made in water, and land and sea consummated their union all through the night, and all through the next day, and all through all days and nights to kingdom come. Why should I not sing of how the sea met the earth, how they came together with delight when the dawn’s bright reveal shed new light on the old truth that they had never been apart?
Why should I ask for another miracle? Why should I wait for another sign?
I resolved after my separation from Hope to stand at the window like a fire lookout and never to turn my back on the east. I wished to follow my own destiny the way a widow follows the arc of the sun over the course of a June morning. But it was winter; the days were short, and the sun was hidden.
I decided instead to hide, and I refused to confide to the beloved the contents of my discontented heart. It was not a wise decision, not a decision unanimously agreed upon by the internal jury. It was a split decision, an incision, if you will, that took me from the center, made a hole where there was once a spacious wholeness. What was simple became complex and convoluted, and I struggled with the words needed to greet people. I knew that most people greeted others with, ‘Hello, how are you?’ I also knew I could not do the same. It was not in my power to greet others in such a way, so I gritted my teeth and pretended I was deaf when my soul-sister asked how I’d ever bridge the chasm that separated my ignorance from her magnificence.
Once I removed myself from those who assured me the chains attached to their heels were benign, I wondered what to do. It was so much easier when I had a task, however deplorable. What could I do now that I had been commanded to be free? I asked a hunchback wearing a crown who was dragging his chains up a steep hill whether he wanted any help. He looked at me with the kind of vicious glance a king gives an escaped slave who, after being recaptured and hauled back to the castle through the mud, spits at the feet of the queen. After my offer of help was denied, I spat at my own feet, resolving to never again offer my assistance to a hunchback.
However, what I had been handed by those who had overcome their own uselessness, and were no longer hunchbacked, demanded a response. I recognized the paradox of futile effort met with unanswerable grace, yet I could not stop searching for the mirrored room without darkness, where through the blur of tears I hoped to witness the self stripped of what it wasn’t, but my weeping obscured the clarity of the possible. I heard a paralyzed voice, stuck in a dreamland of judgment, shout down that my words only added to the general absurdity. I claimed the paralyzed voice as my own and shrunk into a den where a lion was devouring its’ own tail.
Do not forget to tell them about the dance, whispered the voice of unreason, a voice I noticed rang clear and true and without distrust. Yes, of course, the dance. But how could I tell them? I would never be able to tell anyone about the dance. I could only show them. Everything that came to me from the voice of unreason told them about the dance, without my having to tell them anything.
Hold me, my invisible master turned mistress, as my trespasses hold me captive, as my addiction to silence produces its’ noisy hangover. I came to you to be held, and you did your job well, but I was not satisfied. I moaned to be held more tightly, and you told me to be silent. I did as I was told and was silent, and you told me to speak, to let everything out, withholding nothing. Nothing was all I could hold in and all I found when I looked in or out. To be without nothing was the only way to be, and my violent feeling that I existed without something essential made me question whether I really existed at all. If I was certain of anything, it was that I lacked everything. I especially lacked certainty. I did not know what I lacked. If I had known it, would I have lacked it? “Be still, and know…”
I knew enough to trust that my lying and cheating business partners would get me through the rough stretches I scheduled out on the calendar, the coming weeks in which I had allocated plenty of time to suffer from inexplicable grief. I boxed out certain hours of the day to be overcome by the urge to weep, and this I did during the prescribed periods, which came in the hour before bed and the hour after waking. During the rest of the time, I feigned an exaggerated grin, which was trusted by all but one. Because of this one’s flawless perception of my incongruous state, I trusted she was the one, and without flaws, both conclusions as false as her intuitions were true.
Be still, and know that I am not. Not all-knowing. Not always forward-moving. And not ever still. And still not—what? At ease? At one? At home? At odds with the one who is, I fizzled out in the drizzling doubt that veiled from me your kingdom. Not my kingdom. I am the veil; unveil me. Let me see my own face. I am the seeker, but how can I reach you if I remain at odds? This is no game, and there is no one to blame. Not even the one who is never still. This is no game, but that doesn’t mean there is no room to play. I play at writing, and I pray when writing. To truly play is to pray, but who of us here can play in that way?
For eleven months I have not taken a drink, he said proudly and with a strange trace of foreboding mixed with a lethal dose of malice. He heard a voice question him, ‘who has not taken a drink?’ Perplexed at this line of questioning, he said again: ‘I.’ He heard, “The ‘I’ that is afraid to die—that is the ‘I’ that has not taken a drink.” Why yes, he replied, of course. He heard nothing further.