What I have is here.
What I want is not. Wind died.
Rain stopped. Storm did not.
What I have is here.
What I have is here.
What I want is not. Wind died.
Rain stopped. Storm did not.
Brian McCloskey Leibold has worked as a construction laborer, a conservation corps member, a dishwasher, a Papa Johns delivery driver, a Panera Bread delivery driver, and a cashier. His poetry has been published in HeartWood Literary Magazine and Muddy River Poetry Review. He lives in Mount Jackson, Virginia.
Who knows how to go boldly from womb to tomb?
Who knows how to chow on, chow on, chow on
From month to month to month?
Go for cozy worn-down vows.
Long for worth from soft words.
Stop. Hop downtown
To clown off
Or drown on
Old Crow. Lo,
No good to hold on, nod off, slog for gold
From morn to noon, howl for God
From noon to moon. Soon, too soon,
Look, don’t worry, knock on wood
To block knocks on doors
From old knock-down doom.
No good, good world:
Food rots. Fog…
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On the train the beauty of the setting sun and the rising crescent moon, of the open fields and the pecan groves, of the swampy forests and the rolling hillsides, feels somehow less deserved. The train passes by the world outside the window; the world passes you by as a ballgame passes before the eyes of a spectator, or a spectre, half-seen but never wholly appreciated. The train moves as you sit still. It is harder to feel moved. In order to feel a part of life’s movement, it seems necessary to move oneself. You can pass over a river a thousand times, see it from out the window of your car or train twice each day on your way to and from work. The real work begins when you set your kayak in the water and begin to paddle.
On the bike, you move through the landscape. What you see and pass through does not remain out there; its beauty penetrates deeply. It comes to you and through you unobstructed. Nothing separates you from it. There is no need to interpret it to fit your previous worldview. You are in the landscape, a moving piece among moving pieces, moving towards wholeness amidst what is already whole, and your view of the world stands in front of you, uninfluenced from your past views of it. Yesterday has passed but did not pass you by. All was new then and all is new now.
On the train, you sit amidst the other sitters, onlookers, bypassers. Together you sit and watch the world pass by. People read, eat, drink coffee, chat, find some way to keep busy, keep from being bored. And yet boredom comes anyways, despite or because of our many attempts to avoid it. Boredom comes on the train just as restlessness comes off it, when you hear the train’s whistle, and feel as Steinbeck felt the desire to roam.
This desire to travel is different from the traveling itself. You desire the feeling that thinking of travel gives you; you do not desire the reality. Or, in a deeper place, reality is all you desire, but you cannot access that place in dreams. Only by experiencing what is real can you begin to understand your desire for what is real, and seek reality. So, because you cannot access what you truly desire, you dream. You dream of the feeling of awe that will overtake your soul when the lounge car in the train is empty before dawn and you are up, more awake than you’d dreamed you’d ever be, the train you are on rolling with speed over the Mississippi River, heading west. You dream of the woman who will enter the train just as you get up to leave, how you will remain instead, though you’ve passed what you’d planned to be your final destination, how in her presence you will lose all your fear of people, all your resistance to everything outside the self, how your heart will open up like the sky in the desert on the first monsoon of the season.
Your desire for the road is like an amnesiac, making you forget past experiences you’d labeled as negative, neglect the fact that those very same experiences are sure to return: the cold and lonely November nights, the constant consumption of cheap food that your body finally rejects, the repetitive movements of putting one foot in front of the another, or pushing down on the pedals for one more revolution, how the monotony finally becomes terrible.
Your dream of the road is not the road, for the road is reality and includes what you’d rather reject, and your dream is illusory and occludes all except what you readily accept and rejoice in. The road is about rejoicing in and welcoming what you previously rejected, ignored, and denied. If you denied your frailty and helplessness, be on the road long enough and you will be forced eventually to confront these aspects of yourself. You’ll run out of food miles from any town; you’ll drink some bad water and be sick for a week, unable to keep any food down. You will be helpless to cure yourself, too frail to move and too sick to enjoy your rest. You will need to have the patience to wait, weak and weary, to be healed. If you’ve denied your power and capability, you will have no choice but to remember that you are powerful, capable of biking over one hundred miles in a day with eighty pounds of food, water, clothes, and shelter on the back of your bike, supporting yourself and your journey, carrying everything you need by your own power. If you have denied the support of others, rejected the fact that you are at the mercy of the goodness of other people, you will be at the receiving end of gifts and have to make the choice between open-hearted gratitude or stomach-twisting guilt.
Your dream of yourself is not who you are. Just as the road is no comfortable bed to dream upon until night turns to dawn, the self is no comfortable cocoon that you settle into to dream of who you could be when some rare red dawn magically transforms you into your dreamed-of self. The night cometh without doubt, but now it is day, and there is time to live while there is still light, and to live means to exist outside the cocoon, not to dream of paradise but to live in reality. What is reality?
What is Truth? asked Pontius Pilate, before he washed his hands of the matter and watched Truth be crucified. I sit on this train across Texas and watch the world go by. There is no dirt under my fingernails. I got a hotel room last night in Deming, New Mexico, took a shower this morning. My hands are clean.
I sit on the train and watch the sun go down. Distant shades of fire. I feel like I am, a spectator rather than a participant. Not in the fire. Detached, separate. The window is in the way. But I hear the train horn and feel the tingling run through my body. My restless blood, coming alive. I’m exhausted, strung out from three weeks on the road, in which I’ve biked close to 1,500 miles. Half the length of the country. So why do I still feel as if I do not deserve this beauty, this sky full of fire? As if anyone could earn such a free gift. What is given must simply be received.
I want to look out the window at this sunset and at the same time feel the same fierce burning in my heart. “Look at the sunset,” a woman behind me tells her companion. “Look how pretty it is.” Her companion looks and agrees. We are spectators on the train; we look and agree. The sky is pretty. And then we go right on complaining about how no one understands us, no one listens, no one cares. No one, I trust, cares less than the sun, which shares itself so freely, is as beautiful going down as it is coming up. May my life, the ending of which is so final, so definite, so unalterable, be an altar where I kneel down to the rising sun and offer my daily bread of beginnings.
Begin, begin, begin again. Rise in the morning and ride until I find a purpose to my riding. Aim until then only to enjoy my aimlessness. Let the simplicity of life on the road settle deeply into my unsettled blood. Let what I am become clear, or remain a mystery. Let what is meant to be come to be. May it bring me joy, or may it bring me sorrow. May I feel it, what is and what will come to be, as deeply and completely as possible. May reality itself make me real, myself, the person I am meant to be. I seek an unshakable faith, not in myself but in the ground I walk upon. I seek to walk upon this ground, to stand and to walk, trusting that every fall will be followed by a rise, every barren winter by a remarkable spring.
It’s 4 a.m., and I’m in the bathroom of Roper Lake State Park, outside of Stafford in eastern Arizona, sheltered from the cool desert night, taking what little comfort is available from the lukewarm showers here. I’ve got a cup of hot coffee beside me, in the same stainless steel cup I had at Legacy. I was a client there from February to June of 2016. Next week it will be Thanksgiving 2017, eighteen months later. I couldn’t sleep, raccoons kept coming into my campsite, trying to get at the food in my panniers. I’ve been on a bike tour for the last two and a half weeks. I’m living the adventurous life that legacy helped inspire me to live, but it’s not all warm showers and hot coffee.
It’s a long, slow road I’m on, one that often gets lonely. Slow and steady wins the race, I told myself as I pedaled two days ago up route 77, seven miles up 3,000 feet of elevation with 100 pounds on the back of my bike. What race? What victory? It’s hard not to feel deflated and defeated, to feel like a failure in life, to wonder about the futility of your own individual existence, when you wake up at midnight after three hours of sleep to the sound of raccoons scavenging through your food, and you spend ten minutes yelling yourself hoarse at said raccoons, which seem to be totally unafraid and go right on gnawing at the bag of instant rice you neglected to put away, thinking not even the coons would go for that, and now four hours later after being unable to fall back asleep, you take solace in the State Park bathroom, take a lukewarm and soap-less shower, and dry your hair under the hand drying machine, dreaming of sinking deeply into a plush comfy chair beside a wood stove fire and next to a bookshelf with hundreds of books, sipping hot tea and reading of some faraway arctic adventure as you sit in your comfortable home by the blazing fire with your steady, well-paying job and your loving and lovely wife and your sweet and adorable children. Instead, you are alone, a twenty-six year old man without a steady occupation, without a significant other, without a significant sense of your own self, leading a roving existence on the road to nowhere.
But no, every road leads somewhere. The dead end road leads to the wilderness that is the beginning of life. I’m on the road, craving this morning before dawn no longer for the temporary warmth of alcohol, my old and unforgiving mistress, but for the more permanent warmth and comfort of some place I can call my own, that I can call home. I say more permanent, for of course nothing is completely permanent. I’m on the road to recovery, and this road doesn’t end. It’s the road to rest and serenity, the road home. Home must be earned. Recovery is the victory that makes sense of this gnawing sense of defeat. Feeling like a failure precedes the success that comes when you recognize that to fail does not mean to die. You fail, and yet you live. One breath feels like a miracle, the next like your last gasp. And yet you live, and you fail, and you continue down the road.
For the last few nights, no matter how long or far I’ve pedaled, I haven’t slept well. I can’t find rest. I keep waking up, many times each night, wanting the sun to be up, wanting to be on my way. I’ve been averaging around 70 miles a day, between six and seven hours on the bike, at least a couple thousand feet of climbing, and yet I cannot sleep more than five hours a night.
“Our hearts are restless until they rest in You,” wrote Saint Augustine. Indeed. Rest in whom? “Via con dios,” said a Mexican-American from Stockton, California who I met at the Bylas rest area on the Apache reservation. Go with God. “You’ve got angels behind you on both shoulders,” he told me. In a couple hours, light will come, and I will go. With the wind at my back or in my face, with angels on my two shoulders or alone and feeling like the most forlorn wanderer east of the Colorado and west of the Mississippi. I’ll get on my bike and go east towards the New Mexican border. My plan is to go east until I smell that salty sea water again, in the swamps of Florida. And then what? I started this trip a few miles inland from the Pacific, biked seven miles and close to 3,000 feet up route 9, and then down again back to sea level into Santa Cruz. From there I biked down the coast of California, riding through the strawberry country between Santa Cruz and Monterey, climbing high above the cliffs of Big Sur, riding under the palm trees along the sunny coast in Santa Barbara and L.A, and pedaling down past San Diego until I was a few miles away from Mexico. I decided against crossing the border and went east instead, climbing out of the San Diego area, away from the sea, up to around 4,000 feet, and then plummeting back down into the low Sonoran desert, riding beside seguaro cacti, feeling the desert sun hot on my back. From the low desert I climbed again to the high desert, and I’ll do some more climbing once I get into New Mexico. Then I’ll have the confront the gigantic mass of land that is Texas.
There is much more country to see. I love the southwest, but for now I’m heading east, with all I need on the back of my bike. I may want more than I have, may crave all I don’t have, but in truth I lack nothing. Save the truth that will set me free? No, that is there too. That is here, too, and I’m on the road to find it.
“I think whoever I see must be happy,” writes Walt Whitman in Song of the Open Road. May I sing my song as I ride the open road. May I smell the happiness of juniper trees. May I take hold of this life and make it mine. My road, my life, my heart. I must find my heart, find where it sings and soars, where it weeps and groans, before I can give my heart away. I moan for man like Jack Kerouac. I weep for beauty like Everett Ruess. I’m clean and sober and learning to sing like the wind that brings me home, and I’m riding, yes I’m rolling, on down the open road.
I wake in the morning
and do not like my own face.
I sit back down at the desk and keep writing.
I walk around reading some words aloud
and do not like the sound of my own voice.
I sit back down at the desk and keep writing.
All but my hands are still.
I sit like a cat, alert and wary,
and pray to give way to silence.
The muse has left me, so I must be patient, I must wait in my poverty, but not make a cathedral out of it. I do not wait in a magnificent cathedral, I wait in the rain, I wait naked and alone for the muse to return, not to give me comfort, but to be with me in my discomfort, not to give me unexplainable happiness, but to be with me so long as I am unhappy and cannot explain why. Cars drive by as they so often do, the day has begun without me, while I waited for you, while I wait, the day does not wait for those who wait, the day does not wait at all, but moves along as a pace it sees fit. And here comes the guilt, here comes the thought, ‘should I be doing this, or should I be doing something else?’ here comes the thought, ‘what is the best way for me to pray? Should I pray like they tell me to pray, and how do they tell me, and who is telling me to pray in a certain way?’ Should I sway today like your play has come like a truck and demolished me, should I fall into disarray, should I plant a seed in the heart of she who does not notice me, come now and tell me what exactly I should do. I am perplexed by my own death, that it will occur, I confess that I have a too high opinion of myself coupled with an impossibly low one, and it is difficult to continue when in such a bind. I believe vanity is just a word for death, and a wrong kind of death, but I’ve died and lived so many times I think I should play a trombone because of it. Your words no longer have the same ring to them, they are growing brittle, flat and absent from truth. The truth is you, but you are not where you are, you are nowhere you can be, you are where you cannot be, for you are where there is no reality. Why did you go back there? Who did you expect to find there? You will die, but why make a scene out of it? Why find yourself deemed deficient by someone who pretended to know? Why worry about the concierge and whether or not she thinks your suit is proper for the occasion? can you blubber that the world owes your supper, and believe your cuddled thoughts? your protected heart is not the true heart, your directed thoughts are directed at no one in particular, but you must keep writing, do not let the fear enter, or let it enter and then say hi to it, what’s wrong? why are you afraid, young one? because you will not complete the task? because the task you will complete will not be good enough, not exceptional enough for your ridiculous standards? but of course, that is a part of the curse and the gift of the true striver, for that is what you are, and later perhaps, when you are wiser, you will see the futility of all your striving, but until then do as you must, as is deemed proper to those lacking trust in the grand scheme of things. The land seems to be dragging a dead walrus behind you, a bloody and torn seal deprived of its horns or its tusks, but who are you to swear you will come back and be healed by your own wholeness? who are you to forget how to remember your true nature? I rehearse what I will say to the god I do not understand, and all I can do is stand there, trembling and sweating throughout my entire body, and unable to experience the calm and untrembling soul that stands behind my standing. Man, the words keep coming, and nothing goes the way it ought to go, but everything goes the only way it can go, and I go my own way, not knowing where I am going. I am where you went when you had nowhere else to go. I go where you wish you could go, and I envy where you are going. I go where no one else could possibly go, and I wonder why I am the only one there.
If I knew there was some place I could go to be reassured,
I’d be sure to avoid it.
I am not looking to be reassured.
I’m assured of nothing, so luckily
there’s nothing for me
to be reassured of.
I wonder, gentle-hearted reader,
if you are reading this poem to be reassured of something.
You could be looking for reassurance that you aren’t wasting your life.
I’d say: stop reading this poem and go make some money.
Having money may provide reassurance, and if not you’ll at least be kept busy,
and you won’t have time to read poems that fail to reassure you.
You could be looking for reassurance that you’re a good person.
Okay. You are a good person.
But then again I can’t be sure.
I do assure you of my love, today,
but once I’ve met you
my love for you
This is, unhappily, what usually happens.
Indeed, when you meet me, you might wonder
who wrote the words you thought you loved.
Well, and who did write them?
The one you meet is not the one
who writes the words.
I am no mystery, I assure you:
I’m an open book.
Those are two phrases no one has ever used to describe me.
But for you, silent and solitary reader,
I’d lay the book of my life open wide,
I’d let you inside, to know me,
as I have never let myself be known by another.
I would let you stay unknown.
Is there any other way
to get to know
Unfathomable reader, what separates us
is as beautiful as what brings us together,
the distance between us as vital
as the joining of lovers in passion.
I embrace distance;
I throw my arms around it.
I am sure of nothing
but the space I celebrate
here in its’ heart.
The more I struggle for humility,
the more prideful I become.
The more I struggle for equanimity,
the more reactive I become.
The more I struggle to be content and at peace,
the more restless and melancholy I become.
Yet I cannot stop struggling.
I sit and I wait for the music to enter
I listen to the water; my eyes are closed, and the sun is on me
I search in the day for the unnamable center
And the night comes like the dawn, singing
The song never ends, but few are the ears that hear it
I came upon a blind beggar, and saw that he was rich
The path ahead is unclear, but why should I fear it?
I climbed out of the hole and found the world my niche
Mystery wraps me in her infinite embrace
While what I can’t see traps me, and I search for an escape
I’ve been discovered by Beauty
I’ve been loved by the sea
Those who talk to me of my duty
I see they are far from free
The pond glints and sparkles in the morning sun
In its daily dance with the clouds where neither wins out
I will write till the last, I will never be done
I will write with my longing, I will write with my doubt
Mystery wraps me in her infinite embrace
While what is in me traps me, as I search for some place
To be discovered by Beauty
To love the ever-restless sea
To find what is my unique duty
To sing and dance till I am free
Let the current take me home, wherever that may be
Let the Light rising over the mountains rise also from in me
Let the road remain open; let the words stay unspoken
Let the souls that seek to be whole admit that they are broken
I prayed without words; in my rhythmic waiting I prayed
I waited like a deep pond waits, reflecting the world above
Below me was the unseen, what in me I had not made
I looked to the pond and my gaze fell upon a rising dove
And I felt Mystery wrap me in her infinite embrace
As I remembered a strange young woman with an ancient face
Who had not discovered her own Beauty
But yet she found it in the sea
Who felt that to fall was her duty
But only by rising could she be set free
The stillness disintegrated, rose away like the mist
I saw the reflection but the Truth itself was evasive
She disappeared like a gypsy with a brief, fleeting kiss
My heart moaned to the moon, its sorrow pervasive
And I let mystery wrap me in her infinite embrace
And I felt floods of compassion for the human race
Whose cruel ugly acts conceal a deeper Beauty
Yet ugly or beautiful, it all returns to the sea
A race loving to talk of patriotism and duty
Talking so much of freedom, so never breaking free
Time plays its symphony on the timelessly still waters
And like an athlete I strengthen myself, determined not to be destroyed
But Time is ruthless, it has seen fall many martyrs
Fall like pebbles, like raindrops, made vague by fog, into the void
The vogue now is to ignore rather than face the implacable
But I must face it, I must taste for myself what kills and what gives life
With my pen and my restless feet, I will track the intractable
I will cut through to the eternal with this finite ink knife
And I will love Mystery as she wraps me in her infinite embrace
I will let her trap me, if only to see her face
I will walk with purpose towards Beauty
I will ebb and flow with the sea
To discern the true from the false will be my duty
To see through Time’s unending march, and so from it break free
“It has sometimes been remarked that writers are disappointing to meet. This is often because their true personalities only emerge in their writings, and are concealed during the ordinary interchanges of social life.”
—Anthony Storr, from Solitude: A Return to the Self